Are brands too quick to switch campaign?

“Are brands too quick to switch strategy?” is the question asked by Campaign this week. It follows reports that O2 is about to ditch the dog and cat characters from its “Be More Dog” Communication campaign. The report questions this decision, suggesting that the campaign “has given the brand a personality that connects with consumers, providing an antidote to the Kevin Bacon-fronted EE work and the cheaper tariffs promoted by Three.”

Below I look at the power of brand properties, and why indeed companies do tend to change them too often.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 18.15.34

1. The power of brand properties

Brand properties play a key role in growing brands and businesses, according to our research with marketing directors. A whopping 83% say brand properties are extremely important in creating strong brands, with the remaining 17% saying they were important.

First, if properties are distinctively linked to the brand they become ‘iconic assets’ that can help create standout in a cluttered environment. As one marketing director commented, ‘Consumers are being bombarded across many different media channels and brand properties help them recognise the brand with less effort’. Second, the most powerful properties go beyond recognition to also trigger brand meaning, as one marketing director observes: ‘A distinctive brand property drives powerful story-telling, an opportunity to build afiliation and connection.’

The different types of brand property we work with on branding projects are summarised below, with O2’s cat and dog being an example of the character type of property.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 18.09.41

2. Chopping and changing brand property

It is estimated that creating memory structure, where a property is fully stored in peoples’ brains, takes 2-3 years of consistent marketing. However, many companies tend to switch campaign just as this time is up, like O2, or even before. Why does this happen?

Our research (below) shows that the main reasons for change is organisational change, especially changes of marketing director. One respondent went as far as saying ‘Many managers destroy valuable brand properties for their own career benefits.’

A further 20% of people say change is a judgement call. In our experience on projects, this is often to do with the marketing team getting bored with the campaign and wanting a change. “It’s possible to be a little hasty in changing a campaign. That’s mainly because internal people get bored with it more quickly than people on the outside do” suggests Keith Moor, Chief marketing officer of Santander in the Campaign article.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 18.09.52

3. What gets measured, gets done

As the above research shows, less than 1/4 of companies base decisions to change brand property on data, and we think this is over-sated. We recommend to all the brands we work with to properly measure their brand properties, as they are such valuable assets. You could not imagine a CEO deciding to knock down a factory and build a new one without hard data. Why should it be different with brand assets?!

We use a tool called the ‘Iconic Asset Tracker’ (IcAT) to measure brand properties. Importantly, IcAT uses an ‘implicit thinking’ approach, where people react to brand properties in less than a second. This highlights the iconic assets that are truly embedded in memory structure, as opposed to those recalled only after having thought about it.

Results for Magnum are summarised below, showing the “activation score” of different properties: what % of people recalled the brand when seeing a given property for a split second. This shows that Magnum’s most iconic asset is the product shape, with a 93% activation score. Celebrities score much lower, with the most recent endorser, Benicia del Toro, scoring a lowly 21% (for most people he activates competitor brand Häagen Dazs!).

4. Create “fresh consistency”

The strongest brands are smart about how they refresh brand properties, rather than ditching them all together. “Evolution rather than revolution is key,” suggest Keith Moor.  He quotes the example of Santander’s Jenson Button and Jessica Ennis-Hill campaign, which is now less about humour and more about stories.

Other examples of fresh consistency I’ve blogged about include Milk Tray’s revival of the Milk Tray man, and the 11 years Sainsbury’s used Jamie Oliver to front their campaign, in over 100 commercials.

In conclusion, if you are discussing whether to ditch a campaign in favour of something new, think long and hard about why you are doing this? Do you have hard data to support your decision, or are you at risk of changing for change’s sake, and losing out on the chance to create fresh consistency for your brand?