Ten to fifteen years ago, some very smart leaders in the advertising industry drove a Copernican shift; a conscious move away from a well-established mindset that put client brands at the center, to one that put the consumer at the center.
The thinking was that brand efforts should revolve around the consumer, with their needs as paramount to all brand decision-making.
It made a lot of sense. And with regard to many aspects of advertising, it still does. For instance channel and media planning must put the consumer at the center of all of their efforts, insuring our messages reach their chosen audiences. Similarly, R&D and new product innovation works far more effectively when serving a strategic intent.
But yesterday, I was discussing the relative merits and challenges of converting the agency to a position centered around brand stories with Lance Hill, one of our creative planners. In the midst of our conversation, he suddenly stopped, cocked his head the way a German Shepherd might when it catches an intriguing scent, then mused “If we commit to brand stories, then we can’t put the consumer at the center–the center must be the brand if we want our stories to be authentic.”
That’s heresy! Outrageous! And of course, entirely correct; brands that pretend to be something they are not in hopes of tapping into some perceived zeitgeist are the equivalent of politicians who swing through the Southern states and suddenly add “y’all” to their vocabulary. It is dishonest, over-reaching and false.
The best brand stories are authentic: deeply so, with all the idiosyncracies and quirks of the people behind them. So in honor of Lance, who coincidentally celebrates a birthday this weekend, let me direct you to one of his favorite brand stories: the Adidas/Run DMC story told by Reverend Run himself. Fascinating, profane, illegal…and unflinchingly honest. It’s far from my story, but four pairs later, this is my brand. Enjoy.