A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

Brands: Imitation is No Longer Flattering... Let's Go Back to War.

There is something to be said for the good ole’ days when brands pulled no punches in an attack/counter-attack mentality that resembled chess matches in a public park. What was once a “less filling, tastes great” environment has now become a breeding ground for geckos, ducks, lizards, bears and a slew of other negligible icons that act more out of self-importance than they do in calling out the value propositions of their competitors (actually, I like the Sobe lizard – we tweet each other occasionally... Sorry, dude). Further, when you look at the technologies being used to communicate these sentiments, parody seems to be the theme of the day. Granted, in the 80s and for most of the 90s, we were limited to a default suite of three types of media – print, TV and radio – but that’s entirely the point, and a fairly obvious one at that: if we now have more to choose from, why aren’t we doing more? More importantly, why aren’t we doing things differently?

Time to differentiate. Time to stand out and start delivering knockout punches.

Without giving away free ideas (God forbid), let’s examine some inverse relationships that can lend to this notion of ‘reactive advertising’... And some of the potential consumer touch-points.

Greenwashing – alright, so pretty much every brand on the planet is touting some form of green-friendly something or another. In some cases, it may be true, but in many, this amounts to spin-doctoring of the highest order. I know first hand because I’ve worked with activist groups like NRDC and have seen some of the abject bullshit that these companies sling at the public. That said, this has to be the lowest hanging fruit for true, green-compliant companies to tout. Here’s the catch: most consumers don’t know what ‘green’ is, so there’s an educational curve. You’ll have to spend the time and the money to teach first, then tout your wares second. But if you can, you can certainly knock a few of the big boys off the green block.

Company Culture – this one seems like an easy tactic, although I’m sure there are a number of red flags. You probably can’t call out the fact that a competitor’s CEO is bedding a bunch of young blondes – I mean hey, those are just allegations – BUT, you can point out how great your own little cultural ecosystem is. You don’t hear a whole lot about employee testimonials, or better yet, why an employee defected from the competition. If you’re smart enough about it, you can give consumers a real glimpse inside of the very thing you have with each other that makes for a good product.

Labor Practices – yet another dicey element, rife with potential legal crossfire, but I think we all know a few major brands out there who are cutting major corners in this regard. You can take a more diplomatic approach and discuss how strong employee benefits lead to a stronger product... And of course, insinuate, insinuate, insinuate!

Pop-Culture Trends – now this is an area where I simply do not understand why brands don’t take more potshots at each other. For example, there’s a certain automotive company that recently ran virals of gay dudes washing one of the Transformers cars as a co-promotion – LAME. If I were a competitor, I would have a field day with this. Further, you can run a whole initiative of different stories that jab the competition just by looking at the material they post online.

Random Stuff – Further along the UGC front, there are so many nuggets in the rough coming from people all over the world that can be re-purposed and expanded upon, and even made ‘category relevant’. Just use your imagination. Your creative teams will thank you.

All in all, if advertising wants to stay relevant, it better start taking more risks. All the fodder is there, so let’s look at the flaws within the system to garner new insight into what can be done. And won.