January 03, 2010

Brandwidth 2009: The Brand Year In Review

If talk has always been cheap, then in 2009 it became virtually worthless as the yawning gap between the words and deeds of many high-profile brands was exposed for everyone to see.

This was the year when more and more brands joined the conversation online, but much of what they had to say was drowned out in the buzz of rumour, gossip and innuendo. Whilst the spectacular crash of the Tiger brand phenomenon was naturally the talk of the place, there was much to keep tongues wagging closer to home as many celebrated Irish brands slid into disrepute and disarray.

When money talks, we’re all inclined to sit up and listen and the word coming from our banks and other financial institutions suggested that many of the promises and assurances we were offered weren’t worth the paper they were written on. With a barefaced cheek that should no longer surprise us, many of those same financial brands continued to boast of their integrity and commitment to customers even whilst further revelations of wrongdoing were being brought to light.

Our fascination in this country with any song and dance act, no matter how grotesque, was best mirrored in the way we cheered on the Jedward sideshow. Whilst it was only entertainment after all, there was still something shocking about our willingness to back performers whose selling point was their remarkable ability to offer enthusiasm and hard necks in lieu of talent.

Meanwhile, a failure to walk the walk on a green field in France triggered an outrage that might have been better directed at those whose sleight of hand in the boardroom robbed us of more than a jolly to South Africa. Whilst Ireland’s footballers attacked a dismal French team with admirable courage and abandon, they proved unable to do the one thing that would have put paid to any talk of moral victories (not to mention wheedling requests to extend the finals competition to a clearly unworkable thirty-three teams): put the ball in the back of the net for a second time. For all of their bold fighting talk, this Irish soccer team were unable to back it up when it mattered.

In sharp contrast, two Irish rugby teams shrugged off the label of lovable nearly-men by matching word with deed and capturing the Grand Slam and European Cup. Led by the incomparable Brian O’Driscoll, both Ireland and Leinster set an example of what can be achieved when promises are made and kept. Meanwhile, Munster whose only real blemish in 2009 was to have been beaten on the day by a clearly-inspired Leinster team, reminded us late on of what their extraordinary brand is about when they travelled to Perpignan with the jeers of the mob ringing in their ears and dug out a courageous and inspiring victory against all the odds. What is it they say down there? ‘To the faithful and the brave, nothing is impossible’. There might be something there for all brands to consider.

2009 saw the demise of Waterford Crystal (at least as an Irish-based brand), Budget Travel, a range of car-dealers (including the legendary EP Mooney) and the fall of a real darling of our Celtic Tiger, O’Brien’s Sandwich Bars. Further afield, neglect and mismanagement led to the announcement that the legendary Saab brand was failing fast and was to be put out of its misery. The talk of a mercy-killing from its owners, General Motors, was unable to mask the ineptitude that led to the wasting away of a brand rich in story and inspiration.

Not too surprisingly, talk was at the heart of the continuing success of two of the year’s highest-performing brands. Twitter appeared to get everyone talking in 2009 (or perhaps only those talking loudest or most often), whilst Apple remained a must-have brand based on its ability to enable customers to communicate easily and elegantly through its boy-wonder iPhone. No other brands really got close.

In the end, it was a near-legendary Irish brand that best demonstrated that whilst talk may be cheap, it doesn’t always have to be worthless. Mr. Tayto – The Man Inside The Jacket showed many bigger brands how best to capitalise on a powerful story. Described as “the incredible story of one man’s journey from the tilling fields of Ireland to become the nation’s top potato’, the book did go on to top the non-fiction bestseller’s list at home, displacing worthy tomes by leading commentators on the economic bust. Displaying a savvy understanding of what’s required to get people talking about your brand, this particular hot potato has proven to be flavour of the year for 2009.

So what can we expect this new year on the branding-front? Perhaps the sobering lessons of the last year will prompt more of a matching of word with deed and 2010 will see our leading brands walk the walk as boldly as they talk the talk.

No comments: