Interesting Brand stuff in 2017

Last year was pretty traumatic for most people and many brands. We took a quick look back at some of the themes, large and small, that impacted brands and how they connect with their communities and society as a whole.

 

Wearing your heart. Our clothes make statements about who we are. This year, hats seem to be a big way to do that. If 2016 was the year of that red MAGA baseball cap, 2017 maintained the momentum. And 2017 started with its antithesis the launch of the pink Pussyhat that celebrated the Women’s’ March in Washington DC. According to the SVA Masters in Branding this was the brand of the year. A community icon with 5 Million wearers that seemed to have literally been knitted overnight and made us feel warm and fuzzy.

Then, Nike branded the Hijab and brought a professional touch for female, Muslim competitors. They may not have been the first to do it, but the awareness it is raising to support female athletes from all countries and communities is a positive reflection on a changing female world.

Finally, Elon Musk turned the Boring Company into a headgear phenomenon, selling over 50,000 hats before running out and generating nearly a million dollars worth of investment for the company – nothing like the power of a good name to drive awareness.

 

Making a statement. Unsurprisingly, the political landscape generated a lot of brand stories with brands reacting to one traumatic event after another. Brands making political statement can be dangerous and can have long-term business impacts, but for some brands, being true to who they are, and what they believe is something they just have to do. A few that stood out for their boldness and beliefs were:

Patagonia, releasing their first ever ad featuring founder Yvon Chouinard as an openly ‘Activist Company’, came out strongly against the Government’s plan to sell off large chunks of National Parks and with it our ‘Heritage’. This was further re-enforced by them suing the White House under the headline – The President Stole Your Land.

Earlier in the year, the ‘Unite the Right’ white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, had Merck CEO, Kenneth Frazier, stepping up and saying that “they could not support any person or activity which demonstrated intolerance, extremism and did not support our fundamental values and left the Presidents American Manufacturing Council” and promptly left it. They were quickly followed by Under Armor, 3M, Campbell’s, GE, and Johnson & Johnson. These are foundational companies in the American economy putting values at the front of their decision making and acting accordingly.

And of course, the now infamous Pepsi ‘Live for now’ ad featuring Kendall Jenner, will just go down as badly as the New Coke nightmare and demonstrates that it’s as easy to get politics as wrong as right.

 

If you ask my opinion. For the last few years we have seen a rise in the number of brands criticized in the news, especially on social media for changes to their logos that their customers didn’t like. We all know the Gap and The Met stories that didn’t go so well but, people are passionate about brands and have strong opinions about them. Last year we saw some brands take a different approach to try and get their customers involved and engaged.

Mozilla is a great example of a company who has taken ‘customer engagement’ to the extreme and put transparency at every stage of their re-branding. Every stage of their process was shared with their community, not just superficially, but to actually hear what their users thought. The full process was long and detailed, but their blog does a good job of sharing the process and methodology they used and the comments of the community they worked with, who are supportive of the final solution.

There are few subjects that illicit more passion than sports. Fans connect deeply with their teams and for many, their logos and badges are the tip of that connection. Change generally doesn’t go well. From the NFL, NBA or Premier League, when teams change their logos, the response is swift. Even when teams have gone out of their way to include fans as part of the decision-making process, the reactions are rarely positive. In a world that changes around us, somehow people want ‘their teams’ to stay that re-assuring constant.

Logos visualize powerful ideas and make it easy for people to relate to them. We are going to have to get used to people having strong opinions about them – good and bad. AdAge, even went as far asking Marketers and Consumers which logos they liked and why?

 

Sign me up. If you are born between about 1982 and 2000, you are now one of approximately 80 million millennials, the largest living generation and biggest part of the workforce in the US. This is clearly a ridiculously wide demographic to actually market to and there are many sub-sets and divisions within. But, some brands are clearly targeting millennials with propositions that tap into the widest perceptions of their theoretical and often contradictory behaviors. They value authenticity but they don’t like to spend too much, so they’re not so questioning about where things come from. Technology, especially mobility, is critical and they love consuming content, yet they use Ad blockers everywhere. They love personal experiences, and the ability to share but they also need positive, collective re-enforcement and support.

The perfect response for many of those contradictions is the rise of the subscription economy. It’s quick, convenient, digitally driven, saves money and is often disruptive to the status quo. Suddenly, it isn’t just the brand that says something about you, it’s about how you get the brand that matters.

Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s are changing the old razor model – give away the hand-set and charge for the blades. Why go to the store every month, when those everyday essentials can get delivered straight to your door? Gillette has now responded with the Gillette Shave Club.

Cosmetics, another huge beneficiary of this shift, has seen brands like Glossier, Birchbox and Ipsy push the model beyond just distribution. They are building experiences, pop-ups and engagement with their customers in ways that prove real brand connection. And the big brands are taking note, Sephora’s Play!, Target and Walmart now have similar offerings.

And of course, there’s music and now video. Even the die-hard Apple brand has shifted from purchase to subscription and joined others like Pandora, Spotify and Amazon Prime. The broader impact of this, particularly amongst retailers are obvious, but the evolution of the subscription economy is going to have much wider effects than just the consumables we buy, but the fundamental services we use. Well at least while we can pay for them.

 

2018 is already off to an interesting start from global Stock Market volatility to shooting Teslas into space. Brands will continue to create and build some of the most influential events in our world, as they continue to become more pervasive in almost every aspect of our lives – commercially, socially and personally.