How can a brand ever claim to speak for you?

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Why would anyone want to have a relationship with a brand, let alone “speak with it”?

I’m sorry, but do you have a relationship with your grocer’s or chip shop? How about the place you buy your clothes from? Do you hug each other when you’re feeling low and call each other in times of need?

Let’s be serious here for a moment and define what a “relationship” is. According to Collins’ Dictionary,

The relationship between two people or groups is the way in which they feel and behave towards each other;

A relationship is a close friendship between two people, especially one involving romantic or sexual feelings;

The relationship between two things is the way in which they are connected.

Since the second and third definition do not apply to brand relations, neither does the first. Why? Because brands don’t “feel”.

They can target consumers with their messages, but they cannot speak. They are commercial entities set up to provide a service or product to a certain market, not to represent groups of people striving for a higher purpose or the betterment of the human kind (as sovereign countries or international NGOs may do).

In his recent interview with CNN, Richard Edelman said that consumers are saying “I’m only going to buy a brand if a brand stands up and speaks on my behalf.

Really? Let’s put this to the test and, to make it simple, I’ve chosen several bread brands:

Which bread would you choose from all the brands sold by Tesco? The cheapest one or the most expensive one? The “half and half” or the toastie? The one that keeps the longest or the one that’s the softest?

They are, after all, bread – how on earth can a loaf of bread ever speak on my or your behalf? Why would you want a brand to speak on your behalf when you have your own voice?

Better still – you have an MP/Congressman(woman) who can do this or you can delegate a spokesperson to speak on your behalf. I don’t know about you but when I have something to say, I don’t go to Tesco and say “hey, can you speak on my behalf, please?”

There are campaigns which are not “real winners”, far from it. For instance, Dove’s “real beauty” couldn’t have been more inappropriate, and their skin whitening creams caused significant racial uproars last year. As Business Day in South Africa so well put it:

Should a company with an avowed mission to be a leader in sustainable and responsible business be selling products that tell people — usually women — that they need to be fairer than they naturally are?

Just ask a black woman in South Africa how she felt after she saw this add:

So, let me go back to the “relationship” part or the “brand” speaking for you and I: would you like your body shape to be represented in a bottle, therefore telling you “if you’re fat, this is the bottle for fat people like you” or “if you’re old, tough – this is your bottle“?

Or “if you have any black family or friends you’d better buy them some skin bleaching product?” Wouldn’t this make you scream???

As Scott Guthrie so well put it in his article for “Influence”: “real influence is the ability to change behaviours”. Scott doesn’t say “for the better”. And he’s right; we can influence someone’s behaviour to do bad or good – and in my opinion, this is where brands have an enormous role to play in society and make a positive contribution.

No one should have a relationship with a brand because brands “are” and “deliver” only what their Boards or CEOs want. Change the leadership structure of any business, and you will see the change in the “brand”, whatever that is.

We should have relationships with the people behind the brand, those who make it survive and thrive, and this is exactly what PR and Brand Marketing can and should do.

As Richard Bailey rightly said a couple of weeks ago ‘Who wants to talk to a brand? Who wants a relationship with a brand? Where is the human touch?”

Relationships are human – brands are not human. Have a relationship with a human and buy the product. Praise the efforts of a brand’s “doing good” by buying their products or using their services.

After all, if it hadn’t been for our purchasing power, many brands wouldn’t exist.

The most important thing, I believe, any brand can do for the society is to give back and change something for good: build a school, feed the homeless, dig a well in a village in Africa, or bring a smile on the face of child who has never seen a candy in his life.

What a brand can never do is speak on my behalf – brands don’t “speak”. Their leadership does or, often, the Marketing department does the “speaking”. You and I can speak for ourselves.

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