What A Romantic Can Teach Brand Managers

Novalis, an author, poet and philosopher of Early German Romanticism (1772-1801) once wrote:

By imbuing the meaningless with meaning
the ordinary with a sense of mystery
the known with the dignity of the unknown,
and the finite with an infinite glow
I romanticize it. 1

We think Novalis would have had the stuff to be a great Premium Brand leader.  For “romanticizing” things is a core skill marketers must master when they want to create desire and devotion beyond reason 2.  — Unless, of course, you somehow hold an exclusive lock on indispensable utility (patent, unlimited trade funds, …?) or have the scale to undercut everyone else’s prices.   But that is a risky strategy.  Just see what happened to Kodak, Nokia or AOL and then compare that to Harley Davidson, Hermes or Red Bull.  Both (rather random) brand groups have in common what one would consider ‘pretty outdated technologies’ today.  Yet the latter group is doing pretty well (again).  Why?  Because they make their followers feel part of something bigger.  They give ‘meaning’ beyond the product.  They are mysterious and keep inviting you to discover more about them, yet never totally reveal themselves.  They surprise you and keep you intrigued.  And even though they are about things as mundane as motor cycles, scarves or a soft drink, they give their products an aura that transcends their ‘functional benefit’ and time.  Their owners succeed to ‘romanticize’ them. 

So if you are the owner of a brand that needs to compete beyond function and price, you might want to grab a book by Novalis and/or simply follow our blog.

Novalis Blog Logo pop final 4Notes and Further Reading:

1 Novalis, “Fragmente” 1799, translated by Wolfgang Schaefer.  The original German text is:

Indem ich dem Gemeinen einen hohen Sinn,
dem Gewöhnlichen ein geheimnisvolles Ansehen,
dem Bekannten die Wuerde des Unbekannten,
dem Endlichen einen unendlichen Schein gebe,
so romantisiere ich es. 

2   ‘Beyond reason’ meaning ‘beyond purely rational considerations like “functional benefits / price = value”.  Douglas Holt would call them “sciency” marketing models.

Books by Novalis on Amazon.

About JP Kuehlwein

JP Kuehlwein is a global business leader and brand builder with a 25+ year track record of translating consumer and brand insights into transformational propositions that win in market. Principal at ‘Ueber-Brands’ a New York consulting firm, he now helps others to elevate brands and make them peerless and priceless. JP also teaches brand strategy at NYU Stern and Columbia Business School and leads the Marketing Institute at The Conference Board, all in New York. Jp previously was Executive Vice President at Frédéric Fekkai & Co, a prestige salon operator and hair care brand and lead brand- and corporate strategy development and execution at multinational Procter & Gamble as Brand Director and Director of Strategy. JP and Wolf Schaefer have co-authored the best-selling books “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” which lays out what drives the success of modern premium brands and "Brand Elevation - Lessons in Ueber-Branding" a guide to developing and executing a brand elevation strategy. Find the books here: https://bit.ly/UeberBooks
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5 Responses to What A Romantic Can Teach Brand Managers

  1. wolfschaefer says:

    What I love about these examples is that they not only deepen the brand on a mythical level, they also elevate it through the artistic collaboration. The exchange between art and luxury is a long and wide one, but I believe that it has reached ever new heights in the past years. Because it so beautifully works on three levels – it heightens the brands stature, it strengthens its substance and it increases its cultural resonance.


  2. JP Kuehlwein says:

    Amrita – Our observation is that ‘mythical marketing’ and selling at a premium correlate strongly. That makes sense, since all that effort put into engaging people emotionally makes price more of an afterthought – but it also often is associated with costs and foregoing volume, which need to compensated. Think of how much Dior must be paying for all the films, photography, exhibits, events, flagship stores, etc.. That said, we have seen products being romanticized that you would not typically associate with luxury or even premium. How about paper notebooks (Moleskine), a circus (celui du soleil), candles (Cire Trudon), tea (TWG) hard surface cleaners (Murchison-Hume) or even toilet paper (Renova). All of them de-rationalize the product and associated activity and wrap you in a dream.


  3. Amrita says:

    A very interesting example of what you might be describing, in terms of brands, is the Dior promotional film for their handbag: Lady Blue Shanghai. One of the symbols of romanticism that was used by Novalis was the blue flower, and that became the central motif of Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel about Novalis, The Blue Flower. The Dior short depicts the blue rose as that symbol of transcendence or longing for something that does not exist in nature. In the film, the blue rose represents a love, lost, dreamed or imagined, but that is kept forever inside the…yes, Dior handbag!! There is a lot more than that going on in the film–it was directed by David Lynch (who else?!). Beyond just the overcathexis of a designer bag, this hints at the ineffable….You can watch it on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPAO4k_Wstk


    • JP Kuehlwein says:

      Amrita – thank you for sharing the example! Dior is definitely a brand that understands the need to ‘romanticize’. Just when you get tired of the impressive but uniform, (Chanel-emulating?) retail appearance, they field a film like the one you shared and create desire and tension versus the expected. I much like their 2008 collaborations with Chinese photographer Quentin Shih that juxtaposed this tension between the stereotypcal everyday and the (Dior) dream in surreal ways. Take a look here: http://www.yatzer.com/The-Stranger-In-The-Glass-Box-by-Quentin-Shih-for-Dior


      • Amrita says:

        Oh, I love those Quentin Shih photos…timelessness in a glass box, stuck in a place that seems stuck in time….I am wondering if this sort of aesthetic, or “romanticizing” is something that takes place anywhere outside of the luxury category? I guess that is why you wrote this post in the first place?


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