The Wrong and the Short of it

Short-termism and long-termism are both just wrong-termism. So let’s end the false choice between long and short-term marketing tactics, maximise the compound effects of getting them working together in harmony, and start to close the value-destroying divide between ‘brand’ and ‘performance’ marketing. It’s limiting marketing effectiveness and brand growth, when we’ve never needed them more.

Long term ‘VS’ short term is probably the most commonly cited false choice in marketing.

And that’s saying something, as we love false dichotomies in this industry: brand vs performance, emotional vs rational, creativity vs technology, intuition vs data, art vs science, to name just a few that we constantly debate.

A summary of most of the binary debates in marketing tweeted by Martin Weigel

And of course the answer to most of these is ‘&’ not ‘Or’.

It may seem a little unnecessary for yet more words to be written about the long and short-term in marketing given two industry legends have literally already written the book on it [i]. But whilst the theory says we should all try to achieve a balanced approach in order to maximise both saleability and sales simultaneously, there’s a massive gulf between the theory and the actual practice, which is increasingly divided between practitioners of ‘brand’ and ‘performance’ marketing.

And it’s even quite common for people to overlook the central importance of the theme of balance in Binet & Field’s most important work, and to think of them as ‘the high priests of the long term’.

SHORT-TERMISM

Short-termism rightly gets a lot of criticism, and there have been plenty of brilliant critiques of it by other people, so I won’t do that here [ii].

There are irresistible pressures pulling marketers towards the short term [iii]. And there’s also a huge asymmetry in terms of accessibility to ‘performance’ channels vs ‘brand-building’ channels. Google, Facebook, Amazon and other platforms have given millions of businesses of every size and type, easy, self-service access to a giant direct response advertising eco-system [iv]. And this universal accessibility is also ensuring there’s a ready and growing supply of ‘performance’ marketing specialists and a dwindling supply of ‘brand’ marketing specialists – a factor that further exacerbates the divide.

LONG-TERMISM

Too many people though, especially on the ‘brand’ side of the divide, also wrongly assume that because short-termism’s a bad thing, long-termism must therefore be a good thing, despite the potential for it to be just as damaging in different ways.

There’s always been a lot of magical thinking about the long term in advertising. That you can just do something big and expensive as a one-off, then close your eyes and cross your fingers and hope no one commercially-oriented asks any awkward questions for six to twelve months, until future sales start magically happening.

But communications that are successful over the long term don’t work by activating some kind of ‘sleeper cell’ in buyers’ minds which suddenly bursts into frenzied commercial action after many months of lying completely dormant – communications need to achieve some level of short-term sales success as well as improving a brand’s mental availability if they’re also going to achieve long-term growth.

And whilst short-termism may give people a bad name within certain corners of the marketing world, it may actually be long-termism that gives some marketers a bad name within their organisations and amongst the rest of the business community, perhaps because some marketers appear to act like selling’s a dirty word to them (for example by getting evangelical about certain marketing approaches that appear purposefully designed not to sell stuff).

WRONG-TERMISM

And whilst they’re quite different, it’s possible to simultaneously see short-termism and long-termism as equally bad practice – wrong-termism, if you will.

Wrong-termists get it wrong in two different ways: short-termists restrict the long-term growth their marketing can achieve, and long-termists restrict its short-term sales impact.

THE LONG THROUGH THE SHORT OF IT

It’s never been more important to make every marketing $ work as hard as it possibly can. We’ve never been more aware that without short-term success there may not even be a long-term for some of our brands. And the best way of securing both will be to embrace the fertile middle-ground that lies in combining the power of short and long-term effects.

Long-term growth always has its roots in the short term. The two are connected, influence each other, and if you get the two working perfectly in harmony together, you’ll achieve the strongest, most sustainable growth possible.

But we so often miss out on maximising growth in this way because of our binary belief systems, the organisational siloes we inhabit, the different job titles we have, the different channels and formats we tend to use and the different metrics we try to optimise.

It’s important to say that long-term growth isn’t just achieved by adding up a series of short-term effects. It’s more complicated than simply being additive: it’s a multiplicative, compound effect, which starts slowly but strengthens over time.

And whilst all long-term growth actually has roots in the short term, only some kinds of short-term activity also lead to long-term results.

So the roots of long-term growth are there in the present if you do the right kind of marketing communications.

The two are always happening simultaneously, to some degree, in the same marketing campaign and in everything a brand communicates about itself. Les Binet’s chart below shows two kinds of sales impacts from a single exposure to a single execution. A short-term sales spike and a longer-term tail.

The two lines are interrelated. If you try to push the red spike higher, you’ll reduce the length of the black tail (e.g. a promotion or offer would push the red spike higher but massively reduce the black tail; an ‘our brand stands against toxic masculinity’ message would hugely reduce the red spike). Which means to achieve equilibrium you’ll need a balance across a campaign and across your entire marketing plan (although not necessarily within an individual execution) [v].

It’s practically the law that any discussion of the long and short-term in marketing must include Binet & Field’s classic ‘steps’ chart illustrating the two different ways in which communications can drive sales – through short-term sales activation and long-term brand-building, so here it is:

And what follows are some new and never previously published illustrations by Les Binet that build on this, but this time rather than separating the short and long-term effects, they show the combined effects of doing ‘brand-building’ and ‘sales activation’ together in different combinations. They’re just theoretical, they knowingly exaggerate the effects for clarity, and there will of course be real world exceptions.

Scenario 1 is what could happen if a brand that had been heavily biased towards sales activation shifts its balance in favour of brand-building activity. It could see lower initial short-term sales peaks, but base sales would begin to rise and the short-term sales peaks could start rising too as the strengthening brand helps improve the impact of sales activation.

Scenario 2 shows what could happen if that brand switched back to being heavily biased towards sales activation from a more balanced plan. Short-term sales peaks could get lower and base sales could drop over time. It’s a cautionary tale that you may have witnessed, for example with the arrival of a new CEO or CMO who ‘doesn’t believe in doing brand marketing’.

But charts like these don’t always totally reflect the real world options available to modern marketers, for example where performance activity is usually ‘always on’ rather than pulsed, and where the idea of scaling it back dramatically or even switching it off could feel like instant career suicide.

So below is an illustration by econometrician Grace Kite and me building on the classic ‘steps’ chart from the perspective of a common real world scenario, that of a digital-first brand whose initial strong growth from always on performance activity has levelled off, after which point brand-building activity is successfully deployed in order to take growth to the next level. It’s based on the econometric modelling Grace has done for a wide range of brands facing similar challenges.

It shows growth initially being driven by always on activity in performance channels, and the impact of that activity reaching a plateau which often happens when saturation point is reached. Then it shows the impact of a successful decision to layer in ‘brand-building’ activity. Note that this brand activity both delivers its own short and longer-term sales impacts, as well as improving the sales generated by performance channels. It also shows the compound effects of all this marketing activity working together and becoming stronger over time as the brand-building activity is further optimised.

‘All models are wrong, but some are useful’ of course, but hopefully this shows ‘performance-first’ brands the growth potential of adopting a more balanced approach that includes layering in brand-building activity, and gives brands like these a little more confidence when taking the big step into doing ‘brand-building’ communication.

A PROMISING METRIC FOR MEASURING THE LONG THROUGH THE SHORT?

The long-term growth potential of campaigns should be measurable in the short-term, even if you’re not currently set up to monitor it. So you may need to start thinking about boosting your existing measurement (which would ideally already include a balanced scorecard of long and short-term metrics), with new kinds of short-term measures that can also predict long-term performance.

A number of companies have metrics aiming to do this, but one that’s emerging as a strong contender is a brand’s ‘share of google search’.

Millward Brown have seen that search volumes can strongly reflect how salient or famous a brand is [vi].

And Google believe ‘share of search’ may reflect brand health and market share for brands in some categories [vii].

Les Binet is doing some great work looking at whether a brand’s share of google search can predict its market share (initial findings in several categories are extremely promising).

