Get Real: The Return of the Product

Greet Sterenberg
Research International's Qualitatif
Malcolm Baker
B/R/S Group

The broad history of consumer culture has been largely concerned with the evolution of goods from commodity status to the sophisticated constructs we now call brands. And in our relationships with these constructs there is often a natural tension between elements of the product and the surrounding construction of the brand.

If you had to pick one idea that underpinned the boom in branding in the last decade, 'functional equivalence' might be it. The idea that products lack meaningful performance differentiation has been widely accepted.

As a consequence marketers have turned to the emotional components of branding to give products their distinct identity. At times product performance has almost been ignored – left off the list at the branding party. Marketers often treat it as the hygiene factor – essential but hardly exciting. As Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide and creator of the Lovemarks concept ventured in a recent Frontline interview: 'I think [a] brand's role is not based on [its] product performance at all.'