What you say, Ed Cotton


In a recent blog, “Corporations Need a Reason for Being”, Ed Cotton writes about the gap between what consumers care about – social issues, purpose, human rights, and what companies sell – stuff, stuff and more stuff.  He says:
“It seems like we’ve confused marketing with purpose, that marketing is something that helped us out when we didn’t really have a clue about who we wanted to be and what we wanted our businesses to stand for.”
Ed is thinking clearly, and every corporation needs to hear what he’s saying. But Ed, can we go one step further? You also write,
“People want and need more and there’s so much more brands and their corporations could do.”
Just as we’ve confused marketing with purpose, haven’t we also confused brand with corporation? Is a corporation the people and the brand a thing? How can things have purpose?
Brand is what you call it when you have to create a purpose rather than living one. Brand is what you create instead of being completely transparent about who you really are.
Integrity is the only answer. One company with a clear purpose for existing, and products that support that purpose. My favorite definition of integrity is, “when you look inside yourself, there is only one self there”. It’s been a very long time since that could be said about most corporations.

One last thing, Ed. You also quote Warren Berger about, “the potential mid-life crisis of the ad biz”.  Come on, we all know that advertising is way way past middle age.


One Response to “What you say, Ed Cotton”

  1. I do thank you for this, Cheryl – calling out the conflated and legion ways we use this word ‘brand.’ I think we can go back to a certain pivotal moment that provided a big boost in getting us to this moment: The Brand Called You published in ’97 by Tom Peters in FastCompany. Before this, of course “Brand” existed but not in that ubiquitously applied way once we expanded it to people. This is, of course, my own poor man’s history take.

    I think before we became so sophisticated as to declare “brand,” it just WAS – it was something more achieved than simply named into existence. The name of the product then became brand as that name signified a set of expectations about the product.

    Upon seeing the success of a name referring to a real set of qualities and that leading to sales, we began brand as science, first by deconstructing successful brands and then by pre-empting the development of the set of qualities with developing the set of feelings we wanted people to feel. We wanted the fire without the fuel as a shortcut to the purchase. What you said above “Creating it rather than just living it.” Unfortunately – creating it does works: get people to believe something, then they buy. But it’s not a long-term strategy for a true brand. There must BE something real, something lived.

    By default, then, a new product has no brand, only a promise: Here’s who I am. Here’s what I do. The brand comes after people experience it and tell what they feel about it or identify the qualities.

    FEMA didn’t have much of a brand before Katrina. Now it’s got one that’ll be hard to shake whenever the name is mentioned.

    My point: I think honest brand work recognizes that, yes, I’d like you to feel a certain way about my product and buy it, but I also recognize that I can’t force that. First I produce something that is truly unique or exataordinary, something real. Then I work from both ends, suggesting and educating on one end and listening to people’s experience on the other.

    Thanks again.


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