For years I worked in advertising.Then I made a leap to branding. This was at the turn of the century and it seemed like a big move. Although at the time, I overheard my grade school daughter say to a friend, “My mom was in advertising. Now she does branding. But don’t worry. It’s the same thing.”
Eventually the difference between the two disciplines became clearer— to me, to the world. Now everyone— from amateurs to professionals— talks about brands and branding as if it’s a password to get into a club. Who talks about advertising?
Even the New York Times ad column, once a Madison Avenue must-read, rarely covers traditional advertising news anymore. When it does, ghosts of the old tools-of-the-trade which once captured the imagination of a culture, make a brief appearance. Quaint and toothless. One such recent column, despite the word “brand” in the headline — “Nationwide’s Enduring Slogan Still Distinguishes the Brand.”— feels as if it was pulled from the 1980s archives. The subject was the surprising endurance of the Nationwide Insurance slogan (slogan!?) and jingle (jingle!?) “Nationwide is on your side.” A discussion of various legendary slogans ensued : “We try harder!” “The breakfast of champions!” “Good to the last drop!” Someone interviewed noted that “it takes courage” to stick with a slogan for many years. The creator of the Nationwide slogan scratched his head in wonder, not sure why it had lasted so long.
Nowhere was it mentioned that many successful brands today have no slogan at all. Or that a once thriving ‘jingle’ industry is defunct. The best brand stewards spend their time excavating the brand for the deeper truths that will inform its every touch point with a marketing-savvy (and marketing-cynical) audience. The challenge for the branding professional is not to find a catchy slogan, but to articulate the enduring essence of the brand in form, function, and innovation. This involves crafting and managing a brand that is fluid and responsive to cultural and competitive forces while understanding that the constancy of its values, mission and its reason-for-being are what determine its longevity. How long has the ‘slogan’ survived? Whatever the answer, the question is just ten kinds of wrong.
There are many factors contributing to the demise of an ad business that once traded in slogans and jingles. Chief among them is a self inflicted wound: their central confusion, fueled by self-importance, between the glittering baubles at the surface of the brand and the brand itself. As if the hat were the brain. The fancy suit, the soul.