“It seemed to me that Babette and I, in the mass and variety of our purchases, in the sheer plenitude those crowded bags suggested, the weight and size and number, the familiar package designs and vivid lettering, the giant sizes, the family bargain packs with the Day-Glo sale stickers, in the sense of replenishment we felt, the sense of well-being, the security and contentment these products brought to some snug home in our souls – it seemed we had achieved a fullness of being that is not known to people who need less, expect less, who plan their lives around lonely walks in the evening.” – Don DeLillo, White Noise
Last week, I raised the specter of awareness and branding and that there might be a difference between the two. I also alluded to how these two things are possible (or perhaps not possible) on the web. No, I did not soak my head in the pitcher of decontructive cool-aid (tried that in college). But admittedly, it caused some confusion. So, let me explain.
First, the difference between the two.
As I explained last week, awareness is the beginning of a dialogue that seeks to convince you, the potential consumer, that an engagement with the advertiser’s product will somehow positively alter your relationship with the world. The advertiser whispers to you, vying seductively for your attention; almost a circumspective Siren song to coax you off of the Argus of quiet desperation and overcome your consumptive inertia.
But branding is the answer to that call.
It is the consumer’s act of consumption and the thoughts and feelings associated with the product being consumed. Branding is involvement on an emotional level and, ultimately, a physical one. It is touching and being touched by a product and the message that communicates it.
When I see the Nike swoosh, it isn’t basic product information that is being exchanged: type of shoe, performance, material, size. There are intangible and ephemeral attributes associated with the concept of the product that the swoosh conveys without ‘saying’ anything. The shoes are hip, they’re cool, they are quality. And those qualities can be yours if you just pick up a pair.
Branding is the “security and contentment,” the “fullness of being” mentioned in the quote above, that the product carries with it. Branding is meaning accrued over time with the effort of a repeated and reinforced narrative and the trial that narrative seeks to elicit.
So is branding possible on the web? Well, yes, to some degree, it is. I can go to a web site and inquire about a given product. I can read what the company has to say about it, see what kind of review others may have given it, ask to be sent more information, and quite possibly purchase the product at the site.
Yet, what sort of branding has taken place? What do I think and feel about the product outside of the relatively dimensionless experience of reading about the product and buying it?
The form branding takes is only as rich as the medium that carries it. Show me an ad unit on the web that can instigate an emotional response the way those old phone company commercials on TV did and we may have something.
What can be achieved in the way of branding on the web is what I once heard David Yoder, retired media guru formerly of Andersen & Lembke, refer to as “engagement branding.”
Engagement branding is essentially that lean forward experience of informatics I was alluding to earlier: Clicking through to the site, getting the information about a product or service and having some experience with the information. But this is as much as can be hoped for now. Until the promise of broadband is realized and we can have a more comprehensive communicative action committed over the online medium, branding on the web will be this kind of flat experience.
I have no suggestions for how to buy online that would satisfy wholly a branding objective, per se. In this space before, I have talked about making buys that are motivated by an awareness or branding objective, but the execution of those suggestions will only scratch the surface of branding in the sense that has traditionally been meant by marketers when they say, “branding.”
An exciting creative unit, such as Enliven, placed in a cooperative environment with a well known site that itself carries significant branding cache of its own, can go a long way to begin communicating an advertiser’s brand. These kinds of efforts are highly customized and tend to be very expensive (compared to other kinds of online media opportunities).
And so, there you have your post-modern advertising lesson for the week. Now go forth and make Noam Choamsky proud.