** Tig's weekly column fields questions from and for marketers. **

Dear Tig,

I understand your illustration on above the line vs. below the line offered last week. I'd still like to know the origin of the 'line' itself. Any background you can offer?

- Foresight

Dear Foresight,

In a word: No. I've been frustrated in my attempts to find out the etymology of this phrase. After some extensive research and the pestering of some quite old advertising hands, I haven't found anything credible.

If others out there in the audience have any ideas or leads, they would be greatly appreciated.


Ok Tig,

I read with interest your comments on a positioning statement versus a value statement. So that leads me to the question: What's the difference, if any, between a "mission statement" and a "vision statement"?

Thanks, - Carolyn

OK Carolyn,

The non-cynic's answer to the question would show that a mission statement describes what a company will do--presumably to reach the goal that would be better described in a vision statement.

The cynic's answer (and just to remove any perceived conflict of interest, I'd like to disclose that I'm a card-carrying cynic) would be that both of these types of statements are really the very same thing: General objective statements given a ring of drama or even religiosity through the use of words like “vision” and “mission.”

I've had tens and tens of very large clients use these phrases interchangeably, differently, and often, incorrectly.

I think the volatility of the use of these different types of statements stems from the fact that they come out of committee processes, where all sorts of strange and complex office politics reign supreme.

I know of Fortune 40 companies that have “vision statements” that actually mention only tactical methods of operation. I know of Fortune 40 companies that have both mission and vision statements that seemingly contradict one another.

There does indeed exist an academic taxonomy of these statements, their various purposes and their relations to one another. But in the corporate world it seems to be generally ignored in favor of expediencies serving the immediate, short-term projects.

The extreme cynic would claim that both statements are extremely useful to a company in that they cause entire marketing departments to go offline, spending multi-day retreats conducting brainstorms, ropes courses and generally starting long arguments about meaningless phrases. All of which prevents them from spending time screwing up the profit generating efforts of the ad agencies and sales teams.

To these super-cynics, the more obscure, ambiguous and useless the branding exercise--the better--merely to keep the marketing staff out of the hair of those who provide value to the company.

While a proud cynic myself, I find this idea merely mean.


Dear Tig,

I believe a powerful brand is a tool for managing your business, not just your communications. It can guide the behaviors and values embedded in the core processes of the business, including HR, R&D and customer development. Where can I find good examples of companies that have used their brands in this way?

- Brand Manager

Dear Manager,

It is a reality--in some selected cases--that the brand of a corporation can function as an avatar for the values, principles and philosophies of a company. These tend to be the companies that promote brand values such as diligence, innovation, open and supportive camaraderie--precisely the types of qualities managers would like to infuse in their employees.

But in many cases, the realities of the marketplace dictate that a brand be something other than diligence.

Some brands actually make fun of diligence, like that of the Sobe beverage company, a firm that appeals to more faddish values prevalent in the teen market. If Sobe ran its company with the principles and values evident in its advertising, it probably wouldn't have been in business very long. That probably goes for any of the video game makers as well.

The point is: The similarity between brand values and the values with which one should run a company is likely a false correlation. It may be coincidence that one may suffice as the other, merely because many brands find advantage in presenting themselves as having qualities that would be useful in managing a company as well.

In fact, it may be dangerous to assume a close association between the two sets of values, even where this is indeed a high correlation. A company that has merely a “good” correlation between brand values and corporate values, may be tempted to over-generalize and develop sub-optimal management philosophies.

Worse still, that company could--and I think this is almost a common problem--try to extend its corporate values onto the marketplace, assuming incorrectly that its values will resonate with the market as well as it does with employees. As an old ad agency hand, I know this is the source of many frustrated creative processes.

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Tig Tillinghast tiggy@mac.com writes from the banks of the Elk River near Chesapeake City, Maryland. He consults with major brands and ad agency holding companies, helping marketing groups find the right resources for their needs. He is the author of The Tactical Guide to Online Marketing as well as several terrible fiction manuscripts.