As I watch football on Sunday afternoons like the rest of the country, I am invariably bombarded with advertisements. These ads are usually for one of three products: beer, investment firms, or cars. Each ad is played roughly eighty-five times a quarter, and by the time the late game comes on, I can usually tell you the color of bartender’s eyes in the Budweiser commercial (they’re blue). But, to steal a line from Stan Lee, with great exposure comes great scrutiny (or something to that affect), and one advertisement last Sunday caught my eye. The commercial wasn’t bad, but a brief flash of a slogan changed my perception of the product completely and birthed this post.
The 2011 Kia Optima had several spots throughout the cavalcade of games on network television last Sunday, and after the third or fourth time seeing their commercial, I couldn’t help but notice the car’s slogan. After several sweeping shots of the Optima driving through a sprawling city landscape, a white screen appears with the logo and slogan written directly underneath. The slogan read: NOT YOUR AVERAGE MIDSIZE SEDAN. A seemingly safe slogan for a safe product, but it’s this type of slogan that could be the difference in a market where consumers are notoriously fickle. With so many options for midsize sedans available, a strong slogan can make your product standout against the pack. So what’s wrong with Kia’s slogan? Well, everything.
What about a statement like “not your average midsize sedan” makes me want to buy that car? That can’t be the statement Kia wants me to associate with their product. Companies should strive to create a strong emotional response in the consumer with every aspect of their work. I should have some kind of urge to go and get your product at that very moment. The response should be visceral. It should be primal. I don’t want that product. I NEED that product. But that’s not what comes to my mind when I read Kia’s slogan for the 2011 Optima. That slogan makes me think of being stuck in traffic on a Tuesday, taking unwanted weekend trips to Bed, Bath, & Beyond, or picking my grandma up from the retirement home for her doctor’s appointment. And with those images in my head, it struck me that the team in charge of marketing the Optima must be confused about its identity. This is even more apparent when considering the rest of the advertisement.
All that preceded the slogan in the Optima commercial screamed excitement. A bustling city, music fitting for a Jerry Bruckheimer project, and sexy car lighting all evoke thoughts of nights on the town, VIP rooms, and champagne service. These are exciting images, and if I went out for a wild weekend romp, you can bet I wouldn’t describe it to my colleagues on Monday as “not average.” I think you can see what I’m getting at here. If your advertisement is all about excitement, the slogan for the product can’t make me think of my average, mundane life. The slogan and the excitement of the advertisement send different signals. Don’t just take my word for it though, here’s a link to the ad in question.
The word average should never be used in advertising. Even when trying to say that the product is better than average, you have still invoked a word that is synonymous with boring, middle-class existence. No person is going to be excited about being above average or better than average, not when there are far better things to be than that. Take BMW’s slogan for example: “the ultimate driving machine.” Now that’s a slogan. The word ultimate evokes all kinds of emotions. Do you want a “not average” girlfriend, or the ultimate girlfriend? Do you want an above average pizza, or the greatest pizza ever made? When creating a slogan, modesty shouldn’t be one of your go-tos, especially when other products on the market have such a strong presence.
What about the numbers, though? How are sales on the 2011 Kia Optima? Well, you could say they are not your average sales. That is to say, they are below average. As of September, the Optima’s year-to-date sales are 55,737 units. The top five vehicles in the category are well over 150,000 units thus far this year. Is their slogan the sole reason for this discrepancy? No, but it is a factor. Marketing is crucial aspect in the success of any product, and slogans are the tag-line or catch phrase that people are going to associate with that product. Creating a slogan that will stick with the consumer can be a powerful tool to drive sales. It can also lead to a misunderstanding about what your product is all about.Slogans should sum up the experience that you’re offering in your product and get the consumer excited. The first slogan for the iPhone: “the internet in your pocket.” Great slogan. The entire internet in my pocket! What a concept. The possibilities are endless. The iPad followed suit with, “a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price.” Magical!? Now we’ve ventured into the world of the supernatural, the product is so good. A great slogan can permeate the culture and get people involved in advertising the product for you. If you have a strong slogan, people will use it. If someone had never eaten Wheaties before and wanted to know about the product, I would tell them, “It’s the breakfast of champions.” That’s the power that a strong slogan holds. If it’s memorable and evocative, you’ve got a winner. If it’s droll and forgettable, I’ll think your product is droll and forgettable. You have to light the world on fire with your slogan. Throw modesty out the window. Consumer confidence is fragile. Purchasing a car isn’t buying coffee or paper towels. With the exception of a home, a vehicle will be the most major purchase most consumers make in their entire lives, and you’re going to bank your products success on “not your average midsize sedan”? People want the best, so find out what it is your product is best at, and make sure people remember it. That’s what makes great slogans. That’s what sells products.
