The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

A Brand Is Ultimately Defined By Culture, Not Owners …

I have a confusing relationship with Amazon.

I use them a lot.

I admire what they do.

I appreciate how they operate.

But I don’t know if they’re a great brand.

Without doubt they’re a great company and have created a clear role in people’s lives … but in terms of brand, I’m not so sure.

That’s weird, because in many ways, they have achieved all the things a great brand requires, but at the end of the day – I have no emotional relationship with them, it is entirely functional.

Does a brand need to have emotional value to be great?

No. But I think it is the difference between being seen as a great transactional brand and a great brand.

But what surprises me most is Bezos understands business and brands better than many.

Not just CEO’s, but marketing folk … exemplified by this statement he made.

Which leads to the point of this post.


As I’ve said a billion times, I’m an unashamedly huge believer in them.

If done well, they enable differentiation, cultural connection and economic power.

But the emphasis is ‘done well’.

And frankly, I don’t see a lot of that.

What I do see is a lot of companies spending of an awful lot of time and money on what they want to talk about.

What they think people should care about.

What audience should buy their product.

What they want their product to be used for.

What they want people to discuss about them.

What words they want people to associate with them.

What they want people to view as a threat or a competitor.

Them. Them. Them. Them. Them.

Now don’t get me wrong, you have to know what you stand for. What your values are. What your role is and why you do what you do, well. Not to mention what your point of view on the World is.

But you don’t just churn them out like some political manifesto brochure. Boring people into submission.

And yet that is the practice of so many … minus the point of view, which would at least make it relevant to culture instead of using a ‘proposition’ that is like a cement block, standing firm regardless what the headwinds that surround it are.

But it gets worse.

Because often what they do is wrapped up in some contrived ‘purpose/manifesto’ message in an attempt to make it look like it’s not all about them, which doesn’t convince anyone because it’s all about them.


And it comes across exactly like that.

Self serving. Self indulgent. Self important.

Because the people behind these campaigns live in a bubble of corporate complicity.

Where ‘real life’ is closer to a sitcom sketch than anything resembling reality. Where families are always perfect and together. Where there is no problem that can’t be solved with [insert brand here] and their [insert meaningless ingredient]. Where the undertone of the work is to scare/shame/blame audiences into purchase submission – regardless how happy the soundtrack is or how saturated the images. All backed up and reinforced by a research report that has been specifically designed to fit in with the clients processes than representing truth.

Welcome to the world of marketing truth – a parallel universe to real truth that exists next to the Marketing solar system.

And that’s why, love him or loathe him, you have to respect Bezos.

Yes he has a world of data. Yes he has a universe of information.

But he knows it’s what people say when you’re not watching or listening to them that really reveals what they think of you.

At a time where so much work is done behind the desk, there’s never been as important a time as to get out, talk to real people, understand the texture, nuance, and chaos around the category … so we can help our clients with the most important foundation you can have in getting to great work.


Of course, it is not always easy for clients to swallow.

Of course, they may prefer agencies that pander sweet bullshit to them.

But as Mr Bezos knows, you don’t get culture to truly buy into you, if you don’t know what culture really thinks of you.

31 Comments so far
Leave a comment

The unemployed version of the person who writes this blog is much better than the employed version. This is great.

Comment by Bazza

I was thinking that yesterday. His posts since he announced his redundancy have been excellent. It won’t last. Not because of he is incapable of maintaining the higher standard of writing, but because I know he will be back in full work mode soon enough.

Comment by Pete

He seems to be working more as an unemployed man than when he was working.

Comment by George

Not hard.

Comment by Bazza

To be honest, the unemployed version of me is a much happier and nicer person than the employed me. Haha.

Comment by Rob

not fucking hard is it campbell.

Comment by andy@cynic

Emotional values don’t have to be performative. I think all its customers have an emotional relationship with Amazon. It’s just a low-key one predicated on reliability and always being there when you need them. That’s why it’s so successful. You’d miss them if they weren’t there and that’s almost the definition of emotion.

Comment by John

Would anyone miss this blog if it wasn’t here?

I agree people care about Amazon, but in the same way people care their washing machine working when they need it. It’s an emotional connection but maybe based more on convenience than overt passion. Still better than most brands ever achieve.

