The building of empires



If buyers of a brand do not think their brand is different or unique (Ehrenberg)…

And if what matters is the creation of ‘mental presence’ (Moran)…

Or ‘memory structures’ (Sharp)….

And if we define this as “The degree to which a given brand comes to consumers’ minds in the context of a particular purchase occasion or consumption occasion.” (Moran)…

Or as “The probability that a brand will be recalled early in a consumer’s consideration set, under a variety of situations and via a variety of stimuli, to the exclusion of competing brands” (Vieceli and Shaw)…

And if this is dependent on “The quantity (how many) and the quality (how fresh and relevant) of the network of brand information in memory, or the brand’s ‘share of mind’” (Romanuik and Sharp)…

And if the brain is not some rigid filing system in which memories reside as fully formed recordings but is something altogether more dynamic and malleable…

And if our brain’s networks of nerve cells or ‘neurons’ are not fixed entities, but are dynamic and continuously modified by experience…

And if thinking, learning, and behaviour all actually change the brain’s physical structure and organization, rewiring the brain, creating and eliminating new connections between neurons (Buonomano & Mezernich, Heilman & Nadeau, Schacter, Svoboda)…

Then perhaps is is not unreasonable to regard our task as the creation, expansion, maintenance, and defence of mental real estate.

And so perhaps it was Judith Williamson (Marxist and academic) who put it better than any brand expert, when she wrote that advertising’s purpose was to create

empires of the mind.”

And if she did put it better than anyone, then perhaps we struggle and jostle for memory.

And perhaps we shouldn’t be quite so shy about the language and metaphors of conquest and battle that have become so unfashionable and politically incorrect in adland.

And if we think of our task as some kind of (benign) synaptic imperialism, perhaps we’ll think beyond the mere act of contact or engagement, and think about what mental infrastructure we leave behind, maintain, and expand.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.

Just a thought.



Buonomano D.V, and Mezernich, MM, ‘Cortical plasticity: from synapses to maps’, Annual Review of Neuroscience, 1998;21:149-86.

Andrew Ehrenberg, Neil Barnard, John Scriven, ‘Differentiation or Salience’, Journal of Advertising Research, November/December 1997

Andrew Ehrenberg, ‘Repetitive advertising and the consumer’, Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 40, No. 6, November/December 2000

Andrew Ehrenberg, ‘What Brand Loyalty Can Tell Us’, Admap, October 2004, Issue 454

Andrew Ehrenberg, Neil Barnard, Rachel Kennedy, Helen Bloom, ‘Brand Advertising As Creative Publicity’, Journal of Advertising Research: Vol. 42, No. 4, July/August 2002

Kenneth M Heilman, MD, Stephen E. Nadeau, MD, and David Q. Beversdorf, MD. “Creative Innovation: Possible Brain Mechanisms” Neurocase (2003)

William Moran, ‘Brand Presence And The Perceptual Frame’, Journal of Advertising Research, October/November 1990

Jenni Romanuik, Byron Sharp, Andrew Ehrenberg, ‘Evidence concerning the importance of perceived brand differentiation, Australasian Marketing Journal 15 92), 2007

Jenni Romanuik, Byron Sharp, ‘Where knowledge of your brand resides: the Pareto share of brand knowledge’, in Report 44 for Corporate Sponsors, 2008, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science

Jenni Romanuik, Byron Sharp, ‘Using known patterns in image data to determine brand positioning’, international journal of market research, Vol. 42, No.2, 2000

Jenni Romanuik, Andrew Ehrenberg, ‘Do brands lack personality?’ Report 14 for Corporate Members, March 2003

Jenni Romanuik, Byron Sharp, ‘Conceptualizing and measuring brand salience’, Marketing Theory, Volume 4(4), 2004

Daniel Schacter, The Seven Sins of Memory

Daniel Schacter, Searching for Memory

Byron Sharp, How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know

Julian Viecli, Robin Shaw, ‘A Model of Brand Salience’, in Mark Uncles, ed. Perspectives on Brand Management, 2011

Judith Williamson, Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising

Truth, dogma, and slavery



What Keynes wrote in 1936 about economics is just as true of advertising: “So-called practical men, who have never knowingly been exposed to an intellectual influence in their lives, are invariably the slaves of some defunct economist”… It’s only by understanding the historical roots of the assumptions we make about advertising that we can begin to free ourselves from being Keynesian ‘slaves’ to those assumptions. It’s only when we realise that none of these theories, models or metaphors represents absolute truth, but is one of many ‘ways of seeing’… that we can make use of any of them as a source of inspiration rather than be confined by it.

