The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

If You Don’t Stand For Something, You Might Fall For Anything …
April 26, 2012, 6:12 am
Filed under: Comment

I stole this picture from the very wonderful and very talented Jon Howard.

It’s hopefully pretty obvious that it’s not the picture that I really like, it’s the words because it conveys a point that is both true and often forgotten.

I have sat in too many meetings where amazing opportunities have been cut at the knees simply because a client has focused on who might be upset, rather than who it could inspire and attract.

I appreciate you don’t want to go out and upset the masses, however if you accept that a strong brand has a strong point of view, then it’s only natural that at some point, you’re going to upset someone.

However there is a massive difference between upsetting someone as a byproduct of your beliefs versus going out of your way to target, humiliate and ridicule [which is why I’m talking about ads based on a provocative belief, not ads based on the goal to be controversial and shocking]… which is why I get upset when I see a brand back down as soon as some small consumer group gets their knickers in a twist over something they’ve done or said.

Sure, if they have genuinely fucked up, then fair enough … but too many companies approach their communication with the view that no one – literally no one – should be upset, offended or challenged by a message which ultimately means they end up churning out wallpaper where no one is moved, challenged or motivated by their messages.

In short, they are literally throwing their money down the drain.

Listening to your audience is different to pandering to your audience.

Understanding your audience is different to mirroring your audience.

While I salute the role and goal of some consumer groups, that doesn’t mean they are always right … and just because say, 100 people are offended by a commercial doesn’t mean a corporation should scrap the ad and issue a fawning apology.

In fact, if the brand genuinely believes in what it’s doing, it should come out and stand their ground.

I know many PR people would say that is corporate suicide, but in this day and age of political correctness and bland pandering – I think society wouldn’t view them as bullying, but as standing their ground.

Of course that would depend on what the issue is, how they expressed it and whether the consumer group in question is being petty or not – but standing up for what you believe goes both ways which is why the greatest demonstration of your beliefs is seeing how you react when someone calls it into question.

If brands want to stand out, there are 3 ways to do it:

1. Shock.
2. Have a strong point of view.
3. Brainwash with media spend.

If a brand wants to mean something to someone, there is only 1 way to do it:

Have a strong point of view.

That might end up upsetting some people, but even Harry Potter has his enemies and at the end of the day, this approach creates a much stronger platform for cost effective communication in the future than either of the alternatives.

With love, comes hate.

With hate, comes love.

With nothing, comes little … or an over-reliance on distribution and routine.

41 Comments so far
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Bravo. You have my vote.

Comment by Bazza

Have I missed something here?

Comment by DH

His descent into madness?

Comment by Billy Whizz

“You love the mirror, you hate the mirror”.

Great line.

Comment by Bazza

Normal men would be looking at the pictures, not reading the article.

Comment by Billy Whizz

You’re mistaking reality with your Playboy life Billy.

I agree Baz, I love that line.

Comment by Rob

Playboy? That’s old man porn. There’s youporn now, no words to distract you. Just ask northern.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Youporn is so 2010

Comment by northern

It’s sad that a brand with a point of view, a real point of view, is regarded by so many as courting controversy. The new marketing code of conduct appears to have replaced “purpose” with “blunt”.

Or your infamous “beige volvo”.

Great post, especially the reluctance of brands to stand their ground when faced with someone who expresses unsubstantiated or purely personal opposition.

Comment by Pete

Ahhh yes, the good old beige volvo, my “catchphrase” for far too long, ha.

Good point about brands viewing a point of view as controversy … but there’s the other side, where some think their point of view is actually not having a point of view.

Comment by Rob

And judging by the ad, sport participation in China is still a major issue, especially with females. Was that part of the woman’s day program you talked to me about?

Comment by Pete

Yep. And yep.

Comment by Rob


“Listening to your audience is different to pandering to your audience.”
“Understanding your audience is different to mirroring your audience.”

Comment by Pete

You love that? You literally love that?

Explains everything, except how you bagged Sarah.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Harry Potter is a 4 eyed twat. If you’ve got all those magic powers why wouldn’t you fix your sight, look less like a geeky twat and swap Ms Prissy for some chick who puts out but will still wear her school uniform?

That’s why people hate him.

Comment by Billy Whizz

And that’s my strong point of view so back the fuck off.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Say it as you see it Billy.

Comment by DH

Is this all a scam so you can justify your birkenstocks and queen fandom?

Comment by DH

That would be one of those times where a consumer group would be right with their bitching.

Comment by Billy Whizz

The problem you highlight has been amplified by marketings downgrade of importance within corporate structure. This means it is no longer there to help drive brand meaning and purpose on a mass scale, but to now be the secretary for sales department whims as well as shareholder appeaser.

