Category Archives: Brand building

Why Trump’s election underlines the awesome power of The Big Brand

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The global airwaves and webwaves are now rammed with commentators and journalists post-rationalising why Trump got in.

You can’t turn on the telly or read a news site without finding some media luvvie telling you how half of Americans felt disenfranchised and ignored, and how, by voting for The Donald, they were making a statement about the Washington political elite. And globalisation. And immigration. And so on.

What nobody (apart from me, seemingly) has yet said is ‘Trump is an incredibly powerful brand’.

He’s built his public persona over many years. Like Kit Kat. People know exactly what he stands for and what to expect. Like Fairy Liquid. And as the ex-presenter of the US Apprentice series he is a genuine, A-List reality TV star.

And (just like Brand Boris in the UK), you can recognise Trump from his hair alone. What a fantastic logo that is. Just like McDonald’s golden M or Disney’s silhouetted mouse ears.

He’s got some brilliant brand slogans too: “Build a wall”, “Lock her up”. They’re what great slogans always are, specific, memorable and most importantly, ownable. Just like Have a Break Have a Kit Kat.

Compare Hillary’s lame offering: “Forward together”. Straight out of the bland political slogan handbook. Cooked up by a committee. Can’t really imagine people at a rally chanting “Forward together!”, can you?

Trump even created a hugely memorable  Brand Positioning for Clinton: “Crooked Hillary.” If you look at this stuff in marketing terms it’s actually close to genius.

In short, Trump has become quite simply a Very Big Brand. And big brands are what people go for. Ask Lever Brothers or Procter and Gamble.

Lever Brothers sell Marmite. Half the British population hates it (me included). The other half loves it. This division is so marked that it’s actually become intrinsic to Marmite’s brand. Their TV ads even show people spitting it out.

Lever Brothers and their agencies recognised that not everyone likes everything, and cleverly built a massive brand around the fact that lots of people hate Marmite with a vengeance. People in the UK even talk about things being ‘a bit Marmite’. How many brands have become part of everyday language in this way?

Donald J Trump is exactly like Marmite. He hasn’t tried to make everyone like him. But the people who do, love him. And the people who don’t, hate him. The people who love him forgive him his trespasses.

That’s why you’ll never hear anyone, anywhere, say, “Oy yes, Trump, he’s OK I guess”.

Large, established consumer brands can withstand short bursts of terrible PR. Their reputation can take a knock but, if they’re big enough, they easily bounce back. Smaller, less established brands can be destroyed. Again, Trump embodies this resilience spectacularly.

Contrast this with Hillary. A me-too brand if ever there was one. A white, charisma-free Obama-lite –  the own-label diet cola to Trump’s full-fat Coke.

 

The Muppets rescue Christmas!

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It’s November and in advertisingland Christmas is already in full swing. Every tv ad-break is filled with cute, smiling kids handing presents shyly and cutely to rosy-cheeked granddads and grandmas. Every home is covered is snow and jolly snowmen & amusing reindeer jostle for position in every high street.

Depressing isn’t it?

Personally I’m not a huge fan of Christmas, full stop; its brazen commerciality, its false bonhomie, its sentimentality and all the rest. Bah humbug etc.

But what really depresses me is the total lack of originality in Christmas advertising. The ads for retail outlets are literally interchangeable. (And I love the way those cheeky ad schedulers seem to make a point of running very similar ads right on top of each other. Well done, you lot!)

There are the ‘oh what a terrible present but I’ll put on a brave face’ ads. There are the small child accidentally meeting Father Christmas ads. There are the giant family around the dinner table scoffing Christmas fare from Aldi/Sainsbury/Asda/Waitrose/Lidl/M&S. There are the black and white with film star perfume ads. Yaaaaaaaaaaawn is not the word.

And of course there is The John Lewis Ad. An event which seems to have taken on an importance equivalent to Christmas Day itself. This year it features a kid looking at the lonely man in the moon. So he gets sent a telescope so he can feel even more lonely as he watches everyone on Earth having a great time with all their family and mates. Thanks a bunch, Earthlings.

Then there is the new ad for Giant Crumpets. Starring the muppets. All of them, from Kermit to Piggy to Fozzie to the chairman of Warburtons.

