Wait. Let me pinch myself. Burger King is forsaking its mascot in favor of food and experience content in its marketing. Gap has admitted that its marketing stinks, especially the mannequin campaign for Old Navy? No, a pinch isn't enough. I need a stiff drink, but only after I let out a loud, obnoxious, self-congratulatory I told you so
The failure of Burger King's and Gap's marketing to do anything more than win industry accolades and new clients for its agencies has been obvious for years, if only to the companies' competitors. Both brands have been poster children for the outdated belief that image trumps reality; it doesn't, of course, and never did, but our era's cool new technologies have enraptured a generation of marketers who just don't understand the mechanics of awareness, interest, intent, and satisfied/repeat purchase.
Gloriously complicated slides and flowcharts make for slick presentations that claim otherwise (supported by pithy Tweets, of course), but the fact is that reality trumps image. Gap's stores were and are stocked with generic clothing at unreasonable and confusingly variable prices, while its salespeople have gotten more disinterested as they've become more rare. Burger King has fallen short on all fronts -- menu variety, consistency of service, quality of store facilities -- while its marketing, like Gap's, pioneered new ways to talk about anything but those realities.
Reality doesn't have to be boring, any more than functionality is inherently uninspiring. It has always been easier for marketers to come up with things that aren’t true, and to focus instead on telling consumers what they want to see and hear. It's less creative than it's lazy. What's hard is to address reality...improve it, and make it unique in one way(s) or another...and then creatively make it funny, attractive, sexy, meaningful, and memorable, depending on the nature of that reality and the needs of consumers.
Gap and Burger King checked out of that business necessity a few years ago and the marketing world saluted them for it. Bold branding experimenters, they were. Celebrity spreads in fashion magazines. Odd videos on YouTube. The Old Navy stuff has been exquisitely horrible for the past few years, ever since Morgan Fairchild and other has-been stars showed up in its holiday ads. The latest mannequin spots were not only ineffective but derivative of a set of freaky Japanese-language shorts from the early 2000s called Oh! Mikey.
Simply put, what did any of this have to do with selling clothing or burgers?
Nothing, judging by the business results. I'm sure there are lots of new marketing evangelists busily debating how to interpret these latest moves (Burger King has publicly reserved its right to revive the King at any time) but the conclusions at the brands couldn't be clearer than their statements and intended actions. If the stuff was working, they wouldn't stop doing it.
I used to think that such news wouldn't happen until Hell froze over first, but I was wrong. It might have been comfortable for the marketers to ignore reality for a good while, but it caught up with them from the business side. They couldn't avoid the fact that reality trumps image or, better put, image is derivative of reality, not versa visa. Branding is a narrative of a business, not a parallel storyline.
I'm encouraged. Maybe now Gap and Burger King can get to the truly hard work of creating real brands with sustainable and measurable purpose. Now that hell has frozen over, the only way things can go is up.