A five point plan for Tesco


 By Robert Jones

1. Don’t try to compete with Aldi and Lidl. Your business model is too expensive. (You could buy one of them, though I guess they’re not for sale.)

2. Be yourself. Stop pretending. The fascia of my local Tesco Express now says ‘Est. 2009’. This is ridiculous - you’re not a little local shop and no-one will ever think you are. No-one’s taken in by the Harris & Hoole brand, either.

3. Be brave enough to throw away the recent past. Your hugely expensive store refurbishments look like necessary spring cleaning, not a great new customer experience - they don’t go nearly far enough. Your stores are still ugly and joyless.

4. Give much more power to store managers. Let stores develop their own personalities and serve their own markets. Budgens is a good model.

5. Change what you’re good at. Less about distribution and negotiation and volume. More about customers and food and choice and the exuberance of the street market. You can’t always be cheap, but you must once again be cheerful.

For more thinking from Wolff Olins on the task facing new Tesco CEO Dave Lewis, click here.


A school for ambitious leaders


By Melissa Andrada and Robert Jones

Wolff Olins is a child of the 1960s. One of our first clients was The Beatles. Shaking things up, challenging the status quo, making a difference in the world has always been a part of our DNA.

This is in part why we started Kitchen. It’s a school for ambitious leaders who want to build businesses that change the world. It’s a school where people can learn about things not typically taught in business school – things like how to be original, how to workshop to solve problems, how to make a creative climate that inspires innovation.

In the spirit of cofounder Wally Olins who first democratised our thinking through his book The Corporate Personality in 1978, we wanted to share half a century’s worth of experience, thinking and tools. Through our consulting practice, we’ve been lucky to work with some of the most impactful and inspiring brands in the world, from the Olympics to Google, from Virgin to NYC. Now through learning, we want to equip ambitious leaders – from large companies to small businesses to startups – to build businesses that drive positive social and commercial impact.

Setting up a school within Wolff Olins was something the company had been kicking around for a few years. It largely came into being because of two people who shared a passion for learning.

Education is what gets me up in the morning. Ever since I was kid, I’ve always loved learning, and teaching is actually how I got into branding. I’ve spent the past few years teaching startups at places like General Assembly and CcHUB on how to use brand to make money and do good things.

And Robert was responsible for setting up the first masters in brand leadership at the University of East Anglia. He spends every Monday teaching his students on how to become better and more purpose-driven leaders in business. Elegantly bridging together theory and practice, Robert’s work in academia and business inform each other.

Our first education collaboration together was the Secret Power of Brands, a massive open online course (or what they call a MOOC) on Futurelearn that has reached tens of thousands learners around the world. Building on the success of our first MOOC, we decided to set up Kitchen in December of last year.

Robert and I thought about calling our school ‘Wolff Olins Academy’, but decided to name it after our actual kitchen in the London office. Monday through Friday, from 1-2pm, everyone in the company – from our CEO to our designers to our security guards — step away from our work to eat lunch in the kitchen. We’ve got an amazing chef, and every day is like Thanksgiving.

We want our teaching spirit to feel like a kitchen – to be behind the door, around the table, and about making things in a messy but good way. We want to share our expertise in a way that encourages people to be brave, experiment and learn from each other. Since our launch, we’ve taught 28 classes to thousands of learners around the world – from as far as Lagos, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires.

For Robert and me, this is just the beginning. There is still so much more learning that we have to do. Come join us.

Melissa Andrada (@themelissard) heads up Kitchen from Wolff Olins and is also a lead strategist in the London office. 

Robert Jones is head of New Thinking at Wolff Olins and visiting Professor at the University of East Anglia.

Four good reasons why universities need brands


By Robert Jones

It’s the league table season. Universities are once again congratulating themselves on going up, or agonising about going down, or scared of the institutions biting at their heels. It’s a strange world, in which universities are obsessed with each other, rather than looking out at the world. They’re scared of losing their traditional place in the tables, rather than jumping at new roles in society.

Yet if you look outwards, the future’s never been brighter. There are four huge academic goals open to every university – to raise the academic bar, to play a greater role in shaping society, to reach millions more who are hungry for knowledge, and to find new ways to answer humankind’s deepest questions. But all depend on – among other things – brand. Not on logo or slogan, but a more modern and intelligent version of brand: the idea you stand for in people’s minds.

First, the best universities can raise the academic bar – by enlisting the best students (and the best faculty of course). But this means standing for something that future students actually want. And increasingly that’s about value: what will I get back from the money and the time I put in? Universities need to be useful in people’s lives, not just in a monetary sense: they need to offer an amazing exchange of value that goes beyond knowledge for fees. Today’s university recruitment campaigns belong to an old world of state institutions, often selling through alumni testimonials: they need to be sharper, more provocative, more challenging.

Second, the best universities can play a much bigger role in shaping the world. They can be the powerhouses of society – moulding, rather than being moulded by, public policy. The monastery was the powerhouse of the agrarian world. The factory took that role in the industrial era. Now could be the age of the university. But universities need to stand for something that suggests the essential role they play in society. They need to be the convenors of today’s most urgent public debates, and the democratisers of the best new ideas.

Third, the best universities can reach millions more people who are hungry for knowledge, through the power of digital to spread content freely, and more importantly to get people learning from each other. But to do this, universities need to stand for innovation in education, as well as tradition – or they will become increasingly sidelined. They are, like it or not, content businesses, but they too often come across as backward-looking and impenetrable institutions – symbolised by obscure heraldic imagery – rather than contemporary digital platforms.

Fourth, the best universities can move much faster to answer humankind’s deepest questions – not on their own but through partnerships with other organisations, public and private. Many of today’s intellectual questions are too complex to be solved by isolated institutions: what’s needed are ecosystems of knowledge. But to accelerate this, universities need to stand more clearly for openness and experimentation, and not to come across as closed institutions, speaking their own language to people like themselves. They need to be happy to share their brands.

Britain’s top ten universities already have a brand – either an implicit one, developed over centuries, or something newer and more deliberate, like UCL’s ‘London’s global university’. But are these brands ready for all of today’s opportunities? And few of the other hundred universities have any kind of brand at all. Now’s the time for them to look outwards, look to the future, and nurture a clear, shared sense of what they want to stand for in this decade and the next.

Robert Jones is Head of New Thinking at Wolff Olins and visiting professor at University of East Anglia. 

Image via MIT.

Must purpose be good?


By Robert Jones  

‘Must purpose be good?’ It’s a summer evening in a Victorian library in the Science Museum in London, and I’m on the panel at a seminar called ‘Purpose Matters’, organised Hall & Partners, the research agency. Of all the questions we’re asked, this is the best.

It made me think hard about this ubiquitous buzzword ‘purpose’. Every company seems now to have one. There’s even a book now called The Purpose Economy. But has the idea become valueless? Is it just management feelgood? Once we’ve defined our purpose, can we all sit back and congratulate ourselves? Is ‘purpose’ just the latest version of ‘vision’?

I’m a believer in purpose. I’ve always felt organisations do better when they have a purpose beyond profit. And it’s always been in the DNA of Wolff Olins: we’ve always wanted to help our clients make the world a bit better. But a few recent things have got me worrying.

First, does purpose really help in external communication? When British Airways started using its purpose explicitly in advertising – ‘to fly, to serve’ – its low-cost rival EasyJet countered cheekily with ‘to fly, to save’ – which neatly captured what people actually want. So is purpose always a turn-on for customers? No.

And some of our younger digital client companies are just puzzled when we push them about their purpose. We don’t need a purpose, they say, we just need to be clear what our platform helps our users to do. So is purpose always essential to get a new product off the ground? No.

Second, is purpose powerful enough inside organisations? Tesco, like many companies that have been hit by criticism recently, has defined a purpose: ‘to make what matters better, together’. But as a customer, can you feel it in the stores? No. Is it helping the company grow? Judging by last week’s sales figures, no.

Several of our clients have excellent purposes, and believe in them, but everyday life gets in the way. Under shareholder pressure, managers understandably go for safety, sameness and revenue, rather than risk, difference and principle. So does purpose – even in those organisations that believe in it – drive decision making? No.

What this all implies is that purpose, on its own, is not enough. And in fact purpose statements, on their own, don’t motivate people, any more than vision statements used to. Mantras help, but it’s the climate that surrounds them that makes the difference.

Externally, purpose needs to become softer, broader, more diffuse: a climate that you could call attitude or angle or even obsession. Unilever’s excellent Jane Buck, a fellow panellist at the Science Museum, calls it ‘point of view’, like Persil’s view that dirt is good. It’s something you can share with customers rather than throwing it at them. It might even be a question you debate with customers.

And internally, purpose needs to become harder – an honest operating principle, or a bunch of them. We can still learn a lot from the Quaker companies, like Cadbury or Clarks, whose founders weren’t philanthropists but tough businesspeople who saw purpose and profit feeding into each other, in a virtuous circle. Organisations now need to talk explicitly about the ROI on ‘purpose’, and to help their people make decisions that are neither idealistic nor rapacious: decisions that make money by making a difference. And if your goal is simply to make money, that’s fine: that’s your purpose.

So the answer is purpose doesn’t have to be good. Externally, it’s not a great idea to boast about your high-minded purpose, about how good you are. And internally, it doesn’t work to pretend to be driven by goodness, to be a kind of NGO, when you’re a profit-making company. Purpose isn’t enough: what’s your point of view? And what are your operating principles?

Robert Jones is Head of New Thinking at Wolff Olins and a visiting professor at UEA.  

A new way to make brands

by Robert Jones 

For the last ten Monday afternoons, as winter turned into spring, I’ve been working with my 22 brand leadership students on three real-life client projects. Classroom 2.03 is a bit of a hothouse, literally and metaphorically, so it’s been heady stuff. And week by week, it’s become clearer that the method I’ve been teaching is a million miles away from reality. It’s time to rethink that method – and to learn from the very different world of software development.

I’ve been teaching a linear model: first define your client’s goals, then imagine the brand idea they should stand for, then make an action plan (innovation, communication and internal change), and finally make sure they’ll live happily ever after. I’ve always known this neatness is artificial – but then, as the statistician George Box said, ‘all models are wrong, but some are useful’. For many years, it has to me felt useful.

But the eight weeks this term were very far from linear: cyclical, iterative, even (in a good way) chaotic. Ideas would be pounced on, enthused about, developed, dropped, and then reappear later. Occasionally, the clients’ needs would change. Every week, the three teams would learn something. Some weeks, they would make a huge creative leap forward. Other weeks, they would be seriously stuck. As one student said, ‘We were stuck on stage two… the philosophical thinking… for a very long time… Our ideas only flourished when we moved to stage three… actionable ideas.’ It felt as if moving to practical ideas sooner would make the thinking faster and better.

So as term moved on, I asked myself: can we make a more useful model?

At the same time, back at base at Wolff Olins, we’ve been facing new client pressures. What used to be a 12-month project is now 12 weeks. For clients we’ve been working with in China, this could even be 12 days – that’s their product development cycle. Our old linear method is just too slow.

And over the winter, we’ve started up a new business at Wolff Olins – a school of branding, called Kitchen. Doing a start-up has taught me an unforgettable lesson: get on with it. Don’t wait till the theory is perfect: try something and learn something today. Kitchen is now a live business – and whatever method we followed wasn’t linear.

So the student projects, our clients and Kitchen demand a different model. Maybe the alternative is in front of our noses: the agile software development process used by our tech clients.

‘Agile’ has been around for a decade or more. Its method is rapid prototyping – make something quickly and test it, rather than spending your time planning and designing. Its aim is ‘proof of concept’. Its rhythm is fast: ‘sprints’ of activity. Its management style is ‘lean’: self-organising teams that include the client, rather than formal hierarchies. And its philosophy is the opposite of the traditional top-down ‘waterfall’.

I’m not talking here about capital A agile, but small a: not the full, formal process of the Agile Movement, but agile thinking. Not the letter of the law, but its spirit.

You can sum it all up in a simple diagram. 


So here’s a better way for the students and for us. Not linear but cyclical. Not just thinking but doing too. And there’s a central role for testing, for getting data, for assessing ideas against reality – in a word, for learning.

How would the method work? Imagine something like this: every week, we start with our best hypothesis for the brand idea – the bunch of things we want our client to stand for in people’s minds. We then quickly turn it into some kind of ‘product’, which could be in any of the four quadrants we use (presence, culture, capability and offer). We then test this product, with consumers or client people or external experts, and formulate what we learn from the testing. Finally, we improve the brand idea for the following week. And we repeat until the brand idea feels solid.

The method should be faster than the linear model. It should be more practical, because it forces us to give our ideas form – to break away from the lofty and abstract. It should be more persuasive, since it’s constantly building proof of concept. And it should also be more rigorous, since our ideas are put to the test every week. (In fact, the process is very similar to the scientific method, where the cycle is theory, experiment, data).

So this is how I’ll teach my student projects next year. At Wolff Olins, we’re already using it when clients ask us to do innovation work – we’ve even written a very neat manual on the process for one client. We now need to apply it to brand creation work. Or at least (in the spirit of agile), we need to try it out and learn from it.

There are some big implications. We’ll have to make the client into a full member of the team, not just a workshop participant. We’ll have to be clear what kinds of things we can ‘make’ every week – it won’t be a new piece of software every time. And we’ll have to learn to love data – and yet also not to be ruled by it, not to let it limit our imaginations.

Excitingly, though, this approach could create a new weekly rhythm for everything, speeding up the whole Wolff Olins machine. It’s a way to achieve what I suggested in my post last month, ‘What’s wrong with brand thinking’: to ricochet constantly between architect (‘think’) and handyperson (‘make’). And it’s a way to add a third role to that list, just as essential: the perpetual learner (‘test’).

Thank you for help on this Camilla Grey (@CamillaStore) and Tom Petty (@tp).

Robert Jones is head of New Thinking at Wolff Olins and visiting Professor at the University of East Anglia. Follow him @RobertJones2


What’s wrong with brand thinking?

By Robert Jones

It struck me one grey winter’s morning at the end of last year: is my whole way of thinking wrong?

We’re starting a new business at the moment in Wolff Olins – a kind of school of branding. We’re getting advice from the experts in start-ups. And on that winter’s morning, the advice arrives, in black and white: don’t think about vision or strategy or any kind of Big idea, but get something out there fast and learn from it. Just do something small that will prove the concept. Make a product, any product, of the minimum viable kind. Big ideas are just a distraction, a kind of procrastination. The way we all instinctively do things at Wolff Olins – sort out the idea first – may just be wrong.

We followed the advice and, as the winter comes to an end, we have a real business, with real paying customers. We’ve learned a lot. The advice has worked.

Which has made me think about the drawbacks of traditional brand thinking. Is what a lot of us do too theoretical? Do we too much live in a fantasy world where we set out beautifully clear, idea-led futures for our clients that are a million miles away from their daily reality? Are we – as Liz Moor suggests in her book The Rise of Brands – control freaks, imagining we can turn our clients’ world into neater, better things? Do we kid ourselves that brand is at the centre of the universe? Are we too perfectionist, and too slow?

Maybe, in fact, there two completely different ways of looking at the world: the brand consultant’s view, and the start-up expert’s view. One is about thinking, the other about acting. One is idealist, the other realist. It’s one big idea versus many small ones. It’s designing versus making. It’s neatness versus impact. Cleverness versus usefulness. Control versus chaos. Brasilia versus Lagos. Anxiety (‘we must pin everything down now’) versus trust (‘it’ll work itself out’). Apollo versus Dionysus. One is like an architect, the other a handyman, a bricoleur. One sees brand as the cause of everything, the other sees brand as the eventual result.

As a neatness-loving control freak – like most people who’ve worked in corporate identity – I find myself challenged by all this. I teach a lot about brand-led innovation and brand-led change: are these ideas illusions?

And yet… There was one moment over the winter when our new business took off. It was when we decided to name it not Wolff Olins Academy – the obvious name – but Kitchen. Two of us were talking at the green armchairs near my desk, and the name just seemed right. Very quickly, a whole story about kitchen flowed. This would be a school that metaphorically took customers behind the scenes of Wolff Olins, from the restaurant into the kitchen. Its style would be like sitting round a kitchen table, not a lecturer addressing a theatre. And it would be totally practical: we’d be making something good. (Plus it might get a bit messy.) In two or three minutes, we’d defined our experience principles. We quickly spread the word. Colleagues began to get it, to want it, and to sell it to clients.

And that was a brand moment. It was a (fairly) big idea. So brand, whatever exactly that is, does have a value, even in a start-up. Brand thinking has a role. It wasn’t just the name, but being clear what you want to stand for in people’s minds. Somehow, that changed everything.

So brand may not be the centre of the universe, but it somehow gets the planets moving. And – to switch metaphor – our practice needs to ricochet constantly between architect and handyman.

Sign up to hear more about Kitchen. 

Robert Jones is head of New Thinking at Wolff Olins and visiting Professor at the University of East Anglia. 

How we learn at work

By Robert Jones 

‘Executive education’ is a phrase I hate. Rather like ‘executive homes’, it suggests a neat, suburban world of hierarchy and aspiration: not one I want to live in. Luckily, that world is turning itself upside down – not least because of the democratising effects of online learning – into something much more anarchic. At Wolff Olins, we hosted a breakfast seminar to explore what’s happening. Two mornings ago 22 participants gathered at our London base: people from startups, big companies, retailers, universities and think tanks, a mix of enthusiasts and healthy sceptics.

We kicked things off from the learner’s point of view, and talked about the times when we learn best at work. The answer was it’s overwhelmingly informal, almost accidental. It could be my boss acting as mentor, giving me (to pick up Daniel Pink’s words) both autonomy and mastery. It could be peer to peer, particularly when I’m learning from someone with a totally different skill or background. The most powerful learning is often from making mistakes. And timing is everything: the right moment matters more than the best teacher.

We talked about why things are changing now, and explored the evolving relationship between organisation and individual. Recent Wolff Olins research on the new mainstream – today’s more powerful, more creative consumer – applies to employees too. As employees many of us are looking for a new kind of exchange with our companies: in return for time and commitment, we want a sense of purpose, and learning that goes beyond our job role, learning we can take with us to our next job, or to the rest of our lives.

Next, the breakfast participants shared some of the things they’re currently working on. Three themes emerged. First, projects where companies are giving employees new kinds of experience, like Exceed at the University of the Arts London, which gives support staff a taster of the things students learn, shifting subtly some of the power relationships inside universities. Second, the growing trend for companies like Net a Porter or The Guardian to encourage internal startups as the best route to both organisational and individual learning – learning by doing (and making mistakes). Third, projects where companies teach outsiders, like Google’s Squared Online, and the learning for jobseekers set up by Enternships, where employers give potential applicants training way before they join.

Out of this grew a lively discussion about what the new learning needs to feel like. What’s the role of online? Are new approaches helping reframe the cultural tendency to over-celebrate extroversion, articulated by Susan Cain? Does learning need to be onerous to be effective? Is there a correlation between great teaching and great learning? How far is it about metaskills, things people can take into their non-work life? Which of the five types of exchange, described in Richard Sennett’s book on cooperation, are at play between educators and learners, and employers and employees?

We finished with the beginnings of a manifesto for learning at work, which seemed to have three main tenets. First, the importance of a shared sense of purpose, as a foundation for learning, a magnetic north for people at every level in the organisation – together with a sense for each person of the progress they’re making. Second, the need to give people time and space to do things, try things, make things, maybe start up a business, to learn – as part of every company’s role in continuing people’s learning beyond formal education. Third (and this clause of the manifesto needs more work) the demand for organisations to build trust internally and externally, by being generous with, rather than protective of, their intellectual property: to spread what they know.

This doesn’t feel much like ‘executive education’, buttressing the power of managers and their mini-empires: it’s more like boundaryless learning, breaking barriers of hierarchy, silo, organisation – and that fascinating boundary between who we are as people, and the subset of ourselves that we bring to work.

Robert Jones is head of new thinking at Wolff Olins and visiting professor at The University of East Anglia.

In the spirit of rethinking learning we’ve set up a school of our own, Kitchen. Sign up to hear about classes here

Five versions of brand

By Robert Jones 

Branding keeps changing. The way brands work – their role in the world – is constantly evolving. But it’s possible to simplify this complex story into five distinct stages: five versions of brand.

Brand v1: marking ownership

The emergence, centuries ago, of the idea of private property meant people needed to mark their property – to say either ‘this is mine’ or ‘I made this’. People used painted marks, written signatures, watermarks, hallmarks, stamps – or marks burned onto things like cattle. Though this practice goes right back to the ancient Egyptians, the mark wasn’t called a ‘brand’ until some time in sixteenth century.

Brand v2: guaranteeing quality

With the industrial revolution, and the emergence of mass production, came a new insight: if you were a factory owner, you could put a mark not just on your property but on your products. The mark would mean ‘this is a product you can trust’. In an era of shoddy products, and often adulterated foods, these marks could command higher prices.

The great pottery entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood was a precursor of this idea, with products labelled ‘Etruria’ from the 1760s. The technology of branding shifted: burned marks evolved into marks stamped onto products like pottery, and then printed on packaging. By the 1820s. the word ‘brand’ was being used in this new sense. The focus was on brand names and on brand reputations, and a new expertise emerged: the new breed of artists behind trademarks and packaging design.

Brand v2 turned direction, and gained huge new power, in the 1870s, with the idea that you could protect these new assets as ‘registered trademarks’. Design and law made a potent combination, and many of the earliest registered trademarks are still effective value-creators now, like Kellogg’s, Campbell’s or Bass.

Brand v3: promising pleasure

Around the start of the twentieth century, mass production was amplified by mass media. Factory owners realised they could combine with media owners to give their trademarks even more power: that through advertising in newspapers, then cinemas and radio, they could associate their products with powerful emotions. Brands could do more than guarantee quality: they could promise pleasure.

The chocolate entrepreneur George Cadbury anticipated this new version of brand. He associated his products with a big idea – purity – and gave that idea emotional power through advertising that used images of children. Once again, the technology of branding shifted, into the new arts of advertising and public relations. Cultural forces like psychoanalysis played a role in this: Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays was a founding father of PR. Brand makers defined brands through a proposition (or ‘unique selling proposition’, USPs) and a personality, in order to create powerfully persuasive communication. Large manufacturers of consumer goods – Coca-Cola, Procter and Gamble, Ford and many more – became masters of the art.

Brand v3 turned direction, and grew in power, in the 1960s, with the arrival of television in almost every home, and the ‘creative revolution’ in advertising, which produced hugely more sophisticated brand messaging. Increasingly, advertising appealed not only to people’s sensory pleasures, but also to the deeper pleasures of self-image: by choosing the right product, it suggested, you would look good to your friends, or feel better about yourself.


Brand v4: inviting belonging

Through the mid twentieth century, a new force emerged: the post-industrial corporation. Companies became huge supra-national centres of power. Big corporations, and their institutional investors, saw that they could broaden the impact of brand, from their individual products to the company itself. Brands could now be corporate brands, and could do more than promise pleasure: they could invite all kinds of stakeholders to feel a sense of belonging. By feeling they belong, employees would work harder, and customers would stay loyal for longer.

Early pioneers of what was originally called ‘corporate identity’ included Peter Behrens at AEG in Germany before the first world war, then London Transport in the 1920s, then IBM in the 1950s. The technology of brand shifted into defining an organisation’s purpose (or vision or central idea), expressing it through visual design – the logo and its supporting paraphernalia – and sharing it through the various mechanisms corporations use to build their internal working cultures. And a new kind of expert took centre-stage: the design-based brand consultant.

Brand v4 turned direction in the 1980s, when two contradictory things happened together. First, Reaganism and Thatcherism glamorised the corporation still further, and created a new cohort of privatised companies. Second, the PC gave individuals a new sense of power, culminating in the Apple Mac, and the 1960s generation started identifying with a new kind of apparently anti-corporate company, like Apple, Virgin or Southwest. These new phenomena felt like consumer brands, and the old terminology of ‘corporate identity’ switched to ‘corporate brand’.

Brand v5: enabling action

At the end of the twentieth century, patterns of consumer behaviour were transformed by the arrival of the Internet. Writers like Alvin Toffler were talking about the producer-consumer, or ‘prosumer’, back in the 1980s, but the Internet made prosumers mainstream. Suddenly, people had more knowledge and power than ever, and gained huge new scope to make and sell things, as well as buying them. Entirely new businesses transformed industry after industry: Amazon, eBay, Google, YouTube, Skype, Facebook, Wikipedia. None promised pleasure, or (in any deep emotional sense) invited belonging, but they all offered people a platform on which they could do new things: they enabled action.

The technology of branding is therefore changing once again. These new platforms think in terms of their role in people’s lives, and of the principles behind the user experience – and their success depends on how well that experience works. The old arts of advertising and logo design are much less important in this world, and expertise lies with the tech companies themselves, and with new kinds of specialists like service designers.

Where we are now

All five versions of brand still exist, side by side. Probably v3 brands are still the most common, and advertising agencies are still the most powerful force in the brand world. Most big corporations now take their brand v4 very seriously, and brand consultancies are still very influential. Brand v5 is still very young: it’s impossible to predict how it will play out, and it’s unclear who the new breed of experts will be. And the story isn’t linear: it may even be that the biggest v5 brands will start to look like big corporations, and behave much more like v4 brands. What’s certain is that evolution never stops, and v5 isn’t the end of the story.

Digging deeper

If you’re in London, the Museum of Brands offers you a journey through the evolution of brands, with a particular focus on v2 brand packaging. For a good insight into the thinking behind brand v3, read David Ogilvy’s Ogilvy on Advertising (1983). Liz Moor’s The Rise of Brands (2007) gives an historical account of brand v4. And Adam Arvidsson’s Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture (2006) offers a cultural analysis of brands v3, v4 and v5.

Robert Jones is head of new thinking at Wolff Olins and visiting professor at The University of East Anglia. 

Image via Cadbury’s First Christmas Ad (Fallon London)