Top 7 Brand Advertising Mistakes

It seems like in order to find one great ad, you have to watch 20 “for the low low price of $19.95” commercials. Many brand advertisements fall short of the mark because of common mistakes that can be easily avoided. For instance, perform adequate customer research and testing before signing on a spokesperson.

We have dug through the annals of web and advertising history to find advertising blunders and successes that you can learn from.


1. Let’s talk quantum mechanics

Unless you already have die-hard brand advocates, it’s not just about you. Chances are, if you’re a local law firm, not many people are gripping to their edge of their seats waiting to see your ad. Think about going to a holiday party and spending twenty minutes talking about quantum mechanics. Crickets anyone? To appeal to your customer, understand what they enjoy and build off of it.

2. Do you like me? Circle yes or no.

Ask for permission. Seth Godin is a huge proponent of permission marketing — where brands ask instead of push. Ask your clients whether they want your monthly newsletter, don’t just send it because you can. Furthermore, allow them to opt-out. If you don’t ask for permission, you risk the chance of appearing as a spammer, not a meaningful brand.

3. “I love Whole Foods” – Anonymous CEO…

Econsultancy’s “21 ways to commit brand suicide in the 21st Century,” cites Whole Foods CEO John Mackey to illustrate deceptive marketing practices. “Over a seven year period – [Mackey] posted anonymous comments on Yahoo’s stock market forums to criticise a competitor (while calling himself ‘cute’ in the process). Funny and embarrassing in equal measure. And also deceptive: the comments prompted an SEC investigation. He was cleared, he apologised (kind of), but the damage was done.” Overinflating your brand image like Mackey can only lead to a bitter end — tarnishing your brand image and reputation along the way. Remember, next time a critic slams your brand, consider a thoughtful, genuine response, not respond as an “anonymous loyal customer.”

4. The ol’ switcheroo

Costumers don’t like the ol’ switcheroo. While brand advertising should highlight the selling points of your brand, it should not overinflate claims. How disappointing is it to go to the “most inexpensive furniture store in town” to find out prices are the exact same down the street? Or, consider Apple fans’ outrage when the developer cut $200 off the iPhone shortly after its release.

5. I’m smart your dumb. I’m big your little… Take that!

Starting “turf wars” can show customers the true maturity of the company leadership. For instance, Verizon’s battle with AT&T over maps. While turf wars try to position the competition in a negative light, it engenders ill-will — a turn off to many consumers. No one liked the bully in high school so what makes you think they will like bullying with their favorite brands? Moreover, turf wars advertise the competition. Instead of using precious, expensive advertising space for your competition, utilize that space for your brand.

6. Putting customers in epileptic shock

Standing out doesn’t mean adding a thick layer of flash, sparkle, boom, pow to your brand advertising. To stand out, create a unique environment for your customer. You can interest your target audience if you appeal to their lifestyle. For instance, EA sports created a banner advertisement that rolled into a racing game. All those users playing the game in the banner ad compete for prizes. EA’s campaign appealed to the lifestyle of their target audience while engaging them in a meaningful way.

7. What does Bob Dylan and a lingerie have in common?

While you might want a mascot or famous celebrity to advertise your brand, consider if they are right for the job. In an epic misstep, Victoria Secret signed on the weathered, old Bob Dylan as lingerie’s mouthpiece. While it might have made for a funny joke, do women buying sexy underwear want to imagine the aging Dylan? If anything, the lingerie brand created an unsettling feeling in the stomachs of its audience.


Additional Resources:
Successfully promote and market your creative ideas with an online degree in advertising.

Brand Positioning & Differentiation

What makes Madonna, Coca-Cola and Apple iconic cultural leaders? Why do Apple fans spend hours standing in line to buy the next innovation? It is a brand’s ability to creatively, uniquely and strategically position itself in the market that makes it successful. In essence, they learned to think outside of the box and be different.

How is your product or service perceived in the market? If the brand and product is similar to competitors, a brand positioning and differentiation strategy can increase your customer appeal. Combine insights from customer research with a thorough competitive analysis and creative stretching to determine the optimal brand position:

Quick jump: Segmentation / Focus groups / Online survey research / Customer insights / Competitive analysis / Brand re-positioning

Competitive Analysis

Consumer research identifies audience needs states, key decision drivers and the determines if market peers are meeting the needs of your target segments and how to better meet those needs. To differentiate yourself amongst peers, examine the market through the lens of a company and brand. A company makes products and services and a brand conveys the emotional attributes of both the company and products.

