Posts Tagged ‘brand’

Pop Tarts and Coronets : How brands find rebirth in the Now! Economy

Do we worship celebrities? Maybe. A while ago, a smart wag who was looking for a quick column inch to help promote a book identified a psychological condition: Celebrity Worship Syndrome. An unfortunate malady has developed from this type of homage.  
Certainly brands seek the endorsement of the gods of sport and entertainment, and over the years major brands have enjoyed the fruits of their investment. But the Now Economy age is challenging our appetite for the celebrity deity. Yesterday, Nike distanced itself from its iconic Blade Runner charge, Oscar Pistorius. His alleged crime, framed by an OJ Simpson-style court room soap opera, was perhaps a tragic reality moment too far.  

Roping in celebrities, then giving them whopping amounts of money so the target customer associates himself with their products, is now under the microscope as never before.  Some onlookers argue that it has lead to greater brand risk. The Tiger Woods meltdown is a stain and Lance Armstrong is a shocking historical footnote; but neither dropped the brand into a sewer of disrepute. Instead brands just seek a shinier version to replace the shattered and defamed icon.

Will the likes of Gillette or Nike stop embracing celebrities? I doubt it, but the process of choosing personalities will become more scrupulous and the potential benefits derived from endorsements will encounter tougher inspection. 
The pressure loaded upon celebrities is a matter of brutal fact. Thrust into a harsh spot light, the lustful crowd feasts upon and then shares failure. The spectacle is a microwaved  morsel inside a 24 minute news cycle; fleeting and inconsequential. Brands are naturally cautious when employing a celebrity, and by acting fast and making appropriate silences to distance themselves from a downturn, they are swiftly able to offer up a new hero to bear the yoke of burden. For a price.
The media may use a calamity to produce lurid headlines suggesting a meltdown.  But the facts are clear: recent sports star crises might herald brand obituarists to reach for the quill, but it’s nothing more than rhetoric. The storm rises, the storm passes. The subsequent calm creates a happy opportunity for an agency to launch a bright, new, shining opportunity. The crowd sighs and faces a fresh champion served on a golden podium to be toasted by cheap champagne. The spin cycle of sporting heroes continues.

Beckham and the Bounce-Back Brand

David Beckham epitomises the modern celebrity age: in any other era, we wouldn’t have blinked an eyelid at a 38 year old footballer, other than for the sheer amount of time he had managed to stay in the game. Past his prime, we may no longer celebrate his on-pitch prowess in the same way, but we cannot deny the mammoth commercial clout of his brand. I marvel at the noise and clamour surrounding his move back to Europe.

The Beckham brand in its multiple forms has taken on global proportions, shepherding the herd with it at every stage. By leveraging his football career as a gossip point, David Beckham has been able to move across every point on the map. Beckham’s commercial success has been manifold, moving under the knowledgeable hands of Simon Fuller’s management company 19 from football to perfume and from fashion to advertising. He has moved from pitch to pitch and field to field seamlessly, enlisting the loyalty of millions worldwide each step of the way. We might only speculate on the actual contract struck with the club. Charitable donation is a wonderful stunt, but I guess we’ll never see the real deal.

Beckham is the master of reinvention, rivalling Madonna’s notable highs for his capacity to renegade over the course of his career. Along the way he has modelled clothes, endorsed some of the world’s biggest brands, and seized the world’s attention at all times. The interest that he has harvested across the globe – from the US to China – is now nestling itself into Paris Saint Germain, bringing glamour to the team and providing an opportunity for him to hide from the glare of the paparazzi under the country’s privacy laws.

So what’s the next step for the man who’s done everything in his career? Well, hopefully he will invest his brand capital in becoming a statesman for the game. His role in the Olympic 2012 bid carries a formidable legacy. It’s time for the likes of Beckenbauer and Platini to stand aside. Hopefully Golden Balls has the stuff.

There’s so much more for Beckham than the pantomime of the clichéd pundit pit. On home turf, not since the likes of Trevor Brooking or Bobby Charlton has football had a dignified British football statesman who could bring their wealth of knowledge and experience to the game. Beckham’s in it for the long haul.

Brands like Red Bull like Felix

So #Felix is no longer just a brand of cat food or a defunct cartoon character, but embodies a new marque of heroism and maverick adventure.  A stuntman extraordinaire, who last night earned much sort after one word equity.

Felix Baumgartner, a 43-year-old Austrian, former military parachutist,  skydived into the record books. Jumping from 23 miles above the earth, Felix reached a mind numbing maximum speed of 833.9 miles per hour (1,342 kilometres per hour)- amounting to Mach 1.24, faster than the speed of sound.

In the midst of all the furore surrounding our new superstar, I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the brand hero who made it all possible – Red Bull.

