Category Archives: Branding

Embrace the boring until you find it interesting

This idea from Bernie de Koven got me thinking.

I opine that work is in fact, already fun. That attempts to make it more fun through the use of awards and rewards, parties and dress-down days lead to something significantly less than fun. And that rather than finding ways to make work more fun, we should be looking for the things in the corporate culture that are standing in the way of the fun that is available to people who spend their days truly engaged in their work.

I think it’s a very easy trap for anyone working with groups to see their role as bringing some fun into organisations. I have been on both ends of that error, more than once.

It reminded me of a conversation I had earlier this week with Huw Sayer. The gist is that ad agencies often see their job as adding some much needed glamour to products, services and organisations that are, obviously, dull. A lot of marketing directors, flitting as they do from one company to the next, operate on the same glib assumption.

It would be better to show more respect for everyone working in the company to dig down for what is worthwhile and interesting in what they do, and work with that.

A pet peeve of mine, for example, is how Nationwide Building Society would lazily sponsor football. Here is an organisation that – especially as a mutual not obsessed with shareholder value – that could exemplify responsible, imaginative financial advice. Instead, it aligns itself with the most spendthrift, financially incontinent industry possible. It was as if they were ashamed of what they really did for a living and needed to change the subject. Even now, they seem to just claim to be a slightly cuddlier version of the high street banks. I’ve always thought there is far more exciting territory available to them, or any other mutual, that is all about what they are, or should be, experts in. Goodness knows there are millions of people in the country in need of better financial support and advice, currently pray to loan sharks and payday companies. Surely Nationwide could tackle that instead of emptily and narcissistically slapping the advertising glamour on?

I used to work in financial advertising. Sadly, nowhere were agencies more certain of how boring the services were and how much they were in need of Ade Edmondson or Ridley Scott’s talents to glam them up. I’m not sure things are any better these days.

Which maybe why this is the first time in just ages I’ve written a post with the Branding category.

Incidentally, Viv and I have lately got quite interested in playing improv games until they feel like they’ve become quite boring… and then consciously commiting to carrying on. At which point, they usually become really interesting surprisingly fast.

Zeitgeists are not markets

Nice quote from Lao Tzu

The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

It comes from Anne McCrossan’s post The Price of Zeitgeist.

Anne reviews a book called Brand Zeitgeist, Embedding Brand Relationships into the Collective Consciousness. It’s hard to beat that title for hubris and ugliness, though it represents how many old fashioned marketers seem to see the networked world – just another way to peddle their wares. Anne’s a tad kinder than I am but I think gets to the same point.

Using an issue as a social object

Rob has a good post about KETC‘s launch of an H1N1 blog following on the heels of their mortgage-crisis blog. Rob’s been closely involved with US public broadcasting as it figures out how to navigate the waves crashing around all mainstream media.

Rob says

When we began to wonder how to use TV and an issue as a Social Object – to convene and help a community – we spent months finding our way. It was all new – we had absolutely no idea what to do or what would work…Now with many such projects done and the most recent with 60 plus stations in over 30 markets (Facing the Mortgage Crisis) it took a few days to start our work on Flu.

That phrase – issue as social object – really caught my eye. It requires abandoning narcissistic branding and maybe public media have found that easier to do that some others I could mention.

Bonus link: one of Hugh’s explanations of the idea of social objects. Plus doff of cap to Jyri Engestrom

Tiger, Branding and Shadows

I suspect the conventional wisdom is that Tiger Woods was the perfect case study in branding until just a few days ago.

I’d like to propose that he’s potentially a more useful if bothersome, case study now than he was then.

Most branding is still obsessed with idealisation, creating notions of perfection and excellence, fuelled by aspiration. The trouble with such fixations is this: what do we do when we can’t live up these ideals? The likelihood is, in most cases, that we’ll use denial. First a little, and then a lot. We might get away with it, but in our hyper-networked world it’s more likely that the facade will crack and get noticed.

I wonder about the discussions taking place now inside companies who have – lazily, in my view – promoted themselves by suggesting they share Tiger’s qualities. Are they, as I would fear, simply counting the cost and wondering who they should pick as their new shiny icon?

Or might they think more deeply about the dangers of narcissism – not for their hired celebrities, but for themselves?

