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

Whose Success Are Branding Consultancies Really Focused On?
September 26, 2012, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

I’m a bit horrible to branding companies when the reality is, they’re no more fucked up than most ad agencies.

In fact, given they get away with charging clients outrageous amounts for what constitutes nothing more than a logo redesign, it can be argued that they’re way smarter than most of adland.

But the thing is, adland – for all it’s ego and delusion – doesn’t churn out a slightly redesigned brand logos and claim they will fundamentally change the way the organisation behaves and succeeds.

OK … OK … so that’s a bit unfair as well because they tend to say their new logo is simply an articulation of all the changes they have helped develop for their clients but as a designer once said to me,

“If a brand wants to be seen as bold and innovative, why don’t they make their products bold and innovative?”

Now that’s a good question … though we all know the answer don’t we.

In these share price obsessed times, brands want the glory without the risk or the need to invest huge amounts to change – but that’s a post for another day.

The purpose of this post is because I recently found out that a brand that I have an irrational affection for – C&A – had their positioning for China done by one of these branding organisaitons.

For those who don’t know who C&A are, they’re a low cost “fashion” chain – though it’s more like Asda’s ‘George’ than Uniqlo or H&M.

Anyway, while they have departed the UK, they are in other markets of which one is Shanghai.

Given China has commanded the interest and focus of most brands – especially fashion brands – you’d expect a company like C&A to come out with a clearly articulated positioning so the hungry-to-try-&-buy Chinese audience will view them as both desirable and a viable alternative to the countless other options available to them down most Shanghai urban high streets.

So what did they come up with?


What the fuck?

What the hell does it mean???

And before you ask, that is NOT a ‘back translation’ translation, it’s what they have over their door.


Seriously, ‘Fashion You Choose’ … as oppose to Fashion the Government choose?

I know China is communist, but even they haven’t gone so far to dictate what you can and can’t wear in 2012!

Maybe if it said, ‘Fashion Your Mother/Wife/Father/Husband Chooses’ would be better [it certainly would be more appropriate] but seriously, in a country that has a hunger for brands and a desire to explore and experiment in an attempt to help define themselves, is that all they could come up with?

And who came up with that masterpiece?


And probably for a humungous fee.

That makes me angry, incredibly angry.

Not just because it’s a pile of utter shite that isn’t worth a penny, but because I happen to like C&A.

No, it’s not because I dress from there [though it looks like it] it’s because it’s one of those brands from my childhood that was always ‘there’ and to see them being shafted like this makes me mad.

I know C&A aren’t Uniqlo or H&M but neither are they a poor-mans Marks & Spencer’s – and while some people out there will go on about how the Chinese will view any international brand as an aspirational brand – that doesn’t mean you should treat them, or the audience, like they don’t matter.

Sure, I know they’ll never be a super-cool brand – and nor should they be – but I honestly believe they have something unique and the way they are currently presenting themselves in China doesn’t capture that.

OK, so I’m calling FutureBrand out on this and that’s not really fair.

Well, in this particular instance it is, but overall it’s not because the fact is, every agency and individual will have something in their portfolio that isn’t exactly as good as they would want it to be.

There’s a whole heap of reasons for that – some justifiable, some less so – however what bugs me so much about branding consultancies is that so many of them act like they are the Gods of Gods when in reality, they are as flawed, myopic and delusional as everybody else when held under a microscope – or in the C&A case – when they put their ‘work’ out on one of Shanghai’s busiest streets.

So if anyone who reads my rubbish knows someone at C&A, can you please put them in touch because I’d like nothing more than to help them put the fear of god into all the latest and greatest ‘fast fashion brands’ – not by being someone they’re not, but by being true to who they really are.

38 Comments so far
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Great post, but you don’t have to stop at C&A.

Comment by Ciaran MCCabe

He won’t Ciaran. That’s the problem.

Comment by DH

In the shopping sense? Any variation in wardrobe would be a plus

Comment by northern

I am the first commenter, what an honour.
It took a while for me to get through this very long post and I am still trying to work out how I feel that you are attempting to be the knight in shining armour for C&A but your very one sided views on branding companies had my very one sided views on branding companies nodding in agreement.
Fashion you choose is one of the worst positioning statements I’ve ever heard. Even more so for a foreign market. If that is the result of Future Brands proprietary tools then they should be arrested immediately. On the other hand, the comment you highlight by the designer is wonderful and should be printed out and placed on the computer of all marketing directors.
Interesting post Robert. Not one of your best, but your viewpoint and passion ensured it is far from your worst.

