Citi’s “Let’s get it done”—a pale imitation of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s “Make it happen” campaign*

I know I’m coming late to the party, but the new (May 2007) Citi brand campaign stinks; to me, “Let’s get it done” is a shameless copy of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s “Make it Happen” brand campaign (at the very least in message, if not in execution). Why did Citi drop the “Live richly” theme, developed by Fallon, which was doing so well? (Even if it was a bit controversial -- or because of the controversy -- see http://www.slate.com/id/2068683/#)

Creditcards.com reports that “Starting in January, Citi brought research from its rebranding effort to meetings with representatives from Fallon and Publicis, with the goal of creating a campaign that would be suitable for retail and credit card customers, major advertisers, and investment banking clients.” (http://www.creditcards.com/Citi-Launches-New-Brand-Ad-Campaign.php)

What does that mean? What research? The bank wasn’t happy with the results that its “Live richly” campaign was driving? It couldn't stand being high-level, high-concept, and idea-based?

What a waste…what a loss of a good brand.

Adpunch.org notes that the new campaign is supposed to connect with audiences’ financial aspirations: “The basic theme of the campaign is Citi’s outstanding portfolio of financial products and services drives its clients towards financial success. The advertising has been customized to appeal to different markets and cultures in a variety of languages.” (http://www.adpunch.org/entry/citi-group-lets-get-it-done/)

The Royal Bank of Scotland campaign is so much more effective than Citi’s effort: “At The Royal Bank of Scotland Group we believe actions speak louder than words.” (http://mediacentre.rbs.com/advertising/index.aspx) That’s it. Simple. The same message as Citi is trying to broadcast with the new campaign, but so much higher-level.

Publicis, which is responsible for the new campaign, shouldn't take all the blame, though. By October 2006, Fallon had already veered away from "Live Richly" with the "Very Rewarding" campaign "which features two eccentric East European-sounding characters, Roman and Victor showing the many ways they can earn Citi rewards points." (http://www.thirdwayblog.com/category/citi/)

As ThirdWay points out,

"By displacing rather than supplementing the 'Live Richly' campaign, however, Citibank is essentially swapping a branding campaign based on the type of user who might be attracted to Citibank (the consumer who understands that life is not just about money) for a 'features and benefits' brand positioning. The 'Live Richly' brand positioning was clear and defendable. By using television and huge spend levels, Citi is creating new brand positioning with these product spots whether they like it or not."

All of this points up a major problem with brands today: a lack of continuity. Instead of updating “Live richly” to incorporate the key message of “Let’s get it done,” which could have been done, the bank dumps a successful brand in favor of a very bland, commodity-like imitation of a bank positioning that has already been taken. Sad.

*Note: I have no way of knowing whether the campaign is actually an imitation or just happens to look like one. It doesn't really matter, though...because this is really a matter of perception. The RBS ads hit the streets before the Citi ads did (http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-6387518/RBS-takes-Make-it-happen.html), and that's what counts.

Branding: Balancing the right and left brain

Yesterday I talked about creativity and branding, referencing the book Juicing the Orange (2006), by Fallon Worldwide cofounders Pat Fallon and Fred Senn. I made the point that you need to be creative before you brand, then repetitious afterward. Today I want to talk about creativity and branding again, but from a different angle: How you need to balance the creative and analytical sides of the brain in order to arrive at a truly good brand campaign.

There are numerous examples of research informing creativity in Juicing the Orange. Here are a few:

  • Citi: Fallon held focus groups (which yielded little) on the role of banks in consumers’ lives…then figured out that the focus groups should focus on the role of money in people’s lives. From there the agency discovered a group they call “balance seekers,” people who see money as “a means, and little more”. The research they conducted led to a whole campaign about the importance of living life without chasing the almighty dollar. The “live richly” brand campaign influenced many aspects of Citi’s business, eventually leading to Citi becoming a “global power brand.” “Credit card acquisition went up by 30 percent, home equity loan applications increased 14 percent, and small business card accounts rose 20 percent.”
  • Holiday Inn Express: Fallon spent time with the target market, entrepreneurial road warriors, videotaping them while they drove across the country. “We talked to them about their work, their families, and their daily experiences,” write Senn and Fallon. What they learned was that this kind of traveler wanted to travel smart—get the most for their money—and get respect for their hard work. “They were working hard and working smart,” they write, “and that was going to be their ticket to success.” They got an “emotional reward” for staying at a limited-service hotel, the reward of satisfaction for choosing wisely. This led directly to the “Stay Smart” campaign, which features people demonstrating feats of intellect and then proclaiming that they’re not experts, they just stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the other night. The campaign successfully differentiated the Holiday Inn Express brand from Holiday Inn itself. Result: the hotel’s revenues per available room are growing at 15 percent (vs. 9 percent for the category). And the hotel is even able to charge a small price premium, living “at the upper end of category pricing.”
  • Purina Dog Chow: Fallon’s account planners read research and tracking studies then actually spent time with dog owners, watching the interaction. From this they learned that dog owners either tend to feed their dog a steady diet of the same dog food or give them a variety of dog foods from the store. From there they launched an educational kind of ad which reminded dog owners that the best diet is a steady diet, and Purina Dog Chow is ideally suited to provide it. Result: “In the first two years of the campaign, sales grew 12% a year….(meaning) $35 million in additional revenue with no change in pricing or distribution.”

