Branding as Conversation

This is a bit of a different article for today and is a little taster of my university dissertation. I was exploring the theme of Branding as Conversation and looking at how brands are beginning to use copy on packaging and digital conversations as an integral part of their branding.

This surge in chatty branding has created an influx of blog posts with differing opinions on whether or not brands should be our friends. There’s a host of absurd terminology arising from ‘wackaging’ to ‘branter’ and right now there’s almost no one I envy less than those entrusted with a brand’s social media persona.

I am a 90’s child, and have spent a good portion of my life now on social networking sites. I have also spent almost half of my time on Earth surrounded by ‘chatty’ copy on packaging. However, somehow, despite all of this, if someone asks me who my best friend is (although I have to say that trend stopped in around year 7) I would not instantly declare ‘Tesco Mobile’ or ‘Innocent’ or even ‘Waterstones Oxford Street’. I realise this information may not come as a shock to you but brands are not actually trying to be our friends and we do not really see them as such. Just because they post an entertaining picture or tell us to ‘pop round to say hello’ doesn’t mean we’re instantly mates – they’re simply trying to break up the monotony of introspective, un-engaging and frankly dull messages and information that surrounds us all.

Whilst I am generally in favour of brands having personality and a unique tone of voice, the emphasis of this sentence needs to firmly be placed on ‘unique’. Brands need to find out who they’re talking to and what these people want to hear. It’s no good seeing a brand post a picture of a cat with a moustache and decide that that’s the best route for another brand because, 99% of the time, it is not. I think a lot of brands fail to acknowledge that the section of people they are talking to changes constantly and they need to be personified to such an extent that they can adapt to these changes in the same way that humans do. I have seen no end of articles dictating that brands need to create a ‘consistent tone of voice across all platforms’ when in reality it is not consistency that brands need, but instead, coherency. There is a huge difference between posting a tweet that will primarily be seen by individuals who have chosen to engage with a particular brand and creating an advert due to be aired on prime-time television; and the brand’s tone of voice needs to reflect this.

Back in 1967 Marshall McLuhan declared that, “Propaganda ends when dialogue begins” and I believe this quote applies well to the state of branding today. If brands can find a way to create conversation and dialogue with their consumer then the idea of them being ‘propaganda’ is lost. They stop becoming spam and filter themselves almost seamlessly into our lives. However, the minute disconnect arises (potentially through the wrong choice of media or audience) and the conversation becomes stilted or unreciprocated they instantly become propaganda once more, and seemingly devious propaganda at that.

This is an extremely fine line for any brand to tread and with such continuous public feedback and criticism it is not a task to take on lightly, however if it is done well, then they can gain almost unlimited access into their consumers’ lives and, more importantly, minds.


A Limited Edition Viral.

The pull of something being ‘limited edition’ is a route that’s been explored by almost every well known brand. People swarm on short-time products that offer an unusual flavour, colour or even just a different type of packaging. When you think about it it’s a really odd way of appealing to people, why is it that we want to find a taste we enjoy only for it to leave our shelves after a few weeks?

There are a few different reasons this method works, firstly by adding time pressure you’re far more likely to encourage an ‘impulse buy.’ Then, you’re adding in the incentive of being the first to try something, the consumer becomes special, one of a ‘select few.’ Finally you tempt the buyer that your product will become a collectable item (although this incentive is most applicable to the limited edition bottle designs or non-consumable examples.)

Many brands exploit our inquisitive natures and use a limited edition sample to test how viable the product is. If it’s a success they then go on to release the same product later in the year, normally with people celebrating the return of an item they missed rather than by calling them out on the broken ‘limited edition’ promise.

However, one thing I’ve never seen before is limited edition advertising – Or, perhaps more intriguingly, a limited edition ‘viral.’ Now that’s a complete contradiction in terms but it seems that’s exactly what  Clemenger BBDO Melbourne have attempted with this video for Cascade First Harvest. They’ve created a video that can only be seen 5000 times, for an experimental beer that they’ve only made 5000 cases of. It’s a very risky strategy but I think it’s a really interesting idea.

There are only 130 views left, click here to be one of them.

(I would have liked to insert the video there but I’m having a few technological difficulties – sorry!)

Car adverts – are we set on repeat?