Comment by George

Foiled by Ciaran. That will teach me for writing a long comment.

Comment by George

Let that be a lesson to you George.

Comment by DH

In ase you didn’t catch that Rob, this is known as damning with faint praise.

Comment by John

Yes, I’ve noticed that.

Comment by Rob

Back handed praise. Now you know what working with you guys felt like.

Comment by Billy Whizz

consider yourself lucky we paid you, you ungrateful fuck.

Comment by andy@cynic

I’d of worked for free to be insulted by you.
In fact that’s what I basically did.

Comment by Billy Whizz

so close yet so fucking far.

Comment by andy@cynic

Well given you are basically slagging me off in this post, I’m glad you didn’t get the ‘first comment’ accolade you were so desperately aiming for.

Petty? Me? You bet.

OK … OK … I agree with what you’re saying. It is overlong, it is very myopic and it is about C&A … but it’s still my blog [I think] so surely if there’s anywhere where I can be indulgent, it’s here, despite what you all say. Ha.

Comment by Rob

The reason I never use the b word is because it’s all too often something that’s skin deep and imposed by a third party whereas what matters is a company’s DNA and how customers intuitively understand and emotionally connect with it. But I’ve never earned the big bucks so what do I know?

Comment by John

Talking sense ensures you’ll never get the big bucks. Don’t you realise that John?

Comment by Rob

When I was a kid… When Henry Vlll was on the throne. My Mum – In Manchester – Up North, not the poxy Midlands… Used to call it… “Coats an Ats.” And you needed a fucking ration book with coupons to shop there. Branding is bullshit… Fuck, Rob… How long have you been doing this shit?
“Disgusted of the Manchester Ship Canal”

Comment by adscamgeorge

was your mum a cockney?

Comment by andy@cynic

Didn’t C&A get their name because they used to make underwear so the “c” stood for cock or c*** and the “a” was for arse? Or was it because inside their pants were the letters c and a so you knew which side was which? Or is this an attempt to be funny using old school jokes that look even more pathetic when written down?

I’ll get my coat.

Comment by DH

If that’s your school humor, it explains a lot.

Comment by Billy Whizz

you need to throw yourself over a bridge for that shit dave. pull yourfuckingself together. youre sounding more and more like jasper fucking carrott everyday.

Comment by andy@cynic

+ 1

Comment by Rob

C&A. Birkenstock. Queen. Bang goes W+K cool cat image.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Yes, and in comes the bad taste dog image.

Comment by Rob

thank fuck im too busy to spend more than 3 fucking minutes on here.

c&a? seriously? and you sound fucking passionate about the bastard. fuck me campbell, youre even worse than i thought.

at least you save some of your kicking for those futurebrand bastards, so theres some home. they make enron look like george fucking washington.

this is all too much for me campbell. youve broken me. or it could be seeing how full my fucking car is with luggage the
ladies want to take back home. anyone know how much charting a 747 is?

lee, will you give me a special deal? like fuck you will. every bastard is against me.

Comment by andy@cynic

Feel better now?

Comment by Rob


Comment by andy@cynic

The comment by the designer is brilliant. How many times have companies stated their desire to be provocative without actually ever doing something provocative.

The C&A thing is just embarrassing, especially for a market that doesn’t speak English. I bet their justification for that decision is Chinese society view brands from Europe, especially brands from Europe that use English, as more sophisticated.

Maybe that was the case back in the early 2000’s, but I am sure a lot has changed since then. Besides, even if European brands are regarded as more sophisticated, one visit to the C&A store in that photo would tell Chinese shoppers that it’s not the best place for European fashion, especially when every other international fashion retailer is vying for their attention down every major high street.

Comment by Pete

I would say that is [tragically] a pretty safe bet to make Pete. And you’re right. While European brands still hold a lot of cache in China, it’s certainly not as blinkered as it once was.

Thanks to the opening up of the country and the mass accessibility of technology, China is now possibly the most brand literate nation on earth. While the odd brand manages to reinvent itself for this market [ie: Clarks] the majority are quickly identified for who they really are and yet so many marketers still think this is the land where they can start all over again and charge outrageous sums for average, simply because this is a [1] massively populated nation [2] who have lots more cash to spend and [3] want to buy, buy, buy.

While there is definitely truth in those views, the culture is still pretty pragmatic when it comes to shelling out cash and brands have to offer far more these days than simply being ‘foreign’, especially when every international brand and his dog are here, fighting for their custom and loyalty.

