March 29, 2023

Advertising: Returning to Industry’s Roots With Lessons in Branding

The class was held at the offices of the CreativeFeed marketing agency. About half the students were CreativeFeed employees while the rest were entrepreneurs more experienced in technology than in old-fashioned brand-building.

Mr. Berger, 62, retired from Euro last year after 25 years at the company, and has turned his attention to training the next wave of advertising and marketing employees.

The challenge is that with more agencies focusing on digital media, their employees need to come up with sophisticated algorithms and data analytics platforms to better tailor messages to consumers. Many agencies have reported difficulties in finding qualified employees to fill jobs that are technical in nature, but still creative. Old-fashioned branding may seem quaint, but Mr. Berger thinks it should not be ignored.

“I think that old school or new school, the most important school is understanding the power of a brand,” he said. “As technology and as media has become more fragmented, the importance of building a powerful brand has become more important. You only have a few places where you need to speak about what your brand is and you need to control that.”


In his class, Mr. Berger presented his students with a series of questions including identifying the major elements of a brand and whether a company can build a brand without advertising. He presented case studies on Volvo, Apple, Google and the entertainer Jay-Z, dissecting each brand’s elements, like the products sold, the brand’s values, and tone of voice.

“Half the class were entrepreneurs who started their own business,” Mr. Berger said. “Quite frankly, they have never had that kind of training. They come in, they hear about those pieces of technology, how you can reach this customer, and the most foundational part of it is never taught in school.”

Carlos Solorio, an entrepreneur in the class, is the co-founder of Arden Reed, a company that makes custom men’s wear, like suits. Mr. Solorio and his partner used Kickstarter to raise money for an e-commerce site and are also part of a start-up incubator program in Chile. Before entering the fashion business, Mr. Solorio was an investment banker specializing in Latin American mergers and acquisitions. He said he took Mr. Berger’s class to shift the current pitch for the Arden Reed brand from being solely about the fit of the garment.

“The customers I’ve spoken to sometimes mention the fit, but almost every time it comes down to the compliments they receive or what their wife thinks of them,” Mr. Solorio said in an e-mail. “It’s not that if fits, but that they feel more confident in a custom suit.” He hoped Mr. Berger’s class would help his company “key in on that emotion that someone purchasing Arden Reed wants to achieve and provide a consistent message around that.”


Mr. Berger presented Apple’s history of television advertising including the “Think Different” campaign, which showed visionaries like Gandhi, Maria Callas and Jim Henson, and more recent campaigns that featured silhouetted figures dancing against colorful backgrounds while donning the white earbuds and devices synonymous with Apple products. “Apple has clearly said, ‘Here’s who we are and here’s what we stand for,’ ” Mr. Berger said.

While Apple’s products include computers, music devices and phones, the values of the Apple brand are not those products; they are design, innovation and functionality, Mr. Berger said. The tone of voice for the brand is cool, modern and enjoyable, he said.

Some students questioned the Apple brand, especially in light of the criticism the company has received over its labor practices in China and its closed-source operating system. One student even called the brand “arrogant.” Mr. Berger acknowledged the criticism but said that despite it all, the power of the Apple brand is undeniable. “The marketplace has spoken,” Mr. Berger said, “and they are the most valuable brand in the world.”

While Apple may have a strong brand message, the company still must get its product off the shelves and into the hands of consumers. Jay-Z, on the other hand, is an example of one of the newest forms of branding, the personal brand. “The human brand is the biggest evolution,” Mr. Berger said.

Jay-Z may have attached his name to music, clothes and big business deals like his stake in the Brooklyn Nets and the associated Barclays Center, but the reason he has been such a success is because of who the singer is. “The street cred that he comes from and doesn’t waver from, it’s probably been foundational to the brand he’s become, “ Mr. Berger said. “He’s a business and he totally understands that.”

Mr. Berger’s second class was postponed because of Hurricane Sandy, which gives students a few more days to work on their homework assignment: taking the tools they learned about brand building and applying them to a brand, even if that brand is themselves.

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