Unbranding of a summit

Breandan O BroinBreandan O’Broin on a major event which achieved heights of great distinction

Where does the Cannes Festival take place? Cannes. Where is the Davos Conference held? Davos. The Rose of Tralee? You’ve guessed it. Where will the 2016 Dublin Web Summit take place? Lisbon. Will the unbranding work? Remember Classic Coke? It’s a marketing truism that when you build a strong global brand, the last thing you do is change it radically.

It’s certainly not something you would undertake in one fell swoop. Unless, of course, there were reasons of great magnitude to do so, like an outbreak of war, pestilence, or hordes of killer-bees. Stray Thoughts thinks the originators of the hugely successful Dublin Web Summit have got their branding knickers in a twist of seriously significant proportions.

Why so?

Because they have chosen to ignore probably the single most significant facet that made their brand work like gang-busters. The factor is not an all-consuming interest in data, but a human desire to visit Dublin. We citizens may knock our city but we wouldn’t leave it for Limerick, or Lisbon for that matter. Dublin is a destination; it’s Book of Kells territory.

It’s Book of Joyce territory and the historical towers around its suburbs. Dublin is history and heritage and authenticity – notice the inbuilt pun there? In 2016, Dublin will be the city where the free world began its journey from domination by empires and dominions into a collective of independent republics. Dublin is the seedbed, the original begetter of start-up nations.

It’s also a global capital of start-up thinking. Everyone in the tech world knows Google and Facebook and whoever-next makes Dublin their tech capital of choice. And it’s not just for the 12.5 per cent tax rate either. The RDS may have been lacking in the provision of on-tap wi-fi for serial addicts, but the Dublin Summit was the place where you made real connections.

It’s the place where you got to meet the Man. So you had to suffer the stroll back into town taking in a pint or two in Toners instead of being ferried around on a fleet of branded buses or Mercs with Garda outriders? Big deal. That’s what Dublin is; that’s why Dublin was different.  The minor stuff is huff and puff; noses out of joint; the organisers not feeling the lurve.

The contention that every other government in Europe is stuffed with eager bucks bursting with innovation is delusional horse manure. Others are desperate to get their hands on our crown jewels and willing to pay a fortune. Sadly for their own sakes, the Web Summit people have unbranded a brand and sold the marketing jewels down the Liffey and up the Tagus.

18 September 2014; With just 365 days until the opening ceremony of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, TV3, the official Irish broadcast partner to the Rugby World Cup, today announced that former Ireland captain Keith Wood will join its panel of experts for coverage of the tournament in 2015. Keith played 58 times for Ireland, scoring 15 tries, a record for a hooker. He also represented the British and Irish Lions and was named as ‘World Player of the Year’ in 2001. Keith is the first panellist to be confirmed by TV3 and will join presenter Matt Cooper for extensive coverage of the tournament, which starts on 18th September 2015. TV3 will make a number of announcements around its coverage of the IRB Rugby World Cup 2015, in the coming months. Pictured are Sinead Kissane, TV3 Group Sports presenter, with Keith Wood, right, and Niall Cogley, TV3 Director of Broadcasting. Lansdowne Rugby Club, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***


High praise is due to all the team at TV3 for putting on a great Rugby World Cup (RWC), despite Ireland’s early capitulation to Argentina. It was a refreshing change to encounter a panel of enlightening pundits and commentators, not least Keith Wood and Shane Jennings. Egos were left in the dressing room and the audience got to learn more as a result.

But “events dear boy, events” as Harold Macmillan was wont to say. TV3 missed out on a moment of broadcasting glory as they opted to show ads at the very instant our icon-in-chief Paul O’Connell was lying ripped apart on the field, his face contorted in agony, about to be stretchered off. The nation was witnessing the death of a hero, a much-loved sports legend.

How courageous, how appropriate it would have been for the station to stay with the moment and find space for the ads at a later time? O’Connell deserved the eloquence of silent tribute; too early for well-meaning rhetoric but appropriate for constant monitoring and respect. Everyone reading Marketing.ie is totally aware that ads pay the wages; they’ve paid ours for years, but we reckon every single advertiser would have understood the decision.

What had the station to lose?

Would a major corporate have demanded payback and retribution?

No, they wouldn’t have dared; the press releases praising TV3 for the correctness of its corporate decision would have poured out from all quarters. Our great man had fallen and our nation was not interested in the brewing of a bottle of cider. TV3 should have resisted the urge to be TV€ and gone down in the annals of broadcasting history. “Events dear boy, events.”


