No, this is not the end of branding as we know it. Debranding doesn’t mean the complete removal of branding altogether, what it alludes to is simply the trimming of the unnecessary excess sugar and fat from the diet of the branding mechanism.
In a move towards more honest and utility-based campaigning, there are those in the community that believe that the future of branding is in going in the opposite direction that the industry has been traditionally rooted in. Brands will instead adopt a less-is-more approach to communicating messages about products and services to consumers, focusing on the intrinsic and actual value of the things being sold and not the elaborately crafted fairy-tale that tends to surround them.
So what exactly is debranding then? Well in the strictest interpretation, it’s when a company decides to drop it’s name from the foreground of its marketing campaigns. Coca-cola did this with it’s “Share a Coke” campaign in the UK in which it removed the brands name from their Coke bottles and replaced it with 150 of the most common British names to resounding and unanimous approval from the masses. Debranding can also occur when a large company buys over a product line or trademark name from a smaller company such as Unilever Group did with Ben and Jerry’s way back in 2000.
However the broader future potential application of debranding lies in adopting approaches that focus less on shouting out a brand name through a megaphone and more on minimizing the attention on the brand and instead throwing the spotlight on what exactly makes that particular product or service so useful and helpful to the consumer. In other words it’s making a real attempt at being honest about what a company is offering.
Consumers have become increasingly aware of gimmicks and scammy marketing whereby a brand is trying to tell you to consume their product on the one hand while on the other it’s being sourced from sweatshops, grown artificially, infused with unnatural substances or somehow contributing to ecological damage. The age of information simply has no room left in it for companies that refuse to be transparent and opt to paint a rainbow streak over tar riddled, carbon monoxide shrouded goods.
In an interview with the Guardian, Sally O’Rourke, managing director of the brand insight consultancy Promise Communispace said “The sheer amount of competing information out there means that it is no longer sufficient for brands to shout louder than others in the marketplace about their virtues. Consumers are growing weary of the noise.” Another popular illustration of the debranding wave can be seen in the Mini Cooper cars from Autobavaria which don’t make use of BMW as a part of it’s logo or general marketing. Even Apple has joined the mix with it’s “Designed by Apple in California” campaign involving a TV commercial and a short film entitled “intention” actually going so far as put the question to the audience of whether their product arguably deserves to exist.
Starbucks is another example of a brand that has engaged in debranding, making its stores more personalized and less generic to the brand image. Coke and Starbucks are of course major brands with global recognition so debranding works fairly easily for them. But even for smaller companies the principal remains the same. The idea is to put all the companies energy into creating a product or service that actually serves a highly useful purpose and offers a unique experience to the consumer. It’s a shift away from the conceptual value created by elaborate promotional marketing towards the actual value found in the product itself where communication is primarily focused on things like how the product was made and how and where it was sourced from. It’s about regaining the trust of the jaded, sceptical consumer.
In the words of Jasmine De Bruycker in her article in Computer Magazine, “Instead of brands, real people and real voices will be the interface between products and consumers, who will buy less throwaway clones and spend more on a few quality essentials.” It’s a future in which we hope to see brands becoming more real and up front with the consumer market about their products and services, and in which the consumers fully comprehend the complete in’s and outs of the goods they invest their time and money in. That old quote from the 1989 film Field of Dreams still rings true, just with a minor modification; “If you build it [well], they will come.”