Further research is needed, but monitoring a brand’s share of search could also help narrow the divide that exists in marketing between ‘brand’ and ‘performance’ marketers: it could be a rare example of a metric nearly everyone can get behind. Because ‘brand’ marketers instinctively know that brand search behaviour is often reflective of a brand’s fame and mental availability, and know that investing in mass reach communication can be an effective way to improve it. And ‘performance’ marketers of course know brand search is a hugely important source of traffic and conversion.

I believe it’s never been more important that we start closing the artificial but growing divide between brand and performance marketing, and to do what’s most effective for our brands collectively.

For some brands it will be a huge task, but if anything shared here helps a single team begin to break down the barriers in their business it will have been worth it.

Brands should be aiming to create long-term communications engineered for immediate success. Advertising that, in the words of the great Jeremy Bullmore, sells ‘both immediately and forever’ [viii].

Let’s all make that our ambition too.


[i] Buy Binet & Field’s classic work ‘The Long and the short of it’ here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Long-Short-Balancing-Long-Term-Strategies/dp/085294134X

[ii] Martin Weigel is simply the best, most persuasive writer against the shortcomings of short-termism in advertising:

https://www.martinweigel.org/blog/the-tragic-horizon-resisting-marketings-drift-towards-the-business-of-value-destruction

[iii] For a brilliant analysis of the factors leading to short-termism read Gareth Price’s IPA Excellence Diploma prize-winning paper here: https://medium.com/@g_price/thinklong-b069e0f8bed9

[iv] I don’t subscribe to Bob Hofmann the Adcontrarian’s view that no offline brand has ever been built online, but do think it’s much harder to do so than it should be within the current media eco-system which is plainly better at direct response than brand-building: http://adcontrarian.blogspot.com/2015/05/take-refrigerator-test.html

[v] Les Binet is always keen to stress that it’s best not to attempt to optimise an individual execution to try and make it do both simultaneously and equally. He says that ‘Our research suggests that while all ads do both jobs to some extent, trying to do both equally in every ad is inefficient. Rather, it’s better to have a 60:40 balance of ads that (primarily) focus on the brand job and ads that (primarily) focus on activation. Making every ad a ‘brand response’ ad is a poor compromise’.

[vi] Millward Brown ‘Digital Behavior Analytics: what can search and social behaviour tell you about brand performance?’ 2016

http://www.millwardbrown.com/mb-global/what-we-do/media-digital/digital-behavior-analytics

[vii] ‘Measuring Effectiveness Three Grand Challenges’, Matthew Taylor, Google, 2019 https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-gb/consumer-insights/measuring-effectiveness-three-grand-challenges/

[viii]Jeremy Bullmore’s essay for WPP’s Annual Report 2017: https://www.warc.com/newsandopinion/opinion/jeremy_bullmore_a_20th_century_lesson_for_21st_century_brands/2701

The brand: the most valuable business tool ever invented

A brand can be a company’s most valuable commercial asset, but persuading CEOs to invest in theirs has never been harder. In an open letter to all CMOs, everywhere, I set out some key data to help them.

[first published by BBH Labs 22.03.18]

Dear All CMOs, everywhere

Hope you don’t mind me writing to you all like this but here’s a brief note and some data to help with an issue more and more of us seem to be having these days.

Have you got a CEO or CFO who just doesn’t seem to ‘get’ brand? Are they happy to allocate budget to performance activity but likely to run a mile before giving you what you need for brand-building? Are you confused about why they devote so little attention and resources to your company’s most valuable commercial asset, its brand? Maybe you even get people saying things like ‘we don’t talk about BRAND here’?

Well you’re not alone. Whilst many of us believe that brands have never been more important, successfully making the case for investing in them has never felt harder.

There are of course loads of reasons for this (quarterly reporting and short-termism chief amongst them) but it’s also partly because, to quote Jeremy Bullmore, ‘brands are fiendishly complicated, elusive, slippery, half-real, half-virtual things. When CEOs try to think about brands, their brains hurt’.

Brands are probably the most powerful and versatile business tool ever invented. And yet there’s a growing breed of business leaders who behave as if creating a famous, preferred, distinctive brand is an unnecessary luxury. Who think it’s enough to pay for PPC, optimise the SEO, create content, build a digital eco-system, communicate one-to-one with existing customers ‘for free’, or re-target prospects who’ve signalled some level of intent. Of course there are individual businesses that seem to be ok doing things this way, but if there’s a large body of evidence (not simply a few case studies) that proves the above approach can be used to drive long-term profitable growth across a range of categories, without investment in brand-building, I’d love to see it.

If businesses aren’t investing in their brand, maybe it’s our fault? I suspect we haven’t been selling the idea of brands as a business tool correctly. Marketers have tended to dwell on the mental and emotional side of brands (the hard to value stuff in people’s heads like memories, associations, feelings, values and personality). We’ve forgotten to give enough emphasis to the stuff that really matters to CEOs and CFOs: the rational, commercial stuff about what brands do to drive commercial value. We’ve been selling the magic but forgetting the logic.

Millions of words have been written on what brands are. So let’s not go down the ‘what’s a brand?’ wormhole – that’s mostly an internal marketing debate. Let’s just agree for now that a brand is something like what’s in people’s heads about a business, product or service. And then let’s focus on what’s most important for now: what brands do to create value.

So here’s a simple briefing document, free from marketing bullshit, explaining why brands are worth investing in:

A strong brand is a business’s most valuable commercial asset. It increases the chances of customers choosing your product or service over your competitor’s, attracting more customers, at a lower cost per sale, who are happy to pay a little more, and will buy it a little more often. A strong brand will deliver more revenue, profit and growth, more efficiently, year after year, and so generate more shareholder value. It can help attract, motivate and retain your second most important asset: your people. And can work as a barrier to entry for future competitors, creating a legal ‘monopoly’.

Here’s some of the evidence:

  1. By 2015 around 84% of the value of all businesses was intangible value, of which brand value is a key component, according to Ocean Tomo LLC[1].
  1. On average brand value accounts for about 20% of the total market capitalization of businesses according to an analysis of data from all the major brand valuation companies[2].
  1. Strong brands far out-perform the average business in terms of shareholder returns, with the BrandZ portfolio of strong brands growing by 124.9% from 2006-2017 vs 34.9% for the MSCI World Index[3].
  1. Strong brands can capture on average 3x the sales volume of weak brands according to a large study analyzing shopper habits by Kantar Millward Brown[4].
  1. The same study showed strong brands were commanding a 13% price premium over weak brands, and 6% above the average brand.[5]
  1. And it found that strong brands are 4x as likely as weak brands to grow in the following 12 months[6].
  1. According to Gain Theory, on average a +1% change in brand health (specifically brand consideration) can drive an uplift of 0.5-1.5% total annual sales[7].
  1. And a 10% increase in share of voice can decrease people’s price sensitivity by from 5% to as much as 20%[8] according to the same study. People are willing to pay more for strong, familiar, popular, visible brands.
  1. Brand-building activity drives much stronger sales growth over periods of 6+ months than the temporary uplifts driven from by short-term sales activation[9]. Brand-building activity leads to long-term improvements in base sales that short-term sales activity cannot.
  1. The optimum split in investment between brand-building and sales activation is on average 60% brand-building, 40% activation[10]. Invest less than 60% in brand activity and the brand equity required to generate future sales will not accumulate.
  1. 58% of the sales impact of all marketing communications activity is delivered in the long-term[11]: if you’re only looking at the short-term impact (ie via attribution modelling) you won’t see the full value of your investment.
  1. Online businesses in the UK now spend more on brand-building advertising than any other industry sector, £700m on TV alone in 2017[12]. When Google, Amazon and Facebook are amongst the biggest spenders on TV, it’s a pretty big clue that they’re deeply aware of the limits of the digital channels and formats in their own armouries to help them build their own brands.
  1. For our last data-point let’s turn to consumers themselves. A CEO’s 1 task is ensuring their company is trusted, according to respondents in the Edelman Trust Barometer[13]. In other words your consumers believe your CEO’s no.1 task is a brand and reputation-building task.

