Why So Serious?

The article below appeared in the Applied Arts Design Awards Issue
August 2014

In recent years authenticity, austerity and transparency have become foundations for new and old brands alike. More than ever before, consumers are more discerning and thoughtful in their buying choices, conscious of the impact of those choices and therefore want brands to be more ethical and conscientious.  As a result brand stories, marketing campaigns and graphic design palettes have increasingly been based on proving these attributes to their consumers, fans and followers.  Consumers, however,  are rapidly becoming bored and fatigued by this ‘over earnestness’ and constant assurances of authenticity.

It can be argued that everything has become too serious and this brand strategy itself is bland and needs more innovative consideration. The ‘behind the scenes’ exposés of how things are made, where they come from and how carefully/thoughtfully they are brought to market are no longer distinct brand stories. Certainly for me, every time I see a ‘hand-crafted, hand-made, sustainable, locally-sourced’ brand mantra I become disinterested but then feel guilty for being so, after all it is the right thing to be. Therefore, to avoid consumer fatigue these ethical sentiments need to be communicated in a more engaging and creative way.

So, how do we create brands that are trustworthy and credible whilst being interesting, engaging and appealing?

Our studio works with clients in across food, fashion, design and hospitality industries and given the nature of their products and offers this question comes up a lot. It is incredibly important that the tenants of a modern (ethical) business are communicated and part of their brands. But, at the same time, it doesn’t always need to be soooooo serious….

Trust and transparency can be communicated in a number of ways beyond literally stating it. For example, through quality in the execution of products and consistency in the delivery of messages. Once this is done, we can move on and create strong, dynamic brand stories that are unique and have imagination and are charming. Creating a much stronger, engaging and resilient brand.

If brands can be more spontaneous and whimsical they become beautiful storytellers –  endearing and charming, a joy to interact with. To create this joy is not superficial or superfluous. It is good business. It generates sales, and turns customers into brand ambassadors. People want to share what they find fun, beautiful and unexpected.

There are several factors at play if we rationalize the importance of spontaneity and eccentricities in brands. Firstly, people are time poor, over stimulated and busy. Arguably, this leaves little time for creativity and imagination. Life is so full of rules and predictable routines that we can forget that art and life depend on spontaneity. If we can create moments of fun and humour in people’s lives through their interactions with the products or services they use and places they go (brands) – we can play a part in making their lives more enjoyable.

Secondly, the world is a serious place. There are so many serious, disheartening and scary things going on in the world that people are jumping at opportunities to escape and be transported away. Fantasy and escapism has always played an important role in society when times are tough. Being a counterpoint to all the seriousness can make brands more meaningful – it gives them a bigger reason for existence (beyond commerce) by brightening someone’s day, if even on a small level.

And lastly, with the transparency culture of the internet, consumers can find out anything they want. To be interesting and different brands need to be unpredictable and even fantastical. It is the imagined and unrealized that is interesting and engaging as much as the real or material. Providing consumers with visuals, ideas and concepts that they could never have imagined and that surprises and delights them is where the real value of a well conceived brand lies.

Its about balance and choosing moments to be serious, and moments to be surprising.  Its about building brands that are not templated and predictable and treating them as platforms to engage and ignite imagination, humour, whimsy and creativity. Its about telling the reality in a compelling and surprising way so that authentic stories and brand truths are noticed and appreciated.

It’s no easy task. But one we should all we striving for.