David Fowler
Ogilvy Influencers
If An Ad Isn’t a Brand, What Is?

Who doesn’t love a great obituary? Sure, they’re about deaths. But they’re also lives encapsulated in a story, none written better than in The New York Times. It’s more than just brilliant writing; it’s also the discernment of the editors. Like heaven, not everyone gets in.

Kemmons Wilson, Holiday Inn founder did, and what a life and a lesson his story became. On a road trip with his young family in 1951, Wilson found himself forced to lodge his family in grimy tourist camps and feed them at greasy spoon cafes. He resolved to create something better:  a motel chain dedicated to cleanliness and conformity. He built a national chain of places where families could expect exactly what they experienced at their last Holiday Inn visit: the same soap, the same towels, the same gloriously chlorinated swimming pool, the same big clean rooms and the same kid-friendly atmosphere. And, of course, he put a fantastic neon sign out front that became a welcome symbol to millions of families, an open invitation to see the USA in your Chevrolet.

And that is precisely what millions of Americans began to do, my family included. Off we went to see Lincoln’s hat and the Wright Brothers airplane in Washington, DC, my father death-gripping the wheel, my mother’s headscarf blowing in the wind. We were Biscayne people, the cheapest model in the Impala line, and auto air conditioning was a luxury for the rich who could afford the Caprice. We were loyal to the Chevrolet brand family, even if we could only squeak in at the bottom.

Ah, but come nightfall, the neon splendor beckoned up ahead, the eye-reddening pool water and freezer-burn air conditioning of Holiday Inn. A different town, but strangely, exactly the same place we’d left that morning. A nest of positive memories.

Holiday Inn isn’t just lodging. It’s a powerful brand, where you sleep in a bed of twigs constructed out of familiar experiences. As long as things stay the same, or perhaps get better, then your expectations are met. That’s probably why running a hotel chain is so incredibly difficult. It’s sort of like managing the peace, which is always harder than fighting the war. Keep it the same, try to make it better, but don’t make it worse by doing either. A brand has a lot of moving parts. You have to be sensitive to the ones you move.

Consider that the next time you think about the brand you’re working on. Remember that it’s not just a logo or an ad. It’s an experience, and all the stuff ad agencies do is just a reflection of that experience, a small part of what David Ogilvy called “the complex symbol of the brand.”

Ask what your client intends to do about all the other moving parts of the experience. Ask if you can offer some suggestions. So many times, people on both sides of the table fear to tread in that gray terrain. They shouldn’t. Clients need the help and advertising agencies are full of people whose imagination can extend far beyond making an ad.

The advertising person who understands this, and can bring the services to bear to complete the experience for the client, is the one who wins. If you have the services or can find them, that’s how you’ll grow loyalty and love from your clients and revenue beyond your wildest dreams.

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