But let’s give the final word to the Sage of Omaha himself, Warren Buffett. A long-term advocate of the power of famous brands to keep the shareholder returns rolling in, he’s been very clear on what he believes is the key measure of a strong business, and it’s closely related to one of the most powerful things a strong brand can help do: give your business pricing power.

Good luck.

Yours faithfully,

Tom Roach

——————

[1] Ocean Tomo LLC

[2] Jonathan Knowles, Type 2 Consulting, analysis of data from the annual brand value league tables published by Brand Finance, Eurobrand, Interbrand and Millward Brown for the 6 years 2010 to 2015.

[3] Kantar Millward Brown, BrandZ, 2017.

[4] The Meaningfully Different Framework, Millward Brown, 2013.

[5] The Meaningfully Different Framework, Millward Brown, 2013.

[6] The Meaningfully Different Framework, Millward Brown, 2013.

[7] Thinkbox, Ebiquity, Gain Theory, ‘Profit Ability: The business case for advertising’

[8] Thinkbox, Ebiquity, Gain Theory, ‘Profit Ability: The business case for advertising’

[9] ‘Effectiveness in the digital era’, 2016, Binet & Field, The IPA

[10] ‘The Long and the Short of It’, 2013, Binet & Field, The IPA.

[11] Thinkbox, Ebiquity, Gain Theory, ‘Profit Ability: The business case for advertising’

[12] Thinkbox, ‘TV viewing report 2017’

[13] Edelmann Trust Barometer 2018

Most marketing is bad because it ignores the most basic data

Despite data being one of marketing’s obsessions, most brands aren’t extracting value from 11 of the most basic data-points available to everyone.

[First published by BBH Labs 04.12.17]

‘How did Facebook, which prides itself on being able to process billions of data-points…somehow not make the connection that electoral ads paid for in roubles were coming from Russia. Those are two data-points. You put billions of data-points together – you can’t put together roubles with a political ad.’

[Sen. Al Franken to Facebook’s General Counsel at the Senate judiciary subcommittee hearing 31.10.17]

The tech giants not spotting Russian involvement in the 2016 US election shows that even for the most advanced, data-driven businesses, the ones involved in the really deep drilling, there’s still a load of important data lying close to the surface, ignored and untapped.

Marketing suffers from a similar problem.

Only a minority of brands make highly creative and highly effective marketing communications. That’s distinctive, well-branded, emotional, fame-driving, maybe even award-winning. That will drive sales today, sales for years in the future, and deliver returns far beyond what the CFO would get if she kept the money in the bank.

And far from needing terabytes of data – the big data that so many marketers now talk such a good game about – it’s perfectly possible to make highly effective communications that do all the above with the help of just a few kilobytes of data.

So here are some of the simplest, most basic, but most fundamental data-points that could transform the effectiveness of any brand’s marketing, if only they were more universally known and used:

1. Start with the number 0 in mind, or start wrong.

For most brands, the biggest opportunity for growth comes from taking people from buying it zero times to buying it once in a typical purchase cycle[1]. Starting with zero means you’ll start from the right place – a place which assumes most of your customers don’t often buy your brand, don’t think much or care about it and certainly don’t give a s**t about your advertising.

2. Start wrong and you’ll end up making some of the 84% of advertising that doesn’t even get past the first hurdle of being noticed and remembered.

Only 16% of advertising is both recalled and correctly attributed to the brand (according to a study by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute of 143 TV ads[2]) suggesting 84% of ad spend could be going to waste if that’s replicated in the real world. It’s another sobering reminder that your audience don’t care about your advertising, so you’d better make it distinctive enough to make an impact and well-branded enough so people remember who it’s from.

3. Don’t expect customers to notice you, remember you and remember more than message.

An analysis by Millward Brown of their Link test database[3] provides evidence of something advertising people have always known instinctively: the more messages you try and communicate, the less likelihood there is of any single message being communicated (‘throw people one tennis ball and they’ll catch it, throw them lots and they’ll drop them all’). And remember this is from people who are being forced to watch your ads in pre-testing research: real people in the real world will remember even less.

4. Emotional campaigns are 2x as likely to be effective as rational ones in achieving all this.

According to Binet & Field’s work, emotional campaigns are twice as likely to be profitable as rational campaigns, more than twice as efficient at driving market share, and work especially well over the long-term[4].

5. Campaigns that aim for fame work 4x harder than the average.

Fame-driving campaigns are 4x as efficient as the average campaign, driving 4x the market share growth per 10 points of extra SOV[5]. Fame is a magic ingredient that can massively enhance the performance of your campaigns.

6. Creative execution matters a lot: it’s the 2nd biggest driver of ROI.

Market and brand size are together the biggest driver of advertising profitability, but the 2nd biggest factor is the quality of creative execution[6]. In fact it can impact ROI by a factor of 12. Creative execution is not ‘colouring in’: it matters more than nearly everything else.

7. Highly creatively-awarded work can be up to 16x as efficient.

Creative awards aren’t important. But Binet & Field’s work suggests that highly-awarded creative work is dramatically more efficient at driving market share growth than non-awarded work[7]. It’s more likely to get talked about, be remembered and most importantly, deliver a much stronger commercial impact.

8. For maximum effectiveness you’ll need to find the right balance between brand-building and sales activation, which is on average 60:40[8].

Getting the balance right between long-term brand-building and short-term sales activation, between creating memories and activating them, is important for maximum commercial effectiveness. You’ll have to experiment to work out what’s best for your brand, though.

9. Perhaps the most often ignored data-point is this: 10%pts of excess share of voice drives 0.5% market share on average.

All of this theory has essentially boiled down to an argument for ‘doing bloody good work’ so far. And obviously that’s not enough: if you don’t put decent money behind it, it can’t work. The data supporting this comes from various IPA studies linking share of voice with market share. On average, a 10%pt difference between SOV and SOM leads to 0.5% of extra market share growth[9].

10. Once you’re seeing an impact on brand consideration, you’ve got to keep going as it will drop 15% per week on average following a campaign.

A study by Mediacom business science modelling suggests that on average improvements in consideration will begin to drop at the quite alarming rate of 15% per week, and will be back at pre-campaign levels after 4 months[10]. Don’t be tempted to blow your media budget in ego-boosting bursts: reach your audience as continuously as possible.

11The good news is the impact you can see from even tiny shifts in brand consideration can be enormous: a +1%pt shift is worth on average 0.5-1.5% total sales according to Gain Theory’s analysis[11].

These 11 numbers take up just a few kilobytes of data. But employing the principles behind them could help transform the effectiveness of any brand’s advertising.

The average UK advertising campaign delivers £1.51 of short-term profit and £3.24 in long-term profit for every £1 spent, according to Thinkbox’s latest study of 1954 campaigns across 150 advertisers[12]. And the strongest short-term profit ROI recorded for a single campaign in this analysis was a massive £12.96.

With potential returns like this on offer, even for merely average marketing, it seems unbelievable that any brand would choose to either not advertise, not spend enough, or to not make good work.

Because making bad work is a choice: a choice that too many marketing teams make all the time by focusing on fashionable marketing buzzwords and ignoring the basics.


[1] Byron Sharp, ‘How Brands Grow’, Chapter 4

[2] Ehrenberg-Bass Institute study, quoted in ‘How Brands Grow’

[3] Kantar Millward Brown analysis the Link ad test database

[4] Binet & Field, The IPA, The Long and the Short of It

[5] Binet & Field, The IPA The Long and the Short of It

[6] Paul Dyson, Admap, Sept 2014,  ‘The Top 10 Drivers of Advertising Profitability’

[7] Binet & Field, The IPA, Selling Creativity Short

[8] Binet & Field, The IPA The Long and the Short of It

[9] Nielsen, Budgeting for the upturn does share of voice matter

[10] Mediacom Business Science Modelling

[11] Thinkbox, Ebiquity & Gain Theory, ‘Profit Ability: The business case for advertising

[12] Thinkbox, Ebiquity & Gain Theory, ‘Profit Ability: The business case for advertising

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The stupidity of sameness and the value of difference

The case for the importance of difference & distinctiveness in business, brands and marketing communication. [First published by BBH Labs 20.03.19]

Sameness is commercial suicide – whether your chosen way of being different is differentiation or distinctiveness[1] or like me you’re a cakeist and would ideally want both. Yet there’s a growing ‘sea of sameness’ out there, and the sea levels seem to be rising.

