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2011 in Agencies

Katherine Sola | December 20, 2011

2011 in Agencies

Another day, another retrospective blog! This time, we’re looking at advertising agencies. Here are the big changes that did or didn’t happen in 2011.

Blogs were recognized as valuable tools in driving traffic and generating sales leads. A good blog gives an agency a voice as well as driving up search rankings. It wins readers’ trust, the first step in converting them into sales. A great example of this is the widely-read Ad Contrarian, written by Bob Hoffman, the CEO of the Hoffman/Lewis agency. Hoffman is straight-talking and clever, with lines like “’It’s time to bury the “360-degree touchpoints’ nonsense and start thinking like a Prussian general.”  Hoffman is skeptical of digital and social marketing and he doesn’t promote his agency in the blog. Ironically, though, his blog is an effective promotion tool because he seems like the kind of person you’d want to run your campaign. He’s just one example of why a recent MarketingSherpa poll found that blogs were the #4 tool for generating sales leads.

Agencies saw the value of social media networks like Twitter, realizing that influence grows with every tweet, mention and share. For example, Razorfish got attention this year with its Tweet Race to the Superbowl campaign for Mercedes Benz.  Four teams raced to the game in specially equipped Mercedes cars to win a pair of C-Class Coupes. But they had to generate and attract tweets in order to get petrol. Eventually, the campaign attracted over 150,000 tweets from 21,000 Twitter users. Mercedes, a rather staid brand, also gained some much-needed exposure among young people.

At the same time, advertising agencies didn’t elope with social media. The heralded death of the ‘interruption model’ in advertising did not come to pass. Marketing giant Pepsi did throw their whole budget into social media last year, shunning TV and print ads. But by March 2011, Pepsi had lost 5% of their market share and fallen behind archenemy Coca-Cola. The Ad Contrarian has a great piece about it here. Big, traditional agencies now have social media divisions. We saw all sorts of interesting social media stunts and viral content. But social media still seemed better suited to one-offs and customer interaction rather than sustained campaigns. The ‘engagement’ of social media supplemented the ‘interruption’ model. It didn’t supplant it.

Agencies made up the majority of creatives joining the Exchange this year. It’s expensive to woo new clients with lunches out and impress them with fancy offices. Only big, established agencies stood a chance of winning big business. We’re pleased to report that the Exchange is disrupting this traditional model. Agencies on the Exchange can pitch to brands they’d never be able to access otherwise. It makes financial sense both ways – our customers saved an average of 30% on their marketing campaigns. Interested? Brief the Exchange.

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The year of Mobile Marketing

Mobile Marketing came of age in 2011. Let us count the ways.

High-profile brands are tapping into mobile potential. Louis Vuitton launched the ‘Amble’ app this year, which combines a travel-sharing function with a collection of city guides. You document and share your own amble with your friends through the app. Louis Vuitton cleverly enlisted celebrities to share their favourite ambles in their own cities, so you can feel cool whilst visiting Rachel Weisz’ florist. The app also relates to Louis Vuitton’s brand message. For the past few years, Louis Vuitton’s print campaigns have focused on ‘personal journeys’ featuring celebrities voyaging to exotic locales toting LV monogrammed bags. With Amble, users can imbue their own trips with Vuitton glamour. The brand reaches out to socialize with its fans through their smartphones.

We saw exciting innovations in QR codes this year. People have been talking about QR for a long time, and they’ve finally entered the mainstream. New film Martha Marcy May Marlene was promoted exclusively through QR codes and Victoria’s Secret got in on the act too. NASDAQ reported that 14 million Americans scanned QR codes in June 2011. Interestingly, people are most likely to scan a code when they’re at home or in a shop. Lots of marketers have taken the so-called ‘spray and pray’ approach to QR codes, dotting them about in the hopes that somebody will scan them. But actually, it seems like users will get their phones out to scan a code related to a subject of interest, like where to buy those jeans in a magazine advert.

Mobile commerce made leaps and bounds this year. Near Field Communications technology received some tentative press in 2010 and finally became widely available when Google Wallet launched in September. NFC is a short-range secure wireless connection, allowing customers to pay by tapping their phones against a reader. Google Wallet participants can use their phones as Citibank credit cards or Google prepaid cards anywhere they see a reader. Google Offers are also synced to the phone. Google Wallet isn’t widely used yet, and it’s only available in the US at the moment. But now that the technology’s in place we imagine ubiquity awaits.