It is rare that an advertisement creates an emotional response. We see thousands of ads a day and nearly all of them go by completely unnoticed. Television spots, banners on the web, and billboards bombard us as we make our way through the day. We see them so much that we’ve become desensitized to their effects. Despite this obliviousness to their work, advertisers continue to create ads appealing to us on a superficial level. When the ad doesn’t create the desired effect, they resort to the machine gun method of advertising: just keep shooting until something hits the consumer. This method is annoying and costly. But what if ads weren’t just ads? What if ads gave more value to the customer than just sending a message about the product? Some companies have decided to put the machine gun down and take the route of value over explanation. The results have been undeniable. One such successful marketing campaign made headlines recently. The product: a video game where players bludgeon endless hordes of zombies to death.
Dead Island is a first person adventure that puts the player on an island paradise turned nightmare after a zombie outbreak. I know this not because I read an article about it or skimmed the Wikipedia page. No, my information is first hand. I played through Dead Island in its entirety.
What got me interested in purchasing the game? I saw a teaser trailer a few months before the game was released. And while most advertisements will show how something works, what features it has, and what you can expect from purchasing it, Dead Island took a different approach. Dead Island attempted to appeal to me emotionally, and in doing so, made me interested in the product. It gave me value in its advertisement. I enjoyed watching it. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed it so much that I watched it several times that day and even tweeted about it. Think about that for a moment: I watched it several times. When is the last time you watched a commercial again on your DVR? Now I’m writing an entire blog post about Dead Island! I wanted other people to enjoy the advertisement as much as I did, so I told people about it and I spread it through social media. I can’t say the same thing about 99% of ads that I’m suffocated with each day, and maybe that’s a problem advertisers need to start addressing. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, you must see this advertisement for Dead Island to understand what I’m talking about.
If your commercial isn’t going to affect me on some visceral level like that one did, why would I care to pay any attention to it? I need to feel something when I see your advertisement. Too often we see marketing campaigns slapped together in a nonsensical mishmash of poorly planned stupidity. Pop culture references and bad attempts at being funny aren’t enough. Where’s the craftsmanship? Where’s the love? If more advertisers sought to create something that has stand alone value, the product that goes along with it would sell. The proof is in the numbers.
The company that developed Dead Island is not a gaming juggernaut. Techland has made 22 titles since they started pumping games out in 2000, most of which I can’t say I ever played or came across. Their previously best known game, Call of Jaurez, sold an admirable 38,301 units in the US market (PS3) in its first week. Dead Island did 132,787 units, and those numbers have continued to rise in the three weeks since its release. The game’s publisher isn’t a major player either. Founded in 2002, Deep Silver has published a long list of moderately successful, but completely forgettable PC games (Birth of America?). Dead Island wasn’t some Activision game that gets 300 million dollars in advertising money. It was a small game, from a relatively unknown company, that managed to get the attention of a lot of people in a small amount of time. If that doesn’t sell you on emotional appeal and creating value in advertising, I don’t know what will.
