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Future of brands: Changing the NOW of Advertising


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An essay I wrote on defining the Future of Brands as part of the IPA Excellence Diploma

Published in: Business, Technology

Future of brands: Changing the NOW of Advertising

  1. 1. On brands and their future IPA Excellence DiplomaModule 1: The future of brands will be... Waqar Riaz, RAPP London
  2. 2. ‘You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea.’ Pablo Picasso (right) 1Sources: Image Courtesy of Flickr availaible at
  3. 3. The future of brands we serve is in changing the NOWof advertising.I really don’t know what the future of brands will be and neither do I want to make a prediction about their future. What you readabove is just a ‘hypothesis’ not a definite answer. In the next few pages the quest is all about taking a pause and understanding theenvironments surrounding brands and the role of advertising within those environments. And hopefully if we can understand thoseenvironments and how they are changing then we may have an idea of what the future of brands could look like and what it meansfor our industry, instead of a mere ‘hypothesis’.It is a common practice to define the future of brands via one golden egg. Be it data, communities, children, co-creativity, experienceetc. there’s always one thing that brings us hope. However, don’t you think it’s a bit desperate to confine the future of a thing ascomplicated as a brand in one vertical? Perhaps, we always try to approach ‘Brand’ future through the eyes of the agency?Also, there’s much more buzz available on the future of brands than actual understanding of what ‘brands’ are, how they evolve andthe affect they have on the societies they live in.So, before we start any conversation on the topic of brands, we must have an idea of ‘what is a brand?’. Let’s begin by understandingbrands first and their future later...
  4. 4. ‘If at first, an idea is not absurd, then there’s no hope for it’. Albert Einstein (left) 2 Brands are nothing but identities of faith, built through offering meaningful promises and experiences to the communities they serve. This is certainly not a new concept. Jim Carroll, one of the world’s best brains in advertising and account planning explains this as follows; ‘A brand is a shared belief. Great brands are believed more profoundly and shared more broadly.’ In explaining characteristics of great brands, he adds ‘Great brands are verbs: they inspire thoughts, feelings and actions.’ If we pick the above definition of brands and research then we realise that brands were born way before 1876, when someone ‘registered’ a word. For example, when Homer used OX as the base currency for goods around 850 B.C. and valued the bronze armour of Diomedes worth nine Oxens. He suddenly turned OX into a brand by offering a utility around the value of oxens (endorsed by him), which was certainly more than the actual value of oxens and immediately accepted by the community of his followers. Or when God sent the Bible & the Quran to His believers, He suddenly turned the value of those books from the rest of the books, by offering a promise through them (heaven) to the community of His believers. Let’s now briefly look at the key forces that are fundamentally important for the existence of brands and how they grow, based on above learnings (Fig 1); Brand owner: This is someone who represents a brand. The initial and longterm success of a brand is hugely dependant on the understanding of brand owner of the value and importance of brands. In the case of ox ‘Homer’ was the brand owner and in the case of Bible and Quran, God is the brand owner. Brand community: This is the group of people for which the brand exists. Brands can’t exist without communities of their believers. The growth of brands is directly dependant on the growth of the communities they serve. In the case of OX ‘Homer’s society’ was the brand community and in the case of Bible & Quran, Christians and Muslims are the brand communities.Sources: 2. Image courtesy of Flickr available at,,
  5. 5. Brand communicator: This is the authority that promotes a certain brand. It brings the brand to life by demonstrating its use inpractice and communicating its benefits in the form of utilities, experiences or promises. In the case of OX, this was bronze armourof Diomedes and in the case of Bible & Quran, it was the prophets. Fig.1: Key contributors in the development and evolution of brands Brand Brand Owner Communicator Brand: identity of faith Brand community Based on the discussion we have had so far, one thing is very obvious. Brands are not built in isolation or by one entity. They are a result of hybrid efforts. Let’s take this conversation to the next level and bring it in today’s world. Let’s try to understand the state of brand owners (clients), brand communicators (agencies), and brand communities (people/ consumers) in 2011 and we may find ourselves lucky enough to understand what our future could look like.
