The answer is ‘brand’, now what’s the question?

What is a brand?
It’s the new word for what we used to call ‘image’.
It’s everything around the thing that isn’t the thing itself.
It’s emotional, not rational.
It’s the right brain, not the left brain.
In advertising terms it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.
And it is true that sometimes the image is more important than the pure mundane reality.
Take perfume, all it is is image.
No one cares how long it lasts, or how convenient the bottle is.
In this case the rational is the enemy of the emotional.
But that isn’t always true.
It’s become current advertising mythology that brand is always the most important thing.
In all cases, everytime, everywhere.
This has to be lazy thinking.
This is setting the brain on auto-pilot.
This is why ‘planners’ have become just brand-consultants, in the quest for any easy life.
To avoid having to reinvent the wheel every time there’s a new problem.
Think for a minute, is brand really always the answer?
Do people fall in love with the BMW brand and immediately rush into a shop saying,

“Give me some of that BMW brand, I don’t know what they make: cigarettes, chocolate bars, ballpoint pens or holidays. But I must have some of that brand right now.”

Nope, that isn’t how it works.
First you decide you need a car.
Then you decide what sort of car.
Finally you draw up a list of the brands of car.
The brand of car will have been decided by the car’s reputation.
Which will have been decided by the product itself over many years.
Volkswagen didn’t start with a blank sheet of paper and decide to push reliability as their brand.
They started with a car that was ugly, utilitarian, cheap and sturdy.
They repackaged that as sensible, reliable, and tough.
The brand came from the product not the other way round.
That’s because in some areas the product performance is more important than the brand image.
Unless the brand image is the product performance.
Brand is only one of the possible ways to sell.
But, so far as most planners are concerned, it’s now the only way that anybody buys anything.
You’ve heard the expression ‘When the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
Well most planners only have one tool, so every problem looks like a branding issue.
They don’t even consider the business problem.
They knee-jerk straight into an advertising answer, and that means addressing the brand issues.
Let me give you an example.
When AMV had to repitch for Sainsburys.
They sat down and discussed the branding issues.
How could they change the brand to attract more people into the store?
It was depressing because the brief from the client was to increase Sainsbury’s turnover by £3 billion over the next 2 years.
And however much you change the brand you’re not going to attract £3 billion of business away from your competitors.
Then a young planner said,

“Forget the brand for a minute, and look at the numbers.
Sainsburys has 14 million store visits a week.
That’s 3/4 billion store visits a year.
If we can increase the value of each store visit by an average £1.50 we’ll have increased revenue by £3 billion over 2 years.”

And because she said that the, ‘Try something different today” campaign was born.
Not by kneejerking into brand, but by getting upstream and looking at the business problem before you look at the advertising problem.
That’s the sort of planner I, and every creative, want to work with.
Not a planner that says brand isn’t ever the answer.
Just a planner that says brand isn’t always the only answer.