Being Human as a Brand Strategy

Here's a better way to use our creative talents

As humans, we have an amazing ability to create systems that strip people of their basic humanity. 

In a capitalist society, humans have become "consumers" generally and simply "users" in the Internet age. Companies look at the public not as fully functional humans, but as demographics and email addresses on a spreadsheet and in a CRM database. Cohorts of target audiences are broken down to the essential elements and organized by overly simplistic traits, such that they can be easily measured. With easy measurement comes job security because marketers and advertisers can show an increase in engagement or sales among a targeted segment of people. 

The more we can convert people to numbers, the easier it is to forget there are real people on the other end of whatever screen we are targeting them on. The world of marketing and advertising has as many inhuman buzzwords as the world of politics, where usually old white men in suits talk about "boots on the ground" removing or at least minimizing the human lives at stake in every decision to go to war.

But the world of advertising, marketing and branding that I've spent the last 12 years a part of, is anything but inhuman. It's full of some of the most creative and smartest people I've ever met. Artists with gallery shows in deep Brooklyn, research geniuses who've helped me uncover deep and meaningful insights about human behavior, and account people who can sell water to a well. 

I think there's a better way. 

By adopting humanity as a brand strategy, we can help guide the world's largest brands and advertisers that rely on our creative council to do better. We can use what are essential human characteristics of creativity and innovation to help create companies—not just communications—that act with curiosity and empathy. 

This doesn't just mean doing more research to better understand the people (yes, people—not consumers or users) we are trying to reach. It means using our creativity and innovation to help companies become better corporate citizens. It means creating businesses that reduce the buzzwords from the boardrooms and lead with clear utility and purpose. Not purpose in the sense of greenwashing or a companywide volunteer day, but ways of operating in the world that recognize the planet and its peoples' fundamental right to exist in a healthy ecosystem. 

In the end, I believe it will prove valuable in the work. A company that acts with curiosity and empathy is inherently more aware of the world around it. Rather than exploiting human behavior and tendencies, these companies will recognize and fill a role as a responsible actor in an exchange of value—be it data, product or service. No more tone-deaf tweets approved by middle-management trying to capitalize on a moment. No more product launches in the middle of a global crisis that end up just being ignored. Humans are a flexible species, and yet when humanity is stripped from companies and marketing plans, we are given inflexible orders from on high that are to be executed by those at the bottom of the ladder without feedback or consideration. 

It starts with those in leadership positions in branding, marketing and advertising becoming aware of their unique skills. Not everyone is able to do what you can do, or else there would be no need for our agencies and consultancies. Creativity and innovation are essential human problem-solving skills. They created fire, shelter and the rule of law. These are skills of leaders, not followers. 

So why, as an industry, are we not leading more? Is our creativity going to be used to further a system that ignores the humans on the other end of our smartphones and TV screens, or one that fosters understanding? Creative agency titans like BBH, Wieden + Kennedy and BBDO have for decades used their empathy and curiosity to solve creative communications challenges for the world's top brands. Why can't that same level of empathy and curiosity be oriented toward creating a world full of businesses designed to be more human at every touchpoint, even when our political leaders demonstrate the worst of humanity in some cases?

To me, that's not a challenge to these titans of the creative industry but an opportunity. The moment we are in right now, with all of its tumult and uncertainty, is an amazing opportunity that far too few of us are realizing. An opportunity to think big. An opportunity to invite the best and brightest that I've seen in the past 12 years to embrace their humanity and create work for companies that recognize the world that we live in today and the people who are buying the products and services we hope to sell. 

By embracing the reality of the world as it is and the sometimes messy truth of its inhabitants, we can help the world's biggest companies create brands that put real people at the core. We can create work that doesn't just win awards, but helps the world move forward. We can create brands that are guided by humanity as a strategy, not just leveraged as a tactic. 

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Patrick Evans
Patrick Evans is a brand and strategy consultant with more than 12 years of experience working with brands including (RED), American Express, YouTube and ASICS. His goal is to help brands be more human by unlocking their purpose and place in culture.

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