Thursday, 15 November 2018

Knocking Purpose off its pedestal

The Edelman Earned Brand 2018 report is another useful chapter in the development of brands, what they are, how they work, and how they can progress as the 21st century grows up out of its teens.

The big soundbite to come out of this research is that nearly 2/3 (64%) of people around the world say that they "buy on belief" - a massive 13 percentage point increase over 2017. Even taking into consideration the inevitable amount of virtue signalling that this involves, the scale of the increase is pretty impressive.

But somewhere along the line - in this report, too - I have the feeling that two quite different ideas (which may, and possibly should be linked)  are being muddled.

Is it about brands taking a stand? Or about brands standing for something?

Taking a recent example, of what might go down in history of as the most unlikely brand taking a stand and achieving a huge impact, at least in the short-term, there's the story of Rang-tan.

I first saw this beautifully-made and moving commercial in Campaign back in August. I think one Facebook friend posted it, and it got a couple of likes. I don't know how many people signed the petition. Now, it's difficult to escape the news coverage. It took Iceland's collaboration with Greenpeace, a "ban" and social media outrage to get the commercial noticed on a wide scale. It's interesting that it was the relatively small and unlikely player Iceland that took up Greenpeace's challenge and not one of the big guys.

No-one can deny that this has been an effective act of brand activism, but I'm not sure how much it has to do with purpose. I may be wrong, but I doubt Iceland's purpose is to save orang-utans, or even to reduce palm oil in their products. These may well be related to the overall purpose, but in my book, purpose is broader than one or two campaigns on social, environmental (or even political) themes.

Purpose is connected to a company's products or services and to its values. It can be high-and-mighty, but it doesn't have to be. Not every brand is Patagonia. In fact, a more down-to-earth purpose that's closer to people's everyday lives is often easier to put into practice, and is more authentic for a brand that has no history of standing on a soapbox and shouting about major issues.

The Effective Use of Brand Purpose Report 2018 from the WARC talks about the idea of "purpose" going mainstream. Here, it's not about campaigns, or jumping on the latest cause bandwagon, but finding a genuine, unique purpose for the brand which can act as a navigation compass for the whole company. With product, purpose and profit working together symbiotically.

In this way, purpose can be seen as the new boss for the 21st century.

Friday, 9 November 2018


I've always been proud of being something of a mongrel as far as my DNA goes, but now I can officially call myself a hybrid, with dual nationality - British (my Heimat) and German (my adopted home).

I do notice that this mongrel business is getting more and more on-trend with people proudly presenting their pick 'n mix DNA credentials on social media. And products and brands are going for it too - there's a huge push in the world of whisky to re-elevate the blend as something special in its richness, for example in this ad from Chivas:

I'm not entirely sure what that says about single malts (or the people who drink them) but never mind.

The lady at the Standesamt told me I could be German in Germany and British in Britain. I don't know - I think the other way round is more fun. Or perhaps I can be best of both, wherever I am. Or a humourless fat slag who can't cook if I'm merely feeling spiteful and perverse.

Getting back to brands, it occurs to me that all-too-often, simplicity is confused with clarity. Simplicity in the sense of straightforwardness, obviousness, a sort of inoffensive homogeneity, without Ecken und Kanten, as we say in German.

A brand to me can have clarity or coherence, yet still be rich, have paradoxes and contradictions, many facets, yet you can perceive and appreciate its wholeness. It may well have a one-word equity, if you're into that, but that word itself may have many facets and nuances, and be brought to life in many contrasting moods and styles.

This quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald seems apt here: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

Let's try out my ability to function with that Chivas.


Or is that Preers!

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Through a glass darkly

The theme to Interbrand's Best Global Brands 2018 is "Activating Brave", which is another variation on the theme of "long-term agility" - the acknowledged approach for brand growth in the 21st century.

In this article, Daniel Binns from Interbrand explains a little more about how the best brands grow:

“What are these brands doing to achieve success? They are harnessing the ability to take bold short-term action in pursuit of a clear and aligned long-term vision. The key to Activating Brave is to simultaneously look through a microscope and a telescope, and have the courage to intercept the future, not just flow with it,”

I like the idea of the simultaneous microscope and telescope - but does it miss something? Or, rather, are we in danger of missing something if we are forever looking through this lens or another - the customers lens, the consumer lens, the competitor lens. In marketing workshops these days, there seem to be more lenses than at Specsavers!

How would it be if we also used those perfectly good lenses behind the aqueous humour and looked at how brands exist out there in the real world, too?

As the Good Book says (1 Corinthians Chapter 13, v12): 
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Meanwhile, down at the Brexit Arms ...

A taste of things to come?

I noticed this piece of communication in a local town pub, here in the Home Counties. Note that this is one of those cheap-and-cheerful chain pubs, not some fancy-pants Gastro place (by the way, I can never think of Gastropubs without thinking of either Gastropods - not so bad if you're into Escargots - or Gastroenteritis. Not so good at all.)

In addition, there was a huge display of gins with as many flavours on offer as the Vape shop across the road. I'm guessing one reason that gin has become popularised is that it is so unashamedly British (if you forget the Dutch connection, but then again, didn't we have some Royalty from over there at some point?).

While the Gastropubs are carefully framing their British offering in "locally-produced, hand-farmed, pan-fried by hipster artisans, sustainability heaven" kind of terms, the cheapo pubs are blunt about it - see above. It doesn't actually say "don't waste yer hard-earned cash on that over-priced filthy foreign muck" but it might as well.

What next? Will Irn-Bru launch an Aperol alternative?

Will it be a return to "British Sherry" this Christmas?

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Riding my hobby-horse

"If you're doing 'consumer safaris', your alienation from the real world is total and complete."

