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Lessons from Leo Burnett
By: Andrew Davis
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"We, over and over again, stress this so-called inherent drama of things," Leo Burnett told Denis Higgins in an interview years ago. "There’s usually something there, almost always something there, if you can find the thing about that product that keeps it in the marketplace." Illustrating this point in his work, Burnett once slapped a piece of red, uncooked meat onto a red background. The ad campaign worked, with wild success. "This was inherent drama in its purest form," Burnett said.
 
Burnett’s point is that in every brand, there is a single factor that separates it from all other brands. And, if there isn’t, then it won’t be on the market for very long. Good advertising teams know how to bring that inherent drama to life. They are like sculptures who can bring a masterpiece out of a solid piece of stone, as if that figure was inside the stone all along. Unfortunately, many ad campaigns try to artificially manufacture this inherent drama, leaving the audience with superficial, forced feeling about a about a brand rather than what naturally should occur. 
 
TalentZoo.com writer Kaitlin T. Gallucci has written the past few weeks on what she calls "lazy marketing" when it comes to developing creative for brands. "When brand messages can apply to almost any brand in a given industry, rather than focusing on individual differentiators or unique selling propositions, the messages become unclear, unremarkable, and unconvincing," she writes. 
 
Gallucci highlights a significant problem with today’s marketing: a lack of differentiation. Without differentiation, products in a category blend together and lose their unique identity. A part of the problem has to do with an overabundance of products in a single category, but a larger portion of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of creative teams who are substituting "advertising tricks" for true brand development. The ads they develop are certainly creative, sometimes funny, and usually good for getting attention. Their fatal flaw is that they’re all show and no substance. So, while they may get the audience attention, they do nothing to sell the brand. 
 
Attention is important, without question. And many of the techniques used to get attention are certainly with merit. The problem emerges when tricks are the sole technique used, and the "inherent drama" of the brand is completely ignored. It’s much easier to get attention than to sell a brand. But, advertising is not simply about getting the most attention. It’s about selling the most product. "Sheer visibility is important with today’s rising advertising costs; if you don’t get noticed, you don’t have anything," says Burnett. "But the art is in getting noticed naturally without screaming or without tricks…"
 
Many on creative teams will say today’s consumers are too difficult to reach without these tricks. And, if you want to get their attention, you have to use humor, or flashy graphics, or other advertising "tricks." This is a cop-out. Consumers are flooded with more advertisements now than they were during Leo Burnett’s time, but it is no excuse for bad advertising. It simply means working harder to find the brand differentiation — this inherent drama — and bringing it to life.  


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About the Author
Andrew Davis is a Charleston, SC-based creative services consultant to small businesses and non-profits. Follow him on Twitter here.
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