Strip McDonald’s Strip

Unbrand Me! Screams the cow after all these years since it started arse art or advertising when it literally bore the iron brunt and left a mark on us all alike. If you were an advertiser, you picked up obvious lessons from it and came up with complex marketing and advertising jargons. You made strategies to cash in on the branded cow. You came up with campaigns that yelled out the name of the brand, that was being advertised, in bold might I add, and soon there was clutter and the modest folks moved to the countryside. In the minds, on the billboards, on TV, print, in fact, everywhere you looked. Everything sells, they say, and you made sure it did. Then you went home and suddenly you were at the receiving end, you saw all of it happen and your brains were bombarded with some extra potent commercialization. The sheer vulgarity and almost shameless pursuit of acquiring another man’s attention made you sick. And then some one stopped and started thinking, is it too late? too late for the cow then, to moo its way back by going carte blanche?.

Unbrand is an option, its not really another fancy word, or maybe it is but there are reasons fancy words come around. “Jargon” not a fancy word itself?.Anyway, this unbranding strategy makes us un-learn a lot of basic concepts of advertising.
For starters unbranding or more elaborately‘Unbranded content advertising’ means making a brand who wants to advertise a product, inconspicuous to the naked eye. Yep, you almost devoid the campaign of the brand’s name and logo. So the campaign doesn’t contain (long pause) any explicit reference to the brand or product that it is representing. Considering that the idea is to get itself out there on Time Square LED Billboards this sounds foolish doesnt it? But we do see some merit in this rationale. Let’s analyze why?

Notice the ad below

Everyone is wearing Nike apparel. Visually appealing, but too much of the brand. Isn’t that the whole point anyway? maybe, but at the end of the day it is a commercial. A means to explicitly sell products. I’ll watch it because it’s entertaining, people are doing stunts etc. Yes, the brand’s all over but at least it isn’t going through the routine of being held between the palms. But then again it’s an ad and competes with other ads for attention.
What if the same video did not have the Nike logo shouting in the end with a tag line (free yourself) and people standing at a Nike branded starting line. It would still have been entertaining, I would still have watched it again and maybe just maybe if I noticed the brand people in the video were wearing it would appeal with higher intensity to my subconscious.
In an increasingly cluttered marketing landscape, could this strategy of stripping yourself as a brand gain wider traction? To think about it it’s been around for a while un-christened appropriately.

Who must unbrand?

Traditionally one paid a price to acquire product that satisfies a tangible need. So the focus of advertising and marketing initially was to highlight that feature which sorted that problem. Then came in competition, so the need to differentiate either via product feature or the more intangible sentiment/aspiration came about. Out of these sentiments/aspirations were born brands attempting to occupy a certain space in the mind.
However, for a very long time this battle for mind space has cluttered the market with communication. This clutter is confusing and to a certain some represents true evil. And this idea of advertising being true evil has percolated public consciousness (Bill hicks rips the community – check it out) so brands are finding newer ways to deliver the message effectively without saying “Hi look at me, I am the pair of trainers that will walk all over you at 6 in the am”. So how does one break this clutter, simple; jump off the billboard and belong amongst those you’re selling to. Go back to solving their problem and let them notice you amongst them. This is the premise on which unbranding is based.
All along, there have been product categories that have made use of this kind of advertising strategy. These are typically the ones which want to draw consumer attention to problems and issues that the company product can potentially resolve. Pharmaceutical companies for e.g. use this strategy to raise awareness about diseases or health issues, in an effort to raise sales of their products indirectly. It makes sense and seems more human. I mean everyone can see through a branding exercise, when after you communicate about a disease and cynically display the name of your product in the end. “Yeah well its gonna catch up with you, so here’s our number call”.

Mainstream striptease

Unbranding is slowly making its presence felt in the communication strategies of mainstream brands. Let’s look at 3 unique categories.

