When Brands Miss By A Quotation Mark


In this version of the famous commercial, Lowenbrau buddies go fishing. Then they eat steak

Do you ever find yourself painfully aware that a brand has had you in its sights, fired, and missed?

I remember, back in the late 1970’s, Lowenbrau beer ran a campaign featuring groups of young adult friends. They were usually gathering at someone’s house for a small party. Laughing, drinking, hanging out. Which was just what my friends and I did. Or wished we did, even if we didn’t. But then came the jingle. “Here’s to good friends, tonight is kind of special. Let it be Lowenbrau.” Right there we said to ourselves, “That’s it, we have no interest in living a beer commercial. No Lowenbrau at our party unless we’re in the mood for irony. No Lownbrau, even if it is just me and my neighbor watching Saturday Night Live.”

Lownenbrau lost us, the overly-educated, partying, friend-having baby boomers, by making us self-conscious about who we were. Many people loved the campaign, but they lost my particular crew.

It’s even harder to market to High WASPs. I pity the brands who try to talk to us. Because the harder they try, the worse it gets.

The most recent example?

I had been looking for brogues online, and found these, by n.d.c.
I liked the shoes very much, even if not, on the face of it, $540 worth of liking. But I hated the branding. I might not be alone in this. Maybe you agree. Maybe not. From their website.

The brand name n.d.c. – nom de code/code name – reflects our conviction that the strength of our brand is the product itself. There are 4 key factors in every n.d.c. collection – simplicity, quality, originality and constructional know-how. Artisan hand-crafted with leather carefully selected from Europe’s best tanneries, n.d.c. products are “works of art.”

Doesn’t it sound like they are targeting the kind of people John Houseman and Sam Waterman pull in with, “They make money the old-fashioned way. They earn it?” High WASP incarnate. But no.

If the strength of your brand is the product itself – a perfectly fine goal – why on earth do you make up terms like, “constructional know-how?” And worse, really, so bad I can’t bear it, why do you call your shoes “works of art,” in quotation marks? Quotation marks mean, in this context, “I’m not serious.” They mean, “I’m holding my two hands up, waggling fore and middle fingers of each hand, and raising my eyebrows up into my hairline.” They mean, “I don’t think so.”

I know. We’re picky. But if you find us, we will stick around. We’ll tell everyone your brand is “different.” Those are the good quotation marks that imply, not the dross commonly available. And, despite fading family fortunes, we can still locate a little disposable income here and there. But we’re not going to liquidate capital for “works of art”. Please go back to the drawing board. Because I also like your boots.


And your Plims. Which is a good thing to call sneakers if you want to talk to High WASPs. Refers to the British term, “plimsoles.” We like the British. Just indirect enough. In this case, the quotation marks are not ironic in the slightest. $220, in gray leather.



Note: Tish also likes their shoes, by the way. Particularly these sandal/ballerinas.

Images:
Brogues via net-a-porter
Boots via n.d.c. website
Plimsoles via ShopStyle and Diani Boutique

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31 Comments

  • 08/10/10
    6:16 am

    Reply

    Kait said...

    Many times, these marketing campaigns are written by a designer or company owner. A professional writer is perceived as too expensive and unnecessary anyway, as "we understand the brand's magic better than anyone else could."

    The About section of ndcmadebyhand.com is rife with typos; "4 key factors" (not four), "it's reputation" punctuation outside (not inside) quotes. Seems obvious is was written by its two owners. Looks like a lot of money went into web design, but not a cent into copywriting. A shame.

  • 08/10/10
    6:39 am

    Reply

    SewingLibrarian said...

    Reading this ad I thought of the Frasier episode where Nils bought Italian shoes that were handmade and "they ring the village church bell every time they finish a pair" or some such nonsense. Thanks for the chuckle.

  • 08/10/10
    6:47 am

    Reply

    materfamilias said...

    Although my husband finally had to carry an AmEx card for work (for corporate expenses, issued through an arrangement with the employer), we would never have an American Express card because of their appeal to a desire for status. While I can't remember any exact wording, they made the appeal quite blatant, offensive to our 70's idealism. As you say, a misworded ad or two, a crudely aimed campaign, resulted in a lifetime choice in other directions.
    But those brogues are great — could you consider plugging your nose and swallowing? ;-)

  • 08/10/10
    7:13 am

    Reply

    Belle de Ville said...

