Wednesday, 16 August 2017

From Brand Image to Brand = Image

I've got to the stage in my career where I expect there are far more planners who have come after me than have come before me. But one planner who came before me and is still active thinking, writing, strategising and planning is Paul Feldwick. Paul was one of the early BMP Planners in the 1970s and worked for BMP/DDB right up until 2005. I can thoroughly recommend his books and articles to young and not-so-young planners: they are classics. I still refer to What is Brand Equity Anyway? and much enjoyed Paul's most recent book, The Anatomy of Humbug. Most refreshing and intelligent after all those 25 Secrets Of Highly Successful Halfwits And How You Can Join Them business books.

On Paul's website are links to more articles, including one originally published in Admap March 2014, entitled, simply Brand = Image.  This is a provocative title, as 'Brand Image' has become a dirty word - or phrase - for those of us in the industry. Why have something as ethereal as an image when you can have an Experience or a Platform?

Anyway, the article starts with the creation of what was to become the Nike logo, which earned its creator all of $35 initially. The point is made that maybe it's neither necessary nor desirable to start building a brand from a 'brand essence' definition in words. Many brands start with a visual image, which becomes imbued with meaning via the stakeholders of that brand.

Why does this work? Let me drag out my ancient copy of Man and his Symbols (see illustration above.) In this, Carl Jung states:

What we call a symbol is a term, name or even a picture that may be familiar in daily life, yet that possesses specific connotations in addition to its conventional and obvious meaning. It implies something vague, unknown or hidden from us.

Many brand symbols or logos seem to arise by chance - Paul Feldwick cites the Dulux Dog and the Andrex Puppy - rather than via a conscious process. Chance, yes, but intuition and serendipity also play a role. I have written about a couple of my favourite brand symbols here and here.

Paul talks about the strength of images: they are polyvalent, meaning they carry a multitude of meaning.

I wonder, especially in this global world, whether brands would do better to find a 'one symbol equity' rather than a 'one word equity.'

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Cluetrain comes of age

The Cluetrain Manifesto first surfed onto the internet (as you did then) in 1999, meaning that this famous piece of business literature has now come of age. A somewhat Lutherean piece, with its 95 theses, the manifesto explored the impact of the internet on marketing and corporate communications. The idea running through is that online conversations - the new 'markets' - would make traditional marketing tools and techniques obsolete.

The manifesto has a 'Brave New World'  (in the original Shakespearian sense) feel about it, in its celebration of the human voice. This tonality is a far cry from the cute cats, grotesque gifs, saccharine  motivational quotes, Trump memes and rants that made up my Facebook stream this morning. But let me think back to 1999. It was probably four or five years since I'd first gone online, my Homepage was Yahoo! and my social media activity consisted of something called the Wedding Forum (later Baby Forum) which was a kind of forerunner of Mumsnet. The internet was not for everyone in those days - we were surfing and stumbling, certainly not being fed.

So how is the Cluetrain Manifesto looking on its 18th birthday? I had a re-read, and was inspired all over again by many of the 95 theses. Some of these are basic truths that have nothing to do with the internet, and are just as relevant today as they were in 1999, and probably 1899 too:

2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
21. Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
22. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view. 
23. Companies attempting to "position" themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.
24. Bombastic boasts—"We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ"—do not constitute a position. 
86. When we're not busy being your "target market," many of us are your people. We'd rather be talking to friends online than watching the clock. That would get your name around better than your entire million dollar website. But you tell us speaking to the market is Marketing's job. 

But I do think the authors over-emphasised the potential 'smartness' of the majority. 'Informed' covers a multitude of sins. Informed by whom? With truth or alternative facts? With what you choose to listen to? 

10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally. 

And more worryingly, it is the 'new' internet corporations that are taking the mantle of the 20th century bad boys, speaking in contrived voices (the chummy dude Californian tone Facebook adopts is just as contrived as the old-style corporate pomposity) , gathering data, invading privacy, controlling newsfeeds, bullying and manipulating.

15. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman. 

Another example, perhaps, of where Huxley got it right?

So, Happy Birthday, Cluetrain Manifesto - and let's see how things look in another 18 years. I do wonder what effect bots, Alexa and AI will have on the belief in the 'human voice.'

Monday, 7 August 2017

Ads are made by fools like me

Back in the 20th century, Ogden Nash wrote a parody of Joyce Kilmer's famous poem, 'Trees' in which he stated:

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I'll never see a tree at all. 

And in a recent article in Campaign, writer and director Paul Burke also celebrates the billboard, or poster and bemoans its current state. He lays the blame partly on the renaming of the poster into 'out of home media' or 'OOH' for short (although very few examples these days elicit OOHs, it seems.) And partly on the clients, of course.

He has a good point, I think. But I wonder if there are other reasons for the demise of the poster. One of them may be the disappearance of what used to be called commercial artists, who weren't necessarily ideas people in the sense that modern art directors were, but who certainly had the craft and skill to touch people's souls through their art as any of the posters on this post will show.

And then there's the other thing. Certainly in urban areas, very few people are looking up at trees or indeed billboards these days. Their focus is on their device. I wonder what Ogden Nash would have made of that? I'd certainly rather be looking up at any of these billboards in its full size glory than down at most of the rubbish that floats across my smart phone screen, like so many falling leaves.