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I think you are absolutely right.
But don't you think though that with fictional characters cultural gaps comes in? I'm thinking of global brands in a local contest. I work on Suzuki Italy and when it gets to sharing the ideas with the japanese marketing director I see that no matter what metaphor, comparison or similarity we may use to express brand values or consumer insights, it never really gets 100% to the point. I also tried with archetypes like robin hood. I even got to use soccer roles (forward, goalie..)
It took us two years to kind of get in tune one with each other...

Interesting. I hadn't thought about the international/cross-cultural implications. Which I should have done. Given my job.

But I'm not really saying that we should use fictional characters as metaphors for brands.

I'm saying that we should use the skills and techniques authors use to create plausible, coherent personalities for their characters. Rather than the lumpen tools we normally use.

You can't imagine any decent author starting a story:

'Once upon a time there was a Prince (core values; handsomeness, dashingness, decency)...'

They don't do it like that. They do it with subtler but more persuasive tricks. Which are sometimes just as quick. They tell backstories. They use defter, more imaginative adjectives. They use humour. They use foreshadowing and all those other literary techniques whos names I don't know.

Thus James Bond's character is built up by Fleming tell us where he comes from, what brands he uses, what foods he likes, what his attitudes are. And lots of stories about him.

That's what we should do with brands. Does that make sense?

I think that people do try to both oversimplify and overcomplicate brands at the same time.

You cant sell a brand as 50 things at a time, but you cant forever rely on one facet of the brand without it running stale. Its all down to good deductions and planning, with just a hint of common sense!

I found really interesting the article on th APG website "What we should learn from city planning" and the point that the reason why we like something is also because we can relate to its weaknesses.
Shouldn't it be like that for brand as well?
Don't you think that if brands stops trying to present themselves as one-pieced, no-flaws entities they could relate better to their customers?

Definitely.

Reminds me of the hre company who had the slogan "we're number 2, so we try harder"

Maybe fragile is the wrong word... but a quirk that people identify with. Another example would be Heinz Ketchup (the best things come to those who wait) or Guiness (swimmer), which make a virtue of a small human flaw in the product.

Maybe thats it. To make an error is human, and perhaps quirks are a lesser thought of part of the personification of brands.

i don't often (never?) make blog comments, but i was struck, while reading your thoughts on brands and planning, of the famous Bill Hicks line: "If you work in advertising or marketing, please, kill yourself now." My God - you actually take brands seriously. You actually think they're an interesting topic of conversation - possibly even interesting enough to talk about at parties. May I make this suggestion: brands are like bubbles - they give the illusion of substance and then, with one pin prick, burst into the nothing that they are. They are of course a sophisticated illusion - perhaps even a remarkable illusion. But Holy Fuck - you actually think they matter. That they matter enough to merit blog discussion. Wow. I didn't think folk like that existed. Why, you might ask, was I here in the first place? well, somebody forwarded me a caff suggestion and I one click led to another and i found myself here. i think i became fascinated that somebody could genuinely find advertising and branding so genuinely interesting, worthwhile and intellectually stimulating. That's great.
Fucking Hell!

Many brands do give the illusion of subtance with little underneath, but that is down to fundamental failures in the way the company is run.

Branding is interesting because it is in effect the personality of a company,who they are and what they stand for. Which judging by your comment is something that is (rightly) pretty important to you.

As much as the sadly missed Bill Hicks speaks great truths, I think he missed a key thing ive discovered in my experiences so far within advertising:

Most advertising folk (especialy creatives) ive met seem to be very ethical and genuine people. Not the money mad monsters that people often think.

In essense you are right, in the big scheme of things most brands are bubbles. But for supposedly ethical and honest brands(co-op, body shop, fairtrade etc), the brand is a vital way of demonstrating the beliefs of those who run it; and putting those across to the public.

oh bog off provo. Yes we know brands are trivial. Most things are trivial. Sport. Music. Art. Fishing. Blogs. They're all trivial. That doesn't make them uninteresting. And it certainly doesn't mean they don't merit discussion online. What else is a blog for but discussing things that don't matter much in obsessive detail?

