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Face Off

by fatweb

By Sandy Galland

Business, like life, is about making powerful and positive first impressions. Taking your brand to the market place is the same — you have a nano-second where you can capture the eye of potential customers.

If a customer likes what they see right away, they are likely to engage and spend. So how do you capture someone’s attention?

For many, using a face is the preferred option. You want to establish a person who will become instantly identifiable with your product or service. So how do you do this? Do you become the face of your brand, do you get a celebrity to endorse your product or do you create a fictional character?

Each approach has its merits. However, leading brand agency TBWA Whybin head David Walden stresses it is imperative to establish the basics before embarking on any brand building exercise.

This means nailing down what your brand stands for, who your market is and what you want to say to that market. “You can’t just say ‘hello — here I am’. You have to know what you stand for,” Walden says.

Consumers are bombarded with messages and you have milliseconds to capture someone’s attention. “You have a fleeting moment to either be relevant to them or not, and so working out the essence of what your brand is about, what sets you apart from your competitors, why someone should pay you any attention — that’s the bit you really need to nut out. Expressing it is the easy part and sometimes it is a face who will work best.”

A big name and recognisable face will attract attention to your brand and help enhance your market position. It may even fast track your way to ‘first of mind’ product recall.

One of the huge advantages of using a face — real or fictional— is the connection you can create and the empathy you can engender. “Your brand can take its place in a person’s life that way.”

Real or created characters have pros and cons either way. Real characters may be more authentic and credible than created characters, and don’t require clever introductions to establish motives or the brand relationship. The upside of character creation is ease of control, best summed up as the ‘do and say what I tell you’ scenario.

Becoming the brand

If what’s needed is authenticity, and you’re the owner wanting to share a vision, then put your face on the brand. Bear in mind that you will be forever linked to it, so if it fails some of that sticks to you and vice versa — your actions will affect the brand.

But you need to consider your exit strategy. If you sell the company and move on your face may have to stay with it. A face can continue to front a brand well after the business has been sold — think Dick Smith, Peter Leitch aka The Mad Butcher and Mike Pero.

While Pero no longer owns Mike Pero Mortgages he continues to front the brand. “Brand awareness leads to confidence, trust and loyalty from the customer,” says Pero. Being such a recognisable face is good for the mortgage company and positive for him in his other businesses.

Walden believes we like to see the people behind the business and it allows a CEO or business owner to make a personal pitch. This strategy seems to have worked for Rob Fyfe and Air New Zealand.

Building a compelling story around your brand can also be very powerful. How many of us don’t know that Michael Hill started out as a one man band in Whangarei? The story is one of success and by having it out in the public domain; the customer can see that this is a business which has succeeded because of one man’s ability to dream big.

Celebrity endorsement

Celebrity endorsements seem like a no-brainer. We’re more likely to accept the advice of a friend, genuine or imagined, than a stranger.

The biggest consideration (other than budget), is to make sure the message fits the celebrity and the product. Elite athletes and fast foods may be unlikely bedfellows but when Tiger Woods belts a golf ball, the marketing is believable.

When a famous face fronts a brand, their behaviour in and out of the public eye becomes part and parcel of the brand. Celebrity endorsement is a transfer of value from Brand A (the celebrity) to Brand B (the advertiser). An advertiser hopes the positives of Brand A will transfer in the customer’s mind to Brand B and motivate purchases.

This can be a sound strategy, but it has to be handled carefully. The celebrity must appeal strongly to your target market, their image must align with your company’s messages, and you need to be confident they will act with integrity. If one party in the arrangement ‘burns’ — for whatever reason — the other is directly affected.

There is also the risk of the celebrity overshadowing the brand, or overexposure through multiple endorsements by the same celebrity. Just how many products are today’s crop of All Blacks busy promoting? Over exposure can end up diluting impact for individual brands.

Getting into character

Creating a character or a cartoon type persona allows complete control of how your message is delivered.

There are many winning examples — Ira Goldstein, the Mainland Cheese blokes, Vince Martin and Miss Lucy have all bounced into our homes and captured our attention — for whatever reason.

Goldstein, the ASB bank character, is a creation of Walden’s agency. It had become one of the longest-running uninterrupted campaigns in New Zealand with Goldstein’s quirky take on our culture having entertained us for nine years. And yes, we’ve all ‘herd’ of cows…

“In many ways a created character is the most successful. While not a spokesman for the company, they are a way to promote products and services in a user friendly way, approachable and, at times, humorous manner,” Walden says.

“Banking is not something that gets one’s blood rushing, so we needed to put a human face to what can be an impersonal relationship. Our job is to find ways brands can enter the living rooms of New Zealanders every night. We do this uninvited so you have to respect the viewers. You do this with a wee bit of humour or by rewarding them with an experience that hopefully enhances their viewing.”

Whatever route you take to put a face to your brand, be aware that your target market is savvy. Also remember the average person is exposed to anywhere from 1500 to 3000 brands or branded messages a day. Consumers are switching off and tuning out so you have to be relevant to them. Make your first impression count.

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