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much to learn from theories outside
the realm of marketing. One such
realm is sociology, which provides
a variety of usefu...
theory. Yet those who did make such
a claim, or at least aspired to it —
Marx, Weber, Durkheim — were the
ones to enter it...
already dead. Originality reassures us that life
is pure.’
The conflict between form and con-
tent, says Simmel, has always...
offer a content that is not only unique
and compelling, but also authentic and
replicable. That is, to be successful,
bran...
will do so, only that they can do so
and still be believably within the scope
of the brand.) There are no rules other
than...
in effect, ‘We know you don’t trust
marketers or the mass-market brands
they produce in order to make loads of
money. But ...
generic item, but with such intensity
that the content takes on a unique,
authentic form. A good example is The
Drudge Rep...
the competition and is true to the
values of the organisation’.15
It is clear
which prerequisite is key.
Chameleonism
Fina...
The second commitment such
brands make is to continually reinvent
their content to make it relevant and
compelling. Imagin...
(8) Simmel, G. (1971) ‘The conflict in modern
culture’, in ‘Individuality’, p. 377.
(9) Simmel, G. (1971) ‘The conflict in m...
Copyright of Journal of Brand Management is the property of Palgrave Macmillan Ltd. and its content may not
be copied or e...
Beyond Form vs. Content: Simmelian Theory As A Framework For Adaptive Brand Strategy
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Beyond Form vs. Content: Simmelian Theory As A Framework For Adaptive Brand Strategy

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Beyond Form vs. Content: Simmelian Theory As A Framework For Adaptive Brand Strategy

  1. 1. much to learn from theories outside the realm of marketing. One such realm is sociology, which provides a variety of useful, albeit generally neglected, frameworks for understand- ing the dynamics of brand. Here, we draw upon the thinking of classical German sociologist Georg Simmel, a brilliant (but also generally neglected) social theorist. Specifically, we explore the usefulness of his concept of ‘form versus content’ in order to address a difficult brand paradox — how to keep brands consistent, and yet relevant and authentic, at the same time. INTRODUCTION The field of branding has advanced rapidly in recent years. Today, one does not have to be an expert to understand that branding involves much more than persuasive image building. Rather, it is a leadership and management process that engages an organisation at every level of its operation. Yet, for reasons that cannot be fully explored here, the perception persists that branding is merely a ‘subset’ of marketing. This paper proceeds from the under- standing that branding is inherently cross-disciplinary. As such, the field has ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 10, NO. 1, 9–18 SEPTEMBER 2002 9 Dannielle Blumenthal, Director, Institute for Brand Leadership, The Brand Consultancy, 1000 Potomac Street NW, Suite 122, Washington DC 2007, USA Tel: ϩ1 301 593 5024; Fax: ϩ1 202 333 2659; E-mail: dblumenthal@ instituteforbrandleadership.org Practice paper: Beyond ‘form versus content’: Simmelian theory as a framework for adaptive brand strategy Received (in revised form): 21st June, 2002 DANNIELLE BLUMENTHAL is a brand strategist specialising in holistic, humanistic, win-win success techniques. Through the Institute for Brand Leadership, she has spearheaded numerous initiatives aimed at furthering brand thought leadership, including a US$3,000 ‘brand power’ essay contest that has drawn worldwide attention. The creator and producer of The Brand Consultancy Knowledge Board, her papers on branding are frequently published in a variety of academic and industry publications. Abstract At the heart of branding is a paradox: the need to provide constancy and change at the same time. Constancy is required if the brand is to build awareness and credibility. Change is required if the brand is to remain relevant in an ever-evolving marketplace. In modern society the paradox is even more daunting, as constancy runs the risk of seeming inherently inauthentic. This leaves brands with two contradictory demands: (1) be the same and different virtually at once, (2) be instantly recognisable yet avoid formula. Though these demands may seem impossible to meet, some brands manage to navigate them. How? Using the classical sociological theory of Georg Simmel, this paper analyses this deep paradox in conceptual terms, and offers five tactics for managing it. ‘Rigor, as they say, is next to mortis.’ —Tim Ambler, Senior Fellow, London Business School, in ‘Marketing and the Bottom Line’ (Prentice-Hall, 2000)
