Six lessons my “Brand-Fathers” taught me about media & change

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Frank Wehrmann
Director
6P Marketing

I was recently asked to help work through a thorny client issue that prompted me to connect Father’s Day and Branding. I’m calling it Brand-Father’s Day. The challenge before me was this: An older, (normally) very astute client who was looking at tomorrow with yesterday’s eyes, was expecting the “old” ways to work the way they used to.

My short (imagined) answer was, “That’s not going to happen because your contacts (and those in their Rolodexes) retired long ago.”

The long answer should interest you if, like me, you work with multi-generational clients and you’re building a multi-faceted communications plan for your brand. I also aim to show you why traditional advertising strategies still make sense even if the tactics do not.

Advertising Directors who are now old enough to be my parents (+75) experienced the dawn of the new commercial broadcast media world.

In the 50s and 60s, CBC-TV, CTV and a handful of AM radio stations and daily newspapers provided blanket coverage of virtually any target group in Canada quickly and efficiently because there just weren't that many media options – especially in TV and radio.

Some would argue that those post-war advertising managers had it easier than we do today because Canada was growing quickly and the demand for almost everything seemed endless. As well, large profit margins afforded brands the opportunity to drill deep into the social terrain and psyche. My Brand-Fathers were learning how to optimize advertising from a copy, design and media perspective. Qualitative and Quantitative media and creative research reached its zenith in my Brand-Fathers' generation and their research strategies are still in use today.

Lesson 1. My Brand-Fathers taught me to embrace and explore the new media terrain and invent new research tools to sort facts from fiction.

Lesson 2.
Terminology changes, but basic media do not. To me, when I hear portable radio or TV, I think iPhone. For my Brand-Fathers, they thought TV or radio that could be moved from room to room. Although the technology is different, the way these are used is very similar and vital to advertisers both then and now.

Advertising Directors in my age group (50 to 60) spent most of their careers chasing “upscale” 18 to 49-year-olds across an increasingly fragmented media landscape.

In the late 70s and early 80s, I could still place a 60 second TV ad in shows that reached 30% of Canada’s population in one episode. Then cable TV became a national phenomenon and marked the end of CBC-TV as my parents and I had come to know it. Mega AM radio stations lost out to FM and traditional outdoor billboards gave way to “murals” and “paints.” Many clients used and loved direct mail because it is claimed to be so measurable. Direct mail then lost out to Internet and e-mail, which are cheaper and even more measurable.

Lesson 3. My Brand-Fathers taught me to look at and understand these new advertising tools, but not to judge them as better or worse than the established ones. I think of new media as additional arrows in my communications quiver to be used when it makes sense to do so. 

Lesson 4. My Brand-Fathers taught me that good work takes time. It takes time to think through an intellectual equation that has lots of variables, where you and the client need to understand the impact and implications related to each option.

About ten years ago, Project Managers in my son’s age group joined the next big advertising wave and called it “online advertising.”

Some companies I work with think it’s the only way to go and the only way that they can possibly go to market. It’ll be interesting to see what they’ll be thinking and doing ten years from now.

Lesson 5.
Because there will always be someone or something that can do things faster and cheaper than I can, I focus on Better – this is my catchall adjective for the essence of why a customer bonds to a specific product or service. When I drive across Canada and America I enjoy walking through malls and seeing how good brands are presented. I LOVE their diversity as well as the intellectual and emotional tug of war these brands play with my heart and mind. 

Lesson 6. My Brand-Fathers and I HATE price point advertising with a passion because price is what you talk about when you have nothing left to say. Price is a brand cancer and I do not want to live in a world made up of discount malls anchored by Dollar Stores and Giant Tigers.

Amen.

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