Secret Marketer: Most brands can learn nothing from Apple and Nike

Top brands such as Nike and Coca-Cola are the marketing equivalent of the 1%, not the 99% that most of us work in.

secret markerter

have a confession to make. A heresy that I can probably only say under cover of the Secret Marketer name, and one that will ensure I get burned at the stake. Or, perhaps, the 21st-century equivalent, trolled on Twitter.

Most of us marketers should ignore what the top brands are doing. Apple, Google, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Toyota, IBM, Samsung, Amazon, McDonald’s and GE (Interbrand’s top 10) are irrelevant. They’re the marketing equivalent of the 1%, not the 99% that most of us work in. These mythical brands are not role models, however much we admire what they do.

I appreciate that I have said the marketing equivalent of ‘isn’t Brexit great’ or ‘Trump is a great leader’.

My thought process was triggered by a story I was sharing with a colleague about our current logo refresh project. The story was about a marketing executive 10 years ago at a company I had just joined, who tried to convince me that putting an upward-curving ‘swoosh’ under the company’s brand name would work as well for us as it did for Nike.

My colleague clearly had not copped that there was difference between Nike’s $1bn annual marketing budget and our paltry sum, so any attempt at embedding our swoosh in the consumer’s brain might have a different result.

I understand how my colleague could make the mistake. If you study marketing, read the trade press or attend a conference, you are led to believe that we should follow the great brands, spending money on image, brand and presence. Red Bull’s incredible brand activation. Richard Branson’s PR machine. Steve Jobs this and Apple that. Sure, I love reading and learning about what the great brands are doing, but many of the brands that we lionise today never did any of that.

Pret. Brewdog. Ryanair. Facebook. Snapchat. They rarely emulate the big-brand, ordinary-market ‘stuff’ but focus on direct response communications. Even the hip digital agencies rarely eat their own dog food and advertise themselves using the orthodox brand advertising playbook.

I appreciate that by saying this I’m on the road to marketing perdition. But to really guarantee it, I’m going to say this: the reality of most of today’s marketers is a little removed from those with the grand strategies and mega-budgets. I would hazard a guess that the typical reader of Marketing Week might be better off thinking of marketing as being a little more prosaic, gritty and more like hand-to-hand combat.

For the 99% of brands, their agenda is simple: find similar successful brands to follow. Those brands with a similar purpose, goals and at a similar stage of development – it’s their thinking that is to be emulated and admired, not that of the 1%.

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  • Jonathan Cahill 31 Jan 2017 at 12:04 pm

    All makes sense except the last comment that “for the 99% of brands, their agenda is simple: find similar successful brands to follow”. And then it goes on to say how the thinking of these beacons should be “emulated and admired”.

    This appears to be plain lazy. The agenda is very simple, although a little taxing: THINK. Looking for off-the-peg solutions is dangerous and intellectually impoverished. It’s about time people realised the inherent truth in Heraclitus’s observation that you can never stand in the same river twice. Context is always different and solutions need to provide a direct response, in failing to recognise this cognitive misers are dealing in fool’s gold.

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