Professor, College Of Media
University of Illinois
What are the ingredients of great advertising?
Burnett talks about having a purpose and I agree with that. It’s about finding something you’re passionate about. And it’s about building relationships with people that share that passion. If you don’t care about what you’re doing [or selling] you won’t do it well.
Apple cultivates a sense of helping people interact with what they’re passionate about. Look at iMovie. They’re products help you express yourself. They have a collaborative spirit that drives their identity.
There seems to be a trend towards sustainability and green marketing. What do you make of it?
You have to ask yourself, “What can you bring to the table for humanity?” There are companies that just slap it up there and others that live it and create it. Pattagonia is a good example. It’s about a brand experience with them. It’s not about advertising.
If you’re in it to make money, you’re in it for the wrong reason. Today, it’s critical to be accessible and transparent. People will find out eventually [if you’re not being honest.] Look at Toyota [and its recall]. They stopped putting the emphasis on quality in the pursuit of profits.
How do you prepare your students for today’s marketing world?
I teach them to find their passion. Be curious. Find a mentor.
We don’t teach towards the technology [because it changes so rapidly]. We teach problem solving and creating opportunities. We teach students how to use resources and generate ideas. We teach critical thinking.
Collect information. Be curious. To be successful in marketing you have to be curious about everything — pop culture, technology, etc.
Charles Sandage was the father of advertising education. [At University of Illinois] we talk about “The Sandage Way.” We want to educate architects not bricklayers. The key is to step back and assess.
So many people say, “Let’s do a survey. Let’s run a focus group. Let’s do an ad.” They don’t think about the strategy or the insights.
What brands are doing it right out there?
Harley is a strong brand. It connects people with a shared passion. It gets to the core of what people care about — freedom. It transcends stereotypes of gender and demography.
You have to believe in what you do. Share a sense of purpose. There’s an emotional tie to the [Harley] brand that’s unreal. There’s a purpose there.
The best brands are those you build emotional connections with. They take the technology and make it relevant.
I love In and Out Burger. There’s an excitement there you don’t see at other restaurants. All the way down to the fryer guy. It’s all about the brand experience.
My favorite ad of all time is the Volkswagen lemon ad. It broke through the clutter. It put the focus on the product not the white house picket fence families. It says, “We’re humble. We’re honest.”
Southwest Airlines is another that’s getting it right.
The best brands have good customer service that pervades their environment. Carve out a slice of what you love and own it.
What about all these brands using sex to sell their product? What do you make of GoDaddy’s Super Bowl ads?
It’s too sophomoric. Even the teaser to the website [is ineffective]. It’s a hook but it’s one that will let you down. The key is to be relevant. What does sex have to do with domain names?
Axe is a better example. I’m not in their male 18-34 target but I’d think that stuff resonates.
Not everyone needs to be a super serious brand. If you’re edgy and cocky [then sex can sell for you.]
If you flip through magazines you’ll see ads for perfume, cosmetics, watches. They all show beautiful women but do you really remember them? It just objectifies women with stereotypes.
What does the future hold for marketers?
The people that have a story and evolve the story will succeed [because], today, people share those stories. It’s about reciprocity so people that use the brand make it better.
There’s so much “stuff” out there — images, data, etc. — it’s important for brands to be visible. But don’t be fake. Google will sniff it out and so will consumers.
As technology gets better, you can choose what media you consume [and how you consume it]. How will people navigate information overload? There are too many choices for communication interfaces. Will there be a retreat? An information backlash?
You want to play in the technology field [and have all the coolest gadgets and access to media], but sometimes you just want to watch the fire burn.