Brand Theory

How to Beat Alabama OR What’s Your Brand’s Red Dress?

QV Brands What is Your Brand's Red Dress

When formulating your brand strategy and tactical plan, one single “trick play” trumps all the rest: be different/be remarkable in order to gain the attention of the marketplace.

I know I say this all the time, but reality is awfully persistent, and this strategy, when executed well, has remarkable consistency in accomplishing branding and revenue growth goals.

Be bold and prosper.


How to Beat Alabama OR What's Your Brand's Red Dress?

When formulating your brand strategy and tactical plan, one single “trick play” trumps all the rest: be different/be remarkable in order to gain the attention of the marketplace.

I know I say this all the time, but reality is awfully persistent, and this strategy, when executed well, has remarkable consistency in accomplishing branding and revenue growth goals.

Be bold and prosper.


The Miley Cyrus School of Twerking Your Brand

Twerking Your Brand QUO VADIS

Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs has set social media and news tongues wagging, but beyond the histrionics about her role in escalating the fall of our modern Rome, there are some branding lessons to be learned regarding her effective use of the distinctiveness heuristic (see our video on the art and science here). specifically, the way she’s activated an iconographic brand element. Note in the photo above how her face mirrors the design on her costume, and recall how, leading up to the VMAs she began using this expression, reinforced it throughout her performance, and continues to do so afterwards.

Quite sophisticated (and very effective) branding if you asked me—regardless of the questionable taste of her performance.

More of my thoughts about how to activate your own brand’s iconography, here in this video:

Be bold and prosper.


Rick Julian is an award winning Creative Director and Brand Strategist at his agency QUO VADIS, a branding agency in Atlanta, GA.

Dove Rant

Let’s make a deal Dove, advertising agencies will quit enhancing models when you quit:

1. Hiring them to groom your products’ brands in a way that’s a wee bit detached from the reality of their  benefit at a scientifically established physiological level.

2. Remove all colors and perfumes that mask the true look and smell of your product and its chemical constituents.

3. Featuring product photography that represents an idealized version of a pristine bar of soap vs. the dinged and dented bar that usually comes out of the box we purchase.

4. Using music in your videos that predisposes me to feel you’re warm and friendly, when in fact you’re a cubicle farm corporation populated by stressed, overworked, and often grumpy people like the rest of us.

5. Ironically hiring an agency to create a video about deceptive agency practices made by an agency who in the very act of making this video is practicing the deception of (subtextually) claiming it doesn’t practice such deception itself. (The mirror in a mirror effect of that fine sentence made me effin woozy.)

Look, i know we as a society run a head trip on women–we do it to men too, in ways that get far less attention.

As the father of a six-year old girl, I want her to grow up with a healthy body image, and exaggerated representations of beauty ideals isn’t helping. But honestly, this is what humans do and always have done since Neanderthals began dabbing colored mud on their faces.

And yes, i understand you’re just trying “to cultivate a conversation about our values”, but if we want to be truly consistent with this effort to “keep it real”, let’s ban all make-up, deodorant, perfume, mouthwash, Spanx, the slimming effects of black, contact lenses, push-up bras, whitening toothpastes . . . since they also mask the true reality of how women appear and smell.

But whatever we do, Dove, please stop perpetuating this farce that you’re above it all, when in fact all you’re really doing with this pseudo-moralizing is trying to sell us more damn soap.

Aside from these few quibbles, Ogilvy/Toronto, I really enjoyed your video.

Be bold and prosper.

-Rick Julian

Why "Farmer" Works

For me the Dodge Ram commercial, “Farmer”, walked away with the best spot of the Superbowl commercial competition. From its first frame through its last, it struck a chord that resonated with many viewers, and provides those of us in branding a number of good lessons. Here’s my deconstruction of what made it such effective work:

1. Intention
The poem was written by the late Paul Harvey for a speech he delivered to a Future Farmers of America convention in 1978. In it, he imagines farmers being God’s creation on the 8th day of the world–delivered to tend to all he had made.

There’s something nearly palatable about work that is inspired by noble intentions–it connects to parts of our humanity that lesser intentions fail to touch. In its sincerity, as a genuine expression of Mr. Harvey’s feelings for people, for their labor,  their sacrifice, and their commitment, he spoke to deep currents that course through our consciousness, and in doing so connected with us at a level that transcended our superficial consumer interests.

2. Simplicity
When cooking, if a chef has exquisite ingredients, the best advice is to let them sing–unburdened by unnecessary complexity and accoutrements. “Farmers” was arresting because of the artfully restrained preparation of its elements, and within the context of the multi-million dollar “all heat/no light” budgeted commercials that surrounded it, it achieved a distinctive presence during the evening.

