Marketing needs to switch from macro to multi-micro

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(Photo courtesy Kathryn Rotondo via Flickr)
(Photo courtesy Kathryn Rotondo via Flickr)

Corporate branding can't create synergies where none exist

Unilever has recently gotten into a rather bad habit. At the end of every commercial from Dove, Bertolli and Lipton, as well as all of its other hundreds of brands, sits the Unilever logo. Brand authenticity is replaced by a distinctly corporate feel.

It’s a trend that has been on the rise in recent years, showing the consumer that there’s a trustworthy and reliable creator behind the more familiar brand names.

I have many questions about this. A key one is: Have the (hundreds of) millions spent by these brands yielded no results? Another is: Are their brands so weak, they need endorsement?

Is it the market creating pressure to squeeze yet more value out of fewer brands? Is there pressure to find synergy among brands where no synergy can exist? Are the current generations of marketers indeed just spreadsheet marketers who look inwards to the relative comfort of the head office rather than absorbing external inspiration or following the uncertainty of their own brand’s plan?

Does the advertising agency always have to fight to be heard, despite losing ground to the pinstriped suits and fake gurus that are invited into the boardroom? Is there such a desire for corporate values because there’s a belief that Lynx or Bertolli can’t possibly have its own values? If they think that, then they must also accept that they themselves consider their products as nothing more than commodities. Even Ben & Jerry’s can die if it’s coated in the chocolate sauce of Unilever.

But people don’t want "big, bigger, biggest." They don’t want the power to lie in the hand of one giant market-leader. People are actually seeking smaller, more real and more human dimensions in brands they buy.

Companies have become so large that thinking in a macro sense has engulfed the marketing discipline. All the while, people are looking for a scale that they can understand. Marketing needs to switch from macro to multi-micro. And at the end of the last century, it was well on its way before falling off the wagon, fooled by the fallacy of these holding company endorsements.

Sure, it’s all good for morale over at HQ but it overshadows and demeans the power of the individual "offspring" brands.

The good news? This all presents a golden opportunity for (family) businesses that have always remained themselves and that, despite having a global presence, have managed their scale. It also presents opportunities for cooperatives or new "local" brands, from Ella’s Kitchen to Dorset Cereals.

Bonne Maman comes to mind as a brand that remains its premium-priced self in over a hundred countries. Happily, its family holding company (French-based Andros) very consciously remains delightfully and wonderfully out of sight.

Jan Rijkenberg, founder BSUR Group (Amsterdam, Shanghai, Sao Paulo) and author of "Concepting."

This article first appeared on The Wall.

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