May 09, 2012

Are Brands Real?

A very interesting piece appeared last week in Ad Age about vacuum cleaner magnate James Dyson. The piece was called "James Dyson: I Don't Believe In Brand."

Here is the gist of the article:
"There's only one word that's banned in our company: brand," Mr. Dyson said... "We're only as good as our latest product. I don't believe in brand at all."
While I applaud Mr. Dyson's spirit and his disdain for the insufferable brand babble that infests our business, I'm afraid he's wrong.

Brands are important to people. That's why stores have signs and bottles have labels. It's why he puts his name on his vacuum cleaners.

I read a remarkable article recently about a very talented football player named LaMichael James who went to the University of Oregon. James said...
...he based part of his college decision on what brand of athletic apparel sponsored the athletic program...

“I would not go to two or three colleges just because they were Adidas,” James said... "I wouldn’t go to Arkansas and I wouldn’t go to Mississippi State because they were Adidas schools… No three stripes for me. All Nike.”
Now, let's be clear here. Not everyone in the world is a knucklehead football player. But to think that brands don't influence our decision making is just plain naive.

Where Mr. Dyson is correct -- and where most everyone else in marketing is wrong -- is in how you build brands. As Mr. Dyson has shown, the best way to build a brand is with product advertising. Not brand advertising.

Just to make sure we have our definitions straight here, I consider "product" advertising to be about features and benefits. I consider "brand" advertising to be about imagery and lifestyle.

There are a few categories in which "brand" advertising is effective -- fashion, soda, booze, some luxury goods.

In the vast majority of categories, however, product advertising is far more effective -- not just at selling products, but at building brands.

The best example is Apple. Virtually every ad you've seen of theirs has a single product smack dab in the middle of the page or screen and talks about the benefits and features of the product. As a result, they have one of the most powerful brands in the world.

As we say here at Ad Contrarian World 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.

By the way...
...for more about brand reality, you could do worse than pick up my new book, 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising. Just sayin...

And also...
I am changing commenting software. Your basic tech nightmare. Comments may be screwed up for several hours. Or eternity. Who the hell knows?


James said...

"The best example is Apple. Virtually every ad you've seen of theirs has a
single product smack dab in the middle of the page or screen and talks
about the benefits and features of the product. As a result, they have
one of the most powerful brands in the world."

Apple's strategy is a mix of both - an integrated and modular media campaign designed to communicate a primary idea, but also to build a "brand" advertising image. Do you really think Apple would be considered as "hip" today if they didn't have the iconic silhouette iPod "brand advertising" ads? Do you think the aluminum unibody design the Macbook Pro introduced might have contributed to its image as a fashionable and trendy piece of electronic hardware? Do you think it's merely a coincidence that the appearance of their models in ads tend to be in the young, hip, and ethnically ambiguous categories? Do you think they drew ideas out of a hat when they came up with the idea to hype up their products before release in the digital and social media sphere, where there is a particularly high concentration of young people leading a specific kind of lifestyle conducive to evangelizing about Apple's product features? Bragging about all the cool features of your new Apple product and why the cost is justified- is that not in itself a part of the Apple lifestyle?
Are they merely peddling circuit boards, capacitors and wires encased in sleek thermal-set plastic bodies, or are they also selling the lifestyle that comes with ownership?

You are correct to be diligent and cautious when dealing with branding and image-building. Often times, campaigns that attempt to sell lifestyles end up creating little overall value, which can hurt the firm. Doyle Dane Bernbach's "Do This Or Die" piece highlights a lot of the issues with that. More recently, the debate surrounding the show "The Pitch", and the notion that work created to win the account is not work created to engage and resonate with the target market.

But it's not that simple.

James said...

 Of course, just playing the devil's advocate here.

Graham Strong said...

I have to agree with James -- Apple is lifestyle branding. But it is also product branding, since as you pointed out the product is smack dab in the middle of the ad. 

Actually -- and here's the interesting thing I think -- it's *people using the product* that is smack dab in the middle. Who can resist Zooey Deschanel cooing to Siri?

Such a contrast to Droid, in which the emphasis is on technology with users strapped down in some post-apocalyptic future that (in my mind) represents every fear Humankind has ever had of machines taking over.

So I think the key to Apple isn't that it's "product" branding or "lifestyle" branding so much as "user" branding -- showing people exactly what makes Apple products special, and in turn why they should be using them. 

I'm not sure why this hasn't been copied a million times by now...


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