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How to Talk to Creative People About Branding

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You've seen this scenario: Helen Chan, Queen of Client Services, walks all excited into the office of Andy Oz, the recently hired King of Creative. Her hands are animated as she announces, "We're pitching MegaGlobal in two weeks! We need a Big Brand Idea!"

Andy looks up and removes his glasses. "Cool" he says, as he wonders, What the %#*! does she mean, Big Brand Idea?

Cut to you, right now, reading at your monitor.

Yes, you.

Here's a pop quiz. Define "brand." Go ahead, jot something down. And if you're really clever, define "Big Brand Idea." I'll wait.


All done?

Back to Helen and Andy, two days later. They are sitting around a marble conference table with several art directors, copywriters and assorted planners—the usual crowd on The Pitching Team.

Helen Clears her throat, smiles at Andy, and says, "Our new creative guru here has asked me to explain what I mean by Big Brand Idea."

She looks around the room. Most everyone just stares. "Well, to me, a brand is like a person," says Helen, gesturing towards an art director, a guy named Cinco Lima who looks like Sean Penn.

Helen says, "Let's say Cinco is a product, a jar of instant coffee, sitting on a shelf at Park&Shop. His relationship is different with every shopper that walks down his aisle, right? Just like he has a different relationship with everyone here at work."

Helen takes a quick read of the table. She sees Cinco nod. Andy, Julie and Sabilla all agreeing. So she continues.

"Cinco's relationships can be divided into one of three stages. Stage one, you want people to notice and recognize you. It's like, 'Hey, here I am, look at me!'

"Stage two, you want to get acquainted, you want people to know you. 'You're going to like what we can do together.'

"And stage three, you want people to love you. 'This is such an important relationship, let's stay together forever.'"

"Soooo..." Helen says, looking expectantly around the table.

Julie, a copywriter with red hair and skin as white as rice says, "So you think a Big Brand Idea should, what, be based on the stage of the relationship?"

"Exactly. Where that relationship is, at present. And where you want to take it," replies Helen.

Cinco says, "Reminds me of that butterfly guy. The MSN dude with butterfly wings. He's like a friend who lives with you. Helps you plan your vacation. Get the daily weather and sports."

"And tells you what baby names to avoid. Remember that campaign?" asks Julie. "McCann in San Francisco. Nice stuff."

Cinco says, "Yeah, if I'm Yahoo, I'm going to stab that MSN butterfly with a spike. Pin him to the floor. Ask him, 'Need a doctor, Mr. Butterfly? Or a taxidermist?'" Then Cinco howls like a coyote, "Yahooo!'"

Everyone laughs. After a moment, Andy says, "One last thing. As you flesh out concepts, be sure that every idea has three things." Andy raises his index finger, saying: "One. Indicate the visual symbols or icons that identify the brand. That's everything from colors to the logo."

"Two. An expression of the brand's personality. Is this brand hip or what?

"Three. An explanation of the relationship between the brand and the target audience. Is this brand a problem solver? A friend? An adviser?"

"How about brand characters or celebs?" asks Cinco.

Andy says, "Sure. Put them anywhere it makes sense. A doctor, you'd put in three. A famous face, Jennifer Lopez, put in one. Let's look to review concepts on Monday."

Thanks, Andy. And as to you, Dear Reader, let me show you a rock. On this rock is written:

A brand is like a person.

  • Like a person, brands have relationships, and these relationships evolve, for better or worse, over time, and need to be constantly nurtured.

  • And like a person, brands have visual characteristics, sounds, personalities, and ways of relating to, or interacting with, the audience.

See the creative work discussed in this article here.


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Steve McNamara is a freelance ad guy and the publisher of AdCracker.com. He has been a creative director and copywriter at JWT, BBDO, and, on the client side, at Capital One. Reach him at adcracker@gmail.com.

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