Over the past 10 years Red Bull has done its level best to own and invest its central ethos into speed, adventure and heroics . From the Flugtag to Felix,  Red Bull has taken the reins, moving beyond usual corporate sponsorship and creating extraordinary events tailor-made to communicate its values,  in an uncompromising pursuit of brand nirvana.

Back in a land time has forgotten I developed a strategic roll out for a net channel, Network of The World: a challenging brand with a passion to be the first footing web entrepreneurs of the new age of information culture. NOW were looking for a big  idea to kick start the brand across the globe. I found a team of adventurers with a big event idea, and they introduced me to Joe Kittinger.

Until yesterday Mr Kittinger was the parachute record holder. His 1960 record was broken by Felix, who Kittinger coached and mentored throughout the development of the jump. Kittinger was the only person allowed to communicate with Mr Baumgartner while he was inside the capsule which carried him into space.

Kittinger was a scarily impressive action man; a real life super hero whose bravery allowed the development of suits used by the Space crews who ultimately stepped foot on the moon. His primitive jumps 50 years ago did not benefit from the technology which aided Felix in the 21st century. His adventure had all the qualities of great stories that capture imaginations around the world. It was dangerous, it was visually captivating, it was a tale of one man triumphing against the odds, and he was ready to work with us to make it happen again.

We spent months working on a means to bring the event to fruition, but alas NOW did not have the resources to enable a edge of space jump back in 1999. Their loss was Red Bull’s gain, and so naturally I have been watching Red Bull’s methodology of delivering the hype for Felix’s jump keenly.

The brand has paid meticulous attention to detail, drilling down to the heroics and the romance of the story, creating a captivating narrative that will benefit them for years to come. They are one of very few brands with the guts and disruptive forethought to own this type of event, and a number of lessons might be learnt from them.

Many, many brands search for global ubiquity. Many are on the constant look out for big ideas, throwing massive budgets behind half pregnant creatives framed by global advertising support. Few ignite the imagination and match a brand ethos. All too often time is wasted on ill considered, flash-in-the-pan stunts that fail to ignite a relationship with the brand. Few invest in the brain power and few have the culture of patience to work through an idea. In a strict risk averse culture, it is almost impossible to nurture Maverick thought, or to embrace the odd personalities with the best ideas.

Yesterday Felix and Red Bull raised the bar. The challenge is clear: just as Baumgartner took Kittinger’s mantel, the global brand that will claim Red Bull’s throne will be the one that is able to contemplate the true definition of the little word with frightening, but powerful, career implications – risk.

IKEA: A Storm in a Flatpack

IKEA, the Swedish lifestyle and furniture goliath, suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism on Tuesday after it emerged that the company airbrushed images of women from the Saudi edition of its consumer bible.

Not surprisingly this decision has created a mega PR storm in a flat pack. Will the hue and cry harm the blue and yellow consumer icon with an estimated brand value of over $11 billion? Speculation suggests the gaffe is akin to a Soviet information ministry official airbrushing Trotsky from Politburo publicity. But is this a brand wounding blow? Or just another example of brand hubris?

Ikea’s crisis management is in fair shape; it acted quickly in an attempt to extinguish the negative chatter by offering a full mea culpa. Noticeably, the vacuum is temporarily plugged, although the social media sites perpetuate the embarrassing mistake. Its on-going actions will be studied with some interest. Hopefully they’ll take greater care and not ignore the warning.

A lesson learnt, earlier in my career when representing the likes of Cirque du Soleil and the Bolshoi Ballet, both companies of world renown, is that it isn’t always easy to translate a global brand to the local idiom. The brand ethos and global marketing assets sometimes disengaged with a local audience who didn’t buy into a homogenised corporate entertainment approach. The Saudi example proves that as Ikea expands it must take greater care to elongate the IKEA clichés across cultures. Many brands are focused on this issue, tuning their offering to suit local sensibilities. But that doesn’t mean blindly adhering to a simplistic reading of a region’s values. It means cultivating a sophisticated understanding of the native terrain- with investment in deep research- in order to foster an approach to communications that genuinely chimes with the needs and desires of local people, while remaining true to the heart of the brand.

The shrinking media universe continually proves brand mishaps are consumed with glee. Perhaps IKEA needs to do some long and hard thinking about the gospel of the flat pack. “Happiness is not reaching your goal. Happiness is being on the way.” This was the Ikea founder, Ingvar Kamprad’s message to his co-workers. It was written in the mid-70s and yet has echoing resonance when considering the airbrush SNAFU.

