Integrated is a hot word in marketing these days. Lots of people want to say they practice integrated marketing. But when you engage them on the topic it seems they’re talking about different things. Is it combining social media with search engine marketing? Coordinating online and offline activities? Or is it something much broader?
In all the chatter, it’s hard to pin down what “integrated” really means. So here’s a concise definition: Integrated Marketing is the process that leads to Brand Integrity.
When you think about it—yes, it’s really that simple. Brand Integrity is the basis of confidence among your consumer audience that your brand promise will be fulfilled. A brand that has integrity speaks with one voice and expresses a consistent brand character. It’s believable. This is obviously a benefit to any brand. The way to achieve that benefit is to present the brand in all communication channels in a way that consistently expresses the brand values. Hence, the definition above—the objective and result of true integrated marketing is brand integrity.
Okay, but—with so many agencies and marketers saying they’re doing integrated marketing, how do you tell what is or isn’t “integrated”? Here’s the test: It’s not integrated unless your brand values are reflected in everything you do.
Many earnest marketing programs fail this test—some do it in dramatic fashion. It’s not enough to say, “I’m doing print, digital, and social media—that’s an integrated program.” Each aspect must be executed in a way that faithfully reflects the authentic values of the brand, or it fails the fundamental test of integrated marketing. The recent Belvedere Vodka social media fiasco stands out as a prime example of how not to do it.
Belvedere bills itself as “The world’s first luxury vodka.” In 2010, the company turned to Arnell Group for a branding refresh, which resulted in a global campaign centred on a theme of superior quality. According to Ron Tsung, Group Account Director, “The Trust Your Instincts campaign was designed to reinforce the target’s desire to have the best. Relevant quality cues, such as ‘naturally smooth,’ provide a highly appealing claim that is supported with several awards for smoothness.”
In 2011, Belvedere announced a partnership with (Product) Red, making it the first spirits brand to support the HIV/AIDS charitable program. The brainchild of U2 singer Bono, the (Product) Red association launched Belvedere into an exclusive social set of marketers of the likes of Apple, Gap, Starbucks and Nike. Advertising Age quoted Belvedere president Charles Gibb as saying, “We wanted to make sure people understood and got home those values that make Belvedere different.”
The vodka maker celebrated its second year in the program this February, with a glitzy pre-Grammy gala featuring R&B legend Mary J. Blige at the Avalon in Hollywood. After posing with Gibb, Blige opined, “Why wouldn’t I be a part of something like this?” A little over a month later, on March 23rd, a posting on Belvedere’s Facebook page seemed to answer that question. It portrayed a clearly-distressed young woman being grabbed from behind by a leering young man, under the heading, “Unlike some people… Belvedere always goes down smoothly.”
The posting was promoted on Belvedere’s Twitter feed. Reaction was swift and negative. The post went viral before the company had a chance to take it down. Numerous online and offline news outlets picked up the story, most characterizing the offensive post as promoting rape. Coverage continued through several days of updates, during which apologies were provided by Jason Lundy, SVP of Global Marketing for Belvedere, and then Gibb himself, who sweetened his words with a donation to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).
The sense of shock was not universal, however. Public comments attached to the news stories indicated that some (presumably male) observers thought the Belvedere posting was funny; and more than one anonymous comment actually suggested it was clever advertising. It certainly wasn’t clever branding. Whether one sees it as making light of rape is not the point. What matters, in a marketing context, is that it was grossly out of character for the brand.
Some would say that alcohol advertising is often laced with bawdy humour and sexual innuendo, so why not Belvedere? Advertisers have to be noticed, after all. This is one of the most deeply-entrenched fallacies in the advertising world: that being “clever” and getting attention is the sum total of what the ad game is about. But the sad truth for Belvedere is that this juvenile prank represents a serious setback for the brand.
True, other brands happily promote themselves with off-colour humour. At about the same time as the offending Belvedere post, Wódka Vodka was promoting itself with a billboard in downtown Manhattan carrying the headline, “Escort quality. Hooker pricing.” (Yes, really!) Touting itself as the “budget vodka,” the brand no doubt revelled in the ensuing free publicity. The big difference is that a bottle of Wódka Vodka sells for about a quarter of the price of “super-premium” Belvedere. In that context, Belvedere’s “clever” bit of advertising looks more like slumming than smart branding.
The bigger lesson to be learned here is that a brand that wants to preserve its integrity can’t speak out of both sides of its face. It can’t be sophisticated and socially aware in one place, and crudely suggestive somewhere else. The execution of every element in the marketing plan requires a thoughtful approach informed by the values that define the brand.
There is real ROI in brand integrity, because over the long term it is a key pillar of brand equity. “Consumers are gravitating toward brands that they sense are true and genuine,” says Fast Company. And “… Authenticity comes to a brand that is what it says it is.”
A brand that wants to achieve long term success should strive to be truly integrated in all aspects of its marketing program. That’s really the only way to enjoy the incremental benefits of brand integrity.
As the first post in the Integrated Marketing section of the Blade Blog, the definition stated at the top will stand as a touchstone for future posts. Over the coming months this blog will cover a wide range of examples, explanations, and integrated marketing best practices. Subscribe to our feed for more; comments and questions are welcome. In particular, I’m compiling a list of the brands that best exemplify integrity and authenticity. Feel free to add your own favourites to the list by leaving a comment below.