slogans are a waste of time
Marketing Week, 15 May 2013 by Mark Ritson
It started nine years ago. I can
remember the actual week when it all began because I was teaching brand
management at London
to a class of MBA students and we spent the first hour of class discussing it.
That morning Unilever announced that it was introducing a new corporate logo
featuring a smooth, rounded U made from an amalgam of 24 icons representing all
the businesses that it was engaged in. I beamed the new design onto the screen
behind me and my class debated its merits.
There was no
doubt that the new logo was an improvement on the old square thing that
Unilever had previously used. Wolff Olins had done an excellent job. But the
bigger question related to the strategy behind the logo. Unilever had not
previously existed in the consumer’s mind and was now committed to not only
changing its logo but also its brand architecture, pumping brand equity into
its corporate name for the first time. Perhaps, my class mused, it was an
attempt to save money, exert control at corporate level, combat private labels,
aid expansion in new markets or build a single CSR platform.
rationale, Unilever soon applied its new logo to its packaging and advertising
along with a new corporate slogan “Bringing vitality to life”.
that message for a second because it’s a fascinatingly mundane bit of
marketing. Bringing vitality to life is literally meaningless. It’s like saying
that you are hydrating water or opening the aperture. It’s bloody obvious and
You might have
expected the combined might of Unilever’s marketing teams to come up with
something a bit better. But there is a classic marketing explanation behind the
bland emptiness of Unilever’s corporate approach. Marketers are trained from an
early age to go after a tighter target segment and ignore mass marketing.
target segment gives you a distinct group of consumers who are usually buying a
very specific competitor – meaning you can usually position your brand on
specific consumer needs and against a very short list of potential rivals. This
makes for tight positioning, better execution and superior results.
But when you
try to position a corporate brand like Unilever across the world, across more
than 40 brands, across its combined target consumers and against competitor
brands, you get the opposite result. You get empty, pointless stuff like
“bringing vitality to life”.
course, it is not alone. As more and more brands have moved from a house of
brands to an endorsed approach in which their formerly silent corporate brands
have been activated as a consumer entity, we have seen the same empty results
greater fan of Procter & Gamble than yours truly – it literally invented
brand management. But its current efforts are a sad echo of its formerly great
impossible not to be moved by Wieden+Kennedy’s emotional “Thank you, Mom” ad
from 2012 in which mothers are shown coaching their children to greatness at
the London Olympics. But step back from the lovely execution and look at the
message behind it. P&G spent hundreds of millions of pounds to point out to
the world that mums are awesome and you should love yours. Once again, the generality
of targeting, combined with the enormous range of competitors that it faces,
multiplied by the diaspora of brands being amalgamated produced inanity.
It’s the same
story at Reckitt Benckiser where the marketing maestros behind the successful
brand management of everything from Strepsils to Finish could only manage “the
power behind our powerbrands” when challenged to come up with a slogan for its
increasingly exposed corporate brand.
And now we
have Johnson & Johnson. I thought we’d reached the nadir of inanity but I
was wrong. J&J is to spend a fortune in 2013 to promote its corporate brand
with pictures of people kissing babies and the message “Love. It’s the most
powerful thing on the planet”. No shit. Love is certainly a lot more powerful than
all this corporate branding that’s going on.
I despair for
the big brands. They’ve collectively lost the brand building plot. And so I say
to small independent FMCG brands that it’s your time to go after them. Focus on
your consumer brands, target a specific consumer segment and position against
your formerly untouchable rivals that are blunted by their corporate brand
inanity. Pick up your sling, Goliath has forgotten how to fight.