Books - Brands in the fire - Len Weinreich finds one indispensable note in an otherwise conventional marketing book.
The Future of Brands
edited by Rita Clifton and Esther Maughan
Long-term is the distance between right now and the next sales conference.
Anyone attempting forecasts beyond long-term should contemplate the words of the late Harold Macmillan. Asked what major issues influenced decisions during his premiership, he replied: 'Events, dear boy, events.'
Macmillan's observation never dented the profits of prophets. The commercial appetite for divination remains so ravenous that successive waves of pundits continue to predict brand futures, disregarding the fact that all views on the subject fall into one of three categories: pessimistic, optimistic, or dull. All filed under 'fiction'.
These thoughts were prompted by Interbrand's publication, celebrating its 25 years by canvassing 25 celebs' views of brands 25 years hence. Styled as a provocative symposium, it's really a new-biz instrument, hype made palatable. The recipe is conventional: grab some industry icons, sprinkle a handful of acceptable radicals and a pinch of tycoon, then add a hearty helping of well-massaged egos (the agency's own clients). And after gnawing through an entanglement of stalky bizspeak, studded with the customary 'dare to dream your dream' inspirational crouton and soaked in consensually cautious dressing, the predominant flavour is bland.
Example: Nike, Microsoft and McDonalds, visibly sliding down the cuddly league, are warned to watch their corporate step, while the currently huggable Coke, Disney and Mercedes might possibly scrape through 25 years unharmed. Surprised? The words 'hostage' and 'fortune' spring unbidden as each reluctant forecast is wrapped with more hedges than Hampton Court Maze. Then again, who'd be quoted on the record to be publicly humiliated by events yet to unfold? Over 25 years, your reviewer has watched too many brands and products nose-dive to oblivion through collision with events.
However, a single, lingering acid note renders this book indispensable.
Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London's Galton Laboratory, deals in empirical evidence rather than wishful opinion. His creepy scenario concludes that now is as good as it gets - 1999 is Utopia, but pretty soon, the lights start dimming. If you read nothing else until the end of the millennium, consume his piece. Clue: it concerns events, events.