I would like to talk about the theme of relationships and their importance. Not only in advertising but also in the way we perceive and decode life in general. We’re surrounded by stimulus: people, buildings, broadcasting, colours, thoughts, ideas – the list goes on. Each, consciously or otherwise, illicits a response. And each response confirms or challenges the assumptions that we make. We think we know somebody; and then they say or do something that makes us question that assumption. We know the behaviour that is associated with different sorts of buildings because they are symbols for the nature of the business they house; the values that they represent are a reflection of the culture of their occupants; they are an outward manifestation of the personality within.
You don’t shout in church and you don’t whisper reverentially in the pub. If you wear a suit at Leo Burnett you’re out of place, but if you travel the corridors of a corporate company in a pair of jeans you don’t need the visitors badge. You go back to childhood in a sweet shop, but you’ve got to behave yourself in a bookshop.
So the point I’m making is that we tend to put things in boxes, and label those boxes in nearly every aspect of our life. It reassures us that our existence has continuity and meaning, it allows us to talk to other people with some sense of a shared framework.
This same sort of analogy could be drawn with the books we read, the celebrities that we admire, the programmes that we watch on television.
Let’s stick with the latter for a moment. If we watch sport, particularly aggressive team sport, we are entering a world dominated by performance. We might identify with some of the players or with one of the teams, but our primary motivation is to see our team win. We believe that they are better than the opposition, that they have the potential to succeed and that they are in possession of superior skills and greater commitment. They are the equivalent of a performance brand. We believe that they will do something better than the competition.
We all have programmes with which we identify. It is either because they hold a mirror up to our reality, or because they act as a window through which we see people and events with which we have the desire to identify. This sense of identification tends to be premised on a feeling that we share values and empathise with the personality of the central character. What they do is in a sense less important than how they do it. Jerry Seinfeld can fill thirty minutes with virtually nothing, simply because he is Jerry Seinfeld.
Let us switch to ‘The Lifestyle Programme’. How to cook, how to groom a miniature poodle, how to build your very own lily pond on the veranda of a small apartment, how to enter a state of meditation whilst reciting the poetry of W H Auden. I must declare a personal weakness for cookery programmes. Not because I intend to treat the wife to an Indonesian banquet, but because I like to think I could if I wanted to. It makes me feel better about cooking things that I wouldn’t even have tried a few years ago. And there is obviously a market for it. It fulfills our need to feel empowered and to feel that through these sort of programmes we can develop and grow.
Brands also have the power to tap into this sense of personal development. Many fragrances are successful because women feel more confident and sexier when they wear them. The Internet opens up a new world of virtual and tangible opportunities. Fashion exists almost exclusively because we believe it will effect a transformation, not simply a physical transformation, but an emotional one. Fashion liberates our potential to project the real self [or the aspiration self] through the power of the name or label. I haven’t got a clue who Hugo Boss is, but I know that when I am wearing one of his suits I’m supposed to be in serious work mode; and by and large I am.
The last example is, I hope, a surprising one. Toy Story is indicative of a lasting genre of films that purport to be made for children but have enduring appeal for adults. From Snow White onwards, kids have enjoyed animated movies whilst their parents have felt that they were also talking to them. This duality of appeal has recently been made more overt with films like Toy story, Antz and the new Star Wars trilogy. We implicitly understand that as well as providing entertainment through imaginative storytelling; these films are making a more complex point about the human condition through metaphors and symbols. It doesn’t seem at all suprising that they can include quite sophisticated adult jokes and quite risqué allusions. Toy Story taps into some quite deep and powerful emotions without running the risk of cynicism and rejection. It is able to do so because it has used the metaphor of childhood and portrays conflicting attitudes through the simplicity of toy characterisation.
Many of the most powerful brands in the world do much the same thing. Ronald McDonald is a clown. He lives in an imaginary world with his various friends. He engages the imagination of children whether we like it or not and he also captures the attention of a lot of parents with young children. He reassures us that McDonalds is a friendly and a non-threatening world. He implicitly threatens us by ensuring that we feel guilty if our kids are denied the fun that he represents. He ensures us that no other brand can be quite as synonymous with burgers and family eating.
Icon brands tend to talk through symbols, because they aim to appropriate high ground emotional territory. The Marlboro cowboy helped turn what was a niche brand for women into the quintessential masculine image. He is a potent symbol of American values, the open plains of the West. He represents freedom and a rugged, individual determination.
Nike has appropriated the values of sport: give of your best, challenge yourself, be uncompromising in you expectation of yourself and others. Just do it. The Nike name has been supplanted by a single symbol.
The Olympic Games is arguably the most successful Icon brand in the world and also has the best recognised logo. Coca-Cola, Levis Jeans, Disney, are all Icon brands.
After all this time I’m sure many of you have asked, “where’s the meat”. Is this just planning stuff or does it have any practical application? Of course it’s planning but I’d like to suggest that these brand relationships have real implications in three core areas of our business:
• They help us recognise good consumer insights.
• They help define how the creative itself is intended to work and the implications of this when it comes to developing creative concepts.
