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How these advertising mistakes can kill your brand

By Magda Adamska / 1 February 2019 How these advertising mistakes can kill your brand

Our blog is almost solely about brand strategy. Even when we write about execution, we always attempt to understand the strategy behind it. This post is different as it focuses on implementation. A strong brand strategy is important but it means nothing if it’s not executed well.

Today we are sharing our experience regarding the biggest mistakes brands (and their agencies) make in their advertising. It is still surprising to see how many organizations spend enormous budgets on campaigns which do absolutely nothing for their respective brands.

1. Forgotten brand strategy

We often observe how brands both big and small fail to translate their brand strategies into communication. Knowing how they position themselves and then seeing the advertising ideas they choose never ceases to astound us.
Sometimes it is the fault of a badly-defined brand strategy, which might look reasonable on paper but is not applicable in practice.
More often, however, it occurs when a much stronger emphasis is placed on finding a creative advertising idea than on conveying the brand’s message. The step of analysing how a brand strategy can be implemented in the campaign is simply missing from the creative process.

Why does it happen?

Most often it’s nobody’s intention to ignore the brand. Translating brand strategy into communication strategy and then into a creative idea is not an easy task. It takes years of experience to be able to judge which concept contributes to building a brand’s equity and which does nothing.
What can also lead to this mistake is a focus on finding a strong communication platform, which might simply overshadow the brand strategy.

How can it be avoided?

Always start with your brand strategy, regardless of whether you are running a huge image campaign, a tactical sales promotion or writing a short description for your social media page. Use every opportunity to strengthen the brand in the hearts and minds of your consumers.
Al Ries and Jack Trout in their classic book Positioning wrote, “One of the great communication tragedies is to watch an organization go through a careful planning exercise, step by step, (…) and then turn the strategy over to the ‘creatives’ for execution. They, in turn, apply their skills and the strategy disappears in a cloud of technique, never to be recognized again.” And they are absolutely right, it is just that we should not solely blame creatives for this mistake. Ultimately it is the client’s responsibility.

2. Poor branding

If you want to avoid just one mistake from our list, pick this one. Running a campaign which is poorly branded causes your consumers to recall your ads but not your brand. This is probably the biggest blunder marketers and creatives can make, as it might lead to a situation where your campaign does more good for your competitors than for your own product.
Byron Sharp in his book How Brands Grow argues that distinctiveness (delivered through strong branding) is much more important than differentiation (delivered through unique positioning). He even said: “Rather than striving for meaningful, perceived differentiation, marketers should seek meaningless distinctiveness. Branding lasts, differentiation doesn’t.”

Why does it happen?

First of all, there are many brands which apart from their logo don’t possess any distinct brand assets so simply can’t use any.
Secondly, there are brands which have a broad range of such assets but choose not to apply any of them in their advertising. Again, we believe that the main reason for this is the pursuit of a high level of creativity. Strong branding is not treated as a springboard, but a hurdle.

How can it be avoided?

Ensure you have a wide array of branding assets, both mechanical – such as a logo, a distinct colour palette, a characteristic typeface, brand words (e.g., Disney’s ‘magic’), a tagline, a jingle, etc., and emotional – such as a unique tone of voice, a set of intended associations, etc.
Secondly, once you have these assets, apply them wherever you can. Too much branding is better than not enough.

3. Sophistication of advertising

Now and again, we see an ad which is not obvious and we need to watch it a few times to understand what the author was trying to say. We would talk about it with other brand and advertising professionals, trying to decode the strategy behind it. However, if you think that your target audience is doing the same, you’re in trouble. Your message needs to be so simple that a kid or an elderly person could understand it. Ries and Trout made a few spot-on observations in their book Positioning on that matter. For example, “Culture and refinement may be adorable qualities, but not in advertising”, or “When an idea is clever or complicated, however, we should be suspicious. It probably won’t work because it’s not simple enough.”

Why does it happen?

Both marketers and creatives often assume that consumers analyse advertising in the same way they do and therefore shouldn’t be served ‘obvious’ ads. This thinking is based on the belief that once consumers are intrigued by an ad or a brand they will search for more information about it elsewhere. Wrong.
People don’t care about your brand or your ad and don’t have the time or mental space to do any sort of analysis. That’s why your message needs to be as simple as possible, otherwise it will be lost.

How can it be avoided?

You can always test your ad on a sample of respondents. Don’t ask them whether they like an idea because it’s your job to judge it, but instead ask whether they understand what the ad is trying to say. If you choose to ignore the voice of your consumers, at the very least remember about point number two – make your ad so well-branded that even if people don’t understand what you are trying to say, at least it will build some positive associations in their minds.

4. Focusing on the new

People working in marketing and creative industries are obsessed with being innovative. They constantly try to reinvent their brand and say new things about it in new ways and using the trendiest media. The result? They do not build a strong brand but instead undermine its position by slowly killing its long-term brand equity, or spend too much money on excessive creative executions of the same idea and choose media which don’t deliver reach.

Why does it happen?

The main reason for this approach is again the assumption that consumers have a similar exposure to the brand as the marketers and creatives in charge of it. Also, when a marketer becomes bored with the brand’s message after a few years, he or she thinks that their consumer shares a similar sentiment. That’s why they start reinventing things.
Another reason is that no marketer or creative wants to be perceived as ‘stuck in the old ways’, contributing to their need to relentlessly innovate. Sadly, this is often without taking the bigger picture into account.

How can it be avoided?

If you feel that there is a slight chance that you might overestimate how many consumers actually have seen your latest ad or have remembered your brand’s message, perform regular brand research and check what people recall about your brand. It takes years of consistent communication in high-reach media to build a brand’s awareness and establish certain associations with it, and even longer to make people remember your message. That is the reason Nike hasn’t changed its tagline for more than 30 years and Coca-Cola has been promoting taste, refreshment and happiness in its campaigns for decades.

There are definitely more advertising mistakes than the four we have mentioned in this post. However, these seem to be the most popular ones. Most of these mistakes could be avoided if brands on a mission to be creative and innovative were looking for inspiration in their own brand strategy, not somewhat beside it. It’s so worth it.

If you need help with research or want to hire Magda for a brand project, email her at

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Magda Adamska is the founder of BrandStruck.

BrandStruck ithe only online database of brand strategy case studies.
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