A complex brand narrative

April 8, 2013

Let’s take a look at two major consumer brands that approach a large-scale ad campaign differently: one that is becoming unwieldy and unsustainable, and another that never loses its core message.

Unfortunately, I can't juggle. But I feel like I’ve learned a bit about the art, watching from afar. Naturally, it seems to become more difficult and require greater focus, precision and altogether coordination, to juggle with each additional ball a juggler adds to a routine. A major consumer brand employing a multi-arm advertising campaign encounters a similar challenge. Supporting a massive ad campaign that juggles diverse sub narratives also requires more time, attention and ultimately, marketing dollars, to support it.

Consider Capital One’s advertising. It’s a helpful example to illustrate the challenge I’m describing. Alec Baldwin represents Capital One Venture card, though he also seems to be the predominant face for the brand overall. He plays himself, albeit he takes on a variety of roles, from being equipped with sophisticated spy technology to competing with Vikings in a beard growing competition (yes, I spent some time watching Capital One’s commercials). Jimmy Fallon and a baby market the Cash Rewards card, Jerry Stiller drives consumers to Capital One Bank and the pillaging Vikings represent the Spark Business credit cards. If you need a cheat sheet, you're not alone.

Capital One has constructed a complex interweaving narrative of multiple characters to markets its portfolio of products. But this isn’t Game of Thrones. Capital One is doing itself a disservice by creating a platform so complex that it fosters confusion rather than connects the dots. Capital One may tie its advertising together with the tagline, “What's in your wallet?” but the meaning of the line gets lost, acting simply as an identifier for Capital One, rather than a big idea.

It would be a fair assessment to claim that as another massive ad spender, Geico Insurance, on its face, also manages an eccentric cast of characters to market its brand. From animals like the Geico Gecko and “Maxwell” the GEICO Pig, to random happy personalities like Dikembe Mutombo, introduced by the string-based instrument playing duo Ronny and Jimmy, Geico is also creating its own ad universe. Yet, Geico doesn’t lose its core message across these communications. Whether it's, “Saving people money for over 75 years,” "You could save hundreds by switching to Geico," or “15 minutes or less could save 15% or more on your car insurance,” the message is clear: Geico saves people money.

It's not just about keeping the message simple. “What's in your wallet?” is a fairly simple concept. But, when a campaign grows to a scale where multiple simple concepts are being juggled, it can become unwieldy and much less effective in meeting a brand’s communications objectives. It becomes an unsustainable effort that will likely force the brand to take a different direction down the road.

With our clients, we also strive to articulate a cohesive brand narrative that doesn’t require a great deal of communicating to be understood. If a brand tries to be too many things, or even worse, everything to everyone through its brand promise it has already failed. Yet, if the idea is easily understood and doesn’t veer off course often, it will grow legs. It won’t need to be juggled. It will just stand on its own.

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