I am very frustrated of late at our collective efforts in brand marketing and I am struggling to fend off an overwhelming sense of cynicism. It has after all been said that an optimist believes that this is the best world imaginable and the pessimist believes that the optimist might be right…
My cynicism of late is largely built on disappointment. Disappointment at the incredible minds I believe we have in South Africa. Supremely intelligent beings that bring great strategy and creative forward in the communication and business strategies we are faced with every day. Yet lately some real rubbish has founds it way into our media and brand experiences. We are blerry sharp here in SA, as the many international trophy’s and accolades that adorn reception areas the country over testify to. But I fear we are doing ourselves a great disservice and we really need to get our loeries in a row.
Consumers today, like marketers, are also blerry sharp and are blurring the line between business, brand and the social impact (corporate social investment) of brands quicker than we can convince our clients that they are indeed actually doing it in the first place. So the result at best, is that we are left with a disconnect between the messages we send as brands and the messages we send as businesses.
Case in point: Levi’s green campaign
What brand experience has promoted this from mere observation into diatribe? Levis. I love this brand – one of my favourites ever and a brand that has over the years seen some of SA’s best marketers at the helm. But man they disappointed me recently. They launched the Water<Less denim wear. I loved the idea – a brand that had the foresight to be water wise in their business approach, and deliver it through their brand and also to promote good water usage habits from consumers. I was so taken by the idea that I wanted to approach them along with a client of mine who has made phenomenal commitments to their sustainability and green-ness and we were to use the range as part of their corporate uniform. I thought it would be a great partnership! Until I tried to reach Levi’s, that is. I decided I needed to buy a pair or two of these awesome jean pant. I went to the Cavendish Square store in Cape Town and was told that the “range” was only a “range” and that the promotion was over – they no longer carried the waterless products. I feel properly cheated. Not only had I responded to a company who was being environmentally aware and who was creating products in line with their now much publicised company principles and values, but I also responded to the brand as a consumer and wanted to wear them and tell their story. Regrettably, they commoditised their brand by attaching a mere passing business principle. Maybe they simply didn’t sell. Maybe Levi’s consumers at large don’t care. Maybe I just misunderstood the whole campaign. But I left with a sense that the range that was environmentally sensitive is now gone and the ranges left are not environmentally sensitive and now use too much water, again. My perception is now that we are left with a brand and business that is simply not environmentally aware – unless it makes for a good campaign… I phoned their Waterfront store as well and the experience was not sufficiently dissimilar for me to carry on my pursuit of partnership. My client and I now buy denim elsewhere.
The message I wish to convey is this: brand, business, CSI and design leaders need to sit at the same strategic table if we as brand custodians are to be consistent in our engagement with ever more savvy consumers. All the imperial evidence the world over points to the fact that Mr Ackerman is spot on: businesses that do good, do well. Brands that support the lives and well-being of constituencies upon which they rely for commercial success, achieve great growth and loyalty. I think it is time for us all to up our game, give more credit to the consumer and to strive for absolute transparency between consumer, business, brand and product.