Category Archives: Brands and Philosophy

Content, Form, Fantasy

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Picture credit: John Holcroft Art

There is no content without form.

Neither is there form without content.

Neither one is greater than the other. As both have their unique roles. And as creators, we must take care to ensure that they play their parts to create the world that we’re aiming to create.

As creators, our job is in fact to conduct two equally capable musicians coming together to create a single piece of music coherent to the ear.

We must take care to not present content with no form whatsoever. For form helps content by making it more easy, interesting and appeasing to absorb. Most philosophy is guilty of a lack of form. So is most theoretical physics.

But bring together a fair balance of form and content, and you have the opportunity to bring to the world things that are normally difficult to digest.

Alain de Botton does this with Philosophy. Or Jason Silva.

Carl Sagan did this with Physics. So does Stephen Hawking.

On the other end, we must take care not to glorify form at the cost of content. For we can build several empty things on form, but they shall be just that: empty. Fads are guilty of a lack of true content. So is most pop music.

This is when any creation enters the realm of fantasy. It is when you see that metaphor is greater than meaning itself. Or showmanship, greater than the show.

In a culture that encourages and propagates this, real content is either non-existent or completely forgotten.

And any culture with empty form, is just that. Empty.

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Who’re You Bullshitting with “Creativity”?

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In my few years in the creative business, I have learned two lessons more than others:

  1. There are two types of ‘creative’ people in the world: those by designation and those by nature
  2. ‘Creativity’ is the most bastardised word in the business

Both of which bring us to the fated reality of the business in general, that we have a creative product that is more a product than it is creative.

At its core, the problem is that we have come to define creativity as ‘original, out of the box ideas’. Ideas that are interesting to us, and ideas we would not have thought of non-creatively.

But the truth is that creativity; is the ability to create something that does not exist before.

We leave that by the wayside and pursue the use of creativity for mere cosmetic improvement of preexisting solutions. Which are perhaps then filtered through several layers of verification: with sieves large and small, and what we are finally; most often than not – left with, is a substance that has neither content nor personality.

But it does check all the boxes.

The use of creativity for cosmetic and superficial improvements rests in a fundamental fear and incapacity for the unknown, the better and the truly new.

In truth, it is the difference between envisioning a faster horse, or an automobile.

But it is reduced to an excuse for having something that looks new, but is fundamentally the same.

It is an excuse for having nothing extraordinary. But just good enough.

It is your excuse for putting a funny, insightful video in your presentation but never changing the way you work.

It is your excuse for having beautiful slides. That lack in real content.

It is your excuse for having a website that invites the visitor, and speaks of lofty visions with beautiful words but is a facade to an organisation that counts only its bank roll in the end of the month.

True creativity is its own ends.

But it has been reduced to the means of being barely interesting. Almost relevant. Spineless. Or worse yet: just pretty.

Image credit: banksy

Faith

I have often wondered; in my travels, how humans have had the capacity to build such larger than life monuments as the Taj Mahal, the Sagrada Familia, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Sistine Chapel.

I’ve also been amazed at how religion was the muse for so many creations of great art and architecture: and therein, lay my answer.

Humans have the capacity to create something larger than life: something that goes beyond their own lifetime – as they are driven by a faith in something larger than their selves.

I choose the word faith, not religion.

Faith is multifold. It could be a faith in God (religion) A faith in love. Faith in progress. Or simply faith in the act of, and desire for creation. The desire to create something magnificent because why not?

But the answer is the same: faith.

And it perhaps isn’t without reason that the word faith is often suffixed with the adjective ‘blind’. For it rests; not in something we see, but in something we choose to believe in despite the lack of any signs of it’s presence.

This; I fear, is what we miss today.

For we would rather be driven by insignificant things that are apparent. Than significant things; that though invisible to the naked eye, we can create everyday.

Why Advertising is The Dark Knight

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Some of you may think I have an obsession for likening the advertising industry with Christopher Nolan movies. I wouldn’t blame you, I have done it in the past. But as any good planner will tell you: two instances, do not a trend make. (Besides, I’m thinking more Frank Miller than Nolan)

Having established that, here’s why I think advertising is like Batman.

For a very long time, I have held the belief that people are fundamentally irrational. And have tried presenting this point-of-view in several occasions – stretching from conversations with friends over beers (that invariably have me outnumbered) or in conversations with colleagues and clients and of course with the more engineering minded folk aiming to develop new products, interfaces or even services.  To little avail.

Perhaps this is something that more of you from adland can relate to. From conversations I’ve had – I believe that it is.