The idea of competitive advantage is intrinsically linked to difference. Which is why the marketing sections of business books always say the same thing – difference matters – and no marketing professors ever advocate sameness as a winning strategy.

This goes back to 1933 when Edward Chamberlin’s seminal book ‘The Theory of Monopolistic Competition’ first introduced the idea of product differentiation, suggesting that real or simply perceived differences, however slight, help pair buyers with sellers according to their preferences. It came to be accepted orthodoxy that emphasising differences between your brand and others could increase people’s appreciation of your offer, make it hard for people to make direct comparisons, make them less sensitive to features of competing offers, and more willing to pay a premium for your brand.

But differentiation has taken a beating in the last decade from Byron Sharp and the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, who, whilst acknowledging that it exists and matters to a degree, believe its role in consumer choices is less pronounced in practice than the textbooks would have us believe and that brands tend to be much more substitutable than previously thought. They advocate an alternative strategy, ‘distinctiveness’, which is about increasing the visibility of the brand in its competitive environment and making it look more recognisably itself.

Here’s my view, for what it’s worth. The central importance of brand differentiation has probably been over-stated historically, and the importance of distinctiveness had been under-stated until recently. But seeing the two as unrelated, alternative strategies rather than potentially complementary ones means we may be missing out on deploying the full power of difference at a crucial time: a time when both differentiation and distinctiveness have never been less evident in actual marketing practice.

Because on marketing’s frontline, the differentiation vs distinctiveness debate can seem like an irrelevance when brands being different in any way is getting harder and harder to spot in the wild. In fact, if you want to be really critical, sameness, not difference, seems to be becoming the common denominator for many brands today, and whilst this seems true in many categories, it’s especially so in the world of digital service brands.

Although it’s fair to say, this is nothing new – BBH Labs spotted this in 2017 with its discovery of at least 27 brands using the construct ‘Find your X’ in their communications:

The sameness we’re all witnessing is the combined effect of brands being too similar in their offers, poorly differentiated in their branding, and undistinctive in their communication.

Is the value that business, as a whole, places on being different declining? If so there are probably multiple causes rather than a single smoking gun. In this world of agile product development, genuine differences in products can now be eroded faster than ever. Differences tend to be smaller, less tangible and more fleeting. What makes a company different in its totality could be a combination of thousands of tiny differences, rather than larger, more singular, more permanent points of difference. Perhaps these many small differences are harder for marketers to get a fix on, distil and build their brands around. Perhaps in a world where ‘pivoting’ is all the rage, the notion of pinning down what’s enduringly different about a brand and distilling that into consistently distinctive brand assets and communication is falling out of fashion. Perhaps it’s a symptom of the fact that so many marketers now learn on the job in specialist siloes rather than getting formal marketing training where they’d have the big over-arching theories like differentiation and now distinctiveness drummed into them.

Whatever the reasons for the decline in the pursuit of difference, rather than arguing about the relative importance of differentiation vs distinctiveness, let’s aim our fire at an enemy that should unite us all: sameness.

So if you think your brand could be in danger of heading into a sea of sameness, here’s some data that could help:

  1. BEING UNIQUELY DIFFERENT IS MORE PROFITABLE

Operating in uncontested market space is far more profitable than competing for a share of an existing market. A study of 108 business launches from 2004[2] showed that the 14% competing in uncontested market space (‘Blue Oceans’), achieved 38% of the total revenue impact and 61% of the total profit impact. Whilst the majority of 86% business launches were competing in existing markets (‘Red Oceans’), only achieved 39% of the total profit impact.

  1. BEING SEEN AS DIFFERENT CAN DRIVE BRAND VALUE

Over a three-year period from 2015-2017 brands that were perceived to be both highly disruptive and different increased in brand value by 28%, whereas brands that were perceived as both low in disruption and differentiation declined by -5%[3].

  1. BEING SEEN AS DIFFERENT CAN PREDICT SALES GROWTH

Brands which people score strongly for both meaning and difference grow sales around 8.2% better in the following year than brands which score poorly, with difference being responsible for at least 50% of the predictive power[4].

  1. PEOPLE WILL PAY A PREMIUM FOR BRANDS THEY THINK ARE DIFFERENT

An analysis of actual prices paid (from the loyalty card data of 2400 shoppers for 79 brands) showed that shoppers paid 22% more for brands they find different and meaningful vs those they didn’t, with difference alone accounting for 40% of this on average[5].

  1. ADS THAT MAKE BRANDS SEEM DIFFERENT ARE MORE LIKELY TO DRIVE SALES

The top 1/3 ads for ‘make the brand seem really different’ in Kantar’s Link database achieve +90% vs the bottom 1/3 on Kantar’s measure of an ad’s likelihood to drive short-term sales[6].

  1. DISTINCTIVENESS IS HIGHLY MEMORABLE

In 1933 psychologist Hedwig von Restorff showed that distinctiveness drives memorability[7], giving her name to the ‘Von Restorff Effect’ (aka the ‘The Distinctiveness Effect’ and the ‘The Isolation Effect‘), which predicts that when multiple similar things are presented, the one that differs from the rest is more likely to be remembered.

Similarly, ‘The Bizarreness Effect’ predicts that incongruent or surprising things are more memorable than expected and common ones as they’re more distinctive. Researchers from the University of California[8] measured the brain activity of respondents, who whilst wearing EEG caps, read a series of sentences of which some contained semantically incongruous words like “Turtles are not as smart as mammals like socks or dogs.” The data showed a large spike in brain activity when participants read the incongruous word in the sentence, suggesting these words resulted in a significant degree of involuntary attention and processing.

  1. DISTINCTIVE, HIGHLY CREATIVE ADVERTISING SLOGANS ARE MORE MEMORABLE

Research into the von Restorff effect in creative advertising found that highly distinctive ad slogans are much more likely to be recalled, but only if they’re judged to be high quality and not if they’re substandard. The slogan ‘The beer that made Milwaukee jealous’ was remembered by 85% in the study but the marginally more distinctive but substandard slogan, ‘Ya hoo, that’s some brew’, was only remembered by 45%.[9]

  1. DISTINCTIVE BRAND ASSETS DRIVE AD RECOGNITION

Advertising featuring known distinctive brand assets achieved an average +34% higher advertising recognition in a study by Jenni Romaniuk at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute[10].

9. DISTINCTIVE BRAND CAMPAIGNS ARE MORE PROFITABLE

‘Distinctive brand campaigns’ featuring recognisable brand ideas & assets achieved a +62% stronger short-term profit ROI vs campaigns which didn’t in an analysis of 1300 campaigns by Ebiquity[11].

  1. DISTINCTIVE ADS CORRELATE WITH SALES GROWTH

Audi’s measure of the distinctiveness of their advertising correlates with increased media-driven sales (relative to total volume sales) between 2015-2017[12].  Audi has also found that when an ad has strong cut-through, it is three times more efficient at driving orders.

More research may be needed on the relative importance of differentiation and distinctiveness before the academic debate can move on, but hopefully this data will help more marketers on the frontline fight the onslaught of sameness wherever they see it.

And perhaps one day differentiation and distinctiveness may be seen as two useful and complimentary tools in the marketing armoury rather than entirely opposing schools of thought.

Clearly there’s no point magicking up distinctive brand assets or distinctive advertising from nowhere. So identify your strengths and differences and build your brand around them. Use them to inform the development of distinctive brand assets and truly distinctive communication. Deploy them consistently. So that everything you do and say makes you look more like you and less like others.

