Ads say a lot about corporate identity

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Every ad-not just a corporate identity ad-ideally portrays the things that will make a company liked, respected and admired. 

 Regardless of whether the company is pushing a product or a service, readers will make judgments about what that company stands for based on the ad or a collection of ads over time. The Chasers have maintained that a messy ad suggests a messy company. A brag-and-boast ad indicates that the company is maker-, not customer-oriented. A dull-looking ad raises the possibility that the company has nothing to get excited about, is behind the times and is slowing down.

So despite what the company's sales force may be saying, the market may have already made up its mind about it based on its advertising. B-to-b advertising offers an enormous opportunity to create the right kind of buzz, but there's an enormous risk of sending the wrong message.

Reconnex, which helps companies detect, analyze and address cyber threats, is offering prospects "e-risk Rapid Assessment," so they'll have a better sense of what they're up against. The image of a stern-faced man rubbing his brow astride the headline "It's what you don't know that hurts" speaks volumes about the company. It says the company is no-nonsense, that it can be taken seriously because what it does best is serious business. Sure, it's a grim-looking ad, but it speaks well to an audience of chief security officers who are paid to be paranoid.

Sometimes humor or an ironic twist in an ad can say something about a company's personality. UPS, which outfits its drivers in the familiar but homely brown uniforms, would seem like an efficient, though otherwise dull enterprise. But the delivery and logistics company displays its playful side with an ad featuring one of its brown-colored trucks capped in snow as its driver drops off a package at a surf shop.

States the headline: "UPS. Covering more ground faster than ever." Copy follows through on that point with this: "UPS has accelerated its network to reduce time-in-transit by one day for many packages across the U.S." The ad suggests that UPS doesn't take itself too seriously, a trait that often indicates the type of company with which customers feel most comfortable.

B-to-b advertising can also convey a sense of a company's leadership. Tread carefully here, however, because some companies, in an effort to look important, come off sounding self-important. Brag and boast will be quickly dismissed. Messages of leadership are often best delivered by a third party who's been impressed by a company's market leadership.

A good example of this comes from insurance company Aetna, which claims in the headline that "No one connects to their members the way we do." Claims of superiority are often greeted with cynicism unless they're quickly backed up with something credible. In this case, Aetna's leadership positioning is reinforced with the copy, which opens with:

"Recently, the National Committee for Quality Assurance assessed twenty-one Aetna health plans, and gave their Award of Distinction in Member Connections to every one of them. These plans are the first to receive this recognition, a tribute to our unsurpassed record of communicating with our members, and providing the information they need to make better informed health care decisions."

CDW, the distributor of printers and other technology products, consistently makes the point in its advertising that it is solutions-oriented. Its advertising plays well off its tagline: "The right technology. Right away."

In one ad, CDW depicts an office worker pondering the sign on the door to the room with the printer. Taped to the door are hand-written signs: "COPIER," "SCANNER," "& FAX." Below the image, CDW trots out a trio of multifunction printers it can provide to customers. The ad has a logical, organized look to it, which undoubtedly says a lot about CDW itself.

The key to positively reflecting a company's character through advertising is consistency. It should be done consistently over time and across the spectrum of corporate structure and product lines.

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