In defence of the brand monologue
"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially." The first lines of Jawaharlal Nehru's speech on the point and meaning of India at the birth of the world's greatest democracy, August 14th 1947.
The word monologue has acquired a rather pejorative meaning in the world of marketing.
Monologue, where the brand addresses an audience and puts forward its point of view (as happens in traditional one to many advertising), is seen to be out of step with the idea that markets are conversations and depend on a dialogue of equals between brands and customers.
More than that, brand monologues are assumed to narcissistic, self referential, and disrespectful of empowered consumers that don’t have to or want to take that kind of shit from anyone least of all businesses.
Well I want to make a stand for brand monologues – right here and right now. Indeed I am going to insist that great dialogues start with a passionate monologue.
It is a mistake to think of the monologue as boorish and self congratulatory, at best it is precisely the opposite.
The greatest speeches of our time and throughout history are of course monologues – inspirational and passionate statements about the speaker’s beliefs, and clear exhortations to action on the part of the listener.
Speeches so powerful and motivating that they are often know by their most famous passage – “we will fight them on the beaches”, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, “ask not what you country can do for you”, “the wind of change”, “an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.
These oratorical masterpieces are all monologues. They are monologues that began a million conversations and changed our very history.
I am not suggesting for a moment that brand communications can be equated with the words of the greatest statesmen and women. But merely to make the point that great monologue, from wherever it comes, is a catalyst for conversations that are all the richer for it.
Monologues provoke, inspire, move, motivate and set agendas. They are the essential beginnings for something else.
So I don’t want to see fewer brand monologues as the age of conversation progresses; I want to see more and better brand monologues.
You see every brand has an obligation to communicate why they exist, what it is they believe and what role they seek to play in our lives. That few do is an indictment of the quality of marketing in those organisations and the lack of willingness or talent to make these things clear to us.
Too many marketers in clients and agencies are prepared to accept ‘commodity market conditions’ and ‘low interest categories’ as excuses for inaction rather than a warning sign that something must be done, and done fast.
The job of marketing is to elevate a brand to the point where consumers are passionate about it and the business escapes the eternal downward force of the commodity market place. Not to piss around inventing new promotions, creating hilarious advertisements or leaping head first into social media the brand and agency has not the first clue about.
A categorical statement of the point of a business, brand or communication delivered from that organisation to the consumer – a monologue in other words - is not just to be welcomed rather than shunned as an anachronistic relict of a brandscape long gone. It is essential.
If a brand is prepared to do that then I am prepared to engage with it and enter into a dialogue about our futures together. If not (and I refer to the mobile phone network debate we had recently) then I’m not prepared to enter into any kind of conversation with them.
All dialogue and no monologue makes Jack an extremely dull brand.
The anti monologue message is a trend that certainly has some basis in fact - it certainly has lost effectiveness. But this was not because it was an ineffective tool to market and commence a dialogue with consumers - it was more the lazy ways that brands and agencies resorted to the one-to-many advertisement techniques.
Brand defining monologues, message leadership and positioning statements can be effective. So long as they are transparently aligned to the reality of the brand, and are statements that welcome a conversation and interaction - and don't just automatically expect it!
Posted by: Nat_Nudge at July 5, 2007 02:44 AM
Thanks for the great read. Coming at a time, when a fellow planner friend accuses me of monologuing, it's topical and v. interesting.
I personally think of monologues more in terms of The Old Bard's soliloquy. A brand's chance to showcase what it really would stand for, in an evocative, postive way. Stuff that gets the ball rolling, intertia and impetus. Rock & Roll. Lock & Load..
Posted by: Harshal Gajria at July 5, 2007 09:46 AM
But a modern day monologue must not mean a single dictated message - it has to be multi-faceted even if it surrounds a singular purpose idea. It must declare but not dictate.
Posted by: John Dodds at July 5, 2007 10:52 AM
I'm assuming that by monologue you mean a coherent set of ideals and values powerfully expressed? Surely this is something that all brands should have.
I think there is a problem caused by over-stating the power of any individual method. So the statement "Markets are conversations" is seen by some clients as an imperative to find out what people would like them to say, then say that. The agency becomes a kind of Cyrano de Bergerac, skulking in the bushes whispering advice into the hero's ear. Or else the brand is that Paul Whitehouse character in the fast show that has no opinion.
Similarly, DM, with it's ever increasing segmentation, has expoused the idea of true one-to-one marketing for years, whereas one-to-group may well be more powerful. The Economist points out this week that while insurance companies can wrongly predict the lifespan of every person they insure they can still get the correct result from the group.
To have an interesting conversation you need to have a point of view, and share it. So I'd argue that as the age of conversation progresses, having an interesting and coherent point of view will become more and more important. And the best way to outline your beliefs is with a well structured monologue, followed by an interesting dialogue. (Or am I simply following the socratic tradition that Mark Earls wants buried?)
Posted by: Martin Harrison at July 5, 2007 12:19 PM
I guess it all depends on what you mean by monologue.
Your definition of monologue is the providing of a point of view which sparks a response - as you say to "provoke, inspire, move, motivate and set agendas." It's monologue as a statement of purpose, a challenge, an instigation to conversation. And that's inherently two-way - it's just starting with a clear subject matter and point of view rather than asking "so, um, what would you like to talk about?"
