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At the TEDxKL show held on 14th July 2012, Kevin Mark Low of fame talked about form and content in architecture and design, and how we often mistake one for the other.

What looks like something new and ingenious often turns out to be a cosmetic change that retains the fundamentals in all their tried-and-true glory but disguises it under a layer of admittedly glossy veneer.

Real change, it seems, is sporadic at best, if only because the lines between form and content has blurred into a single indistinguishable mess, at least to the untrained eye.

In advertising and branding, the conundrum is similar, even if the terms slightly differ. Our industry talks about ideas and execution; generally there’s too little of the former and too much of the latter. It’s a norm to see the same old rehashed story repackaged in increasingly better produced, “modernised”, more visually enticing forms and labeled as the next big thing. There’s a “re” tagged to everything – rebrand, reinvent, redefine – when the only thing that’s really changed is the outermost layer, the physical manifestation that bedazzles and beguiles.

It’s like going for a haircut and a facial and saying you’re now a brand new person. That is, it’s a misleading impression that any real transformation has occurred.

It’s also the easiest way for a brand to make itself seem more relevant without actually having to change the way it does things. For some consumers, it could be all the reason they need to take notice of this brand that they may not have identified with before; sometimes the perception of change is all it takes to gain attention. But a fresh coat of paint very rarely inspires attitudinal or behavioral change, nor does it help build lasting affinity or preference. Sure, it acts as a first-contact device that flags down a potential customer, but to create true conversion, it must be accompanied by a deeper type of transformative element, say, a service guarantee, a strong insightful promise, a powerful association that triggers an emotional response.

What we’re saying is that no amount of surface-level, executional change, regardless of its level of sophistication, sleekness or cool factor, can supplant a heartfelt, internalised, experiential shift. Gone are the days when brands could shout out outrageous, unsubstantiated claims without fear of consequence, or cover up past mistakes by merely slapping on a “New & Improved” disclaimer.

It’s time to create new paradigms in responsibility and accountability in order to nurture authentic relationships based on reality and truth.

Now THAT’S a new idea. Or is it? You tell us.

(Image by Gavin Potenza)

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