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Is it time to stop cloning our communications? Image courtesy of Official Star Wars Blog

One of the things that I always bang on about without really thinking about it in depth is the idea that Clients and agencies need to place less emphasis on consistency and more on coherence.

So I thought I’d worry this one out a bit.


Consistency was the marketing mantra of the ‘90s. Both Clients and their brand advisers would regularly look at the entire creative output from the brand and demand that it be more consistent.
By which they usually meant that it should look the same either in its entirety or certainly within individual campaigns. Direct usually got it in the neck for not looking like it came from the same company as the above the line work, and this heralded the growth in brand literate DM agencies in the early part of the decade.
The philosophy was built around the idea that budgets could be better optimised if all the creative output looked like, in the words of that ghastly cliché so popular at the time, ‘it sang from the same hymn sheet’.
This approach reached its zenith with identity rich communications from brands like O2 in the UK, which delivered religiously consistent work at all customer touch points.
It also manifested itself in geographical consistency, where the same work for a brand was run across all territories. Coke was big into this in the early nineties before embracing a more open approach to creativity. This may well have started out as a way from exercising control over local markets and delivering some production economies but made greater sense as the internationalisation of both consumers and media started to match that of the brands.
Consistency was everything.
The trouble was an emphasis on executional consistency rarely derived from a clear and coherent strategy for the brand. Either consistency was driven out of an advertising campaign devised for specific media or out of an identity that had little to say beyond superficial aesthetic appeal. Surely if it all looks the same and uses the same endline it means the same.
Maybe we are now witnessing a counter trend. One where Clients and agencies are less bothered about executional consistency as long as the brand’s point of view is coherent across media, between campaigns and around the world. Hell the endline doesn’t even need to be the same if it still delivers the idea at the heart of the brand.
Of course this requires the brand to have a coherent point of view in the first place and rather points up those that have a nice endline but no role to play in peoples lives.
I think we can see this approach happening on Dove with the campaign for real beauty. Here we see an astonishingly coherent brand idea being delivered in all sorts of ways to the delight of the audience. The richness of different media and the subtleties of different cultures are easily accommodated because of supreme confidence in the brand idea.
The added bonus of this shift in priorities has been the improvement in inter-agency relationships and collaboration. Individual shops are far less likely to be asked to copy the work of another agency and more likely to be given the core idea and asked to do the best possible work in their medium or their market. The lead agency is still the one that devised the idea but that position is less likely to be used to stifle the role of others. Who is the lead agency on Dove? Well its not entirely clear form the outside and just for now Ogilvy in Toronto is making the most celebrated work.
There is a view (actually I stole this from Dr Joe Plummer and have manipulated it to suit my own ends) that coherence is the name of the game now because audiences are no longer congregated by media so that the same group of people are drawn together at the same time and place to witness the same content on the same platform. In a world of congregation everybody is seeing everything so it makes some sense to make it all look the same. But if audiences are increasingly aggregated from different groups of people witnessing different content from the brand at different times and on different platforms then executional consistency becomes both less possible and less desirable
Against that backdrop it is rather sad to see Bravia doggedly pursuing an extremely unedifying approach to their work seemingly built entirely on consistency rather than coherence. So while moving image advertising uses all the power of that medium to deliver colour like no other, none of the other media are allowed to do this. Instead they must parrot the TV work to the point where they cease to be ads for Bravia and become little more than ads for the ads. I’m sure there is a bloody good reason for this but as far as I am concerned ‘build awareness of the advertising’ is rarely a legitimate communications objective.
I think that’s what this consistency versus coherence thing is all about anyway, but as ever maybe its something you would help me build upon.

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