Global brands should be aware of the mental disconnects that can occur between the meaning intended to be communicated by a brand versus meaning created – as was illustrated by the recent Gillette campaign.

Dr Martina Olbertova, founder and chief executive of strategic intelligence consultancy Meaning.Global, describes the gap of meaning as “a ‘symbolic trap’ that makes things look good on the surface (as a form) but doesn’t quite add up or make sense on the inside (as a substance).”

In Why global brands fall into the gap of meaning, she explains that mental disconnects can occur in several ways: between meaning intended to communicate by a brand versus meaning created; between ideas and their form of execution; or between brand values and the real-world behaviours of brands.

All the various disconnects one can see in branding, marketing and business today have a common denominator, she maintains: the erosion of meaning.

“When basic meaning structures are destabilised in brands, it then influences the brand’s relevance, trustworthiness, ability to create long-lasting value, attachment with people and positively impact social change,” she says.

Consequently, both efficiency and effectiveness tend to suffer as brands lose value but don’t know why.

She identifies the four most frequent gaps in branding, marketing and business – around culture, context, trust and social impact – and suggests that the Gillette campaign fails on all of them.

The brand has come up with “a bizarre juxtaposition of the familiar/unfamiliar and the progressive/traditional as it simulates the progressively minded men with supposedly new social values engaging in traditionally masculine and culturally residual behaviours”.

And talking to men “as if all of them were predators-in-the-making” misses the context of the current cultural climate, she adds; “victimizing men isn’t the right path to stop female harassment.”

As for trust, Olbertova gently points out that “a brand from the P&G portfolio that charges women a ‘pink tax’ on their female products lecturing men on respecting women while disrespecting them in their own commercial practices is in itself amusing”.

On social impact, she argues that the tonality killed the message, “as the brand, no matter how big or established, has no social stance on telling people how to behave in society”. That’s the job of policy makers and “Gillette clearly overshot their social mark with this ad.”

Sourced from WARC