Me as a Brand

January 24, 2011

According to a recent report from, one of the major trends for 2011 is the emergence of the ‘social-lite’. This is someone who actively recommends not only products, but also experiences to like-minded consumers within their social network. Interestingly, it is suggested that ‘likes’, advice and comments are all offered not for altruistic reasons, but in an attempt to send out a message about oneself. In other words, broadcasting information online is a step towards ‘self-branding’.

                The idea that each one of us is a brand appeared long before the emergence of online networks. It is a subject which has sparked much debate, with some arguing that people, by their very nature can never fall into the category of a ‘brand’. Others, however, argue that what we consume constantly sends signals to others about who we are.

                Perhaps some common ground could be found by looking at things differently. The concepts of identity formation and personality are useful ways of understanding actions. What we do is influenced by a number of things, including gender, peer effects and culture. This is no different to what goes on in the online world with Facebook groups and online forums like Mumsnet having a huge impact on how people behave.

                Whether or not you and I are brands remains a topic for discussion. The greater question is how our online identities will be shaped and changed by our online social networks and the online behaviour of others.



I was at a Chromeo gig in Tripod, in Dublin last Thursday night. And maybe it’s been a while since I had been to an intimate gig…but it was just brilliant. The band was amazing. Two performers, a funky backdrop of lights, plastic legs on the keyboards and a great fan experience. The place was jammed, and we didn’t have to be there 5 hours in advance to fight our way towards the stage to make out the musicians’ faces.

O2 Blueroom are hosting a private Pixie Lott concert tomorrow night and streaming it live online. 200 competition winners will attend the gig while O2 are charging the unlucky non-attendees €5 to watch it streamed live online….Hmmm…..I’m suspicious of this tactic. What is the uptake of this kind of offer? How many people would enjoy the experience of watching a concert on their laptop, most likely alone??  And on a Tuesday night…?? And the ones that do decide to view the streamed gig, would they bother doing the same again? It just seems to defeat the purpose of a concert to me. It’s a nice brand move – opening the concert up to everyone (for a small fee) – I get it – and great for super hardcore fans who cant physically make it, but will it really take off?

We all know the internet rules the world (exaggeration) and that everything is either digital or mobile and most are both or will be. But I think there is no escaping the physical – the actually being there when something happens, the social gathering that isn’t via Facebook. I am open to change and moving forward, but the best brand moves are still the ones that involve a physical interaction with a customer. The phone call, the hand shake, the then and now, the tripod stamp on your wrist,  the singing/dancing with fellow Chromeo fans while your favourite electro-pop band are within reach.



An exciting development in marketing which has emerged recently is that of geo-fencing. This new technology allows for consumers to be informed of special offers on their favourite brands based on personal information and location. In the UK, Starbucks and L’Oreal are now a part of geo-fencing. This means that once a consumer who has signed up for the service is within half a mile of a Starbucks store, for example, he or she will receive a text offer for a particular type of coffee. Similarly, once near a stockist of L’Oreal products, the consumer will be sent a text with information about a specific deal or money-off offer.

          It seems that marketing is becoming more and more targeted as time goes on. Technology is allowing for this to happen, with Google AdWords already having emerged as a powerful tool in reaching a target audience. It could be argued that targeted marketing works well because it seeks to match individual needs as opposed to merely getting the name of a product known in the hope of generating sales. It ties into the idea that each one of us has a sense of identity, which is different to the identity of every single other person out there. In other words, we see ourselves as having needs different to those of others. We like it when big brands recognise this. It makes us feel special.

          Big brands need to be reminded, however, that each and every one of us is not only an individual, but also a social being. How we define ourselves is very much dependent on the groups we are a part of. A group could be anything from a family unit to a football team. A campaign can be just as successful when it is about sharing something with others as it is when it’s set up to target individuals based on personal details. A good example of this is Guinness’ Arthur’s Day which was based on the idea of celebrating a moment with others and being part of one massive group.

          In advertising, there is a place not only for targeted ads, but also for big branding exercises. It is vital that both individual needs and the concept of social identity are understood by marketers, so that a campaign is allowed to make the best connection possible with the consumer.


Product Benefits

September 28, 2010

In September 2009, I posted here that I was sceptical about 3D, particularly about 3D TV. By January 2010, fresh from seeing Avatar, I claimed to be converted. Now, a year after my first post on the topic, 3D is making its way into homes around the country.

