system two

system two
start-up thinking in the enterprise

Monday, 14 June 2010

Active brand immunity

I was sitting having some nice Sushi in a St Petersburg restaurant on Wednesday – and a good friend and business colleague mentioned a time with his young daughter on the Berlin underground.

He said she had sat down, looked at the ads facing her in the carriage and pointed out to her father “they’re only smiling at us to make us buy things”.

His daughter has acquired what we might call “active brand immunity”. Until the early 1960s, brand immunity simply didn’t exist. 3 TV ads a week gave the typical US brand 90% market penetration. Resistance was futile. Without an alternative narrative – the consumer bought, pretty much, what they were told.

Slowly over the course of the next 20 years, some consumers developed a degree of what we might call “passive brand immunity”, usually off the back of a high profile failure - Nestles’ child baby milk scandal, Exxon’s Spill, The “tooth in a coke can” meme, literature (Silent Spring) etc. They learned to shop selectively. Weeding out the most obviously exploitative, dumb brands but only on an ad hoc basis.

Now it seems, it might be possible that children as young as 8 can acquire ABI – “active brand immunity”. An innate, unconscious rejection of brand messaging as a default - driven by widely available counter information on digital networks about brands, rising social and environmental concerns surrounding their activity and a more general cynicism about the motives of the corporate world (bought on by a seemingly unending supply of disasters and scandals). Bottom line - kids are so informed of the real nature and true activity of brands, that taken as a whole, their potency is reduced.

My strong sense at the coal face of marketing is the idea of brand - certainly the way we understood the concept at the end of the 20th century at any rate - appears to be fading. The concept of commodity clubs – those institutions who are  adding something of real value to a customers world is beginning to take root. If  brands are morphing into institutions which more accurately reflect the desires and demands of their consumer, then that certainly on balance, can only be a good thing.