Mobile gaming and gamification became far more sophisticated. Apps like Foursquare and GoWalla remained popular, but we were more excited by complex multiplayer games like Shadow Cities and augmented reality branded games. Gamification still sounds like a buzzword. But it’s really a timeless concept – did your parents ever reward your good behaviour with sweets?

Morgan Stanley predicted that by 2015 more people will access the internet by mobile than by computer. We’re already seeing how marketers are changing tactics to keep up with this shift. And we predict explosive growth in mobile marketing in 2012. If you need to adapt your marketing strategy, we’re here to help – brief the Exchange.

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The Hurricane Bawbag Brand

Amazingly, the top trend on Twitter is no longer #blur, it’s #hurricanebawbag. That’s the name given to the hurricane currently menacing Scotland that’s become a social media phenomenon. Bawbag is an indelicate Scots word for the scrotum. According to Urban Dictionary it’s also an insult directed at anything “annoying, useless or just plain stupid.” The storm itself is no joke, the Met Office has issued a red alert, its highest warning. Winds of up to 151mph have been reported and power cuts are widespread. But we’re pleased to report that the Scots are weathering the storm with characteristic dry humour:

stephenpglenn: Only Scottish people would get #hurricanebawbag trending. You may take our garden furniture, but you’ll never take our banter!

TonyCowards: “Winds batter Scotland”, well I suppose it makes a change from Scotland battering everything else. #HurricaneBawbag

endless_psych: News just in: NHS chiefs warning people under 8 stone not to walk outside. Most of Scotland safe. #hurricanebawbag

charleslavery: BREAKING: Slight smell of dust burning across Scotland as third bars on electric fires are sparked up. #hurricanebawbag

lesmondine: I’ve had to switch the lights on! In the daytime! The humanity! #hurricanebawbag

Pols80: Panic buying caused by #hurricanebawbag has resulted in shelves being stripped bare of Irn Bru, Pot Noodles and Green Rizzlas

Hurricane Bawbag is also making waves on Facebook. 6,000 users have liked the Hurricane Bawbag group, and a spectacular 18,500 have liked Gettin yur I survived a hurricane top oot coz yer fae Scotland. Before you ask, we haven’t the slightest idea what that means. A bright spark has started selling T-shirts and hoodies reading “Hurricane Bawbag, a load of old wind.”

It’s funny, but Bawbag is also a wonderful example of crowdsourced branding. There’s no agency running a rebrand, yet the storm has gained a recognizable brand name and witty identity. It’s become an expression of Scottish national character, with impenetrable Glaswegian slang ringing out across the Twitterverse. Do you need help building an appealing brand identity just like this one? Brief the Exchange today. And we hope everybody in Scotland stays safe tonight.

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2011 in Social Media

As we near the end of 2011 we’ve considered how social media marketing has changed this year. Here are the top 5 important tools and trends you must know about as you head into 2012.

1)   You should be using new tools to get a grasp on how well your social strategy is working. Facebook Insights shows users and developers how visitors reach their page and which media they consume before moving on. YouTube Analytics makes it easier to manage your video content with a host of new features, like seeing how much of your video viewers watch before clicking elsewhere. Check out the new Youtube Creator Playbook too, it’s full of tips to creating shareable content. We’re still on the fence about Klout, a measure of Twitter influence.

2)   Do you take advantage of Google+’ unique features? You might like Hangouts, social group video chats. Skype has a similar feature, but it’s not integrated into social media in the same way. Hangouts are exciting because you can make them public – they could work like office hours or town hall-style meetings. Public figures like Mitt Romney and the Black Eyed Peas have used the tool to engage with followers. The tool makes reaching out to customers frictionless, read this article for more.

3)   When trying to reach international markets you should know which platform your target demographic favours. For example, have you heard of Viadeo? We hadn’t either, but it’s the LinkedIn of the non-English speaking world. The French company has expanded through acquiring professional networks in India, China, South America and Canada and remains more popular than LinkedIn in many countries. If you were looking to engage the BRIC countries, you’d be better off working through Viadeo than LinkedIn. Be aware of international variations in social.

