Douglas Holt has come to save us all

Some books I read and some I chew on.

Chewy books are those where the thinking is so profound or ideas so counter intuitive that they are tough to digest.

Douglas Holt's How brands become icons is a chewer.

Holt’s belief that brands achieve iconic status because they provide real identity value for consumers is pretty much received wisdom. However, the concept that they do this by resolving a fundamental contradiction between the expectations placed upon people by society and the reality of their day to day lives is a little more challenging. He does this with brands like Budweiser and VW which make loads of sense but it’s when you try to apply this to your own examples that things get interesting. Is Apple a run away success because of great products and great marketing or because the brand allows millions of people to feel they are part the creative economy when the reality of their lives is very different?

Add to that his challenge to the dreary dogma of relationship marketing and you have a book that messes with a lot of our assumptions about the way brands achieve and maintain iconic status.

One day this book will make it onto my bookshelf but for now its still in my bag close at hand for a daily chew.

For an overview of his work click here. Or to take a leap into the unknown and actually purchase the thing using the link to amazon in the books section.


it's indeed a very nice book, I'm writing my master thesis with it. the best branding approach I've seen so far.
nice tipp ;-)

Posted by: carol at January 30, 2006 04:16 PM

Absolutely loved this book, and I keep wondering why I hardly ever see any mentions of it. Very under-rated in my opinion.


Posted by: Dino at February 1, 2006 04:55 AM

I know very few people in advertising seem to have heard of him or read his work which is a bit of a disgrace since not only is his research fascinating but he is here to help us all.

Posted by: richard at February 1, 2006 08:51 AM

Since reading the book, I've been thinking a lot about what he might have to say about branding in the rapidly fragmenting world that we're a part of.

All of his examples in the book are based on the narratives provided by traditional ads. Brand meaning today is imparted through so many more channels and experiences, which, when you come to think of it, only adds more weight to the "cultural branding" model he offers. Hmmmm.

Posted by: Dino at February 1, 2006 08:01 PM

True but what Holt would say is that iconic brands are always built by brand films by and large - whether those are delivered in the cinema, on television or on your mobile.

Posted by: richard at February 1, 2006 08:38 PM

Thanks for the tip about his book.

I read his article "What Becomes An Icon Most" in HBR a couple of years ago which is just a full version of his analysis of Mountain Dew. It really is very good work.

I think what's interesting is that he's combining some different diciplinary perspectives (either knowingly but not showing his workings, or maybe he's just a great thinker and re-inventing a number of wheels - I don't know).

One of the tools I think he's using is Mythic narrative structures (see Christopher Vogler's "The Writer's Journey") which is why brand films seem so important in this, but I don't think they need be. Mythic narrative structures are built around Jungian archetypes (which it seems derive from evolutionary science; the archetypes being basically anthropomorphisations of behavioural templates that have been evolutionarily advantageous - hence their universality, and their potential immunity from cultural dislocations)

I think brands can become iconic through how they behave, not necessarily through filmic stories they tell - that's just been an easy way to do it for the last 40-50 years.

Posted by: David O'Hanlon at April 21, 2006 12:21 PM

Richard, thanks so much for putting this book forward. It's simply fantastic.

At SomeOne, we're using this cultural-shift idea on a client of ours at the moment and it's incredible the results that we are getting from them (and the work).

It seems to be an approach that harvests very interesting fruit in the world of design too...

Interesting how the approach fits to much of the successful work from HHCL. Perhaps it was unintentional, we were just SO 'down with the kids.'

I've found the danger with following any formula is that work bcomes formulaic. His cultural branding approach seems to buck this trend and actually promotes radical thinking (steady now Jon) on each and every brief.

Consistencty is no longer king. Thank heavens for that.

So much more informative and, shock horror, fact based than Gladwell and his 'Blink'-ing anecdotes...

Posted by: Simon Manchipp at May 31, 2006 03:41 PM