Brand… Shaken, not Stirred
“Basic principles… there are none,” thus exclaims Will Smith, the Hitch doctor.
How true, for the entire advertising domain is increasingly characterized by an absence of rules. The traditional models are getting demolished (not a hard word, mind it), what with frenetic pace of things, complexity of a multiple degree ruling the roost.
But then is this rule-less world slipping into anarchy. It seems.
No doubt the advertising agency has come to stay. The field has evolved, and no one dare question the raison detre of advertising work being outsourced to an ad agency. The enlightened corporate has also acknowledged the need for a marketing communication staffer, the marcom guy. These two should thereby be free of existential insecurities, free of the onus of proving every now and then they are required. The quantum of work these two manage coupled with enormity of involuted and convoluted nitty-gritties would be beyond the capabilities of a vanilla marketing department. However, the role contours have been blurred and not keeping pace with other macro-managerial changes hitting the commercial realm. Time to mature to a higher plane is staring.
But in this “no rule” works anymore universe, how exactly is a large corporate entity moving. Is it dependent on the navigation prowess of the marcom guy? or is it driven by the stalwarts of the agency (ies)on record (AOR)? On one hand we have the insufferable quackery of the interventionist (read obstructionist or if you please distortionist) attitude of the marcom person, someone who has prematurely taken the mantle of coordinating marketing communication of a corporate (with so many more wet behind the ears ad world smart alecs lined up to flee the ad world and join the corporate clients). of course one can sympathize with the defanged marcom soul, burdened by conflicting reporting and decision-making structures, hardly having any empowerment worth the name.
On the other hand we have the egoistical bullying of the experts in the hired ad agency, who snigger at lack of real ad-world gyan of the corporate client. Their contempt for the illiteracy and ignorance of the corporate client is thinly veiled beneath their please all approach. The ad agency cares two hoots about the small client, and labors on selling limited 360 degree expertise to the large client, eager to elicit a quick yes to this or that creative campaigns, mounting hyped hassles of deadlines, fueling impatience of the marketing departments.
And in this tussle, the larger corporate client’s marketing objectives are being clouded and sidelined.
Once the problem is perceived to be a genuine one, the natural instinctive reflex is to seek remedies. Necessarily we needn’t admit silently to rule-lessness being equated to chaos, there is in fact orderliness in every chaos. It shall be fruitful to examine various analogues. Accordingly, we come up with “the brand club” model. Let us understand this panacea (!).
Idea is the boss
Firstly, rule-lessness is to be seen as a progressive step. It simply states “idea is the boss”. Stilted stiff-roled stereotypes deserve no sanctity, whosoever can voice a powerful idea. An environment that nurtures this belief and doesn’t kill superlative ideas under egos and officialese is the need. Mingling of classic roles is not an abominable movement, it is to be welcomed. There can’t be a we versus them credo; the finger points at the marcom people and the multiple ad agencies. Rather than one-upmanship, co-existence is the way out. In fact co-optition amongst all 360 degrees managing agents is not to be evaded, confronted or denied. Learn to live with it and discover the beauty of various agents converging, all contributing their individually distinctive shades of the rainbow.
Brand vs tactical advertising
Secondly, and more importantly, reinvent the vital importance of that critical concept, the Brand. In the melee of role conflicts and perplexing landscape of thousand mediums, the creative has come to dominate, inflicting bruising of the brand. Stop mindless knocking down of the brand. Realize that all said and done, brand takes years of intelligent spending, and like goodwill, is a valuable asset of business. Do not be misled by the young Turks denouncing the brand: long term strategic vision can never be substituted with tactical maneuvering, both have their respective status. Brand pollution is inadmissible. Yea, reshaping the concept ‘what exactly is brand’ is a healthy introspection. Even separating brand from product advertising is a good option, which implies partnering with one ad agency only for brand guidelines, and other ad agencies for the operations.
Thirdly, it needs a diagnosis of why the focus has shifted to short-term, thus relegating brand to background. The maddening pressure of pace has been used as an excuse. But probably fed by intellectual depravity, the way out has been sadly thrusting “one size shoe fits all” prescription. There is a parallax error. Brand offers the unifying thread, it should speak the same message to all people across all space-time dimensions. But its rendition is not to be a clone of one prime version. Typically, all copywriters ‘think English’ and then transliterate it to vernaculars, often creating hilarious outcomes. Appreciation is needed that you ought to think Hindi for the Hindi segment, think Spanish for the Spanish segment, think government for the government segment. The visuals can be different, rather, the visuals have to be different. Think segment is the needed paradigm shift. Cease raping of every segment’s sensibilities by forcing down the same generic pill. The brand prism stays the same, the way it is communicated to various segments: regional, demographic, psychographic, needs separate thinking. This is hard work, but the challenge in facing change was not finding the easy way out. In fact pushing the same itsy-bitsy fine tuned version for various segments shows fundamental insensitivity to the very coping the change demands. Value every consumer segment for its differentness of character, cater and pamper its individuality, do not dullen its distinctive wants. The world is beautiful on account of its heterogeneity, no?
Integration marketing communication – who will bell the cat?
Fourthly, and lastly, how do we manage this act of coexistence/ co-optition between marcom people and ad agencies and various segment needs, still maintaining brand purity? Like all solutions, here too reading the problem correctly shows the right tao. The need for multiplicity of roles and perspectives classically has been avoided; all conflicts are having been taken as taboo and best to be avoided. Research and experience have shown variations in approaches bringforth most creative and appropriate solutions. Nevertheless, integration is needed. Friction can be too much of a drag too. So, what to do? Simple, bring in an outside consultant. Before you peremptorily shoot down this idea, let it be stated that this consultant doesn’t have his KRA as to how many opinions he gave, how many were accepted. Let him give no opinion, let him give tens. Let none be accepted, let all be accepted, doesn’t matter. His job is to provide fresh perspectives, to mentor the marcom persons, be a sounding wall to the loneliness of the marcoms. His job again is not to needle the ad agencies, he isn’t a mother-in-law, he is a mother. He brings wisdom to the scene, not knowledge. Yes, he does occasionally enact the role of disrupter, innovations originate in disruptive mode. Final decision-making rests with marcom people, the consultant sees to it ideas rule and such ideas rule that make the brand grow.