Branding is Much More than Self-Promotion
April 17, 2008 ‐ 2 comments

rumba_sw-logo-sectionA recent study reports that the average North American adult’s attention span for print ads is 1.8 seconds. One-point-eight seconds! That’s less time than it’s taken you to read these three sentences! Now you won’t find This study in a medical journal, as it was a qualitative research effort undertaken and guesstimated by yours truly, but marketing experts do agree that consumers have less patience for and more skepticism toward traditional advertising than ever before. So why are some companies squandering precious time and wasting verbal real estate repeating their names in their taglines? Why aren’t they using their 1.8 seconds to communicate their message? The answer lies in an antiquated understanding of what it takes to build a brand.

Until fairly recently, creating a brand was about building a monolith – a set of images and words (logos and taglines) to be used, over and over again in the same color, size and order, in hopes of creating familiarity, trust and preference. This adherence to consistency and repetition has led companies and agencies to take their tagline – their most basic vehicle for communicating what they offer consumers – and use it to reinforce their name, at the expense of a coherent value proposition.

Look at Johnnie Walker. Approaching a decade in service, its “Keep Walking” brand campaign is used the world over. Visually elegant and distinctive, Johnnie Walker owns an instantly recognizable design style that fits the product it promotes. But that line… Is the company telling consumers that their whisky will help them achieve success That it will help them achieve progress? Undoubtedly the answer is yes to both, but my own experience with Scotch whisky belies its powers as an agent of positive change. More likely, copywriters trying to figure out how to differentiate a commoditized product sold their client on a clever repurposing of their product’s name. In the event that a consumer isn’t convinced that drinking Johnny Walker will lead to total self-realization, at least they might remember whose ad they just saw. That recall is important, but shouldn’t brands set a higher bar for their advertising?

By now you’ve seen JPMorgan Chase’s new “Chase What Matters” campaign, created by mcgarrybowen. Forget the fact that, according to Chase, “what matters” are the services consumers expect from their bank (and they certainly don’t want to have to chase them). Forget the “life is about more than money” feel that smacks of Citibank’s long-running “Live Richly” campaign. There’s something just a bit awkward about the line’s construction. The creatives found a way to use the corporate name as a verb, but the pun feels too easy and too clunky, no? Instead of telling us what makes this bank different, they’re just repeating which bank is vying for our attention. Consistent? Yes. Worth paying attention to? Hardly.

Modern branding has evolved. From its roots creating detailed guidelines for enforcing corporate logos it has become a sophisticated effort to define the compelling and differentiated value that an organization or product offers its customers. And it aspires to create experiences of that value across all interactions. It goes beyond design, messaging, websites and advertising. It touches product development, recruiting, customer service, sales, and it drives and emanates from the very core of every business: culture. That’s where these campaigns miss the mark. They tell me who they are, but not why I should care. They provide an introduction, but can’t sustain the conversation. And I don’t have much attention for brands without substance. I want my 1.8 seconds back.

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