The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
This holds true for companies, too. Will Burns, a terrifically smart ad professional, writes for Forbes on branding. His focus, in a recent article is on whether clients are making a mistake when they kill ad ideas because they think any business in their category could “own” the same thing. Will states that Adidas or Reebok could have owned “Just Do It”, Nike’s brilliant position line. Microsoft could have “owned” the Think Different position, branding used successfully by Apple. Progressive could have owned the iconic “You’re in Good Hands”.
I agree with Will and have personally seen too many good ideas killed when a client doesn’t believe that they’re specific enough to their firm or product. Part of the problem is that it’s hard to appreciate the power of ideas like the brilliant “Just Do It”, before they’re rolled out in full-produced glory. It’s important to remember that using something over time creates ownership.
Initially, an idea may appear too simple or not new enough. A campaign developed by Leo Burnett in the 50’s for Philip Morris focused on “owning” cowboys for its Marlboro cigarettes. This rebranding came after the cigarette maker had spent decades working to sell Marlboro as a woman’s cigarette. Originally launched in 1924, Marlboro’s tagline was “Mild As May”, a nod to its filter. Could any other cigarette have owned the American West and cowboys? Yes, and Marlboro would have seemed the last one you’d have picked as the one destined to “own” cowboys.
When making branding decisions, it’s also important not to overlook the message that it sends inside the company. “Just Do It” delivers a direct message of what’s valued within Nike just as the “Think Different” message helped Apple’s employees know that innovation was part of the company’s DNA. There’s no surprise that it led from colored PC’s to new music devices called ipods – and a couple of years later to a whole new way to find and buy music, itunes. Would the revolutionary iphone, a product that’s less a phone than a handheld computer, been invented in a firm that didn’t “Think Different”?
Ownership only comes from the ongoing tenacity a company shows in using an idea time and time again. If you grab hold and invest in it, you’ll be the only one in the category to own it. Judge an idea on whether or not you want to own it, not whether or not another company can own it.