There was once a fad belief among internet enthusiasts that new media would destroy branding.
The argument centered on the belief that advertisers would find it more challenging to saturate the market with a more distributed media environment, and therefore struggle to implant narratives into the general consciousness.
That has failed to occur, and probably never will. Ad networks and saturation campaigns have made it easier to shape consciousness on the internet than was possible in the age of segmented radio, television, and print outlets. Now, a single campaign run through an ad network can reach hundreds or thousands of media outlets.
There’s also a philosophical reason as to why branding retains its hold over culture.
Branding is a narrative created around a product, service, or company. As long as people remain attracted to stories, branding will retain its power.
But in order to be effective, the story told needs to be both authentic and consistent. The most effective variety of branding is derived from the corporate culture. It should be an animating myth that pervades how employees relate to one another and to their customers. It generates internal cohesion and makes any initiative more efficient than it would be otherwise.
If a product or company has no compelling narrative, then it can only produce commodities that compete on cost.
Toy manufacturers understand this. Most toys are merely molded plastic. But they aren’t sold to children with a pitch like
“Hey kids! How would you like to fiddle with this thrilling object made out of complex polymers derived from petroleum?”
Kids play with Batman, Barbie, or life-like babies. Children use the object to tell stories and as a means of socializing with their peers. It’s identical to a prop in a play.
The story is more important than the thing itself. Microsoft sold Windows 95 by borrowing some of the energy of the Rolling Stones in their initial marketing campaign.
The organizing user interface feature introduced by Win95 – the start button – was integrated into the marketing campaign. That brand equity has remained with Microsoft ever since.
Notice the amazing copywriting that overlays the ad.
Start exploring / Start discovering / Start learning / Start doing / Start organizing / Start connecting / Start managing / Start creating / Start playing / Start moving / Start Windows 95
Damn. That’s powerful language! And it reflected genuine enthusiasm about the product.
Compare that to one of the commercials for the recent failed Microsoft Kin. While it’s superficially similar to the Windows 95 commercial of 15 years ago – showing multiple quick shots of people having fun in diverse locations – it’s not nearly as focused. While the former commercial was a masterpiece that targeted each important segment of the target market with a different message (all within one minute) – while including powerful audio cues – the Kin commercial could easily be a beer ad.
Also note the copywriting:
I’m for sharing / And the more you share, the more you get. / That’s us. It’s nice to meet you.
What the heck is that about? It could just as easily be an ad for Facebook or Twitter. Where’s the unique selling proposition? I can do that without a Kin. There’s no call to action there. They’re not using the imperative voice.
No one bought the Kin because Microsoft never actually told anyone to.
Here’s another Kin ad with a similar theme, but with more shots of people using the product. It tells a story, but the product isn’t really part of it. If anything, it makes the people using the phone look like annoying party-poopers that are more interested in diddling with their accessory than actually having a good time. The chosen song also has nothing to do with the Kin. All I see are hipsters at a house party.
It helped the older campaign that Windows 95 was actually a revolutionary piece of software, while the Kin was only an iteration on existing products from competitors. It’s easier to develop an exciting brand narrative when the product itself is distinguished from other competitive offers.
What’s your myth?