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  If it gets lambasted and withdrawn tomorrow, I will of course disown all of this and claim I was being ironic.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?

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Beware marketing case studies because they’re mostly pants

Case studies don’tcha love ’em?  They drive me  a little bit nuts.  Let me try and explain with a few examples:
Apple.  Yes it’s a fabulous brand.  Yes it’s hugely successful.  But every single commentator attributes Apple’s success to something different.  It’s all about user experience.  No it’s because people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.  No it’s because it unleashed your inner creativity.  Or it’s a tribute to the personal vision of one man.  Some or all of these may be true. But most of the people presenting the case studies don’t work for Apple.  What does that tell you?
Dove.  I admire Dove as much as the next man.  I even know the background to the firming lotion campaign which initiated the ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’.  But where is it in their marketing?  It’s gone.  Disappeared.  Lost.  Last weekend I saw advertising for Dove’s hair care and antiperspirant and they don’t even have any reference to CFRB.  In truth it’s been missing for some years.  It’s just a casting brief and a white background.  Which is nice, but it hardly justifies all the excitement about brands with purpose, making the world a better place, testament to Unilever’s commitment to sustainable living blah blah etc.
Virgin.  You never hear two accounts of Virgin which have anything in common, except we can broadly agree they’re a challenger brand.  And they’re red.  True deeply meaningful brand essence or matching luggage?  You decide.
I used to have a boss who often presented Direct Line Insurance as the paradigm of marketing success.  My next boss after that would hold up Direct Line as the kind of marketing we should avoid at all costs.  I give in.
All great brands.  All useless case studies.  IMHO.