Identifying with Defeat

This is the story of the most effective brand icon in history: the cross.

Over 2,000 years ago, a revolutionary heretic was brutally executed by the national government. Three days later, he rose from the dead, emerging victorious from a tomb that couldn’t hold him.

Shortly thereafter, his followers made a very odd decision: they chose the instrument of his death as the symbol of their newfound community of faith.

Today, it is one of the most recognized symbols in the world.

The highest-paid strategists and hardest-working brands will never accrue the equity that’s built up in this elemental outline, conceived of by ancient Christians who had never heard of market testing.

It’s true, of course, that Jesus’ rising from the grave redefines the meaning of that cross — yes, it would be a very different story had the tomb stayed shut.

But that the story continues only highlights the particularity of their choice. They had other options. Why immortalize the structure that killed him?

They could have chosen the tomb he left behind or the water he walked on. Or what about the rich catalog of metaphors and symbols to mine in the stories he told — mustard seeds or shepherd’s tools or treasure buried in a field?

Instead, they buried their visual symbolism deep into their lowest moment. They elevated their loss and pain, their leader’s death and defeat. They made the “before” picture — not the “after” — the one we wear around our necks today.

“His death was real,” they seem to say, “and that is who we are.”

Today, most churches would never approve an object of execution, punishment, and suffering as their logo mark. Most brands would never choose the moment of their apparent defeat as their enduring identity. Most of us won’t wear our lowest moments as badges of honor; we position them as the preamble. We prefer to plaster ourselves with the mountaintops instead.

Today, we want victory, health, and progress, but we’re too afraid to acknowledge suffering, sickness, or setbacks to make them meaningful — or to see them as beautiful.

Here’s what we miss: the low points, the shadows, the failures and imperfections are what make the story worth telling. Had Jesus not died on Friday, his being alive on Sunday would be rather unremarkable.

So what have you overcome — as a brand? As a human? And how are you hiding it or brightening it or softening it? You might be missing out on the real story that people are waiting to tell.

The uglier the failure, the more compelling the triumph.
The truer the death, the greater the resurrection.

He was dead, indeed. He is risen. Indeed.

Tony Sorrentino is the Chief Strategy Officer and a Brand Strategist at OX Creative. oxcreates.com