On Design — People Have Changed, Brands Not So Much
Brands have become a ubiquitous entity in our lives. A study in 2007 stated that we are exposed to around 5.000 ads per day. That’s fourteen years ago. Guesses about the number of ads we see in recent days rest between 15.000 and 20.000. In this overly competitive overload on information, and with the attention span of people shrinking, how are brands fighting for survival? In evolution, we say survival of the fittest, but with so many brands, so many options, so little time, and finite resources on this planet, what makes a brand fit for the future?
Marketing is an essential part of becoming a brand. It’s the bridge between what a company wants to communicate about its products/services and the group of people that might be interested in it. Throughout the years, brands like Coca-Cola and Nike have mastered the storytelling game and are now as much people’s best friends as dogs are. But even though Nike is famous for its aspirational and motivational commercials, their website is still just a plain old webshop. They are willing to spend millions to advertise Find Your Greatness to people in search of it, but the main message on nike.com is something like “buy those with 20% off” or “now free shipping” or “we have extended our return policy”. I vote ‘Just buy the damn sneakers and let’s be done with it’ for their new slogan. Hope that does not offend the nikey fan-boys among us.
Branding and the Internet
I can’t help but wonder if Nike would be as big if they started after the WWW bubble, not way before. The same goes for a lot of other brands, like Coca-Cola. Have you ever visited their website or read a blogpost by them? My assumption is that their online presence consists of 90% ads either on social media or on Google. It took them some time to package carbonated water, sugar, caffeine, and a bunch of chemicals your body is not particularly fond of and sell them as ‘happiness’ with the help of a diverse group of peeps chilling, catching tunes, and the invention of Santa. Without much competition and with being the first one to come up with a way to sell chemistry as a beverage, they didn’t only survive but are thriving, with a whole family of sub-labels going from Coke Zero to Sprite. That’s because, at some point in our recent history, someone found out that emotions sell better than information or rational thinking. And brands started pouring millions into cultivating this idea. Advertising lifestyle became the norm a few decennia ago. But this has never been the ‘Net’s purpose. Unfortunately. The internet is still seen just as the front window of your store. Put all the cheap marketing techniques in there and who knows, maybe you will catch some people’s 7-second long attention. Marketing and advertisement have been about building a strong bond with the people (the emotional side), whereas the Internet is just the place to dump a lot of information (the rational side) and hope people know what to do with it. And this was of looking at things, will most definitely play a bad trick on the future of brands.
The thing is… people have had enough of it. Enough of malfunctioning societies with weird ideas and ideologies, enough of big corporates ruining our planet and our future, and also — enough of marketing at our expense.
With attention and focus spans shrinking, paid ad-free subscription models, banner-blindness, and growing usage of ad blockers, the battle for people’s eyes and attention is getting a little out of hand. And even though new-age marketers promise everyone infinite growth because of the magic of targeting and retargeting, don’t kid yourselves. The casino always wins, and the casinos today are Google, Facebook, and Amazon. They know what infinite growth means, with their ever-growing revenue. Your company’s maybe as well when you pour hundreds of dollars into a social media ad campaign, but as soon as you stop paid advertisement, your infinite growth graph goes downhill, doesn’t it?
As we enter 2021, in the middle of a bunch of health pandemics, (Covid, loneliness, depression, chronic diseases, to name a few) consumer trends are rapidly changing. Here is what Microsoft’s 2021 trends report has to say:
The future of consumer behavior
2020 was the year of tracking rapid consumer trends. The pandemic accelerated evolving consumer behaviors, impacting not only how consumers shop and what they buy, but what matters and heightened expectations about their customer experiences.
The major themes for 2021:
Retail: The end of more. The move to low impact consumerism is here to stay.
Health & Wellness: Mindfulness and uniqueness take the spotlight.
Travel: Fear of missing out conflicts with responsibility.
Technology: Finding a balance in a virtual world.
Financial Services: Independence and putting your money where your mouth is.
With the end of more on this year’s agenda, mindfulness and consciousness growing, traveling and working changing, there is clearly a new era emerging. I do see consciousness shifting everywhere I look, except when I look at brands. Most brands are still playing the same old game of violating people’s privacy, supporting the huge tech companies, and not giving a lot of fucks how to help or solve problems, creating new world problems still seems to be a popular pursuit. Weirdly, the shift in low consumerism hasn’t been noted by the make-the-logo-bigger cult. Most, if not all, are still doing the same thing today as they did, well… always. Nothing illustrated that better than (almost) every Covid commercial that was created last year. Every brand saw an opportunity to capitalize on these unprecedented times and the new normal. And all of them did it the same way, thinking we will not notice.
Brands alienate, but people don’t
There is another trend that has been going on for the last couple of years and it will probably grow stronger with time. And that’s the fact that the brand’s founders and the people working there have become their ambassadors. With the rise of social media, more and more brands could now also link a face to who is behind it, instead of hiding behind the artificial attributes like the logo or the colors. Elon Musk has more followers on social media than Tesla, Paypal or SpaceX have. We see the people behind the brands now more than ever (sorry, Covid commercial fatigue). For the better but also for the worst. We see the passion they have for changing the status quo, like Elon Musk, Andy Puddicombe, Whitney Wolfe to name a few. CEOs that really have something to say, now have a big stage and the world is listening.
But we also get the backstage drama. Like with Calvin Klein, for one, that sells underwear and clothing through over-sexualizing underaged female models and now their CEO’s is being sued for giving his date herpes. Make sense, right? If your brand’s biggest value is sex, then so is your employees’. There are so many scandals around big-shots in big corporates with small dreams as there are pats on the back of the new-age geniuses fighting for good.
The pros and cons of founders and employees being your brand’s biggest advertisement asset are obvious. If you truly stand for a positive change, then that will show. People will know. We will see your face on interviews, talks, informative content made by your company, etc. If not, then we will still read about it on the news. There is no more hiding. Mark Zuckerberg might still not suffer the consequences of the Cambridge Analytica scandals and what happened to the USA elections and UK’s Brexit, but this guy has been sitting on his cushion in front of the Court pretending he knows how to drink water for quite some time now. It’s almost as hanging out in Court halls is his new hobby. At some point, politicians are going to ask the right questions and he will be in a lot of trouble, no way to deny that will not happen. Even if Facebook suffers no consequences for changing the course of politics, your brand that advertises on Facebook will suffer the consequences of their lies when it comes to your ‘potential reach’.
People changed, now it’s time for the brands
All market research shows a shift in how consumers think and look at brands and advertisements, but a shift in how brands are tackling this is still not visible. We’ve had so much bullshit from most brands, the pile doesn't only smell very bad by now, it’s impossible to ignore anymore. It blocks all our sight.
For long enough, shit packaged as flowers has been marketed to the people. But there is a catch. I reflect on the past decennia, and especially the past few years and even months and I can see the bubble brands have crafted around them. A giant bubble.
And the giant bubble is entering a rose bush. It might look pretty and smell nice on the outside, but wait till you realize that roses have thorns, and you are an inflated bubble.
The best thing you can do, to ensure some future for your brand, is to start being fully genuine about what you do and say and not turn everything into a clever marketing technique. Look around, see the change, and be part of it, don’t use it as leverage for your quarterly goals.