Russell can we start another discussion called "10 things I know is trivial talking about but i find'em interesting nonetheless"?
I'd say:
- MTV Room raiders
- fake ethnic restaurants
- haircuts (i know you like the 80's ones...)

Can I add Japanese packaging to that list please!

russel - i seem to have touched a nerve. interestingly, music and art have the incredible capacity to touch the soul, create beauty, inspire, change lives and enrich our world. brands, well, they, erm... yeah.
you have fun planning now. cos lord knows - the world needs more ads.
(as for fishing, i hear it's quite relaxing)

Why is Provo suprised people involved in creating brands are interested in talking about them?

Sure, he(she?) would rather drink bleach than talk brands, but he(she?) should simply bugger off and leave us 'ad-nerds' to talk about things we find interesting. It could be worse, it could be bloody tax-breaks or something!

However, and here's the kicker, most of what we talk about could be regarded as self indulgent-wank.

Lets be honest, most people in the REAL WORLD couldn't give a rats arse about brands ... at least in the way we talk about them ... so unless you are working with a company that really wants to 'mean' something to people, most of what we do is more about fee generation rather than brand developing.

However (WARNING: Oscar speech coming up), at my company (www.cynical-world.com) we try and make a real difference because we regard the general public as our clients, not the companies who come to us ... so whenever we connect the two parties together, it's always with something that is mutually advantageous rather than consumer raping, which tends to go on in mainstream corporate land.

I guess this explains why we're a small company with some of the coolest clients in the World rather than a 'money-at-all-costs' multi-national ... and for that I will be ever greatful.

Brands arent ever going to be as important spiritually as music or art... but when brands are done well they give people a sense of belonging and attachment.

People buy brands that connect with their personality (its a proven fact), and its also proven that by buying into a brand that appeals to them; people become more self confident and their feeling of self worth increases.

A brand is never going to be a Nirvana, a sex pistols, an Elvis, or a Mozart; but to ignore the positive effect they can have on peoples emotions hollows any argument about them.

Fair enough, but lets be honest, the amount of brands that truly 'connect' with people VS the amount of brands out in the World is miniscule.

Too many corporations act like brandlomaniacs ... thinking they are really connecting with people (because they believe they are oh so important) when in reality, they are doing quite the opposite.

You don't have to tell me how brands can help people feel a sense of 'belonging', I've been doing this a long time and work on some of the brands you are probably talking about (An IT/Design company named after a fruit and an airline owned by a bearded English chap to name but two) ... but for a brand to really connect, it should always start with the company, not the advertising and too many companies, and ad people, forget that which is why so many people are cynical ... me included.

Last thing, Rob (Mortimer) ... I hope you didn't take my last comment as an attack on you personally. Just read my comments back (naturally AFTER I posted them, typical eh) and it seems far more aggressive than I intended so many apologies.

Dont worry, I do that too!

My comments were aimed at Provo rather than you, I agreed with what you said.

I just think its rather ignorant to claim that brands have no importance with no justification to back it up.

After all, if he could say that no decision in his life has been affected by a brand he'd be a liar. Even if that decision was not to buy a brand, the concept of what that brand stood for was part of his reason NOT to buy it.

Hi Rob ...

I used to have that very discussion with my father - an ethics lawyer - and we agreed to 'disagree' as we kept going round and round (and round) the houses. The funniest part was he prefered me when I was a studio guitarist for the worst of 80's popstars than when I went into advertising. Class. Mind you, given the way I believe people and brands do/should 'mingle' means quite alot of his thinking and values filtered into me ... so the bugger won afterall. Damn.

Of course, when I say 'he prefered me ...' I mean he prefered my job when I was a guitarist rather than an advertising person.

God, I don't want people thinking he was a bastard who judged me by the job I did ... he was the greatest man that lived.

I am intrigued as to which popstar!

Its a difficult debate, if you dont think in the mindset to personify an object or brand then its very hard to agree; but if you do it seems like perfect sense.

When I think of ad ideas and copy (just personal use at the moment lol) I try and put the advert into the atmosphere of the brand or product, and that is definitely something ive picked up from studying adverts over the years.