• They form the benchmark against which advertising should be evaluated.
Recognising good consumer insights
Let me start by clarifying what an insight is not. It is not simply a statement of universal truth. Nor is it simply something interesting that relates to the brand.
It is something that encapsulates the nature of the relationship and does so compellingly and in a way that feels intrinsically right for other users or for potential users. Sometimes it can be an insight as to why the relationship is flawed or doesn’t exist at all. It is something that resonates with other people; it gets the heads nodding in agreement and acts as a catalyst to further discussion.
That is why qualitative research is great at getting under the skin of consumer motivation and allowing people the freedom to open up and discuss brands in a way that would not occur normally. Research focuses conversation and stimulates insightful observations but it does not distort the impact of a true insight when it is articulated well.
An insight will tend to stem from one of the four relationships discussed in this paper:
• The real reason I believe this brand is better than the rest. [Or the real reason that I don’t]
• The possibly irrational way in which I identify with this brand; and the specific values, personality, lifestyle, or attitude that I relate to. [Or don’t]
• The way in which this brand enriches my life. How does it make me feel? In what way does it effect me? How does it make me feel different? In what way does it empower or liberate me?
• What world has the brand created for itself? Why do I want to belong to this world? What do I see, feel, or understand as lying behind the symbols or metaphors that they use. Or alternatively, why does this world have little relevance to me?
This is the information that brings a brief to life and ensures that the communication touches the heart or head of our audience. An insight helps describe the bond or barrier that exists between them and our brand.
And this ultimately helps define the real advertising opportunity. How will we reinforce the bond and thus increase loyalty or address
the perceptual barrier and promote brand consideration.
Each of the relationships we have talked about brings with them constraints as well as opportunities. We need to work within the framework of what is motivating, believable and distinctive for each of our brands.
If we use another of Leo Burnett’s clients, Kellogg as an example, our performance credentials are underpinned in three ways. Firstly we enjoy the perception that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This, in a sense is the category benefit; and as brand leader we must invest in sustaining this belief as it adds credence to claims that might otherwise be questioned or be left open to cynicism.
Secondly, we have the heritage and trust imbued in the Kellogg name. We need to remain clear what Kellogg stands for and how it is going to remain relevant in a world of change.
Lastly we have the specific claims of our performance brands. Much of the credibility for these claims lies in the explicit or implicit endorsement of third parties. We must be diligent in sustaining the relevance of these relationships as in many ways the credibility of these brands is open to question if viewed through the microscope or in a totally rational context.
I guess the important point here is that people do not DIRECTLY identify with our brands. People identify with the lifestyle, people or attitudes with which we ASSOCIATE the brand. This is an important point as it means that there are occasions when brand functionality and usage has to take a back seat to the creative context within which it is featured. The brand needs to be made relevant to the target at an emotional level but this is a balancing act. Inject too much rational product talk and you undermine the premise of this advertising relationship.
The challenge here is to ensure that the advertising is sufficiently branded.
More often than not the mood or emotional benefit that is being portrayed does not ladder back literally to the brand attributes. Nike advertising does not give you a rationale for a feeling of empowerment and involvement in sport. They simply take ownership of it as a brand attitude and belief.
Vidal Sassoon does not turn you into a different person but it does enable you to feel better about yourself. Optus Internet opens the door to a world of possibilities. Play Station allows you to live life dangerously.
Similarly, whilst there is a connection between the lightness of Crispix and a lightness of mood this connection cannot be made too overtly. We are not talking about a physiological change but a brand attitude that is consistent with the characteristics of the product.
In these cases the trick lies in branding the connection or link between the brand and a sense of empowerment. THROUGH this brand I will develop and feel different within myself.
Icon branding goes beyond the literal and enters a world of symbol, analogy and metaphor. It creates a myth around the brand. It permits the use of hyperbole and exaggeration. This world has to have an integrity of its’ own. Start introducing literal underpinning and you run the risk of destroying that which you strive to create.
Relationships and advertising evaluation
It stands to reason that if we expect advertising to do different things in the first place it needs to be evaluated against different criterion, and with different methodologies.
A relationship based on performance can be expected to produce advertising that answers the question “ What is this advertisement trying to tell you about the brand”
On the other hand, if we were trying to establish an Identity relationship we’d want to know how it made them feel about the brand. We’d want to establish the targets level of involvement and identification.
With a facilitator brand we’d want to get under the skin of the audience and explore how they felt the brand might make them feel about themselves. In what way might the brand effect their mood, or self-belief?
Icon brands work via the connections, associations and values we place on certain images. We need to find ways of decoding the underlying messages coming out of this more symbolic approach. A standardised Millward Brown questionnaire might not be the most sensitive tool at our disposal.
Often we take one or other of these approaches intuitively. And often we are working with a combination of them. They are not mutually exclusive. But they are different points of emphasis and they do, to an extent, dictate a style of execution and an expectation of response.
If occasionally we start by analysing the real nature of the brand relationship, it is our belief that our insights will become stronger, our creative expectations will be more focussed and our means of evaluation will be more closely attuned to the desired communication take-out.