In Japanese, the word "Ma" is a concept that could be described as "the interval between the edges." However, in reality, "Ma" contains a much deeper meaning related to the principles of Zen teachings. Principles that refer to the universal seeking of the Truth by removing the surplus and leaving just the bare elements. Simplicity, not only as a non-complication but as a methodology opposing the habits of excess. In short, this is what minimalism is - a space regarded as a substance.
When asked about his seminal work the Black Square, the Russian painter Kazimir Malevich, famously described it: "It is from zero, in zero, that the true movement of being begins." It is not clear whether Malevich knew how prophetic his words would prove to the whole manifesto of minimal art. Tired of the glamorous clutter of classic arts, the minimalism supporters used its rebellious nature to rise against the status quo. The so-called "good taste" needed to be challenged by exposing its unnecessary elements, trimming them away, and returning to the essence of things where the true meaning is. Generally incorporated by visual arts, the philosophy of minimalism was also applied to other fields of activity: architecture, fashion, interior decoration, even literature, and music. It is evident that its impact didn't spare the advertising world where it conquers its highest peak - branding.
In the years before and after World War II, the minimalism still had this aura of a distant fashion trend reserved for the elites. Perhaps, the first mainstream breakthrough is when Coco Chanel launches her now-infamous Chanel No. 5 perfume. The silhouette of the bottle (probably inspired by a whiskey decanter) struck the masses with its simplified rectangular lines thus emphasizing the fragrance’s revolutionary spirit. Madame Chanel even went so far in her control of the creative process that she set a launch date on the fifth day of the fifth month in for a selected audience. Considering the immense impact over the years, this is an effective example of a minimalist product design backed by a high concept marketing campaign in a decade when David Ogilvy was still in short pants.
Over time, the ethic of minimalism was appreciated by ad agencies executives and absorbed into their work. Yet, that didn’t happen all of a sudden. It was necessary for them to find its niche and to channel through it. Considering that its ideas suggested radical changes, who could embody these principles better than the rebel? What is more nonconformist than overthrowing the flamboyance of regular advertising and reinventing the approach towards the audience? One step at a time, the overcomplicated images were replaced by clean, stark visions; the pompous sentences gave way to short, yet meaningful catchphrases. The ultimate goal is to draw the consumer’s attention towards the centerpiece of the campaign. The impression that is made doesn’t consist of what is surrounding the message — it’s in what is not surrounding it. The careful use of emptiness causes your media to stand out because it shows ingenuity, courage and free spirit. The aesthetics of vast spaces symbolize freshness, these are the places where the ideas can thrive. Briefly put, a vacuum is no longer a vacuum when there is a meaning behind it.
But how one could apply the disobeying nature of minimalism successfully into the methods of branding or marketing? While the “Less is More” formula is still valid and compelling it proves to be highly insufficient when it comes to pragmatic decisions. In this case, a far more adequate quote would be the one by Mahatma Gandhi: “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.” In other words, act only if your moves make sense. Try to be effective by reducing the choices, find the brand’s inner strength and bet on it. Get rid of any disorder or distractions and start building an enduring bond between the product and the audience. Highlight the message and put it on the front line. And last but not the least - stay focused all the time; don’t forget what your primary objectives are because they’re the reason you’re doing this.
Aside from that minimalism helps you express yourself and it does your work to stand out. Additionally, it also teaches you one thing which other concepts neglect - self-discipline. Being a distant relative of the Zen school minimalism could be just as universal and beneficial as the Buddhist teachings are. Without considering it a panacea for your troubles minimalism makes you count your necessities and directs your concentration on them. It is an ideology that represents purity, precision and style while continually asking the big question: “What is most important?” Because only once you get rid of the excess, you are free to look ahead clearly.