2.1 The Relevance of Brand Management

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.

This chapter will first start with an argument for the relevance of brand management, followed by a discussion and working definition of the brand concept. Subsequently, the different brand paradigms at work in both practice and theory are identified and discussed and contemporary challenges for brand management are outlined. Last but not least, at the end of this chapter, a systems theory-based model of brand management is proposed and three key learnings about brand management in organisations are suggested.

2.1  The Relevance of Brand Management

“Branding has emerged as a top management priority in the last decade due to the growing realization that brands are one of the most valuable intangible assets that firms have.” (Keller & Lehmann 2006, p.740)

“Niall Fitzgerald, co-chairman of Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer products group, epitomized this shift in perspective when he stated ‘We’re not a manufacturing company any more, we’re a brand marketing group that happens to make some of its products’ (Willman 2000).” (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.850)

Brands are seen as important assets by shareholders and management. Each year brand consultancies and market research companies rank the “world’s biggest brands” (Interbrand 2010; Millward Brown 2010). In 2009 5,981 new brands were registered in Austria (Österreichisches Patentamt 2009). However, while the launch of new products is certainly an exciting prospect for brand managers, they spend most of their time managing the more than 114.000 officially registered national, 218.000 international and 70.000 Community Trademarks.

A lot of attention is therefore being devoted to brands and branding in marketing science (Keller 1993; Keller & Lehmann 2006; Wood 2000): “Brands manifest their impact at three primary levels – customer market, product market, and financial market. The value accrued by these various benefits is often called brand equity”. The actions taken by an organisation to increase the brand equity may then be understood as brand management.

“Brand management comprises the process and locus for capitalizing and realizing brand value, i.e. transforming it in superior market performance.” (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.850)

The following chapter will therefore analyse existing definitions of “brand” and then analyse contemporary conceptualizations of brand management and the challenges brand management is currently facing. At the end of this chapter a conclusion about the state of brand management and how it may be understood in a broader organisational context will be offered.

Keller, K.L. & Lehmann, D.R., 2006. Brands and branding: Research findings and future priorities. Marketing Science, 25(6), p.740.

Louro, M.J. & Cunha, P.V., 2001. Brand management paradigms. Journal of Marketing Management, 17(7), pp.849–875.

Österreichisches Patentamt, 2009. Geschäftsbericht 2009. Österreichisches Patentamt. Available at: http://www.patentamt.at/geschaeftsbericht2009/de/start.html [Accessed July 12, 2011].

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.

Metros, that’s a proper science…

I just took the metro from university, where I just handed in my bachelor thesis (finally, one might say), to work. I had to transfer once, as you do, not thinking much, and was then standing in a packed train of the U3 line, which is Vienna’s line from east to west. Then I saw a kid, maybe 8, entering and, following him a bit more nervously what appeared to be his grandparents.

They stood in the isle, the metro had emptied a little more at that time, when the lady asked her husband where they were heading. He said, somewhat confidently “Westbahnhof”. Then she asked him what line they were on and he replied “the orange one”. She looked at the metro maps above the doors and mumbled: “Metros, that’s a proper science. A proper science …”. Then, just when the man was about to point out to the lady where the metro was at that point, she discovered it and then they both happily pointed at the spot on the map where they just had arrived. “How did you know?”, she asked him and the kid chipped in “Because you read the name of the line before, didn’t you Grandpa!? It’s the 3 line, isn’t it?” Grandpa smiled and nodded. When I left the metro, two people standing around them were smiling, grandma thought it was a bit embarrassing how they behaved in the big city and said, with a bit of a humor in her voice “No, no … we go back to the countryside. We have the 1 and the 3 and that’s it. Metros … that’s a proper science.”

Organisational Culture

In the process of organising, the behaviour of employees needs to be coordinated and directed to maximise results.3 This involves a certain amount of trade-off by organisation members on all levels, as people must willingly surrender much of their individual flexibility and independence in order to attain both personal and organisational goals.4 In addition to guiding behaviour, goals motivate people to join and remain in organisations, stimulate effort and provide a benchmark for evaluation.5

In the great quest to meet formalised goals and objectives, however, it is all too easy for managers to forget the less rational social elements, such as the concept of organisational culture, which not only associate goals with deeper meanings6 but also determine individual and collective behaviour, ways of perceiving, thought patterns and values.7

McAleese, Hargie: Five guiding principles of culture management: A synthesis of best practice – Vol. 9, 2 155–170 – Journal of Communication Management.

Let’s see where that paper goes …

Gone Interrail-ing

train signal

(I’ve always been in love with the English way of making nouns out of verbs.)

