Ok, let's face it: if you're stuck on the digital side of the brand equation, you often feel like a sucker fish on the back of an offline shark. Sure, your digital budget is growing and your efforts carry more importance, but when it comes to "branding," many of you suffer from the dichotomy that still exists in most companies. See if you've ever heard this mantra: "Offline is for branding, online is direct response."
If you've heard that, there is only one person to blame -- yourself. Why does that mantra exist? It exists because of the high degree of precision in online metrics. Just because you can measure something doesn't mean you should measure it. This is the fundamental dilemma when it comes to online: measurability. The curse of data is what relegates our entire industry into the corner of the advertising landscape, and trust me, the offline media empires want to keep it that way.
How many people click on an outdoor billboard? Well, none really, unless you count the water balloons I launch at billboards I don't like. You cannot track back to an individually measurable statistic, therefore you have to rely on gross drive and traffic data for billboards. Does that mean that the people in the car even looked at your billboard? Of course not. So what is so different about an ad banner online? Just because you can measure if someone clicks, and even if someone views it, does that mean that's what the banner should be measured on? Of course not, but because the data exists, that is what a banner is measured on.
In fact, even more disturbing is when clients separate their online advertising banners into "brand" ads and "direct response" ads. Why do they do that? Well, you know why -- there is no way you can justify the higher cost placements and rich media development costs if you measure them on direct response statistics. But what really separates brand ads from direct response ads? If I throw a "click here" on a brand ad, does that make it direct response? If there is no call to action on a direct response ad, does that make it a brand ad?
See where I am going?
You are all using artificial constructs for your online advertising. In essence, there is no such thing as a brand ad online, nor is there a direct response ad. They are both the same and something else simultaneously. In the end it all depends on what you are measuring ads by, and that's what takes us back to the fundamental dilemma of online advertising. What we can measure is not what we should be measuring. Your supposed "direct response" ad may actually be driving your metrics better than your brand ad.
So how does this affect us? Well, the recent efforts by McDonald's, Burger King and Klondike illustrate: all three brands recently brought back their best (and best-known) campaigns with a digital twist. What’s going on here? Are online advertising and user-generated content really more about riffing off established ideas than starting from scratch?
Until we solve the problem with measurability and educate everyone in our industry about the dynamics of intent when it comes to product branding and purchase, then the answer is a definitive yes!
So what do you do? How does your brand leverage those offline branding efforts more effectively? Well, if you are a big offline brand marketer, you do what McDonald's is doing. Its meme assets run deep within consumers' heads, and it has the advantage of products that impact the senses of taste and smell.
The smell of McDonald's fries has to be one of the most powerful branding forces in the world because it evokes memories that were long dormant. The jingle for the Big Mac is something that anyone between 30 and 50 years old can probably recite by heart. It is just sitting there, dormant in the cortex, waiting to be remembered. With the jingle come all the past McDonald's experiences saved in the memory, and when those synaptic pathways fire again, you think of McDonald's as the happy, inviting and fun place from your youth. You cannot help but smile when you think of the jingle. Campaigns like this have been buried by brands for years, but if you start to dig, they are a branding goldmine to leverage.
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