Can you dump the research and just be creative about developing your brand? Sure. But this strategy probably won’t work unless you are 1) unusually insightful to begin with about your target market or 2) visionary about what the market will want in the near future—i.e. you are providing something they didn’t know they wanted.

For the rest of us, good research—as much as you can get—is the key.

How branding both stifles creativity and sets it free

There are some people who think that branding has a dampening effect on creative self-expression. They are right! However, that is a good thing. Having too much freedom of expression is bad for the brand, because you end up expressing too many visuals and messages for any one of them to catch hold with the marketplace.

Imagine how boring it is to say the same thing 7 times. Now imagine saying the same thing 70 times, 70,000, or even 70 million. Naturally it stifles your creativity…but the more you say the same thing the more people will remember it. I once heard that in corporate communication, you have to repeat a message something like 7 times before it sticks in people’s heads. (See for example http://fivesparrows.com/blog/2007/04/, “Studies show that the average consumer needs to hear or see your message about seven times before he or she will buy from you.”)

On the other hand, the act of branding itself can be very creative. There is a 2006 book called Juicing the Orange, by Pat Fallon and Fred Senn (of Fallon Worldwide, “one of the world’s largest advertising and media conglomerates”) that is worth a read if you are afraid that branding means that you can’t step outside the box and do something new. I wish I could reprint the entire book here, it’s so good.

An especially applicable case study from the book is about the islands of the Bahamas. The Duffy Design group of the Fallon team (formerly part of the agency) gave the entire 700-island country, with its “staggering range of geography, culture, activities, and personality,” a distinctive graphic identity that managed to capture the diversity of the islands within a single framework (see www.bahamas.com). According to Fallon, “All Bahamians felt represented” by the graphic. Having a single visual identity makes it possible for the Bahamas to package itself while at the same time presenting itself creatively. And the results are measurable: Among other things, “The integrated campaign helped drive a 14.5 percent increase in total arrivals to the Bahamas from January through April 2004, compared with the same period in 2003…The year before, the Bahamas had lagged behind the region’s growth by 38 percent…this year it had turned things around, finishing 28 percent ahead of the Caribbean regional average.” This is an example of a creative approach that works because it is implemented consistently.

Another good story from the book concerns United, and the “It’s Time To Fly” slogan/campaign. The agency used an extraordinarily creative approach to the brand, bringing in animation and classical music, then executing variations on the visual "look," and content themes, with the consistent tagline “It’s Time To Fly,” in numerous ways and places. The result: “Among all business travelers with access to United flights, its rating as ‘airline most preferred’ shot up from 9 percent to 20 percent.” Another creative approach that works because it is executed in a similar way all over the world.

1) Branding works. 2) Branding works. 3) Branding works. 4) Branding works. 5) Branding works. 6) Branding works. 7) Branding works.

Greedy fashion designers destroy their own brands

The Washington Post (September 10) has a front-page article in the Style section, “Proving Their Worth,” about designers—like Badgley Mischka and Vera Wang—who undercut their own brands by selling lower-priced lines of their own clothing. “The signature collections form these designers sell for 10 to 30 times as much as what they delivered to the Gap,” writes the Post about Rodarte designers Thakoon Panichgul, Doo-Ri Chung and Laure and Kate Mulleavy, “So why spend the extra money?”

Why, indeed. “There have always been those who cast a skeptical eye on the expensive and esoteric merchandise peddled on designer runways, but now the designers themselves are forcing the question,” notes the paper.

Designers who sell lower-priced versions of their own lines aren’t smart. They’re stupid and short-term greedy. Branding, in fashion, is about creating the illusion of premier status, and part of the illusion involves the extraction of enormous amounts of money from consumers’ wallets. When designers sell themselves short, they literally destroy the halo that surrounds their work. They drag the price of the brand down and with it the entire image.

Contrast this with Ralph Lauren, who, notes the Post, has been in the fashion business for 40 years this year. He celebrated by showing his spring collection in Central Park then “following it with a black-tie dinner that had all the breathtaking elegance that only Jay Gatsby himself could conjure.” In addition to lauding his collection, the paper notes that “few designers are as facile at myth-making as Lauren. They have the pressure of being judged on their clothes alone, not the stories they weave.”

Ah, but the whole point is to tell the story. Ralph Lauren does this majestically. When we pay for the fashion, we’re paying for the story. Designers who sell the clothes are missing the point.

Why are people still confused about “what is a brand?”

Branding has been around for over two centuries (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pears_Soap), yet when I type "what is a brand" into Google I get these comments like people still are confused by what a brand is.

