Finding Your Brand’s Emotional Truth

For a brief eight weeks, Vincent van Gogh and French artist Paul Gauguin shared a tiny studio in Arles. This was a period of extreme creativity for van Gogh, who averaged one painting a day in Gauguin's company. Yet, the many differences between them led to constant arguments. On the eve of separation, van Gogh painted two pieces - Vincent's Chair and Gauguin's Chair.


Vincent’s Chair Gauguin’s Chair

Vincent's Chair is a daytime painting, with a golden wood chair reflecting sunlight. Van Gogh chose a simple chair on a plain tiled floor. The pipe, tobacco and box of onions display his rustic self-view.

Gauguin’s Chair reveals a more sophisticated man, the carved chair and books speak to his worldliness. The colour scheme is bold and dark. It is night versus day. The rich carpet is distorted, unfinished. The brush-strokes are thicker, more jagged. There is anger here, as well as impending emptiness. We see two artists and their relationship. They are not literal self-portraits – they convey a deeper truth, their Emotional Truth.

brand with meaning

All your product development, advertising, promotion, content & sponsorships, service & relationships, should combine to answer one simple question. “Why should I choose you?”

You can show off your attributes – engine size, special ingredients, investment skills - & receive polite interest. Moving to rational benefits - like fuel consumption, stain removal & expected returns – may put you on the ‘to be considered’ list. But so far, no cigar. You need a powerful emotional connection, a truth to make your own. Omo claims dirt is good. Allan Gray, through story-telling shows the returns of long-term planning. Meanwhile, most cars take the low road, losing brand distinction in the smoke & mirrors of adland.

Emotional truth flows from purpose, so begin with a journey to the source. Why do you exist? Why will society be better off because of you?

Enterprises that add value to society, attract committed employees & loyal customers. They are fast becoming a magnet for investors who seek sustainable returns.

A purpose may never be fully achieved – Google will always aspire to “organise the world’s information & make it useful”, Sam Walton’s descendants know they cannot totally succeed in their quest “to give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same thing as rich people”. A purpose is a direction, not a destination. If ever you do get there, you will need a new place to go.

The king was not content with being. He was striving to become.
Salman Rushdie – The Enchantress of Florence

from purpose to emotional truth

Unilever has defined its corporate purpose as “adding vitality to life”. This is how its purpose cascades into attributes, rational benefits & emotional truth for Dove, one of the fastest growing brands in the Unilever stable.


The insight to feature women of different shapes & sizes in advertising comes from research, where female consumers complained of impossibly, perfect bodies pumped out daily across media. Using this emotional truth led to Real Beauty Sketches, one of the most watched branded videos of all time, with over 140 million views and counting.

For their leading washing powder, Unilever captured another emotional truth.


When brands bear the organisation’s name, emotional truth conveys the inner purpose. The Nike purpose is: To bring inspiration & innovation to every athlete in the world. Their emotional truth, captured in Just do it and Find Your Greatness ads, touch us all.

Emotional Truth strips away the layers of gloss & glitz to find what connects us – to know & feel Why I should choose you. It is the imaginative heart and art of branding.

“I think therefore I am” is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothache. “I feel therefore I am” is a truth much more universally valid. Milan Kundera