Are Brands Dead?

Just 48% of consumers say that "brands appear genuine about what they say and stand for", and it's only getting worse. So, are brands dead?

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On top of this, only 47% felt that brands stand out from the crowd, down from the previous year's 61%.

Now that's some spooky stuff. But are brands like ghosts, long gone and haunting, or are they more like Zombies, dead but back from the dead for revenge? Or maybe they're just like Moth Man, outdated and indescribable. I could do these all day. But let's move on. 

In his well-known interview with Mr Purpose and Jim Stengel, Scott Galloway summarised his long-held prognosis for brands, that we have entered the "post-brand era". 

The crux of his argument follows three insights and observations, these being that:

  1. The brand era was built on foundations which required “a mediocre product, amazing brand codes (elegance, masculinity) and used the incredibly efficient vehicle called broadcast to pound away those associations and cash in at 80 points margin.”
  2. The "advertising industrial complex" and broadcast media are facing more risk than ever before. The odds of survival for the channels needed to advertise brands are getting increasingly iffy. 
  3. The introduction of "weapons of mass diligence" i.e. Google search, and Amazon reviews, is allowing consumers to bypass the brand and find the best version of what they're looking for. 

So, we know consumer behaviour is changing, both rapidly and massively. But does this mean that all brands are dead, or just established brands? Are customers moving to companies which have settled on disruptive innovation? Or is it just a whole lot of worry over nothing? Let's find out. 

Basically, the way consumers are perceiving how they, well, consume has shifted dramatically. People want to express a sense of individuality over conformity, curiosity over comfort, and the future over the past. 

The primary role of big brands is to make it easier for consumers to make a decision on what they want to buy. But if consumers have immediate access to information to help them with these decisions, the influence of a brand falls. So, instead of relying on an advert or two, consumers will read hundreds of reviews on Amazon before making a choice. 

But some people suggest that this digital disruption of marketplaces means brands will become more important and valuable. Digital brands such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, and Samsung are still in the top 10 rankings when it comes to familiar and favourite brands. This is not because established, decades-old brands like Coca-Cola, Mcdonald's, and Mercedes have become less valuable. The digital brands have just supercharged past them.

But that also doesn't mean some established brands have stayed stagnant. 

Consumers gravitate toward established brands, not because they are revered, but because they constantly reinvent themselves.    


In fact, as we have established, 74% of all brands cannot replicate their success, which is why brands need to stop trying to force consumers to fall for them.


In 2009, Adam Morgan identified in his book Eat The Big Fish a new kind of brand and brand behaviour; startups challenging the existing market (like Brewdog) or established companies re-inventing themselves and how they work (like Oatly).


Indeed, companies that adopt new or modified approaches often have a greater ability to build upon existing strengths, to overcome challenges in the past, with greater agility, or to adopt new strategies, a new consumer focus, a different product or retail distribution, repositioning of a brand, or modernization.


Brands that are making good products are finding new ways of getting noticed, ones that do not involve costly brand identities or advertising campaigns.


DTCs Nik Sharma calls this Performance Branding, which, he says, is building brand equity atop working media dollars for performance. A first-party performance brand is just the same. The parent company stops investing in the marketing, innovation, and product development of one iconic brand, instead investing in the development of its other brands with a similar personality. 


It is critical, though, that the two messages are harmonious, and that is why advertising teams and PR teams must collaborate to make sure a true brand message is maintained throughout. Knowing this is where strong PR messages can be instrumental to helping the brand represent its social positions without derailing the rest of the marketing message. 


Being visibly socially conscious has become vital for brands nowadays, with silence being suspicious to consumers. Back in the day, big brands would sit on the fence, and stay off the radar. But now, those who have faced the backlash of the public. This means people are seeking more transparency and accountability from the brands they support.


So, brands aren't dying, but they will do if they refuse to adapt to the changes in consumer behaviour. Basically, brands are drowning, so it's time to sink or swim.