The Difference Between Branding & Propaganda

Of all the questions people ask about branding, this is by far the most important because propaganda in my view is never legitimate or useful.

And I have been there when brand consultants came up with “messages per stakeholder” meaning we say one thing to one person at one time and another thing to another person at another time and that’s OK because “they only need to know what they need to know.”

Oh is that bad.

When you do your brand you do your brand the same way, to all parties, at all times because that is called being honest. If you are not being honest you are pushing propaganda.

As a result some people will love you and some will hate you and that is just the way it is.

Brand people are extremely creative. They think in vivid color, they have a package of oil pastels and they paint a picture in the customer’s head. That’s brilliant.

The point of all that is to make something real that didn’t exist before, or that existed in a negative way.

Branding and cognitive behavioral therapy are related. In CBT, the individual is forced to confront their own destructive beliefs and then change them through behavior. Not thought.

When you act “as if” – your inner world changes, your belief system changes too.

This is why Jews are commanded to do the mitzvos – not to believe that they make sense. You don’t have to know why they make sense. The action makes you have the correct belief. (Except the belief in G-d – that you are commanded to have no matter what.)

Branding can be used to terrible ends. The Nazis used branding. People wanted to be better and pure and to have some kind of status that others would respect. They watched Hitler salute in awe and they said “Heil Hitler” and they believed in the myth of Aryan purity.

Cigarette companies used branding. Edward Bernays, who invented the term “public relations” to replace “propaganda” because propaganda sounded bad, hired a Freudian analyst to figure out how to advertise them to women. The answer came back that cigarettes represented the power of the male sex. So Bernays pulled a PR stunt about 100 years ago in a very public way where rich, powerful White women walked around smoking cigarettes and boom! Guess what smoking became a symbol of. Power.

Hitler and Bernays were brilliant at branding – and both used branding in evil ways. Truly, it’s the nuclear weaponry of communicators. However – just because it can be used destructively, doesn’t mean we can or should avoid it altogether.

What then is the alternative? A branding model that combines five factors at once:

  • Honest – you have integrity; you are authentic; you do not lie, cheat or steal under the umbrella of the brand.
  • Helpful – you do something that makes people’s lives better.
  • Holy – you have a spiritual aim in mind, your intentions are morally upright, you’re not selling things that drag us down into the pit.
  • Holistic – you think about all the ways people interact with the brand and you account for them. Including leadership – it works from the top down.
  • Happy – ultimately you bring joy to people’s lives.

What is the value added by a brand? Understand that it is not the product or the service in itself, which can be copied over and over again by others who figure out the system.

No. The brand adds value through the grassroots conversation it generates. It creates a dialogue that did not exist before. An energy that is cohesive, that is oriented towards a specific direction and a goal. An excitement that in turn produces product, and service, and momentum.

Propaganda. It’s like the beautiful identical twin to a true brand, but instead of a good heart its heart is ugly. It’s the honeypot that lures you in with an alluring fantasy, then stabs you in the heart.

Propaganda can sound very real. It speaks in a skilled, manipulative way that is hard to distinguish from a brand. But you know how you know it? It mixes the truth with a lie to lure you in, and then gets you addicted and controlled.

Don’t fall for it.


Photo credit: Faungg / Flickr


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