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Disintegrating Marketing Pt. 2 - Off-Brand Creative

Attention is fleeting, yet, we are creative beasts walking around with keys and super computers in our pockets.

When you get the media plan tuned in tighter than a snare drum, where do you go next? This is where the weight shifts to the creative, and the common phrase if we’re more “on brand” we’ll get more time and attention for our media spend. Alternatively, being “off-brand” will gain more attention because the creative breaks expectations. A thought experiment on how this works is easy. Take a commercial you’ve seen a few times and replace the brand, like the Washington Post Superbowl ad, finished with a Donald Trump 2020 campaign. Contrast can create conversations, impressions and even memories. But, we can’t go “off-brand,” right?

Let’s look at a definition of what brand is; a vessel of trust and meaning.

Now, let’s wander into the Pantone 424 grey area where creative content is on or off-brand. If someone can name the brand before the finish of the 30 second spot, is that a good thing? It might be the classic definition of a commercial that is “on-brand.” Subway challenged this with an ad that went viral years after it was created. Is this “off-brand” for Subway? With all the damage Subway has taken lately with their brand (Jared, etc) perhaps a little “off-brand” is what Subway needs right now. Perhaps the meaning and trust contained in the Subway brand needs to be replaced with new meaning.

Being in the business of brand strategy, it is hard to write these words. There are too many brands trying to stay “on-brand” when they should be finding new fertile creative ground to plant new meaning.

Consider looking at it this way, if a brand were a human being walking around in our community. Say that brand, using Subway again, is wearing a Walmart sweatshirt, sweatpants, and Asics sneakers around town, because casual comfort is key to this lifestyle brand. Would it be strange to see Subway dressed up in an Armani suit tomorrow? Yes. But, perhaps a pair of nice traveling slacks, a buttoned up shirt and a nice pair of Cole Haans would be a positive change. Is this off-brand for Subway? Yes, but doesn’t it sound like a person you’d rather spend time with in your community.

Brands need to become more self-aware and honest with themselves. It can happen when a new leadership team is brought in but if that doesn’t happen enough, it needs to happen on a regular basis. Brands need a full length mirror and on occasion, in the privacy of a basement conference room, strip down and take a hard look. Self examination for a brand is hard work, it requires some significant research by people who are going to be brutally honest with you. That mole that just showed up on your “upper thigh” needs to get looked at and we all know our backside is hard to see.

Creative gets so much better when it knows where the boundaries are, because pushing up against them is what a creative team does. Part of this effort to know your brand includes knowing where you have permission to go, or what new meaning you can add without showing up in an Armani suit in a small town in Iowa. Seeing the boundaries as the edge of the container, if you’re outside the container it either becomes irrelevant, misleading or just confusing for your audiences. The final point, “off-brand” is only outside the container if you understand where the edges of the container exist.

Creative minds unite to help brands know themselves and hire people who can be honest with the brand leadership. And, for those managing these brands, find a “safe space” to get to honestly know your brand container, the more you do the more confident you’ll be walking around in the right pair of shoes.

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Categories Business & Marketing

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