Who is clearly not a muppet, actually.

Because he or his marketing people have realised that the way to get ATTENTION and MEMORABILITY during the Christmas advertising yawn-fest – and at every other time of the year, too – is to do something DIFFERENT from everyone else.

The muppets ad blasts into your brain like a laser and, doubtless, the giant crumpets will be flying off the shelves the length and breadth of the country.

 

Why waste your precious budget telling punters what your product isn’t?

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You see it time and time again. Ads where the hugely expensive media cost and production costs are squandered by telling the the potential customer what the product isn’t, rather than what it is.

Insanity. You see it on TV, in the press, in DM and online.

There’s a particularly idiotic example poisoning the airwaves at the mo. It’s for Trainline’s app that lets you organise your railway journeys from your mobile.

Self-evidently, if you’re a regular user of the railway anything that takes the pain out of the process has got to be a good thing.

My local operator won’t let you buy a weekly ticket on a friday for journeys starting the following monday, for example. (I have no idea why. And neither have the poor folk manning the tills. When the tills are manned that is.)

So, in theory, I might be a candidate customer for the app in question. I’d therefore like to know all about it. What it can do. Where I can get it. And so on.

But does the 30 sec tv spot tell me any of this? Noooooo. Of course not. The people involved in making this masterpiece have decided to use the spot to tell me what the app doesn’t do. It doesn’t help me put out a fire on my computer. Or help me when my parachute fails at 20,000 feet. Fascinating.

Clearly, my sides are supposed to be splitting at this.

Except they’re not. I’m really annoyed that they waste 20 seconds of a 30 second spot not telling me the stuff that, as a potential user, I’d actually really like to know.

 

Social Media: why it’s a PR medium not an advertising medium

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These days, you can’t do an advertising pitch to a potential new client without including some soshul meeja, innit, content.

So the copywriters and art directors come up with all sorts of cool and groovy uses for Facebook, Twitter, Vine et al and, depressingly often, an App relating to the client’s product or brand (which, needless to say, never gets made).

The problem is, in the real world social media isn’t an advertising medium, it’s a PR medium. Companies that recognise this crucial distinction are able to use social media effectively and very cost-efficiently.

That’s because they realise that, exactly like ye olde media like newspapers, the most effective place for your sales message is in editorial.

Editorial is the stuff people WANT to read. The stuff that gives them useful information or entertains them with gossip. Ads are what people do their utmost to ignore.

So when you try and shoehorn your advertising campaign’s messages and tone of voice into social media it just screams I AM ADVERTISING PLEASE IGNORE ME.

Advertising people don’t understand PR. (And, to be fair, most PR people can’t do decent advertising, either.) Advertising people generally think PR is something that’s done by airhead toffs called Giles and Camilla. And that it’s easy. And somehow less important than advertising.

Wrong.

Get your new product into some editorial, because it’s relevant, interesting, entertaining, and you get a million times more bang for your buck. (Well, perhaps not a million, but a PR person will give you the actual data.)

Effective Twitter campaigns provide a constant stream of useful information. Be it recipes, links, tips and techniques. Nobody will re-tweet your, oh-so witty, ad campaign headline.

Ditto Facebook. Sure you can drag people to your Facebook page with an offer or promotion. But don’t be fooled into thinking bribing people to Like you has got anything to do with effective use of the medium.

Get some important journalists or opinion formers behind your brand, however, by using social media properly and you’re suddenly on a different planet results-wise.

Which is why clever clients, and clever ad people, know that it’s the PR agency who should be running their Facebook and Twitter activity. Not the ad agency.

 

 

The best copy in the world can’t sell something nobody wants

In Saffron Walden, where I’m lucky enough to live, shops open and then close down again in the blink of an eye. They’re always shops that sell stuff that their owners are clearly passionate about — Pin Cushions R-Us! or Dog Trousers Unlimited or Tripe-2-Go.

The problem is, their passion isn’t shared by the community at large. They simply don’t have a market. Hardly anybody wants the things they’re selling. So they fail. And quickly.

And exactly the same thing happens in the broader marketing community, too. People launch products or services without bothering to find out whether there’s a viable market for it.

They’re excited about it so they assume the world at large will be. And they’re very often wrong.

