Four Ways to Build a Brand


Establishing a brand position through direct response TV commercials isn’t new. In fact, it’s been a staple of DRTV almost since the days of live, on-air commercials. There are four proven strategies used to build brands, and while it isn’t rocket science, creating TV commercials that can successfully build a trusted brand while selling products or generating leads takes more than a checklist. Let’s begin by defining what a brand is.


Although there are hundreds of books about brands and how to build them, I like to think that a brand is a promise to the purchaser of a particular product, suite of products, or service, and the promise is that they will always get the same emotional or practical benefit. That brand promise can be delivered and defined by visual and/or audio cues. Think of Apple, Intel, Yahoo!, Google, GEICO, Progressive—all have iconic images and sounds.


The easiest way to create a brand is to be the first in your category with a product or service that is so dominant that your brand name becomes generic for the product or service, like Kleenex, Xerox, and Google. The first became a noun and the other two became verbs, but all have entered the general lexicon. Not a bad trick! Best of all, you don’t need a tagline or logo to define the brand promise. Your brand is the thing itself.


So let’s say you don’t have the next sliced bread. A fast way to establish a brand promise and personality is to hire a celebrity. Depending on whom you choose and what you want to convey, you can gain instant creditability. The danger is that the celebrity becomes your brand, and it becomes difficult to define your product when the celebrity retires or takes on spokesperson duties for too many unrelated products. Tom Bosley, Wilfred Brimley, Fred Thompson, and even Charles Osgood are good examples of brand personifiers. But one of the most important things to think about for the long-term health of your brand is that with any celebrity—living or animated—or a famous piece of music, you don’t really “own” your brand.


The next method of establishing a brand is much more difficult. It is creating a personality for your brand through the advertising itself, which is what Karlin+Pimsler specializes in doing. It is about delivering your brand promise or message by creating a recognizable, consistent tone, visual iconography, and a memorable verbal style.


After establishing the brand promise, the natural progression is to establish a brand position for your product or service. In the direct response arena, it’s hard to beat GEICO for messaging, whether they are using a gecko, a caveman, a pig, or a camel. They have successfully injected warmth, humanity, and humor into the insurance category, which used to rely on fear and paternalism as its advertising tonality.


Karlin+Pimsler client J.G. Wentworth, a financial company that buys long-term payout settlements, established brand dominance in its category with a brand personality that’s upbeat, irreverent, and memorable, using campaigns that employ musical parodies and consumer-empathetic lines such as “It’s my money, and I need it now.” (Visit Karlin+ Pimsler’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/user/karlinpimsler, to view examples). Both J.G. Wentworth and GEICO are successful direct response brand marketers, and they have one big thing in common: They own their brand imagery and even inspire imitation. It’s an enviable position to be in.


Lest you think this is all formula, the one factor in branding that must be present to establish an effective brand—whether it’s a category-definer, celebrity-based, or creative-driven—is media. No matter how bold, defining, celebrated, or inspiring the brand image is, without constant exposure with paid or earned media, the product or service is doomed to the bottom shelf. So if your aim as a direct marketer is to have a powerful, lasting brand support your offscreen sales, the rule is on the shampoo bottle: apply, rinse and repeat.



Mal Karlin is president of Karlin+Pimsler, a New York-based brand response creative boutique that develops transformational television advertising for clients including Annuity.com, JG Wentworth, Consumer Cellular, Cigna, Hoveround, British Airways, Accenture, CitiBank, and others. Karlin can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at (212) 779-3375. Visit www.karlinpimsler.com/homepage.html for more on DR branding strategies.