4)   2011 is the year of the Tweet, and a strong Twitter presence is now an essential. Twitter-speak has permeated the Internet. For example, hashtags are now widely used on Facebook and in blog posts. You can use them to punctuate a statement or quickly touch on an idea. Twitter’s mode of economical expression appeals to a lot of different people. We wonder also if the role of Twitter in the Egyptian revolution (among others) helped raise the platform’s profile. On Twitter’s Hot Topics page Mubarak’s resignation was the most Tweeted piece of news, Cairo and Egypt the top two most mentioned places and #Egypt the most popular topic.

5)   At the same time, Twitter may no longer be the best place to find answers. Question and answer site Quora is moving to centre stage instead. Users pose a question and receive well thought-out, knowledgeable answers. The quality of both the questions and answers has remained high so far, possibly because users have to complete a short tutorial before using the site. You can link your Quora profile to Facebook or Twitter which makes us think it could be a good marketing tool. You could build your reputation through helpful answers to Quora questions related to your field. For example, if you saw an accounting firm had provided over a hundred top-rated answers to questions about tax returns you’d be more inclined to hire them. Quora is still developing, but we’d recommend you keep it on your radar.

Challenged by the change? Unsure of how social media can work for you? Brief the Exchange for a great social media marketing campaign.

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Facebook saves face

Katherine Sola | November 30, 2011

Facebook saves face

Yesterday, Facebook announced they’d be taking users’ privacy a lot more seriously. The network reached an agreement with the FTC, the American Federal Trade Commission. The FTC had charged Facebook with deceiving users by telling them their information would remain private but later making it public without consulting them.

The FTC has a list of instances when Facebook has deceived customers. For example, they allowed third-party apps to access users’ personal data despite assuring users this wouldn’t happen. They claimed that photos and videos on deleted accounts would disappear, but the content was accessible after deactivation. The charges also include the December 2009 debacle when Facebook changed users’ settings without telling them. The list goes on, with stark phrases like “Facebook promised users that it would not share their personal information with advertisers. It did.”

Trouble with the FTC could cause a lot of problems for Facebook, so they’ve accepted the limitations proposed by the commission. It looks like privacy will be more straightforward at Facebook. For example, they won’t be able to override users’ privacy settings without explicit consent, and they’ll have to truthfully represent their privacy policies. The FTC clearly doesn’t trust Facebook to police itself, so every two years they’ll need to get an independent third-party confirmation that the regulations are followed. In the words of FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, “Facebook’s innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy. The FTC action will ensure it will not.”

By contrast, Facebook is presenting itself as a responsible organization that appreciates the FTC rulings as helpful suggestions. They’re particularly eager to downplay the accusations of deceit. Zuckerberg wrote a rare post for the Facebook blog about privacy. He says: “Overall, I think we have a good history of providing transparency and control over who can see your information.” Changes that the FTC called “unfair and deceptive,” Zuckerberg characterizes as “mistakes,” due to “poor execution.” We’d love to hear his explanation of exactly how these “mistakes” happened.

The settlement has confirmed Facebook’s poor treatment of users. But at the same time, it suggests the future Facebook will incur less criticism and incite fewer controversies. Such stability bodes well for Facebook’s initial public offering, which is likely to happen before the end of the year. Apparently, each user will be valued at around $125. That includes the FTC, whose press release ended with the words “Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.”

Want to stabilize your public image? Need a really creative solution to your marketing challenges? Brief the Exchange today.

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Brand Gaga

Katherine Sola | November 28, 2011

Brand Gaga

Today, we’re starting the week with a look at the brand of Lady Gaga. The artist has spiraled to success with her maddeningly catchy songs and extraordinary outfits. So what makes Brand Gaga so appealing?

Gaga’s certainly memorable. You probably remember the meat dress, the lobster hat and the shoes that intimidated Obama. Her music videos are similarly freaky – we’ve seen her poison a restaurant in Telephone, act out a Biblical biker gang melodrama in Judas and give birth to the human race in Born This Way. Gaga also changes persona all the time, frequently drawing comparisons with Madonna. This is crucial, because her Little Monsters, as she calls her fans, keep on coming back for new and exciting looks and songs.

