Since I’ve been back in Australia there has been something that has really bothered me about the marketing in this country.
Everything is a one-off bang. And I am not talking about this media and that media aren’t integrated. I am more talking about the fact that most brands seem to have only one thing to say, they say it for a while, then they disappear only to reemerge with a new brand and a new message.
Now that might not seem abnormal, but here’s the thing. I don’t recognise or remember any of the communications that I see now from when I visited a year ago. Contrast that to Sweden, where after being away for 2 years I came back and the big advertisers were still using their communications platforms. Which meant that I recognised them. Recalled them. Noticed them. Bought them. The supermarket chain ICA was still (20 years on) using their characters and store setting for their ads. Tele2 was still using Frank - the black sheep CEO. ComHem was still doing their takeoffs of internet memes. They have been building on the memories and associations that their platform provides while changing the product or tactical message for the business issue at hand.
So why isn’t this being done in Australia?
Why is Optus changing from their short lived yellow box visual treatment to a cartoon talking bubble?
Why is each Qantas ad entirely different from the last?
Why is it that each car ad from a brand is entirely different, even if its from the same class?
Why is it that most brands slap on the same tagline and call it a communications strategy?
Why can I only think of 2* brands that actually have a properly thought-out communications platform that they execute their tactical messages and product spin-offs through?
My first thought was that it was due to the fact that agencies and CMOs don’t hang around very long. Tenure for both is on average 1.5 years. So by the time you’re in, get a new agency, start work and push it out, it’s time to replace the CMO and fire the agency.
But I think the issue is bigger than that. It’s a fundamental idea of what communications are and how they work. Specifically what is brand and what is product communication and their separation. Great work doesn’t separate the two. Never. But what seems to happen here more than in Sweden is that brand strategy (strategy is used loosely here) is separate from the campaign strategy and the thing that ties it all together - a communications strategy is missing.
So you have this big lofty brand strategy which is often, at best, just expressed by a logo, type treatment, a couple visual cues and perhaps a tagline. And then the campaign is supposed to execute this in a short burst by filling in the rest of the media with something else.
Why not when developing the brand, take the time to consider the next 12 months of comms. What do we need to say and do during this time and develop a territory with that in mind. It shows the territory can have legs. It also can show that it does the job. And most importantly it lets you explore the idea through a lot of work to show how consistency can be interesting, not boring.
The problem today is that each campaign execution is just an execution of a campaign idea. Which is then removed from the brand idea. Which is then removed from the business idea. The reality is you really only need one strategy. Not a brand, or a campaign or a digital but a communications strategy.
Dove is a great example. Lots of people say its a poster child of social cause blah blah. Irrespective of that is that it is a clear demonstration of where the brand and the communication strategy are one and the same. It’s about making women feel good about themselves by highlighting real beauty. That’s why they can do an ad like this and and web documentary like this and it all feels like the same brand. This communication platform is unusual as it isn’t built on any specific characters, symbols or cues, but just a really strong idea and voice. And in its category that is enough to create a distinct position in people’s minds.
So when I look back at some of the big advertisers in Australia. The ones really pumping out ads, I wonder, where are this big ideas?
Telstra’s rebrand is basically a visual guideline. What is their voice? What makes anything Telstra? No idea. Well actually, its a sweet little animation of lines that they add to the end of a film or the bottom of a poster. That’s what they’re building their brand on.
Commbank’s ‘Can’ campaign cannot be said to be a communications platform. It’s just a tagline. Anything that ends with Can seems to be their idea. Can be animated. Can be people. Can be boring. There is no voice to the brand except to say they ‘can do’ things.
What I want is big thinking that resonates in every execution, no matter how tactical. It’s big thinking that guides execution to be good but quick and cheap to make. It’s big thinking that creates distinct memories for those who see the work.
If there are any clients out there who want big thinking, let’s chat.
Screw small thinking. I have had enough. Think big or go home.
* These two brands are VB and Coles.