Branding is none of your business

Sonyericson I was mightily amused and provoked by Mark Ritson’s outburst (sorry column) in Marketing magazine this week. BBH parted ways with Sony Erickson recently after 5 years and it turns out that the reason for the split was that Sony had briefed Wolff Ollins to work on a rebranding exercise. Without telling the ad agency. When after 3 months they found out they were rather upset. Mark Ritson uses this a pretext to say – of course you’re upset – deal with it – but stick to advertising. Agencies no longer have the competence to do proper brand development for clients.  His argument is that branding is now so complex and advertising such a relatively modest part of how brands manifest themselves ("business operations, finances, employees and internal culture") that ad agencies really do have to get back in the box and shut up. It seems a trifle harsh to pick on the Sony Erickson brand. Surely the predominant reason this brand has any currency at all is through  advertising. The design isn’t much to write home about these days. Their customer service is a joke. NPD seems to have lost its way. And when the company hits the headlines in the past it shows the content side of the Sony business using the hardware side in a series of shady initiatives to ensure that we can’t steal or copy Sony artists. To the detriment of the hardware. Maybe Sony is struggling with the need to face up to being more of a service brand and an ad agency can’t help them turn into one. In which case Ritson is right. But agencies are still perfectly capable of championing the intangibles of added value when marketers are deflected by short term pressures. Down maybe but not yet out. I’m not convinced that design agencies can be of that much more assistance with service brands.  But just putting brand in front of your name or title doesn’t turn you into an expert. The ad agencies are finding this out to their cost. But I’m not convinced that other suppliers are any better qualified. Good rant though!

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