Copywriting and Brand Ethics
Copywriting and brand ethics go hand-in-hand in the brand-building and brand-sustaining process. Building a brand is a lot like constructing a house. It’s customizable. It’s often built in parts. And it leaves a footprint for scrutiny. The virtues of ethical behavior are relatively simple to extol but in practice require considerable amounts of dedication from an energetic partnership between client and agency. There is no defined method of implementing ethical practices and each agency and client will have its own ideas about how best to achieve this goal. There are, however, tried and tested principles of ethical partnerships that have worked for Blue Wisdom and our clients with admirable success.
An agency is committed to abide by a code of ethics when working with a client. Whether this code is verbalized or intrinsically implied, the code of ethics stands. Brand identity, design, and strategy are viewed by clients as investments into their own brand structure. The agency has the expertise to grow this investment and multiply the net benefit for the client. That is why clients choose agencies – for their expertise. Unfortunately, such expertise is often mis-communicated.
1. The Masquerades
While there are plenty of agencies with copious amounts of talent and insight, there are also entities that masquerade as design and brand experts. Knowing how to use Adobe Photoshop or Corel does not make a person a brand identity or design expert any more than those who claim they are architects because they can draw three-dimensional shapes. Many industries have regulatory bodies that provide strict scrutiny of a person or organization before they are allowed to use the industry title. Think lawyers, surgeons, architects, and commercial aviation pilots. The branding and design industries however do not have this scrutiny. One can pretty much register a business and stick a poster outside the door saying ‘brand consultant.’ There is no regulatory practice or vetting procedure to meet. The sad fact is that many are doing so, viewing the practice of branding, copywriting, design, and fashion as a ‘anybody can do this easily and charge a lot for’ type of activity.
The negative consequences are affecting both clients and agencies. Client who choose such entities are often, though not always, disappointed with the result – or worse – oblivious to the quality of work which is more often than not sub-standard when compared to the industry. Agencies too are affected. People spend years refining these skills and work endless hours researching, correcting, adjusting, studying, and building expertise before they unleash their product on the world. These are the people who deserve, and wear, the ‘brand agency’ sign like a medal. And all this effort is simply neutralized by entities that flood the marketplace with calls to great work but backed with little or no knowledge of the study, science, and art of brand identity and design.
While such masqueraders fizzle out in the long-run or are eventually shown up by the real deal, the fact is that the short-term effects of such behavior can minimize or devastate the morale and profitability of agencies that have truly made the cut. Can you imagine going to a lawyer for advice, only to find that the sign is as new as the entity’s experience or knowledge of law? We would not ask such entities for legal counsel, or to prescribe medication, or to build an eighty-storey apartment building. Agencies are learning to deal with this problem in many ways, some not so effective. Price wars and package deals are common backlashes but create little impact since these entities respond with similar actions. Experienced agencies simply stick to principle and values, and they most of the time win out. For clients, the phrase caveat emptor should ring loud and true when considering hiring entities that claim to ‘do it all’ but provide no rationale, passion, or simple intuition that backs the claim to success. The field of branding and design is ultimately a creative union of logic and intuition. And one cannot be different by copying others and imitating the success of the real deal.
2. The Charges
Brand identity and design have slowly taken the centre-stage of communication, especially over the last century. People realize the value and awesome effectiveness of visual aesthetics, simple taglines, and highly recognizable symbols and logos that create identification and belonging. The value of branding is heavy duty – there is no other creative force on earth that can ignite passion for goods and services, create customer bonds, establish associations of quality, and destroy reputation. Such work requires special expertise, careful management and does not come cheap. But like anything of value, branding is a ‘what you pay is what you get’ service. Agencies committed to sustainable branding make this clear to clients at the outset, placing ethics over the account. Many times clients will approve of such transparency, choosing to work with quality over quantity. Then there are those who charge a fee that far exceeds the value delivered. Oblivious clients often don’t know the difference or simply don’t have the time to find out. This type of behavior is sadly, extremely widespread and is probably the chief reason why clients view branding and design agencies with suspicion and mistrust. Ethical brand agencies will always provide work with value that exceeds the cost of doing the work.
Equally destructive is the under-charging band of perpetrators. As mentioned before, branding is a heavy duty practice that requires specialized skills, training, and expertise. People who have been through the rigors and fires of branding and design training will always value themselves, their skills sets, and their clients. Respect for each other and for work is always of paramount importance. These people will always charge what they feel is fair for such high quality work, and will always deliver value that exceeds the cost of the work. But the entities that masquerade (see point 1: The Masquerade) are often guilty of this act too. Price cutting to win accounts. Such activity again may have short-term gains but in the long run these activities undermine the value of branding and erode at the profitability of an industry that is critical to communication. Again the long-term will separate the posers from the real deals. When this happens and the masqueraders are exposed, they simply shut down and delve into the next industry they perceive as being profitable for peanuts. Under charging for work to win accounts is selfish. It may win the entity the account but the industry on a whole suffers and the long-term effect comes back to bite the entity that perpetrated this ugly trend. Experienced, ethical brand agencies will provide value, even a deal, but will never undermine the effectiveness and value of the branding and design industries by engaging in petty price cutting and bargain basement offerings. As brand agencies, our work has value and we value our work. We also give this value in full to our clients. The clients who recognize this value in turn profit from the experience and quality we deliver by owning and sustaining the world’s strongest brands.
3. The Values
Brand agencies of ethical standing will always deliver value that exceeds the cost of work. As brand identity architects and designers we are driven to create work for more than fees. Make no mistake – profitability is critical to survival. But as professional creatives, we are motivated to produce results that go beyond financial concerns, towards intuition, even spirituality. Our work is always about delivering a result that far exceeds the amount we charge for. And this is fair because part of the satisfaction comes from financial reward – the external sense of gratification. The other part comes from within – knowing we have created great work instills a sense of accomplishment and pride that triggers a powerful internal sense of gratification. Best of all, our clients share the same sense of achievement with us. Our clients are experts. Make no mistake. They may not know about graphic design or the brand identity motivators, but they are skilled in their own fields and have strong organizations, values, and missions to back these skills. Such people see eye-to-eye with passionate, intuitive designers. Passion, ethics, flair, and motivation are traits shared across industries by people who believe in creating value.
To put this principle down in a formula may appear counter-intuitive but the formula captures the essence of this principle: perceived value > price of work
Great copywriting agencies are obligated, though in most cases they are highly motivated, to deliver work that goes beyond the expectations and contractual obligations set forth in agreements. It may seem strange, but the desire to do much, much more than required is a hallmark of not just good designers and agencies, but of anyone who places ethics as a high priority. As ethically driven designers and agencies we do not have to be told to do more for a client than he or she expects. It comes naturally and we do it because we are passionate about doing so. This is what separates us from the ordinary. This is what makes our work truly valued, and sustains us – both economically and passionately – to keep on delivering the best then going further.