  6. 6. People
  7. 7. Agriculture society Industrial society Information society Data Created from the dawn of Civilization - 2003 Whenever new technology is introduced, it changes the way a society operates. Data created in the past 48 hours For example, industrial technology changed the agriculture society and similarly 5 the information technologies are changing the models of industrial society. It 3.75 doesn’t just change the way people connect and earn but it also evolves their way 2.5 of thinking and behaviours. 1.25 One of the biggest changes introduced by the information age technologies is to 0 take the creation of information from the hands of few to everyone. No wonder why Exabytes we create the same amount of information every 48 hours that we created from 3 the dawn of civilisation until 2003. To put it in numbers that is 5 exabytes of data created every 48 hours. Google itself admits that 35% of the information created using world wide webs is wasted, as they don’t have the capacity to index it. And this is just the beginning. The birth of a publishing society: So, what it really means for us as marketers and advertising professionals. It means that the community we used to inform has evolved from being consumers of the information to the creators and consumers of information. We have become a publishing society from a consumer only society. And the line between old and new is getting thinner with each passing day. The battle of control and data abundance: As marketers and advertising professionals we have always controlled every piece of information related to our brand communities or at least tried to. However, when human communities are creating huge amounts of information (data), the biggest concern raised in the advertising and marketing worlds is how to control all this data (one way or another). This is hilarious, as it clearly shows that we don’t want to change and certainly don’t want to let go of our ‘Control’ mindset. Let’s be honest, there’s no way on God’s earth that we can control all the information / data created by the communities. It’s just impossible, otherwise, Google would not be letting go of 35% of the information created by people of the world. We just have to admit that it’s a different society we live in today and frankly we don’t need to control all the information either. However, it certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make ourselves better through understanding all this user generated data. We must build skills to make use of relevant information.Sources: 3., Images Courtesy of Google Images.
  8. 8. What it means for our industry It is not the data / information that is causing the trouble, but our inability to ask the right questions or have the right mindset to understand this new user generated data. In moving forward, we first have to let go of our control mindset and secondly, we have to ask ourselves what we really need to know and what we don’t. The problem today is not that we have a filter failure to capture all the user generated information, but that we are not asking the right questions and want just too much. The moment we ask the right questions and seek relevant information things become increasingly simple. Advertising with the people NOT to the people: For decades we have performed the role of a middleman between the brands and their communities. And it worked very well (Fig 2). We are used to telling people, however, if we want to craft a prosperous future for the brands we serve then we have to let go of the ‘telling’ mindset. This is because our communities can now tell us what they really need from a brand. And if we work with them in advertising a particular brand then they start using their information creation ability for our brand (Fig 3). So, I ask what is really more impactful, an ad agency advertising a brand to the people or advertising it with the people (i.e. giving people the ability to participate in the communications process and create it with the brand)? Fig.2: Advertising to people Brand Agency People Fig.3: Advertising with people Brand People AgencySources: Google Images, Google Search
  9. 9. Clients
  10. 10. On describing the attitude of western marketers towards people (consumers), Simon Clift ( top right), former CMO, Unilever explains, ‘I believe part of consumers scepticism about brands derives from the way brands behave and the way brand managers behave. I think it is a fair accusation that western marketers take themselves too seriously.’ 4 Let’s admit it, as brand owners we are becoming obsessed with controlling the people. And the information age isn’t really helping this attitude. We take consumers of our brands as the enemies of our products, who are waiting to go on a war with our brand at any time. According to Guy Murphy, ‘We are promoting a view of consumers as savvy, empowered, marketing sophisticates. These consumers are intolerant of brands getting things wrong, have the highest standards, in control of just about everything, know all the information they need to nowadays, capable of avoiding and rejecting all forms of brand messaging, happy to upload derogatory critiques of brands and products, etc etc.’ 5 And the information revolution is not helping this situation at all. Marketers think consumers are scary and consumers believe that the brands are ‘con’. Sadly, this view of marketing towards consumers is not helping any of