  2. 2. theory. Yet those who did make such a claim, or at least aspired to it — Marx, Weber, Durkheim — were the ones to enter its hall of fame (a situa- tion with interesting parallels in the emerging discipline of brand). In any case, in Simmel’s emphasis on authen- ticity (content) over systems (form), he very much typified his own theory. THE CRISIS FOR BRAND Essentially, Simmel argues that society is propelled forward by an irresolvable conflict between two essential im- pulses. One is ‘content’ — an intan- gible category including all manner of thought, creativity, emotion, idea, value, belief and so on. Content is constantly evolving and resists being encapsulated. The other impulse is ‘form’ — a tangible category including all manner of fixed ‘containers’ for content, such as law, contract, process, systems and so on. As Simmel writes: ‘A basic dualism . . . pervades the fun- damental form of all sociation . . . a . . . fluctuating, constantly developing life- process, nevertheless receives a relatively stable external form . . . These two layers, relation and form, have different tempi of development; or it often is the nature of the external form not to develop properly at all’.4 ‘Life as such is formless, yet incessantly generates forms for itself. As soon as each form appears, however, it demands a validity which transcends the moment and is emancipated from the pulse of life. For this reason, life is always in a latent opposition to the form’.5 Content is expansive; form is restric- tive. One cannot exist without the other, and yet they are perpetually mismatched. Ideas must be expressed in LIVING THE THEORY Born in 1858, Georg Simmel was a ‘perturbing and fascinating figure to his . . . contemporaries’, writes Lewis Coser. This was so for many reasons, but not least because he rejected dry scientism in favour of exuberant, crea- tive, thought exploration: ‘He was a virtuoso on the platform, punctuating the air with abrupt gestures and stabs, dramatically halting, and then releasing a torrent of dazzling ideas’.1 Similarly, Donald Levine2 notes: ‘Rarely did he submit to the discipline required for systematic exposition of a body of knowledge. This trait, however, reflected neither laziness, indifference to his audience, nor arbitrary willfulness. Simmel was in- defatigable in exploring the labyrinths of complex analysis . . . he was reputedly one of the most brilliant lecturers of his generation . . . (though he) maintained a studied am- bivalence toward the canons and claims of ‘objective’ scholarship.’ This is not to say that Simmel was unable to categorise his ideas; his analytical ability was acute. Yet he refused systematisation for its own sake, insisting instead on being authentic. For this he gained celebrity, but lost the legacy of a sociological empire-builder. He was, as Ju¨rgen Habermas writes, ‘a creative although not a systematic thinker . . . More than anything else, what distanced him from the academic world was . . . a sensitive awareness of . . . barely tangible, diffuse, but treacherous phenomena of the every- day’.3 In sociology’s search for legitimacy as a science, there was no room to celebrate a genius who was not sure whether his work could have any last- ing objectivity. Simmel made no claims to world-changing everlasting scientific 10 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 10, NO. 1, 9–18 SEPTEMBER 2002 BLUMENTHAL
  3. 3. already dead. Originality reassures us that life is pure.’ The conflict between form and con- tent, says Simmel, has always been with us and will always be. In (post-) modern society, however, the conflict is growing more acute. Whereas in the past people were apt to accept the need for form or tradition, today they are more likely to reject it as in- herently false. What makes modern culture modern, in this scheme, is not the kind of forms we dream up. Rather, it is the consciousness of form’s inadequacy, and the resulting refusal of form itself. ‘At present, we are experiencing a new phase of the old struggle — no longer a struggle of a contemporary form, filled with life, against an old, lifeless one, but a struggle of life against the form as such, against the principle of form’.8 This tendency is typified by what is often called ‘the breakdown of social institutions’ such as the nuclear family, traditional religion, the corporation and more. As Simmel himself noted, cul- tural critics argue that ‘marriage . . . is destroyed from within by a thousand unyielding traditions’. Others turn to ‘mysticism to satisfy their religious needs . . . (because) the (existing) forms which objectify and direct religious feeling are felt to be inadequate’.9 Though there are, of course, serious counter-trends to this impulse, we can see its effects today in the refusal to marry or