The mayor, the brand and the bobblehead

Ian Mirlin on Rob Ford and why his brand keeps thriving.

By Ian Mirlin

For those who have donned their dark suits to attend the funeral of advertising, go home, mourn no longer.

Advertising is not dead and all our fears about the death of brands the way we have come to know them, are unfounded.

Last week at this time, our mayor was pinned to the wall.

Confessions of drug abuse, making violent threats, a police chief laboring in disappointment, the local shock, the international shame, we all know the damage, real and collateral.

But here we are in a new week, and our leading citizen and global ambassador is signing eponymous bobbleheads for the unwavering supporter and the culturally hip, the eBay junkie and the early Xmas shopper.

Rob Ford bobbleheads flying out of the doors at City Hall until none were left.

So much for the new mandate about the integrity of brands.

So much for consumer reviews, transparency, the marketing power of honest products making an honest promise.

Because deeper than all this is the simple truth, as the philosophers have often reminded us: we need our illusions.

We need them because they somehow validate us and our lives and the choices we make.

We need them to help us retain the willing suspension of disbelief in some kind of redemptive magic. Whatever that magic may be.

A magic not far from believing that there actually might be a muscled man inside the bottle of household cleaner, a polar bear that drinks cola on an ice floe, a ticklish little dough fellow waiting for us to release him from the baking product.

Brands have always mostly succeeded on our human need to place them more within our dreams, than within our waking life. How they got there has more to do with the human condition than this page might allow.

To dispense with this truth about brands and the nature of our relationship with them is hasty and potentially costly.

This is certainly not permission for substandard products or misleading copy, nor is it worth disputing that to gain any kind of meaningfulness in the current age, many brands could likely do with some renovation.

But when it comes to exorcising their most valuable asset – the deeply human belief that maybe, just maybe something unspoken and redemptive within them can fulfill our deepest yearning, on this we should not be hasty.

A brand called Mayor survives as a brand when he knows that his audience has a limitless need to keep believing.

By saying “I just want to get back to work” he demonstrates an astute understanding of how brands ultimately persuade:

Simply renew the willing suspension of disbelief.

Ian Mirlin is a writer, thinker and founder of Zero Gravity Thinking.


Photo via “it was 3 a.m.” Flickr Creative Commons