Where Brand and Direct Intersect

What do the three following items have in common?

  1. “Invent.”
  2. “That was easy.”
  3. “We’re with you.”

Hint: these snappy little phrases are (most likely) the product of many hours spent locked in a small room filled with whiteboards and take-out food. Yes, friends: these are slogans for large, national brands. Ready for Part Two of the quiz? Name the company to which these slogans are attached.

If you’re having trouble, don’t hang your head in shame. You’re actually in the majority, according to a study by brand consultancy Emergence that will be published this week. In unaided awareness surveys, only six percent of respondents correctly identified the company from the first slogan. Pretty dismal. That is, unless you work in the marketing department for the companies with slogans #2 and #3. They got a big goose egg. Not a single respondent could correctly identify either one.

The winner of the survey (yes, I know — this isn’t about winning) is WalMart. A full 64 percent of respondents recognized their slogan, “Always low prices. Always”.

Or did they? I’ve got my doubts. I have a hunch two thirds of the population doesn’t necessarily know WalMart’s slogan. What they know is WalMart always offers low prices. Knowing the actual slogan (the specific set of words concocted by the copywriter) is sort of irrelevant. What is important is that consumers know WalMart is focused on offering low prices. I’d take a positive association with an experience tied to my brand over a high slogan recall score any day.

Which makes us look back at our other contenders. When presented with slogan #3, “we’re with you,” consumers have to rack their brains to figure out who on earth is “with them.” I imagine most thought of churches. There’s no clear path from the statement back to the company. So, it falls flat. It may sound fine at the end of a commercial, but it doesn’t work as a mnemonic outside of that context. The statement is so generalized, it would be difficult to go the other way. Were a consumer asked, “who do you feel is with you?” the answer could be anything. If a consumer were asked, “who always offers low prices?”, WalMart would probably come up fairly often.

Slogans are artifacts of an outmoded way bringing consumers to a brand. The point’s been made countless times: words and pictures are good at causing a stir and getting some recognition. But until a consumer comes directly to your brand and has an experience and/or is changed by it, they only have a relationship with the advertising, not with the brand. Advertising does not forge brand relationships. Only interactions do. Most advertising tries too hard to be good advertising, as opposed to being a tool used to facilitate an interaction between people and a brand.

Purists tell me this line of thinking is heresy. There’s brand advertising, and there’s direct. Brand advertising is about providing a positive moment and building a brand association; direct is driving toward a purchase. More outmoded thinking. There’s a growing school of thought that sees a perfect intersection between pure branding and direct. It’s a space where the moment of pleasure a consumer feels exists within a framework that enables a transaction of some kind to occur. Within this space is true interactive advertising.

Interactive advertising, a distinct advertising category, has always been hamstrung by its association with technology and the Internet. But rather than define the practice of interactive advertising by the medium in which much of the work is executed, it should instead be defined by its methods: how its practitioners generate value for their clients.

The thing is, there’s still no clear conceptual platform interactive advertising practitioners can rely on to both coalesce their thinking and clearly articulate their value proposition to clients. This cannot be a mere declaration that the old rules no longer apply. Rather, it must be dedication to ensuring all communication has a clear path toward experiences with brands. Those experiences are constructed so that the brand responds in appropriate ways to the consumer.

Within that framework, I don’t need to tell you that “Invent” is Hewlett-Packard’s slogan. “That was easy” belongs to Staples. “We’re with you” is evidently supposed to remind you of Circuit City.

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