Questions to answer when examining companies and products:

  • Who are the top market players and what space do they occupy in your category?
  • Who is their target market, and what are their products and services?
  • What have been their successes to date?
  • What are their competitive strengths, and how will you position your company uniquely

Questions to answer when examining brands:

  • What three adjectives best describes each competitor?
  • What traits are aligned with customer expectations?
  • What key messages do brands convey in marketing materials? (Including website, social media, print, collateral)

Consumer Research

defines who you’re targeting, what you’re going to offer them, where you’re going to reach them, and how you’re going to sell them on your product and brand. Use demographics, such as age, household income level, and psychographics, such as hobbies and favorite brands to define target segments. To examine potential segment need states and decision drivers, our team developed a generational analysis and psychographic report.

After defining the target audience, find what drives their buying decisions. To do so, find a pool of representative customers and either perform focus group research or online survey research. can provide insight to improve products, prioritize development, and elevate communications. With the benefit of real customer feedback, your strategy and development will be much stronger. , on the other hand, is more affordable, accessible, and timely than focus groups. In fact, most online research surveys can go from setup to response to data in a week or less.

to drive your differentiation and positioning strategy. Customers will inform overall market trends and specific need states. Insights tie the two together. For instance, with the advent of iTunes and pirated music, customers no longer pay for whole CDs anymore, therefore record labels should focus more on digital music, concert sales and rights management instead of traditional profits from CDs.

Brand Differentiation and Position

A chart should illustrate what makes your brand distinct among competitors. Outline key customer needs on the x and y axises and plot competitor brands. Identify the opportunity based on customer need states and decision drivers to find the optimal brand position. Then, write a positioning statement: Our product [list benefits] for [target audience] because [name unmet need]. Finally, creatively build a brand around that position, including a distinct voice and personality to make a meaningful connection with target audiences.

Brand positioning chart:


Image by talk2frank from Stock.Xchng

Top 5 Innovative Package Designs

“Today, to break through the clutter of the hundreds of other competing products out there it pays to be different,” writes Peter Drucker. One way of breaking through the clutter is to follow through on the concept or mission of the company selling the product to create an immersive, engaging brand experience.

Whether it’s an energy drink that makes you feel stronger or a juice container that takes shape of the fruit inside it, innovative design is about embodying the brand in a creative, yet user-friendly way.

Let them Drink Juice!

The Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa created a realistic package around the juice it contains. The juice containers so much resemble the fruit inside them that it might even trick the brain and enhance the flavor of the juice.

Energy Drink to Get Energized About

The Dumbbell Sports Drink takes the shape of a symbol of strength: the dumbbell. Although designer Jin Le might not have intended it to be used as an actual weight, the energy drink embodies the symbol of muscle.

Deck the Halls with Coca-Cola

The Coca-Cola brand represents, fun, whimsy and a child-like innocence. It’s no surprise then the soda maker shaped its packaging in the form of a fun, traditional part of Christmas: ornaments.

Idea That Grips


Part of Reebok’s selling proposition is its sneaker grip. Without it, basketball and any number of other sports would be more interesting, but a bit more dangerous. To demonstrate it’s superior grip, Reebok stuck its shoes to the top of the shoe box.

Can a Can Be Resealed?


Once you open a can of soda, you’re in it to the end. You don’t have the option to put a cap back on it. You’re essentially stuck drinking the entire 12 oz. Davis Advertising created a solution for the can-to-go by creating a seal. See the below demonstration.

Gain Visibility for Competitive Search Terms

Wouldn’t it be great to land on the first page on Google for highly competitive terms, such as entertainment, plays, etc.? However, ranking well for competitive terms usually takes blood, sweat and tears to build thousands of inbound links from authoritative sites. Now that Google and other search engines are accounting for videos, social media and local results, it could be much easier than you expected.

Bricks and Mortar

Take example from the search term, “live shows” which Google Instant auto fills with “live shows in philadelphia.” The most prominent link on the SERP is occupied by an ad from Then, the top organic results are authoritative sites, such as (page rank 8 )  and (page rank 4).


There is an incredible amount of space dedicated to Google Places and Maps — both of which are free and take little effort to submit to. Maps even overlays the ads in the right sidebar. If you were a club promoter, spending a year optimizing for live shows in Philadelphia could be equivalent to 10 minutes submitting your site to Google Places and Maps.