Somerstown – Unstarring Eurostar

One of the print ads for the movie 'SomersTown

This is the campaign, an 85 minute spot that made advertising commentators sit up and notice unbranding. It’s found a mention in a no. of creative blogs and dailies.
Eurostar is a train service between London and Paris which sponsored the movie, Somerstown. The film however had no visible Eurostar branding during promotion or in the movie itself. Infact the film only mentions Eurostar in small print; no logos, no mention in the opening credits, and no sign of the station either. What’s the point of sponsoring a movie if it doesn’t even mention your name? How would such an action set your cash register ringing? Heck, even a user research conducted by Eurostar mentioned that after watching the movie, the audience did not make a connect between the movie and Eurostar. So what’s the point of this whole advertising exercise if there is no advertising?
Did it bring any quick gains to Eurostar? Maybe not, but importantly, when the consumers did come to know about it, the impact was not only greater but far more long term. Greg Nugent, Eurostar marketing director said:
“SomersTown is not an ad; it’s a Shane Meadows film. But then Somers Town isn’t about advertising. The film does not feature smiling train drivers, logos or even a shiny, new Eurostar train. The closest you’ll get to sniffing out the subtle scent of Eurostar is its location: Somers Town is right behind the new St Pancras rail terminal.” How humble and how PRable.

Seems fair, why take away from the essence of even a related product by bombarding the audience with unnecessary communication about your own? Yes you place your product but it’s ever so subtle. No stealing away the limelight from the core subject. These days, audience can see through such things and it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.

Papi. JLo. Yes, we featured this video in our product placement post, and it is indeed a gross example of product placement.The video is popular because it features JLo after starting a family it seems, but from a creative point of view it does not offer anything new and therefore has no potential to go viral. Unbranding in that respect is a more dignified cousin of Product Placement.

If you ask us, Eurostar did differentiate itself from the competitors by taking the unbranding (rail)road, not many would’ve taken. Maybe that has made all the difference. If anything, the campaign did get people talking. In this increasingly socially connected network, isn’t success all about catching that viral bug?
But then again, there seems to be an element of charity here, an element of heart that they did not want to intrude, that made it connect with the audience. Would it really be effective if brands like McDonalds or Starbucks who shamelessly brand themselves and flash there golden arches and green mermaids on every occasion make it? Perhaps not. These brands have survived and sustained and grown because of years of branded content advertising. If they successfully go the Eurostar way, it’ll be the work of sheer genius and corporate courage, and anything less perhaps would be fool hardy as well.Honda will tell you why.

Honda-difficult is worth doing

Maybe not. Wieden and Kennedy London, took an interesting approach to create a buzz getting people excited about Honda’s new car launch.
They made 4 short clips that are stripped of any Honda branding. No logo, no mention, nothing to tell you that it’s a Honda teaser ad that you’re watching. Here’s one of those 4 clips:

They also advertised the URL of the blog on billboards with nothing but a subtle brand logo. W+K had this to say about the teaser ads ‘we have been open about how we made them because the story behind the production is often as interesting as the commercial itself.’
Maybe so, but IMHO, isn’t the whole point of a teaser campaign to let everyone out there know that there is a product that is soon going to be launched? But, if you deprive the audience of the name of the brand itself, how will they talk about you? How will the buzz be created? And if you’re advertising URLs on billboards do you expect everyone to note them to watch the videos later? That’s too much hard work for us ADHDed. Sure, we get the whole unbranding intention, but the clips are simply not entertaining enough .Sure they’re anticipating the curve and made a leap early but the execution o dear. Putting up 4 teaser clips of how men prepare themselves before sky diving (which is totally not associated with the product launch either) OK, nice try, another time. Honda needed to be sure where they wanted to use this for strategy to create the right kind of hype. They just did a bad job of knowing.

