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Brand building trends | Why human brands are a terrible idea

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Brand building trends | Why human brands are a terrible idea

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Brands are made for and by humans. Their greatest wish is to connect with humans. So why do they find it so difficult? From jarringly chirpy digital, social & mobile experiences to misguided content marketing efforts, brands’ (and, let’s face it, agencies’) attempts to ‘be more human' often make us cringe.

And now, algorithms and big data means brands know more about us than ever before, and with this their opportunities to ‘act human’ have multiplied exponentially. But in many cases, their brand building efforts are failing: either to be convincing or in adopting the right aspects of humanity. And in so doing they become clingy, nosey or just plain creepy.

So brands face a paradox: the more they try to be human, the more they risk alienating the humans they so want to connect with. So can brands be ‘more human’? Or more importantly…should brands be more human?

Brands are made for and by humans. Their greatest wish is to connect with humans. So why do they find it so difficult? From jarringly chirpy digital, social & mobile experiences to misguided content marketing efforts, brands’ (and, let’s face it, agencies’) attempts to ‘be more human' often make us cringe.

And now, algorithms and big data means brands know more about us than ever before, and with this their opportunities to ‘act human’ have multiplied exponentially. But in many cases, their brand building efforts are failing: either to be convincing or in adopting the right aspects of humanity. And in so doing they become clingy, nosey or just plain creepy.

So brands face a paradox: the more they try to be human, the more they risk alienating the humans they so want to connect with. So can brands be ‘more human’? Or more importantly…should brands be more human?

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Brand building trends | Why human brands are a terrible idea

  1. 1. Caspar Mason Senior Creative Strategist Jack Morton Worldwide @Caspar01
  2. 2. “I work in advertising. I don’t live in advertising.” Sir John Hegarty
  3. 3. I. Why ‘human brands’? II. The problem with human brands III. 5 behaviours to avoid Today…
  4. 4. I. Why ‘human brands’?
  5. 5. 1. Be human 2. Be useful 3. Invite participation 4. Be shareable 5. Build community
  6. 6. Human brands = The hunt for strategic advantage
  7. 7. Source: CS Space 40/50s Manufacturing 60s Advertising 90s The brand Strategic Advantage in the...
  8. 8. Total brand reputation & experience Source: CS Space Now
  9. 9. Every brand touchpoint is equal
  10. 10. Why ‘human brands’?
  11. 11. II. The problem with human brands
  12. 12. Language is where the rules live Source: Gill Erault, Linguistic Landscapes
  13. 13. Brands face a paradox: Source: Gareth Kay, The Human Paradox
  14. 14. The more they try to act human, the more they risk alienating humans.
  15. 15. A. Brands trying to be human
  16. 16. Welcome to Uncanny Valley
  17. 17. B. Brands taking the wrong part of humanity
  18. 18. The promise of personalisation
  19. 19. [Nutella named cans]
  20. 20. Technology = Personalisation at scale
  21. 21. Personalisation = Networked big data, powered by algorithms
  22. 22. Anticipation & Discretion
  23. 23. Anticipation aka knowing when to start
  24. 24. Discretion aka knowing when to stop
  25. 25. III. 5 behaviours to avoid
  26. 26. 1. Over-friendly 2. Nosey 3. Indiscreet 4. Clingy 5. Normative
  27. 27. 1. Don’t be over-friendly
  28. 28. The Rush For Human Brands placeholder
  29. 29. Market norms vs Social norms Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely
  30. 30. Takeaway Don’t be over-friendly: Don’t pretend to be friends
  31. 31. 2. Don’t be nosey
  32. 32. 71% believe brands with access to their personal data are using it unethically. Edelman/University of Cambridge, 2016
  33. 33. 57% of consumers do not trust an organisation or business to use their data responsibly. Whose data is it anyway?, Chartered Institute of Marketers (UK), 2016
  34. 34. 68% of marketers are reluctant to share their own personal data… because they know how brands will use it. Whose data is it anyway?, Chartered Institute of Marketers (UK), 2016
  35. 35. The Rush For Human Brands placeholder
  36. 36. “Trust comes on foot but leaves on horseback.” Johan Thorbecke, 1798 - 1872
  37. 37. [Starbucks hand written name]
  38. 38. Takeaway. Don’t be nosey: Be extra sensitive when asking for sensitive personal data
  39. 39. 3. Don’t be indiscreet
  40. 40. Networked data, powered by algorithms, is not good at being discreet.
  41. 41. O2 example
  42. 42. Takeaway Don’t be indiscreet: Know when to STFU
  43. 43. 4. Don’t be clingy
  44. 44. O2 example
  45. 45. Takeaway Don’t be clingy: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should
  46. 46. 5. Don’t be normative
  47. 47. [Some way of showing the range of humanity. Is there an nice way of showing this? Maybe different-sized feet/shoes? ]
  48. 48. [‘Skin coloured’ plasters on dark skin]
  49. 49. Takeaway Don’t be normative: don’t assume your reality is the only way it can be
  50. 50. “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feel it’s responsible.” Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, 1909 - 1966
  51. 51. Be careful of the world you accidentally create
  52. 52. What brands could be
  53. 53. Thanks. Caspar Mason Senior Creative Strategist Jack Morton Worldwide @Caspar01 Get in touch: experience@jackmorton.com Download the presentation: jackmorton.com/humanbrands