That's one of my favourite lines from Martin Weigel's latest blog post, Escape from Fantasy.

A lot of blog posts I read tend to approach one ear, then turn around and slink back off into the morass of jargon that is LinkedIn. But this one hasn't just stuck in my mind, it feels worthy of regurgitation so I can rapidly find it again. It would have been pinned on the wall in the old days, I guess.

It's well-written (if a little finger-pointy with its "we do this/that, we think this/that" style which I have a personal aversion against), compelling, funny and pinpoints the biggest problem of the brand communication industry today - this industry is based in a parallel fantasy world.

The evidence for this is not difficult to find and ranges from giving groups of people super-heroesque labels, through to my particular hobby horse - the aversion of a lot of planners these days to getting away from their desks and screens. "Far too many planners are no longer in constant, direct, unmediated contact and dialogue with people."

The solution - to "do what others do not, can not or dare not do to" is simple. It's about finding the truth - "the truth of real people in the real world."

One small area where I'd take issue, though, is the area of "we are nothing like the people we serve." It's simply not true, if you go under the surface demographics. We are all human beings, with the same basic needs and motivations, even though these may be expressed or fulfilled in different ways. And this is part of the solution, as far as I'm concerned. Advertising, or whatever it calls itself now, is probably always going to be dominated by young people. But if those young people are worth their salt as planners and creatives, they will at least try to get into the mindset of someone older, someone different, someone who is outside their immediate experience. Perhaps by finding common ground in the way that person feels, what's important to them.

And always remember - "the consumer" only exists in Fantasy Land.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Five build an awfully tough-as-old-boots brand

Nothing says childhood summer to me stronger than the works of Enid Blyton, and specifically, The Famous Five. Even if they didn't start off being famous, over 75 years ago, they certainly are now. I'm not a huge fan of calling fictional characters (or authors for that matter) a "brand" - I don't know why, but the reduction of a human being (albeit a fictional one) to the level of a packet of washing powder seems demeaning. But bear with me - this is more about what brands can learn from this frightfully long-lived five-some.

The original book, Five on a Treasure Island, was published in 1942, and others in the series soon followed, accompanied by games, birthday cards, stationary and, of course, jigsaws.


The books remain in print, and are still extremely popular, although the cover designs and illustrations have changed over the years. From the print medium, it was inevitable that the Famous 5's exploits would soon transfer onto film, and so it was, with the first feature film appearing in the 1950s, and TV series running in the 1970s and 1990s, complete with the associated annuals:

In marketing, we often talk about a brand becoming part of the culture, and a sure sign of this happening is when the jokes, parodies and T-shirts become part of the social fabric. Who, that was young in the 80s, will ever forget the Comic Strip's Five Go Mad in Dorset?

As brands get long-in-the-tooth, their managers begin to fret: are we keeping up to date? Are we still appealing to today's young generation? Is it enough to change the shorts and long socks of the original illustrations to hoodies and sweat-pants? The text of the books has been subject to a little bit of correction, some of it practical (decimal coinage) and some of it political (tweaking attitudes that are not acceptable today). 

As the Famous Five moved into the digital age, a new spin-off cartoon series was created, featuring the 5's offspring, right up-to-date with all the latest technology:

The parodies continue, and anyone that has been in a UK bookshop in the last year or so can't have failed to notice this and the others in the series:

Some brands get terribly huffy about parody and spoof. I don't know if there were any legal battles surrounding Brexit Island and Co. but as an outsider, it's easy to see how this bit of affectionate fun hardly damages the "brand" - rather, it reinforces it. I wouldn't be at all surprised if sales of the original books have taken off again since these take-offs hit the shelves.

Which all brings us nearly up to date. Where are the Famous 5 off for their next adventure? Well, in marketing terms they're doing a bit of a co-operation. Or is it a celebrity endorsement?

Mine's a meat paste sandwich with lashings of ginger beer.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

What looks good on paper ...

I've spent more than enough years working on brand extensions of this, that or the other and the question has always been - how far can you go? The answer to that one depends on the brand, and just how flexible and stretchable its essence really is. And what's vital to the brand's coherent meaning apart from its essence.

I saw a classic example (in my opinion) of a step too far in the supermarket this weekend: Kerrygold Irish Cream.

Now, I can just imagine the brainstorming or workshop that led to this one. The core of the Kerrygold Brand Onion (Cheese and Onion, anyone?) has probably got the words "Irish" and "Dairy" in it. So some smart Alec (or Alexa) no doubt put one and one together and thought: "I know! Let's copy Baileys!"

This probably looked like a great idea on a flip chart decorated with neon Post-Its.

But, if you have to take the onion model, what about all those outer layers? If you ignore those, you can quite easily come up with something that stands in opposition to them. I'm not a fan of the onion method for defining a brand - I prefer to get an intuitive feel for brands via long-term knowledge and experience, and from my feel for Kerrygold, I would suggest the following:

Kerrygold is an everyman/woman/child brand - for all the family, not just the niche segment of middle-aged girls who drink sickly-sweet liqueurs

Kerrygold, if it has a time of day, is about morning, the sun rising, breakfast-time, the twittering of the birds and the dew still kissing that lush green meadow

Kerrygold, if it has a place is outdoors, with beautiful rolling emerald fields, an azure sky, buttercups and daisies

And finally, Kerrygold is savoury in taste - lightly salted butter, mellow cheddar kind-of-savoury. Kerrygold wouldn't (I hope) go into chocolate, so why a chocolate liqueur?

I wouldn't want Lurpak to copy Häagen-Daz and go into ice cream.

And neither would I advise Cadbury's to start making cheese.