The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Challenger Brands That Challenge …

I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work with challenger brands.

Some were overtly challenger … some were more in terms of their internal attitude and approach … but in all cases, they were up for a fight and were happy to take it straight to the competitor they wanted to play against.

Now forcing people to pick a side is not a new strategy … it’s been around for ages.

From religions to rock bands to sport to almost everything in-between.

And while some of the challenger brands I’ve worked with over the years became the beast they were created to slay, what united them all wasn’t just their ambition, but their dedication to doing something that fundamentally challenged the convention.

I’m not talking about an ad that said they were different.

Or a single product ingredient that claimed they were different but were still exactly the same.

I’m talking about a fundamental, distinctive alternative to what has been there before.

From features, to behaviours, to values to standards to design.

All in commitment.

Shit or bust.

Now we have a lot of brands today that claim to do that and be that.

Brands that go direct to the customer.

Brands that offer their services on the internet.

In the majority of cases, they’re not real challengers.

They might like to think they are.

The people who led the change probably are.

But having an internet bank that claims to be different but offers exactly the same products and services – albeit with a ‘cool name and choice of ATM card design’ – is not challenging much.

Nor is the 15th razor/toothbrush/haircare company who go direct to their customers.

They’re definitely an alternative, but they’re not a challenger.

In fact, given in many cases, they offer no distinctive element to their product or service to build something bigger than simply supplying razor blades/toothbrushes/haircare products to people at the lowest rate possible, all they’re doing is commoditising themselves to oblivion.

No, challenger brands don’t enter the market with an attitude of ‘minimal viable product’ – which basically translates to “we’re interested to see if it works, but if it doesn’t – no biggie”, they enter it with fully focused, fully engaged commitment.

You can read a lot about these in Adam Morgan’s brilliant book Eating The Big Fish … though, because of when it came out, it only refers to a challenger brands from a certain period of time rather than the ones of the modern era … whether that’s Tony’s Chocolonely, Fenty, Fortnite or even Greta.

But the reason I’m talking about this is because of that picture at the top of the post.

The iconic ‘we try harder’ announcement by Avis.

Maybe the first example where marketing embraced being a challenger.

We forget how impactful this campaign was when it came out in the 60’s.

Back then, the industry was all about superlatives … the biggest, the most successful, the most loved etc etc.

For a brand to come out and say, “we’re not the first choice”, was a big thing.

But this was not a mere marketing trick, Avis did indeed have big ambitions and knew that the only way they stood any chance of making it was if they indeed, ‘try harder’.

From making sure every car was washed before it went out.

Checking that the glove boxes and – because this was the 60’s – ashtrays were emptied.

Customer service people trained to help, not just take your money.

Not having to wait for ages to get given your rental.

All sounds the standard now, but back then? No way.

And on top of that, they then ran ads telling people to complain if they found the experience didn’t match the promise … because they never wanted to be seen as having the passive attitude of a number 1 brand – where their goal is to protect their revenue rather than reward their customers.

Which leads to the point of this post.

This.

Yep, it’s a continuation of the We Try Harder campaign.

Though, calling it a ‘campaign’ cheapens it, because it was their purpose. I don’t mean that in the wank way it is being used today. At no point were Avis saying. ‘We Try Harder To Make The World Better’. No, this was all about them trying harder for them. Which is not only more believable, it had a genuine benefit to the people who used them.

Which leads back to the ad.

Specially, the ad that features the President of Avis’ phone number.

So you can complain.

Directly to them.

Imagine that today?

You can’t can you, because not only do companies – including Avis – give customers who wish to complain the absolute runaround with endless email forms, faceless processes and protocols – all while claiming this is a more ‘helpful and efficient’ process for their customers – but because you don’t feel many companies are really trying harder at all.

Now it’s all about efficiency.

Removal of friction.

Basically making you do it all yourself but charging you as if you weren’t.

Now I have to admit, I don’t know if this ended up being the real President of Avis’ phone number … even though I really hope it was … but I know this ethos drove that brand to continued growth for decades.

Sadly, at some point, it went from purpose to a tagline and then Avis as a cultural force was done.

Which is the big lesson for us all.

Because while few would ever start a company to be like everyone else, the reality is many end up doing just that.

And while we hear people all talking about being the next Apple or Nike, they have to understand you don’t get there with a playbook, you get there with a singular focus on what you believe, what you value and what you are going to destroy to create.



A House Of Brands Or A House Of Cards?

Yes it’s real.

Yes, it has been out for at least 4 months.

And yes, there are so many things I could say about it … but I’m relying on you do it for me.

I will say this however …

When I worked on Old Spice at Wieden – which was only for Asia and had little to do with the great work from Portland – we were adamant that while the creativity should be allowed to explore all manner of mad worlds, the packaging/fragrances had to communicate stability because otherwise there was the danger the whole brand would look like one giant joke.

Or said another way …

The product had to allow madness around it rather than try to compete with it.

I’ll leave it there, over to you …



Does Colour Theory Reveal Your Insecurity?

One of the things I have always found fascinating is hearing how agencies explain their work.

It’s always so brilliantly detailed.

So articulate and precise.

So different to how any of the work I’ve been a part of came about.

In my personal experience, the process to the creative work has looked like this …

That’s right. A bloody mess.

Chaos rather than clarity.

Back and forth rather than a clear line.

Exploration and rabbit holes rather a smooth and efficient act of precision.

Got to be honest, I prefer it that way.

The idea of everything being so pure that you know the answer before you get to the answer scares the hell out of me.

Maybe that’s why I like giving creatives the best problem rather than a good solution.

Let them work out a way to solve it rather than expect them to just execute my answers.

