THANKS FOR ALL THE CHRISTMAS WISHES!
Apparently, the Johnnie Walker spec spot by the two Germans kids struck a nerve.
We received all kinds of thanks accompanied by delightfully weepy missives about being "alive and by your side."
And despite the flood of email, not a single one of those tear-stained memos came from a female reader.
Each message came from a gentleman of a certain age, each a businessman, each accomplished, each with disposable income.
ANY GUESS WHO THE JOHNNIE WALKER CORE CUSTOMER MIGHT BE?
But I digress.
If you've read this far and are scratching your head, a quick recap: two German students created a spec spot for Johnnie Walker that is very on-brand, infinitely watchable, and as one reader commented, he "Could have seen that during the Super Bowl and not blinked...Truly artistic."
If you wish to read it (or read it again), you'll find it by clicking this link.
If you're a text-only reader, copy and paste http://tinyurl.com/hq5r4h5
Here now, as promised, Part II of the screed about "Dear Brother" in which we examine the art in support of the brand.
"AWA' N BILE YOUR HEAD, LADDIE!"
That's the kind of thing the DR hounds would likely say to moi in my praise of this commercial as a fine piece of advertising--if those hounds were Scots.
(If you haven't read the line aloud in a brogue and don't quite get it, the phrase is, "Away and boil your head," a traditional Scottish insult.)
The problem with Brand vs. DR is that many, many DR hounds don't understand that direct response advertising doesn't exist in a vacuum.
Of course, they're not alone. Most people besides you, the faithful reader, don't understand brand.
And the real tragedy here is that if you're doing direct response advertising, the challenge is often much easier when doing DR within the parameters of an established brand.
BECAUSE BRAND, LIKE DR, IS ABOUT EMOTION
A brand is about the one way the core customer should feel about the product or service.
And DR is about selling the product or service by hitting the emotional triggers necessary to make the customer respond.
In fact, ALL decisions, buying or otherwise, are about emotion.
As you know from hanging around here, all decisions are fueled by emotion.
People who've lost the emotional areas of their brains live unmanageable lives.
They can't make even the simplest life decisions and everything goes off the rails.
And while we are obviously fans of both brand and of direct response (we really love measurable ROI), it's possible to go so far as to say that the Johnnie Walker message--despite any obvious DR components like offer and call to action--could be potent enough to garner response.
"DEAR BROTHER" IS SO EVOCATIVE, IT COULD PROMPT TRIAL BY NEW CUSTOMERS
When a message is so distinctly on-brand ("Keep walking,") and it tugs so poignantly at the heart strings (see also: weepy-eyed men with cash to burn), it can create a situation where a guy standing in a liquor store deciding what to buy next might actually turn to a bottle of Johnnie Black.
But no, that doesn't make it a DR commercial.
Now, if there'd been an offer and call to action, that would be different.
Something like a title card at the end of the commercial saying, "Want to keep walking this Christmas? Visit www.DearBrotherJohnnie.com."
And the URL would take the visitor to a page that recalls "Dear Brother," has additional poetic copy, and some manner of offer.
BUT HERE'S THE BIGGER PROBLEM
It's about understanding that there's a difference between branding a company and running brand advertising with no offer or call to action.
Most of the time, brand advertising (which "Dear Brother" is--it is on-brand and artful with no hard offer, and no call to action beyond the tagline) makes no sense for the kinds of products and services sold by the DR hounds.
They don't live in a world where multi-million-dollar marketing budgets are used to promote international brands to existing customers in an effort to stay top of mind with those customers so they keep buying the product.
They live in a world where Joe's Plumbing says, "I need 30 new customers this month. What can we do about that?"
BUT BRAND--NOT BRAND ADVERTISING--MATTERS A GREAT DEAL
And brands like Rooter Man or ACE DuraFlow or Benjamin Franklin are going to have a leg up on Joe's Plumbing because the national brands are established and resonant.
