One dash of ‘The Best of Everything’, rinse and repeat.

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Have you ever wondered whether your life was already planned out for you before you were even born? Maybe each event in your life is based on a pattern learnt in your childhood? Without delving too deeply in to philosophy or behavioural psychology, I recently read a book which got me wondering if there is a simple framework for human behaviour which is simply tweaked and repeated constantly, and how this could be applied to creative marketing.

An author friend recently recommended a book known as ‘the original Sex and the City’- ‘The Best of Everything’ by Rona Jaffe. I was asked to read it and think about whether women still thought, behaved and acted in the same way as those in the book (written in 1958).  I realised within the first chapter that this book, about the ‘lives and loves of Madison Avenue’, was the basis for pretty much all of my favourite TV shows, not least HBO’s Girls and ABC’s Mad Men.  The set-up is brilliantly simple, and has been tweaked and repeated through the history of (mostly American) television

One of the first things I learnt in intellectual property is that you can’t copyright an idea, only the expression of that idea, the ‘fixed’ work. Over the decades, producers have been tweaking and bettering the outputs based on this original idea, four friends living together, experiencing the trials and tribulations of city life.

How does this apply to brands?

The fact that most of us don’t even realise that we are essentially watching the same programme but with a different cast and wardrobe bodes well for brands and marketers. Developing a premise, or theme, that runs through advertising creates a buzz and anticipation within an audience, lifting a weight off marketers’ shoulders. John Lewis and Waitrose are great examples of this- proof that a tried and tested marketing campaign can still be exciting. Everyone waits excitedly for the storyboard behind the John Lewis Christmas advert- rapidly evolving to be more like a film release than a television advert.

One of our teams has stuck posters around the office reminding us that just because we used an idea once, doesn’t mean it is burnt out. It prompted me to try re-visiting old ideas and putting a different spins on them, creating a central theme. When we think about leading marketers, they all have a simple idea at their core. Using an idea once is a campaign, allowing it to direct you and help you evolve is a brand identity.

The writing’s on the wall

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Remember when Facebook was first released in the UK? I was in my first year of university and obsessed with receiving friend requests. On the whole, back then things were a lot simpler- no timelines, tickers, apps or cover images just a world of opportunity (read ‘stalking’). Things were different in those heady days, for one, Facebook was exclusive to universities; we tend to forget that it was very much a closed circle of friends- a place where your mum definitely wouldn’t find you (unless you’d been badly informed about privacy settings) and you wouldn’t receive friend requests from soon to be born relatives.  Despite the limited functionality, Facebook was a fun place to record your university experience through features like ‘wall to wall’ and a huge wealth of drunken photographs. Brands on Facebook were pretty much unheard of, except through groups and adapted personal profile pages and shockingly we weren’t all that interested in complaining in public.

Over the past 4-5 years the tide has turned; Facebook enjoys a dominant market position, standing shoulder to shoulder with Twitter and YouTube in the social space. Constant innovation has led to a plethora of releases, a massive face lift and the introduction of seamless sharing for ‘real-time serendipity’.  Now open to all (over 13), Facebook is a marketing juggernaut in its own right, with brands dedicating heavy resource to managing communities and delivering creativity in a social environment. Innovate or die, I completely agree, and much respect to Zuckerberg and co for delivering changes which keep Facebook at the top of its game, allowing Facebook to evolve from an algorithm on a window pane to a billion dollar empire, swallowing companies like Spotify & Instagr.am in its wake. But what does it all mean for little old me? Are we happier now than we were then?

I worked for nearly two years as a community manager for a large brand. Part of my job was moderating comments by the minute, hour, day and week on Facebook. Having worked on several similar pages, the evidence was staring me in the face: Facebook brings out the worst in people.  In January this year, a research piece shouted ‘Bitter about your life? Blame Facebook’– those who spent more time on the site per week were more likely to believe that their friends led a better life than them. Rationally we know it isn’t true; people post a version of themselves on Facebook (which may not necessarily portray the reality of them watching 24 in their pants every night) but the longer we spend on the site, the more we begin to believe the edited ‘PR’ versions of people’s lives which breed dissatisfaction. This is great news for brands, naturally they are able to control how users see them, and whilst also being open to a two way conversation they can sell the dream of a better life to people who believe they are worse off.

In reality, there are few brands that are immune to the constant barrage of complaints and contradictions posted by consumers on their profile pages. The brewing dissatisfaction on Facebook is likely to have a knock on effect on people’s social media behaviour- encouraging them to explore other social networks like Instagr.am, Pinterest and Twitter- complementing their Facebook presence with other mediums where they don’t constantly feel like they are competing with friends and acquaintances to have the funniest status or the most exciting check-in. These platforms will naturally have their own problems, but people are no longer scared to try them, which makes it all the more important for brands to have a multi-platform presence. Until Google+ shows its true colours, Facebook will remain the top player in the market- the one place you know you’ll find someone- an international directory of friends, but brands should always be aware of negative sentiment bubbling over on their pages and feed insights back in to their business to increase customer satisfaction. 

The writing’s on the wall for brands- they need to help their Facebook fans get happy.