It's the 'big ideas' that can turn products into brands
A view from Claire Beale

It's the 'big ideas' that can turn products into brands

I saw a punk on the Tube this week and felt a warm rush of nostalgia for a time when people enjoyed looking interesting (in a tribal kind of way) and challenging.

Then I read Nick Gill’s piece on the Sex Pistols. It’s a beautiful cry for breaking rules, daring to be different. "The Pistols weren’t born out of science or research or consensus," Gill says. He’s got Jamie Reid’s cover for God Save The Queen on his office wall, "reminding me daily of what fresh thinking really looks like".

The Sex Pistols were born in a disconnected world; their music was inaccessible in the most practical sense – hard to track down, difficult to experience. The sweet agony of elusiveness and the reward of delayed gratification are fairly alien experiences in the always-on, globally connected blah blah digital world.

If brands have something they want to say, they can stalk us into submission. According to Simon James, there has been a fundamental shift in the deployment of marketing money that too many in our industry are blissfully ignoring. Apparently, 33 per cent of marketing budgets are now being spent on technology. And while 17 per cent of budgets are currently spent on experience and 7 per cent on innovation, these slices are only going to get bigger. Which leaves only 43 per cent for advertising and promotions. And this slice is only going to get smaller.

Armed with these figures, James argues that technology is driving a wholesale re-engineering of marketing priorities, with comms accounting for a shrinking minority. Of course, if smart marketing technology fuels better customer experience that builds improved ROI, sales and profits, and justifies increased marketing budgets, then the absolute investment in advertising should remain healthy. Let’s hope.

Anyway, it’s interesting that Peter Field uses the phrase "brand anarchy" to describe what happens when you ditch the big idea for lots of little ideas, tempting as that is in a world of dizzying, tech-enabled customer experience. It’s actually the big idea that makes a product a brand. But harnessing a flexible, organising "big (creative) idea" – faster, more relevantly and more efficiently – to sophisticated marketing technology is the modern marketer’s challenge.

Back to the Sex Pistols, then. "Four snotty kids rioting with creativity, originality, bravery and purpose." For all the marketing investment in technology (or because of it), the big idea needs to be as brave, fresh and challenging as it did in 1976. As Jaguar Land Rover’s Ian Armstrong acknowledges: "The technologies that lend themselves to new kinds of communication are very recent and the basics don’t change."