Doug Garnett’s Blog


The Brand Building Power of Product Advertising

Funny how names are. A specific type of advertising was labeled “brand advertising”. So the myth developed that in order to build brand, you need to use brand advertising.

Except, it isn’t true. And with billions of dollars of revenue on the line, it’s time advertisers got smarter. Because here’s the real brand truth:

1. All types of advertising build brand.

2. The type which is most effective changes – depending on your company, brand, consumer, profit structure and product or service situation.

3. Quite often a mix of types is most effective – a mix which may or may not include “brand advertising”.

The Brand Building Power of Product Advertising Given this truth, it’s sad that one particularly powerful tool is also one of the least understood by agencies & the ad biz — advertising which uses the product to build brand.

When I bring this up with colleagues I hear three objections:

Many protest “But wait! Product is at the core of all we do”. Except they usually aren’t being very honest with themselves. Looked at critically, they’d find that product is barely present in their advertising.

Others suggest that communication that isn’t about brand can only be about product features. But what consumers want to know about products doesn’t start with features and it certainly isn’t some brand “I want to be your friend” communication. Consumers want to know why the product is meaningful to them. (The ad biz needs to developed a far better sense of the richness in how consumers relate to products.)

I also repeatedly hear “there’s nothing to say about the product”. Sometimes that’s true (sadly). But far more often this comment reveals that the agency isn’t interested in the product or the fascinating consumer realities that surround it.

Truth is that much of today’s brand advertising treats the product as little more than a flavor while the front and center communication follows some theory about the brand that may or may not relate to the product.

Just check out the 2012 Audi and 2011 VW Superbowl ads. There are shots of the cars (yawn). But the primary product communication from Audi is that their $90,000 car has nice headlights. And the Volkswagon Vader ad, while brilliant emotionally, merely observes the car can be started remotely (an exceptionally dated feature common on American cars since before 2000). Product flavoring. (For another theory that misses the consumer mark just Google “brand lovemarks”.)

Yet, Product is At The Core of The Neural Reality of Brand. The brand reality that drives economic power resides in the brain among the neural connections and how they respond to stimuli like situations, problems, and emotions.

Byron Sharp has noted that advertising needs to help form these connections so that your brand rattles out of the consumer brain in ways and at times when that brand recall can lead to purchase. (My common sense interpretation of his far more sophisticated work.)

Sharp is absolutely right. And starting from Sharp I diverge from many of my agency based brand co-religionists – because I combine Sharp’s truth with experience as a salesman (that’s right, bag carrying, feet in the street selling).

What the school of hard knocks has taught me is that economically powerful brand neural connections must start with the product – because product is at the core of all brand. That makes communication which is driven by product oriented messages exceptionally powerful.

There are clearly times when there’s not much way to use the product (think Budweiser ads). And in this case more abstract brand messages which tap general emotions are the right choice. Unfortunately, creating this type of advertising is so fun and profitable for agencies that it has become their PRIMARY ad recommendation – to the detriment of their clients.

But no amount of brand storytelling can outpace the power of the two fundamental product experiences – purchasing a product and using it successfully. Nor can brand storytelling outpace the power of product based communication when the situation calls for it.

Apple is One Company that Understands Product advertising. Watch Apple ads. There’s no strange attempts to show that they “get us”. There’s no convoluted attempts to force humor into supporting their products. Instead, they feature the product and what it does for you. Unfortunately, since Steve Jobs’ death Apple’s ads have seemed to lose this product focus – and are becoming far less interesting and meaningful as a result.


The Edison award winning Kobalt Double Drive is a good example of advertising leveraging product to build brand.Click this link to view the product core of our :120 second spot. (It is broadcast as a direct response spot with both :60 and :120 second versions. Some internal commercial information has been edited out of this YouTube version.)

My Agency’s Work for the Kobalt Brand is Another Example. Starting in 2010, a series of highly innovative hand tools have been brought out under the Kobalt brand — the Lowe’s private label tool brand. We’ve been fortunate to be the agency developing advertising for these outstanding products.

