Brands on the edge of a cultural breakdown

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Let’s connect a few dots around the idea of brands.

After the Forrester Marketing Leadership Forum in London, I finally caught up with this James Surowiecki article from February’s New Yorker, Twilight of the Brands. The gist of it – consumers need brands less than the brand marketing industry thinks they do…

It’s a truism of business-book thinking that a company’s brand is its “most important asset,” more valuable than technology or patents or manufacturing prowess. But brands have never been more fragile. The reason is simple: consumers are supremely well informed and far more likely to investigate the real value of products than to rely on logos. “Absolute Value,” a new book by Itamar Simonson, a marketing professor at Stanford, and Emanuel Rosen, a former software executive, shows that, historically, the rise of brands was a response to an information-poor environment. When consumers had to rely on advertisements and their past experience with a company, brands served as proxies for quality; if a car was made by G.M., or a ketchup by Heinz, you assumed that it was pretty good. 

Connect this with The Economist piece on the collapse of trust between people and advertisers, as the industry continues to optimise for interruption marketing that no one really wants…

Havas Media, a big marketing agency, says trust in them has been declining for three decades. Last August it published the latest in a series of worldwide surveys, in which 134,000 consumers in 23 countries were asked what they thought of 700 brands. A majority of those taking part would not care if 73% of them just vanished. In Europe and America 92% would not be missed. Only in places like Asia and Latin America, with lots of newish consumers, is there a bit more attachment to brands, though Havas Media reports that it is declining there too.

Fracking the social web, as John Willshire calls the relentless chasing of consumer attention by any and all technological means, is part of all this.

And meanwhile brand marketing is losing the brightest and best talent to adjacent, more digital, agile and innovative industries, as agency CEO John Winsor wrote in post at The Guardian:

Every day the best and brightest young talent leaves the industry to join (or just bypass the industry all together) digital alternatives from start-ups to established digital players and other, more innovative established players in other industries (IDEO is an example). They might think of themselves in the marketing and advertising businesses but they don’t want to take the traditional path. Working their way up through the creative ranks not only seems too slow but much too political and bureaucratic.

In a couple of weeks’ time the Cannes Lions festival of advertising will kick off. The last day, Saturday, is innovation day. Maybe next year, that should come at the beginning.