Making Space? That’s what digital demands of brands

We all feel the ways that the digital revolution has taken a wrecking ball to many of our most familiar routines. The way we talk to each other, book a holiday, listen to music, or hire a taxi.

But it’s changing our landscape in subtler ways too, and not least of all the way that brands are learning to present themselves in an ever-more-connected age.

For decades, in the heyday of advertising, great ‘branding’ was about creating a compelling and consistent look-and-feel across your products or services. Something recognisable that carried with it a simple set of expectations. And a concept that could, with enough money or publicity behind it, thrust itself into people’s orbits without having to deal with much open discussion about its claims.

In the 1990s, at the peak of the anti-globalisation protests, the concept of ‘subvertising’ was gaining popularity. Campaigners such as Adbusters took to Photoshop to puncture the mass media promises of oil companies, fast food retailers and political parties with a well-constructed variation of a brand’s logo or strapline.

Neo and South East Dance

With the rapid development of online tools and social media, suddenly millions of people could satirise a piece of branding, and show the world, if they felt inclined to do so. The gap between smooth corporate rhetoric and a sceptical external perception could be juxtaposed in an instant. Controlling a major brand’s image, a tricky thing to manage even in simpler times, probably began to feel like wrestling a bag of snakes.

Neo and South East Dance

Brands have attempted to deal with the noisy new status quo in a number of ways. For many digital native brands, the energy of public opinion powers the core of the business – think reviews-powered Tripadvisor and Amazon. For some older brands, adapting to a digital world, it seems all publicity has been good publicity.

Neo and South East Dance

Meanwhile other brands continue to disappear from our high streets, unable to persist with a business model past its sell-by date (remember Blockbuster Video?) or simply to cope with more diverse competition.

And then there are the brands that are flying, because they’ve seen that digital helps them tell great stories with real people.

We all know that Apple excels at this. Its ongoing campaign for the iPhone 6, featuring video and photographs taken with the iPhone, epitomises how simple and effective bringing users into the heart of the activity can be.

And another that inspires us at Neo is Patagonia, the outdoor apparel company that keep breaking all the rules. Their ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ ad deservedly grabbed a lot of attention, but it’s their ‘Worn Wear’ campaign that’s really special.

Neo and South East Dance

It’s a platform that gathers the experiences of customers, focused on the long relationships they can have with their Patagonia clothes. It’s inspired people to share pictures taken decades apart of themselves, their parents, their children, climbing the same mountains, wearing the same gear. It’s even formed the basis of a 30-minute documentary film.

The genius of both these examples is that the brand is both ever-present and yet never really at the centre of the story. It’s the people, and their stories, that are the stars. Apple and Patagonia are providing a window, or making the space.

And it’s this kind of thinking that inspired our ‘Space to Dance’ campaign for The Dance Space.

‘Space to Dance’ aims to get as many people involved in making The Dance Space happen. It’s also designed to demonstrate the inclusivity that is at the heart of South East Dance’s vision for The Dance Space – not just a space for dance artists, but for everyone.

Visually this meant carving out blank spaces across the city – posters, floor vinyls, empty frames. We were inviting people to express what dance meant to them and to encourage others to think about the importance of dance.

Neo and South East Dance

By sparking thought and discussion about dance and what it means in the lives of ourselves and others, we are further building the case for why The Dance Space is so needed in our city.

Written by  Sam Ellis and Charlie Peverett