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Branding has started to become more of a polarised business— governed by contradictions. Economic pressures aside, the big picture shows us a market still populated by the successful brand giants at one end but with an equally (comparatively) successful and growing craft and artisan sector at the other.
From a purely societal point of view, the media has been rife with stories about the supposed pressure brands are placing on the consumer and vice versa. Some pointed the finger of blame at brands during the recent looting in the UK, claiming that label savvy youths were being forced to loot to own the ‘right’ brands and create the right image…But then, conversely, we have also had stories of brands offering to pay off Joe Public/Z list celebs to stop them prolifically wearing their brands and downgrading their value by association…We are in a seemingly self-perpetuating push me/pull you situation. And meeting the needs of the masses by capturing the imagination of the individual has become a somewhat ironic—but newly prescient —need for brands right across the spectrum.
It’s not about a knee-jerk swinging one way or the other but finding coherent and cogent solutions that work for both the brand and the consumer —the consumer singular and plural. Just last week, Toyota unveiled its ‘People Person’ character as a new piece in its advertising push ‘Prius Goes Plural’ to promote the larger Toyota Prius hybrid model range. The ‘People Person’ is created by 18 humans, which come together as body parts to make up a new huge character. Brought together, they move and act like a single creature, performing usual daily routine (turning off an alarm clock, brushing teeth, etc.), reflecting the idea that most of us behave in similar way, while being quite different by nature.
In the spot, the bodies work just like one giant body, but when the character sees the new hybrid cars—3rd generation Prius, Prius V, Prius Plug-in and Prius C concept vehicles – it ‘dis-assembles’ and the individual people walk off to their chosen vehicle, just like they have never been part of the larger character. This is a nod to the diverse Prius community with the spots acknowledging that there are universal behaviours which connect people, even though their vehicle preferences might vary.
The understanding of the Prius brand’s mass v individual rationale is perfectly explained—albeit with a humorous analogy—by Margaret Keene, Executive Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi LA—“We were tasked with uniting the diverse Prius community while simultaneously celebrating their differences. Prius owners are a special kind of consumer: they put their pants on one leg at a time, but they’ve probably thought about how their pants may have impacted their environment.”
In the past year or two, the brand landscape has moved us from brand collaboration to crowdsourcing, from ‘owner-less’ brands back to a yearning for expertise and a level of creative direction…but a level of creative direction that invites and embraces the consumer to weave their own personal life story into the overall brand narrative—as referenced by Toyota. But, of course, the job of ads—as always—is to give us the aspirational picture and the big emotional pull into the brand idea and story. The more difficult thing, however, is how this story then filters down—and the context stays true and intelligible—with the brand in the hand. And where brands will really now win out is if they can still give us the bones of the brand story via their creative expertise but also find a way to give to the consumer interaction and involvement at this key product leve—something we are terming ‘customer-isation’. One of the best examples we have seen of this to date is from Brooklyn based ‘Caseable’. With Caseable you can customise the design of laptop cases, iPad book jackets, kindle book jackets and journals. Their customisation tools allows customers to upload any image and choose from a variety of fonts and colours to be printed in high quality on their case.
Today’s consumers are already—although sometimes subconsciously—living in this way. From meal kits to building online profiles, consumers are increasingly becoming curators – inspired by a story but more able and confident to put together their own style through customising brand involvement and brand choices. With reports of contactless transaction technology hailed as the universal future for retail, the way we do actually connect with the brand takes on increasing importance. And ultimately, the success of branding moving forward would seem to suggest a perfect balance of inspiration, individuality and emulation, products and experiences we can build our own story around that start from a prescriptive but original viewpoint.
About the Author
Darren Foley, Managing Director at Pearlfisher, London, joined the company in 2002 as Realisation Director, inventing the concept of realisation and advocating a design process in which our technical and creative teams work in harmony from the beginning. He has worked in the design industry for close to 25 years, starting out as a junior production artist, and amassing an unparalleled depth of knowledge for the discipline.