The reason I say all this is because I recently saw this colour chart …

Putting aside that some of the brand/colour associations they’ve suggested make no fucking sense at all [ie: Nike = neutral/calm balance] it is interesting and frightening how much brands align with a colour stereotype.

Or should I say, a suggested colour stereotype.

OK … I’m being a dick, I know there is a lot of research in this field, but that doesn’t mean that just because your brand logo is in a character defined colour, you automatically convey that character.

But of course, this is what a branding company would say in their pitch …

“We chose orange as orange is a colour that conveys friendliness and we believe this makes you even more accessible”

But the reality is colour theory is the driving force behind logo colour recommendations, I would say it’s because of 2 reasons:

1. It’s how the brand wants to be perceived. [Ego]
2. It’s to hide how the brand is really perceived. [Fear]

Am I being a prick?

Probably. But as they say in the movie Dangerous Liaisons … people don’t answer questions with the truth, they answer questions in ways that protect their truth.

This is why I’ve always talked about ‘dirty little secrets’ … because often insights end up being about ‘convenient explanations’ of actions/behaviours/beliefs whereas the real driving force is something more personal. More conflicting. More interesting.

It’s why I find it far more interesting BP are in the green colour – nature, health and growth – than Animal Planet.

It’s also why I find BP far more differentiated than the friendly, orange colour of Gulf Petroleum.

Because while colour choice for logo design is important, anyone who tries to claim it defines what the brand is and/or how it is perceived in culture is either a fucking bubble-dwelling idiot, a ‘category convention’ sheep or someone who believes the Pepsi logo design strategy is up there with Leonardo Da Vinci.



Eau De Toilet. Literally And Metaphorically …

The fragrance industry is fascinating.

I’ve written a bunch about this in the past [here, here and here for example] but nothing reinforces my view than the new fragrance bottle from Moschino.

Have a look at this …

On one hand I admire how the industry uses creativity to design distinctive bottles and packaging – mainly because the smelly liquid inside has little value – and I love the fearlessness they tend to embrace all they do, but there’s few industries as pretentious as the fragrance industry. Hell, they’re even more pretentious than a Swiss finishing school run by a Victorian father.

Now I accept some are being ironic – or have evolved to be that way, like Gucci for example – but the vast majority continue to have their heads so high up in the clouds, that even the biggest dope smokers couldn’t reach them.

I’m not sure which side Moschino are on, but anyone who makes a perfume bottle to look exactly like a disinfectant spray and proudly puts the words ‘toilette’ on it, suggests either the biggest misstep or act of fragrance genius I’ve seen in years.



A Brand Is Ultimately Defined By Culture, Not Owners …

I have a confusing relationship with Amazon.

I use them a lot.

I admire what they do.

I appreciate how they operate.

But I don’t know if they’re a great brand.

Without doubt they’re a great company and have created a clear role in people’s lives … but in terms of brand, I’m not so sure.

That’s weird, because in many ways, they have achieved all the things a great brand requires, but at the end of the day – I have no emotional relationship with them, it is entirely functional.

Does a brand need to have emotional value to be great?

No. But I think it is the difference between being seen as a great transactional brand and a great brand.

But what surprises me most is Bezos understands business and brands better than many.

Not just CEO’s, but marketing folk … exemplified by this statement he made.

Which leads to the point of this post.

Brands.

As I’ve said a billion times, I’m an unashamedly huge believer in them.

If done well, they enable differentiation, cultural connection and economic power.

But the emphasis is ‘done well’.

And frankly, I don’t see a lot of that.

What I do see is a lot of companies spending of an awful lot of time and money on what they want to talk about.

What they think people should care about.

What audience should buy their product.

What they want their product to be used for.

What they want people to discuss about them.

What words they want people to associate with them.

What they want people to view as a threat or a competitor.

Them. Them. Them. Them. Them.

Now don’t get me wrong, you have to know what you stand for. What your values are. What your role is and why you do what you do, well. Not to mention what your point of view on the World is.

But you don’t just churn them out like some political manifesto brochure. Boring people into submission.

And yet that is the practice of so many … minus the point of view, which would at least make it relevant to culture instead of using a ‘proposition’ that is like a cement block, standing firm regardless what the headwinds that surround it are.

But it gets worse.

Because often what they do is wrapped up in some contrived ‘purpose/manifesto’ message in an attempt to make it look like it’s not all about them, which doesn’t convince anyone because it’s all about them.

Everything.

And it comes across exactly like that.

Self serving. Self indulgent. Self important.

Because the people behind these campaigns live in a bubble of corporate complicity.

Where ‘real life’ is closer to a sitcom sketch than anything resembling reality. Where families are always perfect and together. Where there is no problem that can’t be solved with [insert brand here] and their [insert meaningless ingredient]. Where the undertone of the work is to scare/shame/blame audiences into purchase submission – regardless how happy the soundtrack is or how saturated the images. All backed up and reinforced by a research report that has been specifically designed to fit in with the clients processes than representing truth.

Welcome to the world of marketing truth – a parallel universe to real truth that exists next to the Marketing solar system.

And that’s why, love him or loathe him, you have to respect Bezos.

Yes he has a world of data. Yes he has a universe of information.

But he knows it’s what people say when you’re not watching or listening to them that really reveals what they think of you.

At a time where so much work is done behind the desk, there’s never been as important a time as to get out, talk to real people, understand the texture, nuance, and chaos around the category … so we can help our clients with the most important foundation you can have in getting to great work.

Truth.

Of course, it is not always easy for clients to swallow.

Of course, they may prefer agencies that pander sweet bullshit to them.

But as Mr Bezos knows, you don’t get culture to truly buy into you, if you don’t know what culture really thinks of you.