Editor's Notes

  • At Jack Morton, as a leading brand experience agency, we help brands step off the screen, page, or shelf, and understand how to act in the real world. Our work is built on face-to-face contact, on humans interacting.
    As a strategist, I spend a lot of time thinking about brands, humans and technology, within the context of brand experience.
    This means that I see up close the sometimes uneasy relationship between brands and people.
    I’ve noticed that this uneasy relationship is often triggered by brands wanting to be human.

  • It’s very easy for us in our industry to get caught up in the rush for the new, the better, the next.

    This quote from John Hegarty reflects the cause of this problem. What it’s saying is there are two types of people in our industry - marketing professionals, and people who happen to work in marketing. And the further we get away from the latter, the less we are connected with real life and therefore the less good at our jobs we are. And the more likely we are to try and rush for the ‘next thing’ in marketing, which may not be the best thing.

    And that thing may be ‘human brands’.
  • This talk examines the following:
    The background on human brands, and some of the unexamined assumptions floating around
    The two essential problems with it
    5 behaviours to avoid if you want to ensure your brand doesn’t fall foul to ‘being human’
  • Everyone has been talking about it for the past couple of years.
  • And we’re as guilty of that as anyone else: At Jack Morton, ‘Be human’ is one of the key principles we use when we create brand experiences.
    But what does it mean when we say ‘be human’?
    And does this differ from what other people mean when they say ‘be human’?
    There is a difference between understanding what it means to be human and trying to actually ‘be human’.
  • Let’s explore first where this drive for human brands has come from.

    Marketing and advertising are not as effective as they used to be. They no longer provide the strategic advantage they used to.
  • In the 40s and 50s: Strategic advantage was driven by manufacturing. In the US at least, demand was greater than supply - they couldn’t make things quickly enough. So whoever could make things that little bit faster and more efficient held the advantage.
    In the 60s: Advertising. Supply equaled demand, so it was about tempting consumers. Thinking about their wants and needs. And consequently, there was a 10 times increase in advertising spend.
    In the 90s: Brand Equity. Imagine taking two identical pairs of pants. We discovered that people would be willing…even eager…to pay more if the right name was on the waistband.
    In the 2000s: The name on the pants wasn’t always enough now. Brand Equity wasn’t dead, it was about something else: What the brand stood for. How it operated. What its mission was.

