I was very lucky to have had lunch with John Salmon a couple of days ago. John was the Chairman and Creative Supremo of legendary UK ad agency Collett Dickenson Pearce & Partners, the UK's most awarded agency. I worked there for most of the 1980s, learning from the very best. Now 82 he remains pencil sharp, urbane, knowledgeable and astonishingly contemporary.
He remarked to the table (there were a few of us) that he had been thinking about the current state of communication and felt that there was confusion over the highly distinctive differences between what constitutes "branding" and what is "advertising".
There was so much (too much) branding in messaging and very little advertising, he opined.
John's thoughts came at the end of a two week long brand-fest for me. In fact brands and branding have overwhelmed my last few days.
It started with Titus Andronicus at the beginning of last week. I'm no Shakespeare scholar but surely he did not write this schlock horror.
Surprise! After centuries of beard tugging the experts say he did.
Titus A is branded as "the violent, blood and gore one". And it lived up to its reputation. The extremely large sign outside the Globe screamed "WARNING. BLOOD AND GORE".
It was the advertising message behind the brand. The brand had something to say and the advertising communicated it.
My other half and I watched stupefied as various women (only women) vomited and fainted and were carried out during the play. This was branding in action. Branding as "behaviour".
"It's only a play", we were mentally (and almost actually) screaming at them. "They're actors! Their tongues and hands will back in place for the curtain call!"
But powerful stuff was at work. People were transported, taken out of themselves. They were living the message.
The next evening I was speaking at a branding conference with an ex-Global Head of Marketing at Unilever and a highly qualified brand consultant. The former reminded everyone that brands needed meaning and that meaning can change over time. The latter reinforced the importance of 'storytelling". Brands are stories, he felt.
Yes indeed. But meaningful stories need to be told, or they are valueless. And that is the difference between branding and advertising.
Brands are personalities that need meaningful storytelling to remain relevant.
Brands need a voice. They also need an audience and today you have to go and find your audience, live with them and gain mutual trust and awareness before they will allow you to start telling your story.
The following day my comrades and I launched our new communications company: supercommunications.com.
Mmmm. Good opportunity to sneak an ad break. We are a communications company with technology at the core. Technology gives you access to customers and the opportunity for exciting communication, we believe.
Now it will not have escaped your notice that the global communications world
is groaning with strange brand names.
Actually, I feel partly to blame for the global proliferation of odd company names.
When I launched St. Luke's in 1995 it was lampooned in the advertising world for it's ludicrous name. In those days you were BMCD or WFFG&Friends, and that's about as wacky as it got.
But, in truth, the name fired a gun that launched a million curious-named
The more outlandish the name the more explanation the company needs. And the more companies that there are competing for the same revenue streams, the more the need for distinction.
So, curiously, the branding and communication industry needs to apply its science even more acutely to itself, in order to demonstrate differential. In the kingdom of the blind.........
SuperCommunications aims to do exactly what is says on the tin - offer communications that provide an enhanced consumer oriented communications effect.
Collett Dickenson Pearce and Partners had a clear industry brand positioning: as Charles Saatchi remarked, "it specialised in adsthat had the public looking forward to commercial breaks" (Evening Standard, October 1st, 2012).
The very morning of the SuperCommunications launch, one of our companies in the group, Inition, won "Project of the Year" at the BT Retail Week Technology Awards, for the Top Shop Virtual Reality Catwalk.
So many brand names in that sentence. Brands can regularly bunch up as they appear cheek by jowl next to each other: Inition, BT, Top Shop, Retail Week.
But however well known they might be they still need a voice and the oxygen of communication.
Today brands must communicate in at least four different ways and ideally, all at the same time.
They must tell us simply and clearly what it is they would like us to know. We are happy to be informed! Often known as "Monologue" Communication.
They must speak to us on as personal and one-on-one a basis as budgets allow. We like to feel special! Regularly called "Dialogue".
They must utilize the Internet to invite comparison and transparency. We're not stupid, we have the technology to expose what you say as either true or false! The Internet is not a medium it is a physiological requirement. I call this "Telelogue".
And they must live naturally as part of our everyday lives - being with us, without always shouting at us. We like brands. But we don't like them rammed down our throats. And I call this "Travelogue".
John Salmon is right. Just evidencing that your brand exists is not enough. They need to communicate with real meaning and they need to live the proposition in the open, alongside their chattering customers.
Sure, it's harder than ever for brands to communicate and live their proposition. But they must, or we will forget who they are and what they do, even if their brand existence is as plain as the nose on your face.