Captains Courageous and Captains of The Creative
One hundred years ago, amidst the rattle of machine gun fire, the shrill of the whistle, and the smell of cordite, salt, sweat and smoke, the ANZACs were plunging from landing boats into the waters off Gaba Tepe in Turkey.
In that same year, a small company in the United States – in Terre Haute, Indiana, to be exact – charged its designer, Earl R Dean, with a task. The Root Glass Bottle Company wanted to win a competition that had been launched by Harold Hirsch, a lawyer for the Coca-Cola company.
His task? To answer this brief: design a bottle so distinctive it could be recognisable by touch if felt in the dark, and shaped so that even if smashed into tiny pieces, one look would give its identity away. Dean won the competition; Hirsch created a term for the new millennium – the smashable brand.
Two legends - and it would be fair to say, with no disrespect intended to the ANZACs, brands - were created that year. One born of suffering, loss, and hardship; the other to be associated with the American Dream, excitement, excess, and inevitably, the capitalist 80s… all in a clear glass bottle, which somewhat resembled a cocoa pod.
This is not a new concept to discuss. Everyone understands what a smashable brand is, in terms of what it must represent to achieve ‘smashability’. It is the ultimate recognition; to be commercially known (and let’s be realistic, make a profit) irrespective of change in colour, texture, tone, shape, or if beaten into fragments. It could be a concept rather than a physical product, as it could be argued that phrases such as ‘beam me up, Scotty’ and ‘d’oh!!’ are phenomenally brand distinctive whether they are said in English, Urdu, Pidgin or Auslan – or in the case of some people, left-handed Swahili after a few too many red wines.
The iPad, iPhone, iEverything. The Rolling Stones ‘mouth’. Warhol’s soup cans. The Nike swoosh. Google’s er, Google. Distort, colourise, smash - it’s irrelevant. They are irreplaceable and inimitable. Marketing departments, PR and advertising agents, copywriters and designers across the globe and across the last century have spent hours, weeks, months, years, doing deals with the devil to work out the secret behind the smashable.
Or have they?
Perhaps what many do instead is attempt – and succeed - to find the secret to the smash-hit brand. What’s the difference? I’m glad you asked.
Smash-hit v Smashable
A smash-hit brand is of the moment. It’s the Spotify List of the Week brand. It’s featured in iTunes (there’s that ‘i’ again), and it’s raced to the front page of Google faster than you can say ‘dynamic ribbon’. It’s the app you want when you didn’t even know you wanted an app.
In other words, it’s a short-term success story, and whoever thought it up should be pretty impressed with themselves.
What it isn’t, however, is a smashable brand.
Because the person, people, or team that created it failed to ask themselves an extremely important question.
What is behind every single smashable brand that has gone before, apart from the actual branding itself?
In other words, what has kept the Coke machine (pardon the pun) stocked, despite New Coke, Vanilla Coke, and Diet Coke Plus, to name but a few marketing fails of titanic proportions? What is it that makes people unable to stop at just one Apple a day, even though the newsstand is insanity, and Yosemite seems to be a yodel away from breaking most days? How does Nike weather the sweatshop sturm und drang?
The ANZAC legend may not have been forged out of any desire other than to see peace for a world in turmoil, but those who perpetuate it understand the one, unfailing, irreplaceable tenet of maintaining a smashable brand.
You need a narrative, and effective delivery of said narrative.
For example; there may be no ‘i’ in ‘smash – but I’m willing to bet an Apple ad featuring Steve Jobs, even 10 years on, could just about make you believe there was.
To be continued.