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Brands ‘throwing baby out with the bath water’ in search for quick results as consistency continues to decline

Changing creative direction does not mean an entire strategy should be ripped up, one of Australia’s most experienced creative minds has insisted, as brands were accused of putting short-term thinking ahead of a desire to build a consistent message.

From left: Anna Pearce, P&N Bank; Jonathan Kerr, Budget Direct; Derry Simpson, 303 MullenLowe; and Jon McKie, MullenLowe

Discussing the decline of brand consistency at the Mumbrella360 conference, panellists blamed pressure to hit targets, a desire to win awards, the proliferation of marketing channels and endless pitching as reasons for a sometimes haphazard approach to branding.

BMF co-founder Warren Brown said marketers looking for new creative work mistakenly believe they should discard everything and start from scratch, even when an underlying strategy is sound.

“It’s so easy to change your execution but people tend to throw the baby out with the bath water,” Brown told delegates via a video link. “They go ‘Oh, I’m not sure this is working, we need to change everything’. No you don’t.

“You can get the execution wrong, that is easily done, but why walk away from everything after spending so much time and energy trying to find a clear and unique and distinctive strategy? You just need to explore a different execution of your creative strategy, not walk away from it all.”

Later in the debate, Brown claimed people become too “distracted” and forget the value of long-term thinking in favour of a quick fix.

“The real value is playing the longer game, and building something or equity in something that people can look at and see richness and depth,” Brown said.

“To play the longer game you need a fair amount of intestinal fortitude and enough support from the people around you to make sure you do have an end game and an end goal, but you’re not going to get there instantly.”

Warren Brown: “Great strategies don’t wear out”

He cited VB – which dropped the Hard Earned Thirst slogan under Droga5 – as an example where they “dicked around” with a strategy that had been “rusted on to the Australian psyche”.

“What happened? They proved to themselves that what they had was pretty good. Great strategies don’t wear out.”

Asked about Budget Direct’s creative changes over the years, which have seen the “boojay, boojay” jingle replaced with aliens who, in turn, were dropped for Captain Risky, the firm’s director of marketing and digital, Jonathan Kerr, said what has been consistent is Budget’s “DNA”.

“We have never moved away from being the best value, that is our DNA and everyone understands that,” he said. “Although we have been through some creative changes over the years we have always been number one in Australia for best value.”

Derry Simpson, managing director of strategy and innovation at 303 MullenLowe and a former VB brand manager, said a change in client-side management can lead to wholesale changes, as CMOs looks to stamp their mark on the business.

“They feel there is a need to throw out the old strategy and start again,” she said. “There is a lot of ‘We need a new idea, let’s go out and pitch for an agency and see who comes up with the best idea’.

“There is less acceptance that brand is a long journey. There is a lot more pitching and project work for agencies so there is less of the long relationship, trusted advisor role.”

Derry Simpson

Simpson added that “brand conversions” are no longer the remit of one individual within a client, but spread across many employees which can lead to fragmented and inconsistent messages.

Social media has also created a two-way conversation, whereas in the pre-social media era it was largely a one-way conversation where brands were in control, she said.

Brown blamed social media for “training us all to have the attention span of a gnat or butterfly” with change never far away.

He also suggested awards played their part in the problem.

“We are all victims of fashion and wherever the herd is going everyone is piling in,” he explained. “I have been a Cannes judge many times and you see definite trends. People jump on the bandwagon thinking ‘If I do one of those I might win an award too’”.

P&N Bank head of marketing Anna Pearce told the debate that a lack of brand consistency could partly be blamed on the pressure to produce results.

“Brands are in a hurry for results and we are not patient in letting our brand strategy and positioning take hold and have a level of consistency,” she said. “CFOs and CEOs want to see results quickly which takes the focus off the longer-term picture and the broad strategy.”

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