Thursday, 9 September 2010

Bacon Tastes Good - Pork Chops Taste Good

We're long past the point of anthropomorphizing brands. The idea that Old Spice might have a proper personality when it started would have seemed risible. To this day extraordinary individuals still impose themselves on great branded communications through their entrepreneurial cojones, product obsession and unsurpassed love of customer service.

Now of course back here on planet earth where the average tenure of a Marketing Director is under two years the onus on those individuals is to deliver in the short term and NOT DROP the ball. This is largely why we have the wind tunnel effect and something more insidious than product parity. 

Personality  Parity.

But let's not point the finger too much because if we take a good look in the mirror, we advertising agencies have traded off the right to challenge our clients for an unseemly all out internecine warfare to pursue the last possible buck left in the bottom of the bucket.

It's not hard to see the reasons for this, but the point is that we live in remarkable times so why are we engulfed by the unremarkable when it comes to communications? We have an increasing number of brands talking back to us in real time. The implications for this are unrecorded in history. So how do we bring this potential to life?

Ah yes. Give it a minute because the effect is worth considering.

The thing is we're human, we're always anthropomorphising stuff; projecting ourselves, applying our value system to 'the other'. Cars have long been female in the UK and the older the better. It seems the more curious the peccadilloes they had, the more we were attached to them. That doesn't apply so much in the age of what I might call the neo-neoterics the obsession with the new.

Of course it's not as if we need to apply the Geneva Convention to objects but there is always a sliding scale where say humans are top of the personality food chain, then animals, then products, then services, then hedge fund traders.

Getting back on track we're confronted by the uncharted waters of deeper and more meaningful communication. Now personality goes a long way, but the reality is the construct of the corporation and its paralytic fear of diminished quarterly results means it's unlikely that most brands are going to get a life in the near future. If you get close enough to some of the most hard working clients the sheer pressure of work restricts their ability to know precisely what a life is (they pay people to find out) and which is why there are often so many dumb perambulations between and after idea and execution.

The point is that personality isn't an accessory. It covered our butts while going through brand puberty but the age of a more meaningful existence isn't just possible. It's looming awkwardly and is going to separate the wheat from the chaff. The middle will consist of those brands that have always used layered and constructed fear to sell their wares and while many will survive in some way, shape or form they will increasingly look crusty and sclerotic compared to brands that have a ball swinging value-set. One that costs them something from time to time; costs them likeability, costs them money, because most importantly it finally earns them respect.

They are going to achieve this through the simple yet infinite scope of dialogue as opposed to the top down, controlled and linear monologue broadcast models of yesteryear.

How that personality manifests itself is a highly contextual subject dependant on a lot of factors that requires a post in itself, and which would still not provide a definitive answer. However the reason for me revisiting this less than revolutionary subject is because I see the scope for brands articulating their personality through their politics.

It's been done before

This anti sweatshop brand was getting close recently but economic timing was bad and franchise extension was, well, over extended.

I don't want to harp on about this because if there's one weakness I have as a planner it is that I see the potential too early too discern the reality. Time and again I've been excited about what's round the corner and tried to implement before gestation had completed. I noticed that the presentation I gave to low income Asian marketeers from multinationals a couple of years ago is only now starting to realise itself in India.

While it might not be prudent for a brand to immediately take a political stance, the age of the corporation as it emerges blinking with moral fatigue from the 20th century is fast becoming an anachronism. We need to be having a discussion about what exactly brands stand for if a non conformative position or a set of values becomes strategically imminent. The reason for that is entirely business-like. It's a profitable and identifiable stance to take and if you think that online group purchases known as Tuangou in China, are an interesting phenomenon, just you wait till INACTION becomes political. The potential for global boycotts of brands that don't play ball has yet to emerge, even though precedents exist with some of the most crippling action taking place in times before our hyper networked world.

This isn't a post that negates the value of brand utility (an important post to factor in if you weren't so busy and have kindly got this far anyway) but it is one that says if your brand isn't social, it probably has nothing to say. That's an impoverished strategic weakness in an age of product parity and one that will cost a lot more (and a lot quicker than we're used to).

Words are what distinguish us from any other life form on the planet and possibly the universe. Words could arguably be the reason our neo cortex accelerated into action at some point in our evolutionary story, and I put it to you that if your words are increasingly circumscribed by a language that is unremarkable, then the quickest way to get out of that is to take a stand, pick a cause and stick to your guns.

I'll leave you on a Biblical note John  1:1