In defence of the brand monologue

The word monologue has acquired a rather pejorative meaning in the world of marketing.

Monologue, where the brand addresses an audience and puts forward its point of view (as happens in traditional one to many advertising), is seen to be out of step with the idea that markets are conversations and depend on a dialogue of equals between brands and customers.

More than that, brand monologues are assumed to narcissistic, self referential, and disrespectful of empowered consumers that don’t have to or want to take that kind of shit from anyone least of all businesses.

Well I want to make a stand for brand monologues – right here and right now. Indeed I am going to insist that great dialogues start with a passionate monologue.

Don’t blame it on the creatives

It has of late become awfully fashionable to lay the many and varied problems of the advertising industry at the feet of creatives.

They are accused of many things including introspection, arrogance, irrelevance and rank stupidity.

And of all their crimes the ultimate is that they simply ‘don’t get it’.

Neither planners nor suits are collectively damned in this way.

Indeed in some circles, particularly the blogosphere, the ridicule meted out to above-the-line creatives borders on a kind of blood sport like hare coursing or bear baiting. In particular it is practiced by members of the new marketing mafia who never made it in proper advertising and consequently have a massive chip on their shoulders.

Well I’m getting a little fed up of this.

The brainstorm – a trojan horse of mediocrity

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Image courtesy of Jacob Botter

I hate brainstorms.

I hate running them, I hate contributing to them and I hate using them to solve problems.

They waste huge amounts of time and talent and they are no fucking good at delivering decent ideas.

And so six months ago I cleansed my professional life of this trojan horse of mediocrity, favouring aggregated individual working or two person thinking sessions.

I suggest it’s time you gave them the boot too.

Death the the brainstorm. Long live great ideas.

Can we have a more intelligent debate on regulation please?

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Will regulation hole advertising below the water line?

As if advertising weren’t challenged enough already by consumer behaviour and technology, the regulators are coming.

They have been circling for a long time but until now self-regulation has kept them at bay.

But with pressure to ban the advertising of ‘junk food’ altogether to follow its prohibition in children’s media and increasing calls to ban alcohol advertising things are getting serious.

In defence of DM

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Lester Wunderman who identified, defined and named Direct Marketing.

Direct is having a tough time of it at the moment.

In a world of increasing consumer antipathy towards orthodox communications channels (you’ll remember the TGI chart showing the decline in people thinking the ads are as good as the programmes) DM – both mail and its bastard offspring telemarketing – set new standards in irritation and intrusiveness. And you better believe that the in cards are marked by the self-regulation bodies if not the legislators.

And that’s before you get onto the thorny issue of DM’s environmental footprint. Both the consumption of materials and energy to create it in the first place and the residue it leaves in the home – the disposal of which falls to individuals and their council tax.

In all this ethical mess I have recently found some reasons to be cheerful and to recognise the specific qualities that DM contributes to the process of bringing brand ideas to life.

Too damn right my strategy is showing

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Propaganda – a job to do, something to say and therefore nothing gets in the way

One of the more stupid cliches that you hear banded about advertising agencies is the phrase “your strategy is showing”.

It is usually used by creatives to describe work in which the brand idea is not totally obscured by the creative execution. And by weak planners to explain why their thinking isn’t in the work.

I can’t speak for you but as far as I am concerned strategies should scream out from communications.

I mean why have them if they don’t?

When you think about campaigns like Avis’s ‘we try harder’, BA’s ‘the world’s favourite airline’, Stella’s ‘reassuringly expensive’, BT’s ‘it’s good to talk’, the AA’s ‘fourth emergency service’ or Honda’s ‘power of dreams’ it is bleeding obvious what the brand is up to, the strategy stands out like a modesty at a new business meeting.

Creative work should engage people, provide an emotional connection, build memorability, invite people to join the conversation, absorb them in the moment, build emotional desire and all of those wonderful things that it does. But it should also dramatise the strategy.

I can’t for the life of me think why you wouldn’t want your strategy showing unless of course it is so lifeless and limp that 10,000 volts wouldn’t bring the bloody thing to life.

If that is the case then burying it under layers of creative artifice and never speaking of it again is the least you can do.

Maternal brands – how deep is the love?

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Andrex – part of my life since 1969. Image courtesy of Mezhopking

My father recently bought a new car and almost immediately ran the battery down because he left the hazard warning lights on all night.

Anyway, he was telling me this story when suddenly he said he had sorted the problem by calling the RAC out. He might as well have told me that he was sleeping with a woman that was not my mother.

The RAC! That is not how we were brought up! We were an AA family, always have been, always will be. I was shattered. What next? Swinging? Gun crime? Voting Tory?

The AA is what I call a maternal brand. I was brought up with it and like my other maternal brands I find it familiar and comforting.

And alongside Persil, Fairy Liquid, Andrex, Anchor butter and Heinz tomato ketchup, I choose it without consideration of the alternatives and without substitution.

Having the keys to a brand, that for sufficient numbers of people is a maternal brand, should be a licence to print money.

But these brands are under a new threat beyond the traditional own label foe.

They are under threat because they don’t believe in the stuff we believe in, indeed they often don’t believe in anything.

Separated by a common language

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The Wassily chair, designed by Marcel Breuer in 1925 – anyone remember any ads made that year? Image courtesy of Alex Terzich.

My first love is design.

I got into advertising by accident. I was all set to become an industrial designer, when irresistable lure of Geography took me away from the path of righteousness (which is another story).

And a love of design is handy these days since it is looming ever larger in the lives of advertising people.

For one thing identity is no longer content to sit in the bottom right hand corner of the ads but demands to play a bigger role – sometimes with brilliant results (the Guardian) and sometimes in less edifying form (O2). We have to recognise that identity rich advertising is here to stay and that ads that ignore identity feel somehow distant from the brand.

We are also starting to see the value of design in-house
not just to dress up weak ideas but as a distinct practice allowing us to extend our role within Client businesses.

Finally I think we all admire the way that designers make stuff at every stage of the process when so often our ideas exist simply as words on paper right down to the point of production. Designers know that producing stuff means that they win clients over on a very emotional level.

But anyone in advertising or design that has worked closely with the other will know that a truely collaborative relationship is not easy.

Part of the problem is that, just like the relatioship between the US and UK, advertising and design are separated by a common language.

Advertising is not a profession

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Ede and Ravenscroft of Chancery Lane, specialists in gowns, wigs and other legal paraphernalia. Photo courtesy of avtost

People still seem very keen to join advertising agencies, and in particular to become planners. And why not its a brilliant job.

One of the key questions is always how to get in. Since on the outside this can seem an utterly impenetrable industry.

And just to save anyone the trouble of traipsing to Clerkenwell for a nasty cup of coffee to ask me in person, the truth is I don’t know.

There isn’t a formal way in because there are no qualifications whatsoever that you need to have under your belt to do this job.

And that is because it is a trade and not a profession.

Another nail in the coffin for CRM

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Violetta meets her consumptive end in La Traviata. Image courtesy of Steven Ford.

One of the great delights of advancing middle-age is that you can decide that some things are just not your cup of tea.

You can say categorically that you just can’t be doing with them. You’ve tried them, often repeatedly and you just don’t like them.

I feel that way about opera. I love virtually all performing arts, but I hate opera. In fact I genuinely believe that there are two types of people in the world, people that don’t like opera and liars.

And I have come to the same conclusion about Customer Relationship Marketing or CRM as the acronym freaks like to call it.

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