Brand Mortality

We all have a keen sense of our own mortality. People die. Family members die. Our pets die. And even though most of us don’t like to think about it, each of us will die. Although it’s the single most uncomfortable fact of life, we all understand this certainty and we accept it.

However, we often subconsciously assume brands are immortal. We assume that the logos that line the shelves at our local superstore are written in stone. That once a brand “makes it big”, that it’s time to sit back and enjoy the ride.

In agency life, too often you can see the train wreck heading your way.

You see the mistakes. You see the poor or incoherent strategies.

You see the best-case ROI forecasts. You see the excel manipulations. You see the unrealistic USPs and products that don’t offer real value to the customer. You see the lack of problem solving and the over emphasis on selling. You see marketing being misunderstood and abused.

You see the thought processes -- bring enough people to the site and they WILL buy. They will convert. They will become brand enthusiasts. Apple did it, right? Forget creative. Don't solve a problem. UX doesn't matter.

We all see these huge brands ignoring the obvious and planning for campaign success when it's really just a spray and pray advertising strategy. Planning campaigns that ignore the user. That ignore purpose. That are relentlessly focused on the sell, the MAC, the ROMI, but fail the most critical tests.

When we see these things, too often we’re maliciously obedient. We assume if we keep our heads down and just blindly march down the wrong road, we’ll end up in the right place. We believe that if we do our part, the rest will fall into place. We hope. We don't think. We just assume that it will work out in the end. Usually, it doesn’t.

Brands aren’t forever. 50% of the Fortune 500 in 1999 dropped out by 2009. Over 87% of the companies from the 1955 list have since dropped off. Many of these companies have been shut down, sold for parts, or just forgotten.

The lesson? Tell the truth. Be authentic. Don't lie to yourself or your peers (and being maliciously obedient is lying, just a passive aggressive form of it). Realizing and embracing the fact that brands are mortal will keep you sharp. Keep you hungry.

Lions on the Serengeti know they are a failed chase or hunt away from starvation. Grazing gazelles realize they are a wrong decision away from being eaten.

Marketers, too, need to understand that their decisions matter. Strategies matter. Campaigns matter. There is a price to being wrong. There is a price to being lazy. There is a price for being maliciously obedient, slowly marching toward a certain, albeit slow death. And that’s the really insidious and dangerous thing.

Unlike our animal friends, though, brands usually die slowly and often from decisions that were made years before. The false sense of security creeps up because we don’t feel the pains of hunger or the fear of running for our lives.

The point is to not equate life and death decisions with marketing, but rather to understand the importance of our decisions and the frailty of the brands we pour our hearts and souls into. And to never forget what’s at stake every time we make a decision.


Written by Brian Easter on January 13, 2014


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