When Do Brands Overstep The Mark?

This is a brilliant sketch from Saturday Night Live, inspired by this year's Superbowl commercials, it captures the conversations that appear to be going on in marketing departments and ad agencies today...



In my opinion, it seems agencies and marketers need a sense check. They need to ask themselves if they really know why people buy what they buy.

Usually the reality is that most people just want products that simply meet their needs and do what they’re meant to do (some economists call this ‘satisficing’ – when people choose, they don’t always search through the detail of every option available to find the perfect choice).

Most people don’t need or want a brand to have a ‘higher purpose’ or to stand for something above and beyond the role that the product plays in their lives. 

Of course it’s a positive thing for brand owners to feel that their products have a useful and worthwhile place in their customers’ lives. But many brands are guilty of vastly overstating and overplaying their role in grand ‘brand purposes’.

Who wants to be told how to lead their life by a beer? Or moralised to by a soap manufacturer? Certainly no one outside of marketing departments and deluded agencies.

“The worst thing about these hyperbolic brand visions is that they lead to equally fantastical and idiotic tactical work.” Mark Ritson, Associate Professor of Marketing, Melbourne Business School.

I think this kind of self-important approach leads to cynical, patronising advertising that has nothing to do with the real reasons we choose the products and services we use.  People aren’t fooled by it. 

But what do you think? Is it okay for brands to get involved? When do you think brands overstep the mark?

More Than 200 Experts Behind You, Our New Campaign For Racing Post

Our new campaign for Racing Post breaks this week. The aim is to establish RP's position as the authority on all things horseracing and the go-to place for the best betting intelligence.

Looking into this brief we discovered that Racing Post has more people working behind the scenes on reporting, data analysis, breaking news and technology than anyone else in racing. But we were conscious that we didn't want to make the typical chest-beating brand ad that people are tempted to go to on this kind of brief. We're always thinking what's in it for the punter? What the horseracing enthusiast or regular bettor (at whom these ads are aimed) cares about is getting the best information when and where they need it, whether that be on the app, website or paper.

So we came up with the idea of wherever people happen to be using a Racing Post product, the RP team are right there with them, whether it's a load of data analysts on the top deck of a bus, a group of tipsters in your bed, or the whole RP staff crammed into your front room. The campaign is launching the new line When You Bet On Racing, You Can Bet On Racing Post, and to bring it to life we went to the team who have helped us to make some great Racing Post ads in the past.

The spots were directed by the excellent Tom King at Gas & Electric, who is now adept at wrangling a live racehorse, a cat and a huge cast into a normal front room (no CGI or tricks used). Tom is a great director who brings a lot to the scripts and is always a pleasure to work with. Music was by the very talented chaps at Yellow Boat Music, who we always enjoy working with to create the right feel and help the ads stand-out form the crowd.

Thanks to everyone involved, especially Racing Post themselves for going with a idea like this, and for being game enough to lend us a load of their experts to be in the ads.

The TV will be followed by print, outdoor and digital ads breaking in the next couple of weeks.






Be Diagnostic Not Dogmatic

Advertising needs to become far more diagnostic and less prescriptive.

Agencies need to break the habit of thinking that their ‘special process’ or unique approach is the only way to solve the client’s business problem.

Many agencies favour a kind of blind absolutism, where one approach is right for everything. It's tempting for agencies to have this kind of dogmatic approach to problem-solving, because they feel it gives them something interesting or differentiating to say to clients.

Unfortunately for clients, as the old saying goes the hammer always sees the nail – but the problem isn’t always a pointy piece of metal, nor the solution a heavy knocking implement.

There’s no one size-fits-all, one way to do advertising that’s right for every product, brand, category and business problem.

To suggest there is makes the advertising industry look quite stupid to those in the business world.

We should always start with the business context, the situation of the client, and what they’re trying to achieve, rather than some rigid ideology that you force the problem to fit into.

Great ideas flow best from open minds.

Our new book ‘How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better – The Manifesto for a New Creative Revolution’ is available exclusively at the Design Museum.