March 22, 2008

Perfectly Awful

Perfectly awful? As the hero used to exclaim in the old comic-books when confronted by something that didn't make sense: "Uuh, what gives?"

Well, here's what gives: Some of the feedback to my previous post (Brand Me, I'm Irish) reminded me of a project we'd worked on some years ago when 'perfectly awful' was just what was required. As brand-owners, we often confuse personal taste with what's right for our brand. The two aren't necessarily the same.

On this particular project, we were working on a brand which drew on a certain Irish-American nostalgia for the 'old country'. When the time came to commission a christmas card for our client, we turned to a copywriter to pen a greeting. He got back to us with a sentimental verse which I found 'perfectly awful' - one which very definitely wasn't to my taste but was just right for our client. And, much more importantly, for our client's customers.

In this instance, my taste didn't matter. In fact, there was a real danger that it would get in the way. I'm not my client's customer and it would have been a huge mistake to play to my preferences. Toadying to the owner's personal taste has been the downfall in many a marketing campaign. Or to the fancies of their husband or wife. How I choose to decorate my home should have no bearing on how my client fits out their reception area. As my children will happily tell you, my taste in music is unlikely to appeal to an overwhelming proportion of our clients' customers.

Apparently, here in Dublin, one of the most cost-effective way to reach a certain audience is by advertising on the DART (one of our local rail systems). But very few companies choose to promote themselves in this way because precious few advertising executives travel in this way.

Some time ago, we had a client who confessed to a horror of red and directed that it be ruled out from the start in the design of their new visual identity. Guess the colour of the very successful identity that was finally produced? That's right: Red! The designer looked closer at the audience for our client's business (and at the business itself) and concluded that the forbidden colour was just the right one for the new mark. Thankfully, she had the courage to challenge our client's thinking and the 'perfectly awful' outcome was the right one.

Which, funnily enough, was to my own taste.

But then, in that particular case, I am my client's target audience.

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