stay married, the popularity of new age and other hybrid-spiritualistic movements, the growth in alternatives to traditional corporate work environ- ments and so on. In the realm of branding, the ‘refusal order to be realised, but the expression always falls short of the potential of the original idea: ‘Examples are the marital form, which unyieldingly confronts changes in personal relationship; the contract between two associates, which continues to divide busi- ness profit evenly between them, although one of them does all the work, and the other none; membership in an urban religious community that has become completely alien or antipathetic to the member’.6 The crisis for brand is clear. On the one hand, every brand possesses an essential content, or energy, that is expressed in a particular form (name, logo, building, product, organisational structure, website and so on). On the other hand, virtually as soon as that form is created, it generates a sense of dissatisfaction among the brand’s audiences. They are evolving, and they expect the brand’s content to evolve too, to keep pace with them. Yet how can it, when it is already ‘fixed’ in so many particular ways? Looked at in this way, one can understand the teenage search for the ‘hottest’, ‘coolest’ new brands as the expression of an almost primal urge to realise their humanity. Young people, says Simmel, are most acutely aware of, and pained by, the mismatch between their sense of individuality and the means available to them for expressing it:7 ‘What are we to make of the widespread search for originality among contemporary youth? . . . The motive . . . is a passion for giving expression to the truly individual life . . . To accept any objective form, it is felt, would drain away human individuality; moreover it would dilute one’s vitality by freezing it into the mold of something ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 10, NO. 1, 9–18 SEPTEMBER 2002 11 BEYOND ‘FORM VERSUS CONTENT’: SIMMELIAN THEORY
  4. 4. offer a content that is not only unique and compelling, but also authentic and replicable. That is, to be successful, brands must be seen as ‘telling the truth’ — a truth people want to hear — again and again and again and again. There are brands have done so success- fully. This section will explore five strategies that brands have used, as summarised in Table 1. Strategic principle The challenge that ‘form’ poses, as well as the difficulty of aligning form and content, can be viewed and resolved from different perspectives. Gadiesh and Gilberg10 approach it as a manage- ment problem, specifically focusing on the decision-making process. They believe that decentralisation (or form- lessness) allows companies the leeway to take advantage of emerging oppor- tunity — a key advantage in today’s fast-moving marketplace. Yet, at the same time, it is important to have a filter (or core content) to identify which potential courses of action are appropriate. Adopting a strategic prin- ciple, ‘a memorable and actionable phrase that distills a company’s cor- porate strategy into its unique essence’, neatly solves this requirement. They offer a list of companies that have done so (Table 2). In addition to facilitating effective decision-making, the strategic prin- ciple is also a means of effectively operationalising the brand. People know what it is most important to focus on, and they have the power to act on it. This leads to cultural and organisational alignment that is nevertheless individualistic. Consistent perceptions are created, but without the formulaic flavour that is such a of form’ exacerbates the profound con- flict that already exists between the essence of the brand and its expression. In the past, one began with an in- evitable misalignment between content and form, idea and execution; ‘what I want to express’ and ‘how I ac- tually express it’. Yet at the same time, that misalignment came with a built-in window of time within which the disconnection could be effectively cor- rected. Now, there is no time, because execution is an impediment to itself. That is to say, just as people mistrust law, tradition, religion, marriage and the workplace — not because of what is contained in these structures but because structures themselves are in- authentic — they mistrust formalised communication as inherently a lie. To make things worse, brand communica- tion, as a marketing tool, is not neces- sarily created to tell the truth (’here is our promise and you can hold us accountable’), but to defend a certain perspective (‘here is our story and we are sticking to it’). Some brands are able to transcend all this. They evolve, even as they remain consistent; they communicate truth- fully, human to human. We now turn to an examination of several strategies that such brands have employed suc- cessfully. COPING STRATEGIES The refusal of form poses a daunting challenge to organisational leaders. On the one hand, branding is an impera- tive investment, because of the many competitive advantages it can provide if successful. On the other, it is even more fraught with risk than previously realised, because merely to articulate it is to risk rejection. Somehow, brands must 12 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 10, NO. 1, 9–18 SEPTEMBER 2002 BLUMENTHAL
