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Is blandness of message killing commerce?

April 17, 2013

Today, marketing has reached such levels of sophistication that it has the potential, by its obsession with technique, to negate the very intent of its ambition – the apparent persuasion of the many into the belief that they are the few. It is argued here that brands which try to engender a personality beyond the experience of their tangibility are the authors of their own disaster. Indeed, the commoditisation by behavioural categorisation will be the death of sophistication and of human ambition.

Let us reflect for a moment on the words of the former UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, whose funeral is today. She argued: “To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something which no one believes and to which no one objects“. She was discussing political consensus; here it is suggested that a consensus of message by computerised demographic satisfaction leads to the same end. A failure of credibility.

From cars to shopping, companies today have – like politics – developed a fear of their own shadows as they consensus seek. Generic designs, inoffensive logos, perfect function and form have risen as protective shields for brands worldwide. The avoidance of failure and the nuanced presentation of PR and crisis communication have become the order of the day. imperfection, it seems, is unacceptable to large corporations. But lest we forget, Tess of the d’Urbervilles was made exquisite in her face by that very slight imperfection which rendered knees to melt in Dorset fields a century or more ago.

Jaguar E-Type - flair and vision sell brands more than references to the past

Jaguar E-Type – flair and vision sell brands more than references to the past

In trying to appeal to the many, today’s brands lose their appeal to the few who, in their orignal interest, created the very origins of the brand itself. Brands lose, in the search for volume, a unique identity which created them. If we compare a Jaguar E-Type to a modern Jaguar, we can observe how one man’s vision for flair (Sir William Lyons) and patriotism has now become a bland demographically-designed product for global reach. In the E-Type, the “ugly curve” of British design which rendered it in all contrariness exquisitely beautiful, has now been abandoned  to vulgar blandness of the “global car” in the F-Type. Yes, the F-Type is technically much better but how is it different to an Aston Martin or even a Japanese sports car?

We can see that a company has lost its vision when, in the nomenclature of its product range, it seeks to imbue the future with the laurel wreaths of the past. By the same token, companies which try to disguise what they are behind the cleverness of irrelevant message – or which try to assert something which cannot be proven – are also doomed to fail. We recall well the idea that Rover cars were to be the “British BMW”. This indeed, it is argued, is a fundamental reason why politics itself is so discredited – the people demand substance and vision but the politicians dole out disguise. As do marketers. Supermarkets too are no different. We only need to enter a Tesco store to be confronted by the odious classification of day-to-day living into lifestyle choices disguised or enhanced often, it seems, by a neologistic creativity of profound cultural depravity. Can we really claim to live in a world – can we enjoy such a world – where “snacking” is apparently a quotidian pursuit of us all? Do we really believe the horrific monstrosity of Tesco’s claim: “helping you spend less every day“? Not forgetting of course the vile deception of “every little helps” which, when matched to the unfathomable pricing differences of similar products on the same shelf, leaves only anger in the belly of those who dare to consider it?

Every Little Helps? Is deception the rule of the day with companies that lose their real vision/

Every Little Helps? Is deception the rule of the day with companies that lose their real vision/

Today, the discerning customer shuns the average. It is said, for example, that some people only shop in Waitrose because they cannot bear to be among the demographic attracted by Tesco. Of course, many of these leading companies are impressively successful but the cracks are appearing in brands built by conceit. Today, for example, it is revealed that Tesco’s attempt to commoditise the USA with its cheesily (and perhaps patronisingly) branded “Fresh and Easy” has ended in failure and the company has reported a sharp fall in sales. Rover closed long ago.

And then of course comes the tyranny of the desperation brands: payday loans and gambling websites. The depiction of these businesses as some how as acceptable as walking the dog or going to church is one of the most heinous marketing crimes of the modern age. In making something with great potential dangers (particularly to the vulnerable) as appearing inherently safe, marketers have sold their souls to the devil.

It is of course legitimate to argue that businesses must shape themselves to their target market and, in so doing, to exploit that market to their own – and their investors’ – satisfaction. We cannot, in the pursuit of honesty, debate the need for commercial valediction. But we can argue for a statement of delivery beyond that of demographic categorisation.

In seeking to classify purchasers as target markets, companies shape consumers as pawns without thought or direction – modelling them through loyalty schemes to behave in a certain fashion. From modern housing estates to motorway service stations, the satisfaction of a general demand over an aesthetic imperative will only ever create a weakness in ambition and an uncertainty in what is truly possible.

Companies, individuals and marketers owe it to their customers to highlight a vision for the future and not merely deliver the satisfaction of a perceived demographic imperative. It is argued indeed that in creating target audiences, companies deprive us all of a future. Conversely, by responding to market demand, they are more likely to shine a torch into what is otherwise a dark cave of human ennui.

So to engage the minds of consumers, companies need to have a vision with which people can identify without being patronised. Desire is created by a demonstrable passion shining golden aloft and not by the clothing of the bland in a carapace of nylon. Demand is driven by shared dreams and not by the satisfaction of the day-to-day. If we as marketers surrender human interaction, cultural aesthetic and the art of the possible – and sacrifice these values on the altar of transaction – then all we shall ever have is diminishing congregation in the church of commerce.

So it is that we recall these words: to thine own self be true. But if in thyself thou art but paste, then a diamond thou shalt never be. Humanity shines through in the best of us – and we distort the pleasure of our intercourse and ambition at our peril.

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