How to Bring Reality Back to Corporate Branding
BY Ed Zitron
Forget hyperbole and stick to the facts and merits of any product you're trying to sell.
Prominent tech player Samsung makes great phones. They also exemplify a tedious and worrying trend in high-end corporate branding--a total disconnection from reality. In a commercial using the song Royals by 16-year-old New Zealand singer Lorde, Samsung misses the song's meaning and instead tries to sell their $300+ gadgets by using a tune that's about rejecting materialism.
Nobody has to see things your way.
A common corporate mistake is to think everything will be interpreted your way. While it may seem like the right idea to include every single branding message and "correct" way to refer to things, it comes off as dissonant to the average person. Few people think in the terms that many corporations put in their press releases. For example, the Moto X cell phone, well-received by the press, had the awkward phrase "designed by you" attached to every release. To the corporate branding community this is perfect--a simple, clear phrase that suggests that the Moto X Moto Maker would let you "create your own phone."
Truthfully? You can change the colors on the back and front and the accent colors of the phone, as well as the wallpaper and message that plays when you turn it on. That doesn't mean it's designed by you.
Conversely, the Moto X commercials (the "Lazy Phone") simply, quickly and humorously compares the features of the "X" to other phones. No corporate fluff or jargon. The phone is good because it does this, compared to another phone that does not.
The truth is, companies succeed when they're up front and honest, and when they sell themselves as so.
The on-demand car service Uber sells itself simply: "The Uber App connects you with a driver at the touch of a button." Person-to-person lodging rental service AirBNB says it simply: "Find a place to stay: Rent from people in 34,000 cities and 192 countries." Even Tivo, a company that has had to rebrand many times over, sells their new Roamio DVR well: "Watch live TV or download recorded shows from anywhere with the all-new Roamio." At no point did they have to say they were changing the world or revolutionizing anything. Selling on merit versus bluster is a powerful tool.
Hyperbole is the enemy of success.
In the movie Crazy People, Dudley Moore plays Emory Leeson, an advertising executive who, after a nervous breakdown, loses much of his ability to spin. He creates a series of advertisements--most notably a Volvo advertisement--"They’re Boxy, But They're Good." Following a presentation to the client, Emory is forcibly checked into a psychiatric facility. However, the ads are accidentally printed, and become a huge success. As Crazy People progresses, Leeson and his fellow sanitarium inmates create similarly blunt ads that are incredibly successful. Why? Because they put honesty and contrition over buzzwords and glamour.
Separating a client or executive from their own breathless hype is a touchy process. The key is simple: Acknowledge their excitement, make sure they know you know you’re special, but inform them that they’re still new. Make it clear to them that everyone says they’re the next big thing--and that they have to differentiate themselves from a crop of increasingly bold hyperbole-jockeys.
Sit with them and have a frank conversation about the product. Separate yourself from the money and the job and ask them, in the terms they’d use with someone outside the office, how they’d describe themselves. Force them to drop any and all jargon or hype. While it’s certainly possible to hoodwink someone with fancy words and distorting facts, any success you have will be crushed when others show up and do what you do, better than you do, but without having to puff themselves up.
ED ZITRON is the founder of EZ-PR, a PR and media relations company based in New York City and Raleigh, North Carolina. He is also of the author of This Is How You Pitch: How to Kick Ass in Your First Years of PR. He has worked with Target and the Nature Publishing Group, as well as smaller startups and tech figureheads. He covered the technology and video games industry for seven years for Future Publishing and Eurogamer. @edzitron