Alice in Texas

Not writing here anymore- see top post for details of my new blogs.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


When I used to work in marketing/advertising, which I did for an extremely short time ages and ages ago, I was once at a job interview being asked what recent commercial I thought was good, and why. It was a washing powder which was new at the time, but has now vanished. Very big in the early 90s, this powder was, and now it's gone. Maybe you can remember it, because it had neon adverts that were very in your face, and frankly that is absolutely the sum total of what I can recall. The ads were what you would describe as "post-modernist", which is another way of saying they insulted the consumer. Neutron, it was called, something like that, or Neuron. Whatever. I checked, and it is nowhere to be found: all the powders in supermarkets now existed well before this newcomer that cost all that advertising money then died a death. Maybe you know what it was called?

Anyway, they were famous at the time, so I explained that I thought they summarised the values of efficiency, effectiveness and lack of made-up nonsense. Something like that. Whatever. I set out the messages I thought the adverts were communicating, how they did it, and why I thought it worked alright.

No, said the interviewer. You are wrong. The reason those ads are good is... (drum roll) BRANDING!. End drum roll.

OK, I said, and my brain switched off from then. What he thought he was saying was, "the best thing about those ads is the way they stick in people's minds." To me, this was a meaningless interpretation. They only stuck in people's minds if there was some kind of content that people could hang onto, that they actually found meaningful, in the sense of being valuable.

Well, there was not. The washing-powder died. So that way, he was right: the people who designed its public image went for "branding", without content, and that's what they got. And it died. To me, however, branding without content was a meaningless concept not even worth considering. I still think I was right there, and I still think the 80's power-exec interviewing me was totally wrong. Because he went on:

"What is the motivation of agencies like this one?" he asked me.
"To sell things," said I. That's obvious, right? Advertising agencies sell things?
"To win awards," he said. "Agencies design ads in order to win awards from the rest of the industry. Awards get them contracts."

So that was my rude awakening to the business world, because I found these ideas completely nuts. Marketing, in my view, was about selling stuff, not about getting more marketing contracts by winning awards for doing whatever the advertising community regarded as good. And a good commercial, in my opinion, was one that expressed the precise characteristics of value clearly and specifically, not merely one that "imprinted" identity on people's minds.

True, there are sensible innovatory people out there who treat the customer decently, believe in their product and sell it by showing off its good points. But there are also hangers-on in the business world, who may be doomed in the longer term but succeed in getting by for some time through no good or even realistic deed of their own, companies as well as individuals.

No conclusion- that's it.


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