Category creative

Copy-cat advertising

I often have small businesses tell me, “I’d like to have an ad like So-and-so’s.” That’s almost always a mistake. You want to stand out and be different in the minds of potential customers. You certainly don’t want to bring to mind your competition, unless you can do so in a way that shows off your product’s or service’s superiority.

That’s why I was surprised to see this Super Bowl ad from Motorola:

The ad introduces a new tablet computer from Motorola, the Xoom. The biggest problem with the ad? Everything about it reminds you of Apple.

The ad itself is a knock-off of arguably the most famous Super Bowl ad in history, the Apple Macintosh “1984” ad.

The Motorola ad has similar imagery, with identically dressed workers lined up in massive hallways catatonically walking to their destinations, and one lead character who doesn’t fit. That lead character is seen reading George Orwell’s 1984 on his tablet computer.

Even if you haven’t seen Apple’s original ad, when the lead character turns the page of the 1984 e-book, I bet you thought of the iPad. That’s not a great way to launch your new tablet. Everything about this ad reminds you of Apple and does nothing to differentiate the Xoom from the iPad.

It leaves you with the impression that this is just a knock-off, sort of like those watches people sell on street corners. Anyone want a “Roleks?” How about a “Guchi?”

I’ve shared this quote before, but it’s good advice from one the the greatest advertising minds ever:

“In advertising, not to be different is virtual suicide.”

– William Bernbach

You want to differentiate yourself from your competitors? Then don’t copy them. Be original.


Another lesson from Apple

Everyone knows by now that the iPhone is coming to Verizon. Let’s take a look at how Apple advertises this new offering.

Notice that their message is not that their iPhone is now available on Verizon. Their message is that you now have a choice of service providers. Their focus is your experience. They could have just told you what they offer, but it’s not about them, it’s about you.

Remember that when you create your advertising.


A well-designed logo

I’m excited about today’s post. Not only do we look at an outstanding logo, we get to hear from the designer, Caleb Chang!

While spending the holidays up in the Pacific Northwest with my family, I attended church in White Rock, BC with my in-laws. During the service, I noticed their logo. I think its a little above most church logos I’ve seen and I wanted to share it with you.

White Rock Community Church logo

WRCC logo on a promotional banner. Logo designer, Caleb Chang.

What I really like about this logo is how it contains a subtle message about this church’s mission but yet that message doesn’t get in the way of clearly identifying the name of the church. Under the words “White Rock” is a simple line. The line adds a nice visual element but also is reminiscent of an open book or Bible. The “spine” of the book points to the letter “t” in the word “Community,” which is shaped as a cross. What I see when I look at this logo is a subtle message: the Church’s foundation is Scripture, and Scripture points to Christ.

What’s neat about this is that this message doesn’t get in the way of telling the reader the name of this particular church. Most small businesses would love to have this much symbolism in their logo, but only end up cluttering it up so much that their identity is lost and unreadable.

After asking about the logo, I discovered that I had met the designer just a few days before. Caleb graciously agreed to share a little about the design process for this particular logo. Here’s an excerpt from Caleb’s email:

A logo should also have staying power because let’s face it – most small businesses or not-for-profits don’t have huge budgets when it comes to marketing. As a general rule of thumb, unless you have the time and money to revamp your logo every 5 years – don’t follow the latest design trends.

White Rock Community Church (WRCC) wanted a logo that reflected the fact that they were an intergenerational, Christian community that valued practical teaching from the Bible and long-lasting relationships. Their mission was to help people reach their God-given potential in Jesus Christ. So how do you create a logo that reflects all of that without it looking like it was drawn up by your artsy 14 year old niece?

Create a wordmark, a distinctive, text-only typographic treatment, instead of a logo. I proposed using the wordmark with different photos and let the photos tell the story. Well, the client wasn’t totally convinced so we reached a compromise – we integrated some basic symbols into the wordmark.

The intergenerational aspect of WRCC is portrayed by blending a 1930’s face (White Rock) with a modern classic face (Community Church). The visual divider between White Rock and Community Church is a bible and the “t” in the word “white” and “community” were changed into a cross.

Ministries within the church followed the same look and feel:

WRCC Student Ministries identity

Great work, Caleb, and thank you for sharing your insight.

You can reach Caleb at his website, And yes, that’s a Seinfeld reference. 🙂


What is a logo really worth?

A so-so logo that is used consistently in all marketing and advertising can become quite valuable. A great logo that is rarely used is worthless.

I’m always surprised at how many small businesses invest in a logo and then don’t use it consistently. That includes making sure it looks the same every time it is used.


Costa Brava

Costa Brava 2-color logo

This is a logo that I recently completed for a logging company. The client wanted to tie the icon into the rugged coast of British Columbia; costa brava is spanish for “rugged coast” and BC is where the company is located.  The area in which they primarily operate is known for its difficult, steep terrain.

Being a logging company, a tree of some sort was explored, as was an icon that was reminiscent of a rock. Given that Prudential pretty much has TOMA on rock images and every timber company in the world has a tree in their logo, we explored a variety of images that captured the idea of a rugged, isolated place.  The client loved the end result.

They can also use the paw icon as a stand-alone element in their marketing. A lot of small businesses want to look like their competitors, but that generally is a mistake. Bravo for Costa Brava!


