In 2019 our advertising and media choices were more short term than ever. These are impatient times. We often seem to value the instant hit of immediate gratification over waiting for more worthwhile rewards. In communications short-term gains are favoured over long-term brand building. But are organisations losing out on the financial benefits delivered by creative, memorable campaigns that prime people to choose the brand?

Marketing has an addiction to ‘now’. All we seem to care about is real-time data, quarterly reporting cycles, disposable campaigns and easily measurable immediate responses. Often the discipline of brand building – creating Brand Mental Networks through communications or experiences – has been sacrificed at the altar of short-termism.

We think the shift to short-term sales activation is damaging organisations’ potential to realise the more valuable long-term benefits delivered by strong brands; namely more penetration, better customer retention, more market share, less price sensitivity and more profit.29
It is most certainly diminishing the power of creativity.30 The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s 2019 report ‘The Crisis in Creativity’ should really have concentrated minds. Among other things, it noted we have ‘arrived in an era where award-winning creativity typically brings little or no effectiveness advantage’. It highlights a shift to short-term campaign goals and its impact on strategy, creative and media choices. This has conspired to prevent creative campaigns from excelling at what they do best: strengthen a brand over time. To make matters worse, judges are now also favouring ‘disposable’ creativity, rejecting work that would give better returns in the long run.

Was anyone swimming against the rising tide of short-termism?

So, in 2019, has anybody been bucking the trend and seeking a Brand Mental Network full of relevant, distinctive, emotionally charged associations which ‘prime’ the brand to be thought of in the moments that matter?

Well, Amazon’s work for the Echo voice assistant has certainly been delivering highly creative and emotionally resonant brand building, culminating in a campaign approved by the Royal National Institute of Blind People which showed how Alexa can become a vital part of a morning ritual for a blind person. It is illuminating that Amazon, a brand that knows so much about its customers – seemingly a happy hunting ground for data-driven, real-time communications aimed at getting the immediate sale – have recognised there is still an important role for high-reach, highly emotional creative content.

Direct Line’s Mental Network encapsulates their success

Direct Line’s long-running campaign is well worth mentioning. They have continued using Harvey Keitel’s pastiche of his Winston Wolfe character from 90s classic Pulp Fiction, with the moniker ‘the Fixer’. This campaign played a big part in rebooting the brand by delivering a bold, confident and humorous depiction of ‘hassle-free insurance that just works’.

Ipsos MORI has developed ways to capture Brand Mental Networks, and Direct Line’s exposes all of the elements that we see as critical to successful brands.

The Brand Mental Network reveals:

Distinctive Associations
Associations uniquely attributed to Direct Line, the iconic brand symbol of the red telephone and their long-held position of not being available on price comparison sites.

Choice Primers
Critical choice primers such as ‘reliable’, ‘solid’ and ‘well known’; fundamental to creating a sense that they are a safe choice in this category.

Campaign Associations
‘The Fixer’ campaign’s dominant presence reflects Direct Line’s sustained investment over time. This has ensured that the brand has many relevant, lively and distinctive advertising associations, helping the brand to remain salient in an exceptionally cluttered category.

Brand Proposition
The brand proposition has been embedded effectively, too. We see strong value associations, as much about fairness and customer centricity as they are about price. This is testament to the refocus from price and cover at the point of purchase to performance at the time of need.

Nurture the Mental Network and fight back

Successful brand building requires you to build dense, connected, distinctive and relevant associations which prime people to think of you first. Direct Line has succeeded because it recognised that if you want to reap rewards in the long term, there is no substitute for committed investment in brand building activity and consistently strong creative content.

Let us hope the ‘crisis in creativity’ will abate in 2020. It’s great to see brands such as Adidas acknowledge that it focused too much on efficiency at the expense of effectiveness. They admit they fell into the trap of over-investing in performance marketing at the expense of brand building. They are now on a journey to rectify that balance and recognise the true impact of creating brand desire.

Our New Year’s message: nurture your brand’s Mental Network among the public and watch it grow in 2020.