‘Epic’ brand campaigns back in fashion as marketers adopt ‘network’ approach

Multi-million dollar TV brand campaigns  are set for a resurgence and will play an increasingly important role for companies as they learn to integrate marketing across all channels, according to industry experts.

While stand alone brand campaigns will fade, “big ads” will play a central role in a “networked” approach to marketing that will exploit all channels in a cohesive way.

The predictions followed a flurry of major brand launches from a number of household names, including Qantas, Myer and David Jones, which signalled a return of the big budget TV-led campaigns.

FutureBrand chief executive Richard Curtis said the decline of the brand campaign was a reflection of the changing media landscape more than a failure of the campaign themselves. But the fragmentation of the market did “dilute the value equation attached to the big ad”.

“I do now think they are coming back bigger than ever as marketers and agencies work out how to configure campaigns in more networked ways,” Curtis said. “The big ad used to be a stand alone endeavour and you would put your cash into that one ad and that was it.

“As customers experience content and entertainment in different ways that stand alone big ad doesn’t work quite so effectively anymore. But what people have cottoned onto is if you reconfigure that it at the heart of a series of interactions and experiences and communications you can make it even bigger than ever. It’s about networking that message.”

Marketing is shifting from a “linear model to a networked one”, which in some ways led to the downfall of the “epic” commercial but is now responsible for their return, he added.

“Customers don’t step through the purchase funnel in a neat and tidy way they once did, and as a result the big ad became hit-and-miss, trial-and-error,” Curtis told Mumbrella. “But now social media, content strategies and behavioural targeting means the big ad can be distributed, shared and amplified in more targeted and more meaningful ways.

“When you put that ad at the heart of a networked world of activity then it fundamentally reconfigures the value equation and delivers a far more effective outcome. The big ad did go away for a little while as the value equation attached to it was undermined by media fragmentation, but it’s coming back bigger and better than ever.”

Former Visa marketing and communications executive Andrew Woodward, who now runs a consultancy, said brand campaigns must remain an integral part of the marketing mix to avoid products becoming commodities in a cluttered market dominated by price.

“There is so much choice for people today,” he said. “We are bombarded with messages. You stand at a urinal and there’s advertising messages on the wall. Walk up the stairs at Wynyard station and there are message adverts on the steps. They are everywhere so brands have to come up with something clever to get cut through.”

Woodward said brands must establish an emotional connection but then supplement that with product and transactional marketing through online and social channels.

“Brand building is about building that emotion and showing what you believe in and Qantas is showing they believe in a close relationships with consumers,” he explained. “To this day the best way to do that is through TV. You just can’t build that emotional connection on the Internet or through social media.

“If you are trying to get rid of distressed inventory. I wouldn’t jump on TV, I’d go online. But if I’m taking a long term view where I want to increase brand equity, I’d got for TV.

He said Qantas simply can’t allow itself to become a commodity amid fierce competition in a price-sensitive industry.

“They need someone to make a deliberate choice to fly Qantas because you can fly cheaper, and with a better service, on other airlines so, to use marketing 101, they are creating a USP which is they are Australian and represent Australianess.

“For a lot of people going overseas it is still a nerve wracking thing, so Qantas is that bit of reassurance, that you have a friend overseas, and you will be are prepared to pay 10 per cent more for that, for 10 per cent less service.”

Bur Woodward stressed that for brand campaigns to work the brand must relate to the content of the ad.

“The biggest issue I have about campaigns and branding is that I see campaigns attached to anything. You get the feeling some ad agencies try to sell the same concepts to a food company or an airline or a car firm and dump the logo at the end. Whatever the creative and whatever the big idea is has to link back to what the brand is all about.”

Hi cited the use of crabs in Telstra ads as being inconsistent with the brand.

“Coming home is what Qantas intrinsically is all about. It takes us away and brings us home. And for that reason it’s a clever idea. But I saw a crab carrying a Samsung tablet with a Christmas jingle in the background and I thought what’s the message there? What’s that got to do with Telstra?” he said.

Curtis said establishing an emotional connection is paramount but is now part of a “wider narrative”.

“In days gone by the big brand ad might have been the one and only piece of marketing but with this network perspective it is one of many things,” he said. “On the surface it is emotional but it’s part of a wider narrative that extends far further than just a feeling you get out of a TV ad.”

He added that while tactical ads are easier to track, that does not mean they are more effective.

“We all know we buy emotionally. Brands are emotional constructs, and so you need the right combination of these things to make the sale and build the experience that keeps people coming back for more,” he said.

BrandMatters director of brand strategy Kylie Mcnamar  told Mumbrella that while brand campaigns will always have a role they will only work if the image portrayed in the campaign is reflected in the customer experience.

She said Myer and David Jones had both created “beautiful” ads but had “put the cart before the horse”.

“They are both facing strong category challenges and are looking to recapture that special relationship they once held with Australians, and there is some lovely film making,” she said.

“But while the stories they tell are interesting, when you go into the store or on to the website that same experience isn’t being replicated.

“From a pure communication perspective Myer is probably better than David Jones because it captures what you would expect in an upmarket department store and captures a specialness and magic that is potentially retail’s strength in its battle with online retailing.

“But the beautiful sense of wonderment that comes across in the ad disappears the moment you walk into a store because it is crowded, shabby, messy and the service is slow.

“Spending all this money on a campaign is putting the cart before the horse. What they really need to do is get their house in order first.”

Mcnamara added that while a strong emotional connection can disguise functional flaws “there is only so much you can keep drawing on that emotional appeal”.

Steve Jones


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