Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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The Star of the Show.

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far away -- before all this internet thing heated up -- there was a really big cowboy star. For those of you who weren't around, you can still see his movies. They're mostly black and white, but even in the movies this guy was bigger than life. Come to think of it, even in life he was bigger than life.

His name was John Wayne and he not only epitomized the United States of America from about 1930 to 1970, he WAS the United States of America: big, brawny, able to stand up for the little guys and punch out the bad guys.

Being the American icon he was, the Duke (as he was known) turned down every commercial endorsement that Madison Avenue threw at him. Every advertiser wanted him, because they knew that if the Duke would buy it, the rest of the consuming American public would, too. Wayne remained adamant until the end of his career, when he finally signed a major deal: the makers of some headache-aspirin-pain-reliever finally roped the old cowboy into doing a pitch for their TV commercials.

When the deal was signed, delirium broke out: advertising executives wet their pants, clients rejoiced and America watched their TV's with anticipation, waiting for the big moment when:

The Duke bombed.

Yup. The American icon straddled up to the camera and hawked some ridiculous script about how "when the Duke gets a headache, ...." Needless to say, the campaign fizzled. Sales plummeted. And more than one "really bright, rising star" advertising executive was shown the door.

Now, why do I bring this up? Well, for one thing, Andy and Ann thought that I forgot about this week's column and Andy always says my stuff is too short. Another is that I thought it was an interesting story. But the real reason is that too many advertisers forget that when it comes to advertising, the product is always the star. And if you forget that, no amount of window dressing or celebrity endorsement is going to help you.

But how do you make you product interesting? Well, you're in your business. YOU must like it. What makes you think that nobody else will? The trick is keeping your audience focused on the stuff you present, and presenting it in an interesting way, on the web and everywhere else.

1. KEEP THE PRODUCT AS THE STAR. We already went over this, but it bears repeating. Believe me, after all the work you put into marketing your widgets, which do you want you customers to remember: your widget or the way Miss February displayed them between her, um, well, held them up to the camera? The test of failed advertising is when somebody tells you that they saw a great ad the other day, but can't remember what was being advertised.

2. GET RID OF THE DISTRACTIONS. Frankel's Rule of Clutter specifically states that "if it's not helping, it's hurting." Lose all the window dressing. Start with a blank page and a picture of your product and tell me why I should buy it over someone else's. Remember, less is more (more or less).

3. DON'T DRAG YOUR COMPETITION INTO IT BY NAME. We've been cranking out hard-hitting, competitive ads for years and never once needed to directly label a competitor by his/her name. If you're leaning on the competition to make your pitch, you're not trying hard enough. You're also building their market awareness at your expense (see number 5).

4. DELIVER AN INSIGHT. Hey, everyone likes people to think they're smart. So tell them something about your product that they never thought of. A feature in your product that only an expert like you would know. Like how the little tip at the end of your shoelace is actually called an "aglet." Bet you didn't know that. See how smart that made me look? Now if I could just get a shoelace client, I'd be set.

5. DON'T SELL THE INDUSTRY. Remember that no matter how much/little you're spending, if you're not promoting your cause exclusively, you're spending your money to promote the whole industry. That's a favor that your competition will send you flowers for, because even if it works, you'll be growing everyone's market share value, instead of your own market share. Stick to selling your stuff, not your competition's.

Well, cowboys, that's about it for this week's round-up. Stay away from the distractions. Keep your eye on the ball. And if "Blood Alley" is on cable this week, make sure you watch it in its original black and white.

© 1997, Rob Frankel

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