In a way, Lady Gaga is herself like a Twitter feed or a successful blog – she’s a constant supply of stimulating content. Because she’s always different she inspires intense and prolonged fascination. Of course, Gaga also uses social media platforms with aplomb. She’s got 45 million Facebook fans and 16 million Twitter followers – compare that to Britney Spears’ 15 million Facebook fans and 11 million followers.

Gaga’s also a high-profile supporter of gay rights, as well as a gay icon. She released a video message to the Senate urging the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, in which she said “I am here to be a voice for my generation.” The infamous meat dress was interpreted by some as a statement about the injustice of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which has since been repealed. Gaga raises AIDS awareness too, working with brands like MAC. In Born This Way she sings “no matter gay, Straight or bi/Lesbian, transgendered life” to encourage her ‘different’ fans to love themselves. She even released a song called Boys, Boys, Boys dedicated to “my gay boys.” Gaga now has her own foundation, Born This Way to supported empowerment and self-esteem projects for young people.

One tragic example of Gaga’s affinity with the gay community was seen in September. 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide in despair at the gay bullying he suffered at his school. His last tweet was a ‘thank you’ to Lady Gaga for “all that you have done.” He was buried in a Lady Gaga ‘Born This Way’ T-shirt. Gaga responded by dedicating her song Hair to him in a live performance.

We absolutely don’t doubt Gaga’s commitment to gay rights. At the same time, we notice that the fight for equality is now an intrinsic part of the Gaga brand. When fans dance wildly to her songs or scream Born This Way at a concert, they feel like they’re doing more than enjoying the music. They feel like they’re standing up for equality, ending hate and celebrating individuality. Perhaps, in a small way, saving the lives of bullied teens across America.

Want an evolving and relevant brand identity? Our 13,000 creatives can help – Brief the Exchange today.

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American Advertising: Black Friday

Black Friday heralds the start of the holiday shopping season after Thanksgiving. Stores offer special discounts and hordes of consumers queue for hours to be sure of getting the best deals. The New York Times described Black Friday as a “carnival of capitalism” which often brings out the ugly side of shoppers. Violence is common – last year one Wisconsin woman threatened to shoot customers who complained when she jumped the queue and police were called to Toys ‘R’ Us to control a mob. In 2008 a man was trampled to death and two others shot each other to death in Toys ‘R’ Us. Nevertheless, millions of customers keep on coming. Stores will open earlier than ever this year, some at midnight on Thursday.

Interestingly, this year’s biggest Black Friday ads haven’t focused on the nuts and bolts of deals. Instead, America’s retailing behemoths engaged in brand-building. This may be related to the growing popularity of online deals and the ease of comparing prices on the internet. It’s in retailers’ interest to promote their stores as the must-shop destination, rather than promote specific discounts that customers can try to match elsewhere.

For example, Walmart’s six video ads gently poke fun at obsessive shoppers whilst promoting Walmart as the best place for bargain-hunters. In one ad a mother shouts instructions to her husband and daughter in baseball code and in another a woman whispers to a startled employee “You know why they call it Black Friday? Because I’m a savings ninja.” The ads don’t mention discounts or even specific products, but they do build associations between Black Friday hysteria and the store.

Macys ad references a deeper kind of crazy – Bieber Fever. The teen pop superstar, beloved by millions of shrill teenage girls, travels to the Macy’s Black Friday sale. His driver, three butch stockroom workers and a salesman disintegrate into dubbed female screams at the sight of him. Bieber assumes they’re excited about the sales too with remarks like “Guess you’re excited too.” Again, the video doesn’t mention any Macys products except for Bieber merchandise. It doesn’t even show the interior of the store. But by linking Bieber worship and the pursuit of sales, Macys produces a more powerful message than any list of discounts. Of course, exactly why the multi-millionaire Bieber would hit the sales at Macys remains unexplained.

Kohl’s also pulled in a teen icon to produce the most annoying Black Friday ad. It’s a knockoff of Rebecca Black’s infamous viral hit, Friday. A shopper sings “It’s Black Friday, Black Friday, gotta go to Kohl’s on Black Friday” whilst shoving an old woman and stealing merchandise from another shopper’s cart. Charming. Reactions to the ad have been overwhelmingly negative. Kohl’s tried to do something similar to Macys by using Rebecca Black’s fame, but unlike Bieber, Black’s widely considered talentless and irritating, making the ad a branding failure. We also wonder if they paid Rebecca for using the song.

