Just what’s so wrong with matching luggage, anyway?

Last night I belatedly got round to reading one of those special supplements published with Campaign.  This one was about a month old, and like most of them it was all about Integration. 

The format was much the same as ever – a dozen or so rather baffled and confused-sounding pieces by luminaries from very large and very un-integrated creative agencies, media agencies and media owners.  Contributions about integration from people who have so little understanding or experience of it always make for an unsatisfactory, if at times accidentally amusing, reading experience – a bit like wine guides written by teetotallers, or those 16th century drawings of elephants by people who knew nothing at all about them except the name and the fact that they were large and grey – and whenever I read these things I always wonder why they don’t include at least, say, one or two contributions from people who are entirely at home with integration and have been practising it for many years (23 years, in my own case).  Too obvious, I suppose.

There are various concepts and expressions that always turn up in these publications, and one of the pleasures of reading them is ticking them off as they make their inevitable appearances.  Perhaps the most inevitable of all is a tirade of disparaging remarks directed towards what all the writers agree is the principal snare and delusion in the integration game, the one universally known as “Matching Luggage.”

This disastrous error, as I understand it, consists of thinking that a brand’s interactions with its market can be integrated by making them all look the same as each other.  It is almost always raised – and disparaged – by people from big TV-based advertising agencies, who want the freedom to come up with ideas for commercials without having to worry about whether there is any way that they can be noticeably connected to press ads, or posters, or online advertising, or direct mail campaigns, or in-store activity, or all the other miserable and depressing forms of communications activity that the big TV agencies can’t be arsed to think about.

Such was indeed the case in this Campaign supplement, where the task of disparaging matching luggage fell to Lucy Jameson, who has a very impressive job title on the planning and strategy side of the big TV agency DDB.

I was pleased, but not hugely surprised, by this.  Even by the standards of big TV advertising agencies, DDB is in my experience quite spectacularly uninterested in any form of communications activity other than TV commercials. On three or four occasions in recent years, we’ve been able to pick up quite sizeable press, print, brand development or direct marketing accounts  simply because DDB, as the TV advertising agency of the clients in question, simply hadn’t noticed that these other activities existed and so hadn’t thought to mention or introduce them to the other parts of their own group that specialised in them.

But what I did find myself wondering as I read this self-serving nonsense was just why “matching luggage” has obtained such universal currency as the shorthand for ineffective integration.  What exactly is wrong with having matching luggage, anyway?  If we accept the (extremely dubious) analogy that a person is to their luggage what a brand is to its communications, surely a person who has a set of matching luggage – be it elegant Louis Vuitton, or practical Samsonite, or nobby Mulberry, or trendy Mandarina Duck, or whatever – is giving clearer and more integrated messages about who they are and what they stand for than a person who travels with, say, one of each of the above.

I entirely accept that a person could give a clear brand message with un-matching luggage.  I imagine, say, a crusty old colonel’s collection of miscellaneous old leather suitcases and holdalls displaying torn and faded stickers from long-vanished hotels in remote corners of the Empire. Nothing confusing about that.  But why exactly do Ms Jameson and her fellow-disparagers think that the matching variety of luggage is so clearly not the way to build clear and single-minded perceptions?

I can’t answer this question.  But I can end with a serious word of warning to travellers Googling “matching luggage” in search of new suitcases:  about half the entries in the Top Ten link to big-agency planners spouting their usual rubbish about integration.  www.ebags.com.uk  is good for suitcases.

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