October 17, 2011

Bottom-Up Branding

If you need some motivation to stick a knife in your head, ask your average advertising whiz-kid about "brands."

He'll go on for weeks about brand integration and brand expectations and brand experiences and brand advocates and brand relevancy and brand messaging.

He knows everything there is to know about brand babble. And almost nothing about brand building.

Perhaps the most expensive and wasteful form of brand illiteracy is the "top-down" view of branding. This is typified by the style of advertising practiced by banks, life insurance companies, oil companies, investment houses and airlines who have no clue about differentiating themselves.

"Top-down" advertising is easy to identify. It usually has happy, generic people doing happy generic things while music plays and voices either sing or speak. There is little to nothing said about the specifics of what they do or make. It is full of promises and hopefulness. It tries to convince you that, heck, they're people, too, and you really ought to like them.

The "top-down" view is that if you just get the "branding" right everything else will fall into place. In most categories, this way of thinking results in a very costly public dialogue between an advertiser and himself.

Top-down branding works in a few categories -- fashion, booze, cigarets and some luxury goods. Account planners, marketing coordinators and others with limited vision think that  because these are heavily advertised categories this is how advertising works in general.

In fact, about 95% of the stuff we buy is not fashion, booze, cigarets or luxury goods. It's mayonnaise and toothbrushes and shower curtains and socks.

If you are not in the business of selling fashion, booze, cigarets or luxury goods, you would be wise to forget about "brand" advertising and focus your ad dollars on differentiating your products.

The strongest brands are built "bottom-up" -- by outstanding product advertising.

As we always say around Ad Contrarian headquarters, we don't get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand. We get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product.

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