Like to take a bit of a break from the digital world and do a bit of engaging with the real world, especially when the weather is so nice. So expect a bit less action on the blogging, tweeting, status updating front for a while.
A new era in the on-going success story of Viva kicked off during the World Cup.
Inspired in no small part by a couple of back-to-back shoots in South Africa (and a realisation of the admittedly immature fun you can have with the accent - like does sound a bit like lick, honestly!), we also felt there was an opportunity to capitalise on the added interest in all things RSA stimulated by 22 overpaid blokes kicking a ball around.
So after previously asking people to Up It, we went one step further, and asked them to Lick It!
And for complete transparency, someone may also have seen this at some point ;o) ...which is, itself, very much in the spirit of Viva.
As regular readers will know, I like a bit of the old archetyping (even if I rarely get to do any in parctice, explicitly at least, the idea of universal character and story is always at the front of my mind).
Which is why the latest offering from Tom Fishburne got me laughing (ironically)...
And archetypes are just the vehicle here.
Whatever approach to brand development you happen to use, how often have you worked with people who think a kitchen sink approach is more appropriate?
After all, why focus if that means leaving stuff out that someone, somewhere might (just, you never know) find relevant.
Yes, you're right: it's better to try and be all things to all people (and mean nothing to anyone) ;o)
Nice little new biz win from an ex-client at his new job. Which always feels good.
Dormen's are a premium nut and snack brand, originally set up by 3 Old Etonians, stocked in the likes of Harrods and Fortnum & Mason, served up in The Dorchester and Claridges, but also now available down your local supermarket.
It's one of the age old questions of marketing: you've done a brilliant campaign, so what next? The same again, and reap the benefits of consistency? Or start over, and go for another step change? both run the risk of failing, but the former is clearly the safer option.
Which I guess were considerations that have been on the minds of the Old Spice team over recent months. The first 'relaunch' commercial was a cracker, and real bolt from the blue: clever, fun, ironic and completely unexpected from such a tired old brand...
It deserved all the plaudits it received...and may even have shifted some product at the same time (you never know!)
So in light of success, it obviously made perfect sense to do the same again...
And it's still pretty damned good. Nothing to be ashamed of here, let's be clear.
It's just so hard to bottle magic. The 'how did they do that' factor is gone, not just because they told us how they did it last time...but because (pair of jeans aside), you can see the joins this time (still clever though).
The new film ticks all the right boxes (and is still way better than most ads out there), but doesn't really have the step change impact of the original (and could never hope to).
And consolidation might well be the right business decision for Old Spice, when you've gone from zero to hero so swiftly.
I guess the niggling question is what if they had ditched the constraints of campaignability and done something as radically different again? What might that have achieved?
Easier said than done, obviously. And could have crashed and burned. But is the potential upside sometimes worth the risk?
Note: just for honesty's sake, I should point out I would have done exactly the same as Old Spice, and been very pleased with the results...but you can ask the questions ;o)
I like reading science mags, as they often spur tangential thoughts of relevance to the day job. So prepare for some possibly long-winded ramblings inspired by on article on resilience in Seed Magazine.
Developed in the early 70s by Canadian ecologist C.S. "Buzz" Holling, resilience science exists at the intersection of chaos theory and ecology, and studies the behaviour of complex adaptive systems found in nature. Rather than behaving in a predictable (and so manageable) linear fashion, where shifts from one form ('good') to another ('bad') can be identified early and addressed, complex adaptive systems are characterised by the ability to exist in often fundamentally different states of equilibrium, where the shifts between these states are as instant as they are unexpected.
So a lake may exist in a 'positive' stable state one day, clear, fresh and oxygen rich, a state people assume will continue 'forever' (why shouldn't it), only for it to undergo a binary shift (almost overnight and for no apparent reason) to a stagnant, algae swamped mire…a 'negative' stable state that seems as intractable as the previous positive state. Which is no hypothetical example – this is something that happens with worrying frequency.
Naturally, when you look below the surface (quite literally, in this case) the causes become clear…retrospectively at least. More often than not, such shifts are due to the slow, imperceptible build up of nitrogen-based fertiliser, washed from surrounding fields, changing the lake’s eco-system until a tipping point is reached from which there's no turning back.
For a complex ecosystem to remain in a ‘positive’ equilibrium, you have to protect against both significant, unexpected events (Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s black swans) and the underlying structural weaknesses we are often unaware of until the whole edifice tumbles down around our ears. Identifying how to maintain these positive states is at the heart of resilience studies. And, counterintuitive as it may be to our market driven mentalities, it is often ‘unnecessary’ inefficiencies and redundancies in an eco-system which provide the buffers and protection to survive shocks and resist shifts to a negative equilibrium state.