As an industry: irrationality is not only something we believe in but also a truth we work with. Many of us are irrational in our own ways, and certainly welcoming of it. Yet, our stand on irrationality outside our own industry often receives little or no heed.

Why?

I found the answer in The Anatomy Of Humbug, by Paul Feldwick:

“the need for clients, agencies, and the public alike to cling to their self-image as ‘rational’, autonomous decision makers.” 

Everyone wants to believe that they are in control. And nobody likes to be told otherwise.

Even if the truth that is spoken, is used everyday to create something that makes their lives better – yet eluding.

It is for this reason I believe we advertisers, are the dark knights of industry. For people will not understand our ways, and we certainly won’t receive much gratitude for them. If we speak of our ways we will be silenced but we act on them everyday to make things better. For it is what the world needs, it is what our client’s need and it is what our consumers need.

It is because we recognise, that rationality, like morality is not black-or-white.

Courage Trumps Content

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We do not remember the greatest people in the world simply because of what they said, or what they stood for. We remember them for having the courage to stand for it.

For having the courage to have a view that was different. And having the courage to say it out loud. Having the courage to be branded by it.

If MLK Jr. had written about his dream in his personal journal, he would have touched nobody’s life.

If Muhammad Ali was more concerned with sounding smart than true, his poetry would remain unheard.

If Nike was worried about offending sensibilities, it would not become the landmark that it is today. Neither would the legendary Superbowl ad from Apple become what it is today, if they thought they might hurt a certain group of people.

So, do us all a favour please, if you have something good to say – then say it like you mean it. We might love you for it. You might change our world for the better. And you might be remembered for it.

But if you’re not going to go all guns blazing with what you believe. Or if you fear what you will be remembered for. Or fear that you shall be typecast. Or narrowed down. Or you would rather be loved just a little bit by everyone, rather than loved to bits by a few – then please, don’t say it at all.

Just  go home.

To Have Or To Be: Social

If we believe that brands can be human, then by extension the human sciences can teach us a lot about how brands behave. Or should behave. Philosophy; I find, has several answers to the problems that brands face. One idea that I think is particularly relevant was explored by Erich Fromm in his book “To Have Or To Be?” (Fromm also has a book “On Being Human” which also holds several introspections for the humanness of brands)

In “To Have Or To Be?” Fromm suggests a premise that humans have two states of life: the having mode, and the being mode. He explores in depth the two states and their effect on the quality of our lives and relationship with the world. Briefly, the two states are:

The having mode: “In the having mode of existence my relationship to the world is one of possessing and owning, one in which I want to make everybody and everything, including myself, my property.”

The being mode: “In the being mode of existence, we must identify two forms of being. One is in contrast to having … and means aliveness and authentic relatedness to the world. The other form of being is in contrast to appearing and refers to the true nature, the true reality, of a person or a thing in contrast to deceptive appearances as exemplified in the etymology of being”

I think there are several areas of branding where this idea of having or being can be applied, but I’d like to start with how this affects a brand’s view on and use of social media.

Social media, in my opinion, is a tool for something that people always needed: belonging. It simply gives a place for people to engage and interact with each other. An online bar of sorts. By extension, a friend of yours who is boring in a bar, is going to be boring on Facebook too. So why should we view social media as being different from just being social!? People who are inherently social, don’t have a “social media strategy”. They’re just themselves, but online.

If we were to extend Fromm’s two modes to brands on social media, we would have two types of brands: Brands that have social, and Brands that are social. 

Brands that have social are by nature hoarders. They talk about “What are we going to do online?”, or “How do we engage with our audience?”, and often the answers to these questions seem almost unnatural to these brands. These brands seek to measure the quantity and quality of their social presence: with a primary goal of increasing social media presence. While there is nothing wrong with measuring presence, it must not be the sole driver of what brands should do online. This brand personified, in a bar, would probably be clueless about what to say to people around but would focus on how many people he/she could impress. Nobody wants to “engage” with someone arrogant, defensive, unapologetic or even trying-to-please-everyone. (Of how many social media failures does this sound familiar?)

On the other hand, brands that are social, will extend themselves more naturally to social media. Without even trying. They’re the friends in the bar whose company you enjoy. Whether it was before social media or after social media, Coca-Cola has always been about bringing people together. Coca-Cola (among other brands) is in the state of being social. It finds it easy to integrate itself into conversations, situations that people are really involved with because being social is core to who the brand is. A “social media strategy” for such brands is easy to define, because these brands are inherently social. 

In this era of social media proliferation, brands must not define a social media strategy outside of their brand strategy. Rather, if social media is so important to the brand, they must define the brand in a way that it is social by nature, or that a part of the brand’s identity extends itself to being social.