Marius on Strategy and Communication

What it says on the tin

Nice Brands Finish Last

I’ve always liked the metaphor of brands as human beings, with a complex personality, values, coherent behaviour and so forth. However, when recently watching the planning salon interview with Mark Tomblin of Taxi, I was made aware of one major shortcoming of this metaphor. Relationships between human beings imply another level of reciprocity than brands can offer.

Brands can never engage in genuine interpersonal relationships, no matter how many comments they respond to on Faceswapchat, because brands are not people. They are a different entity entirely. While I still think the metaphor is useful, we have to be careful how we use it, and instead seek to better define the true nature of the relationship between brands and people. Only then can we figure out what roles brands should play. And I suspect it will look different from the whole best friend/intimate lover bandwagon which all the brands are jumping on these days. 

Faced with researchers armed with indecipherable big data and the flavour-of-the-day nature of social media, brands are chasing trends and consumers like headless chickens, terrified of missing out and of offending anyone. The insistence on dialogue and one-on-one relationships over broadcasts and mass communication has gone too far. In order for a brand to have any power it first has to first be famous and enter our collective consciousness. Only then will it take on meaning and acquire the ability to define culture and individuals. Until then they’re just pushing products. If you spend all of your marketing budget on intimate conversations on Flickspacetwit with loyal customers, you have to ask yourself exactly how this is supposed to add value and to and grow your brand.

The relationship between brands and people is not an equal relationship. Brands are authorities, and they have to start acting like it. 

Brands today are too nice, too afraid of not pleasing every single person. If brands are to fulfil their potential as leaders and cultural icons they have to grow some balls and start standing for something more than “life is beautiful” and “the world is so inspirational” and stop “celebrating you and your amazing life”. There is, for example, nothing less inspirational on this planet than a Commonwealth Bank ad featuring an old musician, telling you “yes, you can”. 

Dare to provoke, dare to be different, dare to disagree and dare to offend and they will start caring. Some will agree, others disagree, but at least they will care.

As I’ve written about before, brands have to stop thinking they can be loved. Our goal should instead be to create brands that are admired. That implies being liked and respected while at the same time being slightly out of reach. It implies confidence. A bit like the older cool guys two years above you dates the hot girl sitting next to you. You may have carried her books, skipped D&D night to give her private lessons and let her copy your homework all semester, but nice doesn’t stand a chance against interesting, exciting and rebellious. 


You’re just ‘her friend’ that she takes advantage of, just like your loyal customers who you bribe with prizes and discounts to like you on Instavinesnap+.

These are the same people that you, desperate to be liked by, bend over backwards simply to show you understand intimately. ‘We get you’ as Youi says. Problem is people don’t really care. 

We have to stop holding up a mirror to people and simply telling them who they are, what they like to do and how they lead their lives. Trust me, they know. Showing that ‘we get you’ through a bunch of vignettes do little more than demonstrating that ‘dude, you don’t get me at all’. 

Brands from all categories blend into an ocean of white noise totally devoid of personality and meaning. Show you know me by developing products I want and a brand I can relate to.

What’s missing here, more than anything, is ideas at the core of the strategy – the leap from research findings (which are the same as your competitors’ anyway) to a meaningful expression, a relevant problem to solve, a brand purpose beyond pushing products. Most ads on TV these days seem to have used the latest market research as their shooting script. The vast majority of brands simply push their product despite their efforts to disguise it. Sorry to pick on CBA, but ‘Commbank Can’ for example, is neither a big idea nor a brand positioning. It’s simply a device for pushing product messages down people’s throats. 

In Australia at the moment, with everybody being so nice, there is ample opportunity in every category for someone with a bit of confidence and attitude to become someone who people give a shit about. 


3 comments on “Nice Brands Finish Last

  1. David
    February 7, 2014

    Dude. This is great.

  2. fridaynightmovies
    February 7, 2014

    Thanks mate!

  3. Paul Robert Southgate
    February 10, 2014

    Great work, Marius. Love it!

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This entry was posted on February 5, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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