When our conversation briefly turns from a large man with very orange hair to what we call in the industry “Brand Implosion” things must be pretty bad in the world of corporate advertising. You have already seen the videos or heard on the news or read the articles on PEPSI, UNITED AIRLINES and ADIDAS. What does it mean for the small business or indie marketer? Taking cues from the “big mothers” of American (and international) brands there is a singular thread they all have in common: Tone Deafness.
What is tone? What does it mean when your brand is simply not acknowledging the community, diversity or customers in the message? It’s as if the creative team were all communicating with little orange juice cans tied with string:trying their best with the tools they had to work with, but the lifeline to the culture was simply out of date. Internally these companies have lost sight of our culture. Surprisingly they also seem to have no systems to check or challenge the creative of their organization. This leads to chaos, mixed messages and in the case of ADIDAS, no one proofread the emails that went out after the Boston Marathon. They used in the “call to action” line in the email campaign the word “survival” which recalled the horrific events of several years ago. The President of United Airlines took days to apologize to the public and to the barely mentioned the passenger who had been dragged down the aisle of the airplane. The fact that this was a policy that had stood for years was shocking and was nothing short of entitlement by the airlines. They simply forgot whom they were serving: the customer.
Pepsi tried to be relevant; they attempted to be “connected” to the world but also missed the tone, the meaning and the content of a real issue. They lost sight of the seriousness of the world around from inside the corporate bubble. Apparently, there is no diversity throughout the creative teams, nor in their awareness of the politics of culture in the world around them. All brands no matter how big, or small, must keep sight of what it is to be serving the public who help them continue to be in business. The cultural “zeitgeist” is critical to a creative campaign that needs to have a sense of itself as both a business proposition and a cultural one. Critical questions in testing these messages was not asked before the roll out. Astonishing, when the resources are vast at these companies. I’ts no wonder that smaller shops, stripped down teams are winning the day with creative that works.
Onwards, and upwards, I hope, from here.