When brand registration fails, everything else is a waste.
Lest you think this crime happens only to no-name, small-budget companies, let's look at some advertising by one of the world's largest companies:
I see a mother and a father on the living room floor, trying to put together a child's bicycle. The father has lost the instructions and is stumped. The little girl sneaks out of her bedroom, sees what's going on and goes back to her computer, quickly producing a hard copy of the instructions.
Up to this point, I not only don't know who the sponsor is, I don't even know the product category. Is it bicycles? Computers? Internet software? Printers? Will there be a happy ending? Not for the advertiser. Neither a company nor a brand name has been mentioned until the very end. An IBM Corp. logo appears on the screen for less than 3 seconds. This spot is a charming minimovie, but is it an effective business tool?
LOGO IN MINIATURE
In The New York Times, there was a page ad talking about a company's role at a major computer trade show. While the ad had 297 square inches of space, the IBM logo had only 0.625. There's something wrong here.
It's not just IBM; many large advertisers fail to do an adequate job of brand registration. A Hewlett-Packard Co. ad shows a family sending baby pictures via the Internet. It's heart-warming and artistic, the kind of thing a creative person wants on his or her reel. The commercial fails, though, because HP is not mentioned until the end of the spot; the logo is on-screen for less that 2 seconds.
Contrast that with a recent Beck's beer spot. Creatively, it fails. It's a good commercial, however, for two reasons: It's a direct hit on the strategy, which I assume to be: "Associate Beck's with young people having fun outdoors." And because we see and/or hear the Beck's name about seven times, it's impossible to walk away from the spot without knowing who ran it.
Too many clients accept an off-the-shelf creative solution such as the following: quick cuts of charming people having fun or a series of stylish graphics. Then the sponsor's name flashes on for 2 seconds or so at the end.
The idea is not just to create a great piece of film. It's to create a great piece of film that at least registers the client's name. But the moment an advertiser decides to improve brand registration, it often encounters this resistance from the agency. For example:
"You can't expect miracles from one exposure of an ad. The impact grows over time. That's how advertising works."
Not exactly. If a TV or print ad fails to register the brand, repetition of the ad will not help.
Or: "You don't understand. This commercial is very provocative and involving. The audience gets so caught up in it they actually look to see who ran it."
Wrong. The people who create, sell and approve an ad find it incomprehensible that nobody else gives a damn. Their argument misses a crucial point. Prospects don't come to a TV program or publication to look at the advertising. They come for editorial content; the ads get in their way.
Yet another argument takes off from that last point: "Consumers are assailed by dozens of ads every day. Unless you do something to capture their attention, nobody will notice your ad and it won't matter how big the logo is."
This has merit. But it doesn't tell the whole truth. It implies you have to make a choice between a boring ad that registers your name and an engaging presentation that submerges your name. Not so. You can have both.
For example, how do you introduce a new car in a highly crowded field? Toyota had that problem with its new Sienna. The solution? A spelling bee in which grade-school kids try to spell the name. It's charming, likable advertising. And it registers the product name in granite.
How to get what you deserve?
n Use research. It's a purely objective question: What percent of those who saw your commercial or print ad remember your name?
nMention the product name orally and/or visually at least twice before the end of a spot (unless there's a compelling reason not to do so).
nIf you have a tangible product, show the product at least twice. (again, unless there's a compelling reason not to).
nMake sure the advertiser's name is on long enough (or is visible enough) to catch the viewer's eye. A rule of thumb for TV is 3.5 seconds.
nCall attention to logos with animation. American Express Co., for example, builds its logo sequentially with separate elements. You pay attention to the name whether you want to or not.
nIn print, talk to the agency about trying a headline with the company name in it. This is even better than an ample-size logo.
nConsider this type of theme line: "Did somebody say McDonald's?" Or "Fly the friendly skies of United." Or "My doctor said Mylanta."
Every line includes the name of the advertiser. The benefit is obvious, but don't make it an ironclad rule. You don't turn down a great theme line just because it doesn't have your name in it.
In the end, there is no substitute for judgment. You can't rule a creative group into powerful advertising. But you can have a brand ID policy that serves your interest as well as the agency's.
Mr. Evans, formerly senior VP-creative director at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, J. Walter Thompson USA and Foote, Cone & Belding, is an advertising consultant at Evans & Evans, Hastings, N.Y.