There is no point to spending money on advertising if those experiencing it don’t understand who’s communicating about what brand, right?

So, as drivers quickly pass by this attractive roadside billboard sign, how do they know who put out the ad? There must be a brand signature, right?

Certainly there can be no signature or source-identifying quality in the largest and most visible word, especially since it is entirely lower case, laudatory, and purely descriptive: delicious.

One has to strain while studying or staring at the sign to notice the smallest and most complete depiction of the brand that is responsible for this elegant ad: Coca-Cola.

Assuming typical passers by don’t study this billboard as if it were a work of art displayed in a gallery (like I do), and further assuming they don’t notice the miniature Coca-Cola reference in barely legible script, do they know the famous Coca-Cola brand is behind the ad because of: (1) the particular shade of red dominating the ad, (2) the three and a half incomplete letters in white script on a red beverage label, (3) the contour of the beverage container chilling on ice, or (4) some or all of the above?

Another page from the well-executed chapter called “Bits and Pieces of Brands = Trademarks?”

In answer to my question about the brand psychology behind using bits and pieces of brands to communicate, one of the designers who I trust a lot explained it is more evocative and romantic, but what do others think?

  • James Mahoney

    The simple answer is (4), Steve, and it’s because of decades of consistent and consistently executed advertising and promotion.

    The one element that may not immediately resonate is the shape of the bottle, but that’s a minor consideration because of the overwhelming presence of the other Coke-related elements. If you removed all those other elements (or changed them), then the plastic bottle isn’t as distinctive as the glass Coke bottle–for the casual drinker, it could be mistaken for any number of other plastic-bottled carbonated beverages.

    But as it stands, I doubt that any glancer wouldn’t immediately recognize this as an ad for Coca-Cola.

    That said, let’s suppose two separate scenarios: First, a viewer didn’t immediately “get” that this is a Coke ad. Second, this was an ad for Local Soda Brand, the only difference being the label on the bottle.

    Venerable research indicated that advertising in a category that doesn’t tout a brand-specific benefit, message or distinctive identifier(s) generally benefits the category leader. So, for example, showing a bowl of hot soup headlined, “Winter’s coming. Wouldn’t a nice hot bowl of soup taste good right about now?” would benefit Campbell’s soup, even if they weren’t the advertisers. Though that research was done a long time ago, it likely still holds true.

    So if this particular ad were for, say, Local Soda Company with no particularly distinctive visual attributes, then many people would think Coke anyway. (They wouldn’t think Pepsi because of the color cues.)

    Your designer’s observation that bits and pieces are more evocative is true (whether it’s more romantic depends on the product/category). The reason is that there’s a little rush of self-congratulations that we can recognize the brand even with obscure hints–makes us feel a little like we’re part of the club. That happens even if we don’t “own” the brand, but it’s especially so for brands that we do own because it acts as a reinforcement of the good taste/smart choice/hip guys that we are. We spot the secret handshake faster than other people do.

  • stevebaird

    James, thanks for stepping up to the plate, answering the question, and sharing your insights and perspectives. I love learning from our designer friends and marketing types, great conversation, thanks!