The best TED talks on: Branding

Challenging, compelling and insightful - the best TED thinking on brands.

October 16, 2015

Where do brands come from? How do they exert such influence over our choices? And what’s the future for consumers’ relationship with them? You wouldn’t expect straightforward, conventional answers to these questions from a TED talk – so if you’re looking for a basic grounding in Branding 101, then this might not be the blog post for you. But if you want important new thinking on why brands matter, inspiring ideas about what they might be capable of in the future, or challenges to our conventional approaches to managing them, then you’ve clicked on the right link.

There’s a huge amount of TED material that touches on the art and science of building and managing brands. Cutting it all down to a final list of five meant excluding a lot of marketing related talks that are insightful or provocative in their own right (try checking out Malcolm Gladwell’s session on embracing the variability of consumer tastes, Rory Sutherland on brand perceptions and reality, or Dan Cobley’s concise, quirky talk drawing parallels between physics and branding). However, if you only have time to squeeze in five TED talks – and want those that will give you the most important new ideas in the shortest space of time, then check out these first:

Could brands alter our experience of products?

We are used to the idea of brands signifying the greater value of products – but what if they actually altered our experience of those products? Psychologist Paul Bloom’s talk on the Origins of Pleasure delves into the worlds of art, neuroscience, fine wine and human history to reveal how our experience of any product can be fundamentally changed according to what we believe about it. It leads to an intriguing idea: brands don’t just help to sell things; they can actually make our daily lives a more genuinely enjoyable place.

What is an authentic brand experience?

Picking up on the intersection of brands and experiences is Joseph Pine’s session on What Consumers Want. Filmed in 2004, it’s hugely ahead of its time in anticipating two of the most important themes in marketing today: brand experience and brand authenticity. In defending Disney and exploring the essence of coffee, Pine shows that being authentic isn’t necessarily what you think it is – and that it’s something no brand can afford to get wrong.

A super size take on branding

When a Ted Talk is written and presented by Super Size Me’s Morgan Spurlock you know it’s going to challenge society norms. While the presentation peddles a deliberately misinformed, over-simplified view of what brand management is (there’s a reason why reach isn’t everything, Morgan), but in my view it’s worth the ride for the challenging idea at its heart. In today’s unpredictable media landscape, do we have to sacrifice control and embrace uncomfortable levels of transparency to get access to the most creative brand opportunities out there? And are we really ready to give our agencies the license to do so? It helps that the sections where people describe their own personal brands are very, very funny.

When things go wrong: the real opportunity for brands

As Renny Gleeson explains in 404, the story of a page not found, the 404 error is like a cold slap in the face of our digital experiences. It’s when things go wrong, when you weren’t cared-for, nurtured and understood but simply fell through the cracks. But in this short and inspiring talk he reveals how the page that has become the epitome of digital disaster is also one of the greatest creative opportunities out there. Gleeson uses fantastic and often funny creative examples to prove that, “a simple mistake can tell me what you’re not – or it can remind me why I love you.” 

Where could brand loyalty lead us in the future?

Could brands take over from governments as the source of legal tender? In the era of Bitcoin, it's not such an outrageous claim as it might appear. And according to Paul Kemp-Robertson, in Bitcoin. Sweat. Tide. Meet the future of branded currency, in some ways it’s already happening. What does the willingness of drug dealers to trade in stolen laundry detergent, or of Nike fans to literally sweat for their rewards tell us about the evolving role of brands and brand loyalty?