Being different from others and looking recognisably like you works.

Difference is playing it safe, sameness isn’t. Sameness is playing it stupid.

Or as they say at BBH, when the world zigs, zag.

Brand purpose. The biggest lie the ad industry ever told?

I was asked recently to give a talk answering the question ‘does brand purpose really drive profit?’. My very short answer to it was ‘yes it can, but mostly it probably doesn’t’.

And the slightly longer answer to it was ‘it really depends, but on balance brand purpose is over-used in marketing today and its power over-stated, and it’s actually best used as a business tool by companies that are genuinely committed to conscious capitalism, rather than as a bolt-on by marketing teams looking for a quick sales fix’.

I suspect no robust data analysis will ever prove conclusively that it’s better for brands to be ‘purposeful’ than for them not to be. By cherry-picking case studies, you could probably make whatever argument you wanted for or against it: whether that’s highlighting examples that show purpose can drive profit or by cherry-picking examples of brands getting it wrong, in order to suggest it can’t. Or if you want to undermine the whole concept of purpose entirely, pointing to brands pretending to be purposeful, or even highlighting the many highly successful non-purposeful brands.

So it’s quite easy to cherry-pick examples to make whatever case you want. In fact one of the people who made purpose so popular in business and marketing was ex-P&G Global Marketing Officer, Jim Stengel, whose book, ‘Grow’, was founded on essentially a big cherry-picking exercise where he took the top 50 performing brands on a measure of brand strength and claimed that what linked them, and so accounted for their success, was that they all had a brand ideal to make the world a better place in some way – I recommend you look up Richard Shotton’s article and talks on this as he rips apart the data behind Stengel’s book in a way that I’m not going to do justice to. But it’s a very compelling case.

I will pick two cherries of my own though just to show you I’m not actually a purpose sceptic, just a sceptic of certain types of supposedly ‘purposeful’ brand communications. A personal favourite example is Timpsons, a UK shoe repair chain, who do amazing work employing ex-prisoners, and repeatedly get listed as one of the top 10 best companies to work for. They don’t even use the word ‘purpose’, and you’ll never see them running empowering TV ads humbly bragging about the good they do, but by most definitions they look pretty purposeful. An example close to me is Barclays, which has been on a journey of internal transformation since the Libor scandal, that has helped it discover for itself a more positive role in society via fantastic initiatives like Digital Eagles and LifeSkills. Barclays saw a return on investment from its advertising about these societal initiatives far stronger than the ROI for ads talking about current accounts and mortgages. It’s a kind of marketing alchemy that Barclays ‘purpose-led’ advertising about them helping young people with job interview techniques sold hundreds of millions of pounds worth of mortgages. That’s clearly a win-win. But for every Barclays, there’s a handful of other brands with pseudo-purposeful ad campaigns that are clearly just cynical attempts to jump on board a societal issue in order to grab some headlines and turn around flagging sales.

So overall I think there are probably 3 broad types of brands that define themselves as having a purpose that we see in the marketing world. Imagine three concentric circles containing three types. At the bullseye we see brands that are Born Purposeful, often founder-led, often small, niche, usually founded with a societal purpose and where purpose goes across the whole business operation. Toms and Patagonia are perhaps the most often-cited examples of this. No one ever seems to argue about brands like this – very clear purposes, and business models designed to balance purpose and profit. In the middle concentric circle we see a second type, which tend to be Corporate Converts – often larger businesses which have adopted the concept of purpose more recently. They usually seem to genuinely want to make a positive difference to the world alongside making money, sometimes to correct past wrongs or just to become a better corporate citizen. They’re by definition on a journey of transforming themselves and are often more complex businesses, and because of that they may have to make pragmatic decisions that favour profit over purpose in certain instances. They may not have a business model that’s built around their purpose. They may have certain voices internally who are more committed to their purpose than others, and they’re likely not to have a founder present who’s committed to keeping the business permanently in line with its purpose in all its decision-making. So they’re naturally a greyer area. Purpose often becomes a new type of business vision or Northstar for these kinds of brands – they will typically need to find a space at the top of their strategy pyramid for their new purpose.

And there’s a third kind, on the outer circle, which I would call Pseudo-purposeful brands – these are the ones for which purpose is just a new ad campaign claiming to try and solve an issue like gender or racial equality, or toxic masculinity or whatever the most resonant topic is that their social listening data says is trending with their demographic that month. This is the kind of purpose that’s least likely to become embedded across every function of a business, it was probably cooked up in the marketing department, and so is far less likely to take root within an entire organisation, be taken seriously and gain long-term investment. And so it’s far less likely to be profitable in the long-term.

So there are probably three types of purposeful brand: 1. Brands that are Born Purposeful, 2. The Corporate Converts, 3. The Pseudo-purposeful brands doing what’s recently been labelled ‘woke advertising’. And the likelihood of purpose driving a profit probably decreases from type 1 to 3.

And whilst it’s fairly obvious that, like most things, brand purpose sits on a spectrum, the debates about purpose in marketing always seem to be hugely divided, with the industry’s biggest beasts all coming down firmly on one side or the other. Unilever’s Keith Weed and Tesco’s Dave Lewis are believers. But two of marketing’s most well-known Professors, Byron Sharp and Mark Ritson are non-believers, who tend to see marketing’s obsession with purpose as a sign that marketers have lost confidence and pride in their core task – to sell.

The simplest, most no-nonsense view, is this, expressed by Jenni Romaniuk of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, who when asked about brand purpose said simply: “A brand’s purpose is to sell stuff.”

Mark Ritson, says this: “Brand purpose is mostly nonsense talk. There are a couple of brands, like Ben and Jerry’s…they were founded with purpose first. But for most of the brands in the room, the banks and telcos, these noble purposes that all sound the same – they are not differentiated, customers don’t give a shit.” Ritson tends to see Purpose, with some specific exceptions, as bad marketing practice, unlikely to lead to brand differentiation and lacking in relevance for most consumers. He sees most purpose marketing as failing to help brands create relevant differentiation, help them stand out from the crowd in a way that motivates consumers. He also attacks purpose as a layer of bullshit applied to pull the wool over the eyes of gullible consumers. Writing about Starbucks he said this: Time and again we encounter the lofty, admirable sheen of brand purpose only to discover it flakes off with even the slightest scratch to reveal a darker, more commercial sub-surface beneath. Starbucks’ famous mission ‘to inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time’ is about as lofty as it gets. But it contradicts mightily the company’s abject inability to align its tax responsibilities accordingly”.

Byron Sharp not only sees deception and duplicity going on with marketing’s obsession with Purpose – but also spots something a bit deeper – a level of self-deception, even self-loathing going on here amongst marketers. He says “[Brand purpose] is almost like an apology as we feel marketing is so disrespectful and evil that we have to do this other stuff. I think that’s terrible. If marketers don’t stand up for marketing, who will?

Very few people in marketing seem to disagree with the importance of brand purpose when the examples cited are companies built on progressive business models that successfully share the proceeds of growth in order to help alleviate a societal problem. But when advertising becomes a significant part of the conversation about purpose, things tend to go awry. In fact, my view is that if being purposeful means doing ads to you, then you’re probably doing it wrong.

So that’s where I stand. But how did we get here? How did we get to a place where brand purpose became simultaneously the most pervasive yet divisive concept in marketing? How can we explain the rise and dominance of brand purpose in early 21st century marketing?

My answer to that last question is this.

The dominance of brand purpose in marketing is perhaps the inevitable consequence of advertising people being told by everyone else, for about 150 years now, that they’re liars. That what they do is deceitful, that it’s of little or no positive value to society, that it doesn’t matter. Constantly hearing this view has helped give many advertising people a feeling of self-doubt about the role they play in society.

An Ipsos-Mori poll from 2018 found that ad execs are the least trusted profession in the UK, with only 18% of respondents saying they trust ad execs to tell the truth. That’s worse than estate agents, journalists, even politicians. A long-running study with over six decades of data, suggests that around 70% of the public tend to see advertising as untruthful – and that this number has stayed more or less stable for all of that time. This tallies with a finding from the Advertising Association that trust in the ad industry overall was around 30% in 2018.