It’s not enough to just tell me about your product anymore. I’m not the mindless consumer from the television era of the 1950’s. I’m well informed, and I know how to find any information I need about your product. The real question is do I want to know about your product? I need to be invested in what you’re offering; in the group of people that make up that product’s community. And that value isn’t going to come from disingenuous drivel. It’s going to come from putting passion and craftsmanship into advertising. It’s going to come from striking a cord with me emotionally. If some future generation came across your advertisement two hundred years from now, is it going to end up in a museum or the trash can? If your answer is trash can, then something needs to change. Create advertising that makes me feel happy, sad, envious, frightened, angry, anything! The worst thing you can be is forgettable. Make me talk to my friends about your advertisement, and I’ll do all the marketing you need.
The bottom line is this: if your ad doesn’t create an emotional response, you have failed as an advertiser.
The James Bond franchise has become a staple of the cinema going experience in the US and abroad since the series debuted in 1962. With twenty-two successful sequels, the franchise has made a whopping 11.6 billion dollars (adjusted for inflation) in the box office. With merchandising and video sales, Bond is a certified money making juggernaut. But why has the series had so much success? What is it about James Bond that captures the imagination of so many people? Is it his debonair demeanor? Maybe. Is it the fast-paced action sequences and beautiful women? Possibly. But more likely, Bond’s success goes beyond the movies themselves. Bond is the product of business minded people, and the formula is working. With amazing branding and outstanding brand management by the producers and creative minds that brought the series to life, 007 has created staying power that defies the fickle tastes of moviegoers.
Her Majesty’s most famous secret agent has had his share of troubles that would spell disaster for any other brand. With six lead changes, a litany of bizarre plots, and a recurring character that can chew through wire cables with his teeth, it seems beyond expectation that Bond would continue to succeed. So what is it about the branding of the franchise that has kept it viable for all these years in spite of apparent shortcomings? It starts with the name, and I’m not talking about Bond, James Bond.
In launching multiple products, smart brand managers give new products new names. There’s no way around it. If you are going to introduce another product that is different from your first offering, you are far more likely to have success with a completely new name. Riding the coattails of a previous brand will only take away from what you’ve already built. It may seem counterintuitive, but by creating these separate brands with each new product, you’re keeping the strength of the pervious brand intact. If Absolut Vodka were to introduce Absolut Vodka 2, you may begin to wonder what’s wrong with their original product. Hollywood is notoriously bad at coming up with names of subsequent movies in a franchise, but not Bond.
Each Bond film has a unique title, and with those unique titles the film is given a unique identity within the series. If I told you I was watching Rocky III, you may ask, “Is that the one with Mr. T?” But if I tell you I’m watching Casino Royale or Octopussy, you are far more likely to remember which particular film in the franchise I’m talking about. Each of those films has its own unique identity. And for those who say Rocky is an ultra popular franchise, I agree, but they aren’t releasing their twenty-third installment next year. Bond has remained relevant because it has stayed away from the “tried and true” method of slapping a number on the title of a sequel. By treating each film in the franchise as its own brand, Bond has created staying power for as long as people like smooth talking assassins, fast cars, and exotic locales: in other words, a very long time.
While each movie in the series can be considered a separate brand, they all fall under the megabrand of James Bond films. In fact, in the mind of the consumer, these movies are often referred to simply as “Bond films”. It’s not uncommon to hear one friend say to another, “Hey, did you see the new Bond flick?” or, “Hear anything about the latest Bond movie coming out?” This kind of generalization can often spell trouble for the strength of a brand (i.e. Rocky, Chevrolet), but Bond handles it well by giving each unique product a common thread. Creating separate names for each film gives them a distinct flavor and keeps the consumer from saying, “Did we really need a Bond 29?” However, the real purpose is to give the impression that this is a completely new adventure with a formula they’ve come to expect from the Bond megabrand, and that leads me to the second reason that this film franchise is so successful.
Fans of the franchise know what they’re going to get. If I asked two separate people to list the things they would expect to see in a James Bond film, nearly all of their answers would overlap (fast cars, gorgeous women, witty dialogue, outrageous villains, etc). This is because there are certain aspects of a Bond film that the moviegoer has come to expect from the franchise. And while critics of the films may point to this repetitiveness as a flaw, it’s exactly this formula that has kept the franchise viable for so long. There isn’t a Bond film that doesn’t have these expected traits, and with that comes an ever growing strength, as it reinforces what the audience has come to expect.
