2.4.2 Coupling

Close connection - Verbundenheit
This post is part of my bachelor paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the other posts and the table of contents here.

Just as complexity, structural coupling is a key term of systems theory. Usually used to describe the structural relationship between cognition and communication via language and media (Tropp 2004, p.64), this concept may be used in brand management to denote the relationship between companies that produce brands and consumers and bridge the before mentioned dichotomy between producer- and consumer perspective – or image and identity (Tropp 2004, p.65). Structural coupling in that context means that while a company as a social system and a consumer as a cognitive system are to be strictly distinguished, no company is possible without consumers and vice versa (Tropp 2004, p.64).

To specify and manage this structural coupling between a company and its consumers via the brand as realm of knowledge is one of the most pressing issues of brand management and again, able to integrate mostly consumer-oriented trends and pressures. For example, there is an apparent contradiction between an increasing brand consciousness and an at the same time decreasing brand loyalty with consumers (Essinger 2001, p.66 qt. in Tropp 2004, p. 66) that also taps into the debate about consumers’ increasing unpredictability. Using data from a global, longitudinal survey that runs since 1993, Gerzema and Lebar (Young & Rubicam) have found out that since 2004 all consumer attitudes towards brands over the globe were in decline.

“Across the board, we saw significant drops in the key measures of brand value, such as consumer “top- of-mind” awareness, trust, regard, and admiration. This was true not just for a few brands, but for thousands, encompassing the entire range of consumer goods and services, from airlines and automobiles and beverages to insurance companies and hoteliers and retailers.” (Gerzema & Lebar 2009, p.2)

They argue that a brand bubble has developed for the fact that while the valuation of brands as done by financial analysts is steadily increasing, this overall value that these brands actually deliver for consumers, is provided by less and less (stronger) brand in the overall brand universe.

This contradiction does not put an end to the structural coupling of consumers and brands, but it suggests that the relationship between them has fundamentally changed. Since the 1980s, until then mostly unidirectional relationships have transformed into interactive and multi-directional relationships, as signified by developments such as relationship marketing, one-to-one-marketing, direct marketing, permission marketing, customer relationship management or the developments happening under the umbrella term of social media marketing. As research conducted under the relational paradigm (MacInnis et al. 2009; Fournier 1998) is striving to provide scientific insights into the company-brand-consumer relationship, branding has moved from what Tropp (2004, p.67) calls the effect phase to the communication phase.


Essinger, G., 2001. Produkt- und Markenpolitik im dynamischen Umfeld: eine Analyse aus systemtheoretischer Perspektive, Dt. Univ.-Verl.
Fournier, S., 1998. Consumers and their brands: Developing relationship theory in consumer research. Journal of consumer research, pp.343–373.
Gerzema, J. & Lebar, E., 2009. The Trouble with Brands. strategy + business, 55(Summer 2009). Available at: http://www.strategy-business.com/article/09205 [Accessed February 4, 2011].
MacInnis, D.J. et al., 2009. Handbook of brand relationships, M.E. Sharpe.
Tropp, J., 2004. Markenmanagement: Der Brand Management Navigator. Markenführung im Kommunikationszeitalter, VS Verlag.

1. The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management

This is the introduction to my bachelor thesis, which has the same title as this blog post. I thought I’d post it here, so that more than the two people grading it can read it and give feedback. I’ll probably also put the pdf online, but I want to layout it properly before doing that. You can see the table of contents here.

Creativity is an often used word in the context of marketing communications and brand management. There are magazines named after it, such as Creativity and Creative Review, there are numerous awards around the globe judging and celebrating it and there is the APG Creative Strategy award, which rewards creative strategy in the context of marketing communications and planning.

Creativity, of course, is also the selling point of almost every agency or agency-like company trying to make a living in the widening domain of marketing services.

