The latest John Lewis advert is good old-fashioned advertising. ‘Old-fashioned’ in the sense that it’s a 60” advert with a 30” cut down; it’s got a heavyweight media plan, which in turn is heavy on ‘terrestrial’ TV channels and most importantly, like great adverts of old, has got people chattering. Is the old guy in need of sympathy or help? Is the little girl caring or interfering? And why, oh why is no one reporting sentient life on our nearby orbiting moon?
Yet the John Lewis advert is also wise counsel for marketeers. There’s this new paradigm which attracts the column inches: that ‘digital’ has / is revolutionising the marketing task, that somehow, today everything has changed; we all need a new skill set, new knowledge, to release our inner-coder. But it’s a paradigm with shaky foundations. This advert counsels doggedness, patience, getting a differentiating position, owning it and sticking with it. No, more than that: not just sticking with it, but also sticking it squarely, firmly, robustly into the mind of your target consumer. And what better way than a blockbuster TV ad on ITV and Channel Four? (Note: I’m no Luddite; they’re doing digital stuff too, and clever with it – but it’s being treated for what it is, another set of interesting and interactive channels to communicate the central positioning and creative idea). It’s cut through so quickly that another retailer has already spoofed it.
There’s another message though, one less obvious but just as stark. The real triumph of the John Lewis work, whether you like it as a marketing output or not frankly, is the fact that yet again, there is consistency. Consistency of direction. Consistency of positioning. Consistency of purpose. It is all too easy to jump on the bandwagon when brands are on the up and there’s the risk of beatifying aspects of a brand that are actually suspect under the microscope… but not here. John Lewis is, in a way, reaping a reward of its colleague ownership: it takes a long-term view and treats its brand with studied respect. It recognises the pressures in the changing competitive context but responds in a way that is not only true to its brand, but that builds it too. The latest advert is, along with every touch point in the John Lewis experience, a lesson in brand stewardship, not brand management. It’s starkly evident that the brand is too precious to be meddled with. New ‘brand managers’* in the role to bolster their CV, won’t get to widdle on the crown jewels. The real revolution in marketing is coming from those who dare whisper that there isn’t a new paradigm. It’s coming from those who dare whisper that finding, landing and stewarding a clear positioning through changes of personnel and ownership with steely resolve and determination – that’s the revolution.
*and by ‘Brand Manager’ here, I mean anyone who can meddle with the brand from the CEO down!
David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps find the direct route to success for brands and businesses. And no widdling allowed. firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 (0) 1283 295100.
© The Crow Flies, 2015