Apr 17

Refreshing the brand, extreme edition

As an ad guy, I’ve had the fun of developing brand campaigns for many major companies.

Trust me, there is no standard process.

However, it’s safe to say that the first task is for all parties to agree on what the brand stands for. In theory, this should be easy, yet many of the biggest companies find it perplexing.

(See my story about Microsoft’s internal brand struggles three years ago.)

The who-are-we debate can rage for weeks or months before creative work can actually begin.

I had night-and-day experiences developing brand campaigns for Dell and Apple. At Dell, the strategy phase went on for months without reaching a decision. The process became so arduous, the process simply sputtered to a halt.

A brand campaign was high on Steve Jobs’ to-do list when he returned to Apple in 1997. However, Steve’s taste in advertising was atypical of most CEOs. He detested ads that reeked of marketing, demanding authenticity instead.

That’s why I fell in love with the “think different” concept. It not only defined Apple at that time, it captured the essence of the company all the way back to its inception in Steve’s family garage.

When you go with authenticity, you’re investing for the long-term. You’re selling your DNA, not trying to hide it. Which brings us to Carl’s new ad above.

This spot couldn’t be more unlike Apple’s first Think different ad. Carl goes the funny route (how serious can a burger be?), while Apple went the more thoughtful route.

But both aim to capture what the company stands for.

I fell in love with the Carl’s ad for two reasons. (A) It’s hilarious, and (B) it took guts to run. Trust me, few companies have the nerve to invest a mega-chunk of cash in a spot that basically says, “We’ve really sucked for the last few years, but we’re fixing things fast.”

Most advertisers (like politicians) have an instinct to avoid confessing past sins. Far better to just change the subject and move on.

So yeah, I savor those rare moments when a company gambles on honesty and finds an interesting way to present it.

I could be wrong, but I imagine Carl’s creative brief was straightforward: Our marketing has been all over the place for years, and it’s time to shift focus back to the product. The creative team did exactly that, but in a way that had to make people nervous.

The argument in favor would have been compelling: Fun aside, it’s about reclaiming the brand’s authenticity.

Now I must confess, there’s a third reason I love this spot.

Only rarely do I see a spot and wish I’d done it — simply because it would have been obscenely fun to make. That’s how I felt about this one. (One of my all-time faves is this old Carlton Draught ad. I would have joined in the stampede.)

Yes, I’m shallow that way. But I know of no Commandment forbidding me to lust after my neighbor’s commercial.

Here’s to brand authenticity—and the joy of expressing it.

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  • Hugo928000

    Thank you Ken. I have been doing ads with Intel and Microsoft teams for years for PC brands and your Dell, Microsoft and Intel stories are insanely refreshing memories with many people around the table:) I am 200% in line with your enthusiasm on this Carl’s one. They dared taking risks and being …. authentic. Thank you for sharing!

  • G.

    Honest, self reflection and took the risk, takes them forward. Agree it’s a win!

  • edsug

    Thanks for highlighting this ad! It is brilliant, and completely changed how I see Carls’ Jr. Pretty cool.

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