The problem with aspirational brands

Greg Salmela
1 min readApr 10, 2022


Being a branding professional, something about Simon Sinek’s iconic book ‘Start with Why’ always felt a tad off.

It seems I may be alone on this. Over the last ten years or more, I’ve watched the branding industry happily jump on the ‘why’ bandwagon.

At first blush, ‘why’ branding proponents make a good argument. People respond to brands that have a purpose that reflects and amplifies their own values.

But starting with why is tricky because too often it can lead the narrative away from what’s real to what’s aspirational.

For a brand to be sustainable, it needs to be built on what’s real, not on a blue-sky narrative.

Twenty years ago, when British Petroleum rebranded as a green energy company, it didn’t take long before we all learned that this position was more aspiration than reality.

While aspiration can positively shape purpose, do not confuse values-inspired narrative with demonstrated values.

Ultimately, values are actions. As such, I think a better question than why would be what.

Aegis is a relational design firm. We help create emotionally-intelligent brands.



Greg Salmela

Hanging with human-centred thinkers, researchers and designers.