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September 6, 2007

Every Brand Needs a Message and a Messenger

I don’t drink, although after a hard day it seems like it might be worth starting, but since I can’t stand the taste of the stuff, I generally just settle for drowning my troubles in a stiff diet soda. However if I were going to take up the evil spirits, I would start with Reyka Vodka, not because it’s better or worse than any other vodka, but because they have an extraordinary marketing campaign and an equally clever integrated website ( with an enchanting if somewhat bizarre Icelandic spokeswoman. The video commercials for the campaign drew 20,000 views in the first three weeks after being posted on YouTube.

These Web-video commercials combine distinctive visuals with an eccentric brand spokesperson, and a series of hysterically funny scripts; granted they’re not for everyone, but if you like your marketing clever, funny, stylish, and effective, then there is a lot to learn from this campaign.

Lesson Number One: Different Is Good

On the Web different is not only good, it’s a necessity. There is no point in spending your hard earned money on advertising if you’re just going to say the same thing everybody else is saying. And if you absolutely, positively can’t come up with anything different to say, then you better find a different way to say it. Whether it’s what you say, or how you say it, different is the key to making an impact on the Web.

And don’t forget the advice of the big time Hollywood producers, “you’ve got to be different, but the same.” Make your video commercials familiar enough to be acceptable, but different enough to stand out. To paraphrase television producer/director Gary Marshall, “it’s great to be ‘out-there,’ just make sure there is somebody else out there with you.”

Lesson Number Two: Brands Need Personalities

One of the ways to be different is to give your company or brand a unique personality; make sure it’s a personality that not only resonates with your audience but one that fits your company’s inherent character. You may like, or alternatively hate, Wal-Mart and Microsoft, but no matter what they do or how they advertise, they are never going to be ‘cool.’ It’s just not them.

Not only can you not fake a personality, something you do at your own peril, but you should also make sure you don’t confuse you audience with multiple personalities. Years ago McDonald’s had a very distinct character, but their recent multi-targeted ad campaigns just seem to confuse their identity. You cannot please everybody and you cannot present multiple personalities or people will just ignore you.

And just because a big company’s sales go up doesn’t mean they’re doing the right thing. So if you want to emulate somebody, don’t follow the trends of the biggest spenders, they’re in a whole different league were money trumps everything, and success can be bought. If you’re a relatively small firm, you’ve got to be better; you’ve got to be clever and creative. Reyka Vodka doesn’t have the budget of their big competitors, but their marketing and video-based Web campaign is as good as it gets.

Lesson Number Three: Words Have Meaning

I often compare commercials to mini-movies and there is a lot that can be learned from knowing how to construct and tell a good marketing story. Often one of the least appreciated elements of storytelling is dialogue. This is due to the movie industry’s notion of ‘show’em, don’t tell’em.’ In the movie business this is good advice; it may even be good advice in the business of making commercials, but if you’re a smaller company with a limited budget, ‘showing’ can break the bank.

With the cost of location shooting, multiple sets and actors, and expensive exotic props and setups, cost can escalate fast. That puts a premium on keeping things simple. That said, if you’re going with the “talking head” style presentation make sure that the talking head reaches out and grabs your audience.

The Reyka commercials are an example of a talking head that is presented with flair and personality; and if you really want to see something that will knock you off your chair, check out the commercials (; be warned that many will be offended but I guarantee you won’t forget them.

A great script delivered by a professional actor has more impact and cost less than any other video presentation method. Well-written dialogue captures attention; sets tone and mood; expands your audience’s knowledge of your product or service; presents a distinct personality with nuance and subtext; connects and motivates; and plays upon some area of inner prospect dissatisfaction.

Lesson Number Four: You Are, How You Say It

No body wants to watch a movie, television show or commercial with dialogue written the way real people talk. If you’ve ever sat in an over-crowded restaurant and listened to the conversation of the people at the table next to you, you understand what I am saying.

Real conversations are messy, people interrupt one another, they talk over each other, and they often speak in a kind of shorthand that outsiders find difficult if not impossible to follow. People often use filler in order to give themselves time to think and avoid uncomfortable silence; they talk a lot and say very little; they are in fact boring as hell.

And of course writing a meaningful, effective, commercial script is not the same as writing a business letter or brochure copy. You cannot get away with a list of bulleted points delivered by the company president who looks like he forgot to take the hanger out of his suit jacket before he put it on.

Commercial scripts are conversations with an audience, designed to deliver all the meaning, mood and personality a company has to offer based on a single concise message that will be remembered, and that impacts the audience beyond a mere recitation of facts, features, and presumed benefits.

Lesson Number Five: Keep the Message Simple

The best advertisements are the simplest; they are the easiest to understand and to remember. Web-video commercials that spew facts and figures and multiple benefits are blurry flashes of noise, instantly forgettable at best and irritating and counter-productive at worse. Audiences, no matter how interested, will generally only absorb one cogent thought from a marketing message.

With Geico, “it’s so easy a caveman can do it” delivered by the familiar angst ridden character that makes the message easy to remember and the spokesperson easy to relate to. Compare that to the Esurance cartoon commercials were the message gets lost in a dizzying display of irrelevant animation.

Lesson Number Six: Make the Messenger Relatable

Someone has to deliver your dialogue, whether by an on-screen actor or an off-screen voice-over. The more you can humanize your messenger, the more your audience will relate to him or her. We’ve all met guys like the caveman in the Geico commercials, but it’s pretty difficult to relate to the Esurance cartoon superhero that sells insurance. The Reyka Vodka lady is offbeat and funny while the characters in the web-commercials are all like the guys you knew in high school. All these characters are exceedingly human all delivering simple concise ideas in clever, entertaining, and memorable messages. Keep the message simple and the messenger relatable.


Sometimes the hardest thing to be is simple. In the movie business there is something called a ‘high concept’ a one-line description that tells producers everything they need to know about a movie in order to grasp what it’s all about. If you’re looking to create a Web-video campaign for your company start with a ‘high concept’ and develop the rest using the lessons learned from the best.

Author:  Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit,, and Contact at or telephone (905) 764-1246.