Marketing needs a brand relaunch amid so much pollution

The exponential proliferation of marketing activity over the past decade has led to unwelcome, wasteful or even toxic activity that gives marketing a bad name.

If marketing were a brand, it would need a relaunch. The exponential proliferation of activity over the past 10 years has led to marketing 'pollution': unwelcome, wasteful or even toxic activity that permeates all areas of society and gives marketing a bad name.

When I first started working in marketing, UK advertisers tracked whether TV viewers found the ads more enjoyable than the programmes. This had its roots in when there was only one commercial TV channel and they were keenly aware of not being seen as a "polluted" version of the BBC. But over the intervening years, it seems to me that this respect for people’s attention has been lost as the options for marketing activation have increased.

People are busier than ever and face an abundance of brand choice. For brands, there are two options: they’re either contributing to the commercial clutter or cutting through it. Marketers, therefore, need to respect people’s time and attention more than ever. Whether it’s watching an ad, investigating the brand or using the actual product, every touchpoint should feel like a rewarding experience, rather than an unwanted interruption or a self-serving attempt to hard sell.

Yet a lot of marketing doesn’t adequately reward the attention of the recipient. There are too many ads that don’t engage the viewer. Too many "always-on" brands spewing out content "because they can". And too many brand experiences built around the company not the customer. This has been compounded by marketing budgets being stretched further than ever before, with the proliferation of potential brand touchpoints driving an increase in quantity over quality.

So what would be the guiding principles for the relaunch?

Treat them as people not consumers

As marketing has become more technologically enabled, it’s become less empathetic. It has brought out the industry’s worst "interrupt and exploit" tendencies. The industry therefore needs to stop thinking in terms of consumers and start reminding itself that it’s about people. We should start applying our own standards as people to the marketing we produce. We should constantly ask ourselves: would you tolerate this intrusion in your life? Is it rewarding?

Be more useful

Challenger brands are unusually proud of their product. If you can’t be genuinely proud of your product or service, then you need to make it better. People’s expectations are evolving faster than ever. What wows them today becomes expected tomorrow. And it’s easier than ever for incumbent brands to be outflanked by new entrants. It’s therefore critical to be restlessly looking for ways to make your brand more useful. Innovating to deliver new experiences that go beyond the core product or service to make it easier to find, buy and use.

Be more charismatic

Consumers form impressions of brands more through osmosis than conscious processing of brand communication or experience. Brands therefore need to work harder to emotionally engage people, be distinctive and build affinity. They need to reward people by giving them something in return for their attention – make them laugh, feel good, cry, feel inspired.

Be more choiceful

Embrace a more "environmentally friendly" form of marketing that aims to increase the quality and reduce the quantity. A "less is more" approach with a greater focus on where it matters, rather than "I’ll have one of everything, please". The truth is that brands might want to be "always on" but people don’t.

As someone who’s been on both sides of the client/agency fence, I’ve seen how agencies have become more specialist, more fragmented and more project-based. As a result, they’ve become more focused on recommending "what they do", and become more tactical and less focused on brand-building. This has fuelled the proliferation and decrease in quality, as well as making it much more time-consuming to join up the different parts of the brand in a coherent way.

It’s no coincidence that we’ve seen a swing back to more integrated appointments, as this enables agencies to once again provide more objective brand counsel and greater neutrality when it comes to execution. This feels like a good first step toward a more respectful, useful and "environmentally friendly" brand of marketing.

Phil Rumbol is executive partner at MullenLowe and chairman of The Marketing Academy

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