The long-term success of brands is being put at risk as a focus on delivering individual relevance leads to the neglect of the creation of ‘common knowledge’, according to a leading planner.

Writing for WARC, Gareth Price, a global planner at J. Walter Thompson London, highlights several implications for the marketing discipline that follow from this assessment.

In Why common knowledge builds stronger brands, and how to plan for it, he points out that reaching 30 million people on 30 million individual Facebook news feeds is not the same as reaching them simultaneously on a single channel during the Super Bowl.

“Brands must not only distribute associations but let each person know others know and think the same,” he says – referencing the work of Kevin Simler, co-author of The Elephant in The Brain.

Simler uses the phrase ‘cultural imprinting’ to describe the “mechanism whereby an ad, rather than trying to change our minds individually, instead changes the landscape of cultural meanings – which in turn changes how we are perceived by others when we use a product”.

Heritage, Price believes, represents a powerful opportunity to combat the threat posed by fragmented media; brands can tap into relevant aspects of their own backstory, or, if no such angle exists, they “can instead look to exploit existing shared meaning in culture to create common knowledge”.

But the cultural landscape is rarely static, he adds: common knowledge can change over time, and when it does, this too presents an opportunity for brands.

He cites the example of Wall Street’s Charging Bull, no longer a symbol of financial resilience but rather one of financial machoism, which a US investment firm confronted with the Fearless Girl statue to spark a conversation on women’s equality issues.

Price also believes that “social goods” provide an incentive to coordinate our buying behaviours, arguing that “while people claim not to differentiate much between competing brands themselves – and tend to focus on the limited functional differentiation if pressed to do so – they perceive that others do”.

Accordingly, brand tracking studies, rather than asking people about the associations they themselves attach to a brand, should ask what associations they believe others attach to it.

“The collective nature of those associations is critical,” he says. “We cannot opt out of the shared meaning of a brand and assign it an entirely personal one.”

Sourced from WARC