It’s easy to launch your business online, of course. Build a WordPress website, get some basic SEO, send out some emails with MailChimp and bingo, you’re a business.

It’s a sort-of puppyish “If you build it they will come!” mentality.

Except they don’t come. Unless you’ve researched your market properly, and identified a large number of punters who need what you’re flogging, they’ll stay away in droves.

And it doesn’t matter how good the promotion is ie how persuasive the copy is, how cool the corporate ID is, how witty the advertising. If nobody wants it, it won’t sell.

(And you can take solace from the fact that big multinationals get it wrong sometimes too. Because they didn’t do the right market research. Or they didn’t do any at all.)

But if you’ve got something the world is actually waiting for — the fabled ‘Better Mousetrap’ — then good advertising and marketing will help you find more customers and sell more mousetraps. Think of Dyson. Genius idea, superbly effective advertising and marketing…sensational customer service…funky design…and…and…and…

So how do you know if there’s a market out there? The easiest way is to look for someone already selling what you’re proposing to sell. Are there a few people out there making an honest crust doing something similar to your idea, at a similar price?

Yes? Then a market probably exists and your idea may have legs. Hooray! Next step, ask yourself whether you can do it better, cheaper, faster.

On the other hand, if you can’t find anyone selling what you’re proposing to sell, there are two reasons why this might be.

1: Your idea is so amazingly innovative and different that nobody else has thought of it yet. But it will still answer a need of some sort. Think Dyson: the Better Hoover without a Bag. Think of a tasty new food product. People need to eat. Think of a way to carry all your music in a tiny little hard-drive.

2: There simply isn’t a market for it.

 

 

 

 

Borrowed Interest: why it’s the lazy person’s alternative to an idea

Borrowed interest. This is where you import an idea, a headline, a visual treatment or something else irrelevant to the product or service you’re selling from somewhere else.

It used to be something that only your local builder, minicab or beauty parlour did. Because they didn’t know any better and it, sort of, looked like the advertising they saw from the big boys.

They’d nick the campaign line from famous brands, so you’d get Betty’s Hair Art Refreshes the Styles that Other Salons Cannot Reach. Sid’s Plumbers. No Other Plumbers Look like us, or Plumbs Like Us. And so on. You get the idea.

Or they’d nick a line from a famous song. Or use a naff library shot image to create a lame visual pun. Much easier than understanding what your customer needed and presenting a compelling reason why they should buy from you rather than somebody else.

Nowadays, because of the democratising of the ad industry, where sales promotion folk do ads, where ad folk do dm, where dm folk do PR, we’re starting to lose our craft skills. On the agency side and on the client side.

And this has resulted in Borrowed Interest creeping into the work of agencies (and brands) that seriously ought to know better.

So what’s wrong with it?

The problem is, it’s usually done because the client/planner/suit/copywriter/art director can’t be bothered to delve deeply enough into the product or service they’re selling. It’s hard work to get inside the head of your target audience and understand their specific motivations, needs and desires.

(Another reason why so much work these days looks like it’s aimed at 19 year olds, even if it’s clearly a product for 50 year olds.)

So instead of isolating a really interesting and compelling idea that’s firmly rooted in a consumer benefit, you get an idea that is simply bolted on to the product. The dimmer suits and clients go “Oo, that’s clever!”  because you’ve turned the title of a film or song into a headline for weedkiller.

This means that you lose the opportunity to say something really distinct and ‘ownable’ about the thing you’re supposed to be selling.

Instead of crafting a bespoke advertising solution (much as I hate that word, it’s appropriate here) you’re simply taking an off the peg idea and sellotaping it to something far more interesting.

It’s lazy and it’s ineffective. And it’s everywhere.

It’s really no different from your local car repair shop’s calendar with naked women all over it. In fact, it’s arguably worse than that. Here’s why…

But what about celebrities, aren’t they borrowed interest too?

Social psychologists have studied this phenomenon. And it’s crystal clear that using celebrities harnesses the power of what these boffins call ‘association’. So if you associate your product with a celebrity (or a sexy naked woman) it will share the goodwill that the celebrity engenders in the audience already.

