Dear Tig,

We're looking to develop the branding for a new product that will get enormous advertising exposure in the next year. Right now we're in the process of determining, quite literally, the character of our brand positioning. We've decided to create a consistent brand character that will appear in most of our communications – sort of like the MSN's butterfly or Starkist's Charlie the Tuna. Of course, no one can agree on what type of character to use. Some favor animated guys, others favor animals, some even favor an inanimate object. Might you have any advice?

- Creator

Dear Creator,

The type of character you develop will help determine what type of advertising creative direction you can employ. This should be top of mind as you decide what sort of avatar you'll use in the future to represent the brand.

Rather than deciding on a mascot, and then fleshing out the personality and advertising, you need to do the opposite. First determine the brand qualities you want to flaunt and the types of advertising that will work best. Only then settle on a character, if indeed a character turns out to be desirable.

Having cut my teeth at Leo Burnett, this is a strategy near and dear to me.

It seems Leo eventually convinced the majority of his clients to move toward some sort of iconic brand representation, from Morris the Cat to the Jolly Green Giant. But often the brand character wasn't an actual personality.

Allstate, for instance, became the “Good Hands People,” evoking images of supportive hands at the end of each commercial. Dean Witter invented a fictional founder to spout wise words. (Few people know this, but the old Dean Witter ads that had the “founder” taking care of customers “one investor at a time” was actually a concept stolen directly from an internal company speech Leo once gave to the agency's Chicago office.) It would have been pretty difficult for Charlie the Tuna to talk about investors without causing smirks.

Another worry to keep in mind is the international aspect of certain icons. It turns out that hands are fairly commonly seen as positive brand elements in most cultures. Dogs are not.

I was part of the Sun Microsystems Network the Dog fiasco from the early 90s, where we developed a great ad campaign for the Americas and Europe that caused Asian distributors to revolt. Making the Swiss Mountain Dog – a really nice dog, by the way – the mascot of Sun's new brand concept in Asia was sort of like making the brand representative in North America a tapeworm.

As hard as it is to fathom to our dog-loving culture, this had to be replaced quickly.


Dear Tig,

I have a quick question for you. In the business-to-business (B2B) space, you typically only have audience size, vertical industry, and geographic information used as planning criteria. Business-to-consumer (B2C) markets seem to have much more sophisticated means by which we can choose media vehicles, including behavioral information. Can you point me to something that would allow me to use the more sophisticated information for my B2B purposes? Enjoy your stuff,


Dear Crossover,

I spent the majority of my agency time on B2B clients, and we tended to find that the only good information from drilling down on things past size, vertical and geo tended to be trends we could ferret out of our own previous campaign data. Particularly as a great number of our clients conducted much offline and online direct marketing, we were able to assemble a lot of data on individuals.

Of course, this helped us not at all when it came to important decisions, such as which trade print to use.

For this we may turn to the increasingly robust online panels assembled by the likes of Nielsen's NetRatings and comScore's Media Metrix. Their B2C media research products served as the technological bases for their "at work" panels. This creates the potential for a B2B audience segmented into B2C terms. I think they may be worth a look.


Dear Tig,

I just got off a phone call that involved the chief creative officer of my agency chewing my ear out. In a recent creative review meeting with the client, I nodded my head when the client pointed out what I thought was a fairly obvious fault in the creative. It wasn't a big deal, and this was at a very early stage in the creative development. In order to maintain credibility with the client, I will sometimes agree with him when he has valid criticisms.

The creative director thinks it's my job to speak only good about the creative and ignore even the most brazen of errors. I told him we client service people aren't just approval monkeys, but marketers. He hung up while still cackling. I was originally going to ask you if you think I'm going to get fired, but now I only care about whether you think I was right. Thanks,

Bad Approval Monkey

Dear B.A.M.,

You are in the right. Client service people who speak only positively about dreadful creative quickly lose all usefulness to client and agency. They cease being believable, and their sales efforts only raise clients' skepticism.

Optimally, the client service people would see the creative sufficiently beforehand so that any disagreements can be worked out – or at least papered over – before the client meeting. We all know, though, that this isn't something that's going to change in the real world. In the absence of that internal creative review, the client service person is going to have to accede to criticisms and changes when it involves obvious mistakes or failure to hew to the creative brief.

I've found that I can “sell” a lot more creative when the client knows I can be critical too. Some creatives are better at taking this than others.

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Tig Tillinghast writes from the banks of the Elk River near Chesapeake City, Maryland. He consults with major brands and ad agency holding companies, helping marketing groups find the right resources for their needs. He is the author of The Tactical Guide to Online Marketing as well as several terrible fiction manuscripts.