Charles Wigley
Nov 3, 2015

In praise of dull

In an industry that constantly wants to throw out the old and proclaim the new, it's worth remembering that brand-building is about the exact opposite approach, write BBH's Charles Wigley.

Charles Wigley
Charles Wigley

I saw a headline last week in the marketing press that said that digital agencies were now 'dead'. But they needn't worry. I've been doing this a long time and have seen plenty of pieces that have suggested that the advertising agency should, by now, be very dead too. Oh, and the 30-second TVC. And interruption. And loyalty programmes. And bricks-and-mortar retail outlets. And almost anything else you can name. 

The new prophets always proclaim the death of the last lot—often based on little more than personal belief. Our industry is a swirl of claim and counter-claim. Of new theories attempting to trump old.

In many ways this is a very good thing

It reflects a business that is permanently youthful and curious. That, for whatever it's failings, always wants to improve.

In others it is not. 

Because combined with the almost endemic job hopping on both client and agency sides, it can lead to too much change in approach for brands.

From a consumer's point of view, this is bad. Because they don't care what we do. They really don't.

We often tell ourselves this, but I feel we find it hard to genuinely internalise.

For them, brands are guide points in an oversupplied world. They help them make decisions more quickly and confidently in time-poor situations.

They don't live, like we do, in the world of brands and branding. They dip in and out of it—in many categories quite occasionally.

If the brand changes how it presents itself, this is not at all helpful. Erratic behaviour throws people.

As a consumer I want you to be what you have always been. Continuity and consistency are absolutely key to brand-building. As the work of marketing science tells us, the task for advertising is to say the same thing, with the same set of recognisable symbols, again and again.

Does this make it an uncreative task? Not a bit of it. 

Nike has been telling us to 'Just do it'  with the same swoosh, typeface and competitive spirit for over 30 years. It just constantly finds new, exciting ways to do so. Audi has been about 'Vorsprung Durch Technik' since it was written above their factory gate. Coke has been about positivity and happiness for ages.

The freshness on great brands largely comes from new, zeitgeist-inspired interpretations of old, consistent themes. 

We often talk at BBH about going 'back to the future' and rediscovering a brand's DNA. Because the past is so often the key to the future.

The macro-scale task on brands is to find the right spot and then stick with it—whether you came up with it or not. 

Some of the best pitches by agencies don't muck around with what has already been established, but simply update it. Assets created over years shouldn't just be walked away from.

This might strike some as rather unfashionable, even dull. But this is what has built the world's best, most creative brands.

Charles Wigley is chairman, Asia, with BBH. Just yesterday we covered his agency's entertaining new work for Ikea.


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