Here's a Weird Idea, Marketers: Create Ads to Build Your Brand

Why I Disagree With 'BusinessWeek's Jon Fine

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Jon Fine, in his BusinessWeek "Media Centric" column, said marketers need to "relax about getting weird" in web ads.
The advertising campaigns for the Toyota Tundra are running rings around those of Chevrolet's Silverado by focusing tightly on the vehicle's actual features and benefits rather than emotional themes. | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
The advertising campaigns for the Toyota Tundra are running rings around those of Chevrolet's Silverado by focusing tightly on the vehicle's actual features and benefits rather than emotional themes. | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.


Jon, a former Ad Age reporter (and a very good one, I might add) stated: "Of the many factors that will decide how the ad pie is split up in '07, perhaps the biggest is how quickly the next-generation web platforms become mainstream ad vehicles."

'Full-monty ways'
His thesis: Marketers need to loosen up and adapt web platforms' "full-monty ways."

It's my contention most marketers don't -- and shouldn't -- incorporate weirdness into basic brand-building strategy. All the work to come up with the next Subservient Chicken is diverting attention from marketers' main job of building strong brands.

Even without the diversion of trying to figure out how to use the web, marketers aren't doing a good job of brand-building. One reason is that the stakes are too high to take chances on things they can't control, and that includes ads that try to break through clutter.

The mind-set of public companies is not to take chances. "There's a preoccupation with risk-aversion," Richard B. Evans, chairman of aluminum giant Alcan, told The New York Times. "It's the opportunity cost that's lost."

One-off promotional efforts
I've noticed more and more marketers are indulging in one-off promotional efforts, without even attempting to tie in with brand attributes or overall brand identity.

The car companies seem especially prone. In a December dealer meeting, Chrysler Group CEO Tom LaSorda complained that ads for the Dodge Nitro didn't convey the brand message effectively. He cited a TV spot that showed a stalled car getting a "jump" from a Nitro and blowing sky high (presumably to show Nitro's awesome power). Automotive News reported that Mr. LaSorda told BBDO "to put [its] nose to the grindstone" to convey Dodge branding messages.

The sad fact is it's much easier to construct funny vignettes about your product than go through the rigor of determining what your product stands for in consumers' minds.

Geico and Apple
How many advertisers today adhere to a strict branding message and deliver it creatively with consistency? Geico is one. Apple is another. And then I'd say ... no one.

Marketers also get around brand-building by cloaking their brands in emotion. That's another way of saying they don't know what to say about their brands. Mike Jackson, General Motors North America VP-marketing and advertising, told the Auto News World Congress last month he wants to build "an emotional connection" with buyers. He cited Chevrolet Silverado's use of John Mellencamp as a good example. Never mind that Mr. Mellencamp is under fire for selling out to commercial interests and that GM is exploiting patriotic music to move the metal; Toyota's Tundra is running rings around Silverado by emphasizing its hard-working features.

John Larson, general manager of Pontiac-Buick-GMC, said all GM needs to cure what ails it is "a good emotional marketing platform." What he has in mind is using Tiger Woods for GM-wide advertising.

Buick's embarassment
But Buick's recent use of Tiger is embarrassing. One ad shows a blindfolded Tiger hitting approach shots to the green. He takes off the blindfold and says "confidence on the golf course is a beautiful thing." Then the voice-over guy, trying desperately to tie the ad back to Buick, declares: "Confidence on the road is a Buick thing." Really plays on your heartstrings, doesn't it?

Somehow, somewhere, marketers have gotten completely off the track. They lurch from outlandish to patriotic (it's your duty to buy from us). What they don't do is give us any good reasons to buy their products.

Is that because there aren't any?
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