Sep 28, 2007

Taking Me Literally



So both CK and Bill “Make The Logo Bigger” Green emailed me a press release from an agency called 22 Squared (formerly known as WestWayne) that literally operates under the theory that your brand is indeed my friend and that people are just sitting there waiting for brands to befriend them.

I kid you not.

Here’s what it says on their agency blog, “The C Word”: ("C" means "consumer" which for some reason they feel is a bad thing. More on that in a minute.)

Why we're here: Everybody's talking about how ad agencies and marketing firms are broken. There's a lot of talk, a lot of criticism, and a lot of negativity. What's missing is a solution. A theory that helps understand where things went wrong and, more importantly, where they can go really, really right. People are sick of being called consumers. They're sick of being marketed and sold to. They're looking to be treated like...well, people. We think we've got a pretty unique way to stop selling them like consumers and start befriending them like people. We're looking to share our thinking, to share our belief that if you market brands the way people make friends, you'll end up with a lot more friends (and a lot more money). We're three people with a new lens, and some optimism for marketers everywhere. Try being a friend to people, it's amazing what it does for business. This isn't a monologue or a soapbox, we hope it can become a dialogue and discussion. As any good friend does, we welcome (and hope for) input, perspective, criticisms, and commentary. We look forward to talking with you, Karen, Brandon, & Evan


Now in their defense, I get the broader notion of what they’re trying to do here. (I think.) They’re advocating a less in-your-face sales approach in favor of a more consensual one, where clients tell the consumers things they want to hear rather than things the client wants to say.

But Karen, Brandon and Evan: that ain’t friendship. It’s just a different kind of sales technique. And pretending that we're not consumers isn't just disingenuous; it's dishonest.

As I wrote on my initial post on Marketing Profs Daily Fix (coming Monday, I'll post about it when it's up) marketers who try and pretend that they’re not sales people remind me of the Lefrak family. The Lefraks, a prominent New York City real estate clan, changed the family name to LeFrak about a dozen years ago. And I’m not sure who they thought they were fooling. I mean did they expect Skip and Muffy to suddenly say “Oh, they’re French! All these years we thought they were Jewish! Now we can finally invite them to the club!”

Consumers aren’t looking for more friends. We already have plenty. What we’re looking for is authenticity. That means you tell us the truth. Admit when you’re wrong. Don’t treat us like criminals. And talk to us when you have news.

And Karen, Brandon and Evan, "telling us the truth" means you've got to stop trying to pretend we're not consumers and you're not sales people. Because we both know that's not true. Now you can be much nicer salespeople, the kind of salespeople we might actually like, but it's a strictly commercial relationship we've got going on here, not an emotional one.

Because as everyone knows, Your Brand Is Not My Friend™

15 comments:

Danny G said...

It's not a new agency. It's just a new name for the same old WestWayne in Atlanta & Tampa.

I wrote about it on AdPulp a few weeks ago.

Toad said...

@Danny: Didn't make the connection. As you know, I'm a faithful reader of AdPulp.

I just (re?)read your post of a few weeks back and was wondering if you'd learned anything more. The 22 Squared website makes them sound like some kind of start up; not the fairly well-known, Fallon-CD-hiring shop they were.

Danny G. said...

I haven't learned anything more. I was at an Atlanta Ad Club event the other night where a media buyer was there with "WestWayne" on her name tag, not 22Squared.

So there hasn't been a formal big-time announcement about it, in this city at least. Or maybe they just don't consider me one of their friends.

toad's sixth reader said...

it's owned by interpublic isn't it. they're plainly desperate for a "hook" and have settled on "friendship". i recently got spam text email from verizon. i replied "fuck off!".

toad, you should do t-shirts of "your brand is not my friend". plain type. helvetica. whatever.

corporate america is sooooooo far from my friend.
threadless.com are my friend. melitta coffee pods (buzzworthy only mind you) are my friend. i make that decision.

ck said...

"toad, you should do t-shirts of "your brand is not my friend". plain type. helvetica. whatever."

yup, they need to be simple, IMO. Text treatment, no need for graphics.

Toad said...

Plain type it is. The people have spoken.

Make the logo bigger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Make the logo bigger said...

Yes. Clean font please. Cooper Black Italic is definitely not my friend.

Karen said...

Appreciate the feedback and welcome any opportunity to keep this dialogue moving forward. Ironically, I don’t think we’re that far apart in our thinking. The passion both you and CK expressed when describing how you feel about brands, and their all-too-frequent attempts to mislead, manipulate or be something they’re not, is part of the foundation of our thinking that led us to “marketing brands the way you make friends.”

The fact is brands and consumers do indeed have relationships with one another. We've actually compiled over 26,000 responses from people who use specific brands, and they very much embraced this notion, considering brands like Diet Coke and Apple a soul mate relationship, Comcast a forced or enslavement relationship, and Tide a family friend. It makes sense when you think about it.

We then looked at how this insight might inform how a brand might interact with people. Consumers obviously recognize brands have a product to sell, but if they also believe they are being treated with respect, that the time they spend with the brand is indeed quality time with a benefit to me, and that perhaps they share a worldview with one another, they might be far more willing to engage in that relationship, pay for the product and tell their friends about it.

