Brand marketing that is inspired, but not imitative

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By Leo Valiquette

There was an interesting story in the Globe and Mail last week that got me thinking about the distinction between product marketing and brand marketing.

The Globe’s Susan Krashinsky was writing about Newfoundland and Labrador’s tourism industry and how the province’s efforts to brand itself with a memorable advertising campaign has provoked the best form of flattery possible – plagiarism.

“Images of spirited ginger-haired children, rolling emerald hills and motley-hued houses – were so arresting that Newfoundland has now found itself with a host of imitators,” she wrote, with copycat ads popping up all over the world.

Other marketing folks have obviously concluded that what has worked in Newfoundland and Labrador can work for them. The province’s “Find Yourself Here” campaign has, after all, bagged 173 awards globally. “Non-resident visits to the province rose 22 per cent from the campaign’s launch in 2006 to the end of 2010, and those visitors’ spending was up 37 per cent in the same period,” Krashinsky wrote.

There is obvious merit in researching the industry, studying marketing campaigns that have been either outstanding successes or epic flops, and absorbing the lessons to be had. But there is a thin line between inspiration and imitation. It’s the difference between setting your brand apart or instilling in the minds of your consumers the deadly thought that, “oh, these guys are just like those guys over there.”

Some time ago, guest blogger Ken Rosen wrote about the difference between product marketing versus brand marketing. “Product marketing differentiates your products from other products,” he wrote. “Brand marketing differentiates your customers from other customers.” Brand marketing isn’t about distinguishing your product from your competitors’ on features. You are instead trying to connect your brand with the personal identities of your customers.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s campaign is obviously aiming for that idea, by promoting the quaint and natural beauty of the place to distinguish itself among those tourists who don’t favour, or are perhaps tired of, cruise ships and tropical resorts.

Another great Canadian example is Wiserhood, the Society of Uncompromising Men. In 2008, Corby Distilleries launched this campaign for its Wiser whisky brand to increase its market share among a younger crowd. The premise is that this is a brand of whisky for those men who best display classic masculine traits. If you consider yourself a real man, this is the whisky for you. It’s all about your personal identity as the consumer.

Last fall, rival brand Canadian Club shot back. Owner Beam launched a new campaign featuring the hairy-chested and uncompromising Canadian Club chairman, a character who takes the hyper-masculinity of the Wiserhood crowd to a new level. As a consumer, it’s obvious to me that one campaign has influenced the other. However, it’s clear that the brand image which Canadian Club has created is distinct enough from Wiser’s for consumers to see it in a different light. This is demonstrated by the fact that both brands have seen higher sales that are attributable to these campaigns.

It can be argued that Canadian Club’s success with its campaign still comes as a result of a skillful bit of imitation, but not of its rival whisky brand.

Canadian Club, like many venerable Canadian brands of beer and spirits, enjoyed a boom in business during U.S. Prohibition. Canadian Club takes full advantage of this in its ads, with the chairman stating “if there’s one thing that tastes better than whisky, it’s smuggled whisky.”

Now, if this ploy sounds rather familiar, you would be correct. Canadian beer brand Sleeman has been exploiting a notorious family history rife with pirates, smugglers and philanderers for almost three years.

What bears noting here is that beer and whisky are two different markets, and where those markets overlap, they are still seldom in direct competition with each other. Also, Canadian Club is taking advantage of a colourful heritage that is as true for it as it is for Sleeman. The whisky brand has distilled something fresh and engaging by taking inspiration from what’s obviously been working for others.

The lessons to be found in these examples apply to any effort with any product or brand to build presence in the marketplace. How you present and position your brand to resonate with customers must be true to the identity and culture of the company that lies behind the brand. A brand cannot try to be something it is not in an effort to pander to consumers. Marketing teams can most certainly learn from the successes of others and seek inspiration there, but every brand is as unique as the consumers it hopes to court. Don’t fall prey to a copycat, cookie cutter approach.

P.S.: One of the classic examples of this foible is found throughout our ecosystem for bringing tech to market: the propensity for many tech centres outside of Silicon Valley to brand themselves as Silicon Whatever, or Whatever Valley. Francis recently blogged about the need to end this bad habit of posing as a pale imitation of the real thing.

Image: Great Ads


One Comment »
  • Belinda Summers

    January 28, 2013 12:22 am

    Learn something great here Leo. I agree that every brand is considered as a unique one even if you are competitors. There is a very distinct features of your business that differentiates you from others. We have known famous brands that captured every consumers by their marketing strategies, their products and their slogan. They truly serve as an inspiration to those start up brands.

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