It's worth distinguishing this from a monologue in the other sense, that of "monopolizing conversation." That meaning is one-way communication that never factors in the audience's role. And unfortunately it's still all to easy for many marketers to approach brand communication as the issuing of Soviet-style diktats without remembering that the other side will have a part in it too, whether you planned for it or not.
Posted by: Jason Oke at July 5, 2007 07:23 PM
Of course, as Howard Gossage said "advertising should be one half of an interesting conversation".
Incidentally I think that it is important for us to recognise that one form of interaction between a brand and a cusotmer can be simply an emotional response to stimulus.
Dove's evolution film is inherently interactive yet there is no means to physicaly interact with it.
Posted by: richard huntington at July 5, 2007 07:54 PM
What used to make the old BMP/CDP print ads of the 70s/80s was that they perfected a witty, pressureless but informative style of brand monologue.
I miss it.
Posted by: Rob Mortimer at July 6, 2007 11:38 AM
maybe it makes sense to refer to a compelling piece of film (like Dove's evolution) as "dialogical" rather than "interactive"? interactive is just too loaded at this point, i think.
(the dialogue may be an internal one, but it's just as valid, and takes place with all great art).
Posted by: Dino at July 6, 2007 11:46 PM
The techniques might have changed, but brands are still essentially monologue and they always will be.
There needs to be a start and there needs to be an end - but the the fuzzy stuff in the middle (leading up to a transaction) may be conversational/referential/dialogue/interaction - frankly it can be fad/trend/acronym; anything (and I'm including the historical advertising model) but the creation, control and delivery of an unashamedly biased brand (business/corporate/social) meaning must remain with the organisation.
After all, who else is going to inspire me? What's more, what happens when consumers get bored of bring invited to 'direct' business/corporate strategy?
Posted by: mm at July 8, 2007 02:37 PM
Brands don't really have the right to start conversation by giving a monologue. People just about tolerate consumerism, hardly trust brands and they are not stupid. The difference between Nehru / Churchill and brands is that they were leaders fighting for a bigger cause than themselves. Brands only have one cause selling stuff for commercial self interest and people know that. Hence the idea that a brand could still sit in a t.v. box and give a compelling monolgue is romantic, nostalgic but unrealistic. They don't have the right to preach or give a speech via advertising the best thing they could possibly do is find a bigger topic of conversation something that they can talk about with people e.g. real beauty and spark a debate start a conversation not give a monologue. When Dove launched its campaign it wasn't a monologue as in 'here is a list of our values bla bla bla' it actually put a question forward what's real beauty? it was more of a comment and they did it in advertising out of all places. The idea that a well written monologue no matter how well executed doesn't fly with me anymore because it is coming from a brand an entity that is hardly trustworthy even Dove, speak to any intelligent woman and she will tell you that as clever as Dove was it is simply doing whatever is necessary today to sell its product including launching a campaign about real beauty. The thing about great monologues is that they come from credible sources who say what they believe, actually do something about it and genuinely mean it. The danger is to think that advertising alone (saying/showing stuff) is enough for people to talk about/with a brand anymore, brands have to do something about it and mean what they say. The question for me is how do you start conversations not how do we sell more advertising dressed up as a compelling monologue I believe there are other ways to do that.
Posted by: speed at July 9, 2007 10:46 AM
Great post and I agree completely with the following:
"You see every brand has an obligation to communicate why they exist, what it is they believe and what role they seek to play in our lives. That few do is an indictment of the quality of marketing in those organisations and the lack of willingness or talent to make these things clear to us."
As a long-time writer, communicator and marketer, my role is to create messages that my readers relate to and clearly understand. The messages should come from a place of passion, inspiration and motivation. If I do my job correctly, my readers and listeners will feel the passion, and be motivated and inspired to do something, such as purchase a product or spread buzz. Monologues have an important place within our profession.
Posted by: Lewis Green at July 10, 2007 09:34 PM
good brands stand for something above and beyond making money. And what they stand for is the very thing which makes people interested, passionate about and loyal to the brand. When brands seem to stand for nothing more than profit, I think we become suspicious of them.
To me, Apple will always be about thinking different. I don't care about the way they dominate online music and MP3's because I have have an affinity to them.
Microsoft have never seemed to me to stand for anything other than market domination. I feel no affinity at all towards them.
If a brand delivers a monologue on, say, Global Warming (and its not an obvious cae of green washing) I'm interested. Not just because it is preaching to me but because I'm aware of how many other people will be receiving a message that I already care about. To me, the potential effect gives the brand all the right in the world to deliver a monologue.
Posted by: Phil Teer at July 12, 2007 02:27 PM
Fantastic! I absolutely agree. To stand up and have an "opinion" seems almost a crime nowadays - Consumers, actually, don't know what they want and what they believe (most of the time). They're not coherent nor predictable - to aim the "common sense" might be the downfall, not the bull's eye decision to make.
Monologues start a conversation - check! And, perhaps, why should brand be unanimous?
Posted by: rapha barreto at July 24, 2007 04:16 PM
Just to inform you Richard that this post is nominated in my Post of the Month poll!
Posted by: Rob Mortimer at July 26, 2007 01:34 PM