So I’m off for the next couple of weeks to travel south, across Serbia and Bulgaria to Istanbul and then back up via Greece, Macedonia, the Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia and hopefully Bosnia-Hercegovina. I’ve been to none of the cities on this trip before, so I’m excited. Starting today at 8pm in Vienna with a night train to Belgrade.

Signals, Knowledge, ‘Ambient’ Learning


Ever since my first internship in an agency I’ve been thinking a lot about organizational learning. Knowledge management if you want. It’s a bit like the holy grail, or as Ehrenberg calls it, one of marketing’s ‘romantic fantasies’.

Knowledge management is the latest marketing mantra. It is unrealistic when we are mostly drowning in catadupes of undigested data.

What Ehrenberg talks about is generalizable, quantifiable laws of behavior. Over the course of his life, he has dedicated himself to finding these laws with marketing science, and promoting them. This, however, is not the knowledge I’m referring to here. It’s knowledge markting people and planners should have, but it’s static knowledge. You learn it and that’s pretty much it. Same is true for other findings about human behavior as derived for example by the behavioral economics folks.

What I’m more interested in, however, is dynamic knowledge about people, culture and society, and this is for a simple reason: this is the knowledge we use to mould ideas with. Pasteur once said that “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind”. The updated version of this quote, “Chance favors the connected mind” by Steven Johnson, refers to the same concept. Connections foster the exchange of knowledge, which is followed by new knowledge. In the business of coming up with ideas or ‘insights’, this applies as well. Creativity – as an outcome, the socially perceived trait of something – is a function of many individual, group and organizational traits (see e.g. Woodman et al 1993, Amabile 1998) and knowledge is an important factor.

But knowledge in what area? I’d argue that it is culture, and with the success of business books about collective behavior like the Chief Culture Officer by McCracken and Herd by Mark Earls and cultural ideas, like the Brand Innovation Manifesto by John Grant – I suppose I can spare you the argument.

So, we’re talking about cultural knowledge – knowledge about ideas and ideologies floating around, about human behavior being adopted, about social groups forming. While you could obviously argue that no one can be outside the realm of cultural knowledge, ‘culture’ is so vast and complex and fast that whenever you chose to look at one thing, you could be looking at something else as well. Therefor, dividing and conquering this task is essential. Often, this task is, as Rob Campbell doesn’t get tired to remind us, reading blogs and the newspaper, watching the telly and talking to good old normal people. With big data, network science and computing power available, there’s also more of a cultural science coming along, that’s a bit more sophisticated. Nevertheless, the challenge of knowledge exchange and sensemaking remains.

Simon Kendrick recently posted about a Dynamic Knowledge Creation Model on his blog. There, he describes the different forms of knowledges and the ways of exchanging them.
Dynamic Knowledge Creation Model

Routine knowledge (explicit to tacit) – learning by doing
Experiential knowledge (tacit to tacit) – judgement of individuals
Conceptual knowledge (tacit to explicit) – frameworks and models to utilise
Systemic knowledge (explicit to explicit) – editing and synthesising multiple sources

While I think that people are usually well trained in the conceptual and systemic sphere, often after practicing how to verbalize stuff hard at university, I think there could be better ways of sharing experiential knowledge. Sure, within and organization there can never be a 100% congruent body of knowledge. Sure, experiences as such can’t be properly shared anyways. Sure, knowledge exchange that require you to pick up and consciously reflect upon something (newsletters, RSS feeds) probably never work the way they are intended to, if they aren’t coupled to a concrete task. But I still think that something catering to low-involvement, low-attention in your environment could do a lot.

So what I’m thinking about goes more into the direction that Berg London (with Dentsu London and Timo Arnall) take with their concept of incidental media.

Each of the ideas in the film treat the surface as a focus, rather than the channel or the content delivered. Here, media includes messages from friends and social services, like foursquare or Twitter, and also more functional messages from companies or services like banks or airlines alongside large traditional big ‘M’ Media (like broadcast or news publishing).

All surfaces have access to connectivity. All surfaces are displays responsive to people, context, and timing. If any surface could show anything, would the loudest or the most polite win? Surfaces which show the smartest most relevant material in any given context will be the most warmly received.


We’ve drawn from great work from the likes of Chris O’Shea and his Hand from Above project to sketch something peripheral and ignorable, but still at scale. The installation could be played with by those having their colours stolen, but it doesn’t demand interaction. In fact I suspect it would succeed far more effectively for those viewing from afar with no agency over the system at all.

In contrast to a Minority Report future of aggressive messages competing for a conspicuously finite attention, these sketches show a landscape of ignorable surfaces capitalising on their context, timing and your history to quietly play and present in the corners of our lives.