Information Products

What if you don’t have an actual location? What if you are a blog that talks about social media tips? If we type “social media tips” into a Google, there are news results that comprise roughly a third of the page above the fold. Updating your blog with the keywords social media tips could help you land in the news section and cyphen-off some of the 1,300 monthly searches.


Products / E-Commerce

How long would you have to optimize the search term, “hand soap” to land on the home page? That would mean you’d have to have a more attractive hand soap site than Colgate, Amazon and other top brands. However, Google lends a lot of real estate to product listings in its product search. Although the link will not direct visitors directly to your homepage, it can give your brand visibility amongst others in the product space.


The above tips are great ways to inexpensively get some real estate on the first page of Google for highly competitive search terms. And although Places and Maps doesn’t link directly to your site, it can still be a valuable funnel to direct users to your site. Have other tricks and tips to leveraging search engine products? Share them in the comment section.

Consumer Stats in Digital Shopping

The internet and mobile devices have undoubtedly changed the how consumers learn about new products and inform buying decisions. Mobile devices, in particular, are merging the in-store shopping experience with the digital world through internet connectivity, coupon apps, social networking sites and numerous other ways being cooked-up in entrepreneur tech labs. Here are several valuable stats on how consumers are merging the two, based on recent eMarketer reports:

STAT:  45% of consumers bought grocery or personal care products in-store after researching on the internet.
Takeaway: Consumers are becoming product experts before entering the store. Reviews are becoming more and more critical as consumers use them to influence their buying decision. Set up Google Alerts to see where your brand is mentioned and bookmark those pages to measure the ongoing consumer sentiment.

STAT:  31% of consumers purchased a grocery or personal care product after using their mobile phone.
Takeaway: Mobile phones are becoming resources for real time, in-store research. Users are increasingly accessing information on their mobile device, and consumers are doing so as they make their buying decision. Therefore, optimizing your website for mobile browsers is going to play a significant role in how consumers interact with your brand as they make their purchasing decision.

STAT:  Social networks, SMS and other consumer content producing platforms are giving customers a larger microphone to share their opinions than ever before. 11% of those blogged about the purchase experience, posted a comment about the purchase on a social networking site and 11% posted a review online, respectively.
Takeaway: As more and more consumers become content producers, the brand experience will become more essential. Is customer service a pleasant experience for everyone? If not, how can you it better? These are the types of questions that are becoming increasingly important as consumers use their mobile devices to explain the world around them.

STAT:  39% of those surveyed engaged in social network conversation about potential purchases.
Takeaway: Social networks are becoming a go-to place to learn more about brands from friends. Digital media and social networks are much easier to track than offline conversations. Brands can use data scrapping techniques to listen and learn what consumers in the buying cycle are saying about their brands on social networks, blogs and other digital platforms and potentially intervene with special offers to incentivize consumers to make the purchase.

STAT:  78% of consumers would purchase items off of their shopping lists because it was a special promotion.
Takeaway: Consumers are still deal hunters and digital devices can offer in-store savings.  Brands should look to digital discount services, such as Groupon or mobile apps like Coupon Sherpa, inoDeals, Coupon Clipper and Yowza to promote their brands for frugal shoppers looking for a reason to splurge.

Image by John Manly from Stock.Xchng

Branding in a Keyword-Driven World

Google has so indoctrinated keywords into webmasters, sometimes branding can be put on the back burner. However, Google’s keyword-centric view of the world could be changing.

Google is always optimizing its algorithm to eliminate spam and relying on signals of trust more and more to determine organic rankings. So what are strong indicators of trust on the web? Enter: brands. Consumers build a — sometimes lifelong — relationship with brands and brands can be relied upon as credible web resources. In general, brands are less likely to:

  • House spam
  • Malware / spyware
  • Develop manipulative sites

However, not everyone has the national brand recognition of Macy’s or Walmart. SEOMoz hosted a great webinar (see here for PRO members) that outlined why brands are signals of trust and how smaller companies can build their brand for search engines. Here are several key brand signals to build credibility with Google:

  • e-Commerce — Amazon, Macy’s and other major retailers have signed up for Google’s shopping platform, called Google Base. If you have an e-commerce site, Google Base is a great way to demonstrate brand legitimacy.
  • Industry conferences — traditional brands might attend or sponsor industry conferences, the sites of which could point to your company site.
  • Traditional advertising mediums — offline advertising can build brand awareness, which encourages more users to search for your brand name
  • Industry partners — affiliating your brand with industry partners demonstrates your legitimacy within that industry
  • Registered businesses (one important note here, is Google references business government registries, so appearing on the list could help legitimize your site) — all businesses must be registered with the government.
  • Unique site design — a lot of spam sites have template that is replicated numerous times
  • Location — not all businesses have a unique location, but is worth registering your business on Google
  • Profiles — adding your brand to Manta, LinkedIn, Crunchbase and other social and business sites passes trust onto your brand