us. Marketing fear and the Ad Man dollars: As an industry, we have always celebrated the fact that we know the users of brands better than anyone else. And certainly, that is why marketers look at us when it comes down to finding that killer insight to engage their users. However, I believe that we are taking advantage of the already destructive attitude of marketers. The day we realised that marketers are becoming afraid of consumers, we started to plant more fear in every deck we made after that. On one hand it convinced the already active attitude of marketers towards consumers as a scary character and on the other it started to give our industry ad dollars which marketers were happy to pay (as it supported their definition of the modern consumer). No wonder why most strategists have started to impress their clients with pro-fear strategies, in case consumers galvanise each other to gang up on a brand, taking it to court on Facebook and duff it up on Twitter. I’m worried, as an industry, we are not helping our clients to come out from the state of fear and let go of the serious attitude towards consumers, instead we’re promoting a state of Total Madness.Sources: 4, 5: BOBT, 2010 Guy Murphy Presentation Notes
  11. 11. What it means for our industry Let’s admit changing the serious, full of fear attitude of marketers is not the job of advertising alone. However, what advertising can do is stop promoting the scary picture of consumers to the marketers and instead start introducing a more realistic picture of the consumer. Advertising has an important role to play in the age of total madness. Advertising with a Positive Attitude: In helping marketers take a positive look at the consumers and vice versa, we need to look at consumers, brands and advertising with a optimistic view. Rather than controlling the consumers of a brand at the advertising end, we must start bringing them closer to the brand and vice versa. This way we will not only help brands understand the positive / playful attitude of the modern consumers, but also help consumer understand and interact with brands in a more open and natural way. And above all utilise their information creation abilities in the favour of brands. Let’s admit, people will talk about brands, despite a brand talks to them or not and it will increase in the future. Today, we have to stop being afraid of putting consumers in front of a brand and instead focus on creating dialogue platforms between consumers and brands (Fig. 4). It gets better only: Bacardi Facebook Engagement Platform To end this section, let’s consider the example of Bacardi, where on one hand the advertising agency realised through monitoring and capturing brand related online conversations that there was a huge number of brand enthusiasts talking and discussing their brand with a positive sentiment. On the other hand, the brand owners were afraid of the digital users, which wasn’t very different from what we have discussed in the last few paragraphs To convince the brand owners, the advertising team pulled all the brand related online conversations (which were mainly happening outside brand environments) and identified the audience sentiment was mainly positive. Finally, the decision was made and Bacardi opened its doors to its enthusiasts with an active engagement strategy. Results; within four months of opening the brand-led conversation environment, Bacardi increased its size of community on Facebook platform from 4, 000 to 90, 000+.6Sources: 6, RAPP - Bacardi Case Study, 2010 - 2011
  12. 12. Agencies
  13. 13. Bruce Sinclair (right), my mentor from my university days and creator and Head of MA Advertising at BucksNew University, who has been interacting with the London and New York ad industry from the past 15 years,summarised the state of ad industry over a phone call as, ‘The advertising agencies live in total isolation. Theyare afraid of sharing anything about themselves. They all think they have cracked the way to the future, but sadlynone of them knows where they are going.’I believe one of the reason causing this chaos within the advertising industry is our obsession with the ‘NewShiny Stuff’. Be it data debates, mobile revolution, social networks, twitter trends, Facebook apps, contentoptimisation etc. etc. somehow we are always after the next new thing we can sell to our clients in order to stayahead of the game. However, it’s sad to see that we are building layers and layers of ‘New Shiny Stuff’ on oldrusty thinking, developed over the industrial age (Fig. 5). We still see the people with a broadcast mindset.Otherwise, it would be totally illogical to practice a 60 year-old model of servicing the clients in age whichhas changed rules for every other industry i.e. online banking, iTunes, Amazon, Ebay etc.If we look honestly then our state is no different than a group of people lost in a desert, the moment they see ashiny thing, one of them shouts and runs to it and the crowd follows. Fig. 5 Marketing & Advertising New shiny stuff People Clients (consumers) Same old mindset