More on brand narcissism

I thoroughly enjoyed Alan Mitchell’s latest two part rant on brand narcissism. I’m sure Mark will especially enjoy his rip-roaring pisstake of the idea of neuroscience giving clever admen the magic key to control the consumer’s little brain.

It is scientifically proven that most decision-making is inaccessible to introspection by the conscious rational mind. There is, however, a race apart: a race of geniuses who have the rare and unique ability to see into other peoples’ brains and understand their decision-making processes – even when ordinary mortals cannot do this for themselves. This race of geniuses also have an even rarer and more precious ability (generated by their unique access to special ‘insights’ that they alone have access to). They can reach into peoples’ brains, “embedding slogans and images” into them, thereby changing what they think and do … without the dumb klutz ordinary mortals even being aware that it’s happening!

Hat tip: Tweet from Eaon Pritchard

Airline hamster wheel slowing

I just got a letter from Virgin Atlantic. They’re trying to put a cheery spin on the fact they’re downgrading me from Silver to Red in the frequent flyer programme. I’m expecting the same soon from United where I plummeted from Gold to Silver last year and now will fall to some shamefully non-metallic category. I’ve been flying less lately.

I feel like an addict in recovery. I used to get very excited about those little perks like using the premium lounges… but when I really examine the experience there was also stress in structuring my travel to make sure I span the airline’s hamster wheel fast enough. And I think all that worrying whether I’d get comped an upgrade caused more stress than the occasional success ever really gave me. And to be honest, I always found something a bit depressing about those lounges, that we’d all sold a tiny little piece of our soul to be there. Likewise in Business Class: I wonder if secretly we all know we don’t really BELONG and are all faking it.

We’ll see how my recovery progresses. I could easily have a relapse.

Silliness, period.

Jeff Jarvis has a pithy rant against corporate fussiness over how their names get spelt. Apparently, “AOL” has just become “Aol.” with some hoohah about the importance of the period, or full stop as they may or may not allow us Brits to call it. This kind of thing has always made me laugh.

Years ago, when dinosaurs walked the land, I worked for an ad agency called Valin Pollen. It insisted on always presenting its name in capitals: VALIN POLLEN. You don’t need much imagination to imagine the impact of VALIN POLLEN trumpeting its self-importance this way, in every single document spewing out of the bank of word processors (heady technology in those days). It seemed out to keep tripping over a large VALIN POLLEN recommendation to its far, far bigger and richer clients, most of whom were happy to settle for modest upper-and-lower case.

VALIN POLLEN was a remarkable place to work in all sorts of ways. But I don’t think many of us really thought this capital letter vanity was much of an idea. At least, I didn’t find myself in the pub with any who did.

Jeff, needless to say, finds all this name fetishism absurd. One of his commenters alludes to the notion that having rigid control over your logo/name is meant to imply you have the same rigorous control over your organisation.

Now even supposing that were true, does anyone really think that’s such a good thing these days?

And sorry but I can’t resist the obvious Python reference.

“Pepsi to cease advertising”

I thought this Onion report was very funny and like all really good satire points to a truth that some may find uncomfortable. I urge you to enjoy the whole thing before reading the next few paras.

Consider some of the statements the Onion puts in the mouth of the Pepsi Boss:

“Frankly it just feels sort of weird and desperate to put all this energy into telling people what to drink. If they don’t like it, then they don’t like it.”

“Look, Coca-Cola is a terrific product,” Nooyi continued. “Millions of people choose it over Pepsi every day. Are those people wrong? Of course not. Concepts like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ shouldn’t even apply. It’s a soft drink.”

These are pretty sane and sensible things to say… the hilarity is that, of course, a Pepsi boss could never acknowledge these truths.

Of course, vast marketing hierarchies a have a strong interest in maintaining the status quo. Too much Onion really would bring them to tears.

But there may be some smaller businesses that would do very well to use the Onion strategy. Run one last farewell ad, hack huges costs out of flim flam promotion and bet the ranch on actually delivering good stuff and services that people will want to talk about.


In Are you lovin’ it? Tom Asacker has a great post elaborating on David Ogilvy’s comment that “Agencies waste countless hours concocting slogans of incredible fatuity.”

For every vaguely memorable slogan there are countless utterly forgettable ones. Tom lists ones McDonalds have used over the years as evidence, and also suggests this list of company slogans. Barely a spark of memorability among them.