How branding both stifles creativity and sets it free

There are some people who think that branding has a dampening effect on creative self-expression. They are right! However, that is a good thing. Having too much freedom of expression is bad for the brand, because you end up expressing too many visuals and messages for any one of them to catch hold with the marketplace.

Imagine how boring it is to say the same thing 7 times. Now imagine saying the same thing 70 times, 70,000, or even 70 million. Naturally it stifles your creativity…but the more you say the same thing the more people will remember it. I once heard that in corporate communication, you have to repeat a message something like 7 times before it sticks in people’s heads. (See for example, “Studies show that the average consumer needs to hear or see your message about seven times before he or she will buy from you.”)

On the other hand, the act of branding itself can be very creative. There is a 2006 book called Juicing the Orange, by Pat Fallon and Fred Senn (of Fallon Worldwide, “one of the world’s largest advertising and media conglomerates”) that is worth a read if you are afraid that branding means that you can’t step outside the box and do something new. I wish I could reprint the entire book here, it’s so good.

An especially applicable case study from the book is about the islands of the Bahamas. The Duffy Design group of the Fallon team (formerly part of the agency) gave the entire 700-island country, with its “staggering range of geography, culture, activities, and personality,” a distinctive graphic identity that managed to capture the diversity of the islands within a single framework (see According to Fallon, “All Bahamians felt represented” by the graphic. Having a single visual identity makes it possible for the Bahamas to package itself while at the same time presenting itself creatively. And the results are measurable: Among other things, “The integrated campaign helped drive a 14.5 percent increase in total arrivals to the Bahamas from January through April 2004, compared with the same period in 2003…The year before, the Bahamas had lagged behind the region’s growth by 38 percent…this year it had turned things around, finishing 28 percent ahead of the Caribbean regional average.” This is an example of a creative approach that works because it is implemented consistently.

Another good story from the book concerns United, and the “It’s Time To Fly” slogan/campaign. The agency used an extraordinarily creative approach to the brand, bringing in animation and classical music, then executing variations on the visual "look," and content themes, with the consistent tagline “It’s Time To Fly,” in numerous ways and places. The result: “Among all business travelers with access to United flights, its rating as ‘airline most preferred’ shot up from 9 percent to 20 percent.” Another creative approach that works because it is executed in a similar way all over the world.

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