Most of you reading the above title will be tutting and muttering about this disruption of grammar and miss the fact that it’s a quote. Go and Google it. This is your first step towards understanding the new brand space. The second is getting out there and buying a copy of my new book. I’m telling you this, as to be able to really connect with the growing brand of consumers who are sensitive to inauthenticity and hostile to relentless materialism, you have to come from a truly authentic and honest place – hence my openness about why I’ve written this piece.
The previous paragraph is your entry test into this new landscape: a landscape that is shifting rapidly and which to most might present a problem when creating generic communications that help shift units. In reality it’s an amazing cultural space if you understand how to successfully navigate it. The bottom line is if you can sell to the inhabitants of this new cultural space, you can sell to anyone.
Trevor Beattie, advertising legend, former chairman of TBWA London and creator of the infamous ‘fcuk’ slogan for French Connection, recently said:
“The 30-second TV ad is dead. Thirty long seconds has become the standard dull unit of consumption. That’s boring. Piss or get off the pot. We need to break its monotonous stranglehold. Thirty secs is a lifetime now. You can (and we all do) skip an ad after THREE seconds on YouTube. In other words, we all KNOW whether we like something after a couple of seconds. We’re absorbing things much faster these days. Let’s tell very short stories or huge long ones. Go super short or hugely long. Break the rhythm. Then people will notice. And don’t ask why it took me so many words to explain that. I had you at “the 30 second ad is dead.”
But to know the future we have to understand the past and so we spin back to the end of the 1960s to the zenith of the first wave of mass-consumerism, but also the moment a counter-culture movement that looked outwards was born. Yet by the 1980s this movement had turned its gaze inwards to focus on the self, but it had also left behind a legacy of dissent, of protest. It was almost impossible to get your view across if it ran against the mainstream. It was a hard time to be different, and even harder to be heard. The 1980s saw a massive shift towards brands marketing to the self, almost like a spiritual direct sale. And it worked. Billions bought into this ideology. It was the genesis, the bedrock, for brands that are now bigger than Jesus: Apple. Nike. Red Bull and many others.
The shift in attitude towards brands started with the advent of high-speed internet access. Consumers discovered that they actually had a voice that could be heard, no matter how much they seemed to be living in the wilderness. The one per cent who had begun to spot the cracks in the façade in the late 80s suddenly had a platform from which to protest and this was when things really began to change. If a brand did not behave correctly then it got taken to task: workforce exploitation, sub-standard materials, hidden costs, planned obsolescence… and as these voices gathered momentum, they also became influential. The digital ‘influencer’ was born. Young South African anthropologist and noted blogger Tarryn-Lee Warner sums up the situation thus: “We basically live in a blur. We are under siege all day every day. People, ideas, products, slogans, messages. In such a rapidly moving environment brands have to begin offering something real: not only different but intellectually stimulating enough to make us slow down and take notice. I look at so many brands doing the same thing. The same marketing. The same products. The same traps. The answer is really just a juxtaposition. Brands need to start unbranding themselves. They need to unpack their brands and offer products, services, ideals, messages and concepts to the minority and not the masses.”
This ability to share information has created a new consumer. They are as loyal to one another and their shared ideologies as they are to their chosen brand(s). If it behaves properly, a brand will be allowed to become an active part of the culture and the new consumer will then become dedicated to it. Thanks to this new consumer we now understand what makes a brand really work, as they live their lives in the open.
Jeremy Brown, CEO of Sense Worldwide, an organisation that hires “smart, relentless people, from academic psychologists to MBAs and from programmers to designers”, teams them up and “lets them loose on the world”, declares:
‘There is this much softer thing at play and that’s actually a much more powerful thing. And that is the bit that you can’t really brand. That’s the human bit, the bit we can’t disagree with; it’s the truth. What’s the value of MTV? It’s the eyeballs that watch it. The consumers. Facebook – it’s the people on it, right? And again this is part of the equation, and I don’t think we’re going to be rethinking that anytime too soon. But the bittersweet thing is that brands can become so successful that then they forget about the people who made them successful in the first place or they make them so desirable they create their own problems.”
So even though everything seems to have changed since Edward Bernays invented mass-market advertising in the 1920s, in reality very little has changed. It’s just the way we communicate that has shifted. Here’s what Helen Landon, the 1920s radio personality, said at the time:
“Sell them their dreams. Sell them what they longed for and hoped for and almost despaired of having. Sell them hats by splashing sunlight across them. Sell them dreams – dreams of country clubs and proms and visions of what might happen if only... after all, people don’t buy things to have things. They buy things to work for them. They buy hope – hope of what your merchandise will do for them. Sell them this hope and you won’t have to worry about selling them goods.”
*The title is a reference to the fact that street culture is now an unbrandables’ cultural wallpaper. They think, breathe, read, listen through hearts, minds, ears and eyes that have been shaped by all things ‘street’, and this is where many of the dinosaurs of the brand world fail. Every part of your brand communication has to come from here. If communications your team can’t speak write shoot in this language then find one who can.
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