Ideas to play with

Posted on 12/04/2016


I’ve been thinking recently about brands and brand ideas (as you do).

It started with reading the essays from the IPA’s Excellence Diploma: approx. 7000 words on the topic of “I believe advertising is/should…”. They’re both well reasoned, and passionately argued explorations of how to better shape commercial identities. (Worth a look at the superhuman qualities brands can adopt and how to adapt in a rapidly changing world.)

Good ideas will always produce more ideas. Having done some thinking myself, I believe that the most successful brands have three qualities:

1. Breadth of the idea

Traditional thinking is to focus on the “big idea”, the creative concept. If we were only here to fill spaces with advertising, then you might get away with it. But that’s not the case.

We can build stronger identities by focusing on both short and long-tail customer interactions. It’s as much your slogan as it is your unsubscribe message. FT have taken this a stage further, looking not only at how to extend the brand to their 404 page but also how to retain website traffic if things do go wrong.

2. Shared idea

No one person or team owns this idea. Marketers, agencies, sales and retail teams, even the CEO; all of them need to believe in and own the brand. So it’s not formed overnight – it takes collaboration and work.

A key feature of owning something is the right to use it. And when you use a brand, you’re usually adapting it. Ownership and adaptation go hand in hand.

3. Playful idea

When I say “own”, I mean it in the sense of who owns the copyright. But the real brand owners are the people that interact with them every day. Just to exist and persist, a brand idea has to become a part of the ongoing dialogue between customers and companies.

To achieve this, I believe creative brand ideas need to encourage play. To build emotional connections with a brand, we as marketers need to develop ideas that attract interaction. That encourage reaction, conversations and even appropriation (becoming part of people’s lexicon like Hoover and graphically being borrowed and remixed like Apple).

To create playful ideas, you need a climbing frame. It’s for the planner / strategist to provide that frame, through:

  • Drilling into and questioning what our clients are trying to achieve
  • Building a picture of the audience group clients need (not want) to persuade
  • Synthesising competitor landscapes and community behaviours to define our clients right to play

It’s a journey, not a process. But although the end point is different each time, the goal remains the same: to develop a communications idea that includes all three qualities and, ultimately, will give companies an unfair commercial advantage.