     
  • Today we have evolved further even from this point - strategic advantage is built on the total reputation & experience of the brand, inside and out.
    Your mission. Your product. Your ways of doing business. Your sustainability story. Your internal culture.
    This is how many brands signal value and generate strategic advantage today.
  • So today, every brand touchpoint is as important as each other
    Every single one will be reviewed and discussed, and maybe ripped apart on social media.
  • And there has been a proliferation of social channels used for this purpose… Yelp, Google reviews, Twitter….
    The influence of these reviews is such that I have no idea who these people are, but I trust them more than the brand. Despite all the money and time the brand spends on its marketing, I put more faith in someone I’ve never met.
  • And while there are many places where people can review brands, there are many more emerging technologies for brands to reach people.
    I can’t overstate the role technology plays in the drive to create ‘human brands’.
    When we talk about human brands, what we‘re often refering to is brands using new technology, or technology in new ways, to behave in a supposedly more human way.
  • We all know that we’re in a world of churning, relentless change, unlike any seen before. And that this is driven by technology.
    The media environment that surrounds us is rushing in closer and closer, enclosing us while at the same time taking away the privacy that many of us think we still have.
    But who is driving the technology? Brands. That is: agencies, clients and the business needs behind them.

  • This technology can, of course, be highly desirable (such as Snapchat Spectacles) ….but at the same time it‘s effecting a massive reshaping of the relationship between brands & people. 
    Both brands and people are trying to make sense of their existence in a hyper-connected, always-on world.
  • In the new transparent world of touchpoints, technology and reputation, brands are trying to create a strategic advantage by forging different, stronger relationships with people. This is a huge part of where this desire for human brands comes from.
    Of course, brand personalities have been around for a while: we’ve all read that this brand is playful, or confident, or edgy or whatever.
    So it seems a natural extension to say OK, let’s make brands more and more human.
    But I say that we really don’t want ‘more human’ brands.
  • For example, I don’t want to know what Coca Cola is like when it’s turned on.
  • I don’t want to see Apple when it’s in a bad mood.

    You might say, ‘well of COURSE we don’t mean brands should act like THAT.’
    This is one of the assumptions I’m talking about. Being human can mean anything. And If we don’t mean Brands should be ‘that’ type of human, what do we mean?
  • As all of you should know, and all the copywriters certainly know, language is a very powerful, precise tool. It’s where the rules of any organisation, community or society live.
    A lot of the controversies in the wider world stem from how language is used. Gendered insults, microagressions, trigger warnings all stem from the language we use.
    So when we talk about human brands, we should be careful.
    Because…
  • As Gareth Kay has pointed out
  • And there are two reasons for this…
  • Uncanny Valley is, of course, the world of being almost human.
    The Germans have a great word for it: Unheimlich, which means unhomely. It makes us feel uncomfortable. It’s not quite right.
  • Uncanny valley used to be filled with china dolls and the odd stuffed animal.
  • Then CGI and robotics opened up a whole new world of weird expressions and soulless eyes…all of which freak us out.
  • Now, Uncanny Valley is in danger of filling up with brands who are trying to be human. Brands that are trying to be something they’re not.
    There’s a difference between a brand treating you as an individual, and a brand pretending you are two individuals talking. This kind of behaviour freaks us out.
    And, as evidenced by Uncanny Valley, being human is hard.
    But somehow as marketers we forget, and try to get our brands to pretend to be human.

  • We don’t need images of the Somme or Vietnam or ISIS to be reminded that ‘being human’ does not guarantee being humane.
    Whilst we’d like brands to be caring, thoughtful and empathetic…What we often get is pushy, nosey, and a bit creepy.
    No brand lays out its brand personality as – ‘We’re the person you avoid at parties’ or ‘We’re the pushy idiot who starts talking to you on the bus and won’t stop’. Yet many brands are acting in this way.
    And the thing so often enabling this behaviour is technology - how brands use, and drive, available and emerging technology.


  • One of the big stories of the 20th century was, of course, mass – mass production, mass communciations.
  • One product for all
  • One message for all.