Media surfaces: Incidental Media from Dentsu London on Vimeo.

This is not about the Minority Report-like social media control centers that are now starting to pop up. It’s rather about sharing a stream of pointers to implicit knowledge and experiences. About what happens before the team members consciously construct McCracken’s big board. Media that doesn’t need conscious elaboration but rather works in our peripheral vision feeding us proverbial weak signals. Think headlines from delicious bookmarks, foursquare checkins, tweets from people in the organisation, but shared not in a creepy ubiquitous way on your (first) screen, but embedded into office life. How could that look like? And would it help?

Amabile, T.M., 1998. How to kill creativity. Harvard Business Review, 76(5), p.76–87.
Bentley, A. & Earls, Mark, 2008. Forget influentials, herd-like copying is how brands spread. Admap, 43(499), pp.19-22.
Ehrenberg, A., 2002. Marketing: Are you really a realist? strategy+business, p.22–25.
Grant, J., 2006. Brand Innovation Manifesto: How to Build Brands, Redefine Markets and Defy Conventions 1st ed., John Wiley & Sons.
McCracken, G., 2009. Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation, Basic Books.
McCracken, G., 2006. Flock and Flow: Predicting and Managing Change in a Dynamic Marketplace, Indiana Univ Pr.
Woodman, R.W., Sawyer, J.E. & Grifn, R.W., 1993. Toward a theory of organizational creativity. The Academy of Management Review, 18(2), p.293–321.

Approaches to ideas and a proposed metaphor

Problems are Opportunities

When you look at the big discourses in this industry – social media, design thinking, innovation, culture, storytelling, ‘digital’ – it is easy to see that there is a difference between how companies act and how proponents of certain perspectives want them to act. Not the ‘advertising is in crisis’ talk itself is new. Quite the contrary, the advertising and marketing industry needs the supposed failure of old approaches for new ones to be able to sell. It’s a lot like another cultural industry: fashion.

But then again, we have have made some advances in our understanding of people, culture and organizations. We now better than before that it’s very hard to predict which ideas and behaviors will spread in culture. It is still very hard to predict behavior, even with behavioral economics, big data and neuroscience, to name a few. Yes, we learned a great deal more about how things spread – hat tip to Mr. Earls and Bentley, but we don’t necessarily always understand why people do it, except for copying randomly. We are still far away from marketers’ wet dream – constructing memes on purpose that are a guaranteed hit.

As planners, this means we’re dealing with the certainty of uncertainty and we’re stuck with planning the un-plannable. But again, strictly speaking, this has always been the case. Communication was never the linear, mass-media bombardment, it is now portrayed as (Lazarsfeld et al.). What people did with media was always as important as what media did to people. We only know more about it now, we can see it unfolding live and we can analyse big data streams in real time. We really shouldn’t be surprised by people’s way of using media anymore. We shouldn’t be surprised by the unpredictability of success on a cultural level. But we still are, and marketing hasn’t adopted accordingly.

Push Button Hard 12-11-08

It’s not that there aren’t proposed solutions.

The very smart Neil Perkin for example has compiled a coherent body of thinking agile planning. He has shed some light on concepts such as agile budgeting, agile research and other ways of making companies more adaptive to change. You should read his very interesting deck here.
Made by Many are a very vocal agency in the agile camp and they have demonstrated their thinking and doing in a great presentation at Google FireStarters as well. Wieden + Kennedy have always said that they don’t have a formal planning process and that a lot of what they do is trial and error. Rob Campbell said they work with a chaos theory approach to culture, which – as a metaphor – is the closest you could get to reality anyways (culture is chaos). McKinsey, the strategy consultants, have written about this stuff in their quarterly extensively in 2002.

Likewise, Mark Earls has pushed thinking around collective behavior in marketing. A proposed solution there is to start a lot of fires to give many ideas the chance to picked up by culture. You’ve all read Herd, so no reasons to repeat anything here, but following this thought has huge implications for budgeting and (media) planning.

Building upon the same theme, Gareth Kay has put forward his thinking about small ideas. Small ideas, being released and adapted continuously together build your big idea (the brand).

But still, at least that’s what I get to hear talking with fellow planners and creatives, and what I get to experience inin my humble first steps in this industry, clients often don’t like lots of ideas. They’re perfectly happy with a few to select from, and one to go with. So what are the barriers that keep a more agile planning approach and a more thoughtful approach to getting ideas out there from being implemented on a larger scale? I’d suggest it’s two things.

The first one is marketing blaming controlling and finance for setting strict budgets. So there’s no room for deviation.