People do think advertising is full of commercial whores; my experience is the exact opposite. Only by understanding and emphathising with people can you truly understand how they think. Its cool to have a parent you could argue this stuff with though :)

Think of every shit popstar of the late 80's and I probably whored myself on their album. Mind you, I was the kiss of death as soon after I contributed to their latest 'masterpiece' (ahem) they would sink quickly into the 'Where Are They Now' bin. So really, the World should thank me for the loss of Billy Ocean, Rick Astley and Terrence Trent D'arby, Ha.

As for people in advertising not being whores, I completely agree ... that tends to be a general media view, rather than absolute truth. However, though most people in advertising are genuine, decent people, many have a distinct lack of backbone which is why we end up with few brands that truly connect and stand for something.

I don't blame these people ... principals cost alot in advertising ... and with clients becoming less about listening and more about dictating, no one wants to screw up their livlihood.

Unfortunately, all I think it is really doing is alienating brands from society as we end up with soft communication that basically ends up having clients questioning the role of advertising.

Mind you, I shouldn't complain, it lets me make cynic's clients famous with far less effort and money than a focused, put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is competitive market.

By the way, where are you based?

Definitely. People are rarely inclined to take a risk with their money as the potential losses are as great as the potential rewards.

You are right though, look at how people are becoming alienated by big global brands that play it safe. They dont communicate their values in one place for fear of upsetting people in another, going soft instead of localising.

Maybe its time for companies to see that to truly stand out in the global market they have to take at least a little risk to stretch out that hand to the consumer.

You helped get rid of Rick Astley? Fantastic. Was that in his "I dont need Stock Aitkin and Waterman honest" period?


(apologies, I clicked post too early!)

Im based in Sheffield by the way :)

Having viewed your site I must say that I like the idea of usng brands to start conversations, what better way is there to spread a message. The use of clues, games and viral messaging by Microsoft this month has certainly caused conversations, and given them a huge amount of exposure in the big push for the new Xbox console.

I would love to see some things that you have done; particularly for those usually risk-free clients!

Hi ... yes, it was in Mr Astley's "SAY NO TO S/A/W" period. Poor bugger is probably stacking shelves in Asda now.

Sheffield eh? Well I'm from Nottingham so maybe we'll meet next time I come over to see Nottingham Forest stuff up another season!? In all seriousness, I come back to England about 6 times a year and I'd love to hook up. (I spend my time between Sydney, Singapore and Shanghai - which ISN'T as glam as it may sound!)

As regards our clients, sure .. I can send you stuff, how do I do it? Oh, and trust me, our clients don't adopt a 'risk free' mentality, just a 'risk positive' one.

We say we're a 'conversation starting company' because that is what we do for brands but also because we have a truly comms neutral philosophy.

The work we're about to launch for Hummer will show this best of all ... but given amongst all the ads we've done, we've also designed Boeing 747 interiors and come up with [unharmful] weaponary ... we are a bunch of fools who try and live our vision rather than just spout it off every 2 seconds.

Mind you, we're nothing without the partners we have which is why we have such diverse 'mates' from Naked Communications right through to Viz magazine. It certainly keeps things interesting - which is polite for mad.

Sounds cool to me. Not met anyone in the industry yet that I dislike... *fingers crossed ;)*

Best bet is to email me: rob@ad-pit.com, it shouldnt matter about the size f any attachments.

I can imagine that few clients are risk free... but I guess the creative process wouldnt be as challenging if they accepted any weird artsy campaign thrown at them!

If you can make enough money to get by them living the vision is great, it probably helps in the end; if your clients know you are enthusiastic about the work you do, they should also know you will do your best for them.

I look forward to seeing some of the work!

Hi Mate ...

Just flying to the US (I'm at the airport as I write this) so will send you some stuff in the next few days.

Our aim is to show work that makes our clients say something along the lines of "FUCK ME!" when they first see it, then watch them as they slowly realise there is nothing they can slag us off for as it answers their business needs, the brief and the most valuable of criteria, common sense.

Looking forward to hearing what you think ... have a good weekend,

R

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