brand story & messaging

How Picasso’s bull helps us understand brand communications

Carolyn McMaster | September 9, 2014

“Why?” is one of our favorite questions. Like preschoolers, we keep asking it of clients until the issue is distilled to the essentials. It can be a little annoying. But the answers reveal a wealth of insight into an organization, and create rich grounds for brand communications, whether we’re working on a new tagline, story, messaging platform or content strategy.

An article last month in the New York Times about Apple’s in-house training program spotlighted a great illustration of this process in art: Picasso’s series of 11 lithographs of a bull. The series starts with a fully rendered (if not lifelike) animal, which is then simplified in each image until the last creates the bull in just a few lines. (Not surprisingly for Picasso, the horns and the, um, package are most prominent.)

Take the time to look at the series and you’ll be rewarded. (It’s here in one image, or you can see each print progressively with art-class commentary here.)

Getting to the heart of the matter is a critical aspect of developing rich communications. Once concepts are stripped down to the simplest expression possible, you have a strong and flexible foundation. Then you build on that to tell a complete story. The new, fleshed-out narrative will be different from what you started with, but it will be truer, capturing what is essential to your brand.

Picasso famously said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Like art, brand communications is a constant work in progress that develop as your organization grows and changes. Picasso created the bull lithos in 1946; it was a subject he worked on throughout his life. Here’s a bull portrait from 1962. It’s very different, but it’s still Picasso.


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