Posts Tagged 'communications proposition'

ahead of the game

The ‘life’s a game’ concept is nothing new, but it seems to be particularly resonant at the moment.

Russell describes what I’m feeling beautifully in this great excerpt from his epic playful post*:

“Just like when I walk through the crowds on Oxford Street a tiny part of me is pretending I’m an assassin slipping steely-eyed through the crowds in order to shake the agents on my tail. And I bet it’s not just me. I’m not saying I’m massively deluded, just that, very often, some bit of us is always trying to play those games, to make mundane things more exciting.”

It’s one of those lovely insights that could translate really well into brand activity.

And this Nike spot hits that sweet spot beautifully:

It works because it’s engaging – even if it’s only in your own imagination.

* Yes, I know I’ve linked to it about 10 times already. But there’s a reason for that: it’s wonderful. If you haven’t read it already, I thoroughly recommend taking a look now. Thanks to Neil at Welcome to Optimism for sharing the Nike clip.

cut out and keep

Hypebeast and Today and Tomorrow have already featured this fantastic partnership between Lego and Muji, but it deserves more than a quick twitter link.

The concept is so simple that I’m sure children all over the world already have their own version.

However, there’s nothing wrong with brands celebrating existing behaviour.

The reason this partnership works so well is that it builds on the essences of both brands: Lego’s boundless creativity, and Muji’s delightful simplicity.

Here are some more images borrowed from the original Yoshikage Kajiwara post (in Japanese):

On a related note, take a look at this glorious anthropological study of Lego ‘nomenclature’, and this inspiring post from Russell Davies on the importance of imagination in play, communications, and the world in general.

Many thanks to PSFK for alerting me to the Muji partnership and nomenclature posts.
UPDATE: John seems to like this too… what is it about planners and Lego?

soap operettes

This is a fantastic Nescafé campaign from the late 1980s.

It’s an interesting variation on the leitmotiv approach: evolve a creative concept over time to deliver increased depth and duration of audience engagement:

The same technique was harnessed in the equally wonderful Nicole, Papa work for Renault Clio a few years later.

Such storytelling is a powerful communications proposition that brands can deliver through conventional media like TV.

However, the proliferation of storytelling media like the Web means we now have many more opportunities to engage people than we did in the 1980s; which brand will be the first to refresh this approach and deliver the first epic  transmedia story?

I’d love to see more examples of these brand ‘soap operettes’ – please share any links via the comments section below.

planning for the future (3): add CSR to everything you do

add csr to everything

Monday’s introduction to planning for the future highlighted an exciting shift in advertising’s role:

“Rather than simply interrupting [people's] escapism, we now have greater scope to make [their] lives better.”

Today’s suggestion – to incorporate an element of CSR into everything you do – continues this logic:

If brands are to become a meaningful part of people’s lives, they need to enrich those people’s lives too.


Give, and you shall receive

This applies equally well to brands as it does to people; indeed, many of the world’s great brands were born on the principle of cooperation.

Lever Brothers built the foundations of today’s Unilever on the principle of ‘doing well by doing good’.

Similarly, Cadbury created an entire social eco-system for its workforce around the company’s factory in Bournville – an approach rooted in the Quaker ideal of mutual benefit.

For some reason, this ‘considerate’ approach to business went out of fashion for many years, reaching a low point in the corporate greed of the 1980s.

However, a renewed focus on ‘Corporate Social Responsibility‘ (CSR) became popular in the 90s, and brands today cannot justify a lack of broader conscientiousness.

But CSR isn’t just a ploy to enrich the company’s annual report.

Indeed, simply throwing money at a charity can often seem more like an acknowledgment of guilt than genuine concern.

For CSR to be effective, brands must demonstrate a real commitment to driving change and helping people.

This is most effective when the area of CSR focus relates to the brand’s core purpose and expertise, and integrates with the brand’s overall marketing.