Vladimir Putin and the pitfalls of the personality cult

Vladimir Putin inspired worldwide scorn and a few great photoshops this week when he announced his plans to aid the migration of some unfortunate birds with the help of his trusty hang glider and a superhero-esque costume. In some sense, people are right to laugh- Putin is a crazed autocrat, so mad on his personality cult that he is to an extent divorced from the realities of the media.

And yet, we might consider an alternative, somewhat disruptive viewpoint. There is something here the western media are missing. A Russian friend of mine recently remarked to me that it’s difficult for an outsider to grasp the necessity of projecting an image of macho power to maintain dominance in mainstream Russian society. In mocking Putin we are implicitly denying the fact that this is a serious means of holding on to some serious power.

What’s more, scoff all you want but you can’t deny Putin’s achieved some kind of result. In the wake of the Pussy Riot scandal, his brand was about as toxic as a politician’s can get. Now, he’s a laughing stock abroad- probably one step up from a tyrannical monster- and at homeamongst the less vocal majority of Russian society, his masculinity is re-affirmed.

What builds a personality and makes an icon is unpredictable. Twenty years ago it would have been extremely difficult for a person with severe disabilities to enjoy national treasure status, now our newspapers are full of smiling paralympians. The result of sustained, progressive public perception changing work this may be, but it goes to show that, when it comes to the motivations of the crowd and the drivers of fame, you really can never say never.

There’s a lesson here for CEOs. Don’t behave quite like Putin, but accept that building an inspirational brand involves activities which might sound ridiculous or unachieveable to the naysayers. Sometimes, it really is best to shut out the critics and go your own way.

How do you solve a problem like Frankie? Channel 4 joins the major leagues

Channel 4’s valiant efforts at major sports broadcasting have met two very particular challenges this week, each testing their capacity to cope with the full burden of an excitable, demanding and very very large public. It’s a classic David/Goliath situation. Channel 4, having spent a good deal of promotional budget painting itself as the rising underdog of Olympics broadcasting, the outlier set to burst in and show the turgid BBC how it’s done, has suddenly found itself with everything it wanted. Following the unexpectedly stellar status of the Olympics, the eyes of the world now turn toward the Paralympics. With them, however, comes a colossal weight of expectation. Whether C4 will weather the storm and emerge triumphant remains to be seen.

First, Frankie Boyle. The wayward Scotsman’s unique brand of Mail-baiting, arch-teenage snipery has always served Channel 4 well in grabbing a few controversial column inches and maintaining the broadcaster’s edgy comedy credentials. However, over the past few days the broadcaster has learned that relying too much on mavericks can be dangerous. When you become part of the mainstream, you’ll find yourself just as much in their firing line, and Boyle has certainly fired on the Paralympics with trademark lack of restraint.

No comment on whether his gags raised any smiles here at the Borkowski offices, but they won’t have done in some quarters at Channel 4. Whether the ‘insiders’ quoted in the press carry any authority or not, its unquestionable that suits will be debating how best to distance themselves from the comic. Certainly they must to some degree, but they’ll need to tread a fine line to manoeuvre out of the reflected ire whilst not compromising their alternative credentials or besmirching past decisions.

Then there’s the rather more deeply ingrained issue of ad breaks. ‘Thanks for warm up’ proclaimed C4’s brilliantly snarky billboards, and they were only half-kidding: the public now is more hungry for cerebral yet saccharine Olympic/Paralympic sports broadcasting than ever before. However, they’ve been raised on a diet of uninterrupted coverage. Of course, a commercially funded broadcaster might believe that it’s reasonable to interrupt coverage more than their publicly funded rival. They’re right- it is reasonable. The problem is that people aren’t. The backlash against ad breaks was inevitable and is likely to be surprisingly pervasive in the public memory of the Paralympics. Too late now, but C4 might have done more to negotiate with advertisers about an alternative to traditional ad breaks since winning the rights.

C4 hasn’t made any serious mistakes yet, and they’ve still plenty of time to make the Paralympics the personal legacy project they deserve, but they’re learning fast that it’s tough at the top. Welcome to the major leagues.

Harnessing the crowd, and knowing what they want (what they really really want)

The tremendous response this week to the launch of Viva Forever! The Musical(manhandled by my esteemed colleague Dee McCourt and her team of pixies) probably came as a surprise to many in the higher echelons of the arts and media world. Yet the tremendous outpourings on twitter, not to mention the reams of coverage and the national front pages, are testament to the power of a great brand used well. The musical will be- permit me to say it- fabulous, thanks to the astute professionalism of all involved, but we are reminded, too, of the enduring power of a nostalgia brand, particularly in stressful and troubled times. Understanding the crowd is a rare thing, and something only true PR thinkers really excel at.

