As noted by Stuart Elliott in his latest column here on MediaVillage, the new Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick (the American quarterback who started the controversial Take a Knee protest) is stirring up quite a storm. No doubt as Nike intended. Putting aside the burners of Nike products (I suspect a small negative audience to be set against the far larger positive group) there have been some in adland who have criticized the ad for being mawkish and over-the-top in an "It's so far up itself it's out of sight" way. Others (as in this Campaign piece) praise it as brave, risky and a manifestation of what the brand means.
For what it's worth, I like it, in part because it seems to me to be a throwback to the old spectacular, emotional, over-the-top-but-in-a-good-way ad, best seen at normal speed on a huge screen preferably with a beer in hand. Beats running any day.
Like them or loathe them, both are examples of long-term brand-building ads, a species we are in danger of driving to extinction in the stampede for immediate returns. It's depressing that some are using short-term measures to explain the effect of the Nike ad.
The time will come to analyze its true worth; it's just not here yet.
We talk a lot about long-term v short term, but there's also the obvious and associated difference between brand and product. In 1993, Mark Pendergrast wrote an excellent book called For God, Country and Coca-Cola, an "unauthorized history of world's most popular soft drink." In an appendix at the end Pendergrast details the famous Coke formula (there are a couple of versions, with minor differences). He then quotes the following exchange with one of those interviewed from Coke:
"What are you going to do with the formula (if I happened to give it to you)?"
"Well, I'd put it in my book … somebody might decide to go into business in competition with The Coca-Cola Company."
"And what would they call their product?"
"Well, they couldn't call it Coca-Cola because you'd sue them. Let's say they call it Yum-Yum, and they strongly imply … that Yum-Yum is actually the original Coca-Cola formula."
"Fine. Now what? … We've spent a hundred years and untold amounts of money building the equity in that brand name. Without our economies of scale and our incredible marketing system … they would have to charge too much. Why would anyone go out of their way to buy Yum-Yum, which is really just like Coca-Cola but costs more, when they can buy the real thing anywhere in the world?"
Brands are worth a lot more than products. Once you allow consumers the brain-space or the latitude to deconstruct Coke into its component parts the brand has a huge problem.
Once Nike becomes just a pair of sneakers without any emotional sense (however illogical) that buying them will somehow turn you into a principled athlete; or John Lewis is seen as just another supplier of white goods without the emotional sense built over years of advertising that somehow buying a fridge from them is in every sense a safer, more reliable experience, then those brands have a problem, too.
Great advertising (along with other channels) can build brands. Done well, it's worth every penny. Done badly, it's a waste of time. The whole point of commissioning advertising from advertising professionals is that they shorten the odds on getting it right.
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