For me, 3D had to be experienced to be loved. People could tell me how great it was all they wanted, but I couldn’t really grasp it until I had experienced it myself. The same, I would imagine, has been true for many people.

Until this weekend, I had only seen 3D in cinema, not on 3D TV, but on Saturday, I was given the oppurtunity to do so at an event set up for that purpose. 

We see experiential marketing all the time, brands looking for extra ways to engage their customers and allow them to interact with the brand. Often, it is done very well indeed, but it’s not so often that we see it in its purest form – experiencing the actual product that the company sells.

This was example of a brand understanding exactly what they needed to do and say to reach their customer, making the appropriate investment, and executing it perfectly. We know that the thing that makes a product new and unique from a producer’s point of view might not be what makes it special for their customer. All too often, still, brands start with what’s important to them rather than to their public.

In this case, I was given the opportunity to do the necessary; experience the product and its benefits. I wasn’t told about the technology that allowed it to be brought to me. That wouldn’t have meant anything to me at all. But after experiencing it, I fully understood the benefits it would bring to my television viewing, and there was the win for the advertiser.


Let Them Be Kids

August 24, 2010

I had a nice chat with an eight-year-old on Sunday. She was showing me her REAL baby, a doll that ingests, digests, and cries, the doll on which this child spends all of her pocket money – buying clothes, nappies, and the all-important ‘accessories’. Our discussion took place at a Christening, and she had dressed her baby for the occasion, in real clothes, no less. She force-fed it water all afternoon, prompting numerous nappy changes, (lest the child develop a rash).

This eight-year-old speaks with an American accent. Really. I took a while for me to place it, but there it was; that undeniable, slightly Southern, but fairly neutral, Disney twang. Nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but you see, she has lived in Dublin her whole life. So, there were only really two possible explanations; too much Hannah Montana, or too great a wish to be like Hannah Montana. Probably both, I fear.  

So I ran a few questions by her, while I had her attention.

Q 1): “Which company has a ‘tick’ on its stuff, like the one a teacher gives you?”

A: (tut) “Easy….Nike!” (pronounced like ‘Bike’, but full marks all the same)

Q 2): Which one has three stripes close together?

A:  Adidas (2 out of 2)

Q 3): Which has an apple with a bite taken out of it? (Ok, so that one was pretty simple, a bit obvious, even to an eight- year old, but the answer astounded me)

A: iPhones

This is a sample of one, so I’m loathe to read too much into it. But there is very little atypical about this child, so I can only think she must be reasonably representative. She is from a very regular, suburban, nuclear family, who are neither rich nor poor, and she goes to an ordinary National School.

I recently caught myself, and then berated myself for, lamenting the fact that we don’t have more insight into children’s attitudes and opinions about products and services. Probably time to step away from the computer screen, you say.

So much is being taken away from children, especially urban/ suburban ones. For a multitude of reasons, they have so much less freedom than in times gone by. They are bombarded with messages from brands, and as a result are much more commercially aware than previous generations. Amongst even very young children, most have their own cash and many have the power to choose where they spend it. They are constantly being stimulated by TV, Video Games, play dates, playgrounds, websites, basically, organised fun of all kinds. I remember when playing meant running around. Whatever happened to going out your door at 9am on a summer’s day and being told not to come back until lunchtime?

Leave them alone I say, return their freedom, let them be children and protect their imaginations at all costs. After all, if we kill their creativity completely, who will come up with the killer campaigns of the future?


I’ve been thinking about inspiration of late, inspired myself by the following paragraph that Harry Eyres recently wrote:

‘Artists, and others, are reluctant nowadays to talk about inspiration. It sounds highfalutin and vague, like some mysterious essence which floats above the earth. But inspiration in its deepest sense, far from being vague or abstract, is very intimate, physical and personal. There is nothing more intimate, physical and personal than breathing, or breathing in, which is the literal meaning of inspiration. An inspiring place is one that lets you breathe.’

There are some obvious places and platforms for inspiration. The world of is a favoured destination. We frequently refer to the brand that is Jamie Oliver and his TED talk is rightly filed under the heading of inspiring. As is Matt Ridley’s piece on ‘When ideas have sex’ – definitely worth a watch over a lunchtime sandwich.

