Production 512: A Beginner’s Guide to… Branding

Prod512 Logo 400pxI was mulling over what my next “Beginner’s Guide” column subject would be for a couple of weeks, when the Ask Marilyn blurb in Sunday’s Parade Magazine a couple of weeks ago decided for me. For those of you who aren’t a regular reader of hers, Marilyn vos Savant is a woman with an extraordinarily high IQ who invites questions from readers each week that to many, would seem impossible to answer. The premise is that the reader is invited to match wits with Marilyn. In MY case at least, she pretty much wins every time, but this week I really knew the answer…without Google.

Question: What do these words have in common: aspirin, escalator, heroin, kerosene, laundromat, trampoline and zipper?

Do you know the answer?

I have to admit, the only reason I did is because I’ve done a lot of research on branding. Admittedly, I was unsure about ‘heroin’ being on the list, but the others had all come up in my research as brand names of products that became so intertwined and identified with the product itself, once the trademark or patent expired, the brand name became the product name.

Bayer still holds the original trademark on Aspirin (with a capital A), but after losing a battle in court for the lower-case version, aspirin has become the generic name for acetylsalicylic acid, regardless of the manufacturer. By the way, if anyone ever offers you some willow bark tea, you’ll get almost the same pain relief with an anti-inflammatory Sumerian remedy that dates back some 2400 years. It was the original pain reliever recipe Bayer improved for what everybody today calls aspirin.

By the way, I looked it up, and it was the same company – Bayer, that invented and marketed Heroin. Technically, they weren’t the first to invent it, but they came up with the name, based on the German word, heroisch which means heroic or strong. The actual compound is diacetylmorphine, which is nearly 2 times stronger than morphine which was first harvested from Opium poppies in Mesopotamia around 3400BC.

Some products become the ‘common’ name for a product even before a trademark has expired. A great example of this would be Kleenex™. It’s not often you hear someone ask for a tissue, a lot of people just say, “Hand me a Kleenex,” even though it might be a Puffs™ tissue.

I suppose because ‘marketing,’ that Pepsi-Cola™ doesn’t want ANYONE to order a “Coke and fries.” It started to happen back in the 1950s a lot, and Pepsi employees started visiting restaurants and diners and asked for a ‘coke.’ IF the restaurant was a Pepsi outlet and the server didn’t tell them it was Pepsi, a lawsuit would be threatened. To my knowledge, no lawsuits were ever actually filed, but to this day, servers are required to make the distinction. In spite of nearly 133 years of cola wars, Coca-Cola™ still reigns as the number one soft drink in the world, has the third most valuable brand name and delivers 1.8B servings of soft drinks every DAY. Maybe it’s because the original claim by Colonel John Pemberton (the inventor) was that it could cure impotence. True story.

So, what does radio have to do with the price of tea in ancient Sumer? In a word…everything.

What Is This ‘Branding’ You Speak Of?

An Imaging Director really only has one job: to tattoo the station’s name on the brain of every listener in the market. Commercial producers have the same job (on a smaller scale) with every client spot they produce: to imprint the client’s name on the brain of every listener.

On the Imaging side, one thing nearly every music-intensive radio station does is the “Power Intro.” It is, without question, the single most powerful tool in the radio branding toolbox. Using the intro of a song (usually in the ‘power’ category), a producer will add some effects, VO, perhaps an artist ID and record it all into a file that is self-contained. This stand-alone version of the song can then be played without the deejay having to crack the mic. The advantage is three-fold:

1. It’s always perfect…the deejay can’t flub.

2. Done properly, it always hits the post.

3. It identifies the artist name (or artist drop) and station calls.

Hello! It brands a piece of music as belonging to YOUR station, just like a cattle brand scars a cowhide with a ranch name so everyone knows who owns that heifer. That is the perfect definition of branding. Once a listener has heard your power intro several times (so it’s really locked into the mind), when they hear the song elsewhere, they’ll STILL hear your calls…even if it’s on the competition’s air!

I think, the original power intro must be credited to Musicradio 77WABC in New York and JAM Creative Productions™, the jingle powerhouse in Dallas, Texas. Jon Wolfert would produce jingles in every key and tempo for the crew in New York so that they would have the perfect jingle for every song. The music director at WABC would then match the song to the perfect jingle and record the jingle AND song onto one cart. Any time a song was to play with just a jingle, it would completely match and perfectly play into the song, every time without dealing with pesky trip tones. No muss, no fuss. (It occurs to me that some of you might not know about ‘carts’ and ‘trip tones.’ If you’re curious, ask me below in the comments and I’ll fill you in, instead of laying it out here.)

