Crisis in branding 2 – the revenge

Disorganized ramblings from the ‘trying things out for size’ department and the ‘Yesterday was Epiphany’ team:


The original crisis in branding in the 70s – staring Bruce Willis – was a result of the multiple retailers asserting the power they had over the consumers’ attention spans to push out brands and promote own labels. And, of course, the ad agencies – including JWT who named the phenomenon – responded with oodles of  ads featuring puppies to find a way to drive consumer demand for particular brands, via the mass media.

Today’s crisis in branding feels somewhat more intractable, although the response has been the same. The onslaught this time, of course, is coming from consumers retaking control over their media environment.

Clay Shirky today took an interesting viewpoint on twitter: “when someone asks ‘how does this social media stuff really scale?’ they really mean ‘how do I become a spammer?’.

Was mass meida advertising SPAM? I think Russell Davies’ analysis is the clearest discussion of this I’ve read: advertising is tolerated when it is part of a value exchange; everything else is SPAM.

Is all online advertising SPAM? Well not the search stuff obviously, because its quite useful, at times – although, of course, advertisers are still using SPAM to try and get up there in the natural listings. But in the context of the internet, which is after all 99% SPAM in the first place, I’ve not seen much display advertising has can even match the charm of Coronation Street break-bumpers. Perhaps all banners should have a strip at the top saying ‘we’re paying for all of this you know…, so give us just a second of your time’.

If the challenge in traditional advertising is likability, online is way behind. First, we’ll first need to get to a situation where the ads are even perceived.

Even the agencies themselves seem to be wondering about the future of advertising. How many ads are BBH buying for Mrs 0 I wonder. Or is not advertising part of zagging?

Of course there’s branded utility. The second Nike+ should be along in just a moment. And of course, we learn that making better products will produce talkability. But how about these incontinence pants I need to market?

If money can’t buy you attention any more, and your product is never, realistically, going to be a purple cow today, how can we get the word out?

The solution for brand managers – unenviable title of the week – lies where they think the problem is… these damn kids. ‘Talking about brands’ is something that focus groups do, and agency directors, and my great aunts. For brands within genuine youth networks, brands are linguistic or social tokens.

Clearly, we’ve all seen that attempts to crassly motivate these networks; to feed in messages and propositions as we did with mass media, are prone to failure. Crass value exchanges – here’s a pacman game from Haribo – are not a lot smarter.

Instead we need to motivate discussion, to take themes that exist and amplify them or the communities that use them.

3 thoughts on “Crisis in branding 2 – the revenge”

  1. The San Paolo Sky ad in Antony’s post (trackback below) is a brilliant piece of unintended irony.

    Sky Movies are saying ‘we took away the ads from Sky Movies because that’s the way you like it’. Well take them off Sky One as well then!, or is what they’re actually saying: ‘we took ads from Sky Movies because you’ve already paid for the movies with your subscription’.

    Thanks Antony

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