    Personalisation is the antithesis of the mass production/comms of the last 100 years.
    In a way, it’s the pendulum swinging back and re-enabling old behaviours: Walking into a store where they recognise you and offered a personal service is being revived by technology. Indeed Amazon have built their empire on a business model from the outset that recommended personal recommendations.
  • This work for Coca Cola is a few years old now, but it’s often what we think of when we think of personalisation.
    Everyone’s number 1 favourite subject is themselves, and Coke sold 150m of these bottles.
  • Nutella let you inscribe your own name on a jar.
    But both these things aren’t really personalisation….they’re customisation. They’re not really shaping their product around you. It’s essentially ‘Dear [insert first name here]'
    And of course, people being people….
  • ….means this is what happens when humans get hold of brands’ efforts to be human.
    This is why brands and humans can jar. Because humans don’t behave in the way brands want them to.
  • True (mass) personalisation today is at scale and enabled by technology.
    An interface that ‘wraps around you’, created from your infosphere, as Luciano Floridi of Oxford University calls it: the cloud of data and content that follows you around and leaks out from your every online move.
  • And what we call personalisation is actually networked big data, powered by algorithms.
  • And there’s two things that any personalisation technology has to get right:
  • As marketers, we do this fairly well.
    A product, app, smart home or similar recognises you and, based on what it knows about you and what you’re likely to want, it offers it up automatically.
  • But if you’re automatically starting something, you have to be able to automatically stop. And we find this a lot more difficult.
  • So when your ECD or client tasks you with creating a ’more human’ brand experience, here are five behaviours to avoid, to stop your brand from being a terrible ‘human brand‘
  • Innocent (UK drinks Manufacturer) began the genre of this very buddy conversational style on packaging.
  • But not every brand since then has pulled it off so well.
    And this opens brands up again to the transparent, ‘everyone’s a reviewer’ world in which we live and again demonstrates what happens when humans respond to brand attempts to be ‘human’.
    As people (who happen to be marketers) we have to ask ourselves, who has friends that talk like this? And would we want people like this in our lives?
  • This is another example of ill-conceived friendliness.
    What is going on here? Tea, scones and make-up, which I’m pretty sure would put you in hospital if you ate it.
    When it jars like this, it becomes an irritant

