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Why do brand owners waste their precious advertising assets?

I have been very tempted to stick my chin out several times on a topic I always find curious and surprising; it’s when a major brand drops a famous creative asset for something different and not related to the past. I’ve resisted the temptation every time because a) I don’t know the background and b) I don’t necessarily want to criticise brand owners when I don’t know their strategy.

However I have finally decided to get the chin firmly forward after staring at a poster at Warwick Avenue tube station each time I wait for a train. The poster is for Stella Artois. Stella has had a history of outstanding advertising produced by Lowe’s with the glorious thought of it being ‘reassuringly expensive’. Very few beer brands have enjoyed such a distinctive creative asset that has set the brand aside from the the mass of competing brands. Also a great product.

The poster I’m referring to is strange. It depicts four people; a sailor, a chap in a tux, and a dude in a suit next to a young lady showing a bit of stocking top. The background looks like St. Tropez old town and there is an old style French train locomotive apparently rising out of the harbour. The line is ‘TRIPLE FILTREE, with a smooth outcome”. What is it all about? I’ve looked at it many times and I’m bemused. What happened to ‘reassuringly expensive’?

Guessing it looks to me it has been produced by a French agency because the style is quite familiar there and the cool looking cast provide a subtle implication the brand is for all tastes. The cultural gap is quite wide, just listen to French radio for more than 30 minutes to understand the point.

My point is a very obvious one; what provoked such a radical change for Stella? Perhaps a kind person could provide an explanation and we all go ‘Ah, I see’ but until that happens I suspect there are millions of Stella fans such as me going ‘what are they thinking about?’ An insider suggested there has been internal competition within the business to adopt alternative campaigns and someone has won.

Another one is BMW. I can understand why ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ may have fallen foul of some EU piece of legislation due to it being a absolute claim [cut to lawyers arguing about the word ‘Ultimate”]. Years ago Carling found a way round avoiding an absolute with ‘Probably the best lager in the world’. Probably being the key word. BMW could have moved to ‘Arguably the Ultimate Driving Machine’. I’ll leave the copywriting to WCRS.

The BMW campaign is now about ‘JOY’. When this campaign was revealed I assumed this wasn’t WCRS but an agency in Germany. Another fantastic asset for the brand has been flushed down the toilet.

Whilst not a campaign that will worry too many awards juries is Direct Line. Their creative asset is the red phone which I would guess has been around for 25 years or so. They have refreshed the executions many times but the heart of their brand remains solid and consistent; how many campaigns have come and gone over the same period for other insurance brands?

And whilst we are on the subject of posters, a fantastic medium, I wonder if they have been less popular with agencies in recent times due to the rush towards digital stuff? There have been some stunning poster campaigns in the past but I rarely see any these days.

One great exception is the poster for Apple’s iPad2. Over-sized, clean and crisp, no copy, just a hand holding the iPad. Very Apple, very confident and it doesn’t need any copy. Great to see amongst a world of mediocre competition. Also ironic as they are a tech company using a low tech medium to great effect.

Returning to the begining and the question of longevity in advertising assets Apple has sustained a tremendous feel and look for everything it does including their advertising. I had the pleasure of being in the same building when the ‘Think Different’ poster campaign was developed for Apple when Steve Jobs returned to the company. Again another understated presentation of an iconic brand.

It’s such a shame so many brand owners squander assets that could help their business over the long run. Maybe it is a result of marketing and advertising not being central to the operations of these businesses.

Any ideas on my Stella question?

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advertising apple bmw joy campaign bmw ultimate driving machine brand owners french agencies german agencies Lowe Paul Simons stella artois Steve Jobs think different apple campaign tube poster warwick avenue

About Paul Simons

Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.
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