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Page1of 1 The Page-turner Brand
by Bart Cleveland

A couple of years ago, I accepted a challenge. After years of telling my wife that I could write a better book than most, I began a novel. I know. I was cocky and over-confident, but I’m in advertising so it goes with the territory. Before long, I had fallen headlong into the lives of my novel's characters. I thought about how they felt about everything—even things outside the storyline. Every spare moment was used to scribble their imaginary happenings in my Moleskine.

The parallel between character development and brand development was not lost on me. The thing I was now doing for a novel, I had been doing for years to develop brands.

Brands as characters. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

We brand-makers watch people, study them and contemplate their behavior in order to create a brand they can connect with. Just as a character in a story must come to life for the reader, so must a brand for the consumer. Think this is hyperbole? Think of a brand that you use. One that, truth be told, you don’t need.

Mine is Starbucks. I am frequently overcome with the desire to stop at Starbucks. Not because I’m thirsty or because I need a shot of caffeine; it is to sate my desire to do something for me. Starbucks is the perfect “character” to fulfill that desire. So I don’t consider paying close to four bucks for a tall, non-fat, no-whip, one-pump mocha a waste of money. I don’t consider it a waste that the beverage is only half-consumed before it becomes tepid and I dispose of it. The price is right for my contentment.

Creating a brand that brings others contentment is a dream job. Making people care whether the cola they drink is Coke or Pepsi doesn’t happen because someone accurately described the difference of sweetness between the two. It happened because the characters in the fizzy drink story are fighting it out and it's fun to take sides and egg them on. It’s the same as rooting for a sports team. Brands are an emotional endeavor. We will root for one, while hating the rival. It makes sense of life. There’s good and evil. Good wins. And we want to be winners.

This is why people develop loyalty to brands though cheaper and more practical alternatives are prevalent. Like a great book, one can’t put an interesting brand character down.

We are the privileged ones permitted to tell the story of a brand’s character. It is not a job to disdain. There is no shame in it. Certainly, we are not curing a dreaded disease, but we are creating something relevant. At least we are, when we do it well.

Consider an artist painting a portrait. He or she is not copying the reflection of a person, but rather, the character that lies beneath the skin. A person’s reflection in the mirror is just the tip of the iceberg. A portrait goes below the surface, to the reasons the character is who he or she is.

I recently met with a new client. The man who founded the company is extraordinarily passionate when it comes to his company’s true purpose. It supplies a product that meets a basic need. If viewed only for its fundamental use, it can be replaced, but when considering the brand’s higher purpose, one that is dedicated to the betterment of life, the product becomes essential. It helps consumers be the kind of people they want to be.

I’m very excited about sharing the character of this brand. It is an opportunity to be a part of something real and special. For me, this is what makes creating brands relevant. It’s about truth.

And who’s to say that we who create them can’t make them based on truth? If we can’t, should we be working on them in the first place? Characters in a novel become real to the reader when they are based on human truth. So should it be with brands.

To do this, we cannot adopt a jaded view. We should remember the words of the legends that have come before us. They knew how easily creating goes awry. So they walked a narrow path and made brands worth believing in.

You open the pages of this magazine for a purpose. You want to believe in what you do. You want to fall headlong into your brand characters. You want to create something worthy of people’s loyalty. Never give up believing that there is truth, even in the imaginary, and you will. CA Cleveland
Bart Cleveland is creative director for McKee Wallwork Cleveland in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Before his move West, he was creative director at Sawyer Riley Compton. Cleveland's previous years in Atlanta included owning his own agency, Cleveland Clark, as well as serving as an instructor at The Creative Circus and president of the Creative Club of Atlanta in 1996-97.