Vorsprung Durch Branding

Vorsprung Durch Branding

Once upon a time, in the days when the world wide web was just a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee’s eyes and direct mail was an actual *thing*, I started out on my career in marketing.

The financial services company I worked for had recently appointed BBH’s newly-formed below-the-line* agency Limbo to work on its direct mail projects.

As an excited young marketing pup from the north it really felt quite exciting to be invited down to Soho to find out all about how creative agencies worked, where ideas came from, and what it felt like to be taken out on an expensed agency lunch. (Kettners, for those that remember).

Wide of eye and bushy of tail, on arriving at the agency I was given the usual guided tour, and then invited into the lair of Creative Director Mike Cavers who was going to help me understand the art of (commercial) persuasion.

Although this was way back in 1989, one concept Mike showed me he was working on struck me as extraordinarily forward looking, and I strongly suspect is still repaying the client’s investment today.

It was a glossy mailpack for Audi. It contained the usual shiny brochure, expensive car shots, elegant typography, understated copy (almost certainly the handiwork of Limbo’s Head of Copy Richard Krupp) – all the kit and caboodle you’d expect in a 1980s automotive mailshot.

But it had one extra item that made me curious. A large, fold-out poster of the Audi model the mailpack was promoting.

“Hang on” I remember asking: “Does the target audience for this mailpack really blu tack car posters to their walls? They must be in their thirties, at least?”

“Nope” said Mike, “but they have 8 year old kids that do”.

He went on.

“I guarantee you – and Audi – that in about 30 years’ time, the kid whose first bedroom car poster was a glamourously-shot Audi will have that image fondly recessed in their mind when they themselves come into Audi’s target market. Sure, that mailpack will drive short-term showroom footfall, but the long-term ROI on that poster alone will be astronomical”.

OK, so I’d love to tell you that I now drive an Audi and evangelise about the brand to everyone I meet. As it happens, I don’t, but that’s not (quite) the point I want to make here.

Two points, actually.

Firstly, it underlines the importance of brand in communication. Even though the mailpack was briefed to be a sales activation piece to drive showroom footfall, it also managed to help embed (very) long term positive brand associations with a future target audience. There are probably Audi brand managers out there today still unwittingly benefiting from the brand investment in that poster from over 30 years ago.

That poster would have added pennies to the cost of the mailpack back in 1989. In the intervening 30-odd years, Audi will have only had to sell one additional car off the back of their investment in that poster for it to pay for itself several thousand times over.

As I’ve written elsewhere in a B2B context, brand communication pents up long-term demand: sales activation releases it. Marketers – consumer or B2B – who focus their comms primarily on getting today’s consumer to buy today are missing out on the chance to embed more emotional, more enduring ties with their brand.

Brand investment allows you to compete on things other than price, and thereby extend your margin. Coca Cola’s advertising does not position itself as a cheap cola. Nike’s advertising does not position its product as cheap sneakers. Mike Cavers’ Audi poster did not position it as a cheap car.

The second point, almost in passing, is this: for all the immediate power that digital marketing has, it has zero longevity compared to physical media. Compared to digital, direct mail is slow to produce and expensive to distribute, but the physical impact and potential longevity of giving a target something that endures can – for the right brief – have exceptional impact.

(Incidentally, you might want to think about that next time you send out digital Xmas cards to your clients and prospects instead of paper ones. A digital card is seen and gone in a click – a branded paper Xmas card will sit on a client’s desk happily reminding them of your good wishes two or three weeks after your digital email has been consigned to the Delete folder.)

These days Mike Cavers is retired and passes his time buying and selling artwork in Nonton in France. He’s probably long forgotten that mailpack, and certainly long forgotten me, but there are probably still a few middle-aged petrol heads with an Audi in their driveway that haven’t.

*ask your parents

Simon Hayhurst


Image courtesy of Velito (@franvelito) | Unsplash Photo Community

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