Comment by Bazza

You can miss having a cup of coffee if it suddenly stops being available. But are you missing the coffee or the routine of having it?

I’m not sure if people love amazon. Some do, people who previously didn’t have access to the same range of products, but for the rest of us, I’m not so sure. I definitely want it in my life, but for what they can supply me rather than for who they are.

Comment by Pete

Absolutely, it’s not a passion, but they’re a logistics company. I want them to be passionate about me as a customer, but I’m not sure it would be sane to reciprocate. Maybe I’m just emotionally repressed.

Anyway, although I don’t love them, I can’t deny that there have been moments. I will always remember their no questions asked, customer-first reaction on the rare occasions when I’ve had a delivery or product problem.

And I think it’s more than a habit Pete. It’s more that we forget the pre-Amazon days and take them for granted. Thus, what they do is exactly who they are. They make life easier and therefore better and they’re not begging for my validation. I’ll take that.

Comment by John

Judging by the whining I wasn’t writing a blog post for a few weeks suggests you would Baz.

And yes John, that’s fair … but for me the emotional connection is what Pete writes, one based on convenience for what they provide than who they are.

Again, that’s not bad and better than many brands could hope to achieve, but for me, it’s not what they could be and I’d love a crack at that … mainly because I feel their Super Bowl stuff just doesn’t cut it, and outside of the .com and maybe Alexa, the other parts of their brand eco-system are almost laughable in terms of what they are vs what they could mean to people.

Comment by Rob

That’s fair too. I really only think of them in terms of .com and the other parts are a mess and in no way remarkable.

Comment by John

You’re agreeing with me? Are you OK?

Comment by Rob

Many brands don’t even practice selective listening of their customers, they prefer listening to themselves.

Comment by Pete

Like Rob when it was reviewing work time?

Comment by Bazza

Only your work Baz.

Comment by George

Good post Robert. I agree with everything you say except the lack of emotional connection Amazon has with their customers. I agree with John’s view. There is an emotional connection. It may not be as overt as other brands, it is likely to never encourage people to want to wear Amazon branded fashion, but there is still an emotional connection and it is still better than many brands have.

Comment by George

Great comment George.

Comment by John

I thought you would like that John.

Comment by George

Obviously great post. I have to agree that Amazon does have an emotional connection, there’s nothing wrong with simply being trusted, reliable and there when people need you. It’s just that with Amazon the actions are louder than words.
I’d also say that after working with clients who think they can just advertising their way out of big problems, they’re a ton better.
They’re also a good example of when not to listen to the cultural echo chamber – load of noise about poorly treated staff and taxes had zero effect on sales as far as I’m aware.
That said, Tesco thought they were untouchable until they ran into trouble, because there wasn’t much latent goodwill, having people LIKING to buy does matter eventually.

Comment by Northern

I agree … but I have also seen a bunch of brands who have created ecosystems of efficiency [read: D2C] who think that is enough. They go on and on about disrupting the category but they don’t offer anything distinctive and so end up speeding up the journey to commodity. It shouldn’t be one or the other, but that’s where we’re heading and that scares the crap out of me.

Hence I respect how Bezos talks about it, even though I think what he could have is even more important in people’s lives than it currently is. Especially with the broader offering of his Amazon ecosystem.

Jesus, this went serious all of a sudden didn’t it.

Comment by Rob

Why don’t you get them to make an Amazon car?

Comment by Northern

It could do an IKEA x Amazon colab. Each part is sent in a box and you put it together yourself.

Comment by Pete

oh for fucks sake campbell, youre not a planner anymore so why the fuck are you persisting with this bollocks?

Comment by andy@cynic

and amazon are a bunch of cardboard fuckers. fact.

Comment by andy@cynic

This is the comment of the year.

Comment by DH

This is amazing. For terrible wrong – and right – reasons.

Comment by Rob

Maybe it’s because I’ve had a break from your posts, but I like this one.

Comment by DH

Good news. The brain damage Rob inflicts is reversible.

Comment by Bazza

Hey Rob, I’ve heard about VA. Have you been in contact with Lee? Is he OK?

Comment by Pete

Imagine what position they’d be in without Lee?

Comment by Bazza

Leave a Reply