Icons of Advertising

The Business of Branding

From the distinctive Nike ‘Swoosh’ logo to McDonald’s iconic Golden Arches, reaching consumers and fostering brand loyalty is more important to companies than ever before.

Remember 1994, when ‘Amazon’ still referred primarily to the river or the rainforest? The year that Jeff Bezos launched a certain online e-commerce business? Nowadays, ask someone what the word “Amazon” means, and most will refer not to the fabled 4,000-mile (6,400 km) watercourse in South America, but to the online retailer and digital streaming juggernaut which was crowned “Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brand” by global brand equity company BrandZ™ in 2019.

Like Apple, Google, Disney, eBay, McDonald’s, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, and more, branding and labeling is all about creating an image that caters to the marketplace and embeds itself in the mind of the consumer. When we want a soft drink, we rarely ask for a generic ‘cola,’ opting for Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or another well-known beverage. Likewise, when we feel a sneeze coming on, we don’t want a ‘facial tissue,’ but a Kleenex. And whenever our kids fall off their bikes and scrape a knee, we fetch a Band-Aid from the medicine cabinet, not an ‘adhesive plaster.’

Everyday products, colourful origins
From household items like Scotch tape to fiberglass insulation – specifically Owens Corning™ EcoTouch® PINK® FIBERGLAS® Insulation – nurturing a brand can be costly and time-consuming – but absolutely vital to the success of any company.

Many products are born of a combination of necessity and convenience, like replaceable razor blades. Years ago, men had no choice but to grow a beard or learn how to use a dangerous straight razor. The result? Painful cuts and gashes were legion. While the design changed in the 1880s to a “T” razor, blades dulled after a few uses, needing constant sharpening. Enter King Gillette.

A traveling salesman and inventor, Gillette came up with a revolutionary new concept: thin, disposable razor blades. Refining his design over six years, his first disposable razors went on sale in 1903, selling millions, and becoming a staple for soldiers during World War I. He retired a very wealthy man in 1931, and the company bearing Gillette’s name today has a brand value of $14.5 billion, according to Forbes.

Today, razors like the Mach 3 line, Venus, and five-bladed Gillette Fusion are still keeping faces and legs hairless worldwide.

Successful products like Gillette razors and Coca-Cola – introduced to the world in 1886 by pharmacist Dr. John Stith Pemberton at five cents a glass – are the stuff of legends. Of course, these items and many others are recognized for their distinctive branding, from the choice of red and white for the handwritten-style flourish of Coca-Cola’s font to the masculine blue and white Gillette razor logo, with its subliminal diagonal slash between the “G” and the “i.”

A matter of passion
Advertising is a constant and ongoing, fiercely-fought battle, and it remains an intriguing field. TV drama Mad Men chronicles the fictional inner workings of an ad agency, and feature films including The Greatest Movie Ever Sold and the aptly named How to Get Ahead in Advertising dramatize just how stressful getting branding right really is.

In print, online, and on television and radio, creating a brand image is the primary task of advertising and one of the most passionately argued business topics of all time. It’s safe to say there isn’t a single marketing firm on the planet which doesn’t have at least one dog-eared copy of David Ogilvy’s book Ogilvy on Advertising in its library. First published in 1983, the now-classic volume by the New York City-based British marketing guru – considered by many to be the Father of Modern Advertising – is a must-read.

More than any other ad agency executive, Ogilvy immersed himself in the study of, and research into, marketing techniques and consumer buying habits, subjects he’d been fascinated by while employed at management consulting and public opinion poll company Gallup.

Ogilvy opened his own highly successful advertising agency on Madison Avenue in 1948, and penned his landmark book Confessions of an Advertising Man in 1963, giving advice on everything from working with clients to writing dynamic, memorable copy.

Along with creating the template for much of advertising, marketing, and branding of the next few decades, Ogilvy became, and probably still remains, the most quoted advertising pundit of all time.