The second one might be the thought that a misguided experiment in communication can endanger a brand. This however, doesn’t get a lot of support by Ehrenberg’s research. Most of what advertising does is to keep people thinking about the brand (salience), and only a second level effect is building associations. Or, put differently, if a full-blown social media shitstorm isn’t guaranteed to damage your brand (and I have yet to see thoroughly researched examples of them doing this in FMCG), how can a ‘not successful’ brand experience / idea / experiment do that?

In the end, the barrier is the threat of less ROI or a marketing manager afraid of missing his quarterly goals. And who can blame them? Fear is a powerful inhibitor. Getting fired isn’t fun. So you go the safe way, and you’d rather have your TV commercial aired two or three times more than putting away some money for experiments. (You also select a big, decorated network agency, so just in case you can always say you chose ‘the best’. I mean, hey, they won Effies and Lions … just like everybody else in this business).

Harbor Crane

When I thought about all of this, it came to my mind that the marketing department really isn’t the only one with goals that are hard to reach. There’s procurement, pressured to get better stuff for a cheaper price. There’s finance, battling the Euro debt crisis and the odd exotic currency. There’s controlling and accounting, trying to fulfill legal demands while making stakeholders happy. There’s R&D trying to have a pipeline of short- and long-term projects. They all have to deal with uncertainty and they all have to demonstrate some reliability, a working baseline, while trying to reach their increasingly unrealistic goals. Marketing has this romantic believes though, as Ehrenberg called it, of sustained growth, brand differentiation, persuasive advertising and knowledge management.

So maybe marketing and brand management should take a look at these industries and steal the concept of hedging. It’s not like risk management or portfolios are new to marketing management. The BCG matrix of poor dogs, cash cows, question marks and stars is taught at every business school and definitely in use to manage brands. Fund managers at their bank have most probably talked with them about a portfolio strategy.

Hedging is a very simple concept, which means, in the strictest sense:

an investment position intended to offset potential losses that may be incurred by a companion investment

. It’s there to ‘insure oneself against loss’.

In finance it means that you construct a portfolio of investments that are related in a way that if one asset loses its value, another one gains value. In procurement you have options that assure you the delivery of a certain amount of e.g. coffee at a certain day for a certain price. So if the price rises, you have successfully hedged against that risk.

And what is done in communication and marketing most of the time? Overall, companies do have a portfolio of brands that they manage. But within a single brand, it’s often ‘micro-hedging’: ‘limiting’ risks within ideas, campaigns and concepts. Making a logo bigger, making a story or joke less complex, cutting away a few seconds there and showing the product a few seconds longer are essentially risk-reducing strategies at work at the one thing you afford to put out there. From what we think about how communication and culture works however, this isn’t really a very thought-through hedging strategy. The proper strategy would be to have different horses in the race, one picking up if another one lames.

Of course, it’s not like marketing departments only have ATL campaigns to manage, they have to manage everything from promotion to the odd sponsoring. And sure, these ideas have to be coherent. Ideas that have to be owned, developed, pitched and financed. Of course, the Brand Innovation Manifesto talks about a collection of coherent ideas, but it doesn’t talk so much about the function of these to actually spread risk.

The closest to this idea in other industries is probably the brilliant Grant McCracken who talks about brands as a complex adaptive system in Flock and Flow, and the need to have ideas ready for different points in the chaos – rigidity continuum. He explicitly covers this problem, when different people in the brand management team want to cover different parts of a cultural context with a campaign, say a mainstream vs. a more alternative/raw approach.

Some parties on the team want to draw on the A state [chaos state, niche, …], while others want to draw on C [established mainstream]. Too often, one objective interferes with the other. The flock and flow approach to branding says, in effect, “You’re both right. Have a play ready for each of the states on the [chaos-rigididy] continuum. Treat each of them as separate strategies. Take a coverage approach.”

So while brand management thinks it mitigates risk with ‘micro’ risk-management, it actually increases it, by publishing only one thing that most probably gets lost. Maybe brand management should consider portfolio planning for ideas, experiences and innovations and support the odd wild card. Maybe they should talk with the finance guys about hedging their bets.

Paul Felix Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, Hazel Gaudet (1944): The people’s choice: how the voter makes up his mind in a presidential campaign.

Mark Earls (2003): Advertising to the herd: how understanding our true nature challenges the ways we think about advertising and market research.

Mark Earls, Alex Bentley (2008): Forget influentials, herd-like copying is how brands spread. Admap.

Andrew Ehrenberg (2002): Brand advertising as creative publicity. Journal of Advertising Research.

Andrew Ehrenberg (2002): Marketing: Are You Really a Realist? strategy+business.

