The Economist campaign is sheer (and highly effective) simplicity.
I admire simplicity. I appreciate simplicity. I preach simplicity. (I also preach about using your brand communications to tell your prospective customers what they’ll get from your company, NOT how great your company is; and about “owning” a color. Both are also applicable here.)
So what’s a great example of simplicity in branding? The Economist. (That’s the British weekly business magazine with significant circulation in the U.S.) For years, The Economist’s recipe for advertising has been simple and straightforward. Just about every ad – which is, more often than not, an outdoor billboard – consists of three key ingredients:
- The color red (which is the color of the publication’s and website’s masthead)
- Clever, pithy writing
- The Economist logo
The campaign is considered by many – including the owners of the publication, who appreciate the increase in circulation the campaign has helped generate – to be one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever.
In his book, “Well-Written and Red. The Story of The Economist Poster Campaign,” author Alfredo Marcantonio includes dozens of ad reproductions as well as background about how the campaign came to be. (What Americans call “outdoor” or “billboards,” the British call “posters.”)
Rational strategy=emotional response.
Research showed that The Economist readership included academics, politicians, civil servants and students, but it was the business community that was the most important segment of the publication’s readership because it helped the publication attract important advertising revenue. According to the research, the business audience “didn’t feel they had the time to read long-copy ads.” For all audiences, the emotional reason to read The Economist was because “it bestowed a cachet and a sense of knowing.”
So from the beginning, the campaign strategy was: “The Economist gives you the edge in business.” Virtually every ad in the campaign suggested that edge. Here are some headlines:
- “It’s lonely at the top, but at least there’s something to read.”
- “Even captains of industry need help with their navigation.”
- “The meek shall inherit the earth. (But not the mineral rights.)”
This ad was placed on the top of a London city bus:
- “Hello to all our readers in high office.”
And a slightly risqué headline:
- “The most stimulating magazine isn’t always on the top shelf.”
Many advertisers use their corporate colors, but no campaign used a single color so generously. The Economist’s use of large doses of red made each ad instantly recognizable, so much so that The Economist logo could be omitted from an ad and they’d still get credit for it.
So to recap:
- Keep it simple.
- “Own” a color.
- Speak in a way that tells prospective customers how they’ll benefit from your product or service.
Those are three things every automotive OEM supplier brand can and should do.