Review of branding@thedigitalage - 12 visions edited by Herbert Meyers and Richard Gerstman    

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The first question that springs to mind when picking up this book is "why the silly title?" Branding in the digital age, maybe, Branding for the digital age, perhaps, but branding@thedigitalage...? Would you trust the company behind this book, Interbrand, to come up with a name for your new brand? On the basis of this offering, I certainly wouldn't.

The book consists of an introduction from the editors, followed by twelve essays, or "visions", from a diverse range of marketers, representing both "old economy" companies such as McDonald's and Proctor & Gamble, "new economy" upstarts like and Organic, and the established tech companies who are the glue between the two, like Microsoft and Hewlett Packard.

The introduction is almost as painful as the title - Meyers and Gerstman give the impression of two wrinkly geezers, ripe for pensioning off by Interbrand, who want desperately to prove how excited they are about this whole Inter-web cyber-thing. Reading through their authors' contributions they "noticed that all... agreed on one issue: that branding will take center stage in e-tailing." About as surprising, I think you'll agree, as getting 12 religious fundamentalists to agree that religion will take centre stage in the future of morality. And also not entirely true - at least one of the authors plays down the importance of branding.

That author is Frederick Horowitz of, whose chapter "e-retailing: a look ahead" is one of the most thought provoking of the entire book. Horowitz states that while branding can be great if your company wants a funny sock-puppet as a mascot, it's no match for merchandising - being at the right place with the right product at the right time.

The other contributions range from insightful looks at a specific industry or product-type ("The dynamics for package goods on the Internet" by Proctor & Gamble's Vivienne Lee Bechtold is thorough and intelligent, but about as exciting to read as its title suggests) through blatant self- or company-promotion ("Interfacing with the consumer" by David A Burwick of Pepsi-Cola says very little other than what David A Burwick of Pepsi-Cola has spent the last couple of years doing) to meaningless rambles (I'm not quite sure what McDonald's David B Green is trying to say in "From retailing to e-tailing" other than that McDonald's don't have much idea what they're doing on the Internet, and Red Envelope's Hilary Billings' claim that in 3 years we'll have a huge flatscreen where we can "point and click and buy that dress right off the fashion show" or "walk virtual aisles in the grocery store" seems a little over-optimistic even to a technological-optimist such as myself). Other lowlights include two lawyers talking legalese for 13 pages and Microsoft's Robert J Herbold speaking in the language of Bill Gates' "Business at the Speed of Thought" of a world where everything is "friendlier and easier to use".

This whole book smacks of something hastily put together as an afterthought. The 12 visions would probably be better described as 12 hindsights, almost every chapter starts with a variation on "there is no difference between e-brands and traditional brands" (yawn), and the few nuggets of wisdom are buried so deep that you'd be best off finding them elsewhere. If there is one single chapter that lives up to the intention of the book, it would have to be "Interfacing with advertising" by Jonathan Nelson, the founder and CEO of Organic inc. Save yourself £19, pick it up in a bookshop and read that one chapter (which covers a wide range of industries, is written in plain English and talks only common sense).

© Dan Sumption, January 2002

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