John Grant (2006): Brand Innovation Manifesto: How to Build Brands, Redefine Markets and Defy Conventions.

Grant McCracken (2006): Flock and Flow: Predicting and Managing Change in a Dynamic Marketplace.

APSOTW – strategy, collected feedback and what to do with this

A few weeks ago I participated in the APSOTW by Andrew (Northern) about cultural strategy, as outlined by Douglas Holt (who I’m a big fan of …). I had been following the APSOTW for quite a while at this point but I’ve never participated. There are many reasons for that, with the most important one being that as a non-native speaker I often found I didn’t have what it takes to ‘compete’. This time however, I thought I had to do it. I’ve been studying Holt’s academic work for a while and I always found it is brilliant in its rejection of pure technological or functional innovation and its focus on social and cultural currents. So when it came to the razors and blades category and the KoS task, I had to do this. Not so much for the competition to be honest, but for the extensive feedback by many planners and strategists whom I respect a lot.

I think the judges who took their valuable time to do this for us aspiring planners deserve a big thank you. They probably won’t hear you clapping right now but still, it is great to have some ‘virtual’ mentors like that in the industry.

The reason why I’m posting this is that I found it amazing how much different perspective and feedback can help you get to a better understanding of what you’re doing and what you’re supposed to do. It is also interesting to see certain points being mentioned repeatedly. Whereas, when you first read a point of criticism you tend to say ‘Well, yeah, they don’t get it, their problem’, you kind of change your mind when you see the same point being raised again and again. Oh, and another reason is that I wanted to have all the feedback about it in one place.

Needless to say that with every day that passes I find other holes and leeps of logic in there, as well as things I could’ve done better or completely different. Anyways: here it is.

Andrew (Northern Planner):

I love that you’ve gone right into shave culture, not just brand culture. Your pace and style begin really well. Great tension I thought – the submissive man who does what he’s told, leaving most men just getting angry and a great opportunity to embrace a much wider identity and all the possibilities that brings. Really good.

But your strategy suffers from lace of the pace and brevity in your first bit! I was really with you, but then I get less sure about ‘good men’ as a name for a target, it’s not great when you’re talking about men who embrace the best of where they’ve been and where they could go. ‘Good doesn’t encapsulate that for me!

But i LOVE the idea of the evolution of new generation, “One day we will all be like this’ if feels like a grand vision, a shared goal.

I wish you had captured the essence of what that might be, but if feels like your solution is more about embracing the old than the new. I wanted to see more possibility.

Your manifesto was beautifully written but I don’t think you’ve captured what your thinking could have been, it begins to feel like inspiring progress’ which is a great, relevant idea for a male audience, except for the fact Johnnie Walker have already done it!!


Rob Campbell:

general feedback:

In most cases, I felt they were still focusing too much on trying to be different from the category rather than coming up with something that infiltrated, changed or created culture – which highlights a need for the industry as a whole to step away from focusing all their energies on celebrating what’s new and cool and get back to highlighting the values of some of the fundamentals.

Again, that sounds harsh – especially as I know a lot of people who are doing planning at a senior level who wouldn’t have come up with something as good as some of these guys – however I guess I was just disappointed overall because nothing really grabbed me by the balls and screamed “THIS IS IT”.

Gareth once said [or it might of been – god forbid – Andy] that the key is to find “unexpected relevance” and sadly I didn’t find any.

A cultural tension point is like a crossroads, where there is a mass of energy all congregated, waiting for one of the other doors to be opened and let liberation or – at the least – validation to be released. I didn’t feel the tension point the submissions highlighted really got under the skin of the audience, they were either more a CATEGORY tension point or amplifying what the media has been promoting in terms of gender attitudes and issues.

specific feedback:

I absolutely love “The Gillette-shaved man isn’t exactly a realistic, interesting or multilayered guy. And once he does ‘interesting’ things, he gets axed.” Fantastic summation that made me smile and nod at the same time. Took long enough to get to that point, but like a great joke, the punchline delivered.

Please don’t use terms like ‘he-cession’, especially when the word you are raping doesn’t really reflect the point you’re trying to make.

My problem with this submission is it feels like the Chivas Regal campaign – Be Chivalrous.

I know it’s not, I know what Thomas is saying is different, but I can’t help but feel this is more like the evolution of Gillette man than something that captures the spirit of the times.

I agree that the rebellious angle wouldn’t work long term [ala Right Wing voting tools] but the direction being presented doesn’t make my gut feel it’s something that reflects a genuine cultural tension point – something that would touch people in the same way that listening to Al Pacino’s ‘Any Given Sunday’ speech or watching Wieden’s ‘Chrysler Superbowl’ spot made them feel – even if they were about as far away from the ‘core target audience’ as you could get.

