Art imitating life?

MaryLou Costa is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and her blog brings her unique Australian perspective to brands. She also oversees the Market Research Focus weekly bulletin.

Working at Marketing Week means you live and breathe marketing not just for eight hours a day, but you find yourself unable to revert back to a time when you didn’t view the world through brands.

On my way home from work I marvel at how advertising in the tube has taken on a more 3D, experiential feel. I’ll notice the branding on the canvas bag of the person next to me and wonder at what event did they get it from. I even sometimes (when I’m really bored) make a mental note of how many individual brands I happen to be wearing that day.

Try as you might, you just don’t switch off in this business. Not even when you’re curled up on the couch watching telly, because even in this sacred space (bar the ads and product placement of course) analysing brands and marketing has followed me.

I caught the BBC’s Superbrands three-part documentary this week and was bemused to see brand strategy broken down into consumer terms.

To anyone with a knowledge of marketing, it was a little Marketing 101 (and perhaps too many branding “secrets” were revealed to the masses, but that’s another story). But there were a few nuggets in there for even a seasoned marketer.

In the Technology episode, the Bishop of Birmingham – who reads the Bible on an iPad – likened Apple’s following to a religion, and a brain scan of Apple fans found reactions similar to those experienced by religious enthusiasts.

Presenter Adam Riley came up with the profound conclusion that successful brands in the technology space tap into basic human needs – gossip, religion and sex – and allow us to indulge in these things in both an anonymous and global manner.

The Food episode analysed several iconic brands. The brand giant that is Coca Cola was brought to life by someone who got marketing before many categories in the profession were even conceived, but has failed to dominate in certain markets: Russia, because of an entrenched anti-American sentiment, and Scotland, where the local Irn-Bru rules the roost.

The Red Bull case study was fascinating in outlining the journey of something that already existed, not as a brand but merely as a niche product confined to its home market of Thailand. But on sampling the stuff, Austrian Deitrich Mateschitz envisioned a new market category based on him creating a brand to take the little Thai product global.

The programme revealed that Red Bull spends 25% of its revenues on marketing. Part of this budget has gone towards Red Bull owning branded properties such as two Formula 1 teams, four football teams, two ice hockey teams and a jet fighter display team as well as sponsoring a range of adrenaline sports to give the brand a distinct personality.

Brands have become part of our families, Riley theorised, and he made the very apt point: “But if friends and family change, you can go off them very quickly.”

Lord Alan Sugar
Lord Alan Sugar

The Apprentice later this week also served a severe lesson in the importance of branding and marketing to business to the losing team which resulted in not one, but two firings. The team who failed at the task of creating, branding and marketing a new pet food were berated by Lord Sugar for lacking a sound marketing strategy.

“Everydog” appealed to no one in particular, with its only USP being its generic nature – despite the teams conducting focus groups at initial stages to help them identify a target customer and potential gaps in the market. Their feedback was the opposite – that they wanted a product designed for their specific needs. How wrong they got it then, and I wonder how many marketers have learnt this lesson before?

Who says TV isn’t educational?