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November 16, 2006

News & Opinion: Branding at 65 mph.

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 7:01 PM – Filed under: Marketing & Sales

My friend hatesreally hatesthe old Michelin tire ads, you know, the ones with the cute babies rolling around the tires? Its absurd, he tells me. Babies dont drive cars! Whats worse, I actually understand why it works. The message is clear: if you dont buy our tires, your kid may die in a car crash. I resent that ploy.
Whats he talking about? Most of the time, I have some of the same hesitations with this visual image as my friend does. However, marketing is rarely, if ever, based solely on logic. It relies on the emotionthe visceral reactionthat instant connection with an audience that only the illogical can create. Thats why thinking visually can be so important. Its not that a picture says a thousand words. Its that your picture can trigger an emotion inside the brain of a consumer that is so powerful no amount of words would be able to express it. Michelin created a simple visual icon of their brand message: safety. They did it without crash-test dummies or statistics or technical specifications; just a few diaper-clad toddlers and everyone got it, like it or not. As for my friend, the agency that created the ad would say that it was effective. Even though he hated the ad, he remembered the product, many years after the campaign ended.
YourBillboard.jpgSo heres your billboard. Which hypothesis from your list would you choose to make the perfect billboard exercise? And how would you fill it in?
Asking people to create this kind of quick, distinct visual imagery around a certain hypothesis can be very productive. Even though I present my finished branding concpets as if they were two-page introductory ads, in truth Im always striving for the billboard. With the billboard, the disciplines of the print ad become magnified. You may be forced to convey your message using just one word or one visual cue to get your brand message across.
Putting something on a billboard demands a strategic point of focus. For example, I would choose to put on the billboard the fact that this stapler could be a one-touch solution. Think about that: if you had to create a picture with only a visual that said you could staple papers with just one touch, what would it be?
Maybe you would put the stapler balancing on one persons finger, or maybe you would show other one-touch things like an elevator button or doorbell and feature the stapler in the line-up. Or maybe just a visual of someone who is snapping his or her fingers in that its a snap kind of way. Each idea might get you thinking not only of potential product attributes (activating a stapler with a button being one of them), but also of names (a stapler called Snap, perhaps) and visually enduring themes (such as the balancing act.)
Theres a second exercise here if youre looking for words instead, or in addition to the visual. Imagine that youre driving down the highway and you see the same billboard from the other direction. The message is the same, but this time there was no visual, just one, two, or three words that were equally as powerful. What were they?
For the Michelin tires, maybe the words would have been Protect what matters. For my stapler, maybe they would have been Just add finger or One touch wonderful. What did you come up with?
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By Lynn Altman, author of Brand it Yourself.