    I kind of love the boots, but $220 for the plims is ridiculous.
    Branding is serious business and n.d.c. is seeking to appeal to the aspirational buyer. Unfortunately, that client tends not to be loyal. They like to move on to the next new thing.

  • 08/10/10
    8:02 am

    Reply

    Charlotte said...

    I generally resent being marketed to, period. Be it done well, done poorly, done with a ticker tape parade, I can't stand it. I know it's a necessary evil, but I think it takes away from the experience of finding a brand that you love and feeling that it is special or even a little bit of a secret. It makes it less genuinely yours and more something that you've been tricked into, if that makes any sense. You're not a patron or a consumer as much as you are a mark. With that said, I might make an exception for those grey tennis shoes.

  • 08/10/10
    8:16 am

    Reply

    VA Gal said...

    The shoes do look nice, but I hate seeing ad copy and being able to sense the various ways in which the company is trying to manipulate me. Most High WASPs and preps I know are confident enough to wear what they like and don't really care what a company may be trying to market.

  • 08/10/10
    8:32 am

    Reply

    Barbara said...

    Regarding your quest for brogues-whilst reading another blog they linked to MODCLOTH.com to Shoe-Bee-Doo Flats @114.99 they
    are in the style of brogues in kind of luggage leather by Jeffrey Caplan. Apparently they are out of stock on this. Are they in the sturdy style as the one above, no a bit more texture. BarbaraG
    Just a thought.

  • 08/10/10
    9:04 am

    Reply

    TC said...

    Being as I'm in the downside of the family fortune that was pretty well make believe anyway I'm more in the $50 tenny runners on sale category…I do like those boots though…and I get where you are coming from on the advertising ….boy did that sound 70's?

  • 08/10/10
    9:13 am

    Reply

    Jan said...

    Hmmmm. Must be the Low WASP in me coming out, because those brogues? Look like they belong on a leprechaun.

    The boots – they are better.

  • 08/10/10
    9:23 am

    Reply

    Staircase Witch said...

    Ugh. I'm with Charlotte. This is pretty much what Paul Fussell calls BAD advertising. Textbook.

    The boots are sexy, but my Frys will likely never wear out.

    This explains why my favorite catalog is the Camp-Mor circular. ;)

    Aw, shoot, I'm headed to Chicago on Thursday to look at the Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the Art Institute between trains. This just reminded me that for once I have to look halfway like I didn't just roll off the turnip truck.

  • 08/10/10
    10:26 am

    Reply

    Author said...

    Well, yes – they seem a bit pricey for what they are – particularly for something which doesn't scream high fashion. However, they are going for the 'bespoke' message, which I actually like, as long as the items are made in limited production in a country that pays more than $1 a day to its craftsmen. And the word 'craftsmen' is the operative word here… clothing (and great shoes) can be art… as long as it's designed and executed well. For that, I am willing to pay more. No point in continually replacing things every six months. You do spend more in the end.

  • 08/10/10
    12:14 pm

    Reply

    Miss Cavendish said...

    Your post reminded me of the opposite as well: when a brand is marketed too well.

    Did you see the Mad Men episode when Betty buys Heineken for her "around-the-world" dinner party, only to be mortified when she realizes that Don & Co., her dinner guests, had been targeting women "just like her" with their in-store beer display?

    She felt manipulated, conned.

  • 08/10/10
    12:16 pm

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Kait – Thank you for the fascinating information. That was true in spades in high tech marketing. The founder always feels their beloved baby is something never seen before. Leading to purple prose that obscures what the product actually does. I didn't realize the same thing would happen in consumer marketing.

    Sewing – Ha! I remember that episode now.

    Mater – Interesting, Amex marketed to college students here. Got mine before I even knew what it was:).

    Belle – They're leather plims:). Make a difference?

    Charlotte – I think n.d.c is trying to target exactly you. Finding a brand you love that's a little bit secret. Which makes it particularly interesting to me that they failed.

  • 08/10/10
    12:20 pm

    Reply

    LPC said...

    VA Gal – Exactly. I don't mind being put under a spell, but don't make me feel manipulated.

    Barbara – Hmm. I will take a look. So far, despite the branding issues with Mr. Madden, I've been pretty happy with his brogues.

    TC – Tenny runners on sale is the ultimate brandless marketing. At its best.

