Brand identity 2000: Redefining the world

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When i was invited to take part in Advertising Age's Future of Brands Summit in November, I couldn't refuse. I love ideas as massive as this.

I'm totally positive about the next century. Without doubt, economic development will be the big story for the next 100 years. Billions of lives right around the world are going to improve out of sight. A brazenly optimistic view? Sure. I make no apologies for unerring optimism.

This optimistic big picture guides my thinking.

The critical issue of the next 100 years of advertising and brands isn't the Internet, or market fragmentation or "how the latest line extensions squeeze 10% more out of the Oklahoma toothpaste market." The critical issue is what role will brands play in developing the world and helping individuals lead more enriching lives?


If you want to talk about potential, sure, mention the Internet. But think back a step. More than half the world's population hasn't even made a phone call yet!

I'm totally positive about the potential for brands, brand management and the advertising industry to play a central role in building a better world. It won't just happen though. Traditional brands and advertising companies could be left behind if we keep playing by the same old rules. We will have to broaden our idea about what we do, how we present our messages to consumers and what the role of a brand is in consumers' lives.

Here are some thoughts about the world, brands and consumers that form more of a snapshot of what I'm thinking.

* First, development, brands and advertising are all about choices.

The United Nations defines development as a process of enlarging people's choices. That's huge news for our industry. Advertising and brands are the nervous system of the market, the synapses that connect buyers and sellers, the visible hand that connects supply and demand. They are the most effective mechanisms ever devised to offer huge numbers of people massive numbers of choices.

* The obstacles to development are our biggest challenges.


Every industry needs new markets and new consumers. The development of the world is in the interests of every marketer. Brands and their caretakers should be looking at the obstacles to development and asking, "How can I help overcome this?"

For every person on the Internet there are five in the developing world who cannot read. Among elementary school-age children, 130 million are growing up without access to basic education. This is a critical issue for high-tech brands. If you can't read, you can't operate a PC.

Brands will take more responsibility for sustainability.

Social responsibility and environmental sustainability are big ideas that must be reconciled with development. There is a growing belief among the consumers of developed economies that they have a personal responsibility to make the world a better place. Brands are the natural vehicle for expressing this desire.

Cause-related marketing is one expression of this emotion. Increasingly, consumers will look for and choose brands that express their belief that their actions should make a difference to the world.

In addition, brands in the global economy of digital capitalism will have to be flexible enough to accommodate ever-more splintered stakeholder groups, the ever-more fragmented and distracted audiences of the "attention economy" and the profusion of media of the "age of also."

A brand used to be about a single message for a single consumer. A future brand will have multiple constituencies. Its message must be relevant to all-the manufacturer, the distributor, consumers, corporate alliances, partnerships and joint ventures, employees, investors and analysts.

* Brands must offer context in the attention economy. We live in the attention economy. It will only get worse-more mediums, more channels, more information-and less time. Getting attention isn't a question of more content. It's an issue of context. Future brands must offer a context with which to view the complex world.


In the "age of also," no new medium replaces an old one. TV didn't replace radio. The Internet won't replace TV. The delivery mechanisms for brand messages will continue to multiply and fragment audiences. Everywhere you look there will be advertising. Brands must be flexible enough to exist in many media.

* The hottest "e" factor in business will be engagement.

The attention economy makes creating and maintaining lasting engagement with consumers more critical than ever before. If e-commerce is going to be the hottest thing in business, then the "e" must stand for the paths to engagement: enjoyment, entertainment, empathy, extension, emotion.

* Brands must be driven by simple ideas bigger than advertising.

The great brands will be driven by ideas bigger than advertising. Big ideas-simple enough to translate to multiple media and retain relevance to every stakeholder group-that get bigger by their own momentum, that create talkability and spark imitation.

* Advertising must lose its obsession with ads.

The ad industry must turn itself on its head-focus on idea generation, not idea delivery. Currently, advertisers exclusively look for solutions to clients' problems through making ads. This is a one-dimensional, delivery-centered model.

Great ideas might be delivered by ads, or by PR, or by movies or by preaching revolution in the streets. Advertising agencies must reclaim the strategic high ground that drives all these activities.

In an increasingly uncertain information-laden world, brands will become more important as trustmarks-sources of identity for people, stories people choose to believe in and that help make sense of a chaotic world.

Consumers in the 21st century more than ever will have to create their own identities. Consumer attitudes and behavior used to be strictly dictated by social institutions and cultural norms. Those certainties are dissolving. The old certainties like religion, nationalism, gender roles and life stages have blurred. Consumers today download cues for their sense of self from a multitude of global and local sources-peers, family, teachers, occupation, the media, art, brands. More than ever before people select, cut and paste to create their identities.

Brands must be more than just a set of attributes with a visual identity. Successful future brands will regard themselves as stories people believe in. The heroes of these stories will be anything- products, services, personalities, even attitudes.


Once, brands existed to provide context for choice on a crowded supermarket shelf. In the future, brands will exist increasingly to offer choices about personal identity in a complex, ambiguous, uncertain world.

Brands will become more important as a source of our personal belief systems. They are already plugging into people's need to believe. Global tribes are emerging that share a belief system created and evangelized by a brand. Brands are transforming themselves from fashion statements into articles of faith. Future brands will be more conscious of telling stories that play more directly to our emotions and imaginations.

That's more of a photo album than a snapshot, but it's a good overview of what I'm thinking as we approach the new century.

In almost every global industry, we are in for 100 years of rapid change and uncertainty. Advertising is no exception.

But one thing is certain. For the optimistic, the courageous and the imaginative in our industry, the next 100 years have boundless possibility.

Mr. Roberts is CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, London.

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