How hating advertising helped me build brands that matter

My love for brands started through a serious disdain for advertising. 

Back in 2004, I hated advertising. I was surrounded by creative people working at McCann Eriksson, JWT and other big names and they were all going about this creative idea that would win a Lion. They worshipped Lions and the all-mighty TV.

I felt something wrong in here, like advertising was too disconnected from business, shifting at every campaign with a new message, new tone of voice, new. They were all in love with the new. While I was in love with things that grew on a steady path and had the power to change minds.

Yet, ever since awareness about my career started to form, I was attracted to marketing. And the question was, how could I eschew marketing, how could I build something without advertising?

I found my answer in a book. The End of Marketing as You Know It by Sergio Zyman - former marketing head at Coca Cola. And there was my answer. I could build brands.

Brands were somehow more serious, more about business, more about long-term, more about building a relationship with customers beyond the 30’’ TV ad. In my mind, building brands was magical, was yielding a power to do something that would matter for years. So I joined BrandTailors, one of the only two branding agencies on the Romanian market. 

And I did build brands, mostly local ones because multinationals only did adaptations on this small local market, not building things from the ground up. I’ve worked with FMCG brands, professional services brands, technology brands, services brands.

But then I noticed something wrong happening. I noticed that clients were more than happy to pay us to build a brand, from strategy, to naming, to brand platform and packaging and then, after 1-2 years, they would revert back to their traditional advertising agency. Because, why the hell not? We built the brand, but they were the experts of communicating it. And at that point, everything we built, every sleepless night, would fly right out of the window because some copywriter fell in love with a great ad idea. But it wasn’t so great for our brand. Too bad.

So I figured I switched boats, and go to the client side. Because ultimately, it’s what the client wants that matters, right? And being with a client I could take care of my brands. I joined UPC Romania, part of Liberty Global.

And there I did find my answer why advertising was shallow and brands were not. It’s because brands, when they do not stem from a founder’s vision (good brands are a by-product of a good business) but rather, have to be built in a company because the market just won’t let you ignore the brand, well..brands are some of the hardest things to create. 

Good brands are a by-product of a good business.
— Howard Schultz, Starbucks

And not because you have to come up with a vision. There are so many ways the world needs improving that finding a brand’s purpose in that world is quite easy. It was easy to decide at UPC that this technology brand was meant to offer awesome, enlightening digital experiences when the other two competitors on the market were in a price war, focussing on giving the people just what they wanted (e.g football) and servicing them in a crappy way. It was easy to decide we were not going to be an utility anymore. But rather an experience brand.

But the hard part came when this new UPC brand vision needed to be embraced by all employees, when departments and processes needed to be changed, when habits were upturned - all because some marketing employee said this was the way out to higher margins and higher market share. But this is another story. Suffice to say, brands are hard, advertising not quite so.

And then, ffwd to 2013, something changed brands and advertising were not so different anymore, they morphed into a single being (of course, not all companies made this leap). The culprit? Technology. Specifically big data, mobile, the cloud, apps and smartphones. How this happened is yet another story.

And I finally feel at peace that, as Nick Law put it, we now can change lives, not just minds, so why the hell don’t we? (this last bit was mine). Because when brands, advertising and technology converge in a meaningful way, the world stands to improve, even if a little bit. 

Someone, somewhere, interacting with our service or drinking our soda, will have a better day today - and this matters.