My right honorable friend James White, VP of Brand Management here, blurted this out one day in slight frustration over getting some work sold through. Work that would be multi-channeled. I remember I was sitting in his office, the client was frustrated, James was frustrated.
The client was suggesting that they would be unhappy if the work we produced couldn’t be visually replicated, identically, across multiple channels and they felt it couldn’t.
This is not a new argument. I’ve heard it over and over. Yet, James’ words really made me examine the issue a little more closely. I prodded him. We found ourselves at the pub next door over lunch and a few pints, debating.
Whether it is explicitly stated or not, this all comes down to branding. It’s the undercurrent of every campaign. And you need branding, right? You need it because what is branding? It’s essentially a way for a business to indicate to the recipient of the message that it came from that particular business and not another business. And the campaign? It's basic function is to make the recipient do something, take some sort of action (e.g. buy something, share something).
Fifty years ago, I’d be sitting at my breakfast nook reading the paper with my coffee and I’d see an ad for the new Chevrolet at my local dealer. I get in my car to go to work and hear a radio ad for the new Chevrolet at my local dealer. After dinner, I'd watch a TV ad for Chevrolet. Call to action: Come check it out. Done. Easy. As more channels are added, visual branding is used to lacing everything together so as not to confuse the audience. Everything looks and acts the same.
This is the logic that has ruled advertising forever. This is the most basic form of campaigning. In essence, everything needs to be matching luggage.
Jump cut to today. Three channels have now ballooned into 30. The lines are blurred. As my friend Josh Rose at Weber Shandwick reiterates via Marshall McLuhan, “The message is the media and the media is the message.” Dope insight. It’s hard to control. The logic that ruled ad campaigns forever is being torn apart as the fabric decays. That matching luggage is looking really ragged. And it should, it’s old.
LET’S RETHINK THE CAMPAIGN FOR A MOMENT. WHY DOES IT NEED TO BE MATCHING LUGGAGE?
If branding is the reminder of the source, media is the vehicle and the campaign is the method for delivering the message or call to action to the recipient (the consumer), why shouldn’t everything be far more flexible? What’s most important in this equation? Ding, ding, ding… it’s not delivering the branding, it’s delivering the message. Duh.
This is where brands get confused and it’s our job to always remind our brand partners that the last thing the consumer will remember about any ad campaign is the branding. Brand managers hate to hear that, but it’s true. A consumer’s primary stimulus to take action is a well crafted and meaningful message. Something they will connect with personally. My point here isn’t to shit on branding, but it’s just a gentle reminder of the hierarchy. We need to be less concerned about making everything look the same and more concerned about making everything support each other. In other words, it's not about the container, it's what's inside that matters. This becomes particularly evident when translating print work into the digital space or working with long-form content pieces.
You shoot a visually stunning print campaign for a magazine ad. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s beautiful. You try to jam that into a banner ad package and it looks small and unimpressive. You write and shoot a stunning, cinematic video that runs 2:34:07 and tells the perfect product story and then try to cut it down to a :30 for pre-roll and it loses all the magic. Why? Because we’re thinking like monkeys. It’s a bad strategy and we, as an industry, I hope, are now coming around to the alternative. Which is…
The message is the branding.
It can morph with the help of media to take any form it requires to deliver the message and in the end get the desired response. The visual container should support that effort, not lead it.
It’s a new day. Let’s get some new luggage.