Bob Hoffman believes the main advertising influence on a brand’s success is fame.
Not brand meaning. Not relationship building, Not brand purpose or any of the other fantasies that the advertising and marketing industry has concocted.
The most probable driver of brand success - and the central principle of communication that advertisers can control - is fame.
Consumer buying behavior is more reliably traceable to brand familiarity than to brand meaning. Who needs all the relentless, expensive busywork we throw at developing brand meaning? How much value does all our research, ethnography, anthropology, strategy and planning have if actual consumer behavior is more directly aligned to simple familiarity than to the meaning of the brand? Or its position? Or its purpose?
It’s not that positioning and differentiation are irrelevant. It’s that they’re not advertising’s primary contribution to brand success and they’re not as compelling to real people as most marketers think they are.
Personalization and precision targeting? It’s the holy grail of the online media industry and purports to offer waste-free advertising. Which is nice in theory but in reality a complete and utter failure. Don’t agree? Name one brand that’s become famous through targeted advertising. It’s impossible.
Because that’s not how advertising work. The main power of advertising is not in precision targeting, it’s in mass targeting. The real power in advertising is in having large numbers of people familiar with and comfortable with your brand.
A realistic view of the world’s most successful brands gives us a very clear and unambiguous picture - spreading the word is far more likely to create success than concentrating it.
Most marketers are famously inept at creating a consequential differentiation for their brand. That’s why we created advertising. A poorly differentiated brand that everybody’s heard of has a lot better chance of success than a well-differentiated brand that nobody’s heard of.
Getting a lot of people familiar with your brand and comfortable with it has a much higher probability of building your business than any other theory of marketing communication.
Brands that are well-known and distinctive (both a cause and an effect of fame) in their categories are the ones that tend to have the most marketing success and tend to be category leaders.
Is this absolutely always the case? No. Is it the most probable case? Yes. Nothing in life is absolute, all we have are likelihoods and probabilities.
Most consumer choices are done without deep thought. People don’t have the time, energy or inclination to assess the ramifications of every brand decision before they buy. The fact that people aren’t as sensitive to brand variance as we think makes strong brands more powerful, not less.
The easier you make it for people to choose your brand, the more likely you are to be successful. From the standpoint of advertising, the best way to make the choice easier is to be famous and let probability do its work.
This is true even for brands that are already famous. When you get the plane to 35,000 feet, you don’t turn off the engines. That’s why outstanding creative work is such an unmatched advertising asset. It creates a lot more fame per dollar.
Does this mean that positioning and differentiation aren’t important? No. When you create advertising it has to be about something. So you might as well make it about something useful like positioning and differentiation.
But these elements of advertising are not the central goal. The central goal is to achieve fame. A brand that is famous has enormous advantages over its rival brands that aren’t famous.
There are several ways for brands to achieve fame. A clearly superior product, exceptional word of mouth, slavish media coverage, clever stunts, charismatic leaders or a combination of these things. There are many ways to achieve fame, and they’re all good.
The most expensive way to become famous is through advertising. It’s the most expensive, but it’s also the most reliable.
It’s the only avenue to fame that you can buy your way into.