I was at the Oakland Airport the other day and was pumped to see that they now have free wi-fi. That is, free wi-fi for 45 minutes, if you sit through a commercial. Awesome, right? Free wi-fi? And all I had to do is sit through a 30-second commercial?
Then a couple days later, I was watching a video online, for free, and there was a discreet “Brought to you by MINI” up above the video player. No pre-roll.
So here’s my question: Which of these models is better for the brand?
Traditional thinking would say that the one where you get the full brand message (i.e. option A) is the better. The brand spent all this time crafting a strategy and money producing a commercial–they want people to watch it.
But the problem with this is that it positions the advertising as something negative. It’s the work you have to do before you can enjoy the reward. It’s the broccoli before the ice cream sundae. The barrier between you and what you want. The negative end of the trade-off. The cost. In short, not where we want our brands to be.
Option B, the little logo, represents more modern thinking about a brand’s relationship with its consumers. What is Mini giving me? An interruption-free video? Awesome! Thanks, Mini! In this case, the brand is the bowl in which the ice cream sundae is served. I like that bowl, and I’m left feeling good about the brand. It has given me something I want. Sure, I didn’t get a “message,” but I have a FEELING (I would argue that’s more important anyway).
We’re at a pretty pivotal time in the way advertising is perceived. The old model sets up advertising as annoyance. It interrupts our shows. Delays our movies. Clutters our scenery. Do we really want to carry this legacy forward online?
This is a media question. In the traditional model, it was answered by the media folks. A lot of agencies and media companies still work like this. It’s all about the numbers–the GRPs and Impressions and Clicks. But media has become the responsibility of everyone. If you’re a creative, it’s a conversation you should be involved in, because it influences how people view your creative and your brands. So get in there and ask questions, start conversations and, most important, be thinking of alternative solutions.
The etymology of branding starts with cattle. In order to tell one rancher’s cows from the thousands of other virtually identical cows on the range, ranchers would brand them with a unique mark. Theoretically, the branding we speak of when we gather in agency and client conference rooms across the globe is a little more sophisticated. Branding shouldn’t be synonymous with “labeling.” It should be more like “brand character development.” I should be learning something about your brand or product. You should be giving me something, adding something to my life, creating a positive association with your brand. Something to help me like it.
Yet, in any creative presentation, we hear: “I’d like to see more branding.” “More branding upfront.” “More brand registration.” In other words, say our name, show our logo, and then say our name some more. Because, as we all know, someone repeating their name over and over and over makes us like them. “Hi, I’m Billy. It’s my name. Billy. Billy is here!”
A lot of brands put their ads through quantitative testing. Companies like Ipsos ASI have perfected the art of making billions of dollars by dumbing down creative work, mostly by insisting that they need “more branding.” They do this because they believe in an inherent link between engagement, recall and likability. In other words, people remember what they like. Which seems true. But it also leads to the foolish belief that I can make you like my brand simply by repeating my name enough. Being memorable is not the same as being likable. If I burn my name into your arm with a hot metal poker, I can guarantee you’ll remember me. Does that mean you’ll like me?
In the latest example of this confused philosophy, a company called Solve Media has developed a system by which CAPTCHAs are branded. You know CAPTCHAs. They’re those squiggly words you have to decipher when you buy tickets online, etc. They basically verify that you’re a human.
I think most of us would agree that CAPTCHAs are fairly annoying. A necessary evil at best (however, as an aside, I do find the use of ReCAPTCHAs to be a cool, innovative solution to two problems at once). So the brainstorm of the people at Solve Media is to create branded CAPTCHAs. Instead of typing in “contribute of,” you might be asked to type in “The Ultimate Driving Machine” or “Just Do It” (though I doubt either BMW or Nike will engage in this type of “branding.”)
Here’s a little video championing this innovation:
The problem here is twofold:
1) You’re associating a brand with something annoying and intrusive. What are you giving me here? You’re standing between me and something I want with your stupid slogan. Rather than walking away with a positive impression, I’m irritated, and your brand is the source of my irritation.