Thorough background, nicely paced – but sadly, once it got to the strategy, I felt it lost direction, energy and interest. Sorry Thomas.


David Mortimer:

Some interesting thoughts in there.

Did a nice job of building a picture of the sort of man who would reject Gillette, but I wasn’t as sure how King of Shaves were going to capture these people’s imagination. Perhaps he should have gone back to Connery and co and shown what they would have said about KOS.

The just enough is more part also seemed to come out of nowhere a bit for me. I wasn’t quite sure how this fitted with the rest of the story.


Jason Oke:

Your submission felt understated and simple, which I liked. But probably too understated: I think you could have done a better job really calling out the key ideas to help the audience along, and having a stronger point of view. Sometimes you presented a lot of information and I wasn’t sure what the key take away was supposed to be. And sometimes there were really brilliant thoughts buried in the middle of a paragraph.

You did a really good, thorough job with the category myths and orthodoxy. Nice use of various sources, quotes, pictures and videos to make it really multi-dimensional. And some great insights – like when the Gillette guys gets interesting and deviates from ‘perfect,’ he gets axed; or the link between category norms and male submission. But again these were a bit buried – could have called them out and explored them a bit more.

The cultural shift you identify around gender equality and how men are reacting is good. The ideology and source material was OK but felt a bit superficial – ‘the good things men did in the past are still valid’ is true but you could go deeper. You have some really meaty stuff buried in there which would have been great to explore more, like Susan Faludi’s point about masculinity being derived from utility in society, and not being something ornamental to display. And Tom Ford talking about contributing to the world. You could do a lot with that. What position could the brand take around that thought? A brand standing for guys who contribute to society, or who get their hands dirty, would be an interesting cultural strategy.

Similarly, the idea of “just enough is more” is a really interesting thought, would have liked to hear a bit more about where that could go.

I think you had some OK ideas for tactics. Celebrating “interesting” men is a good starting point, but a bit obvious and I think you could have gone further with it. I like the idea of a shaving brand celebrating guys with facial hair overtly, that would definitely be a departure for the category.

Calling out the industry for over-doing the technology has a lot of cultural potential, stuff like “there is no good reason for Gillette Fusion” and getting dermatologists questioning the utility of 5 blades would be great. I wasn’t sure if these were just observations though, or something you were actually suggesting – but I think it would be a great tactic to go out and pick that fight.

Overall some really good stuff, but I think you needed a bit more clarity on your thoughts, and the courage of your convictions to really take a stand and have a cultural point of view that would create impact.


John Dodds:

Good analysis of the status quo and a history of Gillette’s advertising and “is this really the best a man can get?” is a very good question to ask. But I think you need more proof of your subsequent assertions about submission and insecurity and how that relates to shaving.

What is the cultural disruption you’re highlighting? It seems to be a redefinition of nebulous things like manliness and masculinity combined with a rejection of the technological claims. I may be wrong but you’ve not made it clear enough for me. Why do men want to be good men? Why do they want a new definition and what makes KOS the smart choice for them?

For me, you’ve created an alluring alternative but not explained why it’s alluring and to whom?

The tactics that follow are generally consistent though I wonder if the idea of a modern “gentleman” and barber shops suggest higher costs in contradiction with your complaints about Gilltete’s prices? And I still don’t get why so many of the entries featured beards – surely the anti-christ of shaving?

Finally, the manifesto lays out the position well – I just need you to anchor it explicitly to a cultural disruption



There are some nice observations about Modern Man and Modern Masculinity here and a nicely linked solution celebrating the modern gentleman (with part of being a gentleman linked to having a decent shave).

There are gems too in the manifesto, but they’re buried a bit. Perhaps a shorter, punchier manifesto might have got the point across more effectively?

Andrea Nastase:

It feels on the same line as the previous one but more stripped down. There’s not as much detail but the writing is good and gets to the point quickly.
I think this is my overall favourite
“good things men did in the past are still valid and relevant today and will be tomorrow” – good
“just enough is more” – good
“there are no shortcuts to being a good man” –good
Letting men have a beard – embrace the culture because it’ll have to go at some point;

Now what did I do with this? First of all, I asked for some more feedback and clarification to make sure I really got the point of the feedback. Then I took all the good and bad things (the bold stuff) out and lined it up in a document (sorted by analysis, tension point, strategy) versus my deck and made myself go through it a couple of times.

First of all, a general point seems to be that I could have written more focused, to the point and make some key observations stand out more prominently. As Jason wrote, I could have been more braver and more confident with certain ideas. That’s a core issue I think, because while I’m usually very confident with analysis and the picture of the world I draw, I lack this confidence when it comes to strategy and boiling stuff down to one conclusion (the old selection problem).

