Where’s the Love in your Brand Positioning?

Photo of old man in subway holding sign that says, "Seeing Human Kindness"

Appealing to our dark nature can be effective. But is it worth it?

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For better and worse, marketing has a big impact on our culture. It can encourage our best instincts as human beings. It can also appeal to our dark side.

I thought of this recently when reflecting on I Corinthians 13 – a beautiful and often-quoted description of love in the Bible. Christian worldview or otherwise, you’ll be hard-pressed to read it and not desire I Corinthians 13 in your life.

Yet so much of modern marketing stands in contrast to the famous love chapter. A growing number of brands align with an entirely different human instinct: self-centeredness.

Here are a few recent examples that caught my attention:

GMC Trucks has taken “commercial grade” to a new level. Rather than promoting the value of a vehicle that’s built to a higher standard, they appeal to our self-serving instincts with their “Drive like a boss.” mantra. They even go as far as to portray those who aspire to be a “decent person” and “good friend” as selling themselves short. It’s a clear sacrifice of virtue on the altar of ego.

E-Trade is also brazenly transparent in positioning affluent, upper-middle class people as envious of their friends and relatives who are a few rungs higher on the income ladder. “You like your brother-in-law. But you’d like him better if you made more money than him.” The tone of the E-Trade campaign is tongue-and-cheek, and well-crafted. But the message is clear and it isn’t funny.

From a business standpoint, I understand the strategy. Appealing to people’s insecurities and fears can be effective in selling trucks, financial services and fashion. But is that the foundation on which you want to build your brand? More importantly, is that the kind of world you want to live in?

Consider positioning your company and brand on values that promote something more worthy. It may be aspirational, but I Corinthians 13:4-8 lays out some ideals to shoot for:

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong.
Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

Wow. Isn’t this is the kind of love we should be promoting? And it’s not just good for culture –  this kind of love lived out in your brand would be unstoppable.

Brands don’t need to foster self-centeredness. Our world has enough already. Align your business and brand to good. It can be done, just ask financial brand TIAA, shoe and eyewear-maker TOMS, and auto company Volvo. Bravo to these and many more!

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