The Spice Girls worked, and continue to work, because a fantastical, quasi-geographical world and brand story was created around them. With ‘girl power’, they took the rudiments of late-era feminism and combined it with the cheery patriotism of the Britpop age to create a sort of feelgood nationalism. Their exuberant laddette/coquette charm projected a charming imageof an irreverent, boisterous, red and blue dayglo Britain. Crucially to those with an eye on the girls’ cashflow, this appealed not only to those indigenous to the Isles, but to folk across the world ready to buy into a heartwarming vision of a green, occasionally mean, but always pleasant land.

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What brands can learn from Jimmy Carr’s mistakes

The issues arising from scrutiny of Jimmy Carr’s tax affairs have much to teach us about the proper handling of a crisis and structuring of a brand strategy in the Now economy. The affair encapsulates problems which are endemic to any brand- the reason I’ve enjoyed giving some much commentary on the whole sordid business is that they are problems which I set up my new business to help address. Most pertinently, it has much to teach about when smart thinking should be brought into play- a little disruptive thought and hard work in a time of peace can come into immeasurable value in avoiding times of strife.

I Spoke with the Today Programme last Thursday, and then Drivetime on 5 live the same afternoon, and both conversations revolved around the same hubs: the speed at which the affair took light, the role of social media and the public conversation in prompting Carr to apologise, the damning power of Hubris in a public figure. You can listen to both on this post if you’re interested, but in summary I could only conclude that, given the circumstances, Carr did the right thing in delivering a frank and swift apology.

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The Royals and Us: Is it Really So Rosy, Or Just Another Fad?

The following originally appeared on on June 2nd

In the run-up to the Jubilee juggernaut, the western media has become obsessed with the newfound brand success of the British Royal Family aka Brand GB – pomp and circumstance consolidated holdings. Whatever your feelings on Good Queen Bess and her spawn, it’s impossible to ignore the remarkable difference in public attitudes-particularly among younger demographics- to those you’d have found at a similar point in safety-pinned ’77 or icily indifferent ’02. However, is it all really so rosy? Or is this just another fad? Perhaps, arguably, the greatest PR turnaround for any institution.

The Jubilee is a time for nostalgia, so let’s look back. When Lillibet placed herself upon the throne in a docile fashion in ’52, it was in uneasy shape. A collapsing Empire, a half-baked socialist zeitgeist and the ominous first tremors of the multifarious cultural revolutions to come were imperceptibly weakening the crown’s hold over the Nation. As an organisation, too, the Royal Family was troubled: a gaggle of distant siblings led by an increasingly remote matriarch.

Her initial decade or so in power saw a golden period with the public. Over the subsequent 50 years, however, the Royal Brand’s PR fortunes waxed and waned. The overall trend was destructive. The rise of the tabloid press, the growing disruptive iconoclasm associated with late 20th century youth culture and some ridiculously poorly judged behaviour on the part of key figures culminated in a post-Diana brand ground zero. The monarchy barely figured in public attention at all, other than when the media got it together to disinterestedly spit some bile at Harry’s latest sartorial nasty or nightclub fumble. Not a great idea to dress up as a Nazi for a night of revelry.

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Pippa- Maybe down but Not Out

A deep collective breath is perhaps needed. Pippa Middleton’s identification with firearms last weel, thanks to the somewhat incautious actions of friend Romain Rabillard, has led many to predict that her fledging career in the public eye is already over. Like her sister, runs the thinking, Middleton’s image relies on propriety- all 3 Middleton siblings have a tidy line in British demureness and easy class (bum jokes aside, that is). Now she’s been seen with a gun-toting aristocrat, speeding down a Paris Rue (or possible Avenue) to what the media must assume was some kind of hedonistic love-fest, we’ll all fall out of love with her. I cannot imagine this being the case.

Unquestionably, she’s damaged a previously untarnished image. However, if recent public opinion surrounding the Royals shows us anything, it’s that this is no longer a family (or extended family) you can write off at the drop of a hat. Besides, whatever becomes of Pippa, it’s highly unlikely that such an affair would do much to worry the custodians of the Royal Brand, who keep their charges in a very different space.

It seems like no time at all since we saw Harry splashed all over the papers, dressed in an SS uniform, stumbling out of a party. I wonder how all the commentators who wrote him off then felt when they saw the almost sickeningly adoring coverage around his recent meeting with Usain Bolt. Probably as gobsmacked as the rest of us, to be fair.

Undoubtedly, Pippa will have learned a hard lesson- when you’re associated with the Royals, you’re damned whatever you do, and you’re judged by the company you keep. However, I’d say this lesson comes at an opportune time. Still in the first flush of fame, this episode should teach Pippa how to begin thinking of herself as a brand. The key now will be for her to think about what she represents, move away from the users and hangers on who inevitably attach themselves to the newly famous and begin considering the serious commercial applications of her brand I’m sure remain just around the corner.