Then, there seems to be some agreement that the observation and analysis at the beginning is – in general – ok, and that I’ve hit something there. However, when it comes to what it is that I hit, there seems to be some slight disagreement already, with everyone taking out different bits and pieces as relevant, or irrelevant. This alone is very, very interesting and it’s something you can probably control better when you give a proper presentation, but even then never for 100%.

When it comes to strategy, the trouble begins. While some see an ok flow through the different points of the strategy (Gemma, Andrea – the ladies?), the general conclusion is that I haven’t linked the strategy properly and that the strategy / ideology / manifesto – the solution – isn’t clear and convincing, when compared to the background that I identified. As Rob said, I haven’t hit a real tension point with it, or at least I haven’t expressed it in this way. They still found some ‘nuggets’ in there but people seemed to wonder how it would all fit together and what the one strong idea in it is – because the ‘good’ men (or the ‘post’-modern gentlemen) apparently isn’t it.

To some it up, the category orthodoxy seems to be very good, the cultural shift in general is ok, the strong tension is missing and when it goes to strategy I lose it the pace, clarity and brevity of the first part.

Of course, I also took out what they found to be good or even very relevant parts and looked at them again. I asked myself, what was it that I suggested and found out that I really settled for the first (and pretty obvious) solution, but while mixing it with a couple of other thoughts that I thought were relevant, but that I couldn’t express in a proper way. This is true both for the shift and for the solution.

In effect, I identified two shifts. One is about the rejection of modernities’ promises. It’s speed, pressure, globalization and technology that lead to a lot of everyday madness and that keep a lot of men from doing stuff they might actually like to do. All the stuff that led among other things to the outdoor boom, the search for authenticity, micro-brewery advertising and ‘real’ stuff and purpose in life. This is where the thought of ‘submission’ comes from, because the category celebrates a picture of men that a lot of men actually despise. As Andrea and other APSOTW strategies pointed out and I failed to: most men don’t actually want to shave, they hate it. They just have to do it because it is often a requirement of the business world and they somehow think women want them to be clean- or full-body-shaved (which I doubt, having a beard myself 😉 ).

The other shift is about the rejection of the strict image of a male, masculine, manly identity itself and the media portrayal of men a stupid and useless guys. Identity isn’t the one monolithic thing anymore that you have to stick too all the time. Men today experiment with all kinds of things, from – well – beards to sex toys to cooking to fashion to other things. This is where the thought of the journey, the experimentation, experience, interestingness and the ‘good men’ probably came from. This isn’t about a role to play and fit in, but a life to live and fill with purpose. And it subsequently led to the idea of the dawn of a new generation that was somehow buried in there and that I almost forgot if it wasn’t for Andrew remembering it (the magazines on slide 28 etc.).

All of this culminated in a thought of ‘just enough’. This isn’t about an overly expressed masculinity, but about celebrating men with an authentic purpose in their life who want a fucking break from all of this ‘role playing madness’, from the ‘progress’ that hasn’t helped anybody (real wages etc.). Men who want to be ‘good’ (and have no idea what that means anymore), find a partner, live and appreciate a decent and real life. Enough – I thought – was true for so many things in their life – not more technology, not more media bashing, not more blades, not more … And ‘Just Enough’ I thought was a good way of framing the desirable stuff (experience, progression, change, traditional things that are regarded good and part of male identity, interestingness, technology, blades) in a good way. To solve this tension between dreams of ‘Damn, I’d love to do and be like this!’ – which can be expressed in a million (and e.g. not always heterosexual) ways – and the ‘But society wants me to be like that’, which puts many men under pressure. Does that make sense? I don’t know. In the submission I haven’t framed and expressed it in a way that would people go ‘Fuck me, that’s it!’ – I still haven’t, I guess.

So where does it all go from now?

Andrew didn’t announce a winner and as I said, I was in this more for the feedback than the potential prize. The next task – the tiebreaker round – is to distill a creative brief out of the work, with the feedback in mind. A brief that has creatives running to fill their moleskins with awe-inspiring stuff. As I have to devote most of the time this week for university and ‘real work’ I’m not sure if I’ll be actually able to do this the proper way, but I’ve already learned loads and I can only recommend everybody to take part in the next round, should there be one.


So right now I’m sitting at the airport in Vienna, waiting for my delayed flight to Hamburg. What I’m going to do there? Listen to smart people talking about selection in all kinds of different areas. From ideas, to news, to beauty, to nature, innovation, recruiting, investment, sports and taste.

