I’ve just discovered Hank Williams Thomas, who has been “unbranding” ads featuring African-Americans since the 1970’s.

He’s not trying to make a point about good advertising. Far from it. But it did strike me as quite a good test for good communications: does the ad work if you take the brand out?

This is the opposite of what I was taught when I started: that if you remove the brand from the ad, it should fall apart. If it doesn’t, it means the brand has no role and is simply sponsoring a piece of entertainment.

But I don’t think that’s always true anymore. Perhaps communications should have a role to play by themselves. Like the heart attack film we made for the BHF, which is now being used as a training film. Or this great tool from the Guardian, which within hours of going live was apparently reappropriated on the Spurs fan forums and spread like wildfire from there.

Both those pieces of communication, as well as doing all the things pieces of communication are meant to do, like raise awareness, actually have a role to play in people’s lives. Quite often, though, I think the presence of a brand we all care deeply about as its guardians can mask the utter redundancy and irrelevance of some communications. Removing the brand would show up pointless ads for what they were. Anything genuinely entertaining should still shine.


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