Joe is a nobody and his tagline is "For all your plumbing needs."
But what if Joe can truly brand himself?
What if he can make himself visible in a way that is equally or more resonant?
He's more likely to win a buying decision away from the 600-pound gorillas.
Locally, here in Utah, there's a plumber named Neering's.
TO BE KIND, IT'S NOT MUCH OF A BRAND NAME
Until you consider this: they've been around since 1935.
So there is a degree of name recognition.
But what if you can't remember the name?
What if, like me, you always forget it?
If you can't remember the name, you will almost definitely remember the tagline: "My dad can fix that!"
All the trucks have a huge picture of dad and the kid, and the kid is saying, "My dad can fix that!"
The "My dad can fix that" brand is indelible, and resonates in a market where family is beyond important.
LET'S FACE IT: THE LITTLE KID REALLY HAS ZERO TO DO WITH PLUMBING
But he does strike an emotionally resonant chord with a local demographic that has deep feelings about children and family.
And when doing DR advertising in an effort to get new customers right here, right now?
Neering's Plumbing is going to have a leg up when it comes to Rooter-Man or ACE DuraFlow.
But relevant and effective and ROI-producing branding?
AND ANOTHER THING...
Traditional DR advertising almost always relies on a feature/benefit model.
It's very difficult to build a feature/benefit model around liquor.
I can think of only one offhand: Tito's Vodka.
Tito's is a homegrown brand from Texas. The labeling is awful.
It's also about half the price of the top-shelf imports like Grey Goose and Belvedere.
I remember the first time I tasted Belvedere. I was stunned. It was an excellent tasting product.
I also remember the first time I saw an ad for Tito's, touting its achievement of besting Belvedere and its ilk in blind taste tests at big, international liquor competitions.
Suddenly, I was a fan of Tito's.
It's a bargain AND it tastes better? I'm in!
THIS IS AN EXCEPTIONAL CASE
Most of the time, you're never going to be able to build a case like this for a brand like Johnnie Walker.
But what you can do is give the emotions a way to latch onto the brand by casting the product as a central character in a storyline that matters.
This is the key to wild commercial success through product placement. See also: E.T. and Reese's Pieces.
Successfully executing such an effort requires good chops and a thorough understanding of why it works.
If you can realize such an effort, you've done an incredible thing for a brand of any size.
I've done it for everything local automotive services to local churches.
Understanding how to create a link between the product and an emotionally evocative scenario--and doing it on-brand--gives you power like you can't imagine.
THE SAD IRONY FOR THE GERMAN LADS
The "Dear Brother" commercial was very much on-brand when they started creating it.
There is also virtually no chance that Johnnie Walker will ever pick it up.
Because recently, after 16 years of "Keep Walking," Johnnie Walker changed the brand direction.
"Keep Walking" has been replaced by, "Joy will take you further."
Seems JW had recently experienced a 9% slip in revenues (due in part to fluctuations in world currency markets).
They came to the conclusion that "Keep Walking" had walked on. It was no longer resonating with their core customer the way it had been.
IT SEEMS JOYFUL IDEALISM IS NOW WHERE THE CORE CUSTOMER'S HEAD AND HEART ARE AT
Personally, I see that brand direction being more relevant to a sunny, warm-weather tipple like a Bacardi or a Cuervo than a Johnnie Walker.
I mean, really. Scotch and joy?
Don't they go together like pickles and chocolate?
Nonetheless, Johnnie Walker is pursuing joy with a full-on commitment.
The good news for Dorian und Daniel is that they've achieved worldwide recognition for their efforts.
They will get work from this artful directorial debut.
And as for Johnnie Walker, only time will tell how they feel about the joy direction.
IN THE MEANTIME...
Here's a proposal for a New Year's resolution: let's all try putting more art into our work for 2016.
A business well branded is an artful thing.
And raising the bar on art does good things for revenues.
It also does great things for one's being.
It feels really good, and makes the world of commerce a slightly better, more joyful place.
