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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