Egoless not spineless

Posted 28 September 2015.

​By Teresa Harris, Strategic Director, Special Group

​Let’s stop making nonsense stuff up

Consider me baffled. Why do we spend so much time making things up? Why are we catering to the lowest common denominator? All this dumbing down is so uncouth. We are in the industry of creativity, not manufacturing. If McCann had said “Lies, poorly told”, marketing would be a force to be reckoned with (I’m looking at you indulgent ‘storytelling’ 60 second ads about lost animals).

He didn’t. He advocated the “Truth well told”. Why can’t we handle the truth?

Find your truth

I believe Fox Mulder. “The truth is out there.” Geez, it may even set you free.

If I were to urge marketers to do one thing it would be to hunt and gather your truth. As we chase the ‘holy grail’ of consumer insights, your brands truth may have been consigned to the archive. Unshackle it. Don’t make it up. Don’t try to be someone else. Don’t ask consumers who to be. A focus group won’t tell you who you are and what you can become. You and I wouldn’t let strangers tell us how to behave so why would you sentence your brand to that fate?

We all get lost along the way. I get it. So stop and go back to your beginnings. What force created the brand? What mission were you originally on? Humans create brands and we are irrational, emotional and hard-wired to find change. Channel that. Have the courage of internal examination. As we all know, when someone is not being their authentic self we smell it a mile away. Lies are whiffy. Unabashed truth is magnetic.

“To thine ownself be true and it must follow as the night the day thou canst not then be false to any man.” - Hamlet

The Greeks knew it. “Know thyself”. A call to be true, not over-claim or overthink. It’s said that the proverb is “applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are” and that it’s a warning to “pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude.”

That may read like an unholy death wish in today’s world but the truth is: People want you to be your self – wholly and heartfelt.

Bear hug the ugly truths

What if the truth isn’t pretty? What’s the ugly truth no one wants to talk about? Embrace tension. Hug it. What jujitsu move can you use to turn that weakness into advantage? When you see the truth of how you’re perceived you can change. Call yourself on it.

One of my favourite case studies is from my Crispin Porter & Bogusky days. The Domino’s brand turnaround story. It marked the beginning of brand transparency. In an attempt to reinvent itself it came out with a jarring and therefore engaging idea - ‘Our pizza sucks’. If you haven’t seen the story check it out at

What I love is that it was designed to garner cultural conversation. And it did. Stephen Colbert reported: “It takes giant alpha meatballs to stand up and say ‘America, we suck’… God bless America and God bless Domino’s new pizza recipe”

The campaign took Domino’s stock price up 44% in one month and profits more than doubled year on year. Now that’s a way to make a brand’s core truth sing.

“In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” - George Orwell

Have a future- be grandiose in your ambition not your ego

If you’ve found your True North, you’re away. Have a mission greater than transactions. Know where you want to be. What would the world be missing if your brand didn’t exist? What legacy will you leave? What good will you have done?

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Lewis Carroll

Don’t take ourselves too seriously. Let’s face it, consumers don’t take the brand half as seriously as we do. They want to be entertained and have their intelligence respected. Reward them. Give them something to be part of. 2degrees Play the Bridge is an act of generosity. As Malcolm Phillips says: “Give them something to play with. Light up people’s lives”

Be part of culture. Have a point of view on life. Be part of culture’s conversation.

Be useful or be entertaining. Preferably both.