In parallel with the Web Summit’s departure came news of a rebranding campaign for Dublin itself, featuring a whole-of-county strategy emphasising the fact that Dublin has more to offer than Temple Bar. Sea Dublin Mountains proclaims the bus posters encouraging visitors to shake the dust of the city off their heels and head for the hills and the eastern coastline.

The strategy makes sense from a political perspective as it promotes a something-for-everyone-in-the-audience approach but it’s difficult to forecast the level of response among people who come to the city for three days and nights of capital craic. But it’s laudable as it tries to entice older travellers with time on their hands and money in their parka pockets.

It also targets the thirty-somethings who are looking for something other than the opportunity of getting thrashed. What’s not so laudable is the slogan under which the proposition is being promoted, as ‘Dublin – A Breath of Fresh Air’ is a touch on the clunky side. Dare one suggest the slogan lacks freshness? Can we not come up something a little more imaginative?

In Destination Branding for Small Cities, Bill Baker, says the brand essence – the heart and soul or DNA of the brand – should be a short phrase that’s concise and rich in meaning. Las Vegas could be ‘Adult Freedom’. Australia’s Wollongong went with ‘We Love the Gong’.


Writing in The Irish Times, Colum Kenny called for a cap on the super-size salaries of RTE’s coterie of star performers. Kenny argues that no one at RTE should take home a pay packet in excess of €150,000, regardless of how important they are – or even think they are. If anyone is not happy with that amount Kenny says, then RTE should tell them to sling their hook (their George Hook perhaps) and go seek rewarding pastures elsewhere in the media firmament.

Turn to Denis O’Brien, in other words. This sort of stuff is populist and is grist to the publicity-seeking mill of the tabloid press whenever it indulges in yet another bout of RTE bashing. But Kenny is the professor of communications at DCU and he was writing in The Irish Times. How much does an august professor in an Irish university pull down? The Irish Independent  said DCU paid professorial salaries of €129,768 per annum back in 2013 – more than was earned by their counterparts in Oxford, Cambridge, London Imperial and Berkeley in California.

Kenny’s call for the “older-guard” to be told to bite the salary bullet or take the one-way road out of Montrose to be replaced by “the vast pool of young talent” is disingenuous and dulls the veracity of his overall argument that RTE is engaged in “reflecting the complacency of Irish society, telling itself that everything is fine, or soon will be”. Kenny’s call for RTE to develop an intellectually sharper edge is a valid one but it’s a perspective that deserves more scrutiny than it will get by being emotionally-infused with calls for a guillotine of the rich and famous.


Have you ever considered the list of things you’d love to have been but never will? My personal impossible bucket list embraces unattainable career choices such as an Aer Lingus pilot (too short-sighted); famous ballet dancer (too short-assed); basketball pro for New York Knicks (too vertically challenged) or Hollywood icon (too much of all the aforementioned).

But never have I remotely desired to be a “game-changer, innovator and one who lives his life by code”, which appeared in a recent recruitment ad for an IT company. The ‘game-changer’ and ‘innovator’ tags are fluffy enough to handle without too much bother – after all, who will ever really know? But living one’s life by code is a different kettle of integers entirely.

What’s an integer? Not sure really, but it sounds kind of cool and coded. Maybe I should apply after all. I even have a beard of sorts. I will expect to be paid big-time, in bitcoins; obviously.

Richard Branson in Virgin Media Ad


OK, so you expected trumpet blasts and chariots of fire, but you can’t have it all. The second coming was heralded by a big red truck driven by Richard Branson who sees himself as our broadband saviour, the special one who will deliver us into a heavenly kingdom of eternally available bandwidth and eternities of gigabytes. Initially, we thought the overblown ad was signaling the early arrival of Christmas as we mistook the red juggernaut for the Coke delivery truck. But then Dick smiled his beatific smile and we were back on the big data road.

All hail the Virgin king.


The Marketing Idiots of the Century Award goes to Volkswagen. How, after all these years of consistent creative brilliance, how could the German carmaker possibly be so crass, so stupid, so believing in their own invincibility? It’s enough to make Bill Bernbach weep.


Graham Wilkinson was a true gentleman of our community. Astute, aware and ever-courteous, he will be sadly missed. Our deepest sympathies go to Carol and family, and to Phelim O’Leary and Des Byrne, his fellow-founders of the seminal Behaviour & Attitudes.



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