Which is why (in nature) biodiversity is so important, and needs to be protected. And why 'efficient' heterogeneous populations and monocultures are so vulnerable. Because, on many criteria, bio-diversity is actually inefficient – how many different butterflies can you possibly need any way?!
Take another example from nature: there was a specific fish on the reefs of Jamaica that fed off the algae which would otherwise have decimated the coral. But over fishing caused a collapse in stocks of this particular fish (as has happened in many places around the world). Luckily though, nature had built in an inefficient, algae-eating redundancy: spiny sea urchins, whose numbers exploded now that their main competitor in the food chain had been eliminated. Which was all well and good. Until that is, two more unforeseen externalities – a deadly bacteria and a hurricane (neither of which would have had any significant affect on the original fish) – killed off the urchins, giving free rein to the coral strangling algae. The result: again, a binary shift from one steady state (coral-dominated) to another (algae-dominated) in the eco-system.
All of which resonated for me, given the increasing complex and uncertain times we seem to be living through.
Let’s not forget, striving after efficiency has been a central tenant of business for decades – always looking to do more with less…driving profitability and share holder value as a consequence. And brand marketing has often been at the sharp end of this cost cutting, not least as it is so easy to cut budgets here with little (obvious) downside…in the short term at least.
But as we sit in the midst of an economic meltdown caused almost entirely by such financial fixations, it is now clear to all but the most dogmatic that ruthless efficiency is not always the most effective path to follow, whether thinking long term success (heaven forbid we take the long view) or how to weather the unexpected black swans of disaster that seem to be flying in with ever greater, but no more predictable regularity.
So when thinking of effective business models in such unstable times, maybe there are things our 'ecosystems' of brands can learn from the natural word and the concept of resilience. After all, a broken global economy, that goes from an apparent eternal boom to a worryingly irreversible bust just as quickly and unexpectedly, shows all the hallmarks of a complex adaptive system that was not resilient enough to stay in positive equilibrium.
Imagine that a set of Jenga blocks defines your business or brand (stick with me!!). And that each block has a cost attached to it. With all 54 blocks in the tower, you have a positive ‘steady state’. And it is highly resilient, the inefficiency of redundant blocks making for a robust structure. Now some redundancy is unnecessary clearly (there are many ‘obese’ businesses out there, slow and fat), and this particular system could still be resilient with fewer blocks. But how much inefficiency should be removed? Theory would say, as much as is possible: take out half the blocks (maybe more). Your ‘business’ stays the same height, but you’ve halved the cost and increased profits accordingly.
Which is a not untypical response to many business challenges, and would generally be considered good practice. But the more blocks you remove, the more you reduce system resilience…and the more those unexpected external forces, and hidden underlying problems come in to play. Take your Jenga tower: a sudden gust of wind, a shift in ‘market conditions’ that requires you to place a banana on top, the sudden realisation that your tower is built on a slight slope; all provide the stimulus needed for an instant shift to a new steady state equilibrium: a pile of bricks on the table.
Now think of the parallels in ‘real world’ business or brand management: removing ‘excessive’ (and costly) quality from your product, switching your call centre to India, cutting your marketing budget. All may seem good business decisions that address inefficiencies and improve profitability. But each is the equivalent of removing Jenga blocks from your tower, reducing resilience and hastening potential system collapse as a consequence.
Brand health measures may hold steady. Usage data my look healthy. And there could be no discernable impact on sales (yet). But if resilience theory is correct, this means nothing. You could still wake tomorrow to find that everything is in free fall for no apparent reason (“how was I to know?”).
And the moral?
Inefficiency has long been public enemy no.1 in modern capitalist economies, the ‘bottom line’ dictating that we must reduce the ‘biodiversity’ of our businesses and brands (“any colour as long as it’s black”!). Sometimes this is the right thing to do – being quick and flexible is a good idea nowadays. But, as in nature, we also need to accept that a blinkered, dogmatic pursuit of cost cutting efficiency at all costs is not always the optimum approach for long term success. Particularly as our business systems get ever more complex (and self-adaptive…often beyond our control – see the social media effect), we need the diversity and redundancy (the positive inefficiencies if you like), that provide resilience to shock and change.
Bottom line: short-termism kills (as all sensible people probably knew already).
(Note: as an aside, which occurs to me after finishing this, a recognition of the need for business resilience and to protect your brand eco-system would, I hope, have implications for how those same businesses behave in the wider world; a mind-set change that leads to a recognition of the need for similar positive resilience in the societies, cultures and natural environments they operate in. Which can only be a good thing).