• Exhibit b: Two weeks ago while on vacation in Spain, I was listening to a local radio station and I heard a new song. It’s not at all in his traditional style, nor am I a huge fan of his, yet I knew within 3 seconds that it was by Snoop Dogg, and now when I hear it again, I’ll remember that.
Is there a lesson here for Madison Ave.?
Let me take a couple of steps back and link this to advertising:
A good TV ad needs to be: memorable, impactful, eye-opening, persuasive, buzz-inducing, etc. I’d bet 9 out of 10 people on the street would offer up some similar definition of success, and 9 out of 10 creatives are chasing this in some way when they try to come up with that creative “home run”.
A dirty little secret I perceive in our industry, however, is that we spend most of our energy on chasing the above, and then so often under-deliver on a final and critical piece of the puzzle – brand linkage.
As the term would suggest, brand linkage is the degree to which your brand (or product) is linked to that fabulous creative idea.
If the great creative idea cannot exist without the brand/product, then you’ve got strong brand linkage. As a client, your ad is not only strong…it’s also actually yours in the mind of your consumer.
Now, if the consumer remembers the storyline, the humor, the cinematography, the special effects, the surprise ending…but doesn’t remember what brand/product the ad was for…why then you’ve got poor brand linkage. This is money wasted, and it damages the credibility of the creative agency. Not good. And yet, this is so tragically common! Just watch TV thinking about this concept, and you’ll see what I mean before the first commercial break is over.
I’m not as interested in understanding why this is so, but I’ll throw out 3 quick hypotheses:
1. Award show dynamics – to stand out among thousands of submissions, you need an “atomic bomb” of an idea. So that’s what you spend most of your time on. Way, way down in priority is the notion of brand linkage. It’s seen as somewhat of a pedestrian, non-artistic concern, and it’s feared because really bringing in the brand sometimes compromises the virginal purity of some of these “great” ideas.
2. Today’s graphic design aesthetic – Look at submissions for the print category in award shows (where you presumably put your best foot forward), and they’re all the same: a 2 page spread with an awesome, full bleed photo or illustration delivering the visual “bang”, a minimalistic headline, minimal to no copy whatsoever, and there…at the bottom right, as tiny as it can politely be made…is the logo. Let’s face it, it just looks better, it’s more elegant and easy on the eyes, even at the risk of short-changing the brand that foots the bill. (This wasn’t always so, in his book “Ogilvy on Advertising”, David Ogilvy goes into great detail the wonders of long-copy, heavily branded print advertising formats that were de rigeur up until the 80s).
3. An idea looking for a home – Of course, many ideas are born right out of a creative brief. But it’s also true that there are thousands of ideas already floating in the mind of every creative…just looking to find the right vessel to come to life and thrive. So sometimes, one of these ideas gets plucked out of the air, the brand gets “plugged in” to the back of the ad, and we give the idea another chance to live. But you see, the focus is on the idea, and the brand often takes a back seat.
The question is, what to do about it?
Well, the holy grail is to weave the brand/product into the creative idea so that the latter just can’t exist without the former. An example is the iPhone campaign – the action is visually interesting, the ads are clean and crisp looking, they are memorable in what they convey, and…if you take away the product, well there isn’t much of an ad left, is there? Think about it as you watch.
Now admittedly, this…is very hard to do.
So, while we keep searching for that holy grail… is there a shortcut we can look at? A “best practice” that can help us get ahead? Some magical formula for brand linkage?
I don’t have the definitive answer (sorry!) But…I think we can learn something from a trend I’m hearing in hip hop and dance music.
The setup: Lots of artists out there. Lots of competition for the hit singles. Lots of similar sounding riffs made by a small number of skilled producers. Lots of exhortation to dance “till the world ends”!
How to stand apart? Well, obviously you need a great song, that’s a given. This is what makes you break through the clutter, and if you don’t have it, then you’re not even in the game. But if you’ve got the killer tune, how do you get people to know and remember that it’s sung by you, the mega-superstar out with a new single, and not the 3rd place contestant from American Idol?
• Listen to the very first words of “Make you sweat”. (Close your eyes and pretend your listening on the radio, otherwise it’s cheating!)
• Or listen to the first word of “Dirty Dancer”
• Or the beginning of “DJ got us falling in love”
• Or “On the floor”
Get it??? You may or may not be into this type of music, or these artists, but I know you know who’s singing the songs!
This is why a 39-year-old suburbanite immediately knows he’s listening to Snoop…
Or a 5-year-old boy knows his favorite tune is by some guy named Usher…
Because they made sure to tell us so, right off the bat!
Can this work in advertising? Sure: so-called “bookends” (when the brand opens and closes the ad) have been around here and there for decades. It’s surely not the only way, but it’s definitely a way. And we should be looking for ways more aggressively than we have been.
My gut tells me these musical artists are onto something…they’ve figured out that it’s not enough to release a great song: in a cluttered environment, people have to be told very clearly who is doing the singing. I think it’s working, and these artists are singing all the way to the bank, without compromising their art.
I propose that a refocusing on the importance of brand linkage is overdue. It helps our clients sell their product, and gives us credibility as purveyors of Advertising, not just neat 30 second mini-films.
What examples come to mind of ads that have nailed brand linkage? Have you heard this “cheat” in musical genres other than hip hop/dance? Please share by clicking on the comments section below.
Thank you for reading!