The new brand is a guest, not a host. It doesn’t force itself on the consumer. (This is what Joe Plummer means by "engagement.") It doesn’t pretend to control the debate. (This is what the Chris Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Rick Levine, and the Cluetrain Manifesto meant by "conversation.") It didn’t pretend to know better. (This is what Prahalad and Ramaswamy meant by "cocreation.") The old days of asymmetry, with brands on high, and consumers below, are gone. Aren’t they?
In the last week I have seen three instance of brands behaving badly.
Mozilla’s Firefox, for instance. When I try to put a URL shortcut on my desktop, Firebox strips out the icon that came with the original, and insists on adding it’s own (as pictured). Yeah, I know. It looks like hell.
Now, this is the sort of thing I’d expect Microsoft to do. It’s kind of greedy, imperial, and, well, Microsoft. But I thought Firefox had taken a page from the "don’t be evil" game plan developed by Google. Why not let the original URL icons remain in place?
If Firefox can’t do it as a gesture, they could at least do it as a brand utility. When the original icons remain in place, it is actually easier for me to organize and navigate my desktop. And that is, after all, what a desktop is for. It is, to change the metaphor for a moment, a flight deck that tells me at a glance the projects I am working on and how to get at them. The original icons add value. The Firefox icon destroys this value. A brand destroying value? Good one.
I feel the same way about product placement. I do realize that there is now an entire industry here, encouraged in part by Steve Heyer’s famous call for new intersection between Madison and Vine. And, yes, I am now accustomed to seeing products jammed into movies and television. But it interferes with the suspension of my disbelief. Especially when that label is always face out. These brands are interlopers. They have forced themselves into my life. I don’t thank them for it. If I want a bully brand wandering into my entertainment time…well, I don’t. Gee, more brands destroying value. Perfect.
I know this will be an unpopular position, but I feel the same way about the Aqua Teen Hunger Force guerrilla marketing tactics that recently, um, unleashed in the streets of Boston. I will not comment on the scare the tactics provoked, except to say that it is perhaps not entirely surprising that a nation in a heightened state of security would leap to conclusions. No, I’d be unhappy with the Aqua Teen Hunger Force event even if it hadn’t provoked a terror alert.
Here’s the thing. One Andre Obey is charming, interesting, poetic, provocative, just the thing to make urban life more engaging. Two Andre-type campaigns is less interesting. And a great flood of Andre-type campaigns is a right pain in the ass. The world fills up. Poor old Naomi Klein is wrong to suppose that public space is being devoured by advertising. But enough Andres and her argument would begin to make sense. (And we will ignore for the moment the irony that the people who perpetrate these campaigns are mostly Klein enthusiasts.) Slapping things up around town, especially when it is driven by a marketing campaign and not artistic impulse, is annoying. No, actually, it’s intrusive, and bad mannered. No, it’s brand placement every bit as obnoxious as product placement.
All three of these seem like cheats. Firefox, product placement and guerrilla marketing, all seem like an effort to find a way around the rules of the game. Yes, I know that TIVO and an agile consumer make it harder and harder to reach the consumer. (Haven’t the new marketing tools also made it easier to reach them?) What we ought to have done is master the rules of the old marketing, not to go looking for a cheat, especially when this cheat was going to rehabilitate the brand as a vulgar, shouting, unwelcome guest.