Tag Archives: Branding

Sticky Lingers

6 Sep

Sticky Fingers isn’t the best Stones’ album, for my money that’s Exile on Main Street.

But it has the best cover, plus the provenance of this letter from Mick Jagger to Andy Warhol, commissioning the artwork.

You may have seen the letter, it’s  been posted many times, usually leading to one of two conclusions.

  1. Mick Jagger – best client ever.
  2. Best brief ever.

But there are three sides to every story, and there’s another way to parse it.

jagger letter

First, “I leave it in your capable hands to do whatever you want….” is not exactly a brief, as much as giving carte blanche, which is something rather different.

Merriam Webster’s simple definition of a brief is: instructions that explain what a person is supposed to do.

And bestowing total freedom is essentially the opposite of giving instructions.

Of course it would be nice if clients gave us total freedom, but invariably they don’t, and realistically we don’t expect them to.

In any case, Mick Jagger is not the client, or at least not entirely.

He is also the brandor at least, a major element of the brand.

The confusion arises because most brands are inanimate.

Jagger clearly isn’t so he gets to control the process.

Sadly, most brands lack the ability to speak for themselves.

If they did, the night would be filled with a thousand screams.

“Please give me better creative. Please!”

If you close your eyes, you may just hear them.


That’s Simple, not Simplistic

19 Jun

Within the industry it’s generally accepted that the best advertising is crafted around the simple expression of a brand.

If you’re not convinced you only need look at some great advertising.

Say, Ad Age’s top 15 campaigns of the 21st century, for example.

These campaigns are invariably built on simple insights and beautiful execution.

That’s no coincidence: simple gets results.

For one thing, simple ideas have a greater chance of being remembered, by our over-cluttered brains.

But somewhere, something got lost in translation.

The word is simple, not simplistic and in advertising terms, there’s a massive difference.

Simple, to borrow from McCann is: truth well told.

Simplistic, borrowing from no one is: fake truth formulated by committee.

Sadly the mark of simplistic is everywhere: cookie cutter benefits and implausible claims delivered via lazy thinking and hackneyed language.

Strategic box checking is its raison d’être and if that results in muddled thinking, so what? It ticked all the boxes.

As a result simplistic is mind-numbingly ordinary.

And being ordinary is rarely good for business.

But it’s a lot easier than being extraordinary.

Because, being extraordinary means getting to simple, and getting to simple is not easy.

It doesn’t just take hard work, it takes a spark of inspiration.

And there’s no guarantee this spark will occur, which in turn takes an act of faith.

And faith (even in itself) is not part of every organization’s DNA.

But you can encourage it.

You can work at it.

You can resist being simplistic and strive to be simple.

And even if you don’t crack it 100%, your advertising will be better for it.

There’s a caveat: simplicity is scary. It takes courage.

There’s nowhere to hide, no padding, and no protection.

No waffle, no box-checking, no dubious claims, just a message that says something real enough to make people care.

And that’s why most brands can’t do it.

However much they try, most brands can’t resist cramming more into their advertising whereas simplicity means single-mindedly stripping everything back, until you find the simple expression of a brand.

Of course getting people to care doesn’t guarantee they’re going to buy what you’re selling.

But it will certainly tip the odds in your favour.

It’s a straightforward choice.

If you want advertising to deliver maximum bang for your buck, be simple, not simplistic.

Simple is powerful.

Simple sells.

The New Door-to-Door

20 Apr

Not so long ago business was simpler.

You had a brand.

You advertised it.

It was called brand advertising.

You had a sales force.

They knocked on doors (figuratively or literally) and sold your brand.

There was a clear delineation between advertising and selling.

Now the distinction is blurred beyond recognition or no longer exists.

You’re selling to someone on their mobile while they’re waiting for the bus and watching videos on Facebook.

Screen-to-screen selling is the new door-to-door.

It’s versatile. It can sell you Grumpy Cat or financial services with a couple of clicks on Apple Pay.

It’s infinitely scalable.

It’s granularly trackable.

You don’t need an army of sales people demonstrating your vacuum cleaner house by house.

All you need is a great demo video and Fulfillment by Amazon.

Screen-to-screen selling is the future, but the switch from traditional advertising can be a tricky one to make.

Tricky enough that eCommerce accounted for a mere 6.5% of overall retail sales in 2014.

