Sunday, July 09, 2006

Beware of Greeks bearing brands.

I’ve always believed that no brand is wholly in charge of its destiny. Just as Engelbert Humperdinck as a concept is incomplete without his fans, so it is with laundry detergent, cars, colognes, hamburgers, scotch, chewing gum and insect repellent. The brand acquires associations from the marketplace, starting the second it’s born, and continues to evolve that way forever more in a perpetual cultural conversation.

But dealing with marketing people, as I am occasionally required to do in order to keep gas in the Mini, you sometimes meet up with those who see things differently. There roam the earth legions of brand determinists, a flinty breed who think that every day in the life of a brand is a blank page. That the marketplace will forget whatever you tell them to forget and do and think whatever they’re told, if the logo is swooshy enough.

And I have found their king.

His name is Andreas Markessinis, and it is his professional opinion that Greece is in desperate need of branding (see for yourself). Greece, the country. You know, where western civilization invented its philosophy, politics, morality and flaming cheese? That Greece. This place has been a going concern since before the Leafs won their last Stanley Cup. It’s, like, the definition of ancient. And I reckon it has a brand, thank you.

To be fair, Mr. Markessinis acknowledges as much. But he thinks Greece’s brand is “…sleepy [and] disorganized…”. And, though he confuses the brand with the product experience, he does go on to make a reasoned case that branding is about, as Johnny Mercer put it, ac-cent-tchu-ating the positive. Still, I think he may be a bit too close to the subject - a common affliction among marketers - and that breeds a kind of arrogance that’s deadly to brands.

From New Coke to the Cadillac Catera, from McDonald’s Pizza to Levi’s Slates, brands never experience more near misses at oblivion than at the hands of brand managers who want to make their marks before their hitches are up. They and their market research geeks may mean well, but their disrespect for history is, by definition, a disrespect for the relationships people have with the brands they’re managing.

Do I have to bring up that whole Oakley thing again?

In the world of branding, good intentions like this are Trojan horses. A fact apparently not lost on Mr. Markessinis’ constituency. No posts from him in a year, no forum discussions, ever. Whatever his original agenda is, it’s faded into the mists of time. Unlike, say, the Acropolis. Or democracy. Or Big Macs.

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