Paul Feldwick, The Anatomy of Humbug: How To Think Differently About Advertising

Brand building in the age of immediacy



The challenge to effective, sustainable, and profitable marketing that our age of immediacy poses was the theme I addressed at this year’s Transition conference.

Curated and hosted by Peroclate, the conference turned out to be fascinating, and occasionally downright melting of the mind.

Rather than circle the drain of marketing’s fashionable obsessions, it was more about how the world is changing – and how our understanding of it is changing.

With just enough of a pragmatic thread back to our day jobs as marketers.

It certainly made all those keynote presentations at Cannes look like just so many empty calories.

If they continue to curate this thing carefully, I could see Transition taking on an awesome life of its own.

So if you get the opportunity to participate, I’d encourage you to do so.

Here’s a roundup of the talks.

And here’s a link to the slightly longer version of my talk, with the slightly snarkier title.

My thanks to @heyitsnoah and @James_Gross for a properly mind-expanding experience.

Looking for the edge effect


Fresh from an interesting conversation with a candidate, and our discussion around the necessity of collaboration between strategy and creative, I stumbled across the words of the poet Alison Hawthorne Deming:

In ecology the term “edge effect” refers to a place where a habitat is changing–where a marsh turns into a pond or a forest turns into a field.  These places tend to be rich in life forms and survival strategies.  We are animals that create mental habitats, such as poetry and science, national and ethnic identity.  Each of us lives in several places other than our geographic locale, several life communities, at once.  Each of us feels both the abrasion and the enticement of the edges where we meet other habitats and see ourselves in counterpoint to what we have failed to see. What I am calling for is an ecology of culture in which we look for and foster our relatedness across disciplinary lines without forgetting our differences.  Maybe if more of us could find ways to practice this kind of ecology we would feel a little less fragmented, a little less harried and uncertain about the efficacy of our respective trades and a little more whole.

  ‘Poetry and Science: A View from the Divide’

They illuminated a truth for me – one that the cheap and easy talk of ‘collaboration’ obscures.

It is self-evident that we need specialist disciplines.

But if we find ourselves working in an environment in which the specialisms do not overlap, in which they are doing entirely different jobs, in which they do not speak a common language, in which they do not understand each others’ contribution, and in which there is no edge effect but merely a gaping chasm, then something is seriously, badly wrong.

Deming cites the mathematician Alfred North Whitehead, who in 1925 warned of the risks that came with increasing scientific and technological refinements: 

The specialized functions of the community are performed better and more progressively, but the generalized direction lacks vision.  The progressivism in detail only adds to the danger produced by the feebleness of coordination … in whatever sense you construe the meaning of community … a nation, a city, a district, an institution, a family or even an individual … The whole is lost in one of its aspects.”

Planning, account management, copywriting, art direction, interactive, design, production… whatever our specialism, and whatever new specialisms we might add, we work in the service of a greater whole.

The creation of value through the building of brands through the power of ideas.

That shared purpose demands that we feel and experience our relatedness to one another.

And it demands that rather than stick within our respective habitats, we go out to live and operate where the edge effect happens. Where our respective habitats merge and become the other.

Which is why I’m glad to say, we expect creatives to get involved in the strategic process, and expect planners to get involved in the creative process.

And it’s why we are looking for planners* who can thrive in and nurture the edge effect.


* 5-10 years’ planning experience – able to engage senior clients in discussions about the things that matter to them, bring both structure and inspiration to the table, play a decisive role in the development of creative solutions, have a proven ability to help develop world-class creative solutions, preferably have experience developing global or multi-market work, be able to work well with internal and external specialist disciplines, be excited at the prospect of a life in Amsterdam… and nice to be around.

If that sounds like you, e-mail