This is not to say you should neglect keywords in lieu of branding. In fact, both can work hand-in-hand. Google and other search engines associate keywords in close proximity of a brand name, with that brand. Therefore, if “Sparxoo, a digital marketing and branding agency” showed up for nearly every mention of Sparxoo, Google would associate “digital marketing” and “branding agency” with Sparxoo. In this way, branding and keyword optimization can work hand-in-hand.

A big thanks to SEOMoz for their excellent presentation on branding in the digital age. We’d encourage you to check out their site and become a PRO member to get SEO insights.

Brands and Social Networks Dominate Google Trends

We performed an analysis of Google web trends via Search Insights to see where the greatest growth existed for each year beginning with 2004 and all time. Then we zeroed in on those categories with the greatest uptick within a given year.

So how did we do it?

As each search category has a vastly differing search volume that has drastic ups and downs, it’s not the best measurement to determine trends. Therefore, measuring the difference between the beginning and end of a linear trend line will show you how steep the line is, or the size of the uptick of that given date range. When we applied this thinking to all of the 27 different categories in Google Search Insights, here are the results we found:

All Time

Social media is the top story for all Google searches

It’s no surprise Social Networking had the largest uptick, followed by the Internet and Food & Drink. The degree to which Social Networking surpassed its competing categories is shocking. The linear trendline slope of Social Networking is over 13x that of the number two slot, Internet. Social Networking only started to register on Google’s radar in December of 2004, and search volume blipped randomly until mid-2006, when it took off like a rocket.


Relative to the total number of searches on Google, the Social Networking category went from 17 percent in late 2005 to 42 percent at the same time the next year. Late 2007, it broke 75 percent; 200 percent in late 2008, 450 percent in late 2009; and 700 percent in 2010. The rise of social media is not surprising, or that Facebook is leading the charge, it’s the rate at which social media is surpassing other categories is astonishing.


Brands are the big drivers

When we looked at the trendline slope of all categories for each year, shopping was a big contender. Shopping had the steepest slope for 2008, 2009, 2010. This isn’t so shocking when we consider the rise in online shopping during the holiday season. What is interesting is which sub categories get the most attention. Mass Merchants & Departments stores category has the steepest slope followed by shopping portals / search engines and coupons / rebates.

shopping-sub-cat-trends (Dates: 1/2010-4/2011)

These findings build a case for the importance of branding for major retailers and their impact on search. Walmart took the number one spot, followed by Target, Sears, Costco, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Macy’s. Also, according to an SEOMoz webinar, brands are a way for search engines to sift through the hundreds of thousands of spam sites. They lend credibility to your site, therefore, being seen more authoritatively from search engines.

What does this mean?

We can draw a correlation between social media and branding. If the two categories are top-of-mind for US internet users, combining them is ever-more attractive for companies to do business on and offline.

Blue Is the New Green for Brands

Once considered the ecological movement in the 1960s and 70s, the concept of consumer environmentalism evolved into the green movement in the 2000s. The impact of the green movement had a profound effect on consumerism, with organic, eco-friendly, locally sourced, permeating the consumer lexicon. Now, is the time for the next evolution of the green movement: blue.

No, color-coded cause movements are not as asinine as GW’s terror alert scheme. The blue movement broadens the scope of the green movement.  It is about human awareness, including world peace, human rights, social and economic justice and a sustainable lifestyle, according to the movement’s website, In essence, people are the focus of the blue movement.

Much like the green movement around 2005, the blue movement focuses on accessible consumerism. We’ve heard of the saying, you vote with your dollar. Well, the blue movement, like the green movement,  takes this concept to heart with its three Ps: price (everyone should have access to sustainable goods), purpose (why we need the product) and process (how did the product come to be).

