ben-jerry-smallerSongs with words are recalled more quickly (and with greater accu­racy) than music that has no words. Like­wise, pic­tures with peo­ple in them are viewed more often (and longer) than pic­tures that have no people.”

- Roy H. Williams, Secret For­mu­las of The Wiz­ard of Ads

I’ve always cringed at the men­tion of “per­sonal branding.”

Per­sonal brand­ing” grates on me because I believe that it’s far more prof­itable to under­stand cor­po­rate brand­ing through the lens of per­sonal rep­u­ta­tion than to cre­ate some kind of con­trived rep­u­ta­tion through use of cor­po­rate branding.

For exam­ple, if you under­stand brand as rep­u­ta­tion, you can’t help but under­stand that:

And yet, I do believe that the very best advo­cates for per­sonal brand­ing have a worth­while point or two, namely that:

1. Peo­ple want to do busi­ness with other peo­ple — peo­ple they know and trust

GeorgeZimmerThere’s magic to George Zim­mer promis­ing us that “You’ll like the way you look, I guar­an­tee it.” Or a Lee Iacocca chal­leng­ing us with “If you can find a bet­ter car, buy it.”

The magic lies in the human con­nec­tion, in the sense of doing busi­ness with a live human being invested with the mag­i­cal power of free will, instead of with some face­less orga­ni­za­tion, utterly with­out agency.

When given a choice, we pre­fer busi­nesses run by peo­ple whose pas­sion for what they do extends beyond mak­ing money. Peo­ple who’ll do the right thing; peo­ple that care.

We want to know that Mama Gert Boyle sim­ply won’t stand for her com­pany to pro­duce any­thing less than the best, even to the point of tor­ture test­ing Columbia’s cloth­ing on her own son. This hits us at a far deeper level than tech­ni­cal specifications.

Want to see what it looks like when a small busi­ness puts some of this magic into their advertising?

Check out Tim Mile’s brand­ing cam­paign for a local Heat­ing and Air Con­di­tion­ing Company

2. (most) Peo­ple can’t “know” the real you

011_iacoccatopsalesmanDo you think that any of us actu­ally knows the real Lee Iacocca? Other than his wife, kids, and close friends? Heck no. And yet most of us feel as if we know him. He has a pub­lic persona.

The rea­son most of us don’t have a crafted pub­lic per­sona is because most decent peo­ple shy away from self aggran­dize­ment. It goes against the grain and feels icky.

We’re far more com­fort­able with Jimmy Stewart’s “aw shucks” foot twist­ing than Don­ald Trump’s “I’m the great­est” chest thumping.

We all have to get over that.

We have to grow more com­fort­able both with the need for self-promotion and with the need to pro­vide the pub­lic with a nar­rower and more eas­ily grasped pro­jec­tion of our­selves than could pos­si­bly fit our own com­plex per­son­al­i­ties. We have to be OK with the pub­lic per­ceiv­ing us as some­thing approach­ing a car­i­ca­ture of our real selves.

I’m sure the owner of the HVAC Com­pany that Tim Miles renamed “Dr. Com­fort” prob­a­bly wouldn’t have thought to car­i­ca­tur­ize him­self as a method to brand his com­pany. Nor would he most likely have been too com­fort­able with what must have seemed a boast­ful and over-reaching title — that of “Dr. Comfort.”

And yet the strate­gic use of the Dr. Com­fort per­sona has con­vinced a lot of peo­ple to do busi­ness with him.

How Domino’s Could Have Made “Rate Our Chicken” Even Better

Want to see this at work in a national ad cam­paign?  Check out Tom Wanek’s analy­sis of Domino’s Rate Our Chicken Ad.

Just keep in mind that Tom approaches this analy­sis from a Credibility-based per­spec­tive.  He’s ana­lyz­ing how Domino’s use of trans­parency and sig­nal­ing lends cred­i­bil­ity to their claim of supe­rior chicken.

And from that per­spec­tive, Tom finds fault with how the “Rate Our Chicken” ad opens and closes its mes­sage. It opens with a weak, non-attention-bragging image and it closes with a show of hes­i­tancy and doubt on the part of Domino’s chicken expert. Tom rec­om­mends a more con­fi­dent clos­ing image — and he’s right!

But that’s com­ing from a logical/credibility perspective.

What actu­ally unites the two men­tal images has noth­ing to do with logic and every­thing to do with the magic of “Pic­tures with Peo­ple.”  Tate Dil­low is the thread run­ning through­out the com­mer­cial, and he is who com­mands both the open­ing and clos­ing images of the ad.

YouTube Preview Image

As much as Domino’s is look­ing to gain cred­i­bil­ity through trans­parency, they are also look­ing to gain an emo­tional involve­ment through Tate Dillow’s pub­lic per­sona as Mr. Domino’s Chicken. And for the most part it works.

But as Tom so rightly points out, it could be made bet­ter by strength­en­ing the open­ing and clos­ing images. Yet know­ing that Tate is the thread that holds the com­mer­cial together, we wouldn’t want to remove him from either the open­ing or clos­ing images. Nor would we want to do away with any image that helps to con­vey Tate’s human­ity to the audience.

So my sug­ges­tion would be to sim­ply switch the open­ing and clos­ing men­tal images.

Show me the trans­par­ently human and under­stand­ably nervous-about-the-box Tate Dil­low first. Make me curi­ous why the box has him so worked up. Hook me into his story.

Then, at the end of the com­mer­cial, show me the con­fi­dent, “My Name’s Tate Dil­lon and I am Domino’s Chicken” image, leav­ing me with the impres­sion that this guy’s hell-bent on giv­ing me great chicken.

The Bot­tom Line:

The best bet for your ads isn’t to be either purely log­i­cal or emo­tional, but to com­bine the two in the evi­dent pas­sion and ver­i­fi­able actions of a spokesper­son the pub­lic can trust.  And if you’re the owner of the com­pany, that spokesper­son should likely be you.

Are you up for it?

P.S. I couldn’t find an already-online ver­sion of Roy H. Williams’ essay, “Song’s with Words, Pic­tures with Peo­ple,” so I made a hasty scan of it and posted it here. Enjoy…



  1. Holly Buchanan on 06.27.2011


    I have a ques­tion about the Men’s Ware­house ads. I think they are very effec­tive by the way. Why is Zim­mer look­ing off cam­era when he utters his “you’re going to like the way you look” guar­an­tee? (instead of talk­ing into the camera).

    any thoughts?

  2. Jeff on 06.27.2011


    I have to admit that I needed to re-watch some of those old com­mer­cials to see what you meant. After doing that, it seemed to me as if the idea was to have it appear as if the viewer was eaves­drop­ping or observ­ing an inter­view — as if Zim­mer were being inter­viewed by some­one else and we got to watch. Not sure why the ads went with that sort of framing/set-up (per­haps to add an ele­ment of faux authen­tic­ity?), but that’s what they chose. Appar­ently, though, the new cam­paigns have started hav­ing Zim­mer look directly at the cam­era rather than the old ads’ style of cinéma vérité (as the NYT calls it):

    - Jeff

  3. Friday Inspiration: Roy Williams on Words and People on 07.14.2015

    […] Sex­ton wrote a long blog post ear­lier this week on his dis­like of the term, “per­sonal brand­ing”. He doesn’t […]

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