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July 8, 2008

Successful Brands Are Based On Great Themes

A true brand is a metaphor for desire, a container for aspirations and the promise of fulfillment. We are all the same, each of us searching for the same things and they aren’t keywords. Most businesses think way too narrowly; too focused on the concrete instead of the psychological. Branding like history is based on enduring themes, the universal hardwired predilections that form our basic needs and wants, whether for business or pleasure.

Quintessential Brand Themes

Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman have come up with what they call the ‘Seven Giants’ in their book ‘Marketing Metaphoria.’ They describe seven classic elements that they see effecting consumer behavior: balance, transformation, journey, container, connection, resource, and control.

Balance is about maintaining or reestablishing normality; Transformation is about the metamorphosis from unsatisfying to fulfillment; Journey is about personal growth; Container is about physical and emotional constraints; Connection is about relationships; Resource is about acquiring and using tools and knowledge; and Control is about creating a sense of security, well-being, or mastery.

These themes have a marked similarity to the classic storytelling scenarios used by every novelist, screenwriter, and successful brand strategist.

The Brand Story

Effective brand strategies are based on delivering a story, a tale that embeds in the collective consciousness of an audience and becomes a metaphor for some deep-seated psychological human need.

We are taught to maintain a positive outlook, and it is definitely a more healthy approach to life than the opposite, but stories are based on tension, disruption, and overcoming obstacles. If your audience is self-satisfied, if they’re happy with the way they look, the way they feel, and the stuff they own, why would they be interested in buying your product or service? The fact is most people and businesses want more, more of everything, and the promise of more is what you’re selling.

It may not be popular to say, but the negative perspective is the more powerful. If branding is about making a memorable impression you will be more successful if you tap into your audiences’ insecurities and neediness.

Even seemly positive commercials like Dove’s ‘real beauty’ campaign is really about highlighting the audiences’ flaws: it places a mirror in front of the viewer and says, ‘look in the mirror, this is what you really look like, and girl you need makeup’ – cynical perhaps, but this marketing strategy was able to hit consumers from both sides of the psychological fence: great positive PR because of the apparent positive message, while at the same time subliminally saying, you really don’t want to look this natural do you? It’s what we call the Law of Dissatisfaction.

It All Boils Down To Creating Discontent

Archetypical stories all boil down to motivating sales by getting your audience to think your stuff will make their lives better; and in order to do that, you first have to get your audience to accept the fact that their current situation is not as good as they thought.

What good is a forty-two inch flat-screen when you could have a sixty inch one; what good is a headache tablet that takes twenty minutes to work when you could have one that works in five; and how can anyone really be happy with their face or body when just a few injections of some magic elixir will turn them into a beauty queen or matinee idol? Is there really anything wrong with wanting to reach your maximum potential? It is after all the driving force behind our economy and the ultimate motivation behind innovation.

Stories Are Content, Advertising Is Irritation

We all know the Web is about content, and the future of successful Web-marketing lies in the ability to turn marketing messages into content, and meaningful content is about storytelling. We need to stop looking at television advertising as the prototype format; the people running television have their heads buried deep in the sand beside the same people who run the music and movie industries – they just don’t seem to be able to adapt to the new Web-environment and it’s inherent nature, capabilities and demands.

Mind numbing, number crunching study after number crunching study, filled with misleading statistics, complicated graphs, and pretty PowerPoint charts don’t tell the real story. Wasting money on ineffective banner ads and irritating, over-used TV spots, while obsessing over search engine optimization and technical solutions won’t get you where you want to go.

Companies need to learn how to connect to an audience and build a relationship with that audience by delivering content in ways that people have used from time immemorial, through telling a story told by a real person with a real voice: something the Web is not only capable of doing, but is superior at delivering.

Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit,, and Contact at or telephone (905) 764-1246.