Facta Non Verba (Deeds Not Words)

Branding Deeds

Just between us, how real are you?

When I say real, I mean truly sincere, honest and genuine – you always do what you say you will do.

Or are you the type of person who believes because you’ve said something good or kind, or better still, thought something good or kind, that you’ve actually done something good or kind?

Don’t worry, you’re in good company – with the majority of the world’s population.

Facta non verba is the motto of Collegiate Girls School in Port Elizabeth. It was the sister school to the one I attended, being Grey High School. My mom went to Collegiate and that motto (or ethos) crept into her DNA and went on to frame her life.

We were raised with the simple rule “you are what you do”. No more. No less.

When I arrived in Cape Town at age 22, I was amazed by the concept of notional hospitality as offered by those living in a bigger city. In PE, when you received an invitation for a meal, it came with a date, venue and time.

Here, I experienced “you must come over”, “you must come to us for a meal”. I soon realised it was at that point that I should have given them the flowers and thank you card, because it was a virtual invitation. They felt truly warmed and hospitable at the idea of having you over – without actually having to cook, host or wash-up. What a kind lady Mrs Jones is, I’d think… so friendly. But the real invite never arrived.

And then I went into advertising.

Until recently (and it’s still deeply in transition), a brand was actually far more about saying than doing.

And that was good enough. The product DID and the brand SAID.

With the advent of social media and consumer vigilantism, brands have less of a chance of promising you unbridled, lifelong happiness through devouring, say, a chocolate (although I think I’ve possibly seen this happen once), or global admiration through your choice of airline or the next big job as a result of reading a certain paper.

Most great brands were built on stratospheric, emotional over-promise – and then pure functional delivery.

And consumers wouldn’t have had it any other way. They wanted the dream and bought it wholesale.

“What do you mean am I successful? I have a crocodile logo on my shirt dammit”.

A few years ago (or maybe still) you could win a coveted Peace Prize or become an Ambassador for Change almost entirely on “saying” versus “doing” – a riveting presentation on pollution perhaps or global admiration for a Hollywood actor visiting a slum for a day (despite it being not that far from their own upbringing).

We are now however entering an era of dare I say, honesty.

I saw a post on Facebook the other day where this guy said, “I wish my life was as good as my Facebook page”.

I was confused by this. I wondered whether this meant he put fictitious stuff on his page, or that the page only showed the nice stuff he did (and left out the bad or mundane)?

Advertising can be a lot like that.

Supersize Me was Morgan Spurlock’s moment of truth for McDonald’s. It was an “inconvenient truth”. An awful mirror that McDonald’s had to look into, in order to change. And whilst it may have been the most horrifying moment for the brand at the time, it also liberated them into confronting their demons and finding a new way.

“The truth” as they say, “shall set you free”.

So what does the truth look like for many brands? That can be a terrifying thought.

Today, a brand simply cannot have a high order value without actually doing something special – whether it is Chipotle’s commitment to healthier and more sustainable farming methods in order to put better food on your plate, or Amex’s terrific idea of Small Business Fridays to actively stimulate shopping with the smaller guys versus the chains.

It’s not about brands arbitrarily doing good, or setting out to change the world – that’s not the role of your watch, your car or tomato sauce. It’s now about brands being useful, giving back and keeping it real.

Innocent or Nudie Smoothies would be good examples of this. Both recognised that customers wanted healthier drinks but without compromise. They tap into a zeitgeist without compromising on taste, packaging or communications by keeping it simple, real, honest – and a bit cheeky.

An existential crisis today can be the best possible thing for a brand, if it’s genuinely taken on as a real challenge.

It can future-proof the brand, get the organisation to dig deep, innovate and re-invent itself before them hormone-fed chickens come home to roost as a result of a new entrant or competitor brand who keeps it “real”.

This is not to say you can’t appeal to emotions, provenance, or even mythology in your messaging, sure you can (and absolutely should), but it’s about finding a powerful truth that actually delivers.

To get this right Marketing Departments will need to (once again) be involved across all the P’s as Promotion (which seems to be the current and limited remit in some organisations), can no longer be the solution to being behaviourally “real”.

It is the full combination of Product (where innovation is always key), Pricing (not just adopting a category parity strategy but using it as a differentiator), and then Place (distribution today is key in telling your story). Just look at how BOS used those little fridges in intriguing places to create interest and trial around their brand – disrupting a very well established category.

Brands today will be defined by what they do, not what they say.


by Mike Abel: Chief Executive Partner and co-founder of the M&C SAATCHI ABEL Communications Group, South Africa.

SOURCE:     http://www.leader.co.za/

IMAGE CREDITS:     http://www.tonedigital.co.za/

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