We’ll see whether the strategy of ignoring hard numbers in the ads brings in increased profits for these chains. And if you need a seasonal campaign in a hurry, time’s running out! Brief the Exchange today.

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Keeping ahead of the competition: Winning Marketing

Rivalry makes for amazing marketing. Many of the world’s best campaigns come out of bitter rivalry between two companies as they spur each other on to greater creative heights. Here are just a few examples.

Pepsi and Coke’s rivalry even has its own name: The Cola Wars. For decades they’ve tried to out-market one another. Since 1975 Pepsi’s run the Pepsi Challenge, claiming that Americans prefer Pepsi in blind taste tests. Shockingly, Coke’s similar campaign found that Americans prefer Coke. Both companies sent their drinks into space in 1985. When Pepsi achieved success in the 90’s with loyalty program Pepsi Stuff, Coke launched Coke Rewards. At one point both companies had contracts with iTunes allowing drinkers to buy songs using their points. Funnily enough, Coke and Pepsi are widely acknowledged to taste very similar. Consumers choose which brand they prefer rather than which drink, leading the two companies to carve out different brand identities. Coke’s ads tend to be evocative and emotional, like their iconic Christmas ads. By contrast, Pepsi’s known for its youthful advertising featuring the celebrities du jour, sometimes with the catchphrase “The Choice of a new Generation.” As a result, Pepsi’s ads tend to be more ‘of the moment’ but also date faster – which may explain their absence from all those ‘best campaigns of all time’ lists.

British Airways and Virgin are the two major British airlines with a longstanding rivalry that occasionally spills over into the courts. Like Coke and Pepsi they pour millions into building brand identities. Virgin is ‘the sexy one,’ deploying innuendo and tongue-in-cheek ads like this, “Still Red Hot.” By contrast, British Airways’ ongoing rebrand plays up its aviation heritage and traditional British appeal. A little over a month ago the airlines launched high profile ad campaigns within two weeks of each other, each conveying a very different brand message. British Airways’ ad, which we’ve written about before, is historic and atmospheric. Virgin’s ad is styled after the opening sequence to a Bond movie, with abstract silhouettes and eye candy. The catchphrase “Your Airline’s either got it or it hasn’t” makes a subtle reference to the decidedly unsexy BA.

A Mac or a PC? Apple and Microsoft targeted each other obliquely with ‘I’m a Mac/I’m a PC’ campaigns a few years ago. Apple started it with a series of short video ads featuring two men representing a computer. The Mac was shown as intuitive and user-friendly, the PC clunky and clumsy. The ads were hilarious, this one featured Gisele Bundchen and then a man in drag dressed just like her. Microsoft hit back with ads like this, carrying the tagline ‘I’m a PC, and Windows 7 was my idea.’ It showed PC users as ordinary people, later hiring celebrities to appear in its print ads. Of course, neither campaign ever mentioned the names “Apple” or “Microsoft” but they were clearly aimed at the opposition.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=wryMItg2ick

These campaigns all have one thing in common: one-upmanship. Because these brands are in direct competition they get locked into marketing battles, trying to outdo each other’s last campaign. Of course, this gets expensive. Sound familiar? Maybe the enemy’s just released a great new Christmas campaign and you’re feeling threatened as well as financially squeezed. We can get you a stunning campaign within five to seven days, at 30% less than old-fashioned agencies. If you need a leg-up in the arms race you have no alternative. Brief the Exchange.

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Gmarketing: the Good to Know campaign

Google discreetly launched a new privacy portal last month with such little fanfare that we only just heard about it. The site’s called Good to Know and explains Google’s ins and outs in plain English. It’s divided into four topics – staying safe online, your data on the web, how Google uses your data and how best to manage your own data. Of course, there’s no point in showing exactly how Google uses your cookies if the reader has no idea what on earth a cookie is. So the site includes a jargon buster defining terms like cookies, malware and IP address

We’re particularly impressed by the attention paid to online crime. The Good to Know site comprehensively addresses many different aspects of internet security. They talk about creating a strong password, using safe internet connections, ensuring security on your mobile and protecting your Gmail account. This last is particularly relevant following the hacking of several high-profile figures’ Gmail accounts.