Jon Wolfert had a brilliant idea. Have the jingle singers match the vocal arrangements of a song and sing an extra verse near the beginning that includes the calls for the client station. He called them “Pop-Tops.” (He might not be the first to do this, but he certainly did it best.) Here is the pop-top for We Built This City by Jefferson Starship, done for Z100.

The process for creating pop-tops was not terribly cost-effective at the time, so that project was mostly sidelined. One day a few years later, Tom Poleman and I were sitting together in his office, brainstorming ideas to help expand the brand of Z100. He was interested in making the music on Z100 belong to the station, as if it were an exclusive commodity. I remembered Jon Wolfert’s pop-tops and even retrieved the Starship track. Tom lit up, but then, I told him that they’re fairly expensive to produce, and suggested we combine the idea from WABC and the real pop-top. We ordered a series of new jingles from ReelWorld™ in every key and tempo, planning to actually mix the jingle INTO the song intro, and adding one VO. ReelWorld balked at first, but when I explained to Mike Thomas what we were trying to do, he got kind of excited. A couple of weeks later, we had the jingles plus mix-outs and I got to work.

It was kind of slow work and honestly, the results were uneven. Tom suggested we only use the jingles when it really worked and add in some artist IDs. The Power Intro was born! Now you can hear them in just about every market. If you’re CSD, you’ve probably produced quite a few. Just remember that when you do, you are fulfilling the main driving purpose of your existence at your station…aside from the donuts you bring in every Friday.

If your PD is interested, there are a couple of companies that do full-on pop-tops today, without the heavy expense. In fact, most do it for barter. Micro Jams and Speed Intros have taken up the gauntlet and produce them. Pure Jingles™ in The Netherlands also does them. They don’t have a barter arrangement for the US as of today, but the price is quite low for some really excellent work. Here are samples from WKTU/New York and NRJ/France.

While power intros are really powerful tools in your branding arsenal, there are many, many others. You, of course, are brilliant and creative, but branding must be coordinated with your programming/marketing teams. It’s a really smart idea to have a brainstorming session with everybody so you can contribute your bit of brilliance and creativity, but everyone needs to be singing from the same choir book. ONE strapline, ONE way to say the calls, ONE approach is essential to make the branding work.

Once you and the teams have settled on the branding manifesto, you have to tattoo it on YOUR brain so that everything you produce remains consistent and true to the branding vision. 1-oh-6-point-7 The Big Dog is the brand. Green Bay’s Classic Rock is the strapline. You probably should use the strapline 2 out of 3 times, but the brand MUST be used every time, just as it is. Don’t try to shorten it to just The Big Dog. The frequency is part of the brand, so don’t lop it off. You can say clever things like “Move over Rover and let the BIG dog eat,” but always follow it up with the brand, and more times than not, the strapline. Seems pretty fundamental to long-time veterans, but believe me, too many people think they’re being clever by bending the rules a bit. All that ever does is water down the brand.

Branding for commercial clients is not really different at all, just exclusive to the client. You need to work with the AE and hopefully, the client, to come up with a brand and strapline that remains consistent. A great example is Howdy Honda, a car dealership in the greater Austin, Texas area that does branding right. EVERY time, it’s Howdy Honda, multiple times in every radio and TV spot. The strapline is “The price you see is the price you pay,” which is in every spot at least twice. They use the same verbiage on billboards, magazine and newspaper ads, even on the towels they hand out at local high school and college football games. (Hook ‘em Horns!)

To get maximum benefit to your branding efforts, the client really needs to run a series of spots, each one featuring the brand and strapline. Over the course of 8 to 12 weeks, the branding effort can pay huge dividends, and the client will be totally hooked on using your station. The client wins with more business through the door, the station adds to the bottom line and you’re the hero! You’re welcome.

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thank you Dave! Another great piece of advice.

You know the drill, sometimes we have a kind of blur knowledge, maybe that we got by osmosis, after so many years listening to the pioneers, but nothing like reading in almost a scholarship way.

By the way, couldn’t find the Speed Intros website in any search engine. Its possible to link it?

Thank you, again!

Danilo Mesquita
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