Beverage Packaging Wall at Grocery Store

Truth in Advertising: Selling Your Brand, Your Way.

By , On , In Marketing

Along with ‘sharing is caring‘ and ‘do unto others as you’d like done unto you’, ‘be yourself’ is one of those core teachings most children grows up hearing. Why then do we throw it out the window when it comes to business? Is there any truth in advertising and how can we get back to selling our brand, our way?

Being yourself is valued for a lot of reasons: in our society, uniqueness and ingenuity are increasingly perceived as positive traits. Standing out from the crowd and making your own way in the world demonstrates perseverance and strength of character. It’s the entrepreneurial way!

Over time, businesses lose their way. Instead of being what they are, they try to be what they think everyone wants. Let’s take a look at why that is a problem and get back to selling your brand, your way.

If everyone’s super…

If everyone's super...
If everyone’s super, no one is.

Have you seen the movie The Incredibles? It’s the story of a world in which superheroes have been forced to live mundane, unexceptional lives due to a series of high-profile incidents. The bad guy is a disillusioned brat who goes by the alias Syndrome (see the cover photo above). He wants to use technology to give the whole world super-powers, but for all the wrong reasons. His reasoning? ‘If everyone’s super, no one is.’

In the world of marketing, particularly online marketing, this seems applicable. A lot of people form an opinion on what a ‘good brand’ is, and they try to emulate these so-called ‘good brands’. Or, they see what’s working for other brands and try to do the same for themselves, expecting the same result. Truth in advertising goes out the window and brands embrace the notion that perception is everything. Unfortunately, there are a few things wrong with this approach.

1. Flooding the Market

Selection Cola Impersonating Coke and Pepsi
Selection Cola is simply unremarkable. This may be their goal, but is it yours?

The first problem with trying to emulate the success of others is that you wind up becoming one of many similar brands. Think of Coca Cola, for instance. It’s the first and biggest cola brand in the world. Now, think of your local grocery store’s house brand cola. It’s probably packaged with a red label and some kind of white, curly font. What it ends up looking like is a cheaper, worse Coca Cola (which it is).

If you aim to impersonate a more successful brand by emulating their style, you’ll achieve nothing. You may even reinforce the original brand’s prominence. You won’t be the first (or last) business to try copying the big guys. Don’t get lost in a sea of similar brands with similar websites.

2. No Two Brands Are Exactly Alike

Trying to be like another brand is a flawed idea from the start. Just like no two people live exactly the same life with the same experiences, no two companies evolve in precisely the same way.

Unless you’re part of a larger franchise, you need to create your own experience that plays to your strengths. The second a company tries to emulate another brand; they lose the ability to brand themselves strategically. Instead of analyzing their organization and creating a brand that perfectly suits them, they lose perspective and chase someone else’s vision.

To be clear, we’re not saying franchises are bad (quite the opposite). We’re saying that unless you’re part of one, you need to differentiate your business.

3. Truth in Advertising Thrives—Imitators Don’t

One common complaint among the public about modern branding is the lack of creativity and the lack of truth in advertising. That’s partly because advertising is big business now. Media saturation is at an all-time high, and it will only go higher as we become ever better connected and big companies keep growing and expanding their influence. As such, we’ve gotten numb to advertising. It doesn’t work on us the way it used to.

Once upon a time, ads just showed you the product and told you why you should buy it. They could be truthful or deceptive, but they were taken at face value. As more and more ads competed to engage with potential customers, consumers grew more wary of them. Today, it’s harder to sell than ever. Consumers are wary of hard selling and the big companies have ad spends so far beyond any small competitor that broad campaigns just won’t work. In 2015, Coke spent almost $4 billion US on advertising alone. The only way to take customers away from the big players is to become more adaptable, targeted—and creative—than them. That doesn’t mean truth in advertising should go out the window. You can’t do that if you simply try to emulate them.

Advertising is What You Can Get Away With

Full disclosure: I stole that headline from Andy Warhol. Based on the nature of his art, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.

Advertising, and branding in general is a peculiar mix of art, expression, and calculated engineering. When you’re looking to brand your business, you need to combine inspiration with genuine insight. It is very much the case that boldness is rewarded, but excess can be punished. The Old Spice ad campaign that began nearly a decade ago successfully rebranded the company as playful and fun. It was edgy in the sense that at the time, viral advertising and goofiness were novel ideas. It was unusual and exciting for a brand to embrace the internet and communicate so directly with consumers.

An absolutely brilliant approach to rebranding.

The recent controversy surrounding the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad proves that some lines ought not be crossed. People don’t like brands overstepping their bounds, blowing their importance out of proportion. Pepsi sells sparkling sugar water. It doesn’t help celebrities solve race issues in America.

Being edgy doesn’t mean giving up your common sense.

Why does this matter for your brand? There’s a right way and a wrong way to sell yourself. Edginess can increase the potency of your brand, but stepping over the line can make you look foolish — or worse, actually hurt your public image.

Some Closing Thoughts

The takeaway from this article shouldn’t be that wild and crazy, ultra-modern brands are the be-all-end-all. Not every business suits zaniness. Not every business needs to be on Snapchat, or even Instagram. The lesson should be this: whatever your business is, advertise it shrewdly, but honestly. Decide who you are as a business. Maintain truth in advertising.

Customers can smell B.S. better than ever, and trying to be something you’re not will likely limit your growth, not expand on it.