Lessons in brand value from the New York Dolls
A view from Claire Beale

Lessons in brand value from the New York Dolls

I've heard versions of Dave Trott's tales from New York before, but never as brilliantly nailed to what we actually do: build brands. You'll find his story in this week's feature.

Trott, as you might know, went to art school in New York in the late 60s. It wasn’t all quite as rock ’n’ roll as it sounds, until he met Arthur "Killer" Kane, the man who went on to set up the New York Dolls.

If you only read one thing in Campaign this week, Trott’s list of "Five things creatives could learn from the New York Dolls" is your blueprint for success. Seriously. By the side of my desk is a teetering pile of marketing textbooks and communications handbooks and "how to" stuff for our industry. Well, Trott has done it better. And it takes less than a minute to absorb.

Anyway, if you do only read those five bullet points, you’re missing out on the delicious story of Dave and Artie, their hair, their shared love of Warhol (though from very different perspectives) and what differentiates a product from a brand. The differentiator is that "people buy a product for what it does, but they buy a brand for what it says about them".

It fascinates me that any marketer wouldn’t immediately understand this and commit their career to it. But plenty don’t. I think most people in agencies get it because, after all, that’s the magic they (and for now – mostly – only they) can offer to marketers: to turn a product into a brand.

Agencies are happy to get paid for trying to sell products; they don't demand to get paid a fair price for creating brands

But agencies don’t help themselves push the point. They are happy to get paid for trying to sell products; they don’t demand to get paid a fair price for creating brands. In "Pay us what we deserve" in this magazine, Engine’s Debbie Klein tells the story of the creation of the Orange brand back in 1994. The magic weaved by WCRS around "The future’s bright, the future’s Orange" created £3 billion of shareholder value (hard to believe now). But the agency got paid for time spent creating some ads. Now, the IPA and ISBA are back round the table debating how to remunerate agencies for value creation. Let’s hope that, while they’re at it, they make a fresh stab at positioning marketing as an investment rather than a cost.

It all links through to Craig Mawdsley’s plea in CloseUp for agencies to be able to make a proper case for the business impact of what they do. As an industry, we’ve got too carried away with using easy (and pretty meaningless) metrics such as "likes" and views as evidence of effectiveness. Taking lessons in brand-building from the New York Dolls is one thing, talking the language of business and proving balance-sheet value is another. Our industry needs to do both.