AQUILES ESTE / ON THE FUTURE OF BRANDING, REPUTATION AND IDENTITY

Aquiles Este is internationally acknowledged as a branding guru and the man who coined the term of Polimercial Branding. In his view, the emergence of a fully value-centric generation, equipped with the most sophisticated means of communication, is forcing all commercial companies to position themselves on highly sensitive political and social issues. “Consider what took place in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Este says. “In less than a week, some of the world’s best-known brands exited a nation that became a global pariah. Even Pornhub considered pulling out, literally cockblocking its robust Russian base from accessing the content of the adult website”.

From the early 1990s onwards, Aquiles Este has been one the most articulate evangelists for the professional practice of Branding and Brand Thinking as an independent field. “Brand Management is in all respects, a higher order that should be viewed as the core structuring principle of any organization, big or small, personal or corporate, political, commercial or polimercial. Branding is a long-term strategic approach aimed at defining and implementing the culture of any organization and the actual performance of its products, services, shareholders, managers, and employees over time”.

Este was educated in journalism and advertising at Universidad Central de Venezuela. He later went to Universidade de São Paulo and Universidade Católica de São Paulo where he obtained a doctorate degree in Semiotics with summa cum laude distinction. Then, he returned to Caracas to direct ProDiseño, one of the most celebrated design schools in Latin America. As dean of ProDiseño the school won the prestigious International Design Magazine Annual Design Review. He then traveled to New York City to work on Natural Language Computing with New York University’s linguist, Ray C. Dougherty. “In I998, I was thinking about data in terms of Business Intelligence, in the sense of finding patterns to make better business decisions through searching, gathering, and analyzing the accumulated data saved by any given organization. But promptly, with the onset of Social Media in 2005 (LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube) I realized that decision-making based on data technologies was an idea fully applicable to Branding and the systematic understanding of customer behavior and public opinion”.

Back in Venezuela, Aquiles became Creative Vice-president for the Lowe Network, commanding regional campaigns for major corporation like J&J, DirecTV, Renault, P&G and Unilever, but after five years in that position he found the work in adland superficial and cosmetic. “I became very disappointed with the ad industry. In my view, admen only deal with three audiences: customers, shareholders and competitors, while Branding is about finding who you really are and showing it to all the audiences involved in the complex process of corporate communications which include your internal workforce, the government, the unions, and the media, both offline and online. Ad agencies were also totally allergic to the notion of bridging commercial advertising with social and political issues, a trend that was already around us at the turn of the century. I also realized that the ad industry was not the right place to connect brands with the emerging field of Big Data. Remember that in 2006, admen and communication planners were still captivated using focus groups to obtain qualitative data from consumers”.

Since 2009, Aquiles lives in Miami where he commands his own brand consultancy -TAGA- along with his partner, Johana Ertl, an internationally renowned Creative Director. In Miami, we had the opportunity to gather Aquiles’s opinions on the future of Branding, Reputation and Identity.

In your view, what are the factors that any contemporary brand should consider to be successful?

Aquiles Este (A.E.) First, Design… Design is the main driver of any brand, be it a product or a service. People make their economic decisions based on the Design Factor imbedded on any given brand. Secondly, Decision Journey Analytics Technology, or the capacity that we currently have to understand and intervene in the decision-making processes of the population regarding any issue, product, service, idea or political candidate, and finally, the insurgency of Polimercial Brands. Soon, all commercial brands will be political, to some degree. Today, you don’t survive if you’re not able adapt to the mandates of a totally politized generation of consumers.

How and when did you encounter the idea of Polimercial Brands?

A.E. I’ve worked in Electoral Marketing for my entire career. Electoral Marketing is fascinating for the simple reason that there is no silver medal in an electoral race. Working with politicians in the late 90’s I saw, firsthand, how they were taking advantage of the most advanced marketing techniques coming from the commercial realm to win elections. Donald Trump is a radical and late example of this trend. Then I thought to myself, if most politicians are becoming “commercial”, what is stopping commercial brands from becoming political and fully engage with the civic concerns of the new generations?

What was your first Polimercial Brand?

A.E. Back in Venezuela, around 2005, I was consulting for Empresas Polar, one of the largest food and beverages conglomerates in the continent, with more than 30 thousand employees. Empresas Polar was being systematically attacked by socialist leader Hugo Chavez. It was my conviction that Empresas Polar, its owners, managers, workforce, and its multiple sub-brands needed to engage with the population at the deepest level to withstand the onslaught of the chavista regime, as they did. Empresas Polar learnt how to use certain marketing techniques that were traditionally associated with politicians and electoral races. Up to this day, I have no doubts that Empresas Polar will survive chavismo for decades to come.

And here in the USA, have you worked with any Polimercial Brands that you can mention?

A.E. Quite a few, though I’m very proud of the job that we did for FLUENT / Cannabis Care, one of the largest medical cannabis corporations in the world. FLUENT needed to confront several stigmas and preconceptions still prevalent in American society regarding Medical Marihuana. Our team at TAGA was very conscious about the task before us and the type of positioning the brand needed to be accepted as a caring and compassionate company. In 2019 FLUENT won the prestigious “Best of the Best USA” for positioning, packaging, graphic identity and environmental design.

Why TAGA, what’s different in your company from so many other Brand Consultancies and Ad Agencies out there?

A.E. TAGA is a place to share with my partner Johana Ertl and a team of top-notch professionals the passion for Branding in the deepest sense of managing identity, authenticity and reputation over time, using the three key elements that I already mentioned: design, predictive analytics and political and social acumen.

I understand you do a lot of research, write for the NYT on Branding and teach Content Management at the University of Miami’s Business School, but you’re also a full-time consultant, having worked in this industry for the last 25 years in practically all categories and dozens of different countries. Do you consider yourself an academic or a practitioner of Branding?

A.E. Gee, thank you for the question. I’d like to think that I’m both. I always admired the tradition of the thinker who can sell, you know, in the heritage of the Walter Margulies, the Lippincotts, the David Ogilvys, the Wally Olins, the Washington Olivettos, and the Joe Napolitans of this world. These pioneers merged the humanities and the business spheres in such a unique way. In that sense, Branding is the ideal field to do so, because Branding, at the end of the day, is Anthropology, Rhetoric and Semiotics for the real world. The difference in the 21st century is that to be an effective Brand Strategist, you not only need EQ and IQ, as it’s been said so many times, but an enormous amount of TQ (technological quotient).

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