Ahead-of-the-curve brands are pushing the concept forward, with BMW calling their “green” engine Blue Tec and VW following in kind with its Blue Motion engine. And the creative advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, has also picked up on the concept with its endorsement of Adam Webach’s, Birth of Blue:

Hints of the blue concept have percolated to the cultural surface in the past, with blue as the color of the United Nations flag, and the European Union and words like the blue marble and the pale blue dot to describe the planet. The color is emblematic for the entirety of our existence on earth. Now the concept of blue being all-encompassing is beginning to sprout some legs and cutting-edge brands are moving it forward.

The blue movement is still in its infancy, much like the green movement in the early 2000s. With cutting edge brands like BMW and VW seriously pursuing the concept, we should expect blue to begin penetrating the consumer lexicon, much like organic, locally-sourced and eco-friendly several years ago. And unlike the Al Gore doomsday message of the green movement, the blue movement is driven by optimism and hope for humanity and the world we live in. “I’m done with convincing people that the world is going to end,” writes the blue movement activist, Adam Werbach. “This is how the world is going to begin again.”

Consumer Targeting for Location-Based Services

The location-based social network niche is one of the hottest new markets, with its most recent member, Facebook. There is a lot of buzz about how geo-networks could be the next frontier for marketers seeking hyper-targeted advertising and user-engagement.

Sparxoo has explored location-based trends and charities leveraging location to engage new audiences, but even with all of the buzz surrounding this emerging cottage market, are marketers targeting the right audience?

According to a recent Microsoft survey conducted by Cross-Tab Marketing Services, it’s not surprising young, Gen Yers make up the largest audience segment for geo-based social networks.

While users in the 25-34 segment are more aware of location-based social networks, the 18-24 cohort are more likely to use such services. Gen X is less aware, familiar and less likely to use location social networks than their Gen Y counterparts but more than Boomers.

Of those in the 18-24 segment, males are more aware, familiar and use location networks than females, which puts the largest target demographic of social networks Gen Y males.

That in mind, big brands on FourSquare whose target demographic aligns with the entire location-based social network market are Thrillist, Bravo, People, Mashable and MTV. It’s odd then, to have the Wall Street Journal and History Channel on FourSquare.

If your brand demographic is Gen Yers, particularly males, location-based services could be a new avenue to engage with new audiences. Regardless of your verticle, whether it’s publishing, food, or even a city guide, sites, FourSquare offers ways to attract and connect with young, tech-savvy audiences.

For instance, Thrillist, the men’s lifestyle newsletter, sends nearby recommendations to followers that check into places in metropolitan areas. A more close-to-home example is my local drinking hole, McGillins. Its target demographic is Gen Yers / young Gen Xers that appreciate fine beer. To attract new customers, McGillins gives a drink coupon to FourSquare users that “check in.”

Although it’s no surprise the predominant audience on location-based social networks is young males and females, it’s a reality check for marketers and small business owners quick to jump on the band wagon.

It’s challenging not to get caught-up in the buzz surrounding this new social media market, but as an effective marketer, knowing your target demographic and psychographic is paramount to building new audience share.

Top 5 Free Eco-Friendly Buying Guides

According to the 2009 GMA / Deloitte Green Shopper Study, 95 percent of consumers would purchase more sustainable products and 54 percent consider sustainability to be one of their decision making factors.

As the demand and number of green products on the market grows, there is an increased need to sort through products and services to determine the greatest value. Here are five free resources that can help you incorporate more green in your life:

There are over 7,000 green / sustainable-certified hotels in the world and sorting through all of them can be a daunting task. Green Hotel Finder helps eco-minded consumers find green hotels in their vacation destination and filter out the “greenwashers” (i.e. those that tout their eco-status without the credentials to back it up).

Green Products
The number of green products flooding the market can be overwhelming for consumers to wade through. The Good Guide site and app enables users to browse over 75,000 green products and the Good Guide rating system helps users learn how green products actually are. We’d encourage you to download their app, which uses the smartphone’s camera to scan product barcodes.

Let’s face the facts: we live in a throw-away society that doesn’t think twice about trashing old gadgets in lieu of the next greatest thing. Enviro Gadget’s aim is to introduce tech consumers to energy efficient, eco-friendly gadgets to off-set the mounting techno waste.

Green Autos
Started in 2006, Green Car Guide discusses “cars that are best in class in terms of emissions, fuel economy and efficiency, but that are also great to drive.” Although the site focuses on the UK, there are helpful tips for any driver interested in making their commute more green.

Green Lifestyle
What is the best way to recycle electronics? How can commuting be green? These are just a few questions Yahoo! Green answers on its site. Yahoo! has pooled resources from around the web to help anyone live a greener lifestyle.