“We put the creative function at the top of our priorities.” (Ogilvy & Mather 2010)

“Creativity Is The Most Powerful Force In Business. […] DDB’s pursues collaborative relationships with clients and partners to find the hidden potential of people, brands and business through creativity.” (DDB 2010)

“[Wieden + Kennedy is] an independent, creatively-led communications agency.” (Wieden + Kennedy 2010)

“We connect ideas and innovation to deliver award-winning results for the world’s leading brands.” (AKQA 2010)

„We are creative problem-solvers.” (Naked Communications 2010)

“We are a creative company with 186 offices and 7000 colleagues united around a single mission: To Resist the Unusual.” (Young & Rubicam 2010)

“Our industry is undergoing radical transformation. To keep pace with the changes being driven by emerging technology, it is vital to focus on collaboration, creativity and organizational flexibility.” (Brien 2010, McCann)

“Our philosophy emphasizes the utilization of strategy and creativity to drive growth and measurable impact.” (MDC Partners 2010)

Both independent agencies as well as large established agency networks claim to be at the forefront of creativity. More precisely, as Zurstiege (2005, p.179ff) puts it, what agencies aim to offer and what marketers ask for is effective creativity or creative effectiveness. Therefore, as the relationship between creativity and effectiveness is a regular topic of discussion between advertising agencies and clients, within agencies, the industry press and advertising conferences, there is a stream of research dealing with creativity in the context of advertising. Among the topics covered are the definition and perception of creativity (White & Smith 2001; West et al. 2008; El-Murad & West 2004; Koslow et al. 2003) the effect of creativity on advertising effectiveness (White & Smith 2001; Ehrenberg et al. 2002; Till & Baack 2005; Kover et al. 1995), and contextual issues that influence advertising and agency creativity (Koslow et al. 2006).

However, while creativity is the focus of awards, agency positioning and industry debates, and while there is work in advertising research towards “a general theory of creativity in advertising” (Smith & Yang 2004) the topic is generally not dealt with in detail in a broader marketing and brand management context. The seminal work of many leading scholars in this area (Kotler & Bliemel 2006; Fuchs & Unger 2007; Schweiger & Schrattenecker 2009) does not systematically cover creativity.

For this reason this paper sets out to critically evaluate the functions and premises of brand management and more specifically what “creativity” could mean in this context. This is done by first analysing the concept of brands and brand management as found in a literature review. In addition, the environment companies and brands operate in will be described and structured, followed by implications for brand management theory and practice. Then, meanings of creativity both in today’s advertising and marketing industry as well as in the broader management context will be examined. The last chapter will then merge the two streams and draw conclusions from the synthesis of the current state of brand management and a broader meaning of creativity in a commercial context.

AKQA, 2010. AKQA Fact Sheet. Available at: http://www.akqa.com/10_company/assets/pdf/AKQA_Fact_Sheet.pdf [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Brien, N., 2010. Interpublic Announces Management Succession at McCann Worldgroup. Available at: http://www.mccannworldgroup.com/2010/01/interpublic-announces-management-succession-at-mccann-worldgroup/ [Accessed October 22, 2010].

DDB, 2010. DDB. Available at: http://www.ddb.com/timeline.html [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Ehrenberg, A. et al., 2002. Brand advertising as creative publicity. Journal of Advertising Research, 42(4), pp.7–18.

El-Murad, J. & West, D.C., 2004. The Definition and Measurement of Creativity: What Do We Know? Journal of Advertising Research, 44(2), pp.188-201.

Fuchs, W. & Unger, F., 2007. Management der Marketing-Kommunikation 4th ed., Springer, Berlin.

Koslow, S., Sasser, S.L. & Riordan, E.A., 2006. Do Marketers Get the Advertising They Need or the Advertising They Deserve? Agency Views of How Clients Influence Creativity. Journal of Advertising, 35(3), pp.81–101.

Koslow, S., Sasser, S.L. & Riordan, E.A., 2003. What Is Creative to Whom and Why? Perceptions in Advertising Agencies. Journal of Advertising Research, 43(01), pp.96-110.

Kotler, P. & Bliemel, F., 2006. Marketing-Management. Analyse, Planung und Verwirklichung 10th ed., Pearson Studium.

Kover, A.J., Goldberg, S.M. & James, W.L., 1995. Creativity vs. effectiveness? An integrating classification for advertising. Journal of Advertising Research, 35(6).

MDC Partners, 2010. MDC Partners [BETA]. Available at: http://www.mdc-partners.com/#agency/mdc_partners [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Naked Communications, 2010. Naked. Meet Us. Manifesto. Available at: http://www.nakedcomms.com/ [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Ogilvy & Mather, 2010. Corporate Culture | Ogilvy & Mather. Available at: http://www.ogilvy.com/About/Our-History/Corporate-Culture.aspx [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Schweiger, G. & Schrattenecker, G., 2009. Werbung 7th ed., UTB, Stuttgart.

