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On the Campaign couch

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At what point does provenance become tradition, become convention, become boring, and needs changing?

By "provenance", I’m assuming you mean background, history, mythology, origins? Or, in posh marketing speak, "cultural differentiation"? (If that’s not what you mean – tough. It’s what I’m going to write about.)

Once upon a time, back in the 50s and 60s, and successfully popularised by Rosser Reeves and others, the only way for one brand to differentiate?itself from its competitors was seen to be an entirely rational business. The USP – or unique selling proposition – was invariably a verbal statement of exclusive product function. M&M’s "Melts in your mouth, not in your hands" remains probably the best-known example, though there were thousands of them – often reaching new levels of irrelevant absurdity. (The equally fashionable cult of gap analysis was another culprit. You had only to subject a particular market to fierce interrogation in order to identify what was missing: and then supply it. Stephen King, always adept at puncturing marketing’s more?pretentious notions, suggested left-handed margarine.)

Now consider the story of Jack Daniel’s, as recounted in Cultural Strategy*.

In the mid-50s, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey was one of dozens of nondescript US regional brands – all much of a muchness. It clearly needed to differentiate itself – and it knew how. So its advertising featured the whiskey’s distinctive charcoal mellowing process by which the liquor dripped, drop by drop, through ten feet of pulverised hardwood maple before being barrelled. This USP was offered as the reason why Jack Daniel’s tasted smoother – and was therefore chosen by discriminating, socially mobile men who appreciated the finer things in life. It moved no-one. Jack Daniel’s remained one of dozens of nondescript US regional brands – all much of a muchness.

Then, inspired by a couple of photojournalist stories in magazines, Jack Daniel’s turned its back on rationality and thrusting status-seekers, and went back to its origins. Having once attempted to cover up its backwoods roots, the company now proudly displayed them: the Lynchburg distillery, little changed over the years; old-time pioneer types in their cluttered one-room office; "barrelmen pushing barrels to be aged, old men whittling outside the general store, grizzled men dressed in overalls, portrayed as people whom time forgot, men who cared little about what was happening outside Lynchburg".

This was harvesting the brand’s true provenance – "cultural differentiation" at its most potent. Within ten years, Jack Daniel’s had shaken off its dozens of competitors (many of whom could have told much the same story) and become a billion-dollar brand leader all around the world.

Fifty years later, it hasn’t allowed provenance to become tradition to become convention to become boring. Nor needs it ever. Which makes it all the more surprising that, at a time when provenance and authenticity are valued as never before, so few brands seem to mine their parentage. Myself, I blame the word culture.

*Cultural Strategy, Douglas Holt and Douglas Cameron, Oxford University Press, 2010.

Should Ogilvy update Ogilvy On Advertising or Confessions Of An Advertising Man?

That’s up to Ogilvy, but I hope it doesn’t. David Ogilvy had a style and a certainty about things, at least in his writings, that should never be diluted. Someone once said of him that he was a tiger at the typewriter but a pussycat in client meetings. I’d hate to see the tiger tamed: corrections made, caveats entered.

Even when you think he’s got it wrong, you learn a lot from working out why.

Recently, Google announced Google Translate support for emoji built directly into Chrome for Android and iOS. It turned out to be an April Fool, but our agency has proposed a new campaign using emojis – could this work?

I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. You’re simply hoping to make me feel even more out of touch than I already do. For future reference, I’m only happy with questions relating to 1987 or earlier.

‘Ask Jeremy’, a collection of Jeremy Bullmore’s Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10.Telephone (020) 8267 4919
Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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