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The Job of a Brand

Jonathan Howard
Creative Strategist

If you ask a marketing professor at a business school what the job of a brand is, you’ll probably get a very worthy, technically accurate answer. Something like, “To contribute to long-term shareholder value and profitability by raising awareness and preference over other competitive brands, thus justifying a price premium and ensuring advantageous merchandising and display, and favourable terms with suppliers.”

How exciting! No, really. It’s desperately exciting, isn’t it?

Well, no. Not for creative people.

You see, the job of a brand – when it comes to the actual campaign – is not about shareholder value. It’s about something more ancient and fundamental.

Brands and money started at the same time: the moment when strangers needed to trade with each other, between tribes.

Inside a tribe, where everybody knows everybody, there’s no material trade. If I can pick an apple from a tree, you can pick an apple from the same tree. So I can’t sell you an apple. There are no brands inside a tribe.

When the producer of a product and the end user don’t know each other personally, then they need a brand going in one direction, and money going in the other.

You might not trust me, but if you trust the logo on the sealed package that I’m holding in my hand, you don’t need to trust me. And I don’t need to trust you, as long as I trust the coin you’re offering me.

And so millions of people can trade with each other, all around the world, without personally knowing anyone outside of their neighbourhood.

So the job of a brand is to make friends. It’s that simple. To make friends with millions of people who will never meet your employees. Everything else is detail.

Money doesn’t need to make friends. Money already has a lot of friends. Brands need to make friends, and most of them fail to.


Because they think that the job of a brand is to make status displays. That’s not how you make friends. We all remember the status junkie at school who went around thumping his chest, declaring how amazing he was. How many friends did he have?

So the job of the creatives is to forge an emotional connection between themselves and millions of strangers.

Hang on, isn’t that a typo? Surely that should read, “an emotional connection between the brand and millions of strangers”?

Nope. The brand doesn’t exist, just like Homer Simpson doesn’t exist. Although we feel that we have a relationship with him, we don’t. We have a relationship with the writers, and with the voiceover artist.

In branding, we have a relationship with the talent, skill and judgment of the creatives on the brand team. This relationship is masked by the brand.

If they’ve appeased the legal department, impressed the product designer, made the sales force feel safe, and avoided upsetting the analysts, then they feel like they’ve done their job.

But if they haven’t made friends with us, then they’ve failed.

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