I recently came across this advert on Hello You Creatives for Fiat, it was a student project and I thought it was quite a nice idea. Whilst it doesn’t particularly highlight any of the car’s features I think it would engage with the right target market who are just after a nice looking, easy to use car.

fiat print adThough on doing a bit more research into it I came across this advert by Crispin Porter & Bogusky for VW Beetle:

Crispin Porter & Bogusky VW dare to be happy advertWhich shows to me just how much difference the execution of an idea can make. It also shows that a bit more confidence and pushing the idea as far as it can go is really what sets apart student work from industry.

It’s interesting that the student work has received a lot of criticism for ‘copying’ this advert when, if you look further through the archives there’s a whole heap of adverts that focus on the personality of a car from it’s headlights:

Listen to your inner animal DDB vw adThe original? From DDB for VW in 1999

BMW car advertCundari for BMW in 2005

TBWA car advertTBWA for Nissan in 2005

BBDO for Hankook TyresBBDO for Hankook also in 2005

All found on Joe La Pompe

Although before I began writing this I wouldn’t have been aware of any. Are we a bit quick to jump to this conclusion that everyone is copying each other? Is it that all of the good, simple ideas have been done already, are we all just dull and unoriginal nowadays or are people just looking for ways to criticise and put down new work by drawing tenuous links to the past?

If you’re interested in this idea of where trends emerge from I looked at a similar thing going on in logo design in this post.







A few weeks ago now Penguin published a new series of George Orwell’s books with covers designed by David Pearson. We’d had a talk by Pearson last year at Uni so I was already aware, and a huge fan, of his work but one cover really stood out from the set. This was the redesign of Nineteen Eighty-Four which brilliantly reflects the key concept of the book by censoring the title and author:

1984 person's new coverFor me this is pretty much perfect design – it’s simple, clever and stands out from a distance but has another element of interest when inspected.

It’s been done by black foiling which means the title can be read at certain angles:

1984 new cover The title is also printed on the spine which is often what’s on display in book shops and libraries, making the design practical in context. Interestingly, the redesign has received criticism that it wouldn’t work with the trend towards online shopping but actually I disagree and think it might actually be where it works best. Very rarely, in my experience, do you ‘browse’ books online I think often you browse in store and then type a specific title into an online store to see if it’s any cheaper – in which case it doesn’t matter what the cover looks like on screen!

For me a cover should intrigue and let a small insight into the book’s narrative without giving away too much. With a classic this balance might be easier to find as often any ‘twists’ are known before you read the book, but I think it’s something that Pearson has perfected on this cover.

However, all this might be a load of garbage as yesterday my Mum came home with a copy given to her from a book club. I was very excited to see the design in the flesh and was quick to sing its praises. My mum, who is quite design savvy and is interested (to an extent!) in design, looked confused for a minute and then admitted she had thought it was a ‘duff’ copy and the book club had got them cheap because of the printing error!

Perhaps this scenario would have been different had she seen the book on shelf and known the design was intentional but it did make me question how effective design is, if no-one ever realises it is design!

That all being said I still think the cover is complete genius and continue to love Pearson’s work. The full collection can be seen on Creative Review.



Bureaucracy Vs. Humour – Where to draw the line.

Today’s post isn’t about graphic design. It’s about something that has really, really bugged me. A lot.

A few days ago my friend’s friend (tenuous connection) listed an item on eBay as “A piece of cardboard shaped a bit like an iPhone 5 – USED” in an attempt to raise money for charity.

She tweeted the listing to Stephen Fry and he picked up on the idea and sent it viral. Within a matter of hours a piece of cardboard become worth £200, 000. A pretty impressive bit of fundraising!

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Electoral Disfunction – How Bad Design can also Change the World

I have far too much work to be writing this but I just came across quite an interesting short video about Ballot Design and the way it may have altered the results of elections.

We get taught a lot about ways design can change the world but I’m not entirely sure this is what they want us to aim for!

The main problem seems to be a lack of standardisation across all the states of America, meaning that each state’s ballot form is designed individually by people perhaps not best suited to the job.

Just looking at the ‘Butterfly’ example from Palm Beach County in 2000 shows you the extent of the problem. There are holes that don’t align, an odd left and right system, nothing to say only to punch one hole (it may sound silly but 6600 ballot slips had punches for Al Gore as well as another candidate,) and all of this results in an extremely confusing layout:

The video then goes on to discuss this New York City Ballot which sparked a law suit due to it’s confusing design, with some categories spanning two lines, some just one and the odd decision to right align the second line of the longer categories:

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