Smith, R.E. & Yang, X., 2004. Toward a general theory of creativity in advertising: Examining the role of divergence. Marketing Theory, 4(1-2), p.31.

Till, B.D. & Baack, D.W., 2005. Recall and Persuasion: Does Creative Advertising Matter? Journal of Advertising, 34(3), pp.47–57.

West, D.C., Kover, A.J. & Caruana, A., 2008. Practitioner and Customer Views of Advertising Creativity: Same Concept, Different Meaning? Journal of Advertising, 37(4), pp.35-46.

White, A. & Smith, B.L., 2001. Assessing Advertising Creativity Using the Creative Product Semantic Scale. Journal of Advertising Research, 41(6), pp.27-34.

Wieden + Kennedy, 2010. Wieden + Kennedy London. An independent, creatively led communications agency. Available at: http://www.wklondon.com/ [Accessed January 4, 2011].

Young & Rubicam, 2010. Young & Rubicam. Young & Rubicam. Available at: http://www.yr.com/ [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Zurstiege, G., 2005. Zwischen Kritik und Faszination. Was wir beobachten, wenn wir die Werbung beobachten, wie sie die Gesellschaft beobachtet 1st ed., Halem.

Master Thesis Topics (beta)

Universität Wien

When I said I wanted to go to Tanzania for the Great Football Giveaway, I knew this was going to be in the middle of my last winter term and I knew I’d miss one session of each my classes – including the master thesis seminar of my communication and media science MA. This is basically the last class of the program and is designed to prepare us for conducting the masters research and writing the thesis, give us some exposure to profs (that’s not that common here). However, for a lot of administrative reasons, 4 weeks into the semester we haven’t had a class yet and the first class will be held in a 3-hours session while I’m out there giving out footballs. So instead of me missing the third 1 1/2 hour session, we have until the 7th to deliver a 1-2 pages description of our topic and I won’t be there at the first session held.

Now as always, my problem is that I have more than one rough topic in mind. Some of them are advertising related, some of them are media usage related, some of them are historic and some of them are related to internal organization. So here I am, trying to get to one topic.

1) Use and Reception of (Post-Postmodern-)Advertising

This is basically inspired by Douglas B. Holt and his cultural research into branding and advertising. Holt stated in 2002 that there are 5 contradictions that contribute to the end of postmodern branding and that give rise to brands as citizen artists. He then goes on to hypothesize about a spectrum of brand and media uses that people would resort to. Now this topic is obviously huge, could use some empirical research and might be tackled from a lot of different perspectives but I’m not quite sure which one might be the most interesting and fruitful approach.

Subtopics of this bigger area of interest might be:

  • Building upon my bachelor paper an inquiry into the specifics of reception and usage of recommended/forwarded ads
  • An inquiry into the use of reality aesthetics in marketing communications (everything from user generated content to documentary)

2) Reception and Use of Cross-Platform Narratives (with a focus on gender)

I would have written transmedia here but as it’s the last thing sucked dry by the industry I’d rather stick to cross-platform. I find this topic quite interesting for a while now but it has never been a research focus of mine and it’s never been one of my institute. Still, something that Dan Hon said at TEDxTransmedia re-ignited my interest. He basically asked us to imagine what it would have looked like if Amelie would’ve gotten the “transmedia treatment” just like Heroes, Lost and all the geeky or more “male” franchises. And that prompted me to think about how the realities of cross-plattform narrative use and reception actually looks like, away from industry hype and glory.

3) Play and Abductive Thinking

We all know IDEO and are well-aware of the gameification hype so there’s no need to use a lot of words here. I’ve had a fairly interesting theory seminar about organizational comms last semester and also read a bit into organizational culture, management and organizational thinking styles. I think that play(ful communication) and abductive thinking might be something worth looking into from an empirical and theoretical perspective. But this is still very, very raw.

4) History lessons: Propaganda Theory vs. Planning in a Convergent Culture

Basically a look into historic developments and continuities. I had a very, very interesting lecture about the history and theory of propaganda last semester and have developed a strong interest into the relationship between conceptions of men and theories. Looking at the “perfect product claim”, social media etc I think a theorizing look back in time might be fruitful. But then again that might just be liking to sound smart.

So in case you’ve read this until here, if you’d chip in a thought or two that’d be much appreciated. Does it all sound like BS? Is it relevant or interesting to you? Has it been done before?