Making branding with a purpose: what can we learn from the Bauhaus?

25 November 2015
Reading Time
2 minute read

A brand’s motives underpin every decision it makes. If Disney’s purpose is to “bring magic to people’s lives,” that impacts decisions on how wide to build the streets leading up to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. In Nike’s case – working under a goal “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world…If you have a body, you are an athlete” – this sets the agenda for which celebrity athletes to use as brand ambassadors. Every decision has the motive of the company guiding their choice.

Although many brands understand how important it is for their business to have a common motive that focuses their aims and helps their audience understand the reasons behind their decisions, it’s easy to get distracted by profit margins and business targets. This is why we chose to look at brand purpose through the alternative prism of the Bauhaus movement.

The Bauhaus movement emerged following the end of the First World War. Germany’s defeat opened up a new era of possibility for creative disruption, within which Walter Gropius established a new school of design. The Bauhaus school was established on the central principle that art and craft are of equal value. This principle led Gropius to develop a new curriculum and to place all disciplines of art and design on equal footing. The Nazis saw Bauhaus as degenerate, preferring the more traditional, earlier Romantic period of art. As such, as their power grew, the Bauhaus school moved from city to city in the attempt to escape their oppression. Once their power became absolute in Germany, the Nazis gave Bauhaus a choice: conform to their ideals of art, or close. Faced with this, the school chose to remain steadfast in their principles, and closed 14 years after opening.

Despite closing, the influence of the movement prevailed. The practices of form following function and staying true to materials that epitomised the style are evident in society today in New York’s MetLife building and Tel Aviv’s White City, a collection of over 4,000 buildings built in the Bauhaus style; indeed, many saw the design of the first iPod as indicative of the Bauhaus style.

Just as the Bauhaus had a resolute set of principles, brands need to either establish or rediscover the purpose behind their brand in order to guide their decision-making process. This makes it easier for the public to understand why a brand may move into a space that initially seems unconventional.
Some brands already have a well-established brand purpose, while others don’t, but the fundamental question is whether the company’s employees, audience and industry are aware of their message. A brand’s purpose can’t be something that only members of the board are aware of; it needs to permeate throughout the business, and be evident in each decision they make.

Matthew Bagwell is managing director at Naked Communications, and hosted a discussion about this topic at the Brew event at Central Saint Martins earlier this week.

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Matthew Bagwell

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