Generic Branding

Via Fast Company’s Co.Create arm comes this article about generic branding, along with the best generic brand video ever.

I love the article and the video. Both provoke a lot of questions and thoughts:

  • As so many of the comments pointed out, if this type of ad is so generic, why is it still being made? It must be producing some kind of results, right?

Well, I wonder. The examples of generic ads are telling. As Jeff Beer points out, at least the car companies have some product footage to use. The Mazda ad at least mentions some specs. But I can’t help but think that basically, a car is a car. It’s transportation to get from one place to the next. Differentiation in the car market probably isn’t going to come in an ad. It’s probably going to come in the showroom. Perhaps that’s why so many car spots are the same?

Of course, then one has to consider the Dodge Ram “So God Made a Farmer” ad from the 2013 Superbowl. Talk about differentiation. We don’t have to know the specs of the truck. We just know that Farmer = Ram = Farmer.

  • Was this money well-spent? Sure, the footage is splashy and pretty, and the ads use all the “right” words (chosen from a list, as the spoof suggests), but what real purpose does the ad serve when it’s a generic ad for basically a generic product?

Suncor (energy) may be trying to go more for branding and public relations, but that seems like a lot of effort and money for good PR. If you’re going to spend the money on the production and placement, why not at least make it more specific? Cisco (communications) is a company everyone thinks they know or at least has heard of, and when you’re basically reminding everyone of your brand, why not put a bit of energy into making the ad more specific?

This is where I think story comes into play. You can tell a lot of story in two minutes. Suncor could have told a specific story about green energy or sustainability or some kind of community project it worked on. Cisco had a perfect opportunity to give a business case or a standard problem/solution ad. Give the company a chance to tell its story.

I doubt it. In fact, I suspect the opposite.

There will always be a market for stock footage, and using stock footage is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem arises when a marketer or advertiser resorts to generic words and generic footage to promote a specific product, service, idea, what-have-you.

It’s not just the stock footage, photo, or music market that has this problem. We copywriters have stock phrases and words we fall back on, too. I’ve certainly been guilty of being too generic in copy I’ve written. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially when you’re under a deadline or trying to be non-confrontational or have a broad appeal. I think this generic video should be taken as a gentle reminder that those of us in the creative world of marketing, advertising, PR, and the like would do well to push ourselves out of our comfort zones a bit.

I consider myself gently reminded.


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