And my theory is that perhaps advertising people have subconsciously sought in response – through their eager adoption of the concept of brand purpose – to prove they can be of value to society and that their work can do some good. The great irony here being that a response which has resulted in advertising people pretending, for example, that a brand of carbonated sugar water can solve some of society’s biggest issues, will actually have the opposite of the intended consequence: most of the pseudo-purposeful advertising out there just makes ad people and their output seem even more deceitful.

Advertising people have always sought to present themselves as respectable, responsible corporate citizens in the face of the strong suspicion that they’re not. You only have to look at the agency names DDB, BBDO, WPP, Ogilvy & Mather, J Walter Thompson, to see agencies trying to present themselves as respectable, professional people, to sound like lawyers or accountants. David Ogilvy’s schtick was to present himself as the refined aristocrat of advertising amongst the sharks and hucksters of New York. Despite or even because of the legalistic name, the New York agency BBDO, was nicknamed, by none other than President Harry S Truman, as ‘Bunco, Bull, Deceipt and Obfuscation’. Bill Bernbach built his agency DDB’s reputation on the idea that he was selling ‘the truth wrapped in wit’, in order to stand out against the deceitful salesmanship expected of the time, with ads that themselves told extreme versions of the truth like ‘Lemon’ for the VW Beetle.

‘The Adman’s Dilemma – from Barnum to Trump’ is a fascinating book by the cultural historian Paul Rutherford, which for me goes some way to explain why advertising has always been and remains one of the least trusted professions, and why advertising is seen by so many as a kind of licensed deception. It chronicles the prevailing anti-advertising cultural narrative since advertising’s early days in the mid-19th century from PT Barnum right up to the present day. Rutherford starts with Barnum whose skill deceiving a gullible public helped him achieve a reputation as the king of false advertising, ‘the uber-Huckster’.

Rutherford’s book chronicles the public outcry, and subsequent regulatory response, to the advertising of the patent medicine moguls in the US – who for several decades from around the 1880’s used mass communication to deceitfully claim their medicines could cure people of almost every medical problem. The most famous patent medicine born in this era of course being Coca Cola which was introduced in 1886.

The book goes on to discuss how the 1950’s and 60’s saw one of the most famous moments in the anti-advertising movement when a series of bestsellers including ‘The Hidden Persuaders’ by journalist Vance Packard caused a moral panic about the nefarious and deceitful psychological techniques supposedly being used by the newly ubiquitous TV advertisers. There are clear parallels I think between the scares of the ‘50’s and the scares we have now about the use of our personal data by Facebook as well as the use of psychometric targeting for political advertising in elections. Whatever side you’re on in the debate about Facebook, the demonization of Mark Zuckerberg clearly has parallels with this trope of the adman as public manipulator and arch-deceiver.

Perhaps the most relevant anti-advertising episode for a discussion about brand purpose is Naomi Klein’s 1999 global bestseller ‘No Logo’. Klein’s book was an unashamedly anti-capitalist attack on the negative societal impact of advertising, which pointed out the hypocrisy of many of the global brands appropriating social and moral values whilst also engaging in questionable employment and environmental practices, in a fore-shadowing of the critiques of some of today’s more obviously pseudo-purposeful advertising.

By highlighting some of the worse behaviour of global brands, No Logo played its role in subsequent efforts by big businesses to clean up their acts and become good corporate citizens. Which in turn is leading to many businesses becoming more purposeful and taking on the philosophy that’s now called conscious capitalism.

To Rutherford, Mad Men’s Don Draper is the archetypal sufferer of the ‘adman’s dilemma’, of whom he says ‘whatever success he found, he found his life empty, hollow, he searched for some experience more real, more authentic’, and quotes Don Draper’s Stepfather saying to him “You’re a bum, what do you do, what do you make? You grow bullshit.”

So given the way advertising has always been portrayed in culture, it’s not hard to see why ad people would jump at the chance to show they’re respectable professionals whose work can have a positive impact on society. But in choosing to jump so fulsomely onto the brand purpose bandwagon we may just be making matters worse for ourselves.

When what we really need to do to prove our value to society, is to prove our commercial value first and foremost – to have pride in the value we create and so demonstrate the role we play in driving the economy, and therefore society, forwards. There’s plenty of genuine virtue to be had in that.

In the final scene of the final episode of Mad Men, we see Don Draper meditating on a clifftop, and as if in a eureka moment in his meditative state, we cut to the famous 1971 Coke ad ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’. So we see a fictionalised advertising genius dreaming up a real celebration of peace, love and harmony, an idealised depiction of hippie culture, and appropriating it for a genuine commercial for the world’s most famous and valuable brand. It’s a fittingly brilliant blend of fact and fiction, authenticity and artifice.

It’s simply the most perfect ending for the show to have Don Draper, the archetypal, self-deceiving adman, whilst himself searching for a more authentic, more purposeful existence, dreaming up for a brand of carbonated sugar water, what may well have been the Patient Zero of all the pseudo-purposeful advertising that would follow in the decades ahead.

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect representation of advertising’s complex and uneasy relationship with truth, lies and brand purpose.

The Greatest Hits of Binet and Field

I compiled the most important and useful charts in the work of advertising’s ‘Godfathers of Effectiveness’, Les Binet & Peter Field, in this piece, first published by the IPA in 2018.

Please download them, use them, share them.

No two individuals in the history of advertising have done as much to uncover its overall commercial impact as Les Binet & Peter Field.

For people who care about advertising effectiveness, doing our jobs without their work is inconceivable. They have provided so much evidence of so many fundamentals: the strong relationship between share of voice and share of market, the causal link between levels of creativity and advertising’s effectiveness, the need to balance long-term brand-building with short-term sales activation, the exceptional commercial impact of emotional and fame-driving communications, to name just a few.

But if I had one wish, it would be that their work was even more famous, could make even more of a difference to even more marketers and their brands, especially to people who are specialists in performance marketing and social channels, who may not have been brought up on their work.

Which is why I wanted to select my own ‘Greatest hits’ from their huge back catalogue. These are the charts that have proved most popular with strategists, and most enduring and useful in persuading CMOs, CEOs and wider stakeholders of the commercial value of brand-building communications. Here they are:

Brand Purpose. ¿La mentira más grande que ha contado la industria publicitaria?

[Traducción al español por Adrian Mediavilla]

Me pidieron recientemente dar una charla respondiendo a la pregunta “¿el propósito de la marca realmente genera ganancias?”. Mi respuesta muy breve fue “sí, puede, pero probablemente no”.

Y la respuesta un poco más larga fue “realmente depende, pero en general el brand purpose se usa en exceso en el marketing y su poder se sobrevalora, y en realidad es mejor usarlo como una herramienta de negocios para compañías que están genuinamente comprometidas con el capitalismo consciente, en lugar de ser un complemento de los equipos de marketing que buscan una solución rápida de ventas”.

Sospecho que ningún análisis de datos robusto demostrará de manera concluyente que es mejor que las marcas tengan un “propósito” a no tenerlo. Al elegir a mano los case studies, probablemente cualquiera podría hacer cualquier argumento que quisiera a favor o en contra: sea que el propósito puede generar profit o, si selecciona ejemplos de marcas que lo hacen mal, para sugerir que no puede. O si desea desprestigiar por completo todo el concepto de propósito, señalando a las marcas que fingen tener un propósito, o incluso destacando las muchas marcas de gran éxito sin propósito.

