How Brand Performance Affects Brand Performance, Part I

Just what is ‘authenticity’ in a brand? To find out, let’s take a look at a craft that places authenticity as its holy grail. Acting.


Branding vs Acting

Brands and actors actually have a lot in common. Both play a character, tweaked and interpreted to be as affecting and engaging as possible. This character can be fictionalised, dramatised, or even wholesale made up, but at the core of a great performance for both is a point of undeniable human truth. This is the anchor that allows us as audiences and consumers to believe the character.

For most of history, the actor’s craft emphasised clarity. It had to, because when performing in front of a crowd, the people at the back needed to be able to see and hear what was going on. An actor needed to enunciate loudly and gesticulate wildly, not just to perform the play, but to have any kind of show at all that the audience could follow.

Then Konstantin Stanislavski came along.

He was the originator of the cleverly-named Stanislavski system, which itself would spawn method acting. You’ve probably heard of it. Essentially, it tells actors that their performances could be more authentic and engaging by experientially recreating the character’s emotions in themselves.

They have to really ‘feel’ the role. For example, if the character’s father just died, the actor should bring back the emotions they felt in their own life when a loved one had died, and the performance should flow naturally from there. Most of your favourite actors today subscribe to these techniques in one way or another. A handful might even take it to extremes. We’re looking at you, Leo.

The System and The Method were actually developed for stage, but they just happened to coincide with the rise of film—and work out really well for it. Suddenly they had camera angles, speaker systems, editing and multiple takes. With all the constraints of live theatre gone, they could guarantee the same experience for the whole audience and drive an explosion in opportunities for nuanced, realistic performances.


What’s our point?

We bring this up because the craft of advertising is very similar to acting and developed in an almost identical way. We as brands and advertisers take on a role—a character. Take a look at early advertising and you’ll find it as hammy as theatre actors of the 1910s. It was loud, blunt, and almost comically overstated.

It’s harder to pinpoint exactly when advertising began to mature, but Bill Bernbach’s (The ‘B’ in DDB) work would be a solid choice.

His ‘system’ doesn’t have a name, but centred around creativity to engage audiences, rather than the exaggerated hard sell that dominated until that point. He argued for uniqueness, believability, and consumer insight in advertising. In other words, examining what to say and how to say it, over how loud to yell.

It wasn’t enough that customers hear and understand the message. They had to ‘feel’ the brand in order to believe it. And in order for them to feel it, the people behind the brand have to as well. Almost all of us accept this to some extent.

Bernbach’s most famous work (probably Volkswagen and Avis) was in print, but his system happened to work out even better with the rise of television. In much the same ways that the big screen opened up tone and nuance for actors, the small screen followed suit for advertising.

What can we learn from this parallel? We can take away that the bridge between actors and audiences is the character, with the most affecting performance built on a shared commonality between them. In the same way, a shared experience between advertisers and consumers through the brand makes it believable and engaging.

This doesn’t mean it has to be grounded in literal, real world, matter-of-factness. Our capacity for imagination is enormous, and there’s no reason we can’t identify with a trash collecting robot (Hello, Pixar) if there’s a human core to it. While advertisers ask if the brand hits certain messaging enough, the actor asks ‘How identifiably human is it?’

We need to ask that more. That’s what drives authenticity.

Both the disciplines of acting and advertising took coincidentally similar paths to their golden ages, which we still feel today. Both revolutions were triggered by the rise of screens, but the 21st century saw a new screen join the fray. Join us next time to find out how these paths diverge, and advertising has only just begun to recognise it.

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