Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Black Hat Thinking


Curmudgeons, black hat thinkers, devil’s advocates, and people who say “but” infect most organizations and systems. They have a role in “keeping things honest” and calling out obvious bull****, and contribute little or nothing to driving progress. Bob Hoffman was an ad guy who has a blog called "Ad Contrarian," and its content meets the expectation of its name: caustic, surly and bad-tempered rants on the state of the ad business, sometimes funny, though for the most part it feels like walking through thigh deep mud.

Business Insider ran a piece on Bob’s speech to the Shift 2016 conference in London, he said that there are three major misconceptions clouding the industry: "All of these delusions have one thing in common: they take a little bit of truth and then they distort it and they exaggerate it and they torture it to the point at which it does our marketers more harm than good."

Here goes Bob: “The first mistake advertisers make is thinking that other people actually care about their brands. Creating a strong brand should be every marketer’s primary objective and the highest role of advertising is to create a strong brand. But our industry has taken these truths and twisted them into silly fantasies. There’s a widespread belief in our business that consumers are in love with brands. That consumers want to have brand experiences and brand relationships and be personally engaged with brands and read branded story telling."

One consequence of "all this baloney," says Business Insider, is that the industry has spent almost 10 years and "billions of dollars exhorting people to join the conversation of our brands." But it's still unclear what that conversation is.

Hoffman continues: "People have shaky jobs and unstable families, they have illnesses, they have debts, they have washing machines that don’t work, they have funny things growing on their backs, they have kids that are unhappy, they have a lot of things to care deeply about. It’s very unwise to believe that they care deeply about our batteries, our wet wipes and our chicken strips."

In the words of the famous Tui beer campaign, “Yeah Right, Bob.” The radically optimistic reality check is that people have dreams, hopes and aspirations. They strive for magic moments in life amidst the dross and struggle, believe in a better future, and ways to make life more valuable, easier, and enjoyable. Products and brands have a vitally important role in helping people navigate their daily lives, bringing ongoing moments of convenience, utility and joy. Brands are not the be-all and end-all of life, but they sure make it flow, no matter how back-to-the-woods you might be.

Image source: ggpht.com

7 comments:

Nick said...

> Brands are not the be-all and end-all of life, but they sure make it flow, no matter how back-to-the-woods you might be.

Lol. Haha. You're funny. I don't give a fuck about the brands I use. I only care if the product works for me or not. If it doesn't, I not only toss it, but actively tell others not to use it.

I'm anti-brand and very disloyal to any one brand. I feel if I am loyal to a brand, I might miss out on products and services.

In short, if your brand/company can provide me the product and/or service I want, I'll pay you for that product/service. But that's all you'll get from me. You won't get emotional attachment, or love, or any other kind of energy from me. Those things I reserve for real people in my life, not undead conglomerations of corporate persons.

vzk said...


In my personal life, a brand is just a tag for a (quite specific) set of qualities. Can be re-tagged anytime. Happens quite often. I care for people, not things.

PS: Where did you actually answer/debunk his statement?

Rosario said...

could not resist...1st to comment: oh dear...two heavyweights who perfectly know that in medio stat virtus but start a fight because it is good for their ego and (maybe) for the showbiz...

Anonymous said...

Let me start by saying I've never loved a brand in my life. I like a few and that's because I love the product they represent. This loyalty is not eternal. If the quality that product starts going downhill, I can fall out of 'like' pretty quick. This is the point Bob is trying to make in his own caustic way. Today, we confuse cause and effect all the time.

Anonymous said...

I love motorcycles; have owned a Honda, a Kawasaki and ride a Suzuki at the moment - all great bikes, but no brand loyalty from me, despite recommending each of them to anyone who asks. Next one might be a Yamaha or perhaps a Triumph, who knows? One thing I do know is it won't be a Harley - their marketing and brand loyalty is amazing, shame the product is awful. I'd like them on Facebook to win one, then sell it to buy a proper motorbike, a car and pay off the credit card...

Shann said...

I think you misinterpret Bob's point.

Brands can play a role in the flow, but it doesn't necessarily mean consumers subsequently care about the brands in unusually deep, loving ways. There is a long list of things they will care more about before a brand shows up. At best, consumers will be passionate about categories (like fashion lovers, hardcore gamers or car enthusiasts), among which they will express brand preferences, but brand love is a rare trait exhibited by hyper involved consumer more than an attribute of certain brands. Attributing that passion to the brand itself is mostly measuring a halo of that category involvement, usually attributed to the brand a consumer is most familiar with or has purchased in the past (which is why attitudinal measures are so well explained by brand penetration).

Serving that utility, delivering that value, sure, brands should strive for it since consumption is a value exchange after all, but pretending that we can expect the consumers' love and exceptional loyalty in return can be dangerously misleading from a business strategy standpoint.

It doesn't mean we cannot be engaging or inspiring in the work we do. There are plenty of excellent reasons to aim for it - for example the fact emotional communications deliver better long term recall. But at least we need to be clear headed about what the role of communications is.

Pembo said...

The answer is that brands AND products are important.

Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen, authors of a recent book, 'Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information' say brands are dying.

The effect of globalisation and the digital information revolution means consumers are becoming more rational and need brands less and less.

Think about how you choose products with rational benefits: an energy supplier, car insurance etc. Most peopel are not brand loyal anymore (they just go on price comparison sites).

But when it comes to luxury brands, branding still matters a lot. I am typing this on an MacBook Air. I bought it to look cool in meetings.

So both Bob and Kevin are right.