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Arguably, there are only three real reasons: sex, guilt and love. (Money and power being the means to an end, which end is ultimately some form of sexual gratification at base level or love at a higher level… either way the objective being to achieve the continuation of the species.)But as it happened, guilt prompted this article. Having promised to write it, prompted by a love for things South African and Indaba-related, I found my affections sorely stretched by other obligations. The editor of this publication brought me into line with an email that touched my guilt. The article and pictures were in the web post shortly afterwards. Don't mess with Taweni.
Her request was fairly open-ended, so in the spirit of this article's origins I want to focus on the Big Sexy Money Power deal for designers worldwide. Which is a deal you could easily feel in love with and yet guilty for being tempted by. In other words, I will address Branding.
Brands are the premium space for design and advertising today. Global brands are the big scary force… and yet at the same time immensely desirable. Their most powerful elements, the visual expressions that capture the imagination of the world, are the manifestations of creativity in marketing, design at work in its most seductive and destructive way.
Why are global brands destructive? Because, at their worst, brands erode cultural difference. Cultural difference, at root, is about individuality in terms of where we come from. Global brands at their worst try to erase our personal histories. They use global economies of scale and deliberate aggressive and subsidised pricing structures to drive out local competition that perhaps better represents our memories and deepest associations. They replace them with the lowest common denominator, the crudest associations. Thus salty, sweet, quick, cheap food and drink gets branded easily and globally as fun and 'value'. It is very efficient to produce and market on a global scale. It doesn't do much for the health of the body or mind though.
That's globalism at its worst, one-size-fits-all brands sitting atop crude global business strategies. But there is another route, one that is much richer for the creative mind to deal with, one that is much more sympathetic to local cultures. This route is where brands can be built or bought into so that they provide a rich expression of local and international associations.
And I can't think of a culture more at the cusp of making the choice between the good and bad than South Africa. This is a nation that is making many choices. Choices that will determine whether it has a culture to reflect its rich and complicated and painful history. Should it not remember where it has come from? At the same time should it not signal its desire for complex and exciting participation in a global community? That's why global brands can be good, as well as bad. They can act locally.
To do this, brands need a rich and original visual language that opens out possibilities rather than closes them down. Such a language is both complex and clear. I suppose Nike is a brand that manages that; Microsoft is one that doesn't. Nike is a brand that gets to adapt and fit in different ways, where Microsoft pretty much means the same thing everywhere.
If this in itself sounds rather confusing… well, that's words for you. That's why we have images to do the work of being incredibly clear and powerful at the same time as being complex and individual.
'Pictures are worth a thousand words' is a familiar saying, but an untrue one. Pictures, when powerful, are beyond words. Words, well used, are unique in their ability to communicate. Put them together and you see why advertising and design form an immensely powerful, mind-bending language. That's why every culture needs to handle it with care, grow it with care and share it with care.
The pictures I selected here were chosen as just a stimulant to consider the above. They are some photographs I am connected with through my work at Getty Images, these being for the Stone brand, a source of original conceptual photography. They are images specifically generated to connect with large shared concepts (individuality, memory, urban life, communication - to name but a few). Yet while being about these common, global themes, they are also connected with more specific content and associations - collective and individual memories and dreams.
These images will be used around the world to say many different things, and in that they work globally and locally. Rather like words do, in fact. And that's how brands that empathise with us should behave, rather than seek to dominate our cultures.
To summarise: I hope you enjoy the pictures on your own terms. Meanwhile, beware of brands that are not prepared to adapt and open out to your culture. They are imperialistic and undemocratic.
Look forward to seeing you at the Indaba.