Resulta bastante fácil elegir a mano ejemplos para hacer cualquier argumento a favor o en contra. De hecho, una de las personas que hizo que el propósito fuera tan popular en los negocios y el marketing fue el ex responsable de marketing global de P&G, Jim Stengel, cuyo libro, ‘Grow’, es esencialmente un gran ejercicio de selección de casos en el que obtuvo las 50 con una marca más fuerte y argumentó que lo que las hace exitosas era que todas tenían una ideal de marca para hacer del mundo un lugar mejor de alguna manera. Recomiendo la consulta del artículo y las charlas de Richard Shotton sobre esto, dado que él destroza los datos del libro de Stengel de una manera a la que yo nunca voy a hacer justicia. Pero es un caso muy convincente.

Elegiré dos cerezas propias, solo para mostrarles que en realidad no soy un escéptico de propósito, solo un escéptico de ciertos tipos de comunicaciones de marca supuestamente “con propósito”. Uno de mis ejemplos favoritos es Timpsons, una cadena de reparación de calzado del Reino Unido, que hace un trabajo increíble empleando a ex prisioneros, y en repetidas ocasiones aparece como una de las 10 mejores compañías en las que trabajar. Ni siquiera usan la palabra ‘propósito’, y nunca los verás produciendo anuncios televisivos en los que se jactan humildemente del bien que hacen, pero según la mayoría de las definiciones parecen tener una marca con bastante propósito. Un ejemplo cercano a mí es Barclays, que ha estado en un viaje de transformación interna desde el escándalo de Libor, que les ha ayudado a descubrir por sí mismos un papel más positivo en la sociedad a través de iniciativas fantásticas como Digital Eagles y LifeSkills. Barclays vio un retorno de la inversión de su publicidad sobre estas iniciativas sociales mucho más fuerte que el ROI para los anuncios que hablan de cuentas corrientes e hipotecas. Es una especie de alquimia de marketing que la publicidad “dirigida por el propósito” de Barclays acerca de ayudar a los jóvenes con técnicas de entrevistas de trabajo vendiese hipotecas por valor de cientos de millones de libras. Eso es claramente un win-win. Pero por cada Barclays, hay un puñado de otras marcas con campañas publicitarias con un pseudo propósito que claramente son solo intentos cínicos de abordar un problema social para captar algunos titulares y darle la vuelta a sus pobres resultados comerciales.

En definitiva, creo que probablemente hay 3 grandes tipos de marcas que se definen a sí mismas como “marcas con propósito” y que vemos en el mundo del marketing. Imagine tres círculos concéntricos que contienen estos tres tipos. En el centro de la diana vemos marcas que nacen con propósito (Born Purposeful), a menudo dirigidas por sus fundadores, a menudo pequeñas, nicho, generalmente fundadas con un propósito social y donde el propósito abarca toda la operación comercial. Toms y Patagonia son quizás los ejemplos más citados de esto. Nadie parece discutir sobre marcas como éstas: propósitos muy claros y modelos comerciales diseñados para equilibrar el propósito y las ganancias. En el siguiente círculo concéntrico vemos un segundo tipo, que tiende a ser conversos corporativos (Corporate Converts), a menudo empresas más grandes que han adoptado el concepto de propósito más recientemente. Por lo general, parecen realmente querer marcar un cambio positivo para el mundo a la vez que ganan dinero, a veces para corregir errores del pasado o simplemente para convertirse en un mejor ciudadano responsable. Están, por definición, en un viaje de transformación y, a menudo, son empresas más complejas, y por eso pueden tener que tomar decisiones pragmáticas que favorecen el beneficio sobre el propósito en ciertos casos. Es posible que no tengan un modelo de negocio construido alrededor de su propósito. Es posible que tengan ciertas voces internas que estén más comprometidas con su propósito que otras, y es probable que no tengan un fundador presente que se comprometa a mantener el negocio permanentemente en línea con su propósito en toda su toma de decisiones.Son, por su naturaleza, un área más gris. El propósito a menudo se convierte en un nuevo tipo de visión comercial o estrella polar para este tipo de marcas: por lo general, deberán encontrar un espacio en la parte superior de su pirámide de estrategia para su nuevo propósito.

Y hay un tercer tipo, en el círculo exterior, al que llamaría marcas con pseudo propósito (Pseudo-purposeful): estas son para las cuales el propósito solo se trata de una nueva campaña publicitaria que pretende tratar de resolver un problema como la igualdad de género o racial, o la masculinidad tóxica o cualquiera que sea el tema más resonante que sus datos de escucha social dicen que es tendencia en su target ese mes. Este es el tipo de propósito que es menos probable que se incruste en todas las funciones de una empresa, probablemente se desarrolló en el departamento de marketing y, por lo tanto, es mucho menos probable que se arraigue dentro de toda una organización, se tome en serio y crezca a lo largo del tiempo. Por lo tanto, es mucho menos probable que sea rentable a largo plazo.

Por lo tanto, probablemente hay tres tipos de marcas con propósito: 1. Marcas que nacen con propósito , 2. Los conversos corporativos , 3. Las marcas con pseudo propósito que hacen lo que recientemente se ha etiquetado como “publicidad consciente” (woke, en el original). Y la probabilidad de que el propósito genere ganancias probablemente sea decreciente del tipo 1 al 3.

Y si bien es bastante obvio que, como la mayoría de las cosas, el propósito de la marca se encuentra en ese espectro, los debates sobre el propósito en el marketing siempre parecen estar enormemente divididos, con las bestias más grandes de la industria cayendo firmemente de un lado u otro. Keith Weed de Unilever y Dave Lewis de Tesco son creyentes. Pero dos de los profesores más conocidos del marketing, Byron Sharp y Mark Ritson, son no creyentes, y tienden a ver la obsesión del marketing con propósito como una señal de que los vendedores han perdido la confianza y el orgullo en su tarea principal: vender.

La visión más simple y de sentido común es ésta, expresada por Jenni Romaniuk del Instituto Ehrenberg-Bass, quien cuando se le preguntó sobre el propósito de la marca dijo simplemente: “El propósito de una marca es vender cosas”.

Mark Ritson, dice esto: “El propósito de la marca es principalmente una conversación sin sentido. Hay un par de marcas, como Ben y Jerry’s … que fueron inicialmente fundadas con un propósito. Pero para la mayoría de las marcas, los bancos y las compañías de telecomunicaciones, estos nobles propósitos suenan igual: no están diferenciados, a los clientes no les importan una mierda”. Ritson tiende a ver el Propósito, con algunas excepciones específicas, como una mala práctica de marketing, que probablemente no conduzca a la diferenciación de la marca y carezca de relevancia para la mayoría de los consumidores. Él ve que el marketing con propósito no ayuda a las marcas a crear una diferenciación relevante, no ayuda a que las marcas se destaquen de la multitud de una manera que motive a los consumidores. También ataca el propósito como una capa de bullshit para crear confusión en los ojos de los crédulos consumidores. Al escribir sobre Starbucks, dijo esto: “Una y otra vez nos encontramos con el brillo admirable y elevado del propósito de la marca solo para descubrir que se desvanece incluso con el más mínimo rasguño para revelar una sub-superficie más oscura y comercial debajo. La famosa ‘misión’ de Starbucks para inspirar y nutrir el espíritu humano: una persona, una taza y un vecindario a la vez ‘es lo más idealista posible. Pero contradice poderosamente la abyecta incapacidad de la empresa para alinear sus responsabilidades fiscales en consecuencia ”.

Byron Sharp no solo ve engaño y doble moral en la obsesión del marketing con el Propósito, sino que también descubre algo un poco más profundo: un nivel de autoengaño, incluso de autodesprecio entre los marketers. Él dice: “[El propósito de la marca] es casi como una disculpa, ya que sentimos que el marketing es tan irrespetuoso y malvado que tenemos que hacer estas otras cosas. Creo que eso es terrible. Si los especialistas en marketing no defienden el marketing, ¿quién lo hará?”

Muy pocas personas en marketing parecen estar en desacuerdo con la importancia del propósito de la marca cuando los ejemplos citados son empresas basadas en modelos comerciales progresivos que comparten con éxito los ingresos del crecimiento para ayudar a aliviar un problema social. Pero cuando la publicidad se convierte en una parte importante de la conversación sobre el propósito, las cosas tienden a salir mal. De hecho, mi opinión es que si tener un propósito significa hacer anuncios para contárselo a la gente, entonces probablemente lo esté haciendo mal.

