Empty branded statements
Today we live in a reality where people have effectively cornered brands into reacting to current political, social and cultural events. From political protests, to celebrity deaths or cultural phenomena, brands nowadays have to be everywhere and have an opinion on everything. Some brands take the opportunity to align their values to the cause, some are sleazy and opportunistic and some of them hide in broad daylight.
However, when brands express their opinions we are often faced with vague, empty statements via tweets, blogs, Instagram posts that often contain words such as “care”, “solidarity”, “community” and “standing”. For something that was handled by so many hands: strategists, assistants, lectors, lawyers, boards, these documents always turn out to be more sterile than the insides of a bottle of pure alcohol.
If we demand our brands to have a voice on society-and-heart-shattering human events, why should we settle for such tact, diplomacy and over-politicking? Why should we settle for blatant inauthenticity served right to our faces masquerading as compassion and honesty? Why can’t brands allow themselves to be furious about the state of the world for once!?
I’m asking this as a consumer, but also a brand strategist. I’m utterly curious why do brands always have to deliver passionless statements that make no difference and ultimately have no meaning. Would a company continue producing a product that doesn’t sell? Those statements are obviously not working, so why continue producing them at all? We are not sold! Should brands be given such voices in the first place?
As I mentioned in the beginning, brands nowadays are forced in doing so. If there was no outside pressure, organizations would probably continue being disengaged as before. Another factor that contributes to this phenomenon is that organizations are still stuck in time and engage in PR strategies that release corporate-sounding non-statements to issues that go way beyond their range. The hot-button topics of today are much more human in nature, and humans are inherently beautiful as they are messy. Brands can be beautiful, but never messy. Messiness implies instability, irrationality and impulsivity — non of which are desired on the market.
Humans are inherently beautiful as they are messy. Brands can be beautiful, but never messy.
Companies and corporations are first and foremost economy and market entities, and we have to recognize this reality for what it is. We have treated them as such for so long that they grew into “beings” much different from humans. They are based on cold facts and rationality, void of emotions. Today we find ourselves in an awkward situation and ask from emotionless entities to react to emotion-strung events in the world. Considering everything, it is only logical to get emotion-void responses as a result.
Then again, I sincerely do think it’s time to change that.
Making brands more human
People have already started seeing through abstract corporate non-speak. They are increasingly asking brands for their direct and tangible involvement in their communities. This was very evident at the beginning of the COVID crisis, and now with the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
At the end of 20th century we saw people requesting bigger responsibility of brands in regards to the environment, but we also saw there was no real commitment for organizations to do so. Carbon and other emissions still remain at an unsatisfactory level. The 21st century will mark an era of bigger and most importantly tangible involvement of brands in the world, societies and communities they exist in. We are slowly bringing organizations back to what I think is their truer identity — their human identity.
Democratization of organizations would be driving factor leading this change forward. Even when there’s pressure, leaderships are often the most sheltered groups and action from a position of comfort has proven to be very difficult. Influencing decision making by raising the voices of the wider employee body, especially during the crisis, will be way to go. We can observe such an example within Microsoft as employees call for the company to cancel its police contracts.
No man is an island, as is no organization an entity separate from humans. What is an organization if not a community of humans working towards a common goal? This means that brands, as organizational identities that deliver the organization’s voice are human at their heart as well. Any statement made from that internal truth will undoubtedly sound more honest, authentic and human. Some organizations have already stepped up to have active roles in society where governments have failed. This is a strong signal that attitudes have begun to dramatically change. 30 years ago, this kind of behavior would have been unimaginable for the simple reason that brands simply didn’t do such things. I believe we are entering an era of post social responsibility that will release the inherited corporate restraints and will finally enable organizations to behave in a more human way, and possibly even get angry!
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This article was written in collaboration with Tracy Mech
I am a brand consultant leading organizations and individuals to their hearts. You can connect with me here: