SxSW Day 2: Brand Consistency is Killing Digital Advertising (via Google Reader)

The last session of the day was chosen solely on its ballsy, provocative title: “Brand Consistency is Killing Digital Advertising.” Now this just seemed intentionally inflammatory. And even up to the moment the guy started talking I was ready to bolt in case it turned into overly cerebral planner talk.

Then the guy started talking, Justin Cox, a planner from Pereira & O’Dell.

And I dug it

Methodically, he challenged everything I’ve been led to believe in the last 5 years about how integrated marketing should work, ye ol’ hub and spoke, the 360° campaign, every channel serving the same big idea. He showed a slide of cross channel pieces from a recent Gillette campaign. From the print, to the TV, to the display banners, everything looked exactly the same, sharing the same art direction and assets and messaging. And it was easy to see. It all added up to crap. Consistency did not, as I’ve espoused to many clients, amplify their message; rather it seemed pointless and trivial.

Repetition diluted any possible hope of more meaningful engagement.

And then he made his big, bold claim.  Across channels, brands don’t need to look the same, they just need to feel the same.

Think about Google. From search, to Gmail, to mobile apps, to Chrome, their customer touch points are all over the place. But there is always a consistent feel of cool innovation. Google-ness always comes through.

So how do you help your client build a successfully inconsistent brand? It’s a 7 step process.

1. Redefine integration from cloning a message to expressing a common feel, or sharing a common goal.

2. Make sure your customers know what to expect from your product, not your brand. Think Red Bull. Their marketing exposure is everywhere—from those tired animated TV spots, to their eclectic motorsports sponsorships, to their flug-tags. Their brand continually surprises and delights their customers. But the product stays consistent.

3. Sometimes it makes sense to make your product the star, not a monolithic brand message. Consider the award winning Curiously Strong Altoids campaign of the 90s. Brilliant copywriting, brilliant art direction. But customers got so used to the brutal brand consistency, the campaign became transparent and sales plummeted for 3 straight years.

4. Define everything through the customer behavior. Place being relevant to a customer’s lifestyle at a higher premium than message consistency. This is diligent media strategy.

5. Embrace the unique strengths of technology. Don’t be seduced by campaign centric oversimplification. It is ridiculous to think an emotionally engaging print piece will translate well into interactive. Leverage the unique properties of each channel.

6. Adapt a meme mentality. Be relevant in real time. Be immediate.

7. Take a break from the single-minded message.

He ended with a good quote, maybe too perfect:

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” -Oscar Wilde

Now this might not be the beginning of an industry-wide revolution. This idea certainly isn’t appropriate for every brief, nor every brand. But it is a powerful argument. And I have it for when I need it.

Jim Kim is a Creative Director out of our Chicago office.

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