Tuesday, 21 January 2020


The other weekend, I slunk off on my own to the cinema to see Stanley Nelson's documentary Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool. Some reviews have suggested the film is a little pedestrian with its cradle-to-grave and talking heads approach, but I found it fascinating.

What struck me most of all throughout the film was the contrast between complexity and clarity. We talk about change and the VUCA world today, but when I think what changes culturally, socially and technologically Miles Davis lived through in his (rather-too-short) life, it's quite extraordinary. The quick-cut stock-footage introductions to phases of Davis' life that Nelson uses are tremendously effective in bringing this home.

Parallel to the evolution of the times was the evolution in Miles Davis' music - influences, collaborators, band, styles - from hard bebop to cool jazz to funk fusion, and all the rest.

And super-imposed on all of this is the complexity of the man himself. He was complicated: a genius artistically, cool, proud and brave, but also arrogant, violent and jealous, anti-social and drawn into the self-destructiveness of drugs and alcohol.

I came out of the cinema with all that complexity swimming around in my mind, but above it, a sound. An unmistakeable, clear, non-vibrato, melodic trumpet singing "simple, pretty notes" (just 12 of them).

What's this got to do with brands? To me, it's yet another demonstration that brands are not "like people." Who in their right mind would attempt or even want to hang a personality like that of Miles Davis onto a brand?

But yet, who wouldn't want a voice as clear and distinctive as that of Miles Davis' trumpet for their brand? Forget the complex personalities and archetypes and character profiles: to make your brand distinctive, nail the voice and be true to it, whether you're playing funky stuff or lonely ballads.

My favourite example of a clear brand voice at the moment? Burger King.

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