At OMD we start our week with our Ignition 5, where Vanessa and co inspire us with some cool things they’ve seen from around the world. This week’s post, shared on this blog, includes washing powder with in-built GPS tracking – an idea that could certainly be ‘borrowed with pride’ in other categories.

I think Harry is right when he refers to the personal nature of inspiration but paradoxically we in the communications business try and create that intimate relationship on a mass scale. This is probably easier to achieve than it sounds. I had the great pleasure of seeing Leonard Cohen play at Lissadell House recently watching the sun set behind Benbulben listening to his ‘gift of a golden voice’. A personal moment for me, sure, but one I shared with 10,000 others. Brands can behave in the same way and at an obvious level the development of social communities as part of marketing programmes and brand experiences is a sign of this. One of our favourites here is the Irish Blood Transfusion Service donor community on facebook.

A few of us are reading Paul Arden’s book ‘It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.’ He finishes with a few quotes which can be inspiring in themselves. A little scary perhaps as when Grand Prix driver Mario Andretti states ‘If everything seems under control you’re not going fast enough’!

If all else fails, maybe we should follow the inspirational words of Dr Scholl: ‘Early to bed. Early to rise. Work like hell and advertise.’



It might not surprise you that I believe in advertising. I know it’s my job, but I strongly believe in the power of media. When planned well, it can have amazing effects on people’s actions and brand perceptions. If done really well it can even get people excited. Nike, Coke, Guinness, the Movie guys…all great at fostering excitement in a target audience.

But something I’ve noticed in recent times, (with the evolution of social media and other things), is that PR is starting to play a more important role than, say five years ago. Brand managers are taking it into consideration more, and consequently plugging more of their marketing budgets into it.

I agree that PR is an important part of the marketing mix, but where do you draw the line? Arun Sudhamen says that it’s set to take a bigger share. Fine by me. Maybe the PR budget can move from 10% to 15%? That makes sense. But to 50%?? That’s wrong. PR should support media. Media should lead and PR follows, not the other way round. Media should propel out the message, and PR should follow and whisper it in people’s ears.

Because a PR campaign is dwarfed without Media support. Media can stand alone but PR cant.

As Neasa wrote previously the lines are blurring between creative, media and PR. The future is messy. Media agencies brainstorm and create (our ignition facility for example). PR agencies negotiate free media. Creative’s dictate media choices.

Who does what isn’t so clear. But I think moving chunks of money out of media and into PR isn’t a clever strategy. There is a limited amount of  PR you can negotiate, but there is limitless advertising space. 


(check it out – no exhausts)

Yesterday I had the privilege of being one of the first people in Ireland to test drive the new range of electric vehicles from Renault.  The test vehicles are proto-types, not yet factory produced and are therefore one-offs, worth about a million euro each.  The event was out in Carton House and we got to drive through the estate, out onto the public road, up to a roundabout and back again.  The two vehicles they had were the Kangoo (van) and the Fluence (an executive saloon).

What are they like?  Long story short, they’re just cars, with a different engine.  Driving-wise the biggest difference was they’re left hand drive (weird enough) and they’re set up like an automatic, with just drive, park and reverse (which I’ve never driven before).  Those differences were much more noticeable to me than the difference between a petrol and an electric engine.  Which probably says it all. 

They’re also silent.  Can you imagine a city centre, like Dublin, without the roar of traffic?  I was going to say it’d be like going back to pre-combustion engine days, but actually, there were noisy, smelly horses clip-clopping around and relieving themselves all over the place back then.  This would be a breath of fresh-air and completely noise-free.  In fact, that’s one of the challenges of electric vehicles – they’ve to put an artificial noise into them for pedestrian safety.  Who’d have thought we’d have been trying to make cars noisier? 

The Gardai and Emergency Services were also out there getting training on how to deal with any potential road accidents involving an electric car (tip: don’t try putting out fires with water…).

Yesterday was a glimpse of the future.  Electric Vehicles may not be mainstream, mass-produced, today, tomorrow, next year, in the next 3 or 4 years.  But in 5, 10 or 15 years time, we’ll all be driving them.  And I wish that was now, because it’d be a far better place.