For Ogilvy, the secret of building a brand was simple, but not necessarily easy to do for all the rest of us who aren’t geniuses. It was to create innovative yet truthful ways to make customers actually care about the products they bought. “Consumers still buy products whose advertising promises them value for money, beauty, nutrition, relief from suffering, social status and so on. All over the world,” he said.

Loathing unoriginal and unambitious work, Ogilvy believed in honesty in advertising, saying of one automotive piece of work: “Good ad; all facts. No adjectives. All specifics. Sold a lot of cars.”

More than a pretty package
The brains behind legendary ad campaigns including the hyper-masculine Stetson-wearing, cigarette-smoking Marlboro Man and the eyepatch-adorned but elegant ‘Man in a Hathaway shirt’ (the eyepatch was a late night brainwave with the intention of creating consumer curiosity, and it worked brilliantly), Ogilvy had realized that successful advertising is about distinctive marketing campaigns that convey the perception of a special quality in the product.

Ordinary packaging and labeling is just that: ordinary and uninspired. Brilliant packaging tantalizes the buyer, making him or her feel the excitement we felt as children opening presents on Christmas morning. What attracts us to a particular item in the grocery store, a certain bottle of wine, or the cover of a book?

How it makes us feel.

While the packaging behind some products like Girl Scout cookies may not seem especially revolutionary, for many of us simply recalling their distinctive boxes evokes their particular smell and taste.

Like packaging, labeling has evolved over the years to portray not only what is in the package, bottle, cardboard box or plastic container, but also provide valuable product information. While vintage packaging often used ornate lettering on tin canisters, it stated the basics of what was inside: corn starch, honey, chocolate, tooth powder, crayons, soap, laundry detergent and the like. Today, practically all items incorporate UPCs (universal product codes), invented in 1974, or QR (quick response) codes, which followed 20 years later. And although we take them for granted today, the rectangular black-and-white Nutrition Facts panels on the back of food, beverage and supplement packs didn’t appear until the 90s.

Nations with multiple official languages also usually require the label to carry information in all these languages. For instance, Canadian manufacturers must supply labeling in English and French under the federal government’s Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act and Regulations.

The future of advertising
Just as advertisers needed to make the shift from newspapers and magazines to radio and television many years ago, successful companies had to re-invent themselves for the Internet age. It has been 26 years since the first online ad – a banner on a web page – was introduced. Since then, it has been a constant race for companies to adapt themselves to the market and compete for consumers. Thankfully, the early days of crowded, multi-colored ads and animated GIFs (please, no more ‘dancing babies’!) are mostly over, with companies growing more reliant on well-conceived ad copy and images.

Today, effective, ambitious branding often strives to be ‘disruptive’. Focused on the customer and led by the likes of Apple, Uber and Airbnb, disruptive branding – according to advertising company TBWA’s Chairman Kean-Marie Dru – is a unique, alternative way of thinking.

“To be disruptive is to break the rules and shake the market,” say the authors of the book Disruptive Branding: How to win in times of change. “In other words, disruption is a byword for innovation and creativity. These are tools used not only to build disruptive businesses, but also their brands.

“A disruptive mindset in branding means taking the attitude and practice of disruption and applying it to brand creation and management. It means challenging the notion that brand refers only to visual identity and marketing communications.”

Indeed, branding today is traversing new territory far beyond its former haunts with the rise of Internet advertising. Gone are the days when businesses reached a few thousand potential customers through costly newspaper and magazine ads. While flyers and brochures still exist, they are giving way to environmentally friendly online ads, which can be more precisely targeted at specific audiences numbering millions.

And where job titles like ‘social media manager’ never existed, very few companies exist today without these enthusiastic marketers creating a presence on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest and subsequently driving online traffic to their websites.

For companies today, advertising presents many unique opportunities. To monetize their operations, Internet businesses from Google to Facebook sell ad space. While this allows companies to reach a worldwide audience, the lessons of ad giant David Ogilvy still ring true: “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”