Good post. I like the spot as well.

Comment by George

The unpalatable ruth is everything.

Comment by John

That would of been so much more impressive if you’d not made the spelling error.

Comment by DH

You obviously haven’t met the unpalatable Ruth.

Comment by John

No, but I think Andy once married her.

Comment by DH

Who the hell is ruth?
Will she wear school uniforms for BIlly?

Comment by northern

Andy’s going to go mad when he sees you’ve been so serious George.

Comment by DH

Andrew is on his annual birthday holiday. I am safe.

Comment by George

Now that’s planning.

Comment by Rob

i love the pic, love the commercial, love the post…love it all!
the point you have made here rob is profound and can not be stressed more…the idea that brands need to have a pov is so important…
but i always wondered as i sat listening to many a client take the safe, please the planet road whether they could have a strong pov about their brand if they didn’t have a pov in life in general…(call me cynical)
don’t get me wrong i am not saying all clients but i have seen the ones who don’t really have a strong pov about anything and and mere fence sitters they tend to have the same feelings towards the brands they handle…not just clients even planner or anyone else for that matter…

Comment by swati

Oh! and happy birthday Andrew

Comment by swati

Hi there … all good points.

There’s many issues relating to what you are saying … one is that the average tenure of a marketing director is about 2 years so they can delay committing to anything until they move on [thus ensuring their ‘legacy’ is one of ‘not causing harm’ rather than ‘doing something great’] and another is that some think their point of view is that they don’t have points of view and they rely almost exclusively on their distribution network to do all the heavy lifting.

However, there’s a line in the movie ‘The Quiet American’ [which my wife’s uncle directed!!!] that states something that I think is very true:

“At some point, you’ll have to decide which side of the fence you’re going to land on”

… and while many companies do all they can to delay this decision, it does happen [either because of opportunity or circumstance] and when it does, I honestly believe it lets the brands that have been strong and true, prosper to an even greater extent – admittedly, as long as all other aspects of their business are in good shape.

Of course, many people will disagree with me, but there’s a reason why it tends to be the same old brands that are quoted as being inspirational [or said another way, brands you’d be happy to wear the logo of] and that’s because they have a strong point of view and have committed to it in some way or form for decades.

Comment by Rob

Have you read The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier?

He talks about “charismatic brands” and identifies three characteristics that give a brand charisma.

1) A clear competitive stance.

2) A dedication to aesthetics.

3) A sense of rectitude.

I love that last phrase. It goes beyond a point of view. It’s more a moral crusade.

Anyway, you and he are parking in the same garage on this one.


Comment by Phil_Adams (@Phil_Adams)

I have read that and I liked it – and for me to like books like that, that’s saying something, ha!

Comment by Rob

You’ve just summed up Ireland in a nutshell. And the source of my endless frustration.

Thanks for the book tip, Phil. Shall check it out anon.

Comment by curlydena

Bollocks to all this. In one day, I was led to believe that the Smiths was reforming and then had my hopes dashed.
While I don’t want them to record another note, the thought of seeing live…………..
Oh well, fate eviscerates me once again.

Comment by northern

I’m not commenting on this post as it plainly obvious that I agree with it all. I’m commenting to say I have just been sent a review of your speech with BBH at some effectiveness conference in Shanghai and it sounds like it was marvellous fun. Is there a chance I can see it or better yet, get a personal rendition? And whose idea was it to combine agency forces? I presume it was you. It is always you.

Comment by Lee Hill

And happy belated birthday Andrew.

Comment by Lee Hill

Can you send me the link please Lee?

Comment by Pete

Great article Rob,

The example that comes to my mind is Benetton and their UNHATE campaign. Their whole message was about tolerance but as soon as they faced legal threat, they pulled the pope/imam ad, it didn’t even take a week. This is where we can see that they didn’t really believe in their own message. On the same value, a good example is Denmark’s response to the Muhammad cartoons and they were faced with much worse threats than legal action.

It’s very important for brands to approach this method genuinely and not just as a gimmick. I believe brands that stand out are going to be brands that take side.

Comment by Mehdi Mollahasani (@Mollahasani)

I’ve always had a bit of an issue with Benetton for the reasons you raise. While it’s good that they have raised a number of deeply important issues, it is always at an incredibly superficial level meaning you end up thinking it’s for marketing controversies sake rather than making a difference.

It’s worked though – because at the end of the day, it’s a company that makes hideous jumpers and somehow they’re not just remembered, but profitable. Mental.

Comment by Rob

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