Happy New Year from the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress.
It's possible that you've already seen this. It has been making the rounds in social media.
And even if you have seen it, it's unlikely that (a) you caught all the words, or that (b) you looked at it through the lens of brand.
And (c) you certainly never thought about it in the context of your own brand. Who would?
This gift comes in the form of a spec commercial for Johnnie Walker.
The title of the commercial is, "Dear Brother." Before we look at this masterpiece together, a little backstory...
If you've been at all cognizant of the Johnnie Walker branding campaign over the last 16 years, you know about the long-running "Keep Walking" theme of the messages.
IT'S A LONG ROAD FROM THE PEAT BOGS, LADDIE
Possibly the most well-known of the "Keep Walking" commercials is the near 6-minute epic featuring Glaswegian actor Robert Carlyle, whom you might remember from The Full Monty and Trainspotting.
In a foggy highland landscape, a bagpiper plays a mournful tune as Mr. Carlyle walks down from the high road. He reaches the bagpiper, says, "Piper! Shut it!", and continues walking while relating the story of Mr. John Walker.
Over a single, five-and-a-half-minute take, Carlyle recounts 200 years of Johnnie Walker history while all sorts of incongruous props and set pieces appear along the way.
It's a very nice piece of filmmaking, and is part of a long-running campaign that grew the company's sales based on the notion of personal progress. (What one way do you want your customer to feel about your product?)
Now, if you're unfamiliar with the craft of the spec spot, it's a "speculative" piece of work that has never actually been sold to the advertiser. It has been conceived and executed on spec.
IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME IN RADIO
Account reps (usually ill-advisedly) whip out spec spots for prospective clients to whom they've never actually spoken about advertising.
(Yes, that is--and has been--a subject for an entirely different rant, and certainly not at Christmastime.)
Sometimes, ad agencies will produce spec spots in an effort to sell a client on a new direction.
And usually, advertising students will build a portfolio of spec advertising work so they can get a job when they graduate.
After all, when you've never actually be hired to do the work, you must do something to showcase your talents.
And that latter example is what we have here.
THESE GERMAN LADS HAVE LATCHED ONTO "KEEP WALKING" AS A PLACE TO HANG THEIR SPEC HAT
And boy, do these guys raise the bar on creating student spec work.
It's hard to know how much money they actually spent doing this, but it certainly cost much less than Johnnie Walker would have spent making it--and it looks every bit as slick as anything to come out of a major advertising agency.
In fact, when I said to The Fabulous Honey Parker, "Look at this," and clicked the play button, she stood there in silence for a minute and a half, and then said, "Wow."
As a woman who was the youngest VP Creative ever at the world's biggest ad agency, she is not easily impressed.
This commercial is impressive.
Here now, the gift from German students Dorian Lebherz and Daniel Titz...
AYE, PUT THAT IN YOUR DISTILLERY'S BURNING KILN AND SMOKE IT!
If you didn't catch the entirety of the VO, here it is:
Walking the roads of our youth
Through the land of our childhood, our home, and our truth
Be near me, guide me, always stay beside me
So I can be free
Let's roam this place, familiar and vast
Our playground of green frames our past
We were wanderers
When every place was fenceless
And time was endless
Our ways were always the same
Call my demons and walk with me, my brother
Until our roads lead us away from each other
And if your heart's full of sorrow, keep walking
And promise me from heart to chest to never let your memories die
I will always be alive and by your side
In your mind
ART IN SUPPORT OF BRAND
It's really very difficult to sell a product like whiskey using a features/benefits model.
And certainly, plenty of direct response dogs will tell you that this commercial is crap.
And we will happily discuss why.
We've gone on long enough, and you certainly have better things to do this morning.
Christmas is coming. Share "childhood," "home" and "truth" with those who matter.
Cheers to you and yours.
Even if Christmas means taking the whole mishpucha to the movies and eating Chinese food.
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.