    Jan – Ha! There's always room for personal taste.

    Staircase Witch – Paul Fussell again….and I love Cartier-Bresson. Actually almost all early photography. Talk about authentic.

  • 08/10/10
    12:21 pm

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Author – I like the bespoke message too. Very appealing. That's why I hated the stupid quotation marks. Wrecked a good thing they had going.

    Miss Cavendish – Yes, that episode was dead on. And in that case it was a personal betrayal too.

  • 08/10/10
    12:30 pm

    Reply

    hostess of the humble bungalow said...

    I am wondering if all these brands are just getting a bit too full of themselves…the prices are climbing through the roof.
    I am feeling like holding onto more of my hard earned money…
    I might be the only one!

  • 08/10/10
    1:10 pm

    Reply

    Staircase Witch said...

    LPC, yes, Paul Fussell is one of my heroes, though mainly for his work on the Great War and his own war experiences–but his later cultural commentary is hilarious and still dead on to a certain extent.

    Dear Hostess, believe me, you are not the only one! I frequently have an impulse to hug my purse to my chest when I see things like a $220 pair of sneakers!

  • 08/10/10
    2:20 pm

    Reply

    Susan Tiner said...

    The "aspirational buyer" quote from Belle de Ville says it all. If the marketer makes me feel the product is for a person with aspirations (to what exactly?) it's a complete turn off.

  • 08/10/10
    3:54 pm

    Reply

    RoseAG said...

    I agree that the copy was probably not written by a good writer. Even I have become much more judicious in my use of quotation marks.

    I was defending a local skate park on a blog earlier today and put "bad kids" in quotes when referring to my son and his pals and their skate park behaviors.

    Since I in no way consider him a bad kid, at least not currently, I'm happy that my use of quotes appears to have been appropriate.

  • 08/10/10
    4:34 pm

    Reply

    QueenBeeSwain said...

    hipster brogues…!

    xoox

    kHm

  • 08/10/10
    4:38 pm

    Reply

    the Preppy Princess said...

    It sounds like they completely ruined what would have been a great thing…dolts. And it is always refreshing to be in the company of those who know what plimsoles are!

    Smiles Miss LPC, as this one was splendid reading on a Tuesday night!
    tp

  • 08/10/10
    7:50 pm

    Reply

    Karena said...

    Fabulous post because I love to follow marketing and it is a companies lifeblood; they cannot depend on reputation alone.

    It seems high wasp or not, in todays ecomony we love to get the best for less!

    A New Giveaway is on my site!
    xoxo

    Karena
    Art by Karena

  • 08/10/10
    8:44 pm

    Reply

    Ameriscott said...

    Ugh, they are definitely going for the "bespoke" (quotation marks) in that ad copy, but it just feels a little desperate. I don't want someone begging me with prose, or any other form of media for that matter….

  • 08/11/10
    5:04 am

    Reply

    VogueOntheRange said...

    What a wonderful and insightful post! Somehow you have captured in the written word the essence of WASPism, which usually is better left unchronicled. You, however, have done this elegantly, succinctly, and tastefully. Write on! xoxox

  • 08/11/10
    6:39 am

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Hostess – There was an interesting article here, in the Telegraph, about how luxury brands are now eschewing logos. Post-financial crisis, of course. But they are still, in the end, luxury brands. And will always be so.

    Staircase – But my father was saying that Fussell had personal scandals?

    Susan – I know. Who wants to aspire? We all want to be what we are aspiring to.

    RoseAG – Yes, that was the right usage:).

    QBS – xox

  • 08/11/10
    6:51 am

    Reply

    LPC said...

    TPP – Dolts! Exactly!

    Karena – I will take a look at your giveaway of course.

    Ameriscott – I agree. If you want to pitch a, "we are all about the product, not the image," you can't permit even a whiff of desperation or neediness about your copy.

    Vogue – Well thank you so much!

  • 08/11/10
    7:34 am

    Reply

    DocP said...

    Where does copy that is a product in and of itself, such as the J Peterman catalog, fit in?

  • 08/11/10
    8:28 am

    Reply

    La Belette Rouge said...

    If I can feel that they are trying to sell me a lifestyle instead of a product I almost always bristle. There are exceptions. The Chevas Regal ad about gentlemen totally makes me swoon.

  • 08/18/10
    12:33 am

    Reply

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