It’s fascinating to I am very interested to see how the economic slow [which is still what most developed nations would kill to have] affects how people choose brands. Personally I think it is going to highlight who are the pretenders and who are the brands that have stayed true to their values and value … but we shall see, this is a place where things can change in the blink of an eye.

Comment by Rob

I don’t know how Clarks have reinvented themselves over there, but I doubt it’s that much of a stretch as they have heirtage and quality in their favour.

The only reason they might struggle over here is because they were where we all got school shoes and thus didn’t want to wear them in later years. In China they don’t have that legacy, so if any marketers are making great claims about how they’ve “transformed the brand” please slap them.

Comment by John

Fair point John, but were Clarks ever cool – even without the school association? I’m not saying they’re cool here to be honest, but their tonality and spirit is very different to anything I encountered … though as you say, it could be because I associate them with Clarks Commander shoes, which I wore when I was 5.

Basically, before I discovered Birkenstocks.

Comment by Rob

When I was freelancing on Xerox at Y&R, NYC, They called themselves… “Xerox – The Document Company.” They paid Landor Assoc (Another of the Poisoned Dwarf’s scam WPP co’s) $3 MILLION to “Re-Brand” them. After three months, Landor came back with the solution… “The Document Company – Xerox.” You can’t make this shit up!
“Disgusted of the Fourth Reich.”

Comment by adscamgeorge

I know George – it’s utterly depressing isn’t it.

I once worked with a client who was also working with Landor. They presented a name that had gone through their proprietary naming system which apparently had identified over 1000 options [not a great system really was it!?] all for a fee of just over $US2 million.

When we had to develop work off their monstrosity positioning, I said I needed to know what tone they were recommending and they said that was up to us as the client hadn’t paid for them to develop that within their strategy.

When I pointed out that it seems impossible to develop a brand without considering the tonal voice, they looked at me and said, “No it isn’t, we just did it.”


Comment by Rob


There are preposterously shit ads, lazily concocted by cynical people who care only for a big bag of cash. There are talented people who are thwarted by corporate politics and can only fight for so long before the client dilutes the end result into a pale shadow of its original self. There are amazing brands created by astonishing creative agencies that inspire people to believe in them and want them to win above all others.

Plenty of the big brand consultancies are a safe pair of hands. They go through the motion, get everyone nodding at the right places, focus on their customer to the exclusion of their customer’s customer. Big brand launches are easy targets and everyone loves to hate, whereas in advertising all the hating comes from within. Maybe that gives you a clue as to the relative impact of each industry?

Comment by Tim Burley (@timburley)

Well I had to make sense of ‘Shift how you Move’ and a 50 page tone of voice document to go with it from the ultimate tailors of Emperors new clothes, Interbrand.
The only people that care about straplines are the people that pay the twats that com up with them and the twats that come up with them.
They don’t provide a ‘canvas’ for creative, they get in the way of ideas that actually deal with business problems
And don’t give me that ‘what about Just Do It, The Future’s Bright, Appliance of Science’ doo dah. In every case, people didn’t get excited about a clear articulation of what the brand means, like all communication, they were simply distinctive and, let’s face it, the branding world, that’s as difficult as getting a free holiday if you’re a WK planning director

Comment by northern


Comment by Rob

Just to give us all a sense of hope.

A client recently asked me to give an evaluation of their brand.

Not just from an ad perspective, but from a fundamental brand perspective. From purpose to behaviour to achievements.

I was told ‘nothing was off limits’ if I/we feel it is an obstacle to their greater objective [even though they are currently in an incredible position in their market] so off we went and did a bunch of analysis, investigation and evaluation before delivering a rather provocative paper listing a number of things we feel need doing to get everything back in line.

Rather than give one of the following answers:

1. You’re wrong.
2. You’re idiots.
3. I disagree.
4. You can’t say that.
5. Thanks [& then filing it away]

He said, it was exactly what he needed to see [even if he’d rather not had to see it] and now we’re working out how to execute the recommendations throughout the business.

Maybe it’s because we were as tough on ourselves as we were on them – but the sign of a great leader is someone who wants to hear undiluted points of view rather than hide in their office for 2 years so they can get their promotion and then make it someone else’s problem.

It would appear, the business plan for many branding consultancies is to identify the latter type of client rather than the former.

Comment by Rob

you do realise the only reason they got you to do this was so youd stop banging on about them making a fucking car.

Comment by andy@cynic

Seems his clients are smarter than his bosses.

Comment by DH

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