Entropy, the tendency of systems to move progressively from a state of organized to disorganized diffusion, is one of the most powerful forces of nature. It can be quietly deceiving, sneaking up on you when you are not looking. Much like an organized children’s toy shelf. Organize this shelf and look away and soon you’ll find it as disorganized as before…unless you continuously fight the entropy and consciously keep returning the toys to their right places.
When it comes to brand design, entropy is everywhere. There is so much noise. So much chaos. So many brands clamouring for your attention over the same trending issues. Where does this noise come from? Why is brand design adding to the entropy, the chaos that already exists around us today?
Where does the entropy come from?
Entropy in brand design is driven by our innate nature of constant external referencing. Much like how we were asked to ape everything that the ‘first ranker’ did in our school days. We can blame entropy on the years of social conditioning -the grass was always greener on the other side. And thus, the need to blindly imitate that. Context be damned!
Brands are also constantly battling the insecurities that come from a highly competitive market. The consumer is changing as well. Millennials constitute a major part of the buying population. They are believed to be fickle, unswayed by traditional marketing messages, and known to have an affinity towards brand designs that take a stand.
There is a hyper-competitive instinct that kicks in when the competition does something or some “trend” sweeps through the public consciousness (especially on social media). This is especially true in the age of the woke customer. From gender bias to communal harmony, brands are rushing to adopt a ‘belief-driven’ design strategy to cater to the new belief-driven buyer – the millennial.
The bad news is, this often leads to anxiety and more insecurity. That further translates into impulsive reactions. Such entropy in brand design only increases over time and takes the brand down the rabbit hole into a spiraling race to the bottom.
However, it is interesting to note that some brands suffer more than others. I believe that it is only those brands that are not closely aligned or are not aware of their Purpose that get afflicted.
When design adds to entropy
German historian and philosopher Oswald Spengler makes a very astute observation that we can even apply in the brand design context. He believed that every civilization lives by an “idea”. That idea is a concept of its own unique identity, passion, feelings and a sense of its mission and destiny. This is what is important in any civilization. I suggest that it is so in the case of any brand too.
The struggle to remain true to that idea against the power of chaos can be extreme. But that struggle must be won to remain true and relevant.
Like I’ve said, an undefined purpose or a lack of awareness and alignment with the brand Purpose leads to design entropy. Because you are so busy imitating the next, you end up as just another fish in the can of sardines. When brand design only adds to the entropy and does not work hard to stand above it only adds to the drain – the drain of resources, of time, of energy and of human potential. And why is that? Because your design does not emerge from inside out but stems from outside in. It becomes shallow, inauthentic, and, ultimately irrelevant.
Can design reduce entropy?
Think about a rocket and a parachute. A rocket is designed to go very fast. A parachute is designed to slow down an object in motion. They behave differently because they have been designed differently. And they have each been designed to serve a ‘purpose’ and thus they behave in the manner that they do. Trying to imitate a rocket would be foolish for a parachute and vice versa would be a disaster for the rocket.
Unless you identify a strong purpose that emerges from the values that the brand has and its inherent strengths, your brand will only add to the noise. Brand activism is fine, but that too has to be in consonance with your brand’s purpose. Take Gillette for example. Gillette has been in the business of ‘masculinity’ as we know it today. With its new campaign, Gillette has moved from “the best man can get” to “the best that a man can become”. This shift adds tremendous value to the brand and opens up opportunities to create more value in the lives of their customers.
Nike has been another brand that has taken on brand activism as a marketing strategy. Their ‘Dream Crazier’ campaign shatters the gender barrier and celebrates the women in sport who just did it. Not only did they make a great advertisement, but they also created a solid brand design that leveraged a social issue to show that they can sell shoes leveraging progressive social commentary. If we as brand managers take the inside-out approach, it is easy to see that brand design can and should reduce the entropy.
Brooke Bond, on the other hand, tried to piggyback on the wave of trends when Section 377 was revoked.
However, in the case of Brooke Bond, their “Rakesh and Rohan” advertisement on Instagram almost seemed like preaching to the choir. It came across as a wannabe attempt to connect with a new audience. The brand only made targeted promotions on Instagram. Not one TV ad and not one print advertisement declaring that Brook Bond caters to the LGBTQ community. How many pro-LGBT ads did we see between now and when homosexuality was re-criminalized? Probably none.
From the consumer’s standpoint such actions drive the perception that while the companies are capitalizing on the emotions of its users, their allegiances can sway in whichever direction the wind blows.
Reduce entropy in brand design to reveal authenticity
When brands consciously focus on reducing entropy they reveal their authenticity. And authenticity offers a valid reason to be attracted to a brand.
Brand design that rejects entropy and stays close to the brand’s purpose and its inherent positive valance remains relevant even in a rapidly shifting socio-cultural milieu.
When design reduces entropy, brands can maximize their time, money, and energy they expend on their initiatives. They can drive their potential to achieve more synergy and fulfillment and not just ride a popular wave but lead it.
Much like what Vicks did when they featured a trans woman in their campaign when there was no Supreme Court judgment trailing behind. And their customers noticed.
There are many examples of how brand designs have turned into PR disasters. The Pepsi campaign around Black Lives Matter received an epic backlash because the consumer saw through Pepsi’s stand of co-opting social issues for profit. The recent Surf Excel ‘Holi’ campaign was seen as no different.
The risk is, trying to be relevant can easily backfire. And that’s because design without purpose doesn’t work. And while it might be tempting for brands to piggyback on a cause or trend, it always makes sense to resist this temptation.
Clearly, as brand managers we have to realize that every trending # is not for us to ride. We have to look inwards to identify what resonates with our brand’s reason for being and speak accordingly. And sometimes that may mean not to speak at all.
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