  5. 5. will do so, only that they can do so and still be believably within the scope of the brand.) There are no rules other than to connect people. In sum, the strategic principle is content without a fixed form, leaving room for execution in whatever way seems most appropriate. turnoff. Moreover, since the brand is ‘lived’ at the level of individual self-expression, it not only comes across as authentic, it is authentic. Thus America Online can promote anything from a mobile communicator today, to a holographic sales room tomorrow. (This is not to say that they ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 10, NO. 1, 9–18 SEPTEMBER 2002 13 Table 1 Five strategies for coping with the crisis of form Description Explanation How objection to form is avoided Emphasis on content? Emphasis on form? Example Strategic principle Emphasis is on building consensus around a key principle, with details implemented in discretionary fashion Focus on delivering the unchanging aspect of the brand’s content, keeping form flexible enough to accommodate its changing expression Yes No America Online, Wal-Mart, Vanguard, General Electric, eBay, Southwest Airlines, Dell Ubiquity vs. authenticity Celebrate either form (ubiquity) or content (authenticity), but not both Acknowledge the impossibility of excelling at both form and content and limit the brand promise to one or the other Ubiquity No Yes McDonald’s Authenticity Yes No Camper Commodity vs. packaging Turn form into content, or vice versa Focus so keenly on one or the other that it possesses the qualities of both, but without claiming to Commodity Yes Yes — as after-effect of content The Drudge Report Packaging Yes — as after-effect of form Yes Luxury cosmetics, various Reverse narcissism Model the brand completely on the customer and disavow any claim to essential content — ‘It’s all about you’ Subvert it by basing the brand entirely on the consumer — there is no claim to any essential form or content No No Built-To-Order, Inc. Chameleonism Retain the brand essence but express it in the language of near-future trends, leading to dramatic differences in the brand’s expression. Reduce it by evolving form strategically, in advance of changing content Yes Yes Madonna BEYOND ‘FORM VERSUS CONTENT’: SIMMELIAN THEORY
  6. 6. in effect, ‘We know you don’t trust marketers or the mass-market brands they produce in order to make loads of money. But you can trust us. Because our spirit is so unique, so special, so one-of-a-kind that it can’t really be mass produced — and we wouldn’t try to fool you by trying.’ As Godin11 puts it: ‘When it’s hyped in the media and advertised on the sides of buses, some- times it seems as if the product exists and succeeds because it is everywhere. Before ubiquity, when it seemed as if the product (or its creator) wasn’t in it just for the money, somehow that felt more real, more wonderful, more authentic . . . Brands, logos, salesman- ship, positioning, and focus groups have gained a reputation for insincerity and corporate greed. Most of this comes from people’s desire to have something real — and to get it from someone who isn’t trying quite so hard to sell it.’ The authenticity approach promises only content. Form is reduced to a side-effect, necessary in order to recog- nise the brand, but not celebrated in and of itself. Here, the prototypical example is Camper — a shoe brand so focused on content that the design is focused on the sole of the shoe, while the exterior is relatively plain. In a profile of the brand, Ron Lieber12 Ubiquity versus authenticity Brand strategist Sean Godin offers another option. This is, essentially, to acknowledge the impossibility of ex- celling at both form and content, and therefore limiting the brand promise to one or the other. He calls this the choice between ‘ubiquity’ or ‘authen- ticity’. Ubiquity strategies centre on creating a consistent form that is visible everywhere, and is instantly recog- nisable. McDonald’s is the example that he provides, and it is a perfect one. At McDonald’s, there is no promise that the content will be ‘authentic’, ‘sin- cere’, ‘homestyle’, ‘one-of-a-kind’, dif- ferentiated, special or unique in any way. The ‘golden arches’ are global, but the food is either local or part of a rotating menu. No special ‘McDonald’s experience’ is offered, only the reas- surance that stems from ‘knowing’ the large organisation that is accountable for the food. Ubiquity means saying to the consumer, in effect, ‘We know that more personality in the brand would be nice, because complexity is interest- ing, but guess what? There are times when you’re hungry, and you want to eat fast and cheaply and reasonably well, the same way every time. That’s when you call us.’ Authenticity strategies operate at the opposite end of the spectrum. They say, 14 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 10, NO. 1, 9–18 SEPTEMBER 2002 Table 2 Sample strategic principles of well-known companies Company Strategic principle America Online ‘Consumer connectivity first — anytime, anywhere’ Dell ‘Be direct’ Ebay ‘Focus on trading communities’ General Electric ‘Be number one or number two in every industry in which we compete, or get out’ Southwest Airlines ‘Meet customers’ short-haul travel needs at fares competitive with the cost of automobile travel’ Vanguard ‘Unmatchable value for the investor-owner’ Wal-Mart ‘Low prices, every day’ BLUMENTHAL
  7. 7. generic item, but with such intensity that the content takes on a unique, authentic form. A good example is The Drudge Report (2002), which, on its face, is about the provision of breaking news. What could be more of a commodity these days than an online newsfeed? The site is so stark it looks almost homemade, consisting only of black links on a white background, with the occasional picture. In fact, much of the site never changes at all — links to other sites providing news and information. Yet the form is very distinctive. Drudge content could not be transmuted onto another format and still be Drudge; other content could not be flowed into the Drudge format and be convincing. The site, which in June 2002 celebrated a record 5,000,000 visitors in a single day,14 is a brand with a commodity strategy. Packaging, on the other hand, is about elevating form to the level of content. Arguably, the entire luxury cosmetics industry falls into this category. This is not to say that the cosmetics industry is undifferentiated by content — some lipsticks really do last longer — but that the basis of the brand is wholly its image. As a teenager, I once bought an Yves Saint Laurent lipstick for US$14, only because of the look of the YSL ads and the look of the case. It was an extraordinary amount of money for me to spend on such an item, and it had nothing to do with the fact that the lipstick might actually be better (though I naturally assumed that it was). It was all about buying a piece of the lifestyle represented by the exterior — genuine European luxury. Chanel, Lanco˘me, Aveda, Bobbi Brown, MAC — take your pick. None of it, really, is about the functional benefits of the product. asked founder Lorenzo Fluxa why he would ‘pay attention to something that’s just going to get scuffed up’. Fluxa replied, ‘The sole is the soul of the shoe. We’ve registered many of them as trademarks. They are an investment for us.’ In fact, notes Lieber, on some pairs ‘the right and left shoes don’t match. On purpose.’ That is precisely the point. It’s not that Camper defies form — but that it dwells in content. The heart of the Camper brand is the Spanish island of Majorca, and it explicitly ‘stands for the preservation of rural culture’. Commodity versus packaging Separately, Godin13 alludes to another kind of choice for brands caught in the form-content conundrum, when he discussed the importance of the wrap- per, or packaging, to the brand ex- perience. ‘In the old days’, he notes, ‘virtually everything had to come with some sort of wrapper. The packaging was as much a part of the product as it was a part of the brand. As our economy continues to become more digital . . . it’s about us starting to separate goods and services from their wrappers.’ Put another way, brands can choose between focusing on their commodity element — the functional aspect of their content — or their packaging — the emotional aspect of their form. Unlike the previous option, this is not about accepting the impossibility of aligning form and content, and there- fore choosing only one. Rather, for our purposes, it is about focusing so strongly on one of these that it literally becomes both itself and the other. In the case of ‘commodity’ strategies, the focus is explicitly on providing a ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 10, NO. 1, 9–18 SEPTEMBER 2002 15 BEYOND ‘FORM VERSUS CONTENT’: SIMMELIAN THEORY
