Marius on Strategy and Communication

What it says on the tin

Never Have So Many Brands Spent So Much Money On Saying So Little

Two of Australia’s biggest brands, Optus and Commonwealth Bank, are leading the trend that’s currently sweeping the advertising and marketing industries, key words being one-word strategies and purpose-driven brands. Unfortunately, they’re leading a group of followers, and only because they happen to have the biggest budgets.

It all starts with the fallacy that underlies the so-called brutal simplicity of thought championed by M&C Saatchi, who just so happens to be behind the aforementioned campaigns. However, they are not alone.

Driven by fear of failure and subsequent risk averseness, marketers love the logical step-by-step simmering process that prescribes a reduction of the brand to a limited number of, first functional, then emotional, adjectives. Vulnerable to all kinds of subjective interpretations and semantic acrobatics, M&C are the undisputed masters, boiling potential complexity and richness down to one word. And not just any words, but a deep and meaningful one, like Yes, or Can, or Love. This word is then exposed to a creative explosion where the sky’s the limit, but not in a good way, because what this refers to is the distance between the resulting communication and the actual brand.

These so-called brand platforms are simply glorified USPs. CBA’s Can is nothing but a device for pushing product messages, as is Optus’ Yes. As is Holden’s Think. But this is cleverly disguised with emotional add-ons that are purely executional and have nothing to do with the brand. Not really. Despite well-billed claims to the contrary.

But it doesn’t end there. 

It is the combination of these arbitrary strategies and a misunderstood notion of the second flavour-of-the-day, brand purpose, that has lead to the current tsunami of hollow and pretentious me-too brands.

As opposed to in the 90s, when brands were injected with a healthy dose of skepticism and cynicism (irony in marketing is underrated), today’s brands need a higher purpose – above and beyond their own category. 

Which would be fantastic if it wasn’t for the fact they all get it so wrong.

Marketing group-think interprets purpose almost exclusively as the meaning of life, the pursuit of happiness, or something equally ambitious. It is in this league that any self-respecting brand invites itself to play these days.

They want to save the world, improve our lives and inspire us to be better human beings. NIB says It’s good to be human and tries to take credit for all the wonderful things in life. LG, a 100% factory driven company (as opposed to e.g. marketing driven Apple) says Life’s Good. Commonwealth says we Can do everything we want and Optus says Yes! to life and everything in it. Samsung, another factory driven Korean conglomerate, tailored the new Galaxy for the unique Australian lifestyle (the phone is apparently waterproof because we have water here). Bank of Queensland wants to be loved. Telstra wants to be famous for “caring about their customers’ piece of mind”. Medibank makes a whole generation better. And that’s just from the top of my head. 

Marketing-world’s latest fad is a humble pie-free diet. 

Believing they say something fundamental about the human condition when they say nothing at all.

So-called insights are limited to YOLO clichés and what Gen-Y does on their spare time (which apparently is any combination of backpacking, skydiving, concerts and playing on the beach, all of which are documented with an endless amount of those damn selfies), the implementation of which is limited to a montage of stock footage vignettes featuring the aforementioned activities. And those damn selfies. Or some kittens, because Big Data says that’s really popular with the kids. 

The icing on the cake (or nail in the coffin depending on how you see it) is using real people with real stories. Problem is, these people and their stories end up feeling about as real as the latest episode of The Bachelor. The American version. 

The result is a bunch of me-too brands who all behave like grownups sucking up to the cool kids in a desperate attempt to be invited to play with them. Like Youi, they’re desperate to show that they get you, but in doing so end up mirroring them. Big data gets the creative platitude treatment and we call it an ad. Constantly interrupting our lives, we are fed our dreams back to us with a promise to fulfil them that is so inauthentic, hollow and manufactured it’s apparent to everybody but the navel-gazing marketing industry itself. 

There appears to be an assumption that the amount of emotional buzz-words an ad contains directly correlates with the level of engagement that will be achieved. 

We know you love hanging with your friends by the pool taking selfies, and because you’re awesome and deserve to do so, we have cut our prices yet agin.

Or, like in this Telstra ad, we know you like to download apps and rock some tunes so we have given you more data 

As if.  

And because they bribe people with prizes and discounts to “participate in social media dialogue” they think people fall for it.

When corporate Australia pretends to care about something else than their own bottom line they use the same tricks as hundreds of other brands (their idea of differentiation is measured according to a different scale than for the rest of us). For marketers, the overestimation of their brands’ importance is only matched by the underestimation of their customers’ intelligence. Because the average Australian, and Gen-Y in particular, are actually more marketing savvy than the average marketer. They just haven’t got the MBA or title to prove it.

Brands suffer from an inflated self-image that agencies and their research partners are only too happy to keep inflating. It is, after all, what will keep their billings equally inflated. But for how long? When will there be a voice of reason as influential as the 1950s marketing textbooks still are today that can burst the comfortable bubble in which (most of) our industry lives?

Oh yes, and then there’s the whole content thing as well. Not about to let a buzz-word escape their misinterpretation service, Optus is onboard. When they’re down with the kidz, there’s nothing in this world they cannot do:

Do you disagree? Come on, I know you do. Please let me know why in a comment.


One comment on “Never Have So Many Brands Spent So Much Money On Saying So Little

  1. Pingback: How some marketers are still operating in the 16th century |

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This entry was posted on June 16, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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