James Whatley: How do you make brands matter?

Mastercard

Do you, like Mastercard, decide to only give money to starving children when overpaid international footballers put one over the line?

Do you, like Lush, stick up for your long-held beliefs and standards and raise awareness about the hardly-heard-about Spy Cops enquiry?

Or do you, like Poundland, take umbrage at a poorly-performing brand taking your own perfectly fine operation and using it as a benchmark of poor standards - and rightly call it out?

The answer is yes and no to all the above.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia’s father, Polonius, with his dying breath, turns to his son and says, ‘this above all: to thine own self be true’.

Mastercard messed up. It didn’t for one second think about how its message might be perceived and it didn’t once look outside the inside of its own boardroom to see how the main audience for this competition, Latin America, might respond. Tone deaf. Inauthentic.

Lush, lambasted in social media immediately for [poorly communicating the details of] its SPYCOPS campaign was bang on brand. Unexpected perhaps to its every-day shopper but of no surprise to anyone who knows and understands the brand’s history; awareness around the SPYCOPS enquiry has never been higher. Badly managed? Arguably. Authentic? Absolutely.

Poundland, more than any other brand here, knows its audience. Being able to snappily respond after being dragged into the poor service problems that Thameslink has wrought upon its passengers is fantastic (although spare a moment for the poor community manager on the Thameslink side. I’m sure they were not having the best of days).

While easily dismissed as ‘brandter’, this was not only bang on brand for the punchy pound store but also all over the nationals by tea time and carried on into the news cycle for a full two days thereafter. Lush, the same.

Great ideas have earned media at their heart.

Great ideas have social and cultural relevance.

With great ideas, you either join a cultural conversation or you generate one. On the latter, Lush has over-delivered. And then some.

Great ideas are born from great strategy.

Great strategy is about making choices.

Choices about who you are talking to and specifically (and perhaps more importantly) who you are not talking to.

Take Gregg’s recent ‘Gregory & Gregory’ work. Wonderful. It knows its audience and doesn’t mind poking fun at those that aren’t. In good humour and with a healthy dose of inclusiveness too.

Better yet, HSBC UK’s recent ads featuring Richard Ayoade. First arriving six months after the EU Referendum and in the middle of such cultural uncertainty, to have the courage to say, ‘we are not an island’, and that we are better together, sends so many signals. It is worldly, progressive, and forward-thinking. It says, ‘We celebrate our global multi-culturalism and we’re not afraid to show it!’ - I’ve never seen any brand advertising wear its politics so implicitly on its sleeve. Let alone a bank.

This should be applauded.

Not because I’m left of centre and that this ad is squarely aimed at me, no. Applauded because the ad is making a choice.

Poundland didn’t give a monkey’s chuff when the middle-classes kicked off at its teabagging elf. And why should it? The joke wasn’t for them.

For HSBC UK, back on TV again with its Connected Money ad (‘whether you bank at the bank of Mum and Dad, Dad and Dad, or Mum and Mum’) it has made a clear choice about the audience it is going for. And this is an ad for an app.

Watch it again. You’ll see.

HSBC has a right to celebrate its global and progressive approach to banking. Lush – arguably a social activist company that happens to sell bath bombs (thanks to Mat Morrison for that one) - has the right to talk about Spy Cops, and Poundland has a right to bite back.

To thine own self be true.

Who are you for?

More importantly who are you not for?

Who are you actively AGAINST?

Great strategy is about making a choice.

Make bolder choices.

Make brands matter.

James Whatley is planning partner at Ogilvy UK

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.

Come on in, it’s free.

This isn’t a paywall. It’s a freewall. We don’t want to get in the way of what you came here for, so this will only take a few seconds.