Increasingly promotional activity and communicating brand messages is not a verbal medium; it is a visual medium. The requirement to create visual messages; combined with the ever-shortening attention spans of viewers; makes promotional advertising and the communication of brand messages more difficult. Consumers are bombarded with commercial messages.
This means that if you are to successfully communicate your brand message, you must carve out a distinct territory. A unique and successful brand message does not appear out of thin air.
Creating brand territory is not as simple as just repeating the same phrases over and over again. It is the development of a brand language which expresses your corporate ideology. It is a favourite practice of politicians to come up with a single phrase which encapsulates their whole campaign; for example Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’, Theresa May’s ‘Strong and Stable’ or Tony Blair’s, ‘Education, Education, Education’. Politicians are trying to create a shorthand which uses a single phase to draw the attention of the widest possible electorate. However, for a commercial branding strategy, such shorthand leads to excessive repetition which can clog up the brand message.
Often there is such an urge to create an image of unity and common spirit in a brand message across different campaigns that brand messages become a code. Code is artificial language. it isn’t human or natural. When creating a brand message you want to communicate personality, your culture and your brand values. You want to announce products in a way which charms customers. If you resort to a shorthand, impersonal code, these factors are missing.
Rather than creating a code, you need to build a glossary of terms which apply to your brand. Such a glossary helps decentralise your message whilst keeping your chosen language within your identified brand prism.
The process is similar to the creation of the style guides used by newspapers and other publications. The style guide for The Economist runs to over three hundred pages and the Yahoo style guide is even longer. These documents specify the agreed spelling of certain words, page layout and appropriate punctuation. They define how these publications look on the page.
A brand charter, or expression guide, the promotional equivalent of a journalistic style guide. They will include agreed phrases and even where on a page the brand name and logo are located but they will also specify the dominant features of style such as colours used, text fonts and image requirements. For internet and television promotions they will show agreed gestures and jingles. Graphic layouts and narrative structure codes will be included. Think of a Coca Cola television of cinema advert, they will nearly always show someone drinking from the traditional glass Coca-Cola bottle (the bottle shape is a registered trademark) even though the majority of Coca Cola sales are now either in metal cans or plastic bottles.
In mature markets advertising is a challenge. There are no guaranteed results and often defined goals are not easily measurable. Such goals are not SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic or Time Bound).
As a result many brands are switching away from traditional advertising forms and mediums. For example the wine brand Jacob’s Creek has stopped using traditional television advertising and instead has switched to the sponsorship of television programmes. Jacob’s Creek was built on an award-winning product, in-store promotions, support to the retail and distribution trade and customer tasting sessions at the point of sale. The switch from traditional television advertising to programme sponsorship is a better match top the brand image and ideology. Another tactic being employed by Jacob’s Creek and other brands is the increased use of product placement in films.
For top of the range brands, a common branding tactic is an association with opinion leaders. For example, eBay is arguably the most successful internet sales and auction site. eBay’s position was not built on television advertising (although recently they have started to use that promotional channel). EBay developed its brand position through the use of online referral and public relations.
There is an old maxim: “Half of my advertising budget is wasted but I don’t know which half”. Statement is nonsense. Wasted promotional activity is easy to identify. It is advertising activity which:
- Is not sufficiently creative and individual
- Which misses its target audience
- or which is shown where the promoted product is not on sale.
Of these three reasons, the first is the most important.
Often, the failure of promotional campaigns is blamed on the advertising agency. However, the client employing the agency can be equally at fault. often promotional campaigns fail because the specification provided to the agency is not clear in identifying the required brand message of the goals to be achieved. Often the fault is the quality of the brief, not the quality of the agency.
Brand propositions must be incisive. They cannot be bland. it is unlikely that even the most creative advertising agencies can transform a bland brief. A promotional brief that is full of statistics and has a dearth of actionable ideas is likely to fail.
You must radicalise your advertising targets. Your brief shouldn’t just describe your target customers, it should reflect them. Your promotional messages should be given through radical characters not plain people. For many years Cillit Bang was advertised using a fictional character ‘Barry Scott’. Barry became as famous as the product. Many thought him to be a real person and not an actor playing a part. The Barry Scott character was carefully designed to reflect the ideal consumer of the brand and to exaggerate defined characteristics.
After using the character for many years, Barry was dropped from Cillit Bang’s advertising and there was a distinct fall in sales. So much so, the character was brought back and once again fronts their advertising.
Creative and radicalised promotions are difficult for brands which consumers have known all their lives. Oxo has recently reverted to having a OXO family, a promotional strategy it first used in the 1970s. However some mature and established brands do manage to present radicalised messages. One need only think of the Cadbury Dairy Milk promotion with the drumming gorilla.
If you are looking to promote a brand over the long-term or to reinvigorate a mature brand, it is important to present a radicalised message and the development of a comprehensive brand charter.