“Branded Utility may be a shiny new phrase, but what it describes is as old as marketing. And I don’t mean that dismissively: it’s always been a good idea.
About 70 years ago, I was an Ovaltiney and wore shiny enamel badges to prove it. The backs of cereal boxes helped me learn about geography and wild animals. For as long as I can remember, good bookshops have inserted branded bookmarks into the books they sell. Shell’s guides to the countryside were beautifully produced and heavily subsidised. The Aga cookbook has sold far more units than the Aga itself.The idea of achieving greater involvement with consumers by providing them with interesting and helpful branded things was more widespread in the 30s to the 50s than it is now. But all such activity was lumped into a below-the-line, below-the-salt category called “sales promotion” – and, therefore, beneath contempt for celebrity marketing directors and pot-hunting creatives.
Ever since the arrival of television, brands, their owners and advisors have been obsessed with what brands say at the expense of what brands do. When we judge a politician, we listen carefully to what he has to say and how he says it. But we also note his behaviour, his actions, his eyes, his movements. Body language, we call it: and it’s very rich and full of significance. It tells us a lot.
Brands have body language,too- but few consciously and consistently set out to develop it. Branded Utility, for all the opacity of the name, may herald a welcome return to a mutually beneficial form of marketing.
But please don’t look upon it as “giving something back”. The exchange of money for a good brand should always be a fair swap. Nobody’s lost. Branded Utility just means investing a little more money and imagination in the hope of earning a little more loyalty. That’s a fair swap, too.
But until there’s a Branded Utility Festival staged in the South of France with the winners paraded along La Croisette in open-topped Bugattis, don’t expect progress to be rapid. And somebody will have to work out a way to charge for it.”