Brand Ideas far and beyond advertising

(And yes, the evergreen fear of extinction for strategic planners…)

Richard Huntington shares his view on the relationship between Brand Ideas and advertising on his AdLiterate.

His view is that advertising used to be large enough to fit the simple, modest ideas of the past, but today’s potent brand thought is too big to be restrained by traditional adv. He’s suggesting to “free advertising from the need to represent the entirety of the brand idea and recognise that other disciplines are capable of doing this in a richer and more rewarding way”, and that “for many brands it is their online experience that should be delivering the big brand idea in all its technicolour glory. “

While I agree about the limits of traditional adv, I don’t think that drawing a line between adv (for sales) and web (for experience) is the right path for today’s challenges, nor that it pays full justice to the opportunities for integration that multimedia technology is offering us.

The reason why we’ve been spending a number of years trying to talk our way out of advertising and into communication, is that we should think at communication as a package, with different pieces along different media (and different purposes), but all related to the same idea, that consumers can engage with. Think at a tv commercial introducing a product that can be better explained and personalized on a website. Or a print teaser and tv trailer redirecting to a website where you can be entertained on a given Brand Idea, and then download discount coupons to be redeemed at your neighbourhood store. How can we separate tv from web? Or why should we?

Think at Axe’s “Gamekillers“. Or BK’s “Have it your way”, a brand idea that paves the way for most of the brand’s communication.

Or we can change our point of view and look at brand communication with consumers just like your relationship with your friends. If you want them to come to your party (ie. sell your product), maybe you text them/twitter them/email them first in advance; you’ll have spent time with them already so they know if you’re fun/friendly/smart/sexy, and how welcome your invitation is; you then call them and tell them something more about the party to engage them; you might post pictures of the club where you throw it on the web to get them excited; you might even arrange for a ride for them to get to the place; while at the party, you make sure that they’re enjoying themselves, and that you spend some time with each one of them.

Are you doing each of this to strengthen your bond with them, or just to get them to come to your party? How can you draw a line?

On the other hand I think that what Richard is saying is that the web offers better opportunities for engagement and intercation, and that’s true, of course. Just like tv is probably still the best place to say “Limited edition – 99 cents – Expires next Sunday”.

Now the sad part: as with litterally anything that is happening in advertising (or communication, ok…) this sounds a good enough excuse for someone to announce the upcoming death of planning. And judge it “,these days at least, an utterly futile activity (and a very dull career).” Apparently that’s because the really cool brands (Apple, Starbuck’s, Nike) “do not and have never needed Planners to tell them what they’re about”.

I don’t get it.

First, saying that no (adv agency) Planners worked on that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been planned at all. They have been planned by their founder (and their mates). I believe it’s due to the usual mistake of thinking at strategic planning as if it was a position on a business card, rather than an activity.

Second, there’s loads of other cool brands that have been planned by, guess who?, strategic planners. (Take Axe).

I’m always amazed at how often I stumble upon mournings for strategic (or account, or brand) planners. My opinion is that our work is so detached by any kind of specialization, or structure, or execution, that it will always be relevant, in one way or another. We can change employer, workmates, routines, tools, but we’re probably going to be around for longer than lots of the people we meet everyday, who face a more serious threat than us (journalists, anchormen, tv-focused creatives, some researchers…)

Final Burp: in the same article someone is pointing out how today’s powerful brand ideas are not only outer brand messages, but they can also be relevantly applied within the company, thus getting closer to a brand vision. (Take Dirt is good, or Power of Dreams). This makes much sense now that the boundaries between the brand, the company, the corporation and the society are falling apart.

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