    For me, the reason this jars is because of what Dan Ariely refers to in ’Predictably Irrational’ as Market Norms vs Social Norms.
  • He also calls this Transactional vs Emotional bonding.
    It’s when one kind of bonding is confused with another. And once you make that transition, it’s very difficult to move back. It sours things. If you have sex with your partner and then say ‘So…what do I owe you’, you’ve turned an emotional interaction into a transactional one, and you will probably be sleeping on the sofa.
    So if you’re moving your brand into a non-transactional mode with your customers (and hoping they will see you as something more like friends)…that’s fine, but be aware that it’s going to sour quickly when you’re demanding money from them.
  • Admiral, the UK Car Insurance company, created a Facebook campaign which involved analysing the posts of first-time drivers (with their consent) in order to identify high and low risk drivers.
    So if they used short concrete sentences, lists, and made arrangements to meet friends at a set time and place (vs “let’s meet tonight”), they were rated well.
    Whereas if they were perceived to be overconfident, ie: too many exclamation marks, using “always” or “never” rather than “maybe” – they would be less well rated and would pay more.
    Facebook actually pulled this at the last minute, because they were concerned it was too intrusive.
    So remember...
  • You can lose everything you’ve built up in an instant, especially if people decide you’re unethical.
    But it can be done right…
  • Very.co.uk has 3.5m homepages tailored to your prior behaviour: search and purchase history etc.
  • And Starbucks, instigated the very well-known activation of name writing. As well as being a bit of theatre , which connects with you individually, it’s a fully transparent use of your data. They are not adding it to a mailing list or selling it to a third party.
  • Interestingly, it is also another example of what happens when brands try to be more human and humans get involved.
    Supporters of Black Lives Matter have used it as a platform to get their message out – giving Black Lives Matter as a name, so it would be shouted out n a public space.
    People want to express themselves, and they’ll hack brands’ attempts to be human to do so. Many times, how people express themselves is not likely to be within a brand’s idea of how they hope people will express themselves.
  • Today we’re having to cope with living in a network where all our information is out there, visible, and readable. And that’s not how we have evolved to work.
    Networked data, powered by algorithms, is not good at being discreet.
    And it’s not good at code-switching and recognising that how we speak with our mum, is different to how we speak with our boss or best friend. But a network of algorithms and data scraping sees no difference.
    And it’s not good at recognising context – that what we say at 3am in the back of an Uber, is understood to be different to what we say at 3pm in the all-agency meeting.
    And ask yourself: who wants to know someone who remembers everything you’ve ever said and everywhere you’ve ever been? And might tell all to the highest bidder? Yet this is how many brands are behaving.
  • However, brands can get it right. O2 approached 200 business targets through a clever hologram with a personalised message. Response rate was almost 20% and ROI was 18.
    This worked because O2 used data in an appropriate context, addressing people’s public persona (their business role) in a non-threatening way. If they’d taken the same data and, for example, approached the same people in a public space (such as a train), it would have been entirely different. It would be the same data but used in an inappropriate context.
  • Sometimes when brands get this wrong it can have more serious ramifications.
    Erika Sorenson owned a Android phone running the Kitkat OS. When Google pushed an update and consolidated all her identities, it outed her to her colleagues as transsexual.
  • It’s worth remembering what Faris Yakob said: Minority Report was supposed to be a warning of a dystopian future, not a how-to manual for ad-targeting.
  • This roll of gaffer tape followed me around the internet for weeks because I bought one of it’s friends from amazon.
    Apart from being misguided – I’d just bought one, I didn’t need another roll - it was creepy. From every page I visited for weeks and weeks, it stared at me like some all-seeing gaffer tape eye, reminding me that I was constantly being watched, monitored and followed.
  • Normative is an anthropolgical term which means the tendency to assume our personal reality and experience is the norm
    If we’re not careful, we create brands and technology that reflect us.... and us alone.
  • Humans are a fuzzy, squishy continuum of sizes, shapes, colours and genders.
    Any attempt to divide, can only ever be an approximation – whether that’s Myers Briggs, or labeling people ‘millennials’, ‘Gen Z’ and so on.
    For example, I don't have size 10 feet. I have feet that tend to fit size 10 shoes.
    And if you try to put everyone in boxes, people will fall through the gaps.
    Because the problem with normative is that it’s exclusive.
  • An example of this (hopefully inadvertant) excluisvity is the ‘skin-coloured’ plaster. Back when this was the only ‘skin-coloured’ plaster, it effectively said ‘this is the correct colour of skin. If you are not this colour you do not fit into our society’.
    This was presumably not the intent, but it was the outcome.
    We see normative behaviour a lot in agencies. When we’re looking for talent, we find ourselves looking for a ‘culture fit’. While this means you surround yourself with similar people and have a very easy working environment, there’s a real danger that you end up picking people who only reflect you and who you are….which is the kiss of death for diversity.
  • It’s worth remembering that no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels its responsible. Everyone in our industry is currently engaged in building the future.
    It may not feel like it, because we’re just trying to answer the next brief, or make our ECD or client happy, or squeeze a bit more functionality out of an app to help cut through the noise. Yet the sum total of this brand-driven technological drive is that we’re creating the environment in which everyone lives.
  • So we have to be mindful of the choices we are making.
  • So how should brands behave? To be or not to be (human)?
    As we said earlier, there’s a difference between understanding what it means to be human and trying to actually ‘be human’.
    Instead of human brands, brands should be humane. They should be shaped for humans, not human-shaped.
    Brands should be the best thing we can make them. Like a cathedral or a library or a rock club.
    Brands should be platforms that let us do better.
    Maybe it’s about having a clear purpose. Being a Red Bull and making culture. Or being like Ben and Jerry’s and making a difference (while making excellent ice cream). Or being like Vodafone in Turkey, using their marketing spend to make an app that lets victims of domestic violence send secret emergency messages to friends.
    We should celebrate the fact that brands are not human shaped, and use their power and scale to do great things.
    Because then we can create brands that are worth caring about.
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