Cate Blanchett: brand exemplar

Cate_blanchett_i When theatre people say why Cate Blanchett is a good actress, they say she is:

  • transformational and fluid
  • open
  • filled with contradiction
  • uncontrolled at the core
  • elusive
  • ambiguous

Hah!  Traditionally, this is the "no fly zone" of the branding world.  It may do for actresses to work the more difficult and meaning rich tropes. Not for brands.  No, brands preferred a rhetoric that emphasized emphasis, repetition, clarity and, um, emphasis. 

But why can’t the brand be more like Cate? 

Lindy Davies, director at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney, says that Blanchett as a student exhibited a kind of egoless state.  She was, in his word, "transformational."  Blanchett calls this "fluidity."  Lahr of The New Yorker calls it an "inconclusiveness."  As brands learn to be many things to many people, and to be ever more quick about it, the transformational will come to be seen as a good thing. 

Openness also matters.  Blanchett says, "I think it’s important to pin questions down.  Sometimes you can answer things definitively with a character, within a moment.  And sometimes it’s important that you don’t."  What brands try for openness?  A mere handful.  Apple?  Geiko? 

Contradiction is one of the sources from which fluidity and openness come.  Blanchett is "candid and private, gregarious and solitary, self-doubting and daring, witty and melancholy."  The idea that a brand could be any of these things is a little dizzying.  The idea that it could all of these things at once, is completely removed from the realm of possibility.  Still, that’s doesn’t mean that brands won’t someday master contradiction.  After all, if a real world of perfect dynamism is truly upon us, it won’t have any choice. 

Jonathan Kent says that Blanchett has an "uncontrolled core that she’s not entirely in charge of, which when it’s harnessed, makes her riveting."  Riveting, now that’s language the branding world can understand. That’s something the contemporary brand wants very much to be.  If the price is an uncontrolled core, look out Kraft, look out Motorola, look out Warner Brothers.  We have seen your future.

Scott Rudin is impressed with the way that Blanchett controls access.

She’s very shrewd about what capital she gives up and when.  When she gives you the tiniest bit of insight into why the character’s behaving the way she is, you gobble it up.  I think it’s a combination of alluring and elusive.

And when Blanchett was preparing a scene for Notes on a Scandal, she decided, "I’m going to be completely, utterly ambiguous.  Ambiguity is not absence.  It’s a wildly contradiction series of actions, emotions, and intentions." 

Zut alors.  We are now so far off the brand map as to be living in another universe.  But as I say, capitalism is nothing if not responsive, and when it sees that the only way to make dynamic brands is to embrace a new rhetoric, well, of course it will.  And in that moment, the world will threaten a massive changing of the guard.  The business schools, the agencies, the consultants will change or be displaced.  We’re all going to have to be a lot more like Cate. 


Lahr, John.  2007.  Disappearing Act.  Cate Blanchett branches out.  The New Yorker.  February 12, 2007, pp. 38-45

6 thoughts on “Cate Blanchett: brand exemplar

  1. brandflakesforbreakfast

    Brilliant thinking as usual Grant.

    I look at those six qualities, and believe they might also describe talented creative people in our business. (Or at least the desired qualities of talented creative people.)

  2. Pingback: tiny gigantic

  3. idnca

    Very interesting ideas regarding contemporary brands. I wanted to point to the fact that beyond the charming K. Blanchett this paradoxical, ambiguous and polyphonic – as Bakhtin would call it – nature of brands has been rather well described in recent literature against marketing mainstream doxa. I think mostly of 2 examples right now.

    Firstly, S. Brown (2005) hilarious deconstruction of Ryanair branding strategy, labeled “paradessence” in reference to Alex Shakar’s The Savage Girl (2001) in which paradessence means the ability to combine 2 apparently mutually exclusive states and satisfy both simultaneously. For example coffee can be said to be both stimulation and relaxation. (Shakar, 72-73). So contra USP, brand kernel, DNA and other metaphors of stability and essentialism, Brown insists on the ambivalent and paradoxical meaning of brand discourses which can trigger various interpretations.

    Secondly, Csaba & Bengtsson (2005), very accurately contrast the problematic use of the “identity” reference in most branding literature. They demonstrate how such a complex conceptual notion referring to various disciplinary fields like philosophy, sociology, psychology or organization studies remains poorly explicited in marketing and relies on dubious assumptions (e.g. essentialism, stability, proprietary qualities) that solid contemporary research in social sciences regarding the problematic of self and cultural identity lead us to question by insisting on relational, contingent, narrative dimensions. (e.g. Giddens, Castells, Bauman)

    Around the notion of identity, both articles aim at contrasting a popular, simplistic and utilitarian managerial view of brands with a properly informed cultural understanding of consumers and citizens subjectivity in relations to brands.

    – Brown, S. Ambi-brand culture, On a wing and swear with Ryanair.
    – Csaba, F., Bengtsson, A., Rethinking identity in Brand Management.
    Both articles in Brand Culture (2005) by Jonathan Schroeder, Miriam Salzer-Morling (editors)

Comments are closed.