Fonts matter

All fonts have a personality & a purposeI’ve mentioned before how everything in your advertising and marketing materials must support your message, even the font you use must support this message. Two of the most over-used fonts are Comic Sans and Papyrus, and they are often used in a glaringly inappropriate manner.

A graphic design student has put together a website that does a great job of illustrating why some fonts are more appropriate for certain messages than others. The website is Comic Sans Criminal. It only takes a couple of minutes to go through the site, so go take a look.

Choosing the right font is a vital part of saying your message well. So, dear small business owner / reader, are you a comic sans criminal?

Via Web Designer Depot.


Vancouver Island University’s logo

We’re visiting my wife’s family in Washington state and British Columbia for Christmas. On the ferry heading to Vancouver Island, I saw an ad for Vancouver Island University. They have a great logo and I thought I’d share it with you.

I like how the logo brings to mind both a maple leaf and the island. Having a literal icon isn’t necessary for a logo, but it’s really nice when the execution is subtle and not overstated.


How do your customers identify you?

Here’s a question for you: What type of work do you do? Not what is it you do for a living, but what kind of work is it? Is it competent work? Is it mediocre? Is it horrible? Is it professional and white collar? Is it skilled and finely detailed? Is it rough, no-nonsense and immediately useful?

The purpose of this question is to get you to think about how your customers identify your company. I got to thinking along these lines recently while doing some research for a logo I was working on. I was surprised at how many small business logos for this particular field did little to convey the type of work they did.

When we see someone in a suit, we assume they work behind a desk. When we see someone wearing boots, we assume they work outside. That’s not a surprise. But it is surprising when someone is inappropriately dressed for they work they claim to do. If the guy who is supposed to clear your land of brush shows up in dress slacks, you’ll wonder if he is prepared for the job. You’ll think the same thing if a person selling you a suit is dressed in a sneakers and worn jeans. How they present themselves gives a clue to whether or not they are up to the job.

The same applies to businesses, yet a lot of small businesses inadvertently give the wrong message in their presentation. If you’re a selling something that has an appeal based on looks (clothing, furniture, whatever) then your business card had better look good. If you’re in a line of work where dependability is key, say transportation, delivery or courier services, then your marketing materials had better look dependable.

When a potential customer needs a dependable courier service, will they think you are dependable by looking at your web site? When a potential customer wants a nice couch to change the look of their living room, will they know you have good taste based on the sign outside your store?

Often a business owner will tell me that once a customer comes in to see their merchandise or tries their service, it sells itself. But the truth is that a customer won’t try your service or come in to see your merchandise until they are convinced that you are up to the job.

Saying you’re up to the job isn’t going to convince them. You show them your are up to the job by making a competent presentation through your marketing and advertising. Fail to do that, and you’ll be like the guy in sneakers and worn jeans trying to sell suits. He can say he knows suits till he’s blue in the face, but no one will buy unless it’s priced so low that it’s too good to pass up.

It’s not difficult to present your company in a competent fashion. Yes, it will take an investment of a little time and some money. But the investment in your business’s identity – the logo, the design of the business cards and the letterhead – is essentially a one-time investment. It is miniscule compared to the monthly ongoing expenditures you make in the course of doing business.

You’re going to have business cards printed up anyway. Why not do them right? Contact me. You have nothing to lose.


Outside the box

Recently, I’ve gotten a lot of blog traffic via various google searches for Trader Joe billboards. We talk about billboards a lot here, but we’ve only talked about Trader Joe’s once (not counting this blog) where we looked at how they try to look like a small business. Still, the amount of traffic coming from that one search peaked my curiosity. So I google it.

What I found were some really neat billboards created by Nico Ammann that are literally out of the box.

Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell big-name brands, that is the thing that sets them apart from other grocers. So how do you tell people that you don’t carry those brands? They got creative and set up bulletins near national brand advertising and proudly say, “We don’t carry it.” Awesome idea. Wish I came up with it.

Here is one example:

Trader Joe's "outside the box" billboard

Great job, Nico. You can see several more examples of the Trader Joe’s campaign at his website.

Update: Nico contacted me to let me know that this concept was something that he pitched to the Trader Joe’s in Los Angeles, but the idea was never implemented. Still, the idea is brilliant. Trader Joe’s should take him up on it.


Sometimes even the big boys get it wrong

I was driving in Houston after paying a visit to one of my vendors, when this billboard caught my eye:

Yellow Pages billboard, almost all one color

Difficult to read? Imagine trying to read this as you speed past in a car.

Now, I look at billboards all the time; I like to know what the trends are in advertising and a great ad is something I can appreciate. But this caught my eye for all the wrong reasons. While driving past at 60 mph, I couldn’t tell what it was or who it was for.

As I’ve said before in The Art of the Billboard, bulletins like this need to be understood in 5 seconds or less. There is a reason successful billboards use high-contrast colors, they are easier to read at a distance or while zooming by in a car. If people can’t make out what is on the billboard, as in this case where the words blend in with the background, then no one is getting your message. If no one is getting your message, what is the point in paying for a billboard?

Your message needs to be tailored to its medium. Yellow Pages is in the advertising business, but they obviously don’t know billboards.

Don’t be afraid to get some help or advice before you make an investment in your advertising. It may keep you from wasting a lot of money.


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