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Conveying personality

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A company's advertising is the best opportunity it has to reflect the corporate personality—the things that will make it liked, respected and admired. Like sex appeal, some companies have it and some don't. The companies that are good at reflecting their character in their advertising do it consistently over time and across the spectrum of corporate structure and product lines. IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are b-to-b players whose names come most quickly to mind. IBM's ads—be they print, broadcast or new media—convey a sense of sunny confidence and an eagerness to put the customer first. The company's creative has the graceful look of a leader with nary a trace of arrogance. Advertisers that take themselves too seriously are rarely taken seriously in the marketplace. The long-running “Building a Smarter Planet” campaign is a textbook case of advertising that successfully reflects the company. IBM uses the effort to applaud the midsize businesses that it says are the engines of a smarter planet. An eye-catching spread states that “IBM Business Partners around the world play a critical role in building a smarter planet. By providing leading midsize companies with groundbreaking solutions that improve efficiency, accelerate ROI and do more with less, Business Partners are helping them level the playing field. And that's increasingly important in a world where ideas trump resources.” Copy in this ad and throughout the campaign has an engaging, conversational tone. IBM makes itself sound like the kind of company with which customers would feel comfortable. It's no secret that companies prefer to do business with people they like and respect. HP's advertising always manages to catch our eye. Vibrant colors and smart art direction characterize its creative. A good case in point is an ad for its toner that features an image of sets of colorful, toylike gears and is headlined: “No errors means business keeps MOVING.” The copy goes on to state that “Only Original HP Toner Cartridges work flawlessly with your HP LaserJet Printer the first time and every time. Isn't precision beautiful?” While IBM often favors backgrounds that are light and bright, HP often sets up on a distinctive dark canvas. But the look is never brooding because of the visually magnetic treatment of type and illustrated material. HP's copy is personal sounding, as if it were one friend telling another friend about a good thing. We don't know Zurich American Insurance Co. nearly as well as we do IBM and HP, but we get the impression that the company is customer-focused and genuinely interested in helping its clients succeed. We came to that conclusion after reading a case history ad that features Ozark Trucking and its bright yellow cabs. Unlike most b-to-b insurance ads, which often warn of a possible loss, this effort focuses on how Zurich provides Ozark with valuable insurance claim-tracking services. As the headline says: “Efficient claims process to help businesses meet their goals.” Another insurer, Aflac Inc., aims to put its best foot forward in an ad that notes that it's one of Fortune's most admired companies and that it's been voted one of the world's most ethical companies four years in a row by an organization known as Ethisphere. You can't beat third-party endorsements like that. The ad features the image of a customer who looks like his company is serious about recycling. So what's not to like? The attempt by Aflac to reflect the kinds of things that will make it liked, respected and admired is undone by poor typography. Italic gray type set against a white background lacks contrast, and the headline, “Doing the right thing is our business,” is driven through the heart of the text, interrupting eye flow. A more logical arrangement would leave readers feeling more positive about Aflac.
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