If you’re selling a service where you’ve got nothing physical to show, like a bank, it’s often an interesting solution to create an ownable character (think of the LLoyds TSB people, for example, now dumped. DOH!) or import a celeb as the face of your faceless brand. Santander have got Jessica Ennis and Jenson Button all over their stuff at the mo. This probably does good things for the brand, especially when banks and bankers are so unpopular, as they are currently.

But a problem arises when you don’t buy out the celeb concerned. I was convinced I was looking at a Santander ad the other day, but it was Jessica wearing her Prudential hat. Big mistake, allowing your brand’s pet celeb to work for a direct competitor. DOH, DOH, DOH!

But as long as your celeb is saying something relevant about your product and ‘fits’ with your brand values then it’s often a good way to bring your brand to life.

And we all like a bit of domination

Cleverer brands often use another psychological technique called Authority. Endless experiments have shown that we defer to authority figures. Doctors, headmasters, tall people (really), generals, royalty…

So if you’re selling toothpaste, get a dentist to talk about its benefits. Even better, get a celebrity dentist.

Selling makeup, get a Hollywood makeup artist (or film star) to talk about its benefits. Selling insurance for old people, get a famous old person to endorse it.

I won’t insult your intelligence by listing the big brands that do this all the time. Just turn on the telly.

Of course, you have to choose the right person. Pick someone who’s completely irrelevant to your product or service and, although, you may get a little bit of traction through the association principle, you’re basically slap bang into good old-fashioned borrowed interest territory.

 

 

The clowns have taken over

In the crazy, mixed-up, back-to-front and upside-down world that is advertising at the moment, creative directors will often comment on copy that’s been written for them by saying “Hey, fantastic tone, brilliant!”

This is meant to be a compliment. It means you’ve managed to write very accurately in the house style of the particular brand you’re working on.

Each big brand has its own Tone of Voice book, that tells you how to talk in its own unique language so the brand stands out. But, hilariously, mostly these TOV guides all say exactly the same thing: warm, quirky, human, not jargon. Short sentences. No exclamation marks. And so on.

So by trying to stand out they end up sounding like all the rest. So they’re not unique at all.

Some are sillier than others. Virgin Holidays is probably the most extreme I’ve personally come across. You have to write as if the customer is a rock star and continuously praise and flatter him. I suppose it’s meant to be ironic. It’s actually just really, really annoying to read.

More importantly, a lot of the time this fixation on Tone gets in the way of the communication.

Often the agency and client are so obsessed with getting their TOV jokes and stylings in, the offer/message of the advertising is completely obscured. Virgin Holidays are an excellent example of this madness.

The copy will start with some vacuous nonsense about how ‘The waves on the beach will rush out to greet you. You look fantastic in swimwear’ and so on. And you don’t get to the point of the ad, some discounted package holidays, until three or four paragraphs later.

As if the reader cared about any of this guff. She’s looking for a deal. Companies like Virgin are doing their utmost to make sure she can’t find it.

David Ogilvy once said something like ‘people don’t buy from clowns’. And I’m starting to think he had a point.

What makes a great advertising headline?

One myth that needs to be nailed into a lead coffin and buried at least six feet under right now is this one: good advertising headlines involve a pun.

Where this nonsense actually originated I have no idea, but practically every junior creative team I come across (and far too many senior ones as well) seem to think that all you have to do to create a great print ad is write a pun. Their portfolios are full of them. The press is full of them.

My own theory is that this misguided belief stems from a lack of understanding that a great headline depends on a great thought.

A great headline contains a great idea that resonates with the reader. And if it’s a great thought, it doesn’t really matter how you write it—the actual words you use are secondary to the idea it encapsulates.

Or, as any good copywriter knows, WHAT you say is always much more important than HOW you say it.

Think of the famous Rolls Royce press ad: “At 60 mph the loudest noise in this new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock”. 

This headline contains a beautifully engaging thought.

The feature it’s communicating is simply that this car is unbelievably quiet.  But to turn this feature into a headline that emotionally resonates with the potential buyer, the headline brings it to life—by painting a word-picture that puts the reader right there in the sumptuous, leather-clad driving seat. You can almost hear the delicate tick of the clock as you read it.

But because the line has a strong idea, you could actually write it in any number of ways and it would still be just as powerful.

It’s what the headline is about that counts.

