Sunday, May 13, 2007

blinded by the green light

If The Terminator had been called 'Scary Robot', the film probably wouldn't have had quite the same appeal. Packaging is important.

Advertisers know this, often selling old ideas with new cosmetics. Folks in the industry would call this combination of words and image a property. The thing is, with so much emphasis on owning messages - and messages relying on a property - the property or packaging can take over. It can present such a distinct exterior that the interior stops being important.

In the advent of fragmented media consumption and the ever-increasing importance of consumer advocacy, this is one of the biggest reasons traditional marketing is failing more and more to connect to consumers. Brands present only the surface and therefore consumers trade on it at surface level. I.e. Their advocacy of the campaign or brand has no depth because there's no idea behind it.

An excellent example of this is Grolsch's current campaign "Welcome to the green light district".

The idea is simple: Take Grolsch's dutch heritage; take the generalisation that Amsterdam equals porn; apply Grolsch's trademark swatch and there you have it.
And a final detail which is so neat it must have caused the art director to pop his own lid, is that the "iconic" bottle top becomes the filament in a green bulb. Brilliant!

The problem is there isn't really an idea behind the campaign.

When I delved deeper - visited the website, which few consumers will bother to do - I saw that Grolsch's definition of a 'green light district' refers to areas that celebrate "dutch style drinking" - which is fine is say... Holland, but when you click through to Liverpool, Bristol and Sheffield I'm guessing the concept might start to lose its continental flavour.

So the concept gets reduced to: Cool places we want people to associate Grolsch with.

If the shallowness of the concept needed any further highlighting, it was done by Greenpeace.

Around the same time as the Grolsch campaign surfaced, Greenpeace launched its own campaign called... 'Green light district'. The difference: there was actually a thought behind it. The campaign (simplified to changing the red light bulbs in Amsterdam to green light bulbs) raised awareness for using energy-saving bulbs.

Why am I making this point?

When people see and talk about the Greenpeace campaign they will say "Greenpeace changed the bulbs to green to promote energy saving bulbs".
If and when people talk about the Grolsch campaign they will say: "I don't know what a green light district is." Or "Green Light districts are where you can drink Grolsch." But what does any of that mean for the brand. And does anyone care?

I am guessing that Groslch's brief to the creative agency was to 'own' dutch/continental style drinking. Arguably, this campaign cheapens dutch culture and also waters down the concept by suggesting that it can be emulated in the back streets of Cardiff.

'Packaging' is designed to enable brands to own ideas (make them snappy, tie them to the brand and seduce an audience.) This is vital and the difference between a memorable idea and a dull one. But packaging is not meaningful without substance.

Need further proof? Well, would Scary Robot have become governor of California? I think not.

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