Ultimately, it will be incumbent on brands to change the way they think. Not in some effort to try and manipulate their customers, but to honestly and transparently enter into a relationship of equals, proactively doing their part to provide value. While I’m not trying to literally be your friend, by treating you more like a friend--and by using the basic tenets one would employ to create and sustain a friendship—I can potentially turn you into an advocate. Because in the new world, it’s not about screaming at millions of ‘viewers’ to find the handful that stick, it’s about turning one advocate into hundreds, then thousands, all of whom are proactively out there singing your praises and buying your product.

Ultimately we changed our name because we are fundamentally changing the agency to reflect this belief. So yes, we were indeed WestWayne, an independent agency in Atlanta and Tampa, whose independence allowed us the flexibility to make the changes we needed to adopt this philosophy. Appreciate the opportunity for feedback and hope this leads to even more dialogue. God knows, we as communicators need to be having it.

ck said...

"Consumers obviously recognize brands have a product to sell, but if they also believe they are being treated with respect, that the time they spend with the brand is indeed quality time with a benefit to me, and that perhaps they share a worldview with one another, they might be far more willing to engage in that relationship, pay for the product and tell their friends about it."

But Karen, referring real-world friends (consumers) to good products of value is nothing new. It doesn't rest on "being friendly" it rests on respect, value and delivering on your value prop. See?

ck said...

"The fact is brands and consumers do indeed have relationships with one another. We've actually compiled over 26,000 responses from people who use specific brands, and they very much embraced this notion, considering brands like Diet Coke and Apple a soul mate relationship, Comcast a forced or enslavement relationship, and Tide a family friend. It makes sense when you think about it."

I’m an MBA and know the drill on data-driven studies. Did you poll 26,000 people? How? Through one-on-one convos? You didn’t telemarket, did you? (That’s not too friendly.) A web pop-up survey? What was the plus or minus percentage of error?

You see, I've received a release on this study and read about it, but sure would like to know how consumers were polled. I assume this Diet-Coke as soulmate reflects only U.S. data? (I'm holding out hope for the rest of the world).

ck said...

Karen, your PR agency sent me a note encouraging me to no longer “use the C word” ("consumers" that is) and explained that it was good news for YOUR company (they attached YOUR release).

But you use it in your response here, and, even more oddly, your CEO used it on the press release they attached.

Why am I being asked by your PR rep not to use an innocuous word---a word that defines but does not discriminate--when you and your CEO use it? I couldn’t understand and that’s what led me to share it with Toad in the first place.

See the disconnect? Happy to send you the email that so many of us "bloggers" received.

Toad said...

Karen: First off, thanks for coming on here and responding. That adds a lot of value to blog, to get real feedback like this.

But at the risk of piling on…. I’ve been to enough focus groups to know that if you ask someone to "give a personality" to Tide they may spit back "family friend" even though they really just think of it as a laundry detergent. I mean I myself would probably spit back a lot of that, if correctly prompted. But it doesn’t mean I really believe it or want Tide to come back and say “Hey buddy. Now that we’re pals….”

What I am taking away is that you’d like to encourage brands to treat people by the Golden Rule: do onto others and all that. But I don’t know that immediately translates into becoming a brand advocate. I think that’s very much based on how well you like the product and how “cool” you think being associated with that product makes you. In my article on Marketing Profs (www.mpdailyfix.com) I refer to certain “Prom King” brands, such as Starbucks and Apple that people want to associate themselves with. But there are probably no more than a dozen of these brands. Everyone else has to find a different way to sell consumers.

And selling isn’t such a bad word. It’s what we do. When you appropriate nomenclature from other areas (our social lives) I fear that all that does is get people’s guard up. They don’t want advertisers to be their “friends.” They just want them to be honest and respectful of their time.

toad's sixth reader said...

anyone expecting corporate america to start behaving rationally and in a human manner is high on crack. they sell mediocre stuff we need, we buy it.

there will always be exceptions. there always have been. but they're exceptional.

crankyshopper said...

I don't mind being a consumer. I don't need a brand to be my friend.

What I do want, and companies seem not to have figured out, is a way to correspond or talk to someone when I have a problem with a product. When I had to replace a washing machine, I called the Proctor & Gamble 800 number and asked if Tide Free came in a formulation for frontloaders (the HE type, for "high efficiency"). The nice lady on the phone said yes, the product was new but it was on the market, and if I couldn't find it in the store, I should just ask the store to stock it. So I bought the frontloader and Tide sent me some coupons.

I never had a chance to use the coupons because they expired before Tide Free HE was available in my region. Requests to store managers, calls to Wal-Mart hq in Arkansas, complaints to my grocery chain's regional manager, and more were ineffective. I was advised by several people just to use regular Tide, only to use "half as much." The washer manufacturer's paperwork, however, said not to use regular detergent. I ended up buying a house brand at Sears that was high efficiency and fragrance free.

No one in the Tide brand staff would talk to me except the nice ladies on the 800 phone line, and they told me to use regular Tide -- and they sent me more useless coupons. The bulletin boards Tide had up on the Internet had plenty of complaints because the product wasn't available, but Tide execs weren't talking.

If I have a complaint, I want to know why the problem occurred, whether the problem will be fixed and when. If my complaint is unusual (for instance, if I was the only person who had allergies), then I'd like to know that my problem isn't likely to be solved.

A lot of my anger as a consumer comes from being unable to ask for help or give advice to a company because no one with the power to make changes ever deals with customers directly. Social networking isn't going to solve this problem.