The Libido-Mortido Framework and Brand Strategy in Dark Times

23 Jun,2022



By Ashoke Agarrwal


Ashoke AgarrwalA fundamental principle of movie marketing relies on the concepts of Libido and Mortido. This column examines the implications of the Libido-Mortido framework for brand strategy across product categories.


Libido and Mortido are two power sources in the sub-conscious that fuel individual activity. Libido is an aspiration for creativity and art or a desire to live. Mortido is the power restricting Libido; it is an aspiration for death or eternal life out of the bounds of the body.


Throughout life, these two power sources compete for dominance over an individual’s subconscious.


The same two forces also struggle to dominate the collective consciousness at the societal level. Throughout history, human societies have alternated between eras where either Libido or Mortido have dominated. The Middle Ages was Mortido dominated, followed by a Libido-dominated Renaissance. In modern times everything has gathered speed, including the switch between the two forces. The first four decades of the twentieth century were undoubtedly Mortido, given the two World Wars. The next four decades were a phase of transition in which the world slowly inched away from Mortido. By the late eighties, as the Berlin Wall fell and the ICE revolution took root, the world had moved into a full-fledged Libido-dominated era.


The Libido-Mortido-based principle of movie marketing is somewhat paradoxical. The assertion is that films that cater principally to the Mortido instinct do better in a Libido-dominated era. And vice-versa. Dark, apocalyptic or dystopian thrillers, cynical social critiques or horror are genres directed at the Mortido instinct. Witness the rise of the superhero franchises whose basic premise is of a world in big trouble that is in dire need of a superhero rescuer. Life-affirming comedies, high romances, and inspiring biographies are some genres that cater to the Libido drive. That is not to say that, in a Libido-dominated era, a poorly made Mortido-directed movie will do better than a well-made Libido-directed movie. But, everything else being equal, a good film that caters to the opposite force in an era dominated by the other force has a better chance of success.


Unlike in the entertainment industry, the effect on political and economic activity is in accordance with the dominant drive. In the Mortido phase, politics become combative and dark and economic activity is risk-averse.


In the Libido phase, politics are progressive, and animal spirits buoy economic activity.


The difference between entertainment and political or economic activity is in the context in which they exist.


Political and economic activity deal with reality, while entertainment is about escaping reality.


What phase are we in today? Are we not sliding from post-World War 11 and the post-Cold War Libido-driven era to a Mortido-driven era? Rising sectarian passions across societies, a devasting and persisting pandemic, inflationary pressures that could spark a recession and a war that threatens to spill into something more global. These are the proximal causes driving the slide. However, indications are that the shift started a decade ago.


In a recent article in The Economist, Jon Clifton, the head of Gallup, lays out the numbers that make clear that human unhappiness has been steadily increasing globally over the last decade. The causes, according to Mr Cliton, are many. A rise in hunger around the world after a decades-long decline. In 2014 23% of people globally were moderately or extremely food insecure. Now the share is 30%. Yet another factor is loneliness. Astonishingly, Gallup finds that 330 million adults in today’s world go at least two weeks without talking to a single friend or family member!


The daily grind of work offers no respite. Statistically, the average employed experiences more negative emotions such as anger, stress and physical pain than someone unemployed! Overall, Gallup finds that along with soaring inequality, the world is experiencing another fundamental inequity – a well-being inequality. On a scale of 1 to 10, Gallup finds that in 2021, the top quintile’s self-rating of well-being averaged 8.9. The lowest quintile averaged 1.2! The numbers in 2006 were 8.3 and 2.5.


Numbers do not lie, and perhaps it would be safe to assume that the world has already transited away from the Libido-driven era to the gloom of a Mortido age.


How should brand strategy and brand communication respond to this major societal shift?


Brands are economic entities, and brand communication – mass-media advertising, digital advertising and PR – are economic activities. However, unlike most other economic entities and activities, brands and brand communications have two facets – the rational and the emotional. Therefore, effective brand strategies develop brand communication that maintains this balance.


Further effective brand strategy also ensures that the rational and emotional facets reflect the broader societal context and changes while maintaining a consistent brand position and personality.


Broad trends observable in successful brand communication globally over the decades that were Libido-dominated have been:

:: At a rational level to encourage status and pleasure-seeking conspicuous consumption.

:: And at an emotional level to showcase competitive one-up-manship and a cynical take on the human condition.


Cases in point are the 1984 Apple commercial and the Axe campaigns that kicked off the Libido-era in advertising.


In the Mortido-era, brands must take a relook at communication strategy.


On the rational dimension, brand communications that anchor themselves in value – personal, economic, societal and ecological – will do better than those who continue down the status and pleasure paths.


On the emotional dimension, on the other hand, brand communication must become lighter and more fun. It should deliver a feel-good punch, much like a good buddy movie or a rom-com.


Going by the Libido-Mortido framework, the rational and emotional dimensions of an effective brand communication strategy deliver at two opposite ends of the spectrum. Synergising these two seemingly opposite ends is a challenging creative task.


In the Libido-era, rational appeals to status and pleasure come wrapped up in cynical and dark overtones. In the Mortido-era, light-hearted emotional appeals must deliver serious, high-minded themes of value and eco-sensitiveness.


In conclusion, the Libido-Mortido framework is an excellent touchstone to keep in mind as we navigate brands through a changing societal and economic landscape. However, it is also essential to remember that, like all overarching rules, it is only a guideline. Following the Libido-Mortido framework and guidelines will not make a lousy campaign fly. The framework can only make a good campaign better.


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