Author: Jim Carroll, BBH London Chairman

Girl Sleeping, by Tamara de Lempicka

‘O sleep,why dost thou leave me?
Why thy visionary joys remove?
O sleep again deceive me,
To my arms restore my wand’ring love’

I recently attended a concert in which these words of Congreve were sung in a beautiful Handel aria. I’m sure we can all relate to the sentiment: sleep is a place of joyful deceptions and re-found loves; it’s a place for escaping, forgetting, recovering, refocusing. However harsh the work environment, however stressful the unrelenting day, I have always been sustained by the promise of sleep, its welcoming embrace, its warm repose. In fact I have a singular talent for napping at will and I have inherited from my mother the habit of the Sunday afternoon kip. I like to drift off on the sofa, newspaper on my lap, to the sound of children’s chatter and roller bags from the pavement outside.

I have long felt that sleep is an area of untapped opportunity for brands. We spend a third of our lives sleeping, but we’re increasingly concerned by our ability to get enough of it, at the right quality. One can’t help but be underwhelmed by the plethora of scented candles, quack remedies and orthopaedic pillows that currently constitute the ‘sleep sector’. Can’t we do better than this? Surely space is not the final frontier; it’s sleep.

When, many years ago, BBH first embarked on our efforts to develop brand ideas that could cross borders, we had to overcome the argument that cultural difference abhorred generalisation. We observed that, whilst all markets are indeed diverse and varied, there are often strong consistencies around aspiration, belief and hope: we are united in dreams, but divided by reality. It’s a creative tension that I continue to find useful.

This is not to say that my relationship with sleep and dreams has always been positive. As a child I was cursed by the recurrent nightmare of my father, padded up, in cricket whites, being chased down the stairs by a crocodile. Not pleasant perhaps,but at least it was interesting.

When I was a young researcher there were guys who put respondents to sleep, hypnotised them in order to probe the deeper,darker unspoken truths of brands. I confess I felt at the time that this was all somewhat daft. Nonetheless I can’t help but admire the intent.

I sometimes wonder if the ‘always on’ digital age is depriving brands of the opportunity to pause and ponder, recover and refocus. I’m concerned that nowadays we fail to find the time and space for our brands to sleep and dream. As we reduce everything to rational reckoners, KPIs and capabilities, are we cultivating brands without conflict or contradiction, brands without personality or human frailty? Are we creating an Age of the Anodyne? Pity the insomniac brand, cursed to roam the earth in the endless waking sunshine of unforgiving rationality.

It seems reasonable to suggest that, whilst brands today should naturally seek to deliver immediacy and reciprocity, utility and individuality, they should also find room to rest, relax and restore; to dream the illogical and impossible; to yearn for lost loves and found hopes.

I’m about to embark on a three month sabbatical. Perhaps the thought of sleep has an extra resonance. In the words of Morrissey…

‘Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
I’m tired and I
I want to go to bed…’