“Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement.”
-Samuel Johnson, 1759
To advertise is to make a promise.
A promise of happiness.
What is your brands’ promise?
And what form does this promise take?
Every promise ever made in an advertisement can be placed on a continuum between two poles: the material and the ideal.
There are many great ads that work to hammer home the material benefit of a product. This is where our Audiolytics™ model comes into play. What is the product for sale? What service does it provide? How much does it cost? How exactly will purchasing it make your life better?
All successful brands start here.
At the other end of the advertising spectrum is the ideal. This means a brand has moved on from selling the material benefit of their products and is now focused on communicating the philosophy of a brand’s image. How will the product make you feel? What does being associated with this brand mean? In what ways can this product connect you to the world?
At this stage in advertising, no longer are the concrete benefits of the product the focus; now, the product has become a vehicle for a set of abstract feelings contained within the brand.
The ideal is the promised land of advertising. Every brand wants to get to a place where the ideal can be the focus of their ads.
Never in the history of advertising has the full arc from material to ideal been exemplified more successfully than by Coca-Cola. The brand is ubiquitous. You would be hard-pressed to travel anywhere in the world where a person hasn’t tasted a Coke, or where the iconic logo isn’t visible somewhere on almost every block. Virtually everyone in the world knows what Coca-Cola is. Therefore, the brand has the freedom to ignore the material reality of what its product is, and focus in on the philosophy of what its product means. Taste the Feeling.
But Coca-Cola’s insane global brand presence did not just happen overnight. Some of their earliest ad campaigns and slogans, which date back as far as 1886, advertise Coca-Cola as headache medicine and relief for exhaustion. Their tagline was simple and material: “Drink Coca-Cola.”
It took the brand 20 years before Coca-Cola was ready to branch somewhat into the realm of the ideal in its messaging. In 1906, 20 years after the brand’s launch, Coca-Cola was advertising itself as “The Great National Temperance Beverage” as a way to leverage America’s growing cultural distaste for alcohol – this being 14 years before the beginning of Prohibition.
Not only did this slogan ever-so-subtly align Coca-Cola with the American Zeitgeist surrounding alcohol, but it also positioned itself as the “Great National” cola drink, thereby associating an abstract feeling of patriotism to the brand. To drink Coke was no longer to cure your headaches and give you energy. All of a sudden, to drink Coke was to be an American.
Through the 20th century, Coca-Cola went on to experiment with scores of slogans and ad-campaigns that took the product further and further along the arc toward the ideal. “The Best Friend That Thirst Ever Had” (1938), “What You Want Is a Coke” (1952), “Coke Adds Life” (1976), “You Can’t Beat the Feeling” (1988), “Open Happiness” (2009) – and finally, the current slogan, “Taste the Feeling” (2016).
You can chart over time how far the brand distanced itself from explaining the material benefits of a Coke with their tagline and moved toward communicating the abstract emotions that are contained within the concept of Coke as a brand. No longer are customers using the commercials to evaluate the pros and cons of a Coke in comparison with other sodas, or any other beverage for that matter. Everyone knows Coke. In 2018, 1.9 billion servings of Coke are consumed every day by people in over 200 countries. They are experiencing a feeling associated with the brand. They are feeling connected to something larger. The reason “Taste the Feeling” is a meaningful slogan is because it was 130 years in the making.
Taking your brand to a place where it can communicate the philosophy of its image, as opposed to the material gains of your product or service, is a lofty and worthy goal. No company gets anywhere without lofty ambitions. However, it is crucial to build the plane right before you start thinking about take-off. So many companies forget this, and in their attempt to recreate the Coca-Cola magic overnight, their message never gets off the ground, or it does and it’s so poorly designed it drops like a rock.
What is your product’s promise? Why does it matter? What does it do? And who can it do it for? These remain the critical questions to answer at the beginning of any company’s advertising life. Using Oxford Road’s proprietary messaging framework and design model, Audiolytics™, brands are given the tools and structure they need to formulate powerful direct-response messaging that will persuade consumers to take action. A brand is built on its products and people’s relationship with them. The introduction begins with Audiolytics™. It takes years and years of dedication to the material, for the ideal to enter the equation. Oxford Road will guide you through each important step of your brand’s promise.
It is a seductive siren song that lures all marketers to be the next Coca-Cola right away… but it’s much more valuable to put the work in, to build relationships with thousands, perhaps even millions of customers and become the first you.