The power of long-term thinking

Successful brands need more than just an end line to capture audiences’ attention today. Here, Stephen Hancock, ECD at TBWA\Media Arts Lab in London, explains how establishing a platform for a brand allows for more creative freedom

What constitutes a campaign? Is it defined by the length of time it runs, the number of assets, the comms plan? Or simply that it’s referred to by the client and the agency as a campaign?

And how should we define the metrics of what the success of a campaign looks like? Short-term sales increases, a rise in brand affinity, the impossible-to-measure and easy-to-fluff ‘cultural impact’, or the accelerated numbers of impressions (always a dubious one)?

As the traditional components for what makes up a campaign have been broken down, the conventional formula (a 30-second film, etc) has shifted to anything that works. The right work, aimed at the right people, at the right time, in the right place. More sniper than scattergun.

There’s an immediacy to campaigns, but they can also feel sporadic, random and ephemeral. They normally take flight for a few weeks and then disappear – landing a tactical point, before the brand moves on. All that great strategic thinking, creative investment and clever media comes and goes. Blink and you often miss it.

This is where building a longer term brand platform works. Campaigns come and go, platforms stay the distance.

Top and above: From the Behind the Mac series for Apple
From the Shot on iPhone series by Apple

A platform allows for a richer strategic play, and the opportunity to land a consistent message at different times and to disparate audiences. It gives room to test and learn and refine and improve, and ultimately brings freedom to creative work.

The approach is similar to a magazine editorial stance: Vogue has a DNA that informs all aspects of its issues, regardless of which country or month they are published.

Once the premise it set, there’s huge freedom to be gained by work laddering up to one umbrella idea

It’s the same with a brand platform idea: an ongoing, singular idea that allows multiple stories that can be shaped for any channel and still feel part of a bigger whole. Once the premise is set, there’s huge freedom to be gained by work laddering up to one umbrella idea.

Here’s an example from Apple. Shot on iPhone is a platform idea that was established around five years ago. It initially had one clear purpose: showcase the iPhone camera through user-generated content and use media to turn the world into a gallery. The project was art directionally consistent, all housed in a simple white frame with a pragmatically simple end line: Shot on iPhone.

Once this familiarity with the platform grew and become established, it allowed for a multitude of articulations of what could be Shot on iPhone. From celebrating Eid, highlighting Earth Day, Chinese New Year, a five hour-one take journey through the Hermitage in St Petersburg, an Instagram handle that creates a community, through to commissioning Damien Chazelle to direct a series of Vertical Cinema films. It’s a completely flexible and simple construct that allows the creative to play out in a multitude of ways, without it ever feeling formulaic or static.

There are other platforms that Apple has established that continue to allow creative stretch. Behind the Mac is a simple premise that shows real people working behind their Macs. Super simple, effortless and arguably something only Apple can credibly do. The simple constants are conceptual and art directional: unedited found photographs, in monotone. A construct that can be tailored to be country specific, genre specific and hyper contextual.

Nike’s Just Do It is both a brand line and an incidental platform – the beauty is that it can flex at will. Nike sees the line not as simply a tagline, but more as part of the brand identity and philosophy. Since its inception in 1987, it’s a long-term platform of sorts that allows for a broader, less product focused advertising.

From the confidence and conviction of 2018’s Colin Kaepernick’s single tweet and accompanying film, through to a 1995 Braille version of Just Do It – the essence and intent remain the same.

It’s a completely flexible and simple construct that allows the creative to play out in a multitude of ways, without it ever feeling formulaic or static

Snickers’ You’re Not You When You’re Hungry is another global platform idea, building a longer-term recognition and executing local versions. The core premise is of using fame and familiarity without talking specifically about the chocolate. This is more than a clever piece of copywriting, but a smart strategy that works equally well across diverse international markets – a global thought that can play on locally relevant celebrities and humour.

Another great example of an ever-evolving platform is Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty (a more meaningful iteration of the word ‘campaign’), which contains a core thought that is a manifestation of the brand values through the product. Almost two decades after it first launched, it still feels fresh and relevant, as it responds to a changing worldview.

In a well-established brand platform there’s room for both one-off campaigns that serve a certain purpose, and longer-term thinking that aims to build familiarity and brand expression. Once the ingredients have been formed – the core strategic thought, the tone of voice, the visual sensibility – it’s possible to cook many variations of a theme.

A platform isn’t a copy line, or a mnemonic. It’s the essence of a bigger brand thought – a commitment to play the long game. Through that restraint comes more creative expression.

Stephen Hancock is ECD at TBWA\Media Arts Lab London, where he works exclusively on Apple.; He will be speaking at the Festival of Marketing on 18-21 October. Attend the virtual event for four days of unrivalled learning, including a day of content curated by Creative Review;