Global brands are becoming globally bland, losing the specificity needed for great advertising

In the idiotic world of laddering-up every piece of chewing gum, every vacuum cleaner bag and every can of sugar water is purported to 'make life better and the world a better place' – writes Bob Hoffman

Globularity results not in the best possible advertising, but the least objectionable advertising, argues Bob Hoffman

If you wonder why so many big brands are obsessed with media, the answer is simple. It’s the only thing they have left to argue about. Their determination to demonstrate ‘globularity’ has had an unintended consequence – the trivialisation of strategy and creativity.

Globularity leads marketers to bland, non-specific strategies and bland, non-specific advertising. It’s really quite simple. The grander the ‘brand purpose’, the less specific the strategy. The less specific the strategy, the blander the advertising.

Apple’s specific message of 1,000 songs in your pocket struck a chord with iPod advertising

My favourite example of the power of specificity was Apple’s introduction of the iPod. They didn’t give it the vanilla, global ‘World Class MP3 Player’ treatment. They said: 1,000 Songs in your Pocket’. They were specific. They talked about the virtues of the product, not woolly melodramatic horse shit.

My direction to the creative teams who worked for me was always the same – be specific. Today the objective is to ignore the specific and ladder up the benefit. In the idiotic world of laddering-up every piece of chewing gum, every vacuum cleaner bag and every can of sugar water is purported to ‘make life better and the world a better place’.

Specificity has died because it’s too sales-y. It doesn’t have sufficient virtue or globularity. It seems that every big brand is instituting its own flavour of the same strategy:

“We’re inclusive and committed. Our products are for every type of person in the whole darn global world and our awesome universal values prove it,” they say.

Why has the ad industry given up on specificity in favour of globularity? First, it flatters the self-absorbed client. She loves to hear wearisome bullshit about how her yogurt is changing the world.

Second, it’s so much easier. By insisting on the default strategy of universality – including every type of person and every cultural stereotype – they find themselves creating not the best possible advertising but the least objectionable advertising. And selling the least objectionable advertising to their corporate overseers is a much easier task.

Another consequence of this fuzzy thinking is that it leads marketers to focus on silly fantasies like ‘millennialism’ – huge swaths of people who are presumed to have a uniform global identity. Then, instead of doing the hard work of differentiating the product, they just hold up a mirror and try to tell us who we are and how they are just like us.

This type of spineless, watery exercise in tedious whacking-off usually leaves very little of a strategic or creative nature to argue over. Just show every kind of person engaged in every kind of virtuous activity. And the result is that the conversation quickly turns to something everyone can have a fine old time arguing about – media choices.

It’s no wonder global brands are obsessed with media. It’s the only thing left to them. When it comes to strategy or creative, the only issue is which key to sing We are the World in.

Bob Hoffman has been the CEO of two independent agencies and is the author of the Ad Contrarian blog


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