The Brand That Lived Forever

Are you ready for the next 100 years?

When Antoni Gaudi, the famed Catalan architect, began construction of his Sagrada Familia cathedral in 1882, he knew full well that he would not live to see its completion. Nor would his children. Or his grandchildren. Or his great-grandchildren. Now, 136 years later, the Spanish testament to the power of the long view is in the home stretch and is expected to be finished in eight more years. 

These are fast and furious times for brands. Never has there been a more fractured marketing landscape. Massive challenges threaten to undermine their place in the world with every day that passes. What will be the impact of AI? Is programmatic here to stay? Will blockchain serve us, or will it mortally wound us? Are we leaning too heavily on social, or are we throwing it under the bus? 

And yet, unless you can think beyond the moment, unless you can take the long view—10 years, 25 years, dare I say 100 years—all the most brilliant short-term maneuvering in the world might not save you from ultimately vanishing into the dustbin of history. 

Here's a simple question that every brand ought to be asking itself: Could the world imagine life without you? 

I only ask because consumers say that if up to 95 percent of all brands disappeared tomorrow, they would scarcely notice. Think yours would be in the 5 percent? If you're Apple, probably. Disney? Likely. And you know why? Because immortal brands have a defining purpose. They don't just know what they make, they know why they make it. I would bet that 100 years from now, Apple will still be for the crazy ones. There might be a Disney World on Mars, but Disney will still be about family entertainment. What about Patagonia? Still think they'll be raising their voice to save the planet? If there's still a planet to save, yes, I believe they will. This is the stuff of brand immortality.

Achieving brand immortality isn't necessarily a conscious decision. Sometimes it just falls in your lap. Before it became a Hollywood icon, Harley-Davidson was just another motorcycle. But then came Rebel Without a Cause, The Wild Ones, and of course, Easy Rider, and suddenly what had been just another motorcycle was on its way to becoming an immortal brand, the forever enduring symbol of wild freedom. Needless to say, not every brand is going to accidentally find its ticket to forever. But it goes to show what's possible if you go about it in a purposeful way. 

It might seem ludicrous to think about where a brand will be in 100 days, let alone 100 years. And yet, without a long-term vision that is unswerving and sacrosanct, a defining purpose that inoculates it from the realities of the now, what I call The Conscious Forever, very few brands will be prepared for the future. And if they aren't prepared for the future, then they're really not prepared for the present, not in a deep and powerful way. 

An immortal brand, a brand that's committed to its why, is inoculated against all manner of social, economic and cultural turbulence. This is no small thing. A lot can change in a society. Technology. Fashion. The cars we drive. Our attitudes toward science and religion. How we raise our kids. How we choose to entertain ourselves. Without a defining why, brands risk losing control of themselves, caught up in a never-ending cycle of reacting to the world. But when your purpose comes from within, as it must, it is pure and eternal and it can never become irrelevant. 

Which brings us to you. 

As advertising people, we all have a role to play in girding our brands for their crossing into tomorrow. We can help them find their why. We can help them act for the next 100 days, but so too can we help them plan for the next 100 years. And when they do find their Conscious Forever, we can resolve to do the kind of work that will help propel them there. Yes, there will be advertising as they know it. But there will also be branded communications that will be working long after the last flames of paid media have gone out. Documentaries. Branded feature films. A bestselling novel. 

I won't be around in 100 years. You probably won't, either. But I have a feeling the Sagrada Familia will. And if brands are smart about it, so can they.

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Ernie Schenck
Ernie Schenck is an independent creative director, writer and author.

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