The result has been outstanding product introductions combined with excellent brand growth for Kobalt which has even begun to appear on the Landor Associates study of emerging brands as a “brand to watch”. (Link here.)

A Quick Synopsis of Product Advertising’s Brand Building Value. If you have a product situation and embrace product advertising, it will bring to the brand building process a tremendous power.

Product Stories are Quickly Recalled at Critical Sales Points. The time brand matters is situational – at that point where it can motivate action that leads to a purchase. When someone knows where/when/why your product is outstanding, it’s far more likely that your brand will be the one that comes to mind when they need it or are searching for a solution (at the store or online).

Products Showcase Brand Value. Product is the strongest way to personify brand values. So when you are building a new brand or need to cause a dramatic shift in perception of your brand, you’ll create the largest change – fastest – when you bring products to the forefront to lead that charge.

Products Are Humanly Powerful. People are people. And they don’t buy visions – they buy products. Too much brand advertising offers a brand vision that never sinks into viewer consciousness because it’s delivered without evidence. But when you show how the product showcases the vision, then it’s easier to remember and easier to believe.

Product Builds Consumer Perception of Value More Than Brand Ever Can. Perceived brand value generally adds between 5% and 25% to the price of the product with a few instances as high as 50% (and some big luxury exceptions). By contrast, clearly articulated product value easily adds 100%, 200%, or more to this price. (And the highest perceived value comes when product value and brand are combined.)

Emotions Close to a Product Are Most Powerful. Account planning has led traditional advertising into a wilderness of obscure emotion. But in truth, it’s the emotions close to the product that drive purchase and drive brand power.

Products Establish Trust In Your Brand’s Promises. Brands build trust through a cycle of promise and delivery. Consumers who see product promises, buy the product, and see the value it delivers become more loyal than any who might buy a “hot brand product” without clear sense of expectations.

A Product’s Story Is Naturally Memorable. Brand ads work hard (often too hard) to make memorable statements. But messages centered on a product are easier for consumers to remember – making them the ones that drive consumer action.

Product Advertising Brands While You Sell. So far, I’ve focused on the issue of branding. But there’s an added power to product oriented advertising – it sells far more product while branding. This is critical in the early phases of brand building or in major brand re-orientation phases where the nuts and bolts of driving product out the retail door is so important.

Creating a Communication Mix Including Product Advertising. The “relationship” analogy is the most commonly used way to talk about brand communication. (It’s not that I believe brand relationships are as strong as life partnerships – Sharp reminds us consumers are polygamous when it comes to brands. But the analogy is interesting.)

Strong, meaningful life partnerships are filled with a range of experiences. They include fun flights of fancy and spontaneity. But they also need far more time building from daily living – working and solving life’s problems together.

Strikes me that brand advertising is really quite one dimensional – reflecting only those moments of spontaneity. These moments are important, but only a small portion of the total engagement that makes a strong brand relationship. By contrast, product based advertising relates to the rest of a relationship – the majority of the experiences.

As a starting point, if you can afford a broad mix, consider putting 20%-30% of your resources with brand advertising, 40-50% with product based advertising, and the remainder in hard working promotional, drive to store, in-store, online, or in digital display reminders. Certainly there will be situations where 60% should go to brand advertising. But as a starting point I have found this weighting to be smart.

Driving Advertising Power. Hopefully this post begins some conversations. I do not think all advertising should be what I’ve called product advertising – merely that the ad biz defaults to brand advertising while ignoring product advertising’s power.

And I don’t have vast piles of traditional statistical analysis to back up this discussion – just 20 years driving brand growth with product oriented advertising. So I know it works. And know that there’s more to do to better understand the conditions under which it flourishes or the specific trade-offs with brand advertising.

Still, far more companies need product oriented advertising than are using it today. So take the leap – separate from any drive to create the next work of “brand art”. And give product based advertising a look. You might be surprised how far you can take your brand…and how your consumers will thank you.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Categories:   Advertising, Brand Advertising, Business and Strategy, Communication, Direct Response, Hardware & Tools, Innovation, New media, Retail, Technology Advertising


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