There isn’t a film in the franchise about Bond taking care of his senile mother or a movie where James drives a Honda Accord. That takes away from what the brand stands for in the mind of the consumer, and that is what the Bond franchise has understood better than any other movie series in history. The audience expects x, y, and z, so they are going to deliver x, y, and z every time. That’s great branding and great brand management. Nobody wants New Coke (maybe with a different name they would). People want the things they love to remain they way they love them. There’s no need to steer away from what’s working because of trends in Hollywood. Stick to your guns, and your brand might have the staying power that Bond has had.
Branding is a major part of the success of any product. Be it a movie, a person, or a pastry, without proper branding and brand management, you are doomed to failure. So next time you’re trying to create another mega-franchise or a product line with staying power, look no further than the man with the golden gun for inspiration. James Bond has defied all critics and odds to become a colossal success over a span of nearly 50 years, and it was all made possible through smart branding, built to stand the test of time.
Netflix is catching a TON of criticism from all over the web as of late, and I just can’t help but throw a penny or two in the pot. I don’t want to tear Netflix down though. I want to build them up. I LOVE Netflix services, and I would like to see them succeed, but their baby isn’t doing so well right now, and if they’re going to get out of this funk, they’ll need to make some changes. These three changes (the first of which isn’t possible) are the actions I would take to get Netflix back on track.
Change #1: Go back in time and rethink your branding strategy.
Okay, I know this step is impossible, but the biggest branding mistake that Netflix made happened years ago when they first started to offer their streaming service. It was at that point that they should have created a completely separate brand instead of associating a new service with their existing image. In the mind of the consumer, Netflix was, and still is, a video-by-mail service. You take away from the strength of a brand when you begin adding services. The consumer already has what your brand does firmly in mind. Don’t confuse the people that are buying your product! Had Netflix created a separate brand for the streaming service in the beginning, there wouldn’t be so much controversy over the Qwikster (horrible name) and Netflix brands. If those decisions were made when they were relevant, Netflix brand would have been allowed to die a natural death, but because they waited, we have a name change of one brand and a new name for an old brand. Confusing right? Had the right moves been made from the start, Netflix would have saved themselves a lot of criticism and their customers a lot of confusion.
Change #2: Stay away from the video-game-by-mail industry.
Netflix is considering breaking into the video game market, and while it may seem like a natural move for a company that already delivers video-by-mail, this move will hurt the brands image and end up costing Netflix millions of dollars in the long run. For starters, there’s already a great product on the market called GameFly that owns the top spot in the market. Why is that? GameFly got there first. Overtaking GameFly will be impossible as their service is already firmly in the mind of the consumer. Netflix, which is struggling with identity right now, needn’t further confuse the consumer with another service under one of their two names. If they are dead set on breaking into this market, they’ll need to start a completely new brand if they want any chance of being the number two in the category. But what will most likely happen is that they’ll spend millions in advertising only to close up shop on the idea a few years later. Don’t do it Netflix. Unless you have something new to offer that GameFly doesn’t, this service is doomed from the start.
Change #3: Innovate.
Netflix (or is it Qwikster?) is nearing the end of its usefulness as a product as DVD’s and even Blu-rays will become a thing of the past before too long. In order for the company to survive, they’ll need to become the first in a market that’s emerging or risk going out of business. The video-by-mail business will soon be obsolete, and with identity issues and a lack of quality content, the Netflix streaming product is going to be overtaken by companies with a stronger identity in the category. The best chance Netflix has at remaining a viable competitor in the home entertainment market is to find something new and be the first to stake a claim; otherwise they may find both of their revenue streams failing. But, for the love of all that is good, DO NOT give this new product the Netflix name. That ship has sailed.
And there you have it friends. Follow my advice Netflix (or hire me) and you may just make it out of this mess on top, but if you keep doing what you’re doing, your business will continue to struggle.