The Marvelous Middle: Meet the Spider in the Web of Brand Building


Tom Sussman, Head of Strategy at Leo Burnett in London, said something pretty cool in a podcast recently. He described an ad as ‘an emotional, free sample of what it feels like to have the product’. Cool right?

He was referring to the McDonald’s hit he helped cook up, ‘Raise your Arches’. The ad uses raising eyebrows as a signal to think ‘sod it, let’s grab a burger’. I for one am very familiar with that emotion and so it seems, I am not alone.

Advertising that is less brand and more product does just that, just in a vastly different way.

Where ‘Raise your Arches’ shows human behaviour consumers can mirror, carefully honed images can provoke a very similar effect. Showing crispy chicken, oozing sauces and gooey cheese on screen simply gets people going. By depicting glistening beef patties and sizzling bacon, our reptile brain adds the umami smell to the experience and awakens the starving scavenger within.

Humans are not smart enough to distinguish a picture of food from real food — our brain reacts the same. The resemblance to what Tom is saying is complete: product-focussed ads are definitely ‘an emotional, free sample of what it feels like to have the product’. Because God knows sinking your teeth in a double-double smash with extra special sauce on a grilled brioche bun is an emotional experience.

Top of funnel

TOFU brand work tells big, emotional stories. It informs us what the brand is made of and what its purpose on earth is. It speaks to large groups of people, starting with all potential category users. And, as Sir John Hegarty put it so eloquently: ‘Brands are built by the people who buy it, and by the people who know it.’ Your audience extends to people who may never buy it. Top of funnel is where stages and award shows lure and where creatives battle to achieve rock star status on La Croisette in Cannes.

Bottom of funnel

The performance work in the Bottom populates our social channels, our stores’ isles and the in-restaurant screens. Deliverables are multi-format, multi-duration, multi-needstate, multi-everything and often packed with buttons, panels and offers. The BOFU has propelled ‘digital first’ agencies to sheer stardom, where armies of brilliant tech-heroes collaborate to magnetically draw your finger to a dynamic banner and your hand towards the packaging.

Middle of funnel

After a playful little tumble from the top, down into the funnel (or, if you’re 40, customer journey, or, if you’re 30, brand experience), we plunge into the Marvellous Middle. It used to be called the Messy Middle – because it’s not as glamorous as the top, or as performance driven as the bottom – so marketeers wouldn’t know what to really do in the middle. I baptised it the Marvellous Middle. This is where consumers learn how they can benefit. What’s in it for them? Sure, we need the brand context, but in this part of the funnel, you’ll find the hardest working content. Product focussed work that informs, creates preference, convinces and, if the right captain is at the helm, ignites brand building by using distinctive brand assets and codes. 

The force of mid-funnel content cannot be underestimated: its frequent projection onto consumers’ retinas is crucial to effective brand building.

Like anywhere, life here has pros and cons. In the middle, there are not many awards to be won and it may not deliver the juicy celebrity stories brand work sometimes does. There is no social construct needed to make someone drool. No arena, no tension, no problem to solve — other than maybe a craving.

The Marvelous Middle also doesn’t deliver the hard conversion numbers boardrooms love. But it is the vital component that binds the chain together, providing strength and coherence to the whole. It’s the great connector. It’s the spider in the web of brand building.

In food and drinks, it is underestimated, undervalued and underdeveloped. Believe it or not, there are armies of agency creatives, strategists and even brand people being, how shall I put this, a bit snooty about our beloved middle. Product demos, food shots and ‘bite & smile’ shots are tactical afterthoughts. As a result, we often receive creative ‘ideas’ that are little more than screen grabs from previous or competitor’s ads and a VO firing off ingredient names with select adjectives. Top of funnel gets all the love of strategic thinking. But, food depiction is a strategic choice that flourishes in the middle. 

By codifying how food products look we make the product itself a distinctive brand asset, enabling brands to harvest the power of frequent consumer exposure and consistency.

It puts the flywheel of Uncle Les’ law of bothism to work. The Marvellous Middle is the spider in the web. It’s the blazing heart of brand building, the radiant nucleus of creativity. Hearing this, huge, global food and drinks brand leaders often raise their eyebrows, for very different reasons than a ‘screw it’ or a polite ‘sod it’.

Cover image source: New Africa


Source link

Leave a Comment