J. Walter Thompson is a legendary American advertising agency famous for many, many firsts.
The ad agency idea of the 'Account Executive' and the 'Creative Department' were both born at JWT in the 1880s.
But neither achievement is more significant than the development and perfection of trademark
advertising. JWT literally wrote the book on how to build an impenetrable trademark brand with rigid visual identity standards and compelling creative campaigns that drove brand differentiation into people’s brains with head-soaking media strategies. Good branding builds trust. And brands like Ford Motor Company, Kraft and Kodak were built by JWT to legally dominate their respective categories and command a premium price and profit that more than paid for their staggering advertising budgets.
During the 20th century the importance of branding grew so much that renowned branding expert David Aaker declared in his 1990’s book Managing Brand Equity that the value of many corporate brands exceeded the value of all other corporate assets combined. It was a great time to be in advertising because advertising was a critical component of branding.
At the turn of the new millennium, the Internet and social media changed marketing forever and the importance of branding in a number of ways:
1. Millennials are all about saving money and not purchasing products they don’t need.
2. Quality is expected and delivered with automation and quality control so consumers will more readily switch brands if it means saving money.
3. Online reviews play a powerful role in shaping opinions and far outweigh traditional advertising
4. Convenience will often take precedence over brand preference
5. Because brand proliferation has brought about so many more choices – brand loyalty is weak
So, what does all this mean?
It means that the traditional elements of branding are expanding into things like social status and perceived status when it comes to supporting mainstream idealism. It also means that brands can’t hide anymore. The Internet is available to always tell consumers the truth, and they will find out the truth if you try to lie.
Branding is not dead, but what you say and do is now part of your brand. If you close a US factory to ship jobs to Mexico, consumers are going to find out and punish you. If your CEO makes tens of millions of dollars while laying off employees, the Internet buzz will spread like a wild fire.
A multi million-dollar marketing campaign can be castrated by one simple mistake in social media. Ads that are annoying and repetitive can hurt your sales. As consumers say, “enough is enough”.
Today we must go beyond a brand identity and focus on all the elements that make up a brand to our customers. It’s hard to do, but those brands who ignore this rule are going to find out just how much power consumers really have.
What would J. Walter Thompson say if he were alive today? He already claimed that advertising was merely a fad business when he sold his agency to Stanley Resor in 1916. So, he would likely say that branding is dead. But just like advertising, branding is not dead. It's just different.