Keep ‘em off your shirts

That’s exactly what an Argentine Bank, Banco Hipotecario did when it sponsored one of the best known football teams, Racing Club of Buenos Aires in the year 2009. With the help of advertising agency Madre, it broke the sponsorship mould by not including the bank’s logo on the players’ jerseys. Raised eyebrows, here we go: Rather than being just another garish logo on a sports shirt ( See pics below) the bank gave “the shirt back to its true owners: the supporters and the players”, as the agency puts it. That’s fine, but how would you let them fans know that you’re a sponsor? (It’s still about making money. Yes.) Here’s how. Take a look at the taglines adopted by the two parties involved:

The garish logos- Liverpool and Arsenal jerseys (l-r)

Racing: “The owner of passion”

Racing's jersey

Banco Hipotecario: “Creator of owners”

Banco Hipotecario Logo

Smart move, brand recall massive. Identical taglines. No brand visibility.
Fans pleased? Double check.
Within weeks, Racing Club fans had set up three different Facebook fan pages for the bank. Also, the initiative received widespread media coverage on radio, TV and in the press. Fans were also allowed to choose slogans that appeared on Racing’s shirts during some games, “so they can actually put that ownership to work,” according to Carlos Bayala, creative director at Madre. The virtual viral bug you asked? Goal! for Banco Hipotecario.

What should Indian brands do, to cash in on this new phenomenon which is taking the virtual world by storm?

The Unlearnings:

Eurostar: Seize all the creative opportunities available to create content that people will want to see and engage with and that somehow sells your brand values or products even if it means wiping off our logo and brand name from all the promotional activities. It’s no more about just creating great content and hoping that people might remember we’ve helped produced it. It’s now about selling the core idea behind the product you’re sponsoring. You are a sponsor and not the product that is being sold. So let’s focus on the product even if it means a short term branding awareness sacrifice. It could bring you very high loyalty in the long run.
Remember Nike’s Bleed blue campaign during the Cricket world cup? Or Adidas’ Impossible is nothing campaign which had a series of ads talking about the passion of cricket and how it can lead you to achieve unachievable things?

Nike's bleed blue campaign and the branded Zaheer Khan

Now, if we strip off the brand names from these ads. Instead of Nike’s bleed blue, let’s just call it “bleed blue” and in the Adidas ads, let’s just focus on cricket and not show the Adidas logo and tagline in the end. Or maybe show the logo and tagline, but in fine print. The ad campaigns had enough going on for them to go viral. So when someone searched for these ads on YouTube, they would anyway get to know which are the brands involved. Plus the publicity, for doing something so radical would give you enough hype. The quality of this hype would make it even more worth it. There’s a risk surely, but we say it’s worth a shot.

Honda: Sometimes traditional marketing strategies of following the ‘make-your-brand-presence-felt’ and then create-a-buzz about it and the new-product-that-is soon-going-to-be-launched works just fine…Be old school.

Banco Hipotecario: In the times where the word of mouse spreads faster than word of mouth, making your brand less visible is a gamble which can pay off if you have the right communication efforts to win over your fans, who somewhere down the line do know that the clubs are about making money, and no matter how big a club you are, more than the name of the club on your jersey, you have the logo of the sponsor displayed in bigger bolder font. They do know that the clubs are selling out. So when someone returns the shirt to the owner and smartly comes up with a synchronized tagline for itself, it’s a win win situation. For the fans, they will show their loyalty towards your brand by showing their love on fan pages across the virtual world. And for the club which will save it from being labelled a sell out in this era where anything that can and cannot be sold, is being sold.

If everyone begins to unbrand then we’ll be back to the point where someone will chase the cow with a molten die.
However, its a superb idea to break the clutter by being intelligently selfless. At the end of the day you know you’re doing this because people will find out who did whatever you did and thats what you want, bigger impact recall.
It probably isn’t a good idea as the sole approach to win you fans. But abandoning branding and embracing the core product/media,can significantly amplify the impact of your long term branding strategy.Especially with the virtual world being more real now, than it ever was, a good strip is sexy as hell. McDonald’s please don’t do it.



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