We're Done With Brands


"Te apetece otra copa, amigo mío?" Alberto asks.

"Ci, cerveza por pavor."

"Modelo, Corona, Pacifico, Sol?" the names flow off his tongue, a menu he recites two hundred times a day. This is a paradox of choice, isn't it? Four names, four brands, one option - pale Mexican Lager. Forget the blind taste tests, no one can pick one beer out from another in this lineup.

Same goes for any beer. Bud and Coors and Miller. Strip three IPAs of their labels and it's anyone's guess. The exception, I suppose is Guiness.

You always know it's a Guiness.

In a world defined by brands, there is no choice and there is no "best." The more precious a company is with their branding, the shittier their product ends up being.

Hear me out, follow along.

A decade ago I was contracted to write copy for a marketing agency on behalf of a celebrity brand. It's a celebrity you know and probably see a dozen times during the commercials of any major sports broadcast. Back then he was pushing a performance supplement that would, as the benefits stated, give you "better workouts, faster reflexes, and quicker recovery."

I asked the director in charge of the project, "What's different about his product? Like, what makes it special?"

"Beyond him? Nothing. It's just a B-12 vitamin."

The same B-12 you can buy at your supermarket, 160 tablets for ten bucks. Or, you could subscribe to the exclusive membership tier and receive 30 doses a month for just $79.95.

When a brand reaches a certain value, there's no point in creating a new product. Why innovate when your audience will buy whatever you slap your name on?

This same celebrity also shit out a line of fast fashion, a fitness app, and some kind of teeth-whitening product. All of it a waste of time. He probably makes more cash with one movie than you or I will ever see in ten lifetimes.

Coke and Pepsi are essentially the same company shilling the same product. You're buying the brand. Tesla is a brand with name recognition and a loyal fanbase even though their flagship product is rusting in the streets. Every few weeks some marketing chump publishes something like "here's why Apple is the gold standard of all things Branding" even though they haven't evolved their product as you might expect from a 40+ year old company.

Try as they might, no one is making anything new or interesting. When the brand is valuable enough, they don't have to.

Costco white labels major products (Duracell, Huggies, Starbucks) with the Kirkland logo and sells it at a wholesale discount to its members. It's the exact same stuff without the brand you know. Amazon's Basics white labels generic products with the goal of undercutting competitors in items most commonly bought in bulk.

Is any of this a bad thing? Only when the brand is more valuable than the product they are selling.

Strip away the colors and the logos and pretty much every new car model looks the same. Cut the tags and labels and you will never know the difference between one t-shirt and the next.

It gets worse when it trickles down to the small business level. We're in this weird time where every business owner feels like they are in competition with the majors - because they are. At the very least, you're competing with everyone in your field with a bigger following and flashier branding. But the song remains the same: the more precious the branding, the shittier the product tends to be.

Consider the "marketing experts" who want to sell you a course. Naturally, it sells like gang busters because they are marketing experts selling a thing. Everyone wants to quit their life, sell a widget, and live by the pool. But these "experts" are business owners, not teachers. They're more interested in conversions than education. The product is, always, trash.

When the Pacifico runs out, Corona does just fine.

"Is Pepsi OK?" Yeah, sure. Whatever.

Because the cats at the very top of the ladder, the marketing execs who have endless budgets, think the end all be all is to achieve brand loyalty. I'd rather die of thirst than drink the other soda!

But this isn't the case, is it?'

When you stop innovating a product, you end up relying way too much on the branding. You can have the prettiest, most precious logo and color scheme and ethos behind your brand, but it's all for shit if you're not solving a problem.

A company fails when they keep taking your money even though the problem is no longer resolved. When the problem kept growing and the product stayed the same, leaving all the brands to pose the question: how much market share can we not help today?

In other words: make something that works. Make something that helps. Make something good. Do that first, do that always.

The brand will find its way.