While marketing fundamentals haven’t changed that much, the peripherals are quite another story.

Half the lessons learned from a hundred years of marketing history no longer apply.

And no one seems entirely sure which half.

Here are a few things we do know:

Only one opinion counts and it’s not the agency’s. It’s not even the client’s.

The only opinion that matters is the click-through rate.

And there, in a nutshell is the good and the bad of digital advertising from a creative perspective.

It’s good knowing what works and precisely how well it works.

It’s not so good when what works isn’t what you hoped would work.

Say your finely crafted headline is out-performed by a meat and potatoes headline.

Once this happens, there isn’t much you can do about it.

It’s hard to argue with analytics.

And digital produces lots of analytics.

Sooner or later they will make a mockery of your judgment and kill your favorites.

When this happens you either learn to roll with it, or face a lifetime of frustration.

And this happens on a macro level too.

When Y Combinator’s Paul Graham was asked to invest in Airbnb—here’s how he reacted, in his own words:

“I thought the idea was crazy. … Are people really going to do this? I would never do this.”

Clearly not a potential customer, but he still became an investor.

He didn’t go with his gut, he went with the numbers.

And today Y Combinator’s seed investment is worth north of half a billion.

Here’s another thing we know.

Benefits don’t need to be spelled out. If your phone has 24 hours of battery life, while continuously web surfing over a 4G LTE network, people will quickly figure out they need to recharge it less.

Increasingly, features are benefits.

And unless your product benefits are mind-blowingly esoteric, or earth-shatteringly new, you probably don’t need to explain them.

This is nothing new. Back in the 60’s David Ogilvy wrote, “Headlines that promise a benefit sell more than those that don’t.”

A phrase which has often been misunderstood to mean: Headlines with a benefit sell more than those without one—which is not the same thing at all.

The key word is promise.

Let’s look at one of Ogilvy’s most famous ads: rolls_royce_ad The benefits are inferred not stated.

The clock can be heard because the engine is quiet.

The engine is quiet because it is well-engineered.

The benefits of good engineering are twofold.

Passengers can hold a conversation without shouting, and a well-engineered engine is presumably, a reliable engine.

But the reader has to join the dots to get there.

The headline doesn’t directly promote these benefits; it just nudges you towards them.

It’s the promise of a benefit that does the heavy lifting.

And online, a feature is often enough of a promise for the benefit to be understood.

Consumers are savvier than they were in the 60’s.

And that’s good news, because it allows for more direct sales communication.

Something Ogilvy, a former door-to-door kitchen stove salesman, would have appreciated.

What he would have made of screen-to-screen marketing, sadly remains conjecture.

Are You the Sort of Brand that wants to go Steady on a First Date?

29 Mar

Are you the sort of brand that subtly pops up a subscribe box when I’ve been on your site for less than 15 seconds? Well hold on a sec we hardly know each other.

Or the sort that sends 2 emails a week if I do give you my email address? One enticingly titled: Place subject line here.

That’s not you is it?

Maybe you’re the one that tried to sell me a vacation 2 days after I already booked one with you.

You’re not that sort of brand are you?

If you are, it isn’t working and it’s not you it’s me.

You see I’m just not that sort of consumer.

I want to be wooed, not harassed.

Lessons From the World’s Greatest PR Man

16 Sep

 You won’t find him ensconced in a fancy office in New York or London.

Or wining and dining journalists.

And you can’t hire him; he’s contracted exclusively to a single client.

Like all great PR the media coverage he generates, may or may not be painstakingly orchestrated, but leaves a clear impression of spontaneity.

And PR isn’t even his full time job.

That is a little more involved as head of the Catholic Church and leader of 1.2 billion Catholics.

Because right now, the world’s best PR guy, hands down, bar none is—his holiness Pope Francis.

Being the first Pope to take the name Francis sent a message from the start.

After the aloofness of Benedict XVl, Pope Francis is strategically as well as statistically fresh.

In the six months following his election, he has spectacularly re-positioned the Catholic Church.

So successfully that in Italy he enjoys approval ratings of 85% among non-Catholics and 96% among Catholics.

In these six months, he has changed a brand persona of detachment and irrelevance to one of tolerance and inclusion.

He dramatically included Muslims and women in the traditional Easter foot washing ceremony.

He has reached out to gays, agnostics and atheists.

