Brands with purpose; the story do far

‘Brands with purpose’ were all the rage for about twenty minutes or so.  Unilever said it was the right thing to do.  So obviously it was the right thing to do.

Then came Pepsigate.  An overzealous attempt to appropriate a world of virtuous resistance against all the evil in the world, while simultaneously calling for world peace, racial harmony and please can we all just start being nice to each other again.  Remember the anti-Vietnam war poster with the girl putting the flower in the barrel of the soldier’s gun?  Except Pepsi misjudged the popular mood and was ridiculed.

My own view is that, while Pepsi’s attempt to tap into this ‘purpose’ was pretty woeful, it wasn’t so much worse than a lot of other work from other brands who just about got away with it.  Pepsi didn’t have any credits in the bank here (as opposed to Coke for example who do) so once social media turned against them, the hole just got deeper and deeper.  Before they knew it, they were a laughing stock and had to withdraw the advertisement in question.  This in turn made them headline news and so doubly a laughing stock.

Harsh but fair.

This debacle has spawned a host of ‘told you so’ coverage.  Most of it is simply accountable to people wanting to score points by dancing on Pepsi’s grave (who wouldn’t?)  I’ve seen lots of other corporate pap which is equally risible, but escaped with barely a word of censure (special mention here for Hewlett Packard’s corporate video).

But I did quite enjoy this:

Moving on, in the wake of Pepsigate, brands should be getting very wary of doing the vision thing.  This idea for Heineken was, presumably, too far advanced to pull out.  In a worlds where Pepsi is ridiculed, this shouldn’t work either.  But it does.  Why?

Two reasons:

  1. Heineken is a brand we like.  It has a history of entertaining us and being witty.  It’s not explicitly a crusading brand (like say, Dove whose influence is very evident here) but it’s well-meaning enough to be credible.
  2. The craft.  It’s very nicely done.

That’s my opinion today.  If it gets lambasted and withdrawn tomorrow, I will of course disown all of this and claim I was being ironic.

And you fell for it right?

Two cheers for IKEA


I’m sort of loving the new TV commercial for IKEA.  Mostly.  Well, largely.  If I have a quibble, it’s that this looks like an idea that has been sitting in someone’s bottom drawer for a while waiting for an opportunity to be wheeled out.

Creatively fabulous, but strategically?

IKEA’s proposition of informality is simple, relevant and attractive.  It’s also ownable for them and it’s creatively fertile.  I see the new line is ‘Let’s relax’.  Fair enough.  That’s also succinct enough to be memorable.  It’s just that poking fun at our obsession with sharing food photos or seeking approval from others is funny and insightful – but it  isn’t really a statement about informality.  Do you post food pics on Facebook because you crave others’ approval?  I don’t think so.

National Treasure

I was lucky enough to attend a talk last night by Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC entitled ‘Why I love the BBC’.  If the boss of any other organisation was billed under such a title, it would appear at best sycophantic, at worst deluded.  But for the Beeb it’s the most natural thing in the world.  It is simply the most loved brand you will ever come across.

Bizarre then that the last few weeks have been riddled with news stories about how the authorities (Ministry of Culture and stuff) was keen to make fundamental changes, increasing government control, slashing funding and so on.

Happily, the White paper announced yesterday appears to have missed most of the main demands of the attack dogs.  But it’s weird that such a revered institution has seemingly been under fire in this way.

Martin Kettle wrote a nice piece in the Guardian, in which he says:

Be very clear about the BBC white paper. In almost any other country in the world this would not be happening at all. Beyond Britain the BBC is universally revered. It stands for excellence and independence; and because of that excellence and independence, it stands above all for reliability. There is no other engine of soft power to touch it on the planet.

There’s only one country in the world where the idea that the BBC needs shaking up, taking down, and kicking around has any serious currency. That country, to the disbelief and consternation of much of the rest of the world right now, is Britain.

Boaty McBoatface: joke or humiliation – you decide

This week, Mark Ritson, Marketing Professor, Marketing Columnist of the Year and general Wise Man of Marketing took exception to the public’s choice of Boaty McBoatface in a crowdsourcing exercise to choose the name for the National Environment Research Council’s (NERC) new polar research ship.  Up to this point, most commentators had seen it as bit of harmless fun.  It  restored their faith in the British public’s sense of humour and their desire to prick the balloon of pomposity that generally surrounds these things.


Ritson believes this story proves the public would rather humiliate your brand than engage with it.  As he puts it:

“The NERC’s competition to name its new boat is the latest in a cavalcade of crowdsourcing disasters, demonstrating that consumers are a bunch of brand-haters.”

Even worse than that, as he warms to his theme:

“In the happy, completely detached world of digital marketing there is a common fallacy that the sarcastic brand-hating bastards that populate the planet are actually an army of jovial optimists who simply cannot wait to engage with your organisation on social media.  Unless you grasp the dystopian nature of consumer culture, you miss the inherent danger.”

I’m a great respecter of Mark Ritson and I think I understand what he’s driving at.  There’s a lot of nonsense talked about brands and social media.  Brands are an unwelcome intrusion in social media just as they were “the unwelcome guest in your living room” when we were talking about TV ads in the old days.  But it’s overstating it to say we hate brands (except maybe Marmite – truly the Devil’s work).

As Plan B said “Hating takes too much energy”.  We’re simply not that bothered.  And if we get the chance to take the piss and suggest a daft name for something we previously never knew existed – so much the better.  How we laughed.

The point here is that in the real world, brands aren’t such a big deal.  They exist mostly to make our choices easy – to provide defaults and heuristics (sorry, jargon alert, won’t do it again, and I definitely won’t launch into Andrew Ehrenberg’s weak theory of advertising). They’re only really there so we don’t have to think about trivial stuff.  And honestly, it doesn’t get any more trivial than the name of the NERC’s polar exploration vessel.

As Ritson points out, there is some previous on the ‘daft names’ front. Take a look at the following – this is what happened when US juice drink Mountain Dew asked for suggestions to name a new apple drink:


I don’t think they used the name.  But I hope NERC do.



Told you so

This blog has previously celebrated the marketing genius of Protein World.  Last year they harnessed the outrage of the chattering classes, shooting from obscurity to become a household name on a marketing budget of five and a half pence .


It’s debatable whether they actually set out to achieve any of this with their fabulously outrage-ready poster on the London Underground – ‘Are you beach-body ready?’

Either way, they were laughing all the way to the bank and very sensibly, they’ve followed up by building on the theme.  This year they will be sponsoring Geordie Shore and Ex on the Beach.  I’m not a regular viewer of these series but I do have teenage children so I’ve picked up the basics: I’m assured that hot women (and men) wearing very little figure prominently.  Bikinis?  Tick. Flesh?  Tick.  Sexual tension?  Tick Tick Tick.  Outrage? Meh.



Mike Ashley: marketing genius?

Let’s hear it for one of marketing’s great ideas that’s almost universally unrecognised.  Yes it’s the humble Sports Direct mug.  You’ve got one.  I’ve got one.  We’ve all got one, possibly several.  Every time you buy something (come on, you can admit it, we’ve all been there) from Sports Direct online, you get one of these oversized mugs, like it or not.  And even though it’s frankly rather ugly (and it tells the world  you shop at Sports Direct) your sustainability-driven conscience won’t let you throw it out. So you keep this tiny advertisement for Mike Ashley’s sports empire on show in your home for ever. The cost to him is about a quarter to a fifth of bugger all.  And your lovely home even gives Sports Direct a kind of genteel respectability.  It’s utterly brilliant.


Banks and bondage

The-new-Metro-Bank-openin-001 Oops

The other day I used Metro Bank as an example of a challenger brand in a presentation. So partly in the name of research and partly through idle curiosity, I went to visit my local Metro Bank to find out more.
The initial experience was a bit like going to your local Italian restaurant where they try so hard to make you feel comfortable, it becomes, well, a bit uncomfortable.
On entry, I’m greeted by a teenager in a suit, who shakes my hand and asks which name I’d prefer him to use. The temptation to be facetious here is almost but not quite overwhelming. He gets me a cup of coffee and introduces me to an advisor at one of the desks situated around the edges of the large open space. The advisor is well-drilled, friendly, competent and he knows his products inside out. I’m impressed. After chatting about this and that, he introduces me to the Manager, who is friendly too. It’s all very nice.
So why am I sounding a bit sniffy about the whole thing? Surely, this customer-first friendly approach backed by competent, knowledgeable staff is just what we’ve been asking for.
Well yes and no.

First, there’s a certain night-club bouncer quality to the polite young men who aren’t quite themselves in pin-stripes.

Secondly, going back to the restaurant analogy, I remember reading recently that we secretly enjoy being intimidated by the sommelier and the arrogant Maitre D’. It’s a peculiarly British thing, apparently bound up with  self loathing and desire to be dominated. So on that basis, my instinctive suspicion of the good service I was offered at Metro Bank is because I want my relationship with my bank to be one of Dominated and Dominatrix.
That explains everything. I fully expect my next brand workshop to include exercises like ‘what kind of sex do you want with this brand?’