The Co-op’s new mega-commercialÂ has Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind as its soundtrack, butÂ it might just as wellÂ use The Times They Are A-Changin’.Â Because A-Changin’ is definitely what the times are doing right now.
Take ING Direct’s new outdoor campaign.Â I’ll try to import a couple of examples later, but all you really need to know is that it encourages you to behave like one of the crowd.Â (The headlines say things like “When others zig, zig” and “What’s wrong with sheep anyway?”)
Thoughts like these represent a complete, total, 180 degree, execute-a-handbrake-turn-and-head-off-in-the-opposite-direction volte-face on 20, or 30, or even 40 or 50 years of advertising history.Â If advertising has stood forÂ one idea during the whole of the time that I’ve been involved with it (somewhereÂ around the middle of that range of time periods), it’s been that your choice of goods and services mark you out as an individual, say and show that in some way you’re different from your peers.
There has of course been the odd exception to this,Â most notably on occasions whenÂ advertisersÂ haveÂ wanted to persuade target groups that certain previously-taboo behavioursÂ have now becomeÂ widely acceptable. “A million housewives every day pick up a tin of beans and say ‘beanz meanz Heinz'” was a copyline designed to normalise the use of canned convenience foods, to give housewives permission toÂ abandonÂ all that overnight soaking and lengthy boiling that had gone with the use of dried beans up till then.Â Â And the odd mega-brand has been so confident of its universality that it’s dared to present itself as part of the glue that bindsÂ largeÂ numbers of different people together – the Halifax, for example, in the days of its “Human House” campaign, or most obviously “I want to buy the world a Coke.”Â Â
But these odd exceptions never added up to a trend.Â Today, especially in the financial world, where anxiety levels are so high and reassurance that you’re doing the right thing is so important, ING’s is only the latest in a heavy current crop of campaigns featuring, so to speak, beckoning and welcoming groups of sheep.Â Norwich Union are running what seems to me a particularly odd commercial, in which a queue of 70,000 people wait interminably to be welcomed back into the Norwich Union fold.Â The two biggest surviving building societies, Nationwide and Britannia, both encourage us to start saving with them by pointing out how many people are doing so already.Â The subtext in Confused.com’s new video diaries campaign is that absolutely everyone – old, young, men, women, upmarket, downmarket – is nowÂ unconfusing themselves by using theÂ online price comparison site.Â And taking a step outside the financial world, T-Mobile’s impressive but weakly-branded Liverpool Street Station commercial tells us it feels good to be one of the crowd.
All this is more that a blip, it’s well on the way to being a new zeitgeist.Â Choosing products and services because they say you’re the same as lots of other people, not that you’re different, represents a clear break with one of the most hallowed tenets of branding, marketing and advertising.Â
There couldn’t be a clearer sign of that mighty pendulum-swing, from greed-fuelled individuality to fear-driven conformity, that I’ve written about so often lately.Â Nor a clearer sign that we can expect more tenet-shattering developments in quick succession now:Â if the promise of product or service as conferrer of individuality can lose its mojo, then anything can.Â