Just Do It Right

The latest Nike ad, featuring Colin Kaepernick (the American quarterback who started the controversial ‘take a knee’ protest) is stirring up quite a storm. No doubt as Nike intended.

Putting aside the burners of Nike products (I suspect a small negative audience to be set against the far larger positive group) there have been some in adland who’ve criticised the ad for being mawkish and over-the-top in an ‘it’s so far up itself it’s out of sight’ way. Others (as in this ‘Campaign’ piece) praise it as brave, risky, a manifestation of what the brand means.

For what it’s worth, I like it, in part because it seems to me to be a throwback to the old spectacular, emotional, over-the-top-but-in-a-good-way ad, best seen at normal speed on a huge screen preferably with a beer in hand. Beats running any day.

I also like the new UK John Lewis/Waitrose ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ ad, and for much the same reason. That too has been criticised for not including pragmatic reasons to shop at John Lewis or Waitrose.

Like them or loathe them, both are examples of long-term brand building ads, a species we are in danger of driving to extinction in the stampede for immediate returns. It’s depressing that some are using short-term measures to explain the effect of the Nike ad.

The time will come to analyse its true worth; it’s just not yet.

We talk a lot about long-term v short term, but there’s also the obvious and associated difference between brand and product.

In 1993, Mark Pendergrast wrote an excellent book called ‘For God, Country and Coca-Cola’, an ‘unauthorised history of world’s most popular soft drink’.

In an Appendix at the end Pendergrast details the famous Coke formula (there are a couple of versions, with minor differences).

He then quotes the following exchange with one of those interviewed from Coke:

“What are you going to do with the formula (if I happened to give it to you)?”

“Well, I’d put it in my book…somebody might decide to go into business in competition with The Coca-Cola Company.”

“And what would they call their product?”

“Well, they couldn’t call it Coca-Cola because you’d sue them. Let’s say they call it Yum-Yum, and they strongly imply …. that Yum-Yum is actually the original Coca-Cola formula.”

“Fine. Now what? … We’ve spent a hundred years and untold amounts of money building the equity in that brand name. Without our economies of scale and our incredible marketing system …. they would have to charge too much. Why would anyone go out of their way to buy Yum-Yum which is really just like Coca-Cola but costs more, when they can buy the Real Thing anywhere in the world?”

Brands are worth a lot more than products. Once you allow consumers the brain-space, the latitude to deconstruct Coke into its component parts the brand has a huge problem.

Once Nike becomes just a pair of sneakers without any emotional sense (however illogical) that buying them will somehow turn you into a principled athlete; or John Lewis is seen as just another supplier of white goods without the emotional sense built over years of advertising that somehow buying a fridge from them is in every sense a safer, more reliable experience; then those brands have a problem too.

Great advertising (along with other channels) can build brands. Done well, it’s worth every penny; done badly it’s a waste of time.

The whole point of commissioning advertising from advertising professionals is that they shorten the odds on getting it right.


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