Thursday, April 1, 2021

Some time at sea.

About 100 years ago, I was working on the account of a very large local bank. This was in the early 90s, before the banking industry, and every other industry, was allowed to consolidate--concentrating enormous power in the hands of just a few companies.

There were probably two-dozen fairly large banks in New York--all competing against each other. 

The Bank of New York, Irving Trust, Chemical Bank, Chase-Manhattan, Citibank, Bankers Trust, Manufacturers Hanover, Marine Midland, Anchor Bank, Banco Popular and more.

Today, pretty much, there's Chase and Citi. Maybe Bank of America and Wells Fargo. 

But all the local banks have been subsumed by a large, multi-national. All you have to do to witness this is drive down a main street in the suburbs. You see beautiful old granite buildings with engraved porticos that say, "Clinton National Bank." Then beneath that or above that, a garish aluminum sign that says Chase.

This has happened with newspapers and gasoline companies. And of course advertising agencies. In most categories, we're down to two or four major companies that dominate (if they don't monopolize) their industry.

The thing I learned when there were dozens of brands competing for your attention was the importance of branding and the importance of standing out.

Today, too many people in our industry conflate branding with logos, colors and typefaces. A brand is much more complex than a mere look. It is the total amalgam of behaviors and actions that guide a company. To focus on a logo and a font is like juggling with one ball.

Back to the 90s. Imagine you're walking through Manhattan. Or driving through a suburb.

You come to an intersection and there's a bank or a gas station at every corner.

How do you choose?

That's what brand value--and building a brand does for you. It helps the consumer form (consciously and unconsciously) preferences.

My personal belief is that what passes for the advertising industry today has forgotten about preference-making. This is partly because digital media was supposed to be so targeted that advertisers could reach their "targets" when they wanted with a precise selling point tailored to the viewer. We'd be welcomed in. We wouldn't have to earn attention.

That charade or false promise or lie about precision has allowed two generations in our industry to forget about the need to create an impact and differentiate. We forgot about earning attention. 

We forgot our jobs.

We forgot about likability. 

We forgot that we're interrupters. 

We forgot that we've been invited into no one's living-room, inner-ear or scrotal region. 

We are interlopers in those places. Intruders and if we don't do something kind, funny, entertaining, useful and worthwhile, we will be hated.

In any event back to what I learned about the importance of branding. 

When you're walking through the city and there's a bank on every corner and you have no account with any of them, how do you choose one?

You choose based on their brand. You don't go through a rational checklist of attributes, ATM-access, and other things. Through the ether--in a limbic way--an impression has been formed in your head. You might like the green of one bank's signage more than the ubiquitblue of another. You might like the candor of a headline on a poster. You might simply like its architecture or that they have swinging doors, not revolving doors.

These are the complexities of our business. 

This is why we as practitioners have to expend every muscle, brain-cell and sinew finding something true, real and relevant to talk about.

Lexus used to advertise gold-plated contacts.

Dunkin' Donuts used to make its coffee fresh every eighteen minutes.

Apple let you put 10,000 songs in your pocket.

These are the things that implant in brains. If you can find them and you're smart enough to be relentless in talking about them. We used to call them permissions to believe. We pretend they no longer matter. But they do.

Not long ago I did some work for the launch of a cruise line. Like every other cruise line in the world, they wanted to "redefine modern luxury." 

I said I didn't know what that meant. I said, give me something tangible.

They said, we spend more time at sea and go to unusual ports.

I said, more time at sea.

I wrote, "we travel one-knot slower than other cruise ships. We take a little more time. Give you a little more space. Help you find a moment or two to breathe. That's what one-knot slower allows."

Of course, they didn't buy it.

Too memorable.

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