Media Influencer

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Brands are not good for your health

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Two paragraphs explaining why (brand) websites are dead:

Look at this. It’s a Bovril website. With a breath-taking circularity of irony (or perhaps secret plea for help from a web designer), the site’s strapline (and perhaps the brand’s slogan) is ‘give me strength’. And, indeed, what on God’s earth is the point of all this? And who thought it was a good idea (apart from the agency that created it)?

Don’t get me wrong, once you’re there, it’s quite nicely done, graphically interesting etc. But why would anyone ever go there? Even if it wasn’t difficult to use, I still wouldn’t treat it as my number 1 source of information about Bovril itself (that would be Wikipedia), Bovril recipes (is that a thing?) (I’d start in Google and since the site isn’t search engine-friendly, it doesn’t show up), outdoorsiness (ditto, you’d never get there and if you did you wouldn’t stay long because of the thiny veiled comtempt for this audience), or even gurning cows. It’s just bizarre.

Come to think of it, brands are bizarre too. This is what Tom Hopkins has further to say about brands:

But they are a method of communication not an issuer of communication. They are talking points, they are social tokens, they are items of self expression.

I disagree. There is a lot of earnest talking – mostly by marketing and advertising people – about how people want to engage with brands. I certainly don’t want to engage with brands.

I want to talk to – not ‘engage’ with – the person I may be buying things from, or someone who can help me learn more or get me more information about product or service I am interested in. And that is invariably not the brand, with its useless websites, ad and marketing campaigns that interrupt and annoy the hell out of me.

I want to talk to an expert who’ll educate me about food, wine, travel, fashion, cameras, plumbing, perhaps even washing powder, if that’s what I am interested in. And agencies just get in the way of such interactions. Just look what they have done with websites – a pandemic of branded flash-ridden monstrosities, eating load time and bandwidth, with a graphic designer’s wet dream splashing across your screen. Grrrr.

I want to talk to and possibly relate on an ongoing basis with people – individuals, not departments! – within organisations that I might choose to supply me with products and services. My advice to them is know who you are and what you are trying to do, then understand what people – individuals, not consumers! – do and want, and then treat them with respect and understanding. You will get the same in return. That is far more valuable for the long term health of your business (and customers!) than any brand campaign.

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6 Responses to “Brands are not good for your health”

  1. Ed
    on Mar 13th, 2009
    @ 10:28 am

    You’re correct that “agencies get in the way of such interactions”, but I think you are wrong about brands in general. Brands exist as a shortcut, so we don’t have to interact with the specific people who make every single product that we buy, and yet still be reasonably sure of quality and consistency. The commonly cited example here is Heinz in the history of canned food.

  2. Adriana
    on Mar 13th, 2009
    @ 12:15 pm

    Ed, I think you are misunderstanding me. I am saying that brands as shortcut is obsolete, and we can now interact with specific people if we wish to. We have the technology, individual customers are evolving the mindset but companies (brands) and their mindset and structures are lagging behind. That’s kind of the point. Compared to ability to communicate with people from within the company, brand is a very bad signalling device for quality and consistency…

  3. Brian Micklethwait
    on Mar 13th, 2009
    @ 12:20 pm

    Yes, I agree with Ed. Brands make sense to me. What doesn’t make sense is a brand website where salesmen talk a load of pretentious bollocks about the brand.

    Salesmen echoing consumer chat about their brand just makes it less cool. The makers of the stuff should just carry on making it, from time to time publishing the specifications.

    A website where the people who make the thing, or the stuff (as here), talking about how they make it, how the product has changed over the years, etc., might be interesting. To a few people. It might make sense to have a website tracking availability of supplies to retailers, and supplying news about how the bosses of the company see the brand developing and why. Again, of interest to a few. As you say, just talking relevantly to the relevant people.

    Aren’t you really just saying that crap websites are crap?

    But, you told me that capital A Advertising was in trouble long before anyone else did, so maybe you are right that brands are similarly doomed. But I just can’t see it myself.

  4. Ed
    on Mar 13th, 2009
    @ 14:01 pm

    Adriana, yes it is great that people can and do engage more with the actual product designers etc. Companies should encourage this, rather than trying to lock these people away in case they go “off message”. However interacting with them has a high overhead in terms of time. For many things, especially those products I need but have no particular interest in, I find what works and then just repeatedly buy the same thing, e.g. washing powder. This is where brands help.

    Where the marketing folk go wrong is assuming that because they own the brand that they actually control it. In fact, a brand is little more than the collective opinions of the wider community, hence problems such as this

  5. Brian Micklethwait
    on Mar 13th, 2009
    @ 19:15 pm


    Your answer to Ed also seems to answer me.

    I wonder if it might make sense to talk about Brands with a capital B, meaning all the bullshit that now surrounds Brand Management, blah blah, as a substitute for just talking to people sensibly, versus small b brands, just identifiers of stuff, which will soldier on okay, in the manner of small a advertising.

    If you have either started doing this, or have already explained why this doesn’t work, apologies.

  6. Adriana
    on Mar 13th, 2009
    @ 19:22 pm

    I disagree with Ed about what brand means – to me it’s so compromised that I don’t care for the term, never did. Branding is what you do to cattle… sorry. This applies to Brian’s suggestion about distinguishing between Branding with capital B and a small – I don’t think it’s relevant and doesn’t address the issue.

    Identity of a person, institution or an organisation comes from its behaviour – and that is more meaningful when it comes from human beings. Technology, especially online, has reduced the overheads and they are not high at all, as far as I am concerned.

    I have blogged about branding for ages, here is my latest pontifications… on which this post is a based on.

    BTW, I don’t buy washing powder based on a brand, I try different things and stick with what I works. That’s not a brand, that’s my own experience.

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