For example, while I’d applaud a petroleum brand that donated 10% of its profits to feeding the poor, I’d admire and celebrate that brand much more if they invested the same amount of money in developing ecologically balanced sources of energy that ensured a brighter future for everyone, not just their shareholders.

However, it’s often difficult to justify that kind of longer-term CSR to shareholders, who invariably demand results today (and not 30 years down the line).

The good news is that CSR is a powerful and effective way to build a successful brand – a financial benefit that even myopic shareholders can relate to.

This is because CSR has the ability to create much deeper connection and engagement than broadcast advertising ever could; by helping communities and society at large, brands can demonstrate that they’re on the side of the people, and that helps to establish a more powerful bond.

So how can brands make best use of CSR opportunities?

Let’s return to the Run London example from yesterday’s post.

Nike incorporates a significant ‘community’ element in each iteration of this event (and indeed in much of its broader marketing).

For starters, all participants are encouraged to raise money for charity through sponsorship.

Other initiatives, such as Nike’s ReUse-A-Shoe Program, take the concept of CSR even further:


Feeling good about a brand makes it much easier for people to justify choosing it over alternatives.

Furthermore, genuine CSR inspires people to talk about the brand, driving word of mouth and amplifying ROI.


Identify as many relevant opportunities as you can for your brand to give something back to its communities, and assign a meaningful portion of your brand’s resource – money and effort – to delivering these contributions.

Previous posts in the ‘planning for the futureseries

Introduction: a new planning manifesto

Use communications to deliver value: moving from advertising to adding value

It’s all about the benefits: a simple example of how to deliver a brand’s core benefit with a TV ad

it’s all about the benefits

I couldn’t resist sharing this great example of how to bring a brand’s core benefit to life.

As we’ve seen before, Cadbury Dairy Milk is all about little moments of everyday happiness.

This short film brings the simple beauty of that benefit to life, with every single frame delivering ‘a glass and a half full of joy’:

Thanks to Simon for sharing the video.

planning for the future (2): use communications to deliver value

add value to everything

In yesterday’s introduction to planning for the future, we saw that planning is evolving into:

The process of identifying the most relevant and engaging times and places to deliver specific brand benefits, and the most efficient and effective ways to deliver those benefits in that context.

The first step in this evolution involves a fundamental shift in how we view brand communications.

Rather than merely promoting other forms of value delivery like products, brand communications can become a viable means to deliver benefits of their own.


People don’t actually buy products or brands; they buy things that enable them to achieve specific aims.

As a consequence, brands that help people to achieve their aims more comprehensively are more attractive, and therefore more valuable.

Planning can help add to this value by enabling brands to create more opportunities to satisfy.

Our challenge is to turn every single interaction – including communications – into an opportunity to help people achieve their aims.

Nike already champions this approach.

It understands that people don’t buy ‘sportswear’; they buy things that enable them to participate in sporting activities.

So the brand focuses on creating more opportunities for people to enjoy those activities.

Run London is a great example, creating deeper engagement not just with the brand, but also with running:

Run London doesn’t just build engagement either: over 30,000 participants pay to take part, and the event generates more than £1million in revenue.

Given this, it’s easy to understand why Nike employs the same approach in football with Joga3, and in fitness with the Rockstar Workout.


When everything a brand does helps people to satisfy their wants, needs, and desires, it becomes a much more valuable part of their lives.


Identify the core benefit that your brand offers, and then identify ways to deliver it through every interaction – including communications.

planning for the future

hearts and minds

Planning is the process of identifying the most efficient and effective ways for brands to share the things they want with the people that matter to them most.

Until recently, that has translated into identifying the most compelling ‘big brand ideas’, and then broadcasting them to apparently homogeneous audiences through conventional mass-media.

However, this approach no longer delivers the results we need.

Contrary to the laments of the media industry, this is not because attention has become more scarce; indeed, people actually have more free time now than they used to.

The real issue is that people have more opportunities to participate in a wider variety of activities, and unsurprisingly, they are choosing to focus their attention on those activities which offer them the greatest rewards.

