Why brands are scrambling to get ‘re-platformed’

The industry is seeing a benefit in moving away from instant gratification strategies in favour of more meaningful and effective platforms.

ROMImmortal

When Lori Davison joined the Royal Ontario Museum, she saw the opportunity to redefine a brand that had “become quite recessive.”

“It had been lacking real resonance and relevance in Toronto for a period of time,” says Davison, who moved from SickKids to join the museum as its CMO in 2020. “The opportunity was there to develop an organizing idea that elevated not just ROM as a brand, but the whole sector, frankly.”

Armed with that insight – and coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had forced on-and-off closures of the museum and drastically reduced attendance – Davison sought to establish a new identity for the ROM that would redefine its position in the post-pandemic world. Through an RFP process, the museum sought a new agency to lead its masterbrand marketing strategy and develop a powerful new brand platform that would loudly declare what it stood for. It landed with Broken Heart Love Affair (BHLA) – which, by that point, had established itself by developing impactful platforms for the likes of Kruger.

Davison was not part of the decision, but had previously worked with two members of BHLA’s leadership to develop the “VS” platform while she was with SickKids and they were at Cossette. “Regardless of who was in the room, they’re the agency who had an extraordinary track record in that respect,” she says.

Together, the agency and the museum conceived of a platform that positioned the ROM strongly as a leader in the conversation on a number of the foremost issues of the day. Rather than present the museum as a staid repository of fossils and relics, the new campaign declared that the ROM is a venue where our collective societal past becomes “Immortal” – and where people can learn from the pitfalls and dark moments that history, in order to make better decisions and lead more socially conscious future lives.

NeilMcOstrichIt was the kind of bold positioning that Neil McOstrich (pictured, right), founding partner of Cleansheet Communications, says is becoming increasingly necessary for brands that are looking to remain culturally relevant and to register in a meaningful way with consumers.

“What I like about [the ROM's] positioning is the feeling for an employee. Before, it was, ‘I help people look at dead things,’” he says. “Now, they’re celebrating with people what is immortal. Think of the shift in how the employee feels with that notion, or how someone donating to a wing would feel.”

“If a company cares enough to be bold and be a first mover and put a stake in the ground, I think they can win a huge consumer advantage over competitors in their space,” he adds. “An inspiring platform gives people a sense of esprit de corps. They’re participating in something bigger than themselves.”

The ROM is not the only brand to redefine its identity coming out of the pandemic. Brands across categories, from financial institutions to loyalty programs to established soft drinks have been revisiting their platforms and identities and shifting the way they go to market in a bid to engender greater trust and, yes, loyalty from consumers.

JayChaney“During the pandemic, brands and the marketers behind them had to pause and think about what they want to say, and they didn’t know what to say or how to say it,” says Jay Chaney, CSO at BHLA (pictured, left). “They had to consider the emotional reality of the world and a lot of them discovered that they didn’t really have a role to speak into a scenario like the pandemic, where everyone is feeling so vulnerable. When you think about some of the great brands, like Nike, they put out one of the best COVID ads, simply because they know exactly what they stand for and what their platform is, and so does everyone else.”

The movement toward platforms also represents a sea change in an industry that, during the pandemic, sharply contracted as marketing budgets were cut and agencies sputtered. “We’re really coming out of the fog of the past two years, where companies were just flinging fragmented messages, from six-second posts, to social, to PR stunts, to just plain digital noise,” McOstrich says, quoting Shakespeare and saying that the past few years in the industry have been “full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.”

In many ways, the resurgence of platforms is seen by some in the industry as a counter to the vapidity of such stunts and one-off campaigns.

“We’ve come out of this period with direct digital that was sort of short-term, immediate gratification investments, and now [brands are] reassessing their portfolios and looking both at the immediate gratification and the development of assets that can help a brand succeed long term,” says Chaney.

MichaelMurray“What clients are finding is that short-term ideas only occupy mental space for fleeting moments,” adds Michael Murray, co-founder at Berners Bowie Lee (pictured, right). “Brand platforms build and create memory links. Once you establish that, you can do stunts and PR-driven ideas, but they’re anchored in the positioning, and I think that makes them more effective.”

Of course, great platforms take investment – both financial, and of time – to develop. The gestation of a brand usually takes between two and three years, Chaney says, before the impact really starts to show – and the truly iconic brands take even longer to build.

“All of the great platforms people recall, whether it be Nike, Apple or Heinz – those were established decades ago and have been developed over decades with adequate investment behind them,” says Chaney. “When companies come to us and say they want to be like Nike or Heinz, we say, ‘Okay, great, but you need t0 establish that message, reinforce that message and invest in that message, and not expect immediate returns from that message, in order to get to that place.’”

That said, establishing a clear platform can still be “easier” for a brand than moving from campaign to campaign on a piecemeal basis, Murray says.

“You’re not reinventing the wheel every single time with your campaigns,” he says. “You’re establishing the creative course, but then you can take and give the next campaign to another creative team and everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing because it’s all set up.”

And it pays off, in the end, not only through great and award-winning creative, but also in other tangible ways. Even the ROM, with a platform still in its infancy, has seen “immediate lift” from its radical rebrand, helping it reach the percentage of pre-pandemic attendance it had set sights on. Between the weekend before the platform launch to the weekend after, attendance lifted by 65%, Davison says.

“We wanted to generate a launch moment that was really going to grab attention and signal a real shift for the ROM and help people see the brand in a new way,” she explains. “It struck a chord in the way we hoped it would by generating top-of-mind awareness.”