The Episodic Brand?
The best play I’ve seen this year, The Father by Florian Zeller, will be coming to the West End in the Autumn. Book early, as Fred Pontin would say…
In The Father we observe the impact of dementia on an elderly Parisian, his family and carers. ‘I feel as if I’m losing all of my leaves’, says the aged man. It’s very moving.
What is particularly compelling about The Father is that we are invited to consider dementia from the perspective of the sufferer. For him most of the episodes in his life are completely coherent within themselves; they just stop correlating with other episodes. Memory is not lost in a simple, gradual process; it is eroded asymmetrically through a loosening of the seams between events, identities and relationships. Dementia comes across as a loss of the narrative that holds identity together.
Some have argued that there are in fact two types of people in the world: Narratives and Episodics (Lee Siegel/The End of the Episode/WSJ 3/8/2009). Those with a Narrative personality believe that their life tells a meaningful story; those with an Episodic personality believe that life is lived episode by episode, without adding up to any overriding coherent narrative.
The marketing and communications industry has, I think, always subscribed to a Narrative view of brands: we are endeavouring to tell a single, coherent, unifying story about our brand’s past, its purpose and its performance.
But what if brands are messier than this? What if time and experience across geographies and markets have created a complexity of character that resists reduction?
Are not some brands diminished by our efforts to constrain them within one coherent narrative?
What if yours is an Episodic Brand?
In Beware of Mr Baker, the compelling documentary about the legendary Cream drummer, Ginger Baker, our eponymous hero has few good words to say about anyone.
He is however an admirer of his former colleague in Cream, Eric Clapton. ‘Eric had time’, he says and this is perhaps the ultimate tribute a drummer could pay anyone. We often talk of gifted footballers having time: the ability to appear unhurried, to slow things down a little, to pause to think.
In modern business we are surrounded by people who seem to have no time at all. They’re so important that they consistently arrive late and then leave early. I have always admired senior executives who, despite undoubted pressures, seem the masters of time, not the victims of it.
We Did Our Best…
There’s a very fine portrait by Van Eyck in The National Gallery. It features a mature man staring out at us from under an extravagantly tied red head-dress. Some have suggested this is a self-portrait, given the directness of the gaze and the honesty of the facial flaws.
Above the portrait in the original frame Van Eyck has inscribed ‘Als ich kan’, which I understand translates loosely as ‘As well as I can.’ I did a little research. It transpires that ‘Als ich kan’ was something of a personal motto for Van Eyck as it appears on a number of his paintings. Some have suggested that he was prone to promote his personal reputation and that this was an early exercise in branding. (It could also be a play on words: ‘As well as Van Eyck can.’)
Given the extraordinary beauty of the painting, it’s easy to interpret ‘As well as I can’ as a proud boast. But I’m inclined to say Van Eyck was expressing a timeless creative sentiment: ‘I did my best. You may not like it. It may not be good enough for you. But, take it or leave it, this is it.’ This is a sentiment I have often felt in the wake of a mediocre meeting, a poor pitch, a critical Client…
I read this week that researchers have established that perfectionism is a corrosive force that leads to stress and burnout. (Huffington Post/4 August 2015) No surprise here perhaps. To my mind the quest for perfection, winning at all cost, ‘whatever it takes,’ can erode culture. These mindsets create a loss of proportion, a diminution of self worth. They’re corporate head-banging.
I’m with Van Eyck. I think that, whatever the prize, we should just endeavour to do our best. No more, no less.
Regrets, I’ve Had Quite a Lot Really…
Whilst, of course, Piaf’s ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’ is a magnificent tune delivered with passion, it’s not a sentiment I share. For me the song should have been titled ‘J’Ai Beaucoup de Regrets.’ I think regrets are healthy, humbling and an important part of self-knowledge. Here are a few I’d care to mention…
I wish I’d drunk less and danced more in my 20s; I wished I’d worked less and played more football in my 30s; I wish I’d eaten less and read more in my 40s. And more besides…