In place of some of the time they used to spend ‘fire gazing’ – escaping the boredom and drudgery of everyday life – people are increasingly harnessing their cognitive surplus to learn and grow.

This more varied behaviour means that ‘audiences’ are increasingly dispersed: fewer people are doing the same thing at the same time, and mass-media are increasingly less ‘mass’ as a result.

However, this actually presents more opportunities than it does problems.

Rather than simply interrupting people’s escapism, we now have greater scope to get involved and make their lives better.

But, in order to achieve this, we need to rethink our approach to brand communications.

We need to move away from planning that centres on people’s ‘media habits’, and focus instead on the things that people are trying to achieve through those habits.

In other words, we need to ask why people do what they do, not just what they do.

Once we understand people’s motivations, we’ll find it much easier to find more relevant roles for our brands:

If people want passive entertainment, how can we help with that?

If they want to learn something new, what role can we play?

If they have a challenge, how can we help them solve it?

Brand communications can evolve into a means to deliver actual value, rather than simply a means to promote other forms of value delivery.

The benefit offered can be as simple as passive entertainment, but interactive experiences, education, and even corporate social responsibility (CSR) hold even greater potential.

In line with this evolving quest for people’s hearts and minds, planning’s role needs to evolve too, becoming

The process of identifying the most relevant and engaging times and places to deliver specific brand benefits, and the most efficient and effective ways to deliver those benefits in that context.

Over the next few days, I’ll share some ideas that can help make that future a reality.

join the dots

content is not king

John shared this gem a while ago, and I couldn’t resist re-posting it here.

Cory‘s statement is truly insightful: content like music, films, novels, and news is valuable in and of itself, but its value increases exponentially when it enables us to connect with others.

Because it’s those connections that people really care about.

So don’t just think about how you can connect your brand to your audience.

Think about how your brand can help your audience connect with each other as well.

John has lots of other great stuff on his blog – go take a look

for love or money

love or money

After the recent post on KINDED, I was interested to read about a Canadian credit union’s approach to  ‘random acts of kindness’.

Springwise report that Servus is giving away 20,000 ten-dollar bills to allow people to “make someone’s day” and start what they refer to as a “Feel Good Ripple”.’

In their own words,

The Feel Good Ripple was developed to inspire everyone to make a positive impact in their community – today and into the future.  It’s the credit union way of creating harmonious communities and sharing our cooperative beliefs.

Participants have already put some of the money to good use, including anonymously buying an elderly couple breakfast, and buying pet food for the SPCA.

It’s an intriguing initiative.

On the one hand, it’s great for provoking conversations; my first reaction – ‘what would stop someone from pocketing the money?’ – even works in the campaign’s favour, by increasing the likelihood that people will talk about it.

It’s also a refreshing and differentiating alternative to the usual banking campaign full of stock images and financial cliché.

Furthermore, generosity isn’t an attribute people normally associate with brands in the financial services sector. This ‘corporate philanthropy’ angle highlights the brand’s credit union philosophy and co-operative approach.

Sure, cynics may suggest that it’s all just marketing spin – that’s it’s just another example of brands trying to buy people’s affection.

But does that matter?

The brand could have used this money to produce the usual, irrelevant blandness.

Instead, real people are benefiting from the campaign.

And when it comes to choosing between one bland brand and the next, that little ‘feel-good’ edge could become a critical motivator.

Sometimes, it’s not about how good you are, but about how bad everyone else is.

Read more in the Springwise article and on the brand’s campaign website.

get the message?

cadbury gorilla

Simon Law shared some thoughts in response to the recent measures of success post that alluded to another interesting question:

Does advertising always need a message?

Much like ‘big ideas’, advertisers increasingly question the validity and relevance of ‘messages’.

But I believe much of that criticism is unfounded.

Every advert – and indeed, every communication – needs a message.

The issue in advertising is not the relevance of messages, but what the word ‘message‘ has come to mean.