Six million people came out to hear him say Mass in Rio de Janeiro.

The latest installment came in the shape of a Renault Quatrelle with 185,000 miles on the clock, a gift from 70 year old priest Father Renzo Zocca.

Fittingly the Quatrelle was designed as a people’s car – Renault’s riposte to the Citroen 2CV.

Better yet, it came in symbolic Papal white.

{Papa's got a brand new...}

{Papa’s got a brand new..}

Reportedly Pope Francis will use it for pootling around Vatican City.

It’s a cute story and the Pope’s PR halo is more remarkable given the bad press the Vatican itself has been getting.

Pedophile priests have regrettably, become part of pop culture.

While the Vatican Bank’s long flirtation with less than divine financial practices is like a bad running joke.

The latest gag involves a cleric, a private jet a couple of shady characters, and 20 million euros in cash.

The bank’s shenanigans have been receiving world-wide media attention ever since Roberto Calvi was found hanging from London’s Blackfriars Bridge in 1982.

Clearly there are some deep rooted organizational issues as well as PR issues here.

Pope Francis has pledged to reform or close the bank.

In the meantime at least he takes media questions on the subject.

It’s more than surface gloss.

This Pope has achieved something truly remarkable, something that eluded the Catholic Church for at least a generation.

And no blue chip PR firm could have done it with such authenticity.

Pope Francis has made the Church likeable.

And perhaps more importantly, signaled that a window of change if not wide open, is at least ajar.

On the flight back from his visit to Rio, where the Mayor spontaneously renamed Copacabana beach Pope-a-cabana for the duration of his visit, the Pope said, “I haven’t done very much”.

But little things make big things happen.

Perhaps he was just following the lead of one of his favourite saints, Thérèse of Lisieux, who said: “Do ordinary things in an extraordinary way”.

It may not be secret sauce but it’s certainly working.

Brand it Like Balotelli

30 Jun

After Italy’s Euro 2012 semi-final win against Germany no one can deny that Mario Balotelli is a superb footballer.

In case you missed the match, he scored twice within 16 minutes of the first half, effectively killing the game and propelling Italy into the final.

The first goal was good – the second was spectacular, a contender for goal of the tournament.

Granted, Italy hasn’t won it yet but Balotelli has already eclipsed Ronaldo, as the striker of an admittedly somewhat lacklustre Euro 2012.

Of course what’s got everyone talking as well as the goals is his celebration.

The history of goal celebrations makes an interesting footnote in the annals of football history.

From Roger Milla’s dance in the 1990 World Cup, to Bebeto rocking the baby four years later or Jurgen Klinsmann’s satirical dives in the mid 1990’s, goal celebrations are about taunting and intimidating the opposition just as much as celebrating goals.

They’re about imposing the striker’s personal brand by being smarter, cheekier, more outrageous, more athletic, more…something.

But this celebration is different.

It’s a negative celebration, a celebration that isn’t.

A beautiful example of less is more.

By standing as still as a statue of a svelte Mr. T and impelling his team mates to come to him, Balotelli has defiantly re-defined the category with an inspired example of predatory thinking.

And if you score spectacular goals, they will come running.

{If you score it…}

He’s out-competing by not competing, by literally doing nothing.

There’s confidence verging on arrogance in this demonstration of apartness.

And as much as the ritual is calculated to gain our attention and maybe our animus, it is also evidence of steely self-awareness and presence of mind.

Because the natural thing to do, the thing you’ve been doing since you were a kid, is celebrate a goal in motion with your arms raised.

And when Balotelli first started scoring for Manchester City that’s exactly what he did.

But sometime during the 2011/12 season the celebration evolved into his current celebration of minimalism.

Overcoming the natural impulse to actively celebrate and overturning a life-long habit can’t be as easy as it looks.

And I think we can learn some lessons from Mario that have nothing to do with football and quite a lot to do with branding.

Because whereas Balotelli the footballer is all about power, skill and athleticism, Balotelli the brand is great example of contrarian positioning with a goal celebration built on stillness.

The thinking is every bit as predatory as his footballing instincts.

As a brand Balotelli is a brand leader that still thinks subversively like an emerging brand.

That’s how to dominate a category.

That’s how to distinguish your brand.

And sometimes it doesn’t take much.

But you need the intention.

You need the confidence.