I may have said this before but it’s worth repeating; branding is a process and not a quick fix. Its strength is that it provides a solid foundation for a company and its image. It assures, among other things, that there will be consistency in messaging. Provided that the branding concept is good, the repetitive brand message will hammer home the strength of the company.
Here’s an example: There is little doubt that BMW knows how to sell its products. It has a long history of telling a great story about their cars. BMW has had multiple ad agencies throughout its history. One thing you can imagine is that when a new agency is hired they want to change things. They are likely to assume that if a client changed agencies, they wanted something new and different. That is probably true. However, there is one thing that BMW never wants to change and that is its brand message. “The Ultimate Driving Machine®” has remained its brand essence over many decades. So the message from BMW to its new agency is, change what you think needs changing but never monkey with our brand’s foundation.
Television abused: TV is still the best media choice for many advertisers. Why shouldn’t it be? After all, it provides the advertiser with great storytelling tools: moving images, great color, and sound. Why then do so many commercials fall short? It seems to me that most ads follow a widely accepted theorem in the ad industry that says “mentioning the brand name will kill the commercial.” I don’t know this statement to be true but it sure seems that way. Here’s a little homework for you. Watch TV tonight and, other than GEICO or AFLAC commercials, the product/brand in most ads will not be mentioned until the last few seconds of the commercial. Be sure not to sneeze or you’ll miss the name. How many times have you said to someone, “Did you see that great commercial with the (insert character in the commercial) falling into a swimming pool and pull that girl/boy with him/her? I wish I could remember what they were advertising.”
Even more disturbing to me is when ad agencies produce commercials with no words. Apparently, their target audience is limited to viewers who are strapped to their chair wearing a neck brace that prevents them from turning their heads away from the screen. Take a look at this 15-second commercial for VapoRub featuring New Orleans Saints quarterback, Drew Brees and his son. It has a cute and good story but no words? This is not as uncommon as you would think.
Billboards: In my humble opinion these are among the most difficult ads to create. They need to catch your attention, contain very few words, be easy to read quickly, and I almost forgot… deliver a compelling message for your brand while, in many cases, the reader is driving past the billboard at 40 MPH or faster!
Here are a few examples:
(1) The following billboard was created by MGH, a Baltimore ad agency. Unfortunately, I don’t know these people – and maybe that’s a good thing because it enables me to be an impartial observer. For several years I have been admiring their work for Smyth Jewelers and have often discussed them in my classroom. To me, this ad covers the most important elements of the list of needs listed above. The brand name is clear; there are few words and an attention getting image and headline. The little humor doesn’t hurt.
(2) The next billboard falls short in several areas. The headline is fine. It gets attention, tells the reader that the company is a bank, and it describes a benefit that many other banks do not have. Now, for the spoiler: the name of the bank is almost unreadable (unless you’re stuck in traffic and can stare at it). The reason it’s hard to read the name is because the typeface is reversed (in white) – which could warrant the same complaint for the Smyth billboard; except that the Smyth reversed type is on a dark background and is easily readable. The difference between the two is that the Susquehanna Bank’s name is white against a pale color. While I can tell you that it is difficult to see the name in the daytime, at night it is literally invisible.
I invite marketers to look at billboards and see just how many are hard to see or have too many words to digest in a couple of seconds. You should also see how many TV commercials seem ashamed to show their names by tacking them to the end of their commercial. Oops, I blinked, or sneezed, or got distracted during the commercial.
I will continue this discussion in my next blog and include my thoughts about how these problems can be solved. The question in the title is controversial and I’m sure that not all of you agree with me. If you don’t, I’d love to hear from you.