  8. 8. the competition and is true to the values of the organisation’.15 It is clear which prerequisite is key. Chameleonism Finally, some brands choose to take the leap, embracing the challenge of aligning form and content, rather than avoiding, forcing, reversing, transmut- ing or otherwise manipulating these variables. It is a treacherous path to take, because the risks are so great — one ‘off’ note can kill the whole sym- phony. How then do some brands manage to succeed at it? The answer appears to lie in an- ticipating the trends (or future forms), rather than responding to them and then transmuting one’s essence accord- ingly. Brands that need ‘catch-up’ time lack credibility, and in a market that restlessly seeks relevant differentiation they are reduced to mere copycats, counterfeits of the brand they could have been. On the other hand, brands that have a distinctive core content and express that content in the language of the future, not only demonstrate authenticity but also the capacity to connect with their audience in a most genuine way. For they have not asked people what they wanted and delivered afterwards, but anticipated what people want even before they want it. Celebrity performers do this well, perhaps because fame is not only stub- bornly elusive but difficult to maintain once achieved. Madonna, particularly, has proven herself a master chameleon, anticipating the mood of the times and then expressing it neatly. As a posting by ‘Altculture’ on Plastic.com16 notes: ‘Few predicted that this one-time disco bimbo would go on to become the biggest Rather, it is about turning form into its own kind of self-expression. Reverse narcissism Another way to avoid the issue of authenticity, of course, is to turn the issue around and focus completely on satisfying the perceived needs of one’s audience. Here, the brand says, in effect, ‘there is no core and there is no form, because it’s all about you’. One clothing company, AmericanFit Corp., said exactly this: ‘It’s all about you. You control the clothing style, fabric, color and fit’ (emphasis added). Very cleverly, the customer is put into the centre of a drama he or she cannot refuse to participate in. (’It’s all about me? Oh . . . okay.’) The brand changes as the customer changes. A new American car company, Build-To-Order Inc., carries a similar promise, stating clearly that ‘All BTO vehicles will be built in direct response to a customer order so customers never have to settle for what is in stock’. The company is working with SHR Perceptual Management to implement this cus- tomer-centric strategy. In a press release announcing the engagement, BTO chairman Scott Painter put it bluntly: ‘SHR will be instrumental in translating our target customer’s emotional needs into a powerful visual language that differentiates our products from other car companies’. As the needs change, so, presumably, does the brand’s expression. SHR’s president, Barry Shepard, not only endorses this strategy but insists on it. In the same release, he remarked that the firm ‘requires that all of its clients focus their brand to a core essence that resonates with the target consumer’ [em- phasis added]. Only after this must the brand ensure that it ‘differentiates from 16 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 10, NO. 1, 9–18 SEPTEMBER 2002 BLUMENTHAL
  9. 9. The second commitment such brands make is to continually reinvent their content to make it relevant and compelling. Imagine the scope of such a task. Not only do individual personalities, local cultures and regional and national identities vary nearly infinitely — so that ‘just do it’ — has different connotations everywhere — but the people that inhabit these various worlds are also evolving. One need not look much further back than the past few years to recognise this. As Americans roller-coastered from dot- com highs to September 11, Enron and beyond, to ‘just do it’ meant very different things in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. Yet, despite all this, and despite the shadow of questions about its corporate social responsibility, Nike’s brand remains as compelling as ever. (In a separate research project, when researchers around the world were asked to list the top global brands with relevance to local markets, the brand was mentioned over and over again.) No wonder that brand stewards everywhere ask the same question: ‘How did Nike do that?’ they ask. ‘What is it about the Swoosh?’ In this paper we reviewed the Simmelian dilemma of form versus content, and the ways in which this dilemma is amplified by the contem- porary refusal of form. Just as people are increasingly refusing to have their emotions and ideas constrained by institutional structures, so too there is a sense of resistance to the articulation of brand, as well as a heightened consciousness of misalignment between its content and the way in which it is communicated. No wonder that brand success remains so elusive. No matter how carefully one tries to rationalise it, the Nikes and the Coca-Colas and the pop icon of the late 20th century — but she has, through impressive willpower and an uncanny instinct for public taste. Madonna’s consistent ability to write a durable dance- pop tune, transform her image, co-opt subcultures (voguing, S/M, house, Sandra Bernhard), overcome setbacks (failed films, Sean Penn, cursing out Letterman), pick timely new collaborators (producers Dallas Austin, Nellee Hooper, and Junior Vasquez, to name a few), and titillate the media with a new twist (‘Truth or Dare’ [1991], the Sex book [1992] ‘return to romance’ [1994]) have put her so far ahead of the competition that there is no real competition.’ [Emphasis added.] The ability to maintain a brand es- sence, while at the same time present- ing it in a dazzling array of formats, is awesome — so much so, in fact, that fans arguably follow Madonna less for her music than for her moods. As Michelle Goldberg17 comments: ‘For a while, I anticipated new Madonna projects largely to see which cultural currents she would pick up on and amplify. That’s where much of her genius lies.’ (Not everybody appreciates her, of course; bell hooks, for example, angrily rejects the way the performer ‘appropriates and commodifies aspects of black culture’.18 ) CONCLUSION Brands that seek continually to align form and content make two commit- ments at once. The first is to stand for something essential, along the lines of the strategic principle. Nike’s ‘just do it’ resonates so strongly, not because people need encouragement in sport, but because the tagline draws a stake in the ground. ‘Get up’, it says. ‘Stop complaining. Move. We are not for you if you can’t or won’t.’ ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 10, NO. 1, 9–18 SEPTEMBER 2002 17 BEYOND ‘FORM VERSUS CONTENT’: SIMMELIAN THEORY
  10. 10. (8) Simmel, G. (1971) ‘The conflict in modern culture’, in ‘Individuality’, p. 377. (9) Simmel, G. (1971) ‘The conflict in modern culture’, in ‘Individuality’, p. 389. (10) Gadiesh, O. and Gilberg, J.L. (2001) ‘Transforming corner-office strategy into frontline action’, Harvard Business Review, May. (11) Godin, S. (2001) ‘When it comes to food, music, and more, which do you prefer: ubiquity or authenticity?’ Fast Company, July. (12) Lieber, R. (2001) ‘The shoes in Spain’, Fast Company, April. (13) Godin, S. (2001) ‘That wedding dress is the wrapper on your wedding day’, Fast Company, April. (14) Drudge, M. (2002) ‘Drudge Report nears 5,000,000 daily; Tuesday set traffic high’, www.drudgereportarchives.com/data/2002/ 06/20/20020620_062639_thanks.htm, June 19. (15) Build-To-Order, Inc. (2002) ‘Build-To-Order, Inc. awards brand development and positioning contract to SHR perceptual management’, press release, June 17, www.btoauto.com/i_media_pr.html. (16) Plastic.com (undated) ‘Madonna studies’, www.plastic.com/article.pl?sid=01/04/06/ 2154236. (17) Saroyan, S. and Goldberg, G. (2000) ‘What’s up with Madonna?’ www.salon.com/letters/daily/2000/10/16/ madonna, 10th October; comments: www.salon.com/ent/music/feature/2000/ 10/10/madonna/index.html, 16th October. (18) Mistry, R. (2000) ‘Madonna and gender trouble’, www.theory.org.uk/madonna.htm. Disneys of this world were built on a kind of artistic, individualistic genius that can never truly be systematised. Of course, one cannot plan for, nor rely on, genius; and even the most gifted brand stewards are at constant risk of utter ruin. The best one can do is to confront the basic challenges brands face, and cope with them as practically as possible. Hopefully this paper is a useful contribution to that effort. References (1) Coser, L. (1977) ‘Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context’, 2nd edn., Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York. (2) Levine, D. (1971), ‘Introduction’, in Simmel, G., ‘On Individuality and Social Forms’, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. xii. (3) Habermas, J. (1996) ‘Georg Simmel on philosophy and culture: Postscript to a collection of essays’, Mathieu Deflem (trans.), Critical Inquiry, Vol. 22, No. 3. (4) Simmel, G. (1971) ‘Social forms and inner needs’, in G. Simmel, ‘On Individuality and Social Forms’, Levine, D. (Ed.), University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 351. (5) Simmel, G. (1971) ‘The conflict in modern culture’, in ‘Individuality’, p. 377. (6) Simmel, G. (1971) ‘Social forms and inner needs’, in ‘Individuality’, p. 351. (7) Simmel, G. (1971) ‘The conflict in modern culture’, in ‘Individuality’, pp. 384–385. 18 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 10, NO. 1, 9–18 SEPTEMBER 2002 BLUMENTHAL
  11. 11. Copyright of Journal of Brand Management is the property of Palgrave Macmillan Ltd. and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.

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