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I remember being annoyed by the tagline a bank of mine once used, “Leading The Way.” The suggestion, or at least my perception of the claim, was the bank wanted me to believe it was leading me. I resented the claim and what I believed was the bank’s arrogance and overblown sense of its role in my life.

I have to remind myself that in a push media world there was a lot of that crap, BS promises that brands got to make and we had to see because they paid to push messages in our faces. Sure, the best marketers avoided ego-stroking brand claims in favor of target-centric, emotionally compelling messages, but the vast majority of ad messages in a push media world trended heavily toward the arrogant claim. It took little work for the client and its ad agency to say what they wanted to say. It takes a lot more work to understand what the target truly is interested in and what authentic role in a consumer conversation your brand can truly play.

It’s kind of amazing to see how slowly we’re shifting our approach to brand messaging when technology is radically shifting consumer media behavior. Despite time-shifted TV viewing and digital ad blocking requiring the consumer to invite your message in, most advertisers continue to hammer on the proverbial front door to pitch their wares.

Undoubtedly, a brand marketer has a much tougher job in today’s invitation-only world. But the premium now placed on true creativity is a welcome one. Just consider the social first example set by these three CPG brands:

  • Dove’s Real Beauty The grandmommy of ’em all, Dove showed us way back in 2004 how a health and beauty brand could trigger a conversation among millions about what real beauty and self-esteem truly is. Dove took a rightful backseat to the issue, and went directly to the head of the class in the hearts of its target.
  • Always #LikeAGirl This category leader showed us how to take a long-held product promise — confidence — and turn it toward a compelling inquiry about what happens to confidence when girls go through puberty. And like Dove, the Always brand knows that it wins by holding back, championing the conversation, not grabbing for the headline.
  • Honey Maid This Is Wholesome How does a graham cracker get noticed and become relevant again? By going “upstream” and getting us to consider a modern perspective of just what wholesome, in the context of family, really means.

What are the clear lessons we can take away?

  • Think social first. Are you listening for the modern conversations that your brand can authentically champion?
  • Don’t ditch your product-centric equity. Look to link it to a bigger, more engaging issue.
  • Drama requires conflict. There is some form of tension at the heart of each of the conversations that my example brands champion. Without it, there’s nothing to talk about.
  • Back the f* off. Done right, your brand will have a natural entry point in a social conversation and it ain’t at the opening curtain.

These are a good place to start, but a bad place to stop. Bill Bernbach reminds us that, “Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula.” Blaze your own trail from here.

While I don’t believe any brand can credibly claim, “Leading The Way,” I’m willing to bestow that honor on these three pathfinders and their brand building partners: Dove Real Beauty – Ogilvy and Mather; Always #LikeAGirl – Leo Burnett; Honey Maid This Is Wholesome – Droga 5.

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Michael Bollinger
Michael Bollinger
President

With over 25 years in the advertising agency business, Michael is focused on building the consumer package goods agency of the future - today. One centered on the breakthrough brand storytelling skills of Smith Brothers' creative heritage, but delivered with the speed, efficiency and real-time optimization demanded by today's digital environment.

Michael joined Smith Brothers in 2005 as Director of Client Services, after spending the previous 20 years with DDB Worldwide where he was Senior Vice President, Group Account Director of the global agency's flagship, Chicago office.

Excited by Smith Brothers' creative firepower and entrepreneurial spirit, Michael joined the Smith Brothers’ team with a vision for delivering big agency resources on a dramatically more nimble and effective platform.

Under Michael's leadership the agency acquired digital agency, Hot Hand Interactive, in 2007. It added its Social Media practice in 2008. Developed an Analytics practice in 2009 and a Shopper Marketing practice in 2010.

Layered onto its existing strategic planning, creative and media capabilities, Smith Brothers is now a force in the CPG marketing world – working with brands like Nestle, Del Monte, Heinz, Ghirardelli, Red Bull, and more.

Michael holds a B.A. in English from Union College.