Inside Out

The weather has been good but I have been so busy that I have barely stepped foot outside. I have been in a frenzy, trying to complete the projects I have on plate at the moment so that I can become fully immersed in the big project for the year.
I am preparing to begin a thesis in which I will test some ideas about brand theory and deployment in the context of the new, collaborative media landscape.

Some of the ideas I have been mulling over since the mid 90s when I came home from Europe and started BrandWorld with Bill Peake and and Greig Buckley. The idea of homogenous brands, rather than playful brands that truly embrace the idea that consumer 'owns' the brand. I remember, in the early days of the business, each of the partners has a set of three different colourways for our cards. The recipient of the business card could choose what they liked. The partners chose their own sets, from the series developed by our designer (Gary Sullivan, whom I wrote about in an article for Idealog that you can read in full here). It was an expensive excercise - twelve business card sets for three partners. Would I do it again? Yes I would. For a couple of reasons:

a) just because people join a firm doesn't mean they 'become' the firm. It's not like joing the nazi party and subsuming your own personality. Firms need to accept that its workers need to feel both embraced and acknowledged as individuals.

b) it starts more interesting conversations with customers. When they choose the type of card they like they are telling you something about their own personality and taste…they have become engaged.

I'm sure there are others, I have to be quick with this entry as I am heading out to a meeting.

I am especially interested in the big idea of nation branding, along the same lines.
I have argued, as has Naomi Klein (and for once I agree with her), that conventions of branding applied to ideas as big as nation states are, simply too narrow and flattening to have any genuine value. I began on this train of thought in response to an article in Idealog by Jake Pearce contributor who's opinion was that 100% Pure New Zealand was ineffectual 'branding' for New Zealand. His alternate was 'Raw Sophistication'. My view was that debating either/or was fundamentally pointless if the rules of branding do not apply in any case. Sort of like the pointlessness of arguing whether Islam or Christianity is right or wrong if one doesn't believe there are any gods at all.

I have begun a special interest blog on the topic, it has no content as yet but it should in the next few days. I will chronicle my endeavours at

Here is an extract from Ms Klein's article, which originally appeared in the LA Times

"In the corporate world, once a "brand identity" is settled upon by the head office, it is enforced with military precision throughout a company's operations. The brand identity may be tailored to accommodate local language and cultural preferences (like McDonald's serving pasta in Italy), but its core features--aesthetic, message, logo--remain unchanged.

This consistency is what brand managers like to call "the promise" of a brand: It's a pledge that wherever you go in the world, your experience at Wal-Mart, Holiday Inn or a Disney theme park will be comfortable and familiar. Anything that threatens this homogeneity dilutes a company's overall strength. That's why the flip side of enthusiastically flogging a brand is aggressively prosecuting anyone who tries to mess with it, whether by pirating its trademarks or by spreading unwanted information about the brand on the Internet.

At its core, branding is about rigorously controlled one-way messages, sent out in their glossiest form, then hermetically sealed off from those who would turn that corporate monologue into a social dialogue. The most important tools in launching a strong brand may be research, creativity and design, but after that, libel and copyright laws are a brand's best friends.

When brand managers transfer their skills from the corporate to the political world, they invariably bring this fanaticism for homogeneity with them. For instance, when Wally Olins, co-founder of the Wolff Olins brand consultancy, was asked for his take on America's image problem, he complained that people don't have a single clear idea about what the country stands for, but rather have dozens if not hundreds of ideas that "are mixed up in people's heads in a most extraordinary way. So you will often find people both admiring and abusing America, even in the same sentence."

Watch this space.


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