By marrying Harvey’s sincerely delivered voice-over of his heartfelt poem with a collection of well-curated and beautifully shot still images, the commercial enabled the viewer to become absorbed with the words and photographs, and their slow and deliberate pacing provided excellent contrast to the flashy kinetic energy of the other spots that aired during the game.

3. Subtlety
Every viewer knows Superbowl commercials are very expensive, and the stakes for “winning” very high, with the winner being the brand whose name is most mentioned during and after the game. Toward that end, most commercials work very hard to overtly place their name and products so that their ownership of the commercial is clearly and memorably established.

In this light, the subtlety and naturalness of product placement of Dodge trucks, and the restrained use of brand name, only using it to punctuate the end of the spot, kept viewers fully invested in answering the question “whose commercial is this?” for its entire duration–a much more effective creative strategy than peppering the product and name with obvious placements throughout.

4. Courage

When’s the last time a national consumer brand used the word “God”  nine times in its voice-over in a national spot, never mind a spot on the biggest commercial stage of the year? I can’t think of a single one.

In its unabashed religiosity, it struck a (curiously) radical tone by fearlessly treading into what most brands would consider a minefield, and in doing so with such aplomb, further seared it into the audience’s consciousness.

For these and many other reasons, The Richards Group, who created it,  and Dodge, who had the wisdom to air it, prospered.
Because they were bold.

Branding Failure

By now most observers of the  con­sumer tech­nol­ogy scene have heard of the iPhone 5 launch. Con­sis­tent with most Apple launches, there was com­men­su­rate fan­fare, and long lines camped out­side of stores filled with fans will­ing to plop down the equiv­a­lent of sev­eral sub-Saharan African fam­i­lies’ annual income in exchange for brag­ging rights among their social cir­cle. Ah, the glory of the West­ern Empire in full bloom.

But what caught my eye wasn’t the expected stuff because, well, it was expected. Instead, it was the pie that landed on Apple’s face within hours of peo­ple hav­ing the new device in their for­merly iPhone 4s palsied hands. As seen in the images above, Apple’s replace­ment app for Google maps had a few prob­lems, and reports of it were cir­cu­lated across social media faster than a kit­ten jug­gling video.

This morn­ing, Apple’s CEO, Tim­o­thy Cook, released a let­ter of apol­ogy to Apple cus­tomers, and on the heels of my post yes­ter­day about how “real” brands behave, he per­son­i­fied one of the points I’d hoped to make: even in bad times, legit­i­mate brands know who they are, and that self-knowledge is appar­ent to customers–often bring­ing reas­sur­ance to their pur­chas­ing deci­sions, and shoring up brand defection.

Here’s what he said:

“At Apple, we strive to make world-class prod­ucts that deliver the best expe­ri­ence pos­si­ble to our cus­tomers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this com­mit­ment. We are extremely sorry for the frus­tra­tion this has caused our cus­tomers and we are doing every­thing we can to make Maps better.”


“Every­thing we do at Apple is aimed at mak­ing our prod­ucts the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep work­ing non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incred­i­bly high standard.”

In this state­ment, he effec­tively asserts one of the Apple brand’s core pil­lars: “we make world class prod­ucts that deliver the best expe­ri­ence pos­si­ble to our cus­tomers”.  Because Apple has so effec­tively banked brand equity based on this propo­si­tion dur­ing their best times, they’re able to draw against it now in a moment of fail­ure. Tak­ing own­er­ship of the fail­ure, and promis­ing to address it in a way that restores the brand’s promise is a stand-up thing to do, and when they accom­plish it–and odds are they will–the brand’s recov­ery from this fall from grace will prob­a­bly add more brand equity to their cof­fers than it cost them.

But this is only pos­si­ble because their brand–that set of ratio­nal and emo­tional asso­ci­a­tions that lives in the hearts and minds of their customers–had estab­lished a pre­cisely artic­u­lated and deliv­ered  brand propo­si­tion that their cus­tomers had inter­nal­ized. Had a less reli­able brand made a sim­i­lar admis­sion of fail­ure, their cus­tomers may have replied, “doesn’t sur­prise me–it’s par for the course”, and a promise for restora­tion would have been met with a sim­i­larly dubi­ous attitude.

Ulti­mately, hav­ing a legit­i­mate brand that lives in your con­sumers’ hearts and minds is a line item on your bal­ance sheet. Invest accordingly.

The future belongs to the bold­est brands.

–Rick Julian