Back to blog

Intuitive Marketing - Thoughts from Pete Brown

Posted on June 5, 2017

When I started my first job in advertising, my boss told me she’d hired me because “You understand brands, and brands are about to become very important.”


Boy, was that an understatement.


This was late 1991, and the idea of brands as we understand them today was newly minted.


Sure, there’s nothing new about physical brand marques and logos: the term ‘brand’ goes back to when cattle were branded with an iron to display who owned them, and the first registered trade mark in Britain was the Bass Ale red triangle, the Bass representative having been first in the queue when the patent office opened its doors on New Year’s Day 1876.


What was new back in the nineties was the idea that brands had become more about their intangibles than what was in the box or packet. Bass registered their red triangle because so many inferior brewers were brewing bad beer and passing it off as Bass, because Bass beers had such a good reputation. The red triangle was a guarantee of product quality. It had a reputation. And that reputation had to be protected.


By the nineties, we were awash with brands that were all pretty good in terms of product quality. Any new product innovation could be quickly copied. But the emotional associations of a brand were less easy to rip off.


My first ad account was Daz washing powder. We made ads about how it got your whites whiter than white. Sister brand Ariel focused on its brilliant stain removal power. Take your pick of the functional claim that appealed to you best. And then rival Persil started making ads that said, ‘We all know any washing powder gets your clothes clean enough. But we understand why that’s important to you. When your kids go to school, you can be sure they’ll look so clean, no one will doubt you’re a good mum’. Persil went on to show the immense fun that kids have getting dirty, and even came up with the line ‘Dirt is Good’ to show a Persil mum letting her kids have fun getting dirty, because she knew she could send then to school spotless the next day, being a good mum twice over.


The executives who worked on Daz and Ariel knew their brands were just as good as Persil functionally. But it was always the Persil that got nicked from the office first whenever we got all the different brands in to display.


The emotional side had become more important that the functional aspects of brands. And what was amazing was how quickly people caught on to this. By the end of the decade, people were shaving Nike swooshes into their hair because they identified with Nike’s attitude even if they couldn’t afford the trainers. They were even subverting brand meanings to their own ends, using and combining different brands to create a postmodern collage of signifiers and meanings.


Now, we’re seeing this understanding and ease of manipulation of brands reach maturity, along with the brand-native generation.


By 1991 I’d figured brands out intellectually. But anyone born around then has been immersed in brand meanings, and has been manipulating them and pulling them into shaping their identities, their entire lives. The millennial generation understands brands more instinctively than I ever did, or could.


And that’s why here at the Beer and Cider Marketing Awards we sometimes see a curious anomaly among younger brewers and cider makers.


This is a generation that constantly creates their own personal brand identities. Selfies are carefully posed and endlessly retaken until they’re just right. Tweets are carefully crafted for a consistent and appealing tone of voice. Details of pets owned, places visited, meals eaten and drinks drunk are curated to show a life that appeals to targeted social media audiences. This is proficient brand management, carefully thought through and painstakingly executed.


When these people start breweries or cider brands, they instinctively know the importance of good design, and probably have a mate who’s proficient enough on a MacBook to create it for them. They know what makes a logo work because they’re as literate in the codes of design as only professionals were a generation ago. They understand the kinds of messages that appeal to their market, and consciously or subconsciously engage in perpetual market research whenever they’re interacting on social media with their customers or prospects.


The paradox is, when we talk to some of these guys, they say things like, ‘These awards aren’t for us, because we don’t really do marketing. We don’t believe in it.’


What we’ve seen from those who have entered tells a different story: you DO do marketing, guys. Often, you’re so good at it you don’t even notice you’re doing it. The work of young microbreweries has a lot to teach us about how gut feel marketing works, how successful it is, and how, even if you don’t like to accept it, it’s more important than ever.