Nurturing our inner cat :
Filling in the gap between creativity and branding

Pierre Balloffet
Professeur agrégé du Service de l’enseignement du marketing
Responsable pédagogique du D.E.S.S. en communication marketing


Ten years ago, the subject of C2-MTL would have been branding. Now creativity is at the forefront and leads the way. The International Advertising Festival of Cannes has become the International Festival of Creativity. Beyond the effect of trends, it is now common to link branding and creativity. After all, the experts of branding, ad men and ad women, consider themselves creative people. Nevertheless, by nature, there is an inherent conflict between creativity and branding and, very often, with some ground. Branding has indeed often been seen as a sterilizing force in organizations; and so has been marketing. What can be seen as a conflictual relationship is deeply rooted in the inner logic of what I will call two points de vue or two postures.

Branding, and it’s evolution over time, rely deeply on what can be called “informophose”. To brand a product, an organization or a city is not just about giving to those entities a distinctive designation and awareness. At the very base of branding, what we try to do is to invent a new language, a USL, a Unique Selling Language ; this expression replacing the traditional USP, the Unique Selling Proposition. In this perspective, the evolution of the way we communicate is crucial for branding. To communicate is about establishing relationships, and the purpose of a brand is precisely to be at the core of those relations. In fact, we do not have a relationship with a brand but through a brand.

The dynamic of brand evolution is mainly affected by the developments affecting the information field, information itself and the information mediums. On the other hand, the logic of creativity is far from being anchored in the production of a discourse. Creativity is a matter of form, of change, that is to say of “metamorphose”, not “infomorphose”.

Why it is important to realize this ? Because, the world is not changing. The world has changed, deeply. The way creativity is changing branding, and marketing itself, is blowing the field of marketing apart. It’s more than a change of paradigm ; it’s more than inventing branding or marketing 2.0. It’s more than passing from a functional approach to a more systemic one. It goes further than the social media influence. It’s a new language that has to be invented. And there is no possibility to escape this reality. So, welcome to this “new normal”.

For establishing his brand, in a traditional way, a brand manager does not tolerate confusion, ambiguity, paradox or clashes. This manager often acts as a paranoiac, trying desperately to keep the brand on track. His motto is coherence and, for him, more often than otherwise, coherence means homogeneity, if not uniformity. Of course, for a typical brand manager, that is to say a gate-keeper, a guard dog, managing creative people is usually a nightmare. It’s like herding cats. It’s an impossible task in the current “marketing box”, no question about it.

The path we have to follow, in our organizations, in order to preserve creativity from the brand trap is indeed a narrow one and walking on that path requires a good sense of balance. We are walking through japanese steps. See it not as a necessary compromise but as a new mode of equilibrium, a new dance step. We, people in marketing or advertising, have to forget our traditional role as hunters to become gardeners, an all new posture.

I propose that a possible way to escape what seems to be an implacable conflict between these two logics, this two courses of action, a possible way to resolve this problem of creativity versus branding, is to reconsider what I will call the socio-cultural grammar of brands. This grammar of brands needs to be explored not only further, but also in a different manner, in a totally different way. We need new metaphors, literally, les mots nous manquent, to understand fully what I have called this “new normal”.

Brand as to be considered not as a word, but as a verb. The brand main propos is not identification, differentiation or awareness; it’s not even about communication. A brand is not an image, an image is only the residue of a brand. The real propos of a brand, today, is to be a link, that is to say an anima. To animate, that means more, far more, than to engage, to share, to put in action. That means giving a soul, une âme.

I have chosen this poem of Eugène Guillevic to end this text. What I want to do at this moment is to remind you that, as we try to combine branding and creativity, we are walking on a narrow path, a fine line, surrounded by two cliffs, un ravin économique et social, on one hand, un ravin environnemental, on the other hand. We cannot consider the recomposition of a new branding-creativity link without keeping ethical considerations in mind. As the velocity of our world is accelerating, as brand managers, we have a balance to maintain between an hyper reactive way of managing your brand an a very static way to do so. You have to determine your position along this continuum. And it is important to realize that there is here no such thing as an ideal point. It’s our decision. A strategic and crucial one. It’s a decision that we have to make.


Quand on nous dit,
la vie augmente, ce n’est pas
que le corps des femmes
devient plus vaste, que les arbres
se sont mis à monter
par-dessus les nuages,
que l’on peut voyager
dans la moindre des fleurs,
que les amants
peuvent des jours entiers rester à s’épouser.
C’est, tout simplement,
qu’il devient
de plus en plus difficile
de vivre simplement.