Are You a Social Object?

You are welcome to share your thoughts on this article written by Jonathan Ford , Creative Partner, Pearlfisher

With the media furore on the legal/moral rights and wrongs of Super Injunctions still raging on, it could be said that as much as ‘we’ are fighting to maintain our privacy, the status of being a social media star is still—whilst maybe not preferable in the case of the now named footballer—inevitably on the up and many are actively courting this instant exposure and publicity. Today, it would seem that we are no-one if we are not a social media star. This may be true of celebrities and even of Mr Joe Public who has the most followers on Twitter… But what about brands? Do we want to be social media stars? Are we just social objects?

I think first we need to define the difference between social media stars and social objects and assess the merits. Brands are adopting ever more sophisticated digital strategies as they attempt to engage with people rather than simply pushing their products. And—even in the more remote and physically unsophisticated markets—social media is a great global tool for reach and recognition and a way to buy into the perceived sophistication of the brand experience.

Photo:  Relevant Trafik on Flickr

But whilst social media is inevitably an integral part of today’s total brand offer, brands that already have a strong social media presence are now re-focusing and looking for better ways to strengthen their physical presence and once again engage with consumers in a real-life context. Ironic then maybe that Tupperware—launched in the ‘50’s and now claiming to be the original social networking pioneers— is just about to launch a social media strategy to ‘coolify’ the company’s image. Do they need to? Are they selling out and jumping on the bandwagon? It’s about what’s right for the brand and when to adopt a new strategy and what that strategy is… It’s not about just indulging in the ‘me too’ social media culture but, rather, about looking at society as a whole and understanding that today’s whole culture is much more about the experiential and emotive connections and finding new ways to facilitate this.

But, essentially, brands need to be more linear in their expression and start thinking about themselves as social objects —sitting at the centre of a conversation and stimulating that conversation—rather than just social media stars.

Social media is just a place—just another place in which to position your brand. Ultimately, it’s about always remembering that it’s big idea first, medium second. Design is always the starting point and the constant connection point and good design helps the propagation of ideas to secure entry and a presence across all channels. And, therefore, to become a successful social object brands need to find new ways to translate experience into design so design —and its new behaviour —becomes conversation on and offline.

The global redesign of the Tetley tea brand launched towards the end of 2010 with the design taking its lead from the notion that drinking a cup of Tetley changes perceptions – reviving, refreshing, and comforting – and a swirling graphic illustration presents the tea variant in terms of redbush, green, fruit and herbal, speciality and traditional Tetley black teas, swirling around an oval shape framing the revised Tetley logotype.

Kellie Chapple, Managing Director Ziggurat summarised the impact of the new brand identity, by saying, ‘Tetley now has meaningful branding in which the idea is central, and the packaging describes a subtle narrative that the consumer relates to. The objective is to stir the senses and express a much loved, emotional experience. The result has repositioned the brand, making it relevant and interesting for loyal and new consumers, providing a brand identity that transcends global language.’ (Source:

And at the end of February this year, Tetley launched its first social media initiative via Facebook that will allow its customers to communicate directly with tea producers in Malawi, as it attempts to ramp up its sustainability credentials. Lucy Denny, global marketing manager for the Tetley brand, said: “We want Tetley tea drinkers to enjoy their favourite cuppa, knowing that by choosing it, they have helped to protect the environment on tea estates and provide sustainable livelihoods for the people there.”

It’s not just about the democratic challenge of designing for all but widening this out and looking at how best design and technology can work hand in hand and using design to help root, convey and channel the most powerful societal messages— for now and for the future.

About the Author

Jonathan Ford is a designer and co-founding partner of Pearlfisher. He oversees a portfolio of award-winning designs, including a high profile list of ethical, entrepreneurial and iconic brands. He is also a frequent speaker at high-profile international industry events and regular contributor and commentator in the design and brand press.

Jonathan can also be followed on Twitter—@Jforddesigns