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A Lesson in Building Brands from the Masters of Advertising
By: Andrew Davis
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Branding. What is a brand? What is branding? There are many definitions. Many theories. And, many agencies that do branding in many different ways. 
 
But what can we learn from the masters of advertising — those that have put products on the map, and made them household names — about building brands? 
 
According to Lee Clow, the bearded Chairman and Global Director of TBWA\Worldwide, brands “are very much like people.” 
 
“Do you think that brand is interesting? Would you like to have it over for dinner? Is he always the same, or is he sometimes funny, and sometimes he’s serious?” says Clow. 
 
It’s an interesting perspective, and one that helps to explain the relationship between consumers and brands. It’s a bit strange to think about having a “relationship” with a product. But, that’s exactly what a brand loyalty is: a relationship. If a consumer is loyal to your brand, they have certain expectations for it. They trust it. They don’t want to be betrayed by it.
 
And, most of all, they want to enjoy the experience of being in a relationship with it. 
 
Clow refers to an ad for Harley Davidson produced by Carmichael Lynch in 1987 that featured the burly arm of a biker with the Harley Davidson logo tattooed on his bicep. The headline reads, "When was the last time you felt this strongly about anything?"
 
Passion. It’s what drives any relationship, especially that between a brand and a consumer. If consumers feel passionate about the product, they’ll use it. More importantly, they’ll keep using it, and will encourage people in their social circles to use it. 
 
Mary Wells Lawrence, who started at DDB in the 1950s before founding her own agency, used passion to help save Braniff, a commercial airline company. Her campaign, “The End of the Plain Plane,” involved redesigns to not only the planes, but the stewardesses, pilots, and general culture of air travel. In a stuffy, boring, plaine plan industry, Braniff became “fun.” "We made it fun to fly,” says Wells. “People flew with us because they were having a theatrical experience."
 
As one of the Braniff ads stated, they couldn’t get passengers to their destination any faster, but the “experience” of flying was one consumers couldn’t get with any other airline. Wells tapped into the consumer experience to build a relationship with consumers — an exclusive relationship built on the thrill of flying. 
 
"We, over and over again, stress this so-called inherent drama of things," Leo Burnett, one of the godfathers of modern advertising, 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."
 
The job of advertisers for brands is finding that inherent drama — a spark that builds a brand experience — and bring it to life. 
 
“I can get excited about selling a new kind of pen,” says George Lois, who made MTV and Tommy Hilfiger household names. “Wow, yeah, look at that pen. It’s a little this. I can do this. Let me sell that mother*****. What a pen! It’s a work of art too.”
 
“You can get excited about almost nothing,” Lois continues.
 
“That’s what’s crazy, how passionate people can actually be about brands, if brands are these interesting, fascinating, and maybe high-minded people that you want to assign to be a part of who you are,” remarks Clow.
 
Are people excited about your brand? Do they have a passion for it? If not, it’s time to take a look at the brand and find that “inherent drama” that Burnett spoke of. Bring it to life. Make it interesting. Make your brand come alive so that consumers can begin building a relationship experience with it. 
 
Author’s Note: The quotations used in the above article were from interviews featured in the documentary, “Art & Copy.” It is available for purchase (and strongly recommended by this author) here

   

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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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