  14. 14. Advertising help brands change things for better NOT replicate Picasso said, ‘To copy others is necessary, but to copy oneself is pathetic.’7Sadly, our industry has become obsessed with copying itself (see above). And then when I ask myself, ‘what is the future of brands?’ At least, I don’t see our industry in that future as it stands today. When the same media plan gets copied for each client with minor tweaks, when the same Facebook application gets reskined for ten different campaigns, when the same mobile app gets repeated over and over again with different logos and colours, when creativity is defined by ‘7-step’ rules to create commercials, when the same user-experience is applied after one successful project to all the rest, when the same data dashboard is sold to every single client, when the same strategy is used in all decks with a change of facts and proposition and when the same design is copied by every manufacturer - I see nothing for us in an era which demands real-time creativity. We bluntly call ourselves a creative industry, but what we are really becoming is ‘Impostors’. Let’s admit brands were here before the existence of advertising (as an industry) and they will stay after it. All the time we deny past and talk about the modern age, however, not for a second we feel ashamed for copying the present over and over again to secure our future. We are photocopiers, practicing what Jim Carroll would call ‘Wind Tunnel Marketing’.8Sources: 7 8,
  15. 15. What it means for our industryChange:Change before it’s too late. We can’t expect to apply the decades old model of Account Management, Planning and Creative toengage the hyper-active hybrid consumer. No wonder why we are repeating ourselves over and over again. We are living in an agewhere consumers do not just create, but have the ability to create across multiple verticals i.e. the same person is capable of creatingand uploading a video, posting a blog post, downloading an app, making a comment on a forum, sharing and taking pictures, playingAngry Birds. Let’s accept the painful truth, advertising is getting far away from creativity and turning into a boring, unexcitedprofession. We are desperate for fresh thinking and certainly can’t claim a strong place in the future with a skill-set, that is onlycapable of looking at the world with one eye.Hybrids for the Hyper age:The state of the industry demands new thinking that is as hybrid and diverse as the modern consumers. We can’t change the oldbroadcast model of advertising without creating new roles in advertising. Unless we don’t do this we are not coming out from being‘impostors and photocopiers’. What we need is diversity of new thinking; people from all sorts of background with multi-taskingabilities across different diciplines. The future is not for T-Shaped or Specialists, our industry needs hybrids. Moving forward we justdon’t need creatives but creators of the content; who can think build and create stuff. There’s also no room for a strategist alone butsomeone who can understand audience data, think of right channels and deliver business thinking. Similarly, Account Managementneeds to join forces with Project Management, as when working with clients today on projects, technical understanding is asimportant as relationship building.One can still argue, why do we need these Hybrid Humans. The reason is simple; where information age has introduced manychanges it has also accelerated the speed of creativity (hence 5 Exabytes of data created every 48 hours). Moving forward, as anindustry, we can’t afford to take macro approach when working on advertising campaigns. We have to think, create, deliver andrecreate with the speed of age we live in. To champion true creativity ‘Now’ & ‘Tomorrow’ and avoid becoming ‘impostors’; we mustlook for people who are desperate for change, want to make new things happen and explore creative thinking that lives simplybeyond the creative departments of ad agencies.
  16. 16. Appendix
  17. 17. Example where advertising has worked with people than to them and the success it brought back to the brand. Old spice: You may think from the name that this is going to be all about those hugely successful online videos, where advertising worked with the people to change brand perception over night. However, as we are talking about the ‘mindset’ shift so we should try exploring more than one case where the ‘working with the people’ mentality brought success to the same brand. This is the case of how Old Spice worked with people to introduce Fresh Collection, a line of subtle deodorant scents, among men age 12 to 34. Old Spice worked with Xbox LIVE to host a contest and crowd-source video game development through the XNA developer community. Independent game developers were asked to produce an awesome video game that sends consumers on an underarm adventure to places “Where Freshness Smells From.” Xbox LIVE community were given an opportunity to win $25k by playing trial versions of Old Spice games and voting on their favourites. In the developer community, the person who created the game that garnered the most votes took home $60k. The results: i. There was significant interaction amongst consumers who went to the Old Spice brand destination environment: 57 percent viewed a video, 51 percent learned more about Old Spice offerings, 41 percent voted for their favourite branded game and 25 percent downloaded a game demo. ii. 50% of users took some kind of post-campaign action, including purchase iii. On average people spent 8 minutes and 34 seconds with Xbox Live Old Spice brand environment, compare this with a 30 sec television ad.Sources: Microsoft
  18. 18. On brands and their future IPA Excellence DiplomaModule 1: The future of brands will be... Waqar Riaz, RAPP London