Ese es mi punto de vista. ¿Pero cómo llegamos aquí? ¿Cómo llegamos a un lugar donde el propósito de la marca se convirtió simultáneamente en el concepto de marketing más penetrante y a la vez más divisivo? ¿Cómo podemos explicar el aumento y la dominación del propósito de la marca en el marketing de principios del siglo XXI?

Mi respuesta a esa última pregunta es la siguiente.

El dominio del propósito de la marca en el marketing es quizás la consecuencia inevitable de que la gente lleve 150 años llamando mentirosos a los publicitarios. Que lo que hacen es engañoso, que tiene poco o ningún valor positivo para la sociedad, que no importa. Escuchar constantemente este punto de vista ha ayudado a muchas personas que trabajan en publicidad a tener dudas sobre el papel que desempeñan en la sociedad.

Una encuesta de Ipsos-Mori de 2018 descubrió que los ejecutivos de anuncios son la profesión menos confiable en el Reino Unido, con solo un 18% de los encuestados que dicen que confían en que los publicitarios dicen la verdad. Son menos fiables que los agentes inmobiliarios, periodistas, incluso políticos. Un estudio de larga duración con más de seis décadas de datos sugiere que alrededor del 70% del público tiende a ver la publicidad como falsa, y que este número se ha mantenido más o menos estable durante todo ese tiempo. Esto coincide con un hallazgo de la Asociación de Publicidad que confía en la industria publicitaria en general fue de alrededor del 30% en 2018.

Y mi teoría es que quizás la gente de publicidad ha buscado inconscientemente en respuesta, a través de su ansiosa adopción del concepto de propósito de la marca, demostrar que pueden ser valiosos para la sociedad y que su trabajo puede hacer algo bueno. La gran ironía aquí es que es una respuesta que ha dado con los publicitarios fingiendo, por ejemplo, que una marca de agua con azúcar puede resolver algunos de los problemas más grandes de la sociedad, en realidad tendrá lo contrario de la consecuencia pretendida: la mayoría de los pseudo-propósito la publicidad solo hacen que los publicitarios y sus creaciones parezcan aún más engañosas.

Los publicitarios siempre han tratado de presentarse como ciudadanos corporativos respetables y responsables ante la fuerte sospecha de que no lo son. Solo tiene que mirar los nombres de las agencias DDB, BBDO, WPP, Ogilvy & Mather, J Walter Thompson, agencias que intentan presentarse como personas respetables y profesionales, cuyos nombres suenan como despachos de abogados o contables. El truco de David Ogilvy fue presentarse como el aristócrata refinado de la publicidad entre los tiburones y los vendedores ambulantes de Nueva York. A pesar o incluso a causa de su nombre jurídico, la agencia de Nueva York BBDO, fue apodada, por nada menos que el presidente Harry S. Truman, como ‘ Bunco, Bull, Deceipt y Ofuscation’. Bill Bernbach construyó la reputación de su agencia DDB con la idea de que estaba vendiendo “la verdad envuelta en ingenio”, con el fin de destacarse contra el engañoso vendedor clásico de la época, con anuncios que a su vez contaban versiones extremas de la verdad como “Lemon” para el VW Beetle.

‘The Adman’s Dilemma – from Barnum to Trump’ es un libro fascinante del historiador cultural Paul Rutherford, que para mí explica de alguna manera por qué la publicidad siempre ha sido y sigue siendo una de las profesiones menos confiables, y por qué la publicidad es vista por muchos como una especie de engaño con licencia. Es una crónica de la narrativa cultural anti-publicidad que prevalece desde los primeros días de la publicidad en la mitad del siglo XIX de PT Barnum hasta el día de hoy. Rutherford comienza con Barnum, cuya habilidad engañando a un público crédulo lo ayudó a alcanzar una reputación como el rey de la publicidad falsa, ‘el súper-charlatán’.

El libro de Rutherford narra la protesta pública, y la posterior respuesta regulatoria, a la publicidad de los magnates de la medicina patentada en los EE. UU. La medicina patentada más famosa nacida en esta era, por supuesto, es Coca Cola, que se lanzó en 1886.

El libro continúa discutiendo cómo los años 50 y 60 vieron uno de los momentos más famosos en el movimiento antipublicidad cuando una serie de best-sellers que incluyó ‘The Hidden Persuaders’ del periodista Vance Packard causó pánico moral sobre las técnicas psicológicas nefastas y engañosas supuestamente utilizadas por los entonces recientes anunciantes de televisión. Creo que existen paralelos claros entre los miedos de los años 50 y los que tenemos ahora sobre el uso de nuestros datos personales por parte de Facebook, así como el uso del targeting psicométrico para la publicidad política en periodo electoral. Cualquiera que sea el lado en el que estés en el debate sobre Facebook, la demonización de Mark Zuckerberg claramente tiene paralelos con este tropo del publicista como manipulador público y engañador.

Quizás el episodio antipublicidad más relevante para una discusión sobre el propósito de la marca es el éxito de ventas mundial de 1999 de Naomi Klein ‘No Logo’. El libro de Klein fue un ataque descaradamente anticapitalista contra el impacto social negativo de la publicidad, que señalaba la hipocresía de muchas de las marcas globales que se apropiaban de valores sociales y morales al tiempo que se involucraban en prácticas cuestionables de empleo y medioambientales, en un adelanto de la críticas a algunas de las marcas más obvias de pseudo propósito de la actualidad.

Al destacar algunos de los peores comportamientos de las marcas globales, “No Logo” jugó su papel en los esfuerzos posteriores de las grandes empresas para limpiar sus actos y convertirse en buenos ciudadanos corporativos. Lo que a su vez está llevando a muchas empresas a ser más decididas y asumir la filosofía que ahora se llama capitalismo consciente.

Para Rutherford, Don Draper de Mad Men es el sufridor arquetípico del ‘dilema del publicitario, del cual dice ‘cualquier éxito que encontró, encontró su vida vacía, hueca, buscó alguna experiencia más real, más auténtica’, y cita al cuñado de Don Draper diciéndole: “Eres un vagabundo, ¿qué haces, qué creas? Te dedicas a cultivar el bullshit”.

Entonces, dada la forma en que la publicidad siempre se ha retratado en la cultura, no es difícil ver por qué los publicitarios aprovecharían la oportunidad de mostrar que son profesionales respetables cuyo trabajo puede tener un impacto positivo en la sociedad. Pero al elegir saltar de manera tan obvia al carro del propósito de la marca, es posible que sólo empeoremos las cosas.

Cuando lo que realmente necesitamos hacer para demostrar nuestro valor para la sociedad es demostrar nuestro valor comercial en primer lugar, tener orgullo en el valor que creamos y demostrar el papel que desempeñamos en impulsar la economía y, por lo tanto, la sociedad hacia adelante. Hay virtud genuina en eso.

En la escena final del episodio final de Mad Men, vemos a Don Draper meditando sobre un acantilado, y como en un momento de eureka en su estado meditativo, cortamos el famoso anuncio de Coca-Cola de 1971 “I’d like to teach the world to sing”. Es entonces cuando vemos a un genio publicitario ficticio soñando con una verdadera celebración de paz, amor y armonía, una representación idealizada de la cultura hippie y apropiándosela para un anuncio de la marca más famosa y valiosa del mundo. Es una combinación brillante de realidad y ficción, autenticidad y artificio.

Es simplemente el final más perfecto para el espectáculo tener a Don Draper, el publicista arquetípico y autoengañador, mientras él mismo busca una existencia más auténtica y con propósito, soñando con una marca de agua con azúcar, lo que bien pudo haber sido el Paciente Cero de toda la publicidad con pseudo propósito que siguió en las décadas posteriores.

Es difícil imaginar una representación más perfecta de la relación compleja e incómoda de la publicidad con la verdad, la mentira y el propósito de la marca.