Lowell Lunden is right: You’ve got to build the brand

A while back, I wrote a column in which I said there were only two rules for good creative:...

A while back, I wrote a column in which I said there were only two rules for good creative:

1. Get attention.

2. Be relevant.

Lowell Lunden, a consultant and highly-regarded former adman at Quaker, wrote to suggest I add a third:

3. Link the creative to the brand.

Lowell is right. Not only is he right, but he makes a point which is often ignored. Far too many commercials today are lovely – or not-so-lovely – little playlets that exist in a vacuum, having no relation to last year’s ad or next year’s ad or to anything else that builds a long-term quality image.

Consider the great dot-com battle for share of mind. Back when NASDAQ was soaring and money was being handed to cyberwhizzes just for passing ‘GO’, many millions were spent in attempts to impress the public. Some did impress the public. But unfortunately, they did not impress upon the public. There’s a difference.

After the 1999 Super Bowl, that grand showcase for ad spectaculars denied to us by the Great Ottawa Regulators of Cable (GORCs), there was much ad industry chitchat about the impact of the new spots. Uh-huh. Less than two years later, can anybody name a brand that got built, an image that lasted past the next morning’s water cooler? Uh-uh.

No, the dot-commie that sticks in my head is the grand old behemoth, IBM – simply because they keep churning out their charming Solutions For A Small Planet, with their continuing quasi-documentary style and their continuing black-and-white, letter-boxed look. They know the value of consistency, repetition, consumer comfort. They know how to build a brand.

I sometimes wonder how many agencies really do know this. Another recent correspondent, a top executive at a very good advertiser, told me of his efforts – successful, thank God – to push his agency into maintaining the same campaign for Year Three. Obviously, the Creative Department had gotten tired of it. Well, dammit, the public hadn’t!

I also think that our many awards ceremonies work against brand-building. They almost never reward it. Year after year, the judges go for the cute headline, the one-shot surprise ending, the weird bit of casting, the snappy punch line, as if they were judging 30-second Hollywood features instead of advertising. When was the last time the Maytag repair guy won an award? Or the Michelin man? Or how about the very powerful, very consistent, but also very unspectacular ‘Dofasco – Our product is steel, our strength is people’?

Several years ago, the chairman of a recently merged financial firm said to me, ‘I’m tired of checking into hotels and having to explain to the desk clerk who it is I work for.’ I went back to the office and thought up a blue dot with the words, MIDLAND WALWYN – BLUE CHIP THINKING. They bought it, and we ran the hell out of it…with very limited budgets, I might add.

Three years later, in a poll of the financial industry, Midland Walwyn was ranked number one among all brokerage firms in public image. Their score, on a scale of 10, was 8.4; the runner-up was 6.7. I got a calculator, and figured out, that’s like winning a mile race by 300 yards.

The public noticed ‘BLUE CHIP THINKING’, but did the ad industry? Did it ever win an award? In fact, did either of Canada’s two august ad-trade publications ever do a story on it? Nope, nope, and nope. It didn’t have a shocker visual or a snappy punch line. All it did was build a brand.

Thanks for reminding me, Lowell Lunden, of why we’re all in business. Maybe a few others need reminding, too.

John Burghardt’s checkered resume includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING • CREATIVE THINKING’. He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072, by fax at (416) 693-5100 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com