Good to Know was produced in tandem with the Citizen Advice Bureau and does a lovely job of helping users. But it’s also a canny marketing campaign, with advertisements appearing on public transport and in newspapers. Web users are increasingly concerned about how their information is stored and shared, but internet giants aren’t talking. By being conspicuously transparent, Google sets itself apart from the likes of Facebook. That social media giant has come under fire for “sneaky” changes and opaque privacy settings, making it difficult for users to control how much information they share. CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s appears to consider privacy something we’ll all grow out in time – given a nudge here or there. In the absence of information, many Internet users become overly paranoid about how their data’s used, while others aren’t concerned enough. Good to Know targets both groups.

So far, Google’s campaign seems to be working, with civil liberties sites like Big Brother Watch lauding it as “a huge first.” It’s even been recommended by the Welsh police website. You could even interpret the campaign as a rebranding exercise. Google’s presenting itself as a pioneer of internet security and transparency, rather than an evil genius raiding users’ data for its own financial gain. At the same time, when people associate Google with security and online empowerment they’re far more likely to use services like Google Wallet and Google Plus.

Need advice on a rebrand? Or maybe you want to be sure your online marketing campaign is absolutely secure. We can help – brief the Exchange.

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Three Rebrands to Watch

The path of rebranding is strewn with the remains of the fallen. Netflix, Airmiles and the British Post Office are just a few of them. At the same time, a good rebrand is a marketing masterpiece. Here are our top three to watch:

Starbucks is one behemoth of a brand. They’re everywhere. And they’ve just reached the branding milestone of dispensing with their name entirely, like Nike, whose logo is now just the swoosh. As you see, the logo now just displays the mermaid without the ‘Starbucks Coffee.’ The new logo is lighter, and less clunky, reflecting ongoing changes to the company’s business model. Starbucks has become a byword for globalization and the erosion of local charm all over the world. So they’re scaling down their aggressive expansion of stores whilst expanding their branded merchandise, to be sold in third-party retail outlets. This week, they acquired Evolution Fresh and plan to expand into the health and wellness market with a line of juice bars. These new ventures don’t relate to coffee so it makes sense to drop the word from the logo.

On another note, losing the language renders Starbucks more translatable. Starbucks is dangerously close to hitting saturation point in the Western world, so they’re focusing their expansion on markets like China, as the FT reported. By dropping the name from the logo, Starbucks avoids the translation headache – and the risk of gaffes like these.

British Airways has had a rough couple of years featuring disputes with staff and disastrous strikes. So they’re emphasizing their aviation history with a new video ad and a new slogan – To Fly. To Serve. The campaign lays on the nostalgia, hearkening back to an era of aviator goggles and long leather coats. The ad’s also a pure exercise in branding, with no mention of pricing or plane specifications or flight plans. BA wants to reposition itself as a world-class airline and regain customer loyalty by creating a mood, we’ll see if they live up to their promise. Interestingly, although youngsters spurn the sentimentality, the ad’s been far more popular with the over-30 brigade. By contrast, rival Virgin runs fun and sexy campaigns with obvious youth appeal like this one.

Last week I showed how a strong brand message is susceptible to brand-jacking. And because To Fly. To Serve takes itself very seriously, it’s doubly vulnerable. EasyJet’s already on it, with a poster reading To Fly. To Save. It tells customers “We don’t need to paint it on the tailfins, like some advertising slogan. That would just be a waste of your money.” EasyJet subtly reminds the viewer To Fly. To Serve remains a slogan and an exercise in rebranding.

Brand USA. Changing a brand message is tricky enough for a corporation, but how do you rebrand a country? Brand USA, Inc is trying to rebrand America with the new logo pictured here. According to the corporation’s website, they’re trying to “encourage increased international visitation to the United States.” The corporation wants to show potential visitors that there’s more to the country than New York, Washington and Los Angeles. There’s a lot of regional variety in American culture, which foreigners don’t always grasp. To this end, the logo evokes plurality, with no suggestion of a monolithic American identity.

We’ll be watching these companies’ branding evolution with great interest. And if you’re on the hunt for a well conceived and sensitively executed rebrand, brief the Exchange.

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