My new column is out in The Drum:
In the 1992 Gen X twentysomething movie Singles, a guy flirts with a girl in a club and says he does not “have an act”. Her cutting response? “Not having an act is your act.” Well, not having a brand was Brandless’ brand.
In February 2019, Brandless, which abruptly shut down operations last week, published a company code of conduct (PDF here) stating that “our mission is to better everything for everyone. We endeavour to make better stuff accessible and affordable for more people. Our mission is deeply rooted in quality, transparency and community-driven values.”
Most significantly, the document also said that “we are courageous, audacious and committed to being a new kind of brand.” Brandless also trademarked its simplistic white box packaging, which it co-designed with New York agency Red Antler.
A brand by any other name would smell as corporate. (Due credit: Freddy Tran Nager, a marketing communications professor at the University of Southern California, had a copy of the Brandless code of conduct and sent it to me.)
Brandless’ failure, in part, resulted from being a brand that pretended not to be a brand – and thereby not seeing the success that comes from having a strong one. It was a case of mixed business messaging. After all, it is impossible to distinguish yourself if your goal is to be indistinguishable.
According to Fortune, Brandless had revenue of $20.2m but a net loss of $48.8m in 2018. The company, just like WeWork, showed that actual profit always matters more than empty growth.