People use it arbitrarily to mean a variety of different things: slogan, tagline, theme,…

Strictly speaking, however, it’s none of those.

Defining the term

Communication is all about exchange.

The word’s linguistic root means “to make common” – i.e. to share.

Modern definitions have evolved to encompass a slightly broader context; this is‘s perspective:

The imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.

It’s clear from this that communication should always involve some kind of sharing.

And that’s where ‘messages’ come in.

Sharing what?

In an advertising context, the message is whatever we hope to share: thoughts, opinions, information, etc.

Put more simply, the message is

The subject of communication.

However, this is still a little too ambiguous.

The role of a message

We’ve seen before that the purpose of brand communication is:

To create a shared understanding between a brand and the people it wishes to influence.

In that context, the ‘subject‘ of brand communication is the understanding that we want to share.

So, fundamentally, a message is

The thing we want people to think, believe, or perceive as a result of experiencing our communications.

So why do we need one?

Some people have suggested that a ‘message’ isn’t necessary – that advertising can work perfectly well without one.

But that makes no sense.

All advertising must have a purpose: an objective that relates to the brand’s success.

Furthermore, that purpose will always involve sharing something with an audience that will influence their attitudes and / or behaviour.

So, in light of how we’ve defined ‘message‘ above, it’s logical to conclude that all advertising must have a message.

Deciding the message

Deciding exactly what that message should be is a lot more complex.

As always, the most appropriate message depends entirely on what the brand wants to achieve, and whom it’s talking to.

Let’s look at an example that many detractors cite when asserting that advertising doesn’t need a message:

I’ve heard many people suggest that ‘Gorilla‘ doesn’t have a message.

But, together with a group of very intelligent people*, I worked on the strategy that inspired Gorilla (and the subsequent ‘Trucks‘ and ‘Eyebrows‘ films), so I can confidently assert that it did have a message.

The expression of that message even appears in the clip, albeit subtly.

At the time we began development of this strategy, the Cadbury Dairy Milk brand faced an interesting dilemma: although it was still the nation’s favourite chocolate, it had become a category generic: Cadbury Dairy Milk was ‘chocolate’, and people didn’t perceive it standing for much beyond that.

Meanwhile, competitors were gaining ground with highly targeted positionings that appealed to specific audience desires.

A thorough exploration of the Cadbury Dairy Milk brand revealed that there was a generosity that ran through everything the brand did – from its cooperative roots, to the fact that Cadbury continues to use fresh milk in the production process.

Coincidentally, we already knew that the audience aspired to be more optimistic: they were tired of the constant cynicism that surrounded them, and they wanted to break free from that by surrounding themselves with more optimistic people.

We saw a relevant connection between generosity and optimism.

Then, when we reflected on the brand’s heritage of ‘a glass-and-a-half of milk in every half pound‘ (a well-known claim used in much of the brand’s historic advertising), the somewhat obvious line was too good to ignore:

See the world as a glass-and-a-half full.

The play on seeing the glass half empty versus half full is obvious: Cadbury Dairy Milk offers people an exceptionally optimistic outlook that counters the cynicism that pervades their lives.

It’s not rocket science, but then, choosing a brand of chocolate isn’t too complicated either.

I wasn’t involved in the specific development of the Gorilla film,  so can’t comment with authority, but I think the intended ‘message’ is pretty clear:

Cadbury Dairy Milk’s communications bring you a moment of optimistic joy – just like Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate.

Simple, but very effective.


Communications always need a message: something that the brand wants its audience to understand, and that will help it achieve its objectives.

That message doesn’t need to be complex, and it doesn’t need to be expressed explicitly.

But we’ve always got to share something.

Even if that’s just a moment of joy.

*As a consultant at ascension strategy consulting, I helped to develop the proposition and subsequent positioning for the Cadbury Dairy Milk brand. Publicis were Cadbury’s agency at the time of this development, although the brand’s account subsequently moved to Fallon, who created the Gorilla film featured above.


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