I want to be me … - it’s great to be non.

Posted on in BrandBlab

Often a key part of advising a client on branding is to develop a positive descriptor name, slogan or ‘call to action’. To do a good job, however, now people and groups and their initiatives and aspirations must be labelled to best advantage if the appropriate range of emotions and tangible attributes are to be communicated.

Positives, negatives and the double positive
We all appreciate how words can be employed to make powerful media messages or manipulative propaganda depending on your view point. There are obvious negatives and positives. Terrorist is ‘bad’. Freedom Fighter is ‘good’. However, sometimes we combine ‘negatives’ and ‘positives’. ‘Anti’ combined with a negative subject as ‘apartheid’ was a typical label to unite a political movement. However, today the clever angle is to achieve double positives. ‘Pro life’ is a classic double positive endorsement as is ‘animal rights’ compared to ‘anti abortion’ or ‘anti vivisection’. While for some ‘Pro life’ means ‘Pro suffering’, such an opposite view could convey a defensive negative stance.

Today it would seem you must be totally positive. Being ‘non’ something is potentially a weak position. We have to be strongly ‘something’ to justify our existence or view, share of media attention or priority action. OK, non smoking, non partisan seem positive positionings but generally being a something – a vegetarian, for instance, gets you your meal quicker on some airlines rather than just being a neutral omnivore.

Tribe members and lesser beings
Travelling abroad and not being able to confirm your UK football team allegiance to the local taxi driver immediately brings your English credentials in to doubt. You must be part of a known tribe or you are nothing. The label of nationality, race, religion and politics are now scarily important for many. If you cannot be something or sign up to an ‘ism’ you are potentially a lesser being. Currently in the UK, not having a faith appears a disadvantage when it comes to getting an education. By implication a ‘non faith’ person is a lesser entity in not possessing the necessary added-value factor to qualify for a local school that selects only in terms of ‘positive’ beliefs.

Interestingly, by claiming humanism I can transform my ‘non faith’ mentality into a possible ‘added-value’ positioning that apparently makes me a more acceptable human proposition. Such is the power of words to reinforce our innate tribal genes requirement to be labelled and belong to something.

We are often told branding is a solution strategy for handling our increasingly complex world of choices. Perhaps this is what makes the need for hard labelling so appealing for the many who want simple black and white solutions rather than grey complicated shades of opinion and meanings. It certainly is reflected in the rise of fundamentalist non questioning ideologies. This seems a pretty sad reflection on branding if we simply sign up for affiliations and labels to make life easier. We promote individualism but in reality we are still conforming to company or political agendas, systems and ‘diversity’ criteria descriptions.

Neutral labelling for positive neutrality
Maybe it is time for neutral unlabelled individuals to indulge in some good ‘antis’ and non positionings and take the moral ‘high ground’. There is hope. Politics is an arena where the differentiation of main parties becomes increasingly obscure. Increasingly it seems it is individuals – ‘independents’, without an applied doctrine or ideology, who often now win the vote because of who they are, not their label. I always liked the name of Will Self, the journalist and novelist, in terms of brand positioning. It evokes individualism and an approach that is non aligned and independent. Maybe we can reinvent ourselves with some better name and surname combinations.

Let’s encourage brands that target and celebrate positive neutrality, individuality, and quirkiness to reinforce differentiation – surely the ultimate brand criteria. Being a non anything should be an aspiration and added-value – any chance for me-ism?

Clive Woodger
World citizen
SCG London