Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Utility versus Substance

Was reading a great post from Russell Davies that was a write up of a presentation that he was making at what I think was a widget conference (yes widgets have their own conference,) where part of the argument was for the idea of ‘brand utility.’ This to me means that the idea of the brand as a collection of abstract image statements about the kind of people who buy a particular product is over, and that the new type will have a usefulness and utility, a REAL point.

However the word utility leads to other words like practical or informative, which lead to words like dull and phases like ‘the creativity is seeping out of this great business.’ But to my mind this is the fault of the word and not the idea behind it. If you sat down and thought about all of the things that qualify as useful in your life i.e. the things that given the choice you would keep, then you would probably notice two things about the list. The first would be that great advertising would feature pretty low down. The other would be that as well as things like google, chairs, hoovers, TV news, etc… that simply perform a useful task, you would have to include things like art, books, surprises, the support of a friend etc… that can not be summed up in a functional way. In other words it’s the words that confuse the issue. ‘Brand Utility’ does not allow for the expansive scope of all of the many wondrous things that create meaning and substance in your life.

For this reason I would suggest the phrase BRAND SUBSTANCE to describe this development better. A brand that seeks to add real substance to your life with real things that you will appreciate.

Substance is also a better word for someone who works in the accounts department when assessing the value of a brand. In my mind this had been pretty much a finger in the air job till now. Brand substance will have real mass, can be measured, and its value assessed in a far more solid way. This is the stuff that brands should be made of in the future.

I am going to be looking for examples of brands adding rich and magical substance to products rather than just utility based value and will post what I find.

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