Living the brand

Ben Kay wrote an interesting post the last week entitled “living the brand.”

The post told the tale of some choice words aimed in his direction when he turned up to work at 180 Amsterdam sporting a pair of Nike Jordans. As their founding client, upon whom much of their success was arguably built, it was deemed disrespectful to be seen wearing the footwear of their arch nemesis.

It gets worse. Having bought himself a pair or fetching Adidas high tops to fit in, Ben experienced similar ignominy when spotted wearing said shoes at a freelance gig at Wieden and Kennedy, Nike’s long time advertising bedfellow.

Ben calls this expected devotion or respect “living the brand” and points to some even more extreme examples like the urban myth about the Ballantines whisky client who would not be seen drinking anything else in public.

He goes on to suggest that the everyday use of a client’s brand seems a logical means to convince them you believe in their brand.

I have a slightly different take on things.

Firstly, I think we should want to convince clients not that we believe in their brand, but that we believe in the potential of their brand. I don’t think that’s semantic nit picking. Like the best mate who tells you a friend that their breath smells, If you really care about your clients brand, you should be able to deliver painful home truths and tell them that you absolutely don’t believe in the efficacy of their brand in its current guise and that if they don’t fundamentally change it, they are going to be heading the same way as the Greece’s national debt.

Moreover, from a planning perspective I’m not sure I think living the brand, is necessarily in the best interests of your client.

I find that some clients can become so sated with their own brand that they can develop myopia and clouded judgment when it comes to objectively assessing it and its messaging strategy. I don’t intend this to sound like a slight on clients. I think it’s merely indicative of working in such a confined reality, similar to the way that when you’ve spent months making an ad and have seen it hundreds of times before it breaks, you can no longer tell if it’s funny or not.

One of the clients I currently work on is Bing, Microsoft’s new-ish search engine.
Pretty much anyone that knows me, and has been subject to me extolling its merits and virtues will testify that I am a genuine advocate.
But here’s the thing.  At work, though I primarily use Bing, I make a point of working on a Mac, using a blackberry and, shock horror, searching on Google from time to time. And if I had Google as client, be it Search, Chrome or Andoid, I would similarly try to use Bing, Firefox and an iPhone.

I don’t think this makes me some kind of renegade, and I don’t think this makes me disrespectful but I do think it’s only by truly understanding the enemy and becoming an expert not merely in your brand but in theirs, that you can hope to beat them.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the best way to love your client’s brand is to live their enemy’s brand.

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3 responses to “Living the brand

  1. Thanks for the nod.

    I think I agree with your take on it in general, but I also think there’s a difference with a tiny minority of brands that includes Nike and Adidas. You can keep an eye on either competitor without actually wearing its stuff around the agency. And you do get to advertise a pretty cool brand (a rare opportunity), so it’s not much of an imposition to wear the gear (at a big discount).

    And, y’know, they built their respective agencies (and vice versa), so there’s that…

    Not too many clients/agencies can make that claim.

  2. Agree with everything you say Ben. Perhaps I was playing devils advocate to some extent. It’s certainly not too arduous to have to live your brand when it’s Nike or Adidas, that’s for sure…
    Keep up the blogging. Always a great read.

  3. I’m not a brand slut, but then nor am I a brand Nazi. I’m just very very selective – and then my selectivism is in turn very selective.

    Which brands do I like – or indeed possess? Not many, that’s for sure. In fact, you can in all probability count them on the fingers of both my hands – and still have some to spare (fingers, that is) . At least I know where to draw the line, unlike most of the gullible materialistic members of society.

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