Obsessive Branding Disorder

The following was written in response to this post by Debbie Millman on Design Observer, discussing the various points and counterpoints of Lucas Conley’s book Obsessive Branding Disorder:

It seems to me that both authors are stuck in binary opposite positions (awkward turn of phrase, apologies…) defined by their respective jobs and their need to defend absolutely one position or the other. While both articulate valid points, the real problems facing brand design at present are to do with the murky grey area in between.

When Kevin Roberts asserts that Cheerio’s, Colgate etc exist beyond a brand, as a Lovemark you kind of realise how farcical branding has become (at it’s most extremely pseudo scientific). Yet there is still, on one level at least, a decent rational for this kind of approach to fast moving consumer goods, as you’re seeking some kind of advantage with a product which is generic, or at least easily replicated at best. Likewise, a top-down control and consistency approach to the branding of a bank makes sense as solidity and stability is what potential borrowers, investors and savers would be looking for. (Though this could be a seperate discussion in itself at the moment).

The problematic areas for me are when, for example, organisations such as the one I work for – prominent European art and design institutions which pride themselves on creativity and imagination – employ exactly the same methods of branding and identity management as a firm of chartered accountants. Design is relegated to a constrained formula in the name of consistency, and creativity, risk, experimentation, and the ability to be coherant without necessarily always looking and acting the same, are relegated to secondary activities, if not overruled completely.

Surely this is a question of appropriateness, and it is this misplacement or overemphasis on branding in sectors which don’t or shouldn’t need it, that creates most of the problems with the current interface of branding and design.

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