Polar attributes and kitchen tables

by Frank Delmelle - May 22, 2015

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TensityTM – Y&R’s famous “perceptual paradox that combines ‘polar’ brand attributes” – has an outstanding track record of ‘making brands interesting’. However, a little bird has told us that digital is weakening the long and trusted link between brand loyalty and brands being interesting.

“Brands need a narrative arc to be effective storytellers,” says Sandy Thompson, our Global Planning Director. “At Y&R we call this Brand TensityTM.”


If the late Marilyn Monroe still has over 220,000 loyal Twitter followers, it’s an obvious sign that her innocent, yet seductive demeanour still garners interest to this day. Likewise it makes sense to ‘backlink’ sales of The Doors’ debut album, which exceeded 17 million units worldwide in 2014, to the sensitive side of the bad boy rock legend Jim Morrison, which made him shy behind the microphone.

“Tensity is a perceptual paradox that combines elements that typically don’t fit together. These contradictory components create conflict and garner – or even deepen – interest,” Y&R’s President of BAV® Worldwide, Michael Sussman, stated recently at SXSWi 2015.

And rightly so, of course. Brands need depth of character. Tensity is sine qua non when it comes to making a brand interesting. ‘Sexy yet shy’, for example, sells.


However, when it comes to brand loyalty, ‘interesting’ might not be enough. EY, among others, have signalled “a highly significant decrease in the number of consumers who say brand loyalty is something that impacts their buying behaviour.” In the US, self-declared brand loyalists make up a meagre quarter of the total consumer audience.

“Digital has fundamentally redefined the very meaning of brand loyalty,” explains a recent Razorfish report. And tensity alone, no longer does the trick. “Brands need to focus more on being useful than on being interesting,” the same survey goes on to conclude. “Consumers are more likely to stick with a brand that’s useful. For every ten consumers worldwide, at least eight prefer useful brands to interesting ones. Useful can take several forms, whether making life easier or offering some sort of value exchange."

People are going out of their way to avoid advertising – more than half of consumers would do anything to avoid seeing ads – and, instead, are looking to brands to make their lives better, particularly via digital solutions.”

“78% of consumers believe that organizations that provide useful content,” Kapost recently posted, “are interested in building good relationships with them.”


Havas’ latest Meaningful Brands® survey endeavours to quantify the business return of that usefulness: “With every 10% improvement in meaningfulness performance, individual brand KPIs grow on avarage by 3.2% for repurchase intent and 4.8% for advocacy. Meaningful brands can expect 46% more share of wallet." Stats Havas traces back to “consumers expecting brands to be making tangible improvements to their personal well-being by making daily routines easier, helping them to stay healthy, connecting them to loved ones and being there for them when they need advice.”

To summarise, “people want brands to improve their lives and the lives of the people they care about”, a message that more brands are apparently beginning to understand. Digital studio 383 has found enough "brands who are doing useful things" to fill an entire Tumblr.

What’s the takeaway when it comes to TensityTM? If you’re a brand strategist, and you’ve listened to the little bird, you might want to take the ‘perceptual paradox’ from the creathon to the kitchen table now and then. If you come up with meaningful answers to the tensities – the “polar attributes” – in real people’s lives, your customer’s customer might just reward you with his or her increasingly expensive brand loyalty.

Image: photo of Marilyn Monroe from the April in Paris Ball held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York in 1957.

This article has been cross-posted on Medium.

Frank Delmelle

Content Strategist