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Brands We Like: Ken Burns

Eric Groves

By Eric Groves

What is a “brand”?

Ask this question to 100 people and you may get 100 different answers. Some will tell you it’s a logo and a name, others will say it’s a company, and others yet will swear that it’s a tagline.

The real answer is: A brand is the perception of a company, product, or service.

It’s a perception — something that exists in the mind. A brand may be expressed through its physical appearance — logo, color, name, etc — but it goes much deeper than that. It’s what that logo, color, or name mean to people emotionally, mentally, and spiritually when they see it.

And that means that “brands” may not always take a form you might expect. Case in point: Ken Burns.

You probably don’t think of Ken Burns as a “brand.” The famed filmmaker and documentarian doesn’t have his own logo or a specific color palette. He doesn’t sell t-shirts with his name or run commercials for his work.

But, he does have a very specific perception in the marketplace.

His work — his product — is known for its specific traits, attributes, and styles. He is seen as a major name in his field and a master of his craft. His work has its own perceptions, and therefore Ken Burns has a very distinct and identifiable brand.

Ken Burns is known for many things, but one of his most-cited works is his 1990 documentary, The Civil War. The film has come to be an iconic representation of Burns’ ability to weave together photos, text, and live footage into a cohesive story.

He has led a long and storied career developing documentaries on politicians, sports, music, war, and many other subjects.

But, every subject he’s covered maintains a distinct and identifiable style. You know when you are watching a work by Ken Burns, and you know to go to Ken Burns if you’re looking for a certain style of storytelling.

Burns’ style is so distinct, that he’s even had a specific effect — panning and zooming over a still photograph to give it a sense of motion — named after him. The “Ken Burns effect” is used by many other filmmakers and even incorporated into many video editing programs, including Final Cut Pro, Apple TV, Windows Movie Maker, and more.

All in all, Ken Burns has built a fantastic brand for himself. And, from it, we can learn that brands are deeply-rooted emotional, mental, and psychological associations that we make with all sorts of products, people, services, and organizations.

Brands are bigger than just a logo.



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