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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Bookshop – Brand new brand thinking

Review of brand new brand thinking ed. merry baskin mark earls 2002 Kogan Page/APG

This is the first book on brands the APG has published in 10 years following Understanding Brands edited by Don Cowley. And as the foreword notes – few could have anticipated the rate at which branding and brand thinking have become not only a staple of business thinking but consumer thinking also. Understanding brands has become orthodox so much of it’s power has diminished in 10 years. And the best books about brands stimulate rather than plod along telling you how to do it. There are 11 chapters, two editors who provide a chapter apiece and 11 authors all drawn with 1 exception from an advertising planning or an advertising research background.

The selection of topics is fascinating in itself now that branding has become a sprawling industry. There are 2 attempts at counter reformation and deconstructing the B word, there is a cluster of chapters around the company as the core from which brand values are generated and there are a couple of papers around creative techniques for accessing the brand. So first conclusion is that the book is close enough to current planning practice to be useful – there are no outrageous flights of fancy here.

Chapter 1 and Capn Banana Snack himself co editor Mark Earls launches a blistering attack on the brand word and the generally sloppy way it is used as currency for just about anything. We can’t make progress on brand thinking unless we begin to use the term brand precisely and consistently and not as substitutes for company, or product.

Chapter 2 Adam Stagliano and Damien O’Malley then carry out a philosophical attack on brand thinking using philosopher Gilbert Ryle’s The Problem of Mind. Obscure yes but a very useful argument that behaviour isthe only valid evidence for brand activity and that the predominance of abstract brand structures is self referential and doesn’t stand much scrutiny. It won’t convince you that brand values don’t exist any more than Ryle’s book would persuade you that you don’t have a mind but the corrective is useful. Now all you have to do is find a tracking study that monitors branded behaviour without recourse to inner states!

Chapter 3 Colin Mitchell’s chapter is about the company as the heart of the brand’s vision. Sound stuff though I have 2 reservations first with the notion that the corporate brand is the latest wave of brand thinking – surely there have always been brands which have been company based long before the 1980s asset strippers started aggregating brands within holding companies. And secondly this is a brief introduction to an entire industry in itself which ad agencies would like to get into but rarely do and it would have been useful to have had a co author with truckload of experience in management consultancy who could have given more of an insider’s view.

Chapter 4 Peter Dann’s chapter is a terrific troll around Planet stakeholder and less conventional but even more influential audiences for advertising. There’s a lot of meat in here – one of the best chapters.

Chapter 5 I can only describe John Cronk’s chapter as eccentric. He’s clearly barmy about sailing and has done a lot of it. So constructs his chapter as a series of lessons from racing yachts at sea. The brilliant thing about this chapter is that sailing IS so different from campaign devlepment that the series of parallels he draws is trenchant and refreshing in one. 10 out of 10 for stimulus.

Chater 6 Peter Wells and Tim Hollins have a short but provocative chapter which brings in “new marketing” thinking and specifically the challenging notion that if brands sit in people’s heads and they construct them then the best we brand creators (yeah right) can expect is to co create. Good stuff.

Chapter 7 Wendy Gordon has the distinction of having contributed a chapter to Understanding Brands and makes a second appearance to talk about neuroscience. Her chapter is a breathless overview of this very new area and I suspect she couldn’t quite believe she’d managed to compress what is a very complex topic into such a short space without being facile or incoherent. The chapter will save you 500 pages if you have Giepp Franzen’s Mental World of Brands sitting on your bookshelf and haven’t had time to read it.

Chapter 8 Mike Hall revisits his theory of how advertising works. It’s an interesting extension of the theory into how advertising converts rejectors, enhances consideration and sustains loyalty – and if you haven’t got a copy of his original paper then the famous charts are there for you to plagiarise and hopefully attribute!

Chapter 9 Karen Hand former APG Grand Prix winner covers techniques for creative brand thinking. It’s a general introduction and it left me wanting more – for example I would like to have known a lot more about how BBH used research into people’s dreams. The problem with this kind of chapter is the APGs output of print and lectures is plainly inadequate for this kind of material which needs workshops to demonstrate and multimedia to showcase – one could argue that this is true of more and more topics.

Chapter 10 The same would be true of Rob Poynton’s chapter except that I was one of those lucky enough to go on the Improv course his company ran for the APG a couple of years ago. Virtually impossible to communicate but fantastic to experience The On Your feet take on creative working as improvisation has to be experienced first hand. But it was brave to put it in to provide a taster.

Chapter 11. Which leaves Merry tying the ends together with a stern lecture on not forgeting our roots. The bucket is dropped deep into the Thompson’s well – Bullmore and Stephen King feature prominently. There’s a generation who have forgotten more about brands than the youngsters have ever learned. It made me wonder whether the next book the APG produce ought to be the history of account planning. Every community needs to have a history – and those who forget it are doomed to repeat it. We are in a unique position where the grandparents of qualitative research and account planning are still with us – one wonders for how long. And while it is fashionable to bewail lament the rise of Gonzo planning – if the current generation wanted to go back to their roots they’d be hard pressed to find the papers which used to circulate more than a decade ago.

So let’s have a look at the old score card… this book IS stimulating. It doesn’t give you a complete overview of brand thinking at the end of 2002 – but you’ll find yourself going back to it to dig out gems. Will it date as fast as Understanding Brands did? Almost certainly. So don’t mess about, get a copy the clock is ticking.




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