Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why Dimitri should get off his couch…

Owning a good brand positioning in people’s heads today is like owning prime real estate smack in the middle of overpopulated Tokyo. If you’re living in prime area, you’ve either invested early through a first mover advantage, or you’ve spend hefty sums and bought your way through. The rest are stuck living in the middle of nowhere or squeezing into a back alley studio at a ridiculous cost just to be near anything.

The old greats own prime space in our minds facing the most interested of our nodes. Adidas spent a bulk of cash on media, sponsorships and endorsements and now overlook the glorious Arc of Triumph and Transcendence with ‘Impossible is nothing’ and just walks away from the older neighbor who bought early, Johnnie Walker’s ‘Keep Walking’. Most big beer brands like Bud light and Heineken have lofts with prime views overlooking the Gardens of Male bonding. Axe and Old Spice look over the River ‘Poony’ - a place where all men long to bathe. Honda managed to find a flat facing The Bay of Dreams and of course, not too far away, Obama’s latest mansion smack in the middle of Hope Town has probably made what was once a cheesy urban settlement the next hot place for brands to live. We’ve already seen the big boys like Pepsi try to move in next door.

People’s minds have become so over populated that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to own an interesting, relevant position or spot without forking out enough dough to keep your media buyers happily Lebanese for a long time. So it’s best we drop this illusion that one day we’ll come up with 3 lines so original that all the clever turtle neck wearing planners around the world and across time would smack themselves in the face for not having thought of it and all the people would gawk with enthusiasm gushing from their eyes money raining from their hands at the very site of your brand sitting atop this uninhabited plot of land.

Today, if we look at the brands that are surfacing, or have surfaced, they have abandoned real estate. Instead, they have gone to the streets with something more meaningful to people than just an association – they have taken to the streets with a Purpose. A meaningful human purpose exists at the center of these brands. Not a promise. Not a benefit. Not a position. A purpose. Dove campaign for real beauty, Google arrange the worlds information, Starbucks exists to provide a ‘third place’ to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee, Cadbury deliver joy, and so on. Most of today’s brands with strong momentum have abandoned this idea of real estate and have instead taken to the streets with a Purpose and acted upon that purpose. It’s time for big brands to step out of their big beautiful homes, tell us what they care about… and act on it.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Why Dimitri should go back to Greece and make Souvlakia

There has been no shortage of criticism on Dubai’s marketing zeitgeist. Beyond that dispensed by the pompous westerner whose sole motive was to bask in the reflected glory of the home he couldn’t make it in, a lot of the criticism was well warranted. We got lazy, Dubai was doing such a good job of marketing itself that it didn’t matter what we did, everyone won anyway. There was no such thing as zero-sum game. Anyone who ever remembers downloading a cheat code that made their shooter invincible knows exactly what I’m talking about. You simply didn’t have to be creative or talented to win. More so, I think many of us have networked enough to confirm the notion that you might even get along quite nicely by being daft.

The need for risk, an important prerequisite for creativity, was also absent in Dubai. Only a sadistic fool would roll a dice while lying on his six figure salary, guaranteed bonus and Jumeirah Jane and all while meeting his quotas without breaking a sweat. No need for the risk associated with differentiation. Instead, you can produce a big narcissistic TV spot that looks about as different as two Lebanese women hanging off a bottle champagne and you’d do just fine. Dubai’s halo was so powerful that your brand could spend millions of dirhams vomiting all over its highways and you’d still sell out apartments overnight. Come to think of it, Dubai’s marketing landscape resembled that of the US in the late 50’s and early 60’s, the biggers, the brighters, the betters that formed the brash baseline that Big Billy B’ used to flip the script on the remix when he asked us to ‘Think Small’. Yesterday, our beautiful Dubai was kicking so much ass that we looked like heroes sitting on its shoulders pretending our little pencils made a difference in the battle.

Today, the sun shines on a very different place. A Dubai that smells different, sounds different and looks different. We all see it, read it, hear it, smell it, talk about it and worry about it. ‘It’s bad’, I was told by a left brained econometrician who was one bonus shy of a sun-seeker, but after the dust clears, the echoes of schadenfreude reside and the smug greasy talentless Marketing Director who came up with the line ‘really real real-estate’ disappears, a new face for Dubai shall emerge; a better one. A place where talent and hard work are rewarded and just showing up to work won’t cut it anymore. No longer will brands get by without distinguishing themselves, which will heighten the threshold and need for risk and consequently creativity. Marketers that go the extra mile for people will thrive over those that get lazy. Agency creatives will now have to spend more time thinking about the behavior of real people and less time thinking about the behavior of Philip Thomas. Trust will play a monumental role and brands that act not just advertise will triumph. Both media and advertising agencies will now be asked to do something they haven’t done properly in a while, their jobs.

You remember those conversations we used to have when we’d complain about Dubai not being a real city. We’d say it resembled Pleasantville in that it was too perfect? Well voila...Welcome to the era of accountability.