Opinion: The Tall Planner’s Kate Smither On The DBA Dilemma

Opinion: The Tall Planner’s Kate Smither On The DBA Dilemma
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine



The science is not in question – smarter people than I, with far more data, have codified it. The logic is not up for grabs…it makes sense that creating mental shortcuts to your brand keeps you at the top of your mind.

Lead image: Kate Smither – Owner, The Tall Planner

I wouldn’t even take on the wording of distinctive when it comes to brand assets. Let’s just take the existence and importance of distinctive brand assets as given. But let’s not take as given that distinctive brand assets don’t have a dark side. Sometimes, an asset can even become a liability.

In (one of the many) iconic ads for Old Spice, the actor Bruce Campbell delivers a wonderful monologue about the experience. At the time, the story goes that Old Spice, an iconic brand, was in danger of delisting as it had lost relevance to the new generation who were hooked on the Lynx effect. What followed was the repositioning that led to the famous “Man your man could smell like” campaign, and it confidently took the brand back to growth by splitting the market between men and boys. If you were a teenager who just wanted to get laid, Lynx was it, but if you had “experience”, Old Spice was for you.

The Bruce Campbell spot came years before anyone was “on a horse” and also years before Byron Sharp’s “How Brands Grow” was first published.

Strolling through a set of furnished with Old Spice assets, from the colour red to the clipper boat, even the sonic cue of the whistle, Campbell talks directly to the audience. “… if you have it you don’t need it, if you need it you don’t have it. If you have it, you need more of it. If you have more of it you don’t need less of it. You need it to get it. And you certainly need it to get more of it but, if you don’t have any of it to begin with, you can’t get any of it to get started which means you really have no idea of how to get it in the first place”

It might be about experience or sex or both, but it could also be a rule book on DBAs with all their mind twisting rules, debates of consistency, evolution, reinterpretation, definition and even shelf life.

How a DBA is used, created or killed has no hard and fast rule book. There is no time limit on how long it takes to qualify as one, or how long you have to keep communicating one before it is so embedded that it is safe to stop.

You can track them in terms of their recall and association, but what often appears on a brief is not just “just X or Y DBA” should be used, but instead the briefs tend to say “ think about creating DBAs” It’s like being asked to create a viral ad. At that first step you don’t have any sense of what will cement into consumers’ minds, or if the consistency of budget and support will be there to give it a half a chance. How long a DBA takes to become a DBA is something I have always wondered.

Writing for Manifesto Lorenzo Bresciani argues a clear difference in the collection of DBAs “Distinctive assets are a powerful tool, but their application needs to be thought through carefully, especially the extent to which they are used for brand communication. It is, after all, possible to have too much of a good thing. Logos, end lines and musical ‘stings’ are the most basic and harmless examples of distinctive assets”.

But it is not consistency or even the asset that is the enemy, it is the misguided belief that the very encessaryconsistency means not changing anything, ever.

Just slavishly plastering DBAs around is the equivalent of advertising paint by numbers.

A distinctive brand asset is not the idea and it is not the whole brand. It is one powerful part of the whole ecosystem. Bresciani puts it simply..”The challenge comes when the distinctive assets start to find their way into the fabric of the communication itself and take centre stage at the heart of the execution….Distinctive assets can quickly become a creative and strategic straight-jacket”.

When you vampire the idea with DBAs you blur across products and even audiences.

If you are launching a new product you want people to know there is something new, not to just think it is another piece of brand work. If you need new consumers you can ’t just rest on your DBAs, you need to re-express them and find a balance within them, what can be let go and what to carry forward.

Toohey’s arguably pulled this balancing act off well recently. Taking their iconic “feel like a Toohey’s” song and re-expressing it for a new group of drinkers. It reconciled the two contradictory forces. that for new drinkers it wasn’t distinctive (but could become so) and for old drinkers it would be a welcome evolution. Vegemite did a similar thing with “Happy Little Vegemites’. Both are examples of consistency and evolution comfortably coexisting in the one distinctive brand asset.

But the distinctive brand asset is a fickle thing. Able to turn on you at the drop of a hat. Make it too strong and you are open to it being used against you. Ignore it and other categories will pick it up.

The change from asset to liability was seen recently with McDonalds. Whilst McDonalds created the “melting Milkshake” billboard on the left below using the sheer strength and simplicity of their DBAs. Quickly after, a social mock up appeared playing off not just the mental short cut to the McDonalds milkshake, but also to the (less fortunate) mental association with machines never working when the heat hits.

The Burger King version was not a real ad but you can see how easily a DBA can give legitimacy to a social post.

The idea of the appropriated DBA was in full swing when we developed the strategy that resulted in Dove Real Beauty Sketches.

At the time, the BBC voted the Dove “tested on real curves” image one of the most influential images on the beauty debate. For a brand that stood for the democratisation of beauty, for real beauty this showed the power of brand purpose as social and cultural artefact.

Yet in the same minute, the “line up” had been appropriated away from the Dove brand. It had become a shared short cut for diversity and the convention for how you represented women broadly. Even Marks & Spencer were using it. In short, the distinctness of the asset had been diluted. It was fast losing the brand purpose and brand meaning that made it distinctive. It wasn’t the execution that was unique but what it stood for was.

At the time Dove. in 2012, needed to put its brand point of view back in market to give the DBA meaning beyond just being an image. That’s exactly what we did with Sketches and it is exactly what the brand has continued to do ever since. It has been a over decade of defending the meaning of the DBA and strengthening the brand purpose to great effect.

In June this year, Ipsos and Jones Knowles Ritchie (JKR) carried out a study on distinctive brand assets, They found that only 15% are truly distinctive, but even more interestingly they found that “….From a black and white pint of Guinness, to a dimpled block of Lego, the research suggests that the product is the brand asset most likely to achieve true distinctiveness among consumers. Almost one-third (31%) of these achieved the gold standard”.

That is what makes it so astonishing when you see a brand give up on the holy grail of brand assets, the one that is the product in every sense. This week we saw Schweppes launch a new campaign in Australia that arguably did just that.

The campaign called “A sip for your senses” has removed the iconic and highly distinctive “Schweppervescence word, sonic and visual branding of schh and the dancing bubbles” from the TV ad. Sure all the executions have

bubbles but the difference of Schweppes, what makes it distinctive, is that Jacob Schweppe didn’t create carbonation, he stabilised it. He gave the “Schhhh of the bottle opening and the dancing bubbles” longevity. Where other brands went flat fast, Schweppes held its bubbles. The new campaign makes Schweppes just like every other carbonated soft drink, and that is sad to see.

The brief for “Burst” was “Schweppes enlivens the senses” supported by the truth of brand and product. The bubbles keep dancing, fully engaging the drinker and speaking to quality and the premium nature of both pricing and product at the same time. Schweppes was always different to the rest.

When “Burst” was first presented creatively, it was presented by opening a bottle and the fabulous creative team saying “We’re going to capture that moment”. Literally the ad was about capturing the distinctive brand assets. Hardly a creative straight jacket at all as it turned out.

Distinctive brand assets are certainly something to love, to hate and to always debate. They are best used when fully understood and interrogated.

They are discarded at your own risk but when they are given the right attention they are the brand gift that can keep on giving. And in the words of Bruce Campbell: “when you have more of them you don’t need less of them”.




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