The lazy headline writer who simply looks for a pun has failed to grasp this basic truth and believes that the HOW is more important than the WHAT. So they aim for what they think is amusing wordplay instead of doing the much, much harder job of finding a fantastically engaging thought that brings to life a clear, relevant and hopefully unique, product benefit.

Learn the awesome power of The So What Test

When I’m training bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young creatives how to create effective advertising, or telling junior clients how to evaluate and comment on creative work, I often tell them about the power of The So What Test.

It’s all about making sure that your copy and concept is relevant and interesting to the target audience. If they’re going to read it and say, “Yeah, but so what?” your ad or mailer or flyer or website or e-newsletter will fail.

The So What Test is a remarkably useful tool to have in your utility belt—it’s so easy to get wrapped up in your finely-crafted headline and beautiful imagery that you don’t notice it means diddly squat to the people who are supposed to be engaged and captivated by your sales message.

Clearly the people who produced, and bought, the new BMW press ad didn’t perform the So What test.

The headline of this cracker is, wait for it, DESIGNED TO MOVE. (In capital letters, too.)

This is an advertisement for a car. A high performance, expensive, beautifully engineered German sports saloon, coveted by sales reps everywhere.

And the best headline they could come up with to sell you this car was “Designed to move”. As against a car that’s designed to stay still? A car designed to be a permanent museum exhibit? A car made entirely of butterflies wings so delicate that to simply breathe upon it would spell disaster?

The idiocy of this headline is jaw-dropping enough on its own. But the copy carries on in the same vein. It reads as if the writer has never seen a BMW, has never been given any information about why one might want to drop twenty grand on one, has no clue why a BMW might be any different from any other thing that’s designed to move.  Like a pram. Or a slug.

And to add insult to injury the copy includes the seemingly obligatory, utterly lame pun. Apparently BMW are jolly committed to “…deliver the The Ultimate Driving Machine. It’s the only thing we won’t be moved on.”

It’s not clever, it’s not witty. In fact, it doesn’t even make sense.

It’s a junior copywriter labouring (although clearly very little labour was involved) under the delusion that good copy is that which contains a pun, no matter how mind-blowingly crap it is.

‘So what’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The snake oil salesman is alive and well

They used to be called mountebanks, charlatans, snake-oil salesmen or simply confidence tricksters.

But now they run companies called Ouch! or Connexshuns or Orange Toad or something similarly fashionable and fatuous or, even worse, they’re Marketing Journalists.

What they all have in common is that they pontificate profoudly on marketing and advertising but have never actually had to sell anything in their life. And they therefore come out with stuff that sends the bullshitometer crashing into the red zone.

I made the mistake of idly glancing through a supplement to The Guardian this weekend  (“Superbrands”, whatever they are) which was rammed with pretentious statements by a choice selection of these self-proclaimed gurus.

Here are a few of my favourites…

“Heritage brands reign supreme for consumers, while virtual consumption gains pace in the business world”.

Virtual Consumption?  Eh? Sorry, new one on me. I read the article and was none the wiser. Is it imaginary customers buying pretend goods with hallucinatory money? Or just people visiting websites? No idea; but I do know the piece was written by a nice gel called Lucy. Which came as no surprise at all.

Here’s another one from Ms L: “In times of austerity consumers often revert back to what they know and trust, to find a sense of security in an otherwise mixed-up world”.

What on earth is this poor woman talking about?  Clearly she’s so posh she’s never actually met anyone suffering an attack of austerity.

It isn’t about some crazy, mixed-up world, dear. It’s about Not Having Enough Money To Buy Stuff. But then the lovely Lucy writes for The Guardian so she’s probably never met anyone suffering a bout of austerity in her life. Or a nasty case of consumption, virtual or otherwise.

But this is a cracker:

“With service organisations, consistency of the customer experience is critical to the strength of the brand”.

Riiiiiiight. So you’re saying, correct me if I’m wrong, that a service company needs to provide good service in order to be successful. Fascinating. What a brilliant marketing insight. No wonder this chap is, I kid you not, a Professor of Marketing no less.

And last but by no means least, a woman who works for an outfit called Contagious (told you so) says: “Disintermediation was the marketing industry’s buzzword of 2012”.

No it wasn’t.