Brands’ fault

By Ana Faustino

We usually say it isn’s nice listening to other people’s conversations. But sometimes we simply can’t help it. When a soundbite jumps out of the hustle and bustle of the cafe and bursts through our minds, we are most likely automatically and irrevocably attached to the conversation. That’s what happened to me when I heard this: “It all boils down to the guilt issue in the portuguese society”.

At a table further away, a gentleman was trying hard to explain that the Portuguese deal badly with guilt. Or, in other words, they deal too much with guilt. The basic argument was that whenever a problem arises, the first concern is to define where the blame lies. Both in private situations and in major issues that mobilize public opinion, the reaction would be the same, according to this speaker. More critical, he said, was that guilt was not only the first concern, but also the last. This point definitely caught my attention.

Eventually, many of may us have thought the same about major political issues, work problems, or even angry children. Once the blame is found, the problem seems to suddenly disappear, without any action taken, decision made, or learning taken. The question is: if nothing is grown upon blame, if behaviors and attitudes are not changed, what good does it actually do?

Guilt is indeed a constant in the conflicts or dilemmas we face in our lives. Perhaps it is even inevitable, given human condition. But when it becomes the ultimate end of any debate, it takes on an excessive and even immobilizing weight. Psychology explains adequately the frontier at which guilt becomes a problem: the moment it blocks action and, above all, evolution.

In fact, any growth process implies error. Only by making mistakes can we define best practices. Only by going through crises, can we build new learnings. I even dare to say that only by managing adversity, may we get to know ourselves fully and give ourselves room to progress. If guilt punishes error and haunts risk, intuition, and burst, then it blocks innovation and the opportunities it brings. In short, it compromises the future.

In a society that incessantly seeks perfection, we must realise that it is not innate. Perhaps it is even unattainable. At best, it is a construction, a sequence of mistakes and overcoming, combined with the ability not to make the same mistake again.

Pressure to be perfect is something we’ve all felt at some point in our lives and, most likely, something we inflicted on someone ourselves. Someone, some brand or some institution. Brands and companies – driven by people, directed at people and in constant interaction with people – adopt human identities and behaviours, inheriting equally the major problems of human relationships. Regarding guilt, the repetition of pattern is evident.

Just like all of us, brands suffer enormous pressures for perfection, something that tends to become more acute in the current communication context. In a fast-paced world, with an enormous public exposure of brands, they are no longer only in a broadcast regime. They are in a constant relationship and interaction with the environment that surrounds them and with their audiences, which somehow means they are also more subject to the unforeseen, to risk and even to crisis.

Consumers, in their turn, are much more watchful to the brands lives. They follow them in the media and even daily on social networks. Not only they follow them, but also comment, share and intervene. Because they know better, they are also more demanding. They expect an always exemplary attitude, a unique capacity for innovation, a reaction in real time. And they are the first to point the finger at a problem, frequently hiding behind a screen, clearly signaling that referred guilt.

With the boom of social media, this phenomenon of criticism and the search for the definition of guilt seems to have actually gained an even greater proportion. Not facing “eye to eye”, judgement is easier. But it is also often hasty, unfounded and invariably generates waves of anger that leave very little room for adversarial, even if it exists. Which is curious… Because this same consumer claims to want from brands a more real and authentic communication, which denotes transparency. However, he seems to be unwilling to accept the most real and authentic thing that exists in the lives of both people and brands: error.

Will criticism and blame lead us to have better brands? I would clearly say ‘no’. We will only get brands that are “correct”, restrained and obsessed with control. We will not have the creativity, the burst, the emotion of those who take risks and, with that, create new realities. We will not have brands that genuinely add value.

However, for brands to take risks, it is important to rescue the tolerance that has been dormant and free ourselves from the need to assign blame. Brands, or great brands (just like great people), rather than taking the blame, have the ability to learn from the error, take corrective measures, or even reinvent themselves, avoiding the repetition of the error. But never stop making mistakes. Because omitting the error will be the same as never taking a risk and, therefore, never making progress. Because making a mistake is a trademark!