There are myriad ways of building brands today. Fortunately, for those of us who work in what we still call the 'advertising industry' there remains a multitude of brands who communicate with their audience largely through advertising. From FMCG to Ferraris, to fashion, great creative ads still influence choice and shift product.

Yet the digital era has opened up lots of new ways of building brands. Reference to Millward Brown's recently released BrandZ list of 2014's Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands shows Google in first place and Amazon in tenth, with a combined brand value of $223bn, built almost entirely sans advertising. If you have a desirable product offer and good customer service, word of mouth and social media can spread your message widely and efficiently without recourse to the talents of an ad agency. A noteworthy aside on BrandZ is that the top four places are occupied by technology companies, emphasising how the digital era has revolutionised the world of brands.

" If you have a desirable product offer and good customer service, word of mouth and social media can spread your message widely without recourse to the talents of an ad agency"

With the established methods for brand building now challenged by new forms, asking entrants to the Admap Prize 2014 to address the topic of How Brands Are Built in the Digital Age seemed an entirely 'of the moment' topic to set. It had lots of scope for different approaches – and we weren't disappointed by the response, characterised by the high quality of thinking and the variety of views.

In her brave and challenging Gold Award-winning essay, 'The Age of Less', Megan Averell argues that most brands have failed to adapt to the opportunities of the digital era. The promise of a two-way 'consumer-centric' conversation, with brands and consumers forming a 'relationship' has been broken. Instead, brands overlaid old disruptive marketing techniques onto new media, resulting in mass emailing, spontaneous video ads, pop-ups, unwanted intrusions into our personal space – our mobile phones and social media. And because digital touchpoints are plentiful and cheap, brands could do more of this disruptive messaging.

Not only have there been broken promises, but Averell argues that attempts to connect with our subconscious by engaging emotionally have raised unrealistic expectations of the brand that could never be fulfilled. 'Where did they get the misplaced notion that they would make us feel happy?' she asks.

What people want, she says, is brands that don't overpromise or underdeliver, and that use restraint when communicating with us. Crucially, the product has to live up to the promise – communications that misdirect the recipient away from the product by trying to bribe us with emotion will be seen as such, and quickly exposed on social media. She cites Trader Joe's, Whole Foods Market and Innocent as brands that are getting it right.

In her equally challenging, though very different, Silver Award-winning essay, Sarah Morning advances the argument that the key to brand building lies in engaging through regulating our emotions. She cites Coca-Cola's placement of its brand in movies that have scenes that create fear and terror, with Coke invoking a feeling of reassuring happiness in moments of stress.

Creating self-perpetuating brand fame is the key to brand building, according to the Bronze Award-winning essay by Peter Buckley. And brand statics – design, packaging, pricing, shelf space – are more effective in achieving this than brand flows – advertising, promotion, social media – which are best used to establish brand fame's 'congruence with culture'. In this issue, you will find these three, plus three more Judges' Commended, essays. I wholeheartedly commend them to you – I am confident that you will learn something from them.

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Admap. Click here for subscription information.