Don’t get into the box

We’re forever being told to “think outside the box”, but we say “don’t get into the box in the first place”. These days, traditional business structures can seem irrelevant.

If you don’t run your own business along radically different lines, how will you convince clients that they need to be creatively braver in their marketing communications? We need to change the way we think about ourselves and our industry first.

Marketers are not there to add icing on the cake or sprinkle a bit of fairy dust on the finished product. We should be storytellers first and foremost, with marketing integrated into the entire business process. And the stories we tell don’t even have to have anything to do with the product. The brand values can come from the personalities of the founders or managers or from a whole host of other sources.

A lovely example of this is Baxters Soups of Scotland. The company had rejected 187 takeover offers. That fact alone conjures up images of characteristic Scottish defiance and obduracy. But when you add in the chairman’s quote: “No-one will ever be asked to sit on our board who does not fish”, the national stereotype is given charming richness. Not only do we picture rugged Scottish countryside and sporting pursuits, but the quirky obstinacy is given a human and humorous face. That’s enough material on which to build an interesting brand story. The “unique selling proposition” of the company is not the taste and quality of its soups, but its personality and history.

Any part of a business can become emblematic of the whole. It’s our job to find those elements – those untold stories – that may have been overlooked so that tired brands can be refreshed and perceived differently. We can’t do that if we’re framed and proscribed by rules and accepted norms. “Because we’ve always done it this way” is one of the lamest excuses ever made.

Sometimes even a brand’s perceived flaws can become talking points. Think of the self-deprecating and funny press ads for the simple-and-cheap Citroen 2CV, claiming it could go faster than a Ferrari, providing the Ferrari was going slower; or claiming it had automatic windows that you automatically wound down when you felt hot. The ads were reminiscent of the famous “think small” VW ads that turned expectation on its head.

But in the early days of advertising humour was frowned upon; it was against the rules. If the history of advertising teaches us anything it’s that rules are there to be broken.

So if you find yourself in the box get out of it. And if you can at all help it, don’t get in the damn thing in the first place.

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