Above: (l-r) Thompson MD, Nick Ramshaw and Digital Director, Chris Kemm
On branding and business
Does the perfect brand exist?
No, not in my opinion. As soon as a brand establishes itself, times and tastes change and everything needs to move on. I talk about ‘building’ brands. It’s a long-term job. Brands need to offer new things to their fans, so being in a state of constant change is a very good thing. Perfection is not a concept that exists in branding.
Is it possible to work for brands you don’t believe in?
It’s very hard. If it is a question of ethics, e.g. cigarette brands, then you need to ask yourself if you want to do it. This will come down to personal and agency values. If it is a brand that is simply not good enough to succeed, then the decision is easier. Even though we work in a business and our people have mortgages and rent to pay, our approach is always to do the right thing. Think about it as a group and let everyone have a say, then make a collective decision everyone is comfortable with.
What differentiates the interesting briefs from the mundane?
I think all briefs are interesting. All contain a communications challenge, and all need thought and creativity. One of the best solutions I remember was for porta-cabins, which is about as mundane as you can get. For me it is up to the design team to make the most of the brief, rather than complain if the subject isn’t very exciting.
How important is face-to-face?
Very. Our work is all about relationships. The best relationships are built on trust, which can only be achieved when you know someone and are able to understand them. That doesn’t mean you need to meet clients for every decision. Meet when it makes sense. Make it your business to know their business, and get to know them as people, so you understand how they are and behave.
Are language and image equally important in branding? Is a successful brand one which is instantly recognisable though its colour scheme or logo alone?
The best brands are instantly recognisable, even if you cover up the name. Brands communicate with behaviours and attitude as much as their visual identity. Think of Richard Branson and you recognize Virgin instantly, even before seeing their distinctive identity. Their tone of voice can is extremely powerful. Brands like Innocent use this to great effect, adding a deeper layer to the way they connect with customers.
How do you respond to claims that branding and advertising are creating false ideals that can’t be realised? Does the industry fuel the increasing gap between what we see on screens and what we see in the mirror?
Successful brands need to be built on the principles that are within them; things they truly believe in. If they pretend to be something they are not, people will suss them out. They always do. You cannot hide bad stuff anymore, the internet has seen to that. As soon as brands start to peddle things that people know are wrong, the pressure to change comes very quickly. We’ve seen this with size zero models, payday loans, credit card charges and now, the secondary ticket market. Viagogo beware!
Should everything we see that is a product of the industry be taken with a pinch of salt?
I think you need to be discerning and look for evidence that it is what it says it is. This and a knowledge that brands need to build trust. Take McDonalds for example, they are trying very hard to offer healthier food and are starting to succeed. Take Nike, they were found out to be using sweatshops to manufacture trainers, took a big hit, but have come back by reassuring customers of their working practices. Are they fully trusted now? You need to ask the customers.