The era of brand overload


Branding, in general, requires a rebrand according to Kevin Hill, founder of UK-based agency The Council.

Speaking at the recent PromaxBDA Africa Conference in Johannesburg Hill maintained that brand managers and marketers have to challenge themselves to look at the position brands play in daily life.

“I think that brands have become democratised. Today’s audiences are demanding a passionate relationship and real dialogue with brands,’ he continued. “Brand managers should never put people into boxes or they will be out of step with their audiences. It’s important that we never lose sight of the real lives that our audiences live because this lies at the core of what we do as brand managers,’ said Hill.

He should know what he’s talking about, having worked with brands such as Discovery Networks International and News Corp. Hill was also the visual brains behind the branding of Dave, UKTV’s hit channel.

“That itch’

At PromaxBDA Africa Hill questioned whether things have really changed since the days depicted in the hit TV series, Mad Men, which revolves around an advertising agency in the early 1960s.

“The lead character Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) is all about creating “that itch’. So, are brand managers and ad executives still trying to create that same itch today? People are becoming more suspicious of brands. We’ve gone from monolithic brands to too much choice – a sweetshop of shiny new things where everything looks the same.

“This sameness results in fatigue of choice with the result that consumers can’t make active choices. To get out of this problem brands create their own language, which in turn creates more consumer cynicism. It’s an invented difference which is not authentic,’ commented Hill.

He quoted, as an example, the different names Starbucks has created for varying take-away coffee cup sizes – “Tall’, “Grande’, “Venti’ and “Trenta’.

Invented double speak

Hill maintained that this invented difference is new rather than true. “We do this to try and stand out but it’s meaningless and the world is full of this invented double speak that’s empty and means nothing. A good example is the campaign pay-off line of England’s Metropolitan Police: “Working together for a safer London’. It’s a silly line because the actual word “police’ implies that anyway.

“Brand managers and advertisers don’t own their brands, the audience does. Consumers are no longer passive and they want to be in a relationship with the brand. If as brand managers you get your communications wrong you will be faced with a raging mob. Remember that your brand only exists in the context of your audience.’
Examples of brands that successfully engage with their audiences are Gap and Dell.

Gap allows people to design their own Gap logo on the Internet, while Dell created “Dell Hell’ where people could vent about their problems with Dell computers.
“Technology companies generally don’t interact with consumers,’ explained Hill, “but Dell used a blogosphere to publicly discuss problems consumers had with their products. This was a revolutionary strategy as their blog was basically saying, “Tell us what’s shit about our products’. It managed to convert angry consumers into “passionate superheroes’ of the Dell brand.

“Change for change’s sake is something consumers react to very strongly. They’ll tell you if they like it or not, as they did with Tropicana’s new branding, which was crap. I think brands can still build honest relationships with consumers but it takes lots of work and don’t go in too strong at the beginning.

“Broken brand promises will be exposed like that of petroleum giant BP, which did dangerous extraction of oil in the Gulf and ignored public protests. I think BP should have gone back to their old brand of a shield as it suggests protection.’

Masters of the universe

Thanks to the blogosphere, Twitter, YouTube and the Internet, nothing stays in the home, which makes consumers the masters of their own universe, according to Hill.
“How do we succeed in this brave new world? In our rush to take part and engage with the Twittterverse, we might miss the point and get it wrong.

“Marmite isn’t an in-between product – you either love it or hate it. So Marmite got consumers to identify themselves and state whether they were Marmite lovers or haters. In this instance a brand’s honesty paid off. Marmite engaged with their loyal fans by creating a Marmite shrine – they handed the brand over to the consumer.

“Orange is also doing innovative things. At the Glastonbury Festival they recognised that cell phone batteries run out at festivals so they created a lot of audience engagement by providing Wellington boots that charged phones if you danced in them.’

Old vs new

Hill defined “old branding’ as being in the corporate context and capturing the consumer, while “new branding’ resides in the consumer context and liberates the consumer.

“New branding is a move into eye-popping truths and not spectacle. A brand is no longer a fortress because the audience wants to engage and be charismatic. Talk honestly in a voice that’s completely true to the brand, like the Dove Real Beauty campaign which breaks through beauty myths. Dove even has a self-esteem fund.
“Also, always be meaningful. Don’t be like the Claudia Schiffer L’Oreal ad for Boswelox, which basically tells women not to smile at their babies because they will get wrinkles.
“We’re all our own brand,’ concluded Hill.

By Joanna Sterkowicz

screen africa magazine – january 2013


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