First of all, I think APG Germany came up with a brilliant selection of speakers and industries, and I particularly like that they haven’t invited loads of people from the advertising industry – except of course Russell Davies, but then again he’s got this history of not talking about advertising but rather about ‘interesting’ stuff. (Nice that this is most of the time a contradiction, isn’t it?).

But second of all, I think the topic itself is highly interesting. Recently, there is a lot of talk in adland about design thinking (see Neil Perkin’s brilliant FireStarter events with Google) and the divergent thinking process within individuals and systems – something I covered also in my bachelor thesis and I think is really important (but not really new). But then again, I don’t think that agencies or organisations of all sorts have that much trouble coming up with ideas per se. What they often do have trouble with, however, is to come up with relevant ideas. They also don’t seem to lack data. What they sometimes lack, though, seems to be relevant data. Often times in my little time in the industry, I’ve seen organisations overwhelmed with loads of information and struggling to filter it to generate knowledge and wisdom out of all the data they are generating.

These times of complexity, chaos and speed necessarily make selection and reflexivity both about the ways of working and the environment critical, and there are obviously different ways to go about that. The discussions about weak signals monitoring, a big board and Chief Culture Officer as sketched by Grant McCracken, pattern based strategy, real time data analysis, experiments data based prediction (see Google FireStarters #1, Google Correlate, Google Prediction API) show how important this whole issue of sense-making has become. In this process of making sense about the environment, both divergent thinking – coming up with possible realities, hypothesis and relevant options – and convergent thinking – selection of the most appropriate, but still contingent options, are important.

To be honest, I’m still struggling a tiny bit (= a lot) with the selection bit. More often than not, I find myself with various options that I think are worthwhile and possibly effective, both in the part about inspiring with context and in selecting solutions. Let’s see if these guys can help me:

Selection of Ideas:
Russell Davies, Ogilvy & Mather

Selection of News:
Thomas Osterkorn, Chefredakteur des stern

Selection of Beauty:
Armin Morbach, Herausgeber TUSH-Magazin

Selection of Nature:
Dr. Björn Brembs, Neurobiologe FU Berlin

Selection of Innovation:
Ulf Pillkahn, Siemens AG

Selection of Talent:
Prof. Dr. Björn Bloching, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants

Selection of Investments:
Lars Stein, Gründer & Präsident von Studienaktie.org

Selection of Football Talents:
Ernst Tanner, Sportlicher Leiter TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

Selection of Taste:
Sylvia Kopp, Biersommelière – mit Verkostung –

Documentaries and the ‘Real’

My last post was already somehow related to documentaries – Bananas* in this case. For some reasons, I’m thinking a lot about documentaries at the moment (this also has personal reasons but they don’t matter for what I’m thinking about). I came to find documentaries interesting for a lot of different reasons.

First of all, they may not all want to be overtly persuasive or activistic, but they sure want to present ‘reality’ and so they have to persuade you of a certain perspective, a certain framing of an issue. For the time you’re watching a documentary and ideally after that, you’re supposed to accept a certain type of portrayal of the world as real. Which essentially is also what advertising is trying to do, although on a mostly more dull level, with a tiny bit less involvement of everybody involved. (Yes, that’s kind of what I wanted to say.)

Another thing I find interesting about documentaries is that that lots of them have a purpose. Sure, there are loads of artistic documentaries or animal or nature documentaries, but from what I’m now being exposed to, there are loads and loads of activist docs out there. These are films that are supposed to document stuff, but they often have an underlying message, a POV, a call to arms or something similar. Bananas* is an example for such a documentary. It might now want to tell you straight in your face, but after watching it you’re supposed to feel like an arse when you buy Dole Bananas. Same is true for Pipe and Shell. For most food documentaries. And for many more. I think this is interesting from the culture creation POV.

And when you think about it, most feature length docs are produced with production budgets that aren’t that far away from your 45 second TV commercial. 90 minutes of passionate framing of an issue for the price of a TV commercial? Hmm …

Then of course there’s the aesthetic view on docs. I think most of them are really, really beautiful. They have this authentic look and feel while looking absolutely great. Schwarzkopf for example looks totally sharp.

Goodnight Nobody is poetic and beautiful.

Oh, and documentaries have this knock for delivering a triangulation of perspectives. They often cover an issue from an individual view, giving insights into the subjective meaning of whatever issue, but then they also show social interactions around the topic (usually there’s some sort of social object around) as well as presenting an analysis or opinion on it’s cultural implications. And even if they don’t do it, they provide you with lots of cues and inspiration.

That said, I still have to go and watch Abendland:

(Would anybody in the plannersphere join me for SXSW film instead of interactive?)