How to add decades to a brand

Old Violator example. The brand is what's reduced.

…not in the good way.

Following are two things still used in some national retailers’ 2012 Black Friday marketing creative that smell like (and belong in) mothballs:

1. “Doorbusters”

Not the actual deals – those most everyone likes – but the word itself.

Hearing “doorbusters” makes me think of a Sears newspaper circular circa 1985.

I don’t know what the actual history of the word is, but it’s beside the point. What matters is that it sounds old (not to mention tacky).

True, the word does clearly convey that there are special deals available, as the “Doorbusters” banner atop Best Buy’s website did. However, there are many other ways to communicate the message without sounding dated; some examples I found on other national retailers’ websites included:  “Thanksgiving Weekend Sale,” “Black-Friday Deals” and “Annual Holiday Sale.”

Given the overwhelming importance of portraying their stores and merchandise as being current and desirable, using a word as old sounding as “doorbusters” strikes me as anathema to the desired brand image.

It only makes matters worse when you point a “Doorbuster “ arrow at boxes of Monopoly, Connect 4, and Operation, as Target did.

"Doorbuster" advertisement example from Target, Nov 2012

Try as I might, I just can’t imagine hordes of shoppers busting down doors to get their hands on 40-year-old board games.

2. Jagged-edged violators

Old-style starbursts look… old. Very, very old.

Are they eye catching? Maybe. But there are a lot of eye-catching images one could put in an ad that you (and/or the legal department) would think better of.

My wife and I bought the L.A. Times on Thanksgiving Day. The above example is from the CVS Pharmacy circular. The “SLASHED!” makes it look like they dipped into a mattress retailer’s playbook for inspiration.

In truth, the jagged-edged violator does seem like a dying breed. Most art directors and national-retail clients seem to have transitioned to more modern-looking styles with clean edges.

Some of the people hanging onto the older style might be thinking that the jagged edges are more effective at “violating” the underlying ad (or packaging) design, and thus better at grabbing people’s attention.

Perhaps that’s true. But even if it is, that’s not enough reason to stick with them. The damage caused by the visual – i.e., the way it makes the brand or product look dated – is too great.

A pot of fresh creative

This holiday-season print ad from Starbucks, on the other hand, is beautiful.

SB print ad

The creative is both whimsical and serious at the same time. It embraces emotion and subtlety — no screaming offer during a week of screaming offers, and it foremost relies on the product to catch your eye.

The ad made me think about how good those little chocolate chips would taste atop a ‘guilty-pleasure’ drink.

And there’s an eloquent beauty to the word “Rekindle.” It’s not commonly heard in advertising so it made me stop and think. It also captures an important emotional element of the holiday season – reconnecting with old friends and family.

When I passed by a Starbucks in my neighborhood, I saw this complementary standee in front of the store:

Starbucks store standee - showing 3 holliday drinks

Last night I also saw a Starbucks TV commercial that told a holiday-related story about “rekindling” a family relationship. I think the spot could have told its story a little better, but overall the emotional direction fits the season and the message distinguishes Starbucks from competitors.

For example, there’s also a Peet’s Coffee in my neighborhood. I prefer its coffee to Starbucks. But compared to Starbucks – with its ads and the store standee and holiday decorations – it seems rather stark and cold.

Meanwhile, what happened to Target? Its TV ads from a few years ago magically turned mundane products like bottles of household cleaning materials into playful images and were a joy to watch. At that point in time, going to Target felt cool. Not any more.

Test to “Yes”

Check mark (image courtesy of PNASH)

I recently participated in a panel discussion and was asked about my experience gaining approval for new digital-marketing programs within a company that isn’t specifically tech focused.

It was a good question, and one I could speak to while thinking of a range of specific examples from a decade-plus in Internet/digital marketing, starting with a long-ago justification for e-commerce sales and progressing through the rise of paid-search, YouTube, social media and now mobile.

The basic formula I’ve found to work is:

1. Employ data over emotion

Use industry benchmarking and data points (e.g., “in 2012 U.S. mobile commerce sales increased 99% over prior year, to $21 billion”) to appeal to logic.

Enthusiasm is great and often infectious, but think of it as a support to the underlying factual argument.

And when you have the urge to shout, “of course we need to invest in X, it’s almost 2013 for God’s sake!!”… Resist. Resist. Resist.

2. Propose tests with limited risk

Pitch a course of action that starts small, with a modest budget and an exit plan.

“We’ll start with a 3-month test that will only cost $10,000. If it’s successful — as defined by hitting xyz metric – we’ll expand. But if doesn’t hit the goal we’ll stop.”

3. Persist, diplomatically

We’d all like a quick “yes,” and maybe you’ll get lucky and receive one. But to avoid frustration, start with the assumption that you’ll need to revisit your proposed idea numerous times and gain support little by little.

Revisit the topic diplomatically:  choose your spots wisely; tactfully share articles that support your recommended course of action; and be enthusiastic about your proposal but treat the other perspective with understanding.

If what you’re suggesting is a good idea, most likely the opposition will give way.

4. Humility in success

When your test is successful – as demonstrated by the data, of course – embrace the “we.”

“It’s great that we tried this, because the results have been fantastic; what we did has helped the business.”

No one wants to be reminded that they opposed a good idea or weren’t forward thinking. The biggest gain is in making everyone feel like one of the winners (and in fact, if the test helped the business, they are).

5. Retain the humility

When your next good idea comes around, more likely than not you’ll be starting from step 1 again.  But with the right approach you can test your way to success over and over.