| January 18, 2016
Last week, I wrote about the video ‘Dear Brother’ and was very tempted to state that the reason for its success was that it touched on a universal human truth, but then I realized that I was not sure what the definition of a human truth really was. Googling the words did not help much either. So how about developing a definition here?
The phrase ‘universal human truth’ is most often heard in marketing in the context of global branding, where the accepted wisdom is that your brand’s positioning should be based on a motivation that transcends cultural boundaries. Strangely, when I wrote The Global Brand I seem to have avoided using the phrase, perhaps reflecting my uncertainty about its definition.
You could argue that a universal human truth is an oxymoron since truth is definitely not universal. What is true to one person may not be true to another. However, maybe that is the point. When we refer to a universal human truth we are talking about things that motivate people irrespective of experience or belief: consistent psychological and social qualities that motivate humankind.
Of the two qualities, psychological and social, I suspect that the psychological are more consistent on a global basis. In The Global Brand I noted that motivations transcend culture, referencing work by Doctors Curtis and Aunger of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Motivations reflect goal-oriented behavior, for instance hunger will cause people to seek out something to eat.
But does that mean that if you market a food brand that you should ensure that your brand is salient as a means to satisfy hunger? Any food is going to be able to satisfy hunger, so now we need consider how it satisfies hunger relative to the alternatives. Is it more enjoyable or more satisfying? And here we run head on into the issue of local tastes. For instance, many Brits love the savory taste of Marmite, but some do not, and most Americans loath it. The brand’s “Love It or Hate It” campaign works well to remind people of their affection in the UK but would just trigger instinctive negativity in the USA.
The challenge of finding something universally motivating is exacerbated when you start considering social qualities. All too many global brands seem to run into the same problem: what seems universal often turns out not to be so. Dove ran into this problem when the idea of real beauty failed to resonate in China in the same way that it did in the West.
These ponderings have left me more confused than when I started. Is ’universal human truth’ an oxymoron? Even if it is not, how many universal qualities are there that marketers can tap into effectively? Might marketers be better off simply going with something superficial? Please share your thoughts.