Colin Bates: "What is a brand? Too often even marketing professionals don't have an answer, and too many have their 'own' answer. Which makes life very confusing!" (http://www.sideroad.com/Branding/what_is_brand.html)

Debbie MacInnis: "If you were to look at what people have written about branding, chances are you'd be confused about many things, not the least of which is the term "brand." What is a brand, anyway? What does it mean? How is it different from "brand image" or other terms?"

(http://www.marketingprofs.com/premium_preview.asp?file=%2F4%2Fmacinnis20%2Easp)

I think I understand what is so confusing about branding. It's that there are "simple brands," like trademarked names for packaged goods, and "MAJOR BRANDS," free floating associations with companies that include anything and everything from goods to services and more. A simple brand is Ajax laundry detergent. A MAJOR BRAND is Oprah. To make things more complicated, a "simple MAJOR BRAND" is Tide.

What do they have in common? Ajax, Oprah, and Tide all signify an identity.

What do they not have in common? Unlike Ajax, both Tide and Oprah—MAJOR BRANDS—stand for something more than what they physically are. Tide stands for "power" (as in the power that comes from the ability to scrub something really clean) and Oprah stands for "spiritual self-improvement and empowerment."

What is the difference between a simple MAJOR BRAND and a (regular or major) MAJOR BRAND? Tide is easily reducible to a tangible thing while Oprah is essentially intangible. Oprah's products and services are tangible, Oprah the individual is tangible, but Oprah's brand effect cannot be captured under a microscope. It can barely be captured in words.

People tend to get mixed up between the tangible and the intangible aspects of brand.
That is why when you say to someone, "we have to work on our brand," they might think that you are talking about creating name awareness of the organization, while you are really talking about creating positive associations with the organization's name. It's a subtle but really powerful difference.

People also get mixed up because everything is a brand, but not everything is a BRAND. Just by virtue of existing, everything and everyone has a brand (name), but not everything and everyone has a distinct, clear set of associations that make that name special.

So remember: A simple brand is just a name. A MAJOR BRAND is a name with a set of mental associations to it. And branding is the art and science of creating a set of associations around a name. Simple, clear, and hopefully this will be the end of the confusion.


Brand Theory vs. Brand Practice

There are two ways to go about building a brand: I call them brand theory vs. brand practice.

Theory

Sometimes you might read brand books and articles and get grand ideas about how you are going to build your brand. You might proceed as I have advocated in this article: (http://www.govexec.com/features/0307-01/0307-01advw1.htm)

  • "It starts with brand assessment, that is, finding out how your key stakeholders see you versus how you see yourself…
  • Next comes brand strategy. Based on research inside and outside the agency, you articulate the vision, core values, common culture, positioning and other key attributes…
  • Third are brand communication guidelines: How do you want your graphics, Web site, press materials, recruitment documents and other materials to look? The goal is to arrive at a consistent identity that allows for some variation to keep things interesting. You want to reinforce the vision, mission, values and culture in all you say and do.
  • Fourth is a brand launch. You'll need a change implementation program to prepare your employees and customers for a shift in the way you communicate about yourself."

Or you might follow guidelines of the kind set forth in BrandSimple, where author Allen Adamson advocates a five step process as follows:

  • Step one: Establish your brand idea
  • Step two: Capture the essence of your idea
  • Step three: Get your employees engaged in the idea
  • Step four: Consider your brand's name
  • Step five: Create branding signals beyond the name

Practice

But other times you might not have the luxury of following an elegant pre-defined process. Sometimes, because you don't have full buy-in from the organization, you have to do things piecemeal, working from the ground up, going step by step without going according to a grand plan. You may not even have the luxury of market research to define your target. Then what do you do?

Ideally, the first step is to establish a unified infrastructure within the organization to manage the brand function. Normally this includes a chief branding officer (someone designated to manage the brand) and a brand council that brings together subject matter experts from frontline functions to determine how best to present the organization to the outside world.

But the above may not happen—there may not be sufficient understanding of branding within the organization to devote those kind of resources to it. You may need to start by deciding on a unified look for the brand as well as a tagline first. Again, you may not have the luxury of doing research to arrive at what this will look like, but you can use instinct to arrive at something that "looks right."

Next you can host small group familiarity media tours – targeting key media players – educating them regarding the new brand.

Following that you can do any of the following:

  • Create a living story for the brand—an enactment via the website or video of characters who tell the audience what the brand is about in a dramatized, fictionalized way
  • Redesign the website!
  • Make sure that people answer the phone with the new brand name and tagline
  • Deliver a vision/mission/values poster to all offices and have it posted prominently (and have a pocket card to go with it to be distributed to all employees)
  • Purchase giveaways, such as T-shirts, caps, and tote bags, as well as postcards which portray the brand
  • Create a coffee table book that tells the story of the brand in a lasting format
  • Develop a brand reference handbook for employees that describes what the company is all about and how to communicate on behalf of it
  • Hold meetings with employees to discuss other ways that they can be encouraged to reinforce the brand
  • Purchase advertising, once you get a sense that you are on the right track

It's not a perfect approach, working from the ground up, but it's better than nothing. And it may lead to a grander brand plan, in the end. All roads can lead to brand awareness and business results.

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