The alchemy of brands

23 January 2019 3 min read

What would the world be like without brands? Brand Strategist Katie Sandell recently attended an enlightening event at the Museum of Brands in west London to find out how powerful brands are in our decision-making process.

Have you visited the Museum of Brands? If you haven’t been, it really is worth a visit, even if just to give yourself a feeling of nostalgia as you coo over the retro Kellogg’s packaging. The talk was given by Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman at Ogilvy and seriously experienced ‘ad man’. His talk was entitled ‘A World Without Brands – Why it Would Never Work’ and it was the first of the museum’s ‘Can Marketing Save Lives?’ speaker series.

As has become expected of Rory Sutherland, his talk was insightful and funny but, crucially, it got me thinking about the power of brands and whether or not we could do without them. As part of the strategy team at Mobas, part of my everyday working life involves talking to clients about the power of their brands – a ‘brand’ being not just a logo, strapline or font, but a true articulation of a company’s essence and reason for being.

Rory Sutherland’s talk really struck a chord with me, not just because of the fact it focused on brands and why they’re important to us (as consumers), but also his reference to the world of economics and how in his view it is, quite frankly, a load of codswallop in its traditional form. As an economics undergraduate myself, I was relieved to finally hear someone say what I’d been thinking throughout my whole degree. Sure, someone will buy bottle of water ‘A’ because it’s cheaper than bottle of water ‘B’, for example. However, what traditional economics often fails to take into account is the behaviour, psychology and perceptions of consumers, i.e. they’re not always rational decision-makers. In fact, it’s more often the case that they act in a much more emotional way.

Take the example of buying a car. You’ve done your research – tick. The car you’ve found has an excellent NCAP rating – tick. It has incredible fuel economy – tick. It’s reliable – tick. There’s just one problem. It isn’t an Alfa Romeo. Despite their notorious reputation for being unreliable cars, they’re still bought in their thousands by UK drivers every year. Why? Because buying a car is so often an emotional purchase, rather than a rational one – it’s the ‘I just have to have it’ mentality.

Thankfully, a group of economists known as the Austrian Economists realised this and (most importantly for us marketeers) therefore understood the role of advertising and marketing in consumer purchasing behaviours. This school of thinking refused to look at statistics and numbers to understand consumers and instead used behavioural economics.

My key take-out from the talk is that brands are so incredibly important because they can instil trust in consumers. If you buy a TV, you might not buy a Samsung because it’s the best TV in the shop, but you’ll probably buy it because it’s more likely to be ‘good’ compared to another TV which is a brand name you’ve never heard of. This means that there’s a reduction in the fear of making a bad purchase and your new TV blowing up within half an hour of getting it home. In other words:

“The value of your brand lies in all those questions you no longer need to ask.”

Thinkbox have created a video which explores the role of brands in our everyday lives and the implications when they’re no longer there: