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  • James Odene

What I learnt from a smelly little bin

When taking a walk around my local area, I came across an old OOH advert for a wedding dress shop. The advert itself was essentially just the logo and contact details, not exactly inspiring, but that's not what I want to talk about here. Perhaps if I show you, you'll see it too...



Yep, it's on a bin.


Hands up who fancies buying a wedding dress from a stinky bin, mostly full of dog poo? Anyone? I doubt that this company set out to put time and money into creating a poster solely with the intention of whacking it on this tiny bin, but that's what they ended up with and the results are a pretty sorry sight. Now, all I hear when I walk passed this bin is a voice screaming 'CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING' in my head. Inadvertently or not, this wedding dress advert has created a constellation of brand knowledge in my mind that includes both wedding dress and dog poo.


One word with big ideas lurking within

A want to introduce you to (if you don't already know of it) is 'schema'.

Let's jump in headfirst with a definition:


Schema: coming from psychology and cognitive science, a schema is like a network - it is the organised construct of inter-related information and their relationship (positive or negative). A simple example would I said Apple, it may evoke a schema for you that includes, fruit, Adam and Eve, a logo, quality, iPhone... etc etc. You can think of it as a framework, a mindmap, a scaffolding or blueprint of information.


Now each brand, product, company will evoke or take place in certain schemas, rubbing alongside other constellations of information. What's important to know here, is that branding is in most part the attempt to positively affect the building of what gets added to the schema.


A brand is a result. It is a customer's gut feeling about a product, service or company. It ends up in their heads, in their hearts. They take whatever raw materials you throw at them and they make something out of it. But they are making, they are creating it. And so in a sense, when you create a brand, you're not creating one brand, you're creating millions of brands.
Marty Neumeier - speaking on The Futur

In the above situation, the wedding dress company has given their brand away to the bin, they paid money for it too. Assume you could choose between producing a fantastic advert placed in a terrible context, or a poor generic ad in the perfect context - which would you choose?


During the process of ad creation and brand management, so much of the thinking tends to be business-centric or ad-centric and too little thought is given to the context. You only have to look at the now (in)famous Stanford Prison experiment to see that by simply changing context, you can radically alter behaviour.


In short, context is important, give it just as much energy as the content, and maybe sometimes more.


In reality 'context' is often the most important thing in determining how people think, behave and act: this simple fact dooms many universal models from the start.
Rory Sutherland, Alchemy

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