Reaching out to agencies, prizing humour in its ads and innovating Alexa on an open platform – is the impenetrable Amazon bringing down the drawbridge to the industry?
The brand has been very good at keeping secrets ever since it became the darling of the dot com boom. Famous for rarely engaging with the press proactively, Amazon is also known for quietly filing futuristic patents and demanding silence from its agencies.
But now, its corporate culture of keeping schtum appears to be changing.
According to Karmarama’s managing partner Lawrence Weber, the e-tail giant has – for the first time – put a team together with the remit of reaching out to creative agencies, in a way that Twitter and Facebook have been doing for almost a decade. This, he believes, is all down to the launch of Alexa.
“The more and better Alexa skills there are, the more and better that will drive consumer use,” Weber said. “They’ve identified agencies as the people that can help them do it.
“They’ve been noticeably more open in that particular area over the last six months than they were before.”
Amazon's olive branch has not just been handed to agencies it previously might have eschewed; but the retail giant is also softening its image to consumers too.
The appearance of Jeff Bezos alongside the likes of Cardi B and Sir Anthony Hopkins in the brand’s Super Bowl ad proved that is its elusive founder is, in fact, not only real, but also has a sense of humour. Its Prime advertising on British TV also echoes this absurdity, depicting idiosyncratic scenarios where Amazon’s quick delivery is called for – such as a miniature pony in need of a cat flap.
The acquisition of Whole Foods, a move that may have seemed purely strategic, also had a softening effect on the brand, according to industry experts.
“Whole Foods is not like Tesco – it has a very strong identity. It [connects with] young millennials that like fresh, organic food. But it doesn't know much about technology,” said Alvaro Morilla, a senior analyst at Kantar.
Weber agreed, adding that Amazon very likely could have bought a bigger brand with a stronger grip on data, technology and logistics but without the personality and strong ethos of Whole Foods. “I think Amazon is definitely trying to soften its image and make itself less utilitarian and more friendly,” he said.
With Facebook under scrutiny from the ICO and US government over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Amazon has a perfect opportunity to step up to become the friendlier big tech brand for consumers, partners and advertisers.
Despite the huge swathes of data that it sits on, it has so far avoided any huge scandal (although, Morilla argues, Amazon has “yet to aggressively use the data it has on us outside of Amazon companies, and so retains more trust than other platforms”).
Looking forward, the challenge will come in Amazon’s really deciding what it stands for, according to Dave Coplin, the ex-chief envisioning officer of Microsoft now running his own consultancy The Envisioners.
“If you look at Facebook and Google they have a real well-defined sense of purpose,” he said. “Amazon is just a disruptor with an aim to reduce friction. It has a really loose sense of purpose. which is why when you try and engage with the company … it doesn't engage back.
“I don’t think you’ll find anyone inside the organisation that actually knows what Amazon wants to be when it grows up.”
Anna Hamill, Design Bridge’s strategy director, added Amazon needs to pay more attention to the public’s perception now that the idea of ‘brand love’ holds so much weight.
“It's not adored, but it will be hated and there will be backlash,” she said. "So it should be looking at how it can partner better and reach out to the media, how it can work more closely with its customers and perhaps share some of their data.
“It is going to look at how it loosen its hold a little bit, even while it remains one of the most powerful businesses in the world.”
Hamill, Koplin, Morilla and Weber were speaking at The Drum and The Sun Arms.