I coined the term, Dark Branding, to describe the realm of storytelling that is the antithesis of, and antidote to, light branding – which is where marketing is pretty much stuck at the moment (think the endless, cookie-cutter memes of ‘happiness’ and ‘gratefulness’, and content or brands that perpetuate the myth of perfect motherhood/bodies/interiors/diets etc etc etc).
While there will always need to be light AND dark (read up on Taoism for more on this), society’s current obsession with the light side of life – and the misguided idea that we should be working towards a Utopia – means that there is an unparalleled opportunity right now for genuinely dark brands, whether a person or a product, to cut through the forgettable mass and make a unforgettable mark.
But what is Dark Branding?
Dark Branding must be:
• Primal (example: Dita von Teese). Primal refers to the physical plane – your actual human body; all the messy blood, sweat and tears of it, the erotic and the enjoyable, the painful and the pleasurable. Light brands are often concerned with the spiritual realm, and the rejection of the physical.
• Provocative (example: Twin Peaks). That which is unusual, unapologetic, unique and utterly, enigmatically wondrous owns this space. Rather than simply ‘sex sells’, the truly provocative is something very, very hard to pin down.
• Powerful (example: Museum of Old and New Art, aka MONA). Something becomes powerful because it is bold, boldly goes where others don’t and is beholden to nothing. Something powerful cannot be ignored, and it therefore changes and challenges the world around it.
These three are the non-negotiables.
Dark Branding is also:
• Premium – because it is, by its very nature, a niche proposition
• Personal – ditto
• Peerless – ditto
• Perennial – ditto
• Polarising – ditto
• Un-PC – and therefore needed on our intellectually timid planet
Dark Branding is NOT:
• Simply sex or porn – it is more sophisticated and subtle than this
• Obsessed with death – this is an element or theme, naturally, but it is not the be all
• (Only) visually dark – a dark brand can be visually light, yet still have an undercurrent of darkness (think of one of the original masters of personal branding, Frida Kahlo)
What does this mean for you?
Well, if you have a personal or product-based brand that is not getting traction, or feels stale or off somehow, here are some questions for you…
ARE YOU TRYING TO BE LIGHT WHEN YOU’RE MEANT TO BE DARK?
This is an affliction. It comes from people being scared of their inherent darkness. They avoid making the hard decision to understand their own darkness and instead look around them at what’s trending – and simply copy the conventions of the day (this is why those insipid, sparkly gold, handwritten Instagram quotes abound). But if your true nature leans to the dark, then the closer you get to expressing this, the more your world will resonate with others (and with yourself).
ARE YOU TRYING TO BE DARK WHEN YOU’RE MEANT TO BE LIGHT?
This is less common – because it’s simply more challenging to be openly dark than it is openly light. Society is not so accepting of the dark at the moment. But, again, it’s about being yourself. A true light brand (not a contrived, copycat version) is a wonderful thing.
Personally, I have never tried to be light. I’ve always known it’s not me. (If you know of the Birthday Book, I am born on the Day of the Dark Pragmatist, which it’s eerily apt). I have researched, created and collected dark brands for more than 20 years – and I currently have two of my own. I have admittedly been guilty of toning down my darkness in the past. But experience has taught me one thing: if your brand turns you on, it will turn others on. If you are turned off by yourself, then others will also turn off from you. So the closer you are to your true self (whether you lean to the light or the dark), the more successful and happier you will be, both personally and professionally.
So, if you are a dark brand – be brave and go bloody be a dark brand!