2) This is amoeba-level marketing. Just because I see your slogan doesn’t mean I like your brand. “Hi. It’s me again. Billy. Remember me? I told you my name earlier. It’s Billy! Billy is here!”
Come on, folks. We can do better than cattle branding.
If you go to Modernista’s Website, you find a unique and inspiring message. “Modernista is not for everyone.”
Many agencies will take a shot at any client they think they can win. But an agency with a good sense of who they are and who they want to be realizes that they can’t be the right agency for every client. Like a brand, they have a character. Taking on the wrong clients will dilute that character pretty quickly.
Understanding what your agency’s brand is can be just as important as understanding your clients’ brands. But, as Tim Williams points out in Take A Stand For Your Brand, agencies can be surprisingly bad at defining and understanding their own brand. We tell our clients they can’t be everything to everyone. We would be wise to heed our own advice.
I often tell my students that a good way to think about brand character is to just think about character. The traits we admire in brands are the same traits we admire in people–honesty, integrity, quality, dependability, usually some humility. This is, apparently, a difficult concept for many marketers who think that smug arrogance is somehow appealing.
Now I don’t know Howie Long personally, and I’m willing to give him a pass as just reading scripts. But if this commercial is how I get to know Chevy, then Chevy is that asshole jock from high school who made fun of anyone who wasn’t on the team. Not someone I particularly care for.
It doesn’t necessarily make me happy to see Chevy working behind the counter in a burger joint still sounding like a jackass, but I can’t say I’m surprised.
Maybe you remember the original Jared Fogel ad from Subway. This spot didn’t win any major awards. And you probably aspire to much more creative work. But the fact that you remember Jared shows that the campaign (now, almost a decade old) was crazy successful. And there are several important lessons from the Jared campaign that are worth noting:
- Subway’s marketing director wasn’t impressed with Jared’s story. He thought fast foods couldn’t do healthy. He wanted to do a campaign based on taste.
- The health campaign Subway did want to run was called “7 Under 6,” which talked about the seven sandwiches they had that were under 6 grams of fat. (No matter what you think of Jared, you’ve got to admit he’s more interesting than “7 Under 6.”)
- The Jared spot made Subway’s lawyers very nervous. They were afraid it would appear like a medical claim. In their lawyer wisdom, they advised against running it.
- Even though the national Subway office vetoed the Jared campaign, some franchisees showed some interest in running it using regional ad money.
- With no national funding to cover production, Hal Riney’s president, Barry Krause decided to make the spots for free. Production would come out of the agency’s pocket.
- The original spot ran on January 1, 2000.
- Within three days, Hal Riney had received calls from USA Today, ABC, Fox News and Oprah.
- A few days later, Subway’s national office called, asking if the ads could be aired nationally.
- That year, sales jumped 18%, plus another 16% after that.
- The campaign sold a ton of sandwiches. Jared’s since become part of pop culture (He’s been featured on South Park, no less.) Arguably, this story has made Subway the brand it is today.
So what does this mean for you? I’m not saying the Jared spot is worthy of a One Show Gold. But it shows that even wildly successful campaigns meet opposition. Don’t let the road blocks rile you. Don’t hate the client or the account team or creative director or partner who says “no.” One “no” doesn’t always mean the work is dead if you’re willing to fight for the work you believe in.
(The details of the Subway story can be found in the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.)
I’m reading Seth Godin’s Tribes. He’s got a lot of good things to say about leadership, which relates to anyone putting their book together. Why? Two reasons:
- No matter what product we’re working on, we’re trying to create a leader. Don’t confuse that with trying to create a behemoth megabrand like Coke and Microsoft. Small niche brands also need to lead to be successful. On a brief, the Who are we trying to communicate with? section may as well read Who are we trying to lead?
- Not to get all Tony Robbins on you, but you need to see yourself as a leader, too. Whether it’s because you’re an aspiring ACD with longterm CCO goals, or you’re simply trying to win a client’s trust and respect, to be successful, you need to lead.