In other respects, we’ve already arrived at the future.  Car companies like Renault are now inviting as many bloggers and online publishers as traditional journalists to these kind of things.  I was sitting beside the blogger behind a new motor site called (@smokerspack).  He’s a micro-blogger who reviews individual cars that individual dealers have for sale.  So for example you could look up a second hand Golf on his site which he’s reviewed and then call down to the dealer and try it yourself.

Then when I got back to the office I tweeted a few photos of the electric vehicles and hash-tagged #Renault and #Fluence.  2 minutes later I got a direct message from @RenaultZE complimenting me on my pictures.  Now I’m following them so I get to hear the news and developments around their ZE. 

Good to see some brands trying to get to the future first, both with what they do and how they talk to you about it – after all, first tends to get all the credit.

Every day, we are faced with an overwhelming number of decisions to make.  We can’t possibly devote attention to every single one of them.

Most people have a few categories, which they are especially involved in. Some care a lot about the phone they buy, but couldn’t care less about the food in their fridge. Others are really involved in choosing clothes but when it comes to the car they drive, have little interest.

For categories we feel personally invested in, we make our decisions as maximisers. We find out as much information as possible and carefully weigh up each option to ensure that we make the best possible decision. In other categories, categories we don’t care as much about, we are satisficers.  It’s not worth our time to examine every angle. In these cases, good is good enough.

This is where Brands come in. We rely on Brands as time saving heuristics. Brands offer us a rule of thumb – they may not guarantee us the absolute best solution every time, but they deliver enough of the time, for us to comfortably rely on them. And we can apply our surplus cognitive energy to the stuff we actually care about.

So for example, I know if I’m buying a TV, that I can expect certain product standards from Sony, without having to do a load of homework around picture quality and refresh rates.

These brands didn’t build up this valuable collateral overnight however. They consistently delivered high quality products, invested in their brand and earned this positive reputation over time.

The beauty of this investment however, is that once this brand equity is established, they can then reap the rewards of brand heuristics in decision making.

Which Apple are clearly doing now, as illustrated above, with their iPhone.


As a side note:

The guy who made this video works in Best Buy who weren’t too pleased with him insulting one of their preferred partners Apple, despite the fact that he never mentioned Best Buy in the video. They insisted he remove it and when he wouldn’t, fired him. He reports on his Youtube channel that they have now asked him back – the issue is still ongoing.

This video has over 5 million views on Youtube so far. If I was HTC, I’d very publicly offer him a job!

It was a funny World Cup. An all- European final, again, which is good for European football I suppose, but it didn’t make for a thrilling match did it?

At the beginning of this campaign I wondered about the sense of brands sponsoring individuals and teams at events like these, not knowing how they would perform or what the return would be. Now it seems that, in many cases, my concern was warranted.

Some of the biggest footballing nations bowed out early. France and Italy left in the group stages – France in a blaze of embarassment, and Italy….. well, they’re a bit old now, and not very good anymore. How the mighty have fallen; France and Italy were the finalists in 2006.

England lost 4-1 in the round of 16 to a vastly superior Germany. Three of the world’s top paid footballers were in that England team; John Terry, Frank Lampard, and Steven Gerrard. None of them performed at a really top level. Nor did Kaka, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Wayne Rooney, all of whom hold massive endorsement deals with either Nike or Adidas. In fact, the winner of the Golden Boot was Diego Forlán and I can’t find him on the top 50. By my reckoning the only player in the top ten who really performed at world-beater level was Spain’s Xavi, and he’s number ten on the list.

So what does this mean for the brands that sponsored them? In some cases, it was simply a waste of money, but for some, their deals have proved embarrassing.

Immediately in the wake of the French debacle, which their sports minister Roselyne Bachelot called “a moral disaster for French football”, sponsors started pulling activity and making threats. Financial services company Credit Agricole pulled a TV campaign featuring the team that was supposed to run until the end of June, and fast food giant Quick have said they will stop using an ad featuring Nicolas Anelka. Adidas have claimed to be “appalled and saddened” by what happened (but have retained their sponsorship, which is due to expire next year anyway). Utilities company GDF Suez says their sponsorship is now under review, despite the fact that their current deal is in place until after the 2014 World Cup.

So, is it a risk worth taking? There can only be one ultimate winner at the World Cup, but this time round there have been an unusual number of shocking disappointments and some downright embarrassments. In light of the economic realities being faced by the brands and companies aligning themselves with these properties, the question is whether or not these were risks worth taking.

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