The Brand Philosophers

Brand_philosophers Branding and marketing books have a bad habit.  They ignore other branding books.  They ignore other authors and ideas.

This is one of the reasons the branding debate is such a mess.  We are not good at discouraging bad ideas.  We are not good at promoting good ideas.  In fact, the branding debate isn’t a deabate.  It’s everyone talking at once. 

The My Heroes post: This is a quick review of the authors, ideas and communities I admire the most.  (See the post here.) 

The Kevin Roberts post:
Roberts’ book has some good ideas, but mostly it’s an ad for Kevin Roberts and his ad agency.  Books have a solemn duty: to make original proposition as clearly as possible.  It is not to shill on behalf of a person or an agency.  (See the post here.) 

The Sir John Hegarty post: Hegarty is a big sneeze in the English marketing community.  Hence the knighthood.  And you would think this position of leadership would make him a good spokesman for the field.  But no.  Instead, Sir John decided to tell the world that marketing and branding is effectively mysterious.  You either get it or you don’t.  It’s about taste, which you have and you don’t have.  This is just bone stupid.  But worse than that it takes back to the day when ad agency turned the creative process into a black box, and said to the client, effectively, this is much too complicated for you ever to understand.  Just give us the money and we’ll give you an ad.   (See the post here.) 

The Clotaire Rapaille post: What do you say about a guy who claims to have cracked the code of India?   One of the things we must grasp in order to be better at branding is culture.  (This is one way to move the debate beyond Sir John’s "it’s all about taste" argument.)  But when Clotaire treats culture, he simplifies it shamelessly.  Now I understand that he is a charismatic guy and that he can have a memerizing effect on the C suite.  But marketing and culture are too important to the brand and too important to the corporation to be treated with so little nuance, knowledge and power. (See the post here.) 

The Jerry Zaltman post: Jerry is a prince of a guy and I loved having him as a colleague at the Harvard Business School.  But the trouble with his work is that Jerry doesn’t understand culture at all.  He is a perfectly typically b-school prof and this isolation has cost him dear.  Zaltman is at least an improvement on Rapaille.  He doesn’t just make stuff up.  But when Jerry sits down to divine the cultural meanings, he is not qualified to deliver good results.  More particularly, you may not talk about metaphor, unless you know about culture.  (See the post here.)

The James Surowiecki post:
I have great admiration for Surowiecki.  He is the author of the Wisdom of Crowds book and a real contributor to the marketing debate.  But in the Surowiecki essay I study in this post, we see Surowiecki insisting that we think about the consumer as a rational creature.  When consumers comes to brands they are not calculating interest narrowing defined.  They come to our brands looking for ideas with which to furnish their worlds, their families, their homes, and their selves.  When we think about them as interest seekers, as creatures of the economics paradigm, we misunderstand them most fundamentally.   Now, some people want to broaden our view of the consumer by insisting on the consumer’s left brain, their emotion, their creativity.  And this is useful as far as it goes.  But in fact, what we really want to get into the paradigm is culture.  This is where we see the consumer whole. (See the post here.) 

The Clayton Christensen post: Christensen is another person for whom I have great respect.  I was lucky enough to have had him as a colleague when I was teaching at the Harvard Business School.  But I have to say, I was astonished when he proposed this idea of the Purpose Brand.  Wow, talk about missing the mark.  Talk about failing to see the consumer and brand in their full richness and complexity.  Talking about undercutting the marketing mission.   We are obliged to say, pace Surowiecki, that marketing is not economics.  And here we must say it’s not engineering! (See the post here.)

The Chris Anderson post:
This post came about in a strange way.  I made a stray remark about The Long Tail, and Anderson dropped by the blog to challenge me.  And naturally I responded.  I was trained at the University of Chicago.  We are built for combat.  Anderson apparently didn’t know this about the University of Chicago and retired from the field immediately.   I hear from friends he now speaks ill of me privately.  (Dude, man up and say it in public. )  Anyhow, here’s a guy who was in a very nice position to take on the big issues that confronted branding now that we are engaged in what the Cluetrain boys call a "conversation" and he whiffed completely. (See the post here.) 


With thanks to for the image. 

1 thought on “The Brand Philosophers

  1. Paul

    Grant, clearly you like a fight. Good to see. Glad to see John Grant is on your ‘good’ list. If you have a post of great books, I love to see it.


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