Sunday 16 December 2007

Branded Utility

One of the reasons why I like the folk at Anomaly in New York, Piers at PSFK and Zeus Jones in Minneapolis is because of their understanding of where our business is heading. Way too many advertising people are in a state of delusion when it comes to the overall efficacy of the marketing communications that we do. I'd argue that a lot of the wallpaper we paste up conveys a given amount of trust because there's an implicit cost factor when viewing paid up media space. Something along the lines of "If you can purchase that media space and come up with some reasonable production values, then you must be a reasonably reliable brand". That's it folks. We buy trust most of the time.

Most wallpaper is reassuring. If you're not convinced then live in a room stripped of it for a while.

So on Friday after a quintessentially self indulgent and non engaging advertising awards ceremony that almost defined how sclerotic our business has become, I came across a terrific quote on Dino's bookmarks for Robert Stephens, the founder of Geek Squad as saying

I'd be inclined to agree. However there is a momentum in the beginning of this third millennium for marketing as doing. The digital era seems to be ushering in a breed of young folk who have no time for crafted messaging and are intolerant of not getting the information they need in the quickest way possible. I've never seen anything like it before. It only takes a browser to crash a few times and the digital savvy young folk of today delete the free software as if its a cancerous tumour. What happens when Wikipedia or Google's new idea Knol start to do product evaluation? The kids who are mostly digital natives, only want the information and that is a trend that those of us who grew up in the propaganda age (frequency and penetration) of marketing communications need to think long and hard about. The middle path is marketing as doing and there are some great ideas that have been put forward by the folk I mentioned at the beginning, in posts over here, here and here. That doesn't mean I'm anti advertising. It means I'm against bad advertising and for good information delivered cleanly and with the minimum of fuss.

I got thinking about this because I just happened to pass a blood giving bus close to the Xidan shopping area above, and I thought how smart the location was and doing this with a mobile blood donor unit. Somewhere to lie down for 10 minutes and give blood without really interrupting the day, I wanted to donate myself but the nurses didn't speak English. Then I got thinking if Nokia was a brand that could get involved in branded utility activity like this, given that its not too far removed from the traveling roadshows around the rural and semi urban areas that are often done in the mobile phone category over here. You know, communicating a need and helping encourage trial and action.

Later on at Wangfujing I saw them once more. So I thought about it again. I mulled over the notion of 'Connecting People' and it occurred to me that there probably isn't any greater connection than the one being done in the bus above. Probably that's an idea that is too visceral for most people's taste but the notion that the way a brand speaks is the only thing that matters, is the gravy train thinking of 20th century marketing and it's coming to an end as we see people controlling the information they want and continued digital emancipation taking place. I'm guessing the half a billion or so people whose first internet experience will be via the mobile phone will be equally intolerant of dishonest attempts to be interesting as I find people like Sam, Charlie and Adam now are.

I'm sure this makes me seem like I'm taking myself way too seriously and I probably am, so in the interests of not disappearing up my own bottom, here's a couple of pics from last nights clubbing action. First off is Puff Charlie keeping it real for y'all in the White Rabbit China town Lucky Street hood. Stayin' tuff all through the night and standing ma ground outside.

I know Sam can do a much better Ali G than I can but he's not here so that will have to make do. It was looking well mean down in the basement of the club. White riot everywhere and even the bitches were packing heat.

I ask you what has clubbing come to? Seriously though it wasn't a bad night but a less hipper crowd than I was hoping for. The music was better than the previous Friday, and we even slipped out for some of those ace kebabs that the folk from the far Western provinces of China rustle up in the Sanlitun area. They are easily the tastiest meat things on a stick I've ever eaten. I also noticed some stuff about the affluent local Chinese that was worth hanging around for. The Beijing crowd are very much different from the Shanghai lot and I don't think it's reflected in the way advertising is created for them.


  1. Ahhh, you're too nice.
    I saw you made the Campaign blogger top ten list too!
    Well done. I think I'm about 89,109!

  2. you may have made campaign top 10 charles, but that jacket is asking for trouble darling.

    this is a great post. i still find it amazing that ad-types are shocked when people are unwilling or resistant to advertising/marketing's penetrative charms. and i'm glad that maybe some of them folks might actually read this and see why.

    given that the 80s is la mode du jour, i find it interesting that the power and glory of advertising's sway from the 80s is actually trés passé. and it seems that, in the spirit of swing[er]s and roundabouts, the idea of authenticity and the whole word of mouth/content/meaningful experience from the 40s is having a renaissance period.

  3. Remember ages ago I wrote cynic believed in what we called 'Socialist Communication'?

    Well what you're suggesting seems to be the living embodiment of it and if anyone should embrace that thinking, it's Nokia.

    It goes way beyond phones, it goes into the heart of what humanity and society is ... something people all seek but don't know how to do it as much anymore for fear of looking daft in this World of illusion [or should I say delusion]

    Don't let me down, ha!

  4. I love the brand utility idea, it does embrace a more humanized way of utilizing branding, specially in a country as China, where to my own perception seems to lack a "caring way" of dealing with people.

    Riding the subway this morning in Beijing I noticed a Red Cross ad, roughly translated would be something like "Beautiful Dreams Become True", a perfect start for an association with Nokia...

    I'm still in awe from hearing about the partnership between adidas and Diesel (for jeans that matches your shoes), but the Nokia + Red Cross (or similar) would totally take brand association to a new level...

  5. I do remember that Rob. I remember it well because all I wrote a post called socialist media straight after. The principles of social media are the priniciples of socialism.

    The irony of a couple of ad folk selling socialism back into China is not lost my friend.

    However, between you and I Rob (and the rest of the internet while we're at it ha ha), I like to call myself a Neo-Marxist at some dinner parties. I do this just to watch those people (usually neoCONservative apologists) who think liberals and members of the democratic party are dirty words, and call them pinko Commies. They usually choke on their desserts as I say this

    This gives me a not insignificant amount of enjoyment :)

  6. Behave Lauren. You know you want me in my Puff Charlie jacket :) xx

    Charlie. You're blog is top 10 in my book and that's what counts.

  7. Good post, though I'm with Lauren on the jacket ;)

  8. I just have to say I'm from Nottingham and the Government throw a fit, ha!

  9. Sorry for delay in replying folks. I'll make it up with an Olympian post coming up soon :)

    Nice to see you here Gustavo. I like the Red Cross potential. Makes sense to me. Connecting people and all that.

    My new junior planner studied at Nottingham Rob! Smart as a whip and massively helpful. I'm in big kahuna heavan :)

  10. How does providing a blood donor unit differ from sponsorhip - what makes it branded utility?

  11. Nice call John. As ever your bullshit antenna are the first to twitch and this blog will always be a better place for it.

    I guess brand utility should be beneficial to society while at the same time communicating values that are in harmony. In this case my thought was that there could be no stronger way of connecting people than by sharing blood with them. Most sponsorship has a nebulous connection with the event or 'weather forecast' that they sponsor. I think brand utility has a deeper meaning. I also think its a bigger idea than just hanging around brands. But point taken my good man.