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Building Brand Emotions with Elliott Starr

In this interview, Elliott Starr explains how he sees his work and what you need to know about brands, career in advertising and creative work. 

Elliott Starr is a Senior Copywriter at Creative Company 20something. During his career, Elliott’s worked at award-winning agencies and made award-winning work. He’s also made extensive efforts to help aspiring creatives break into the advertising industry.

With a simple philosophy of “make things that change things”, Elliott’s work has helped recovering addicts get free formal wear for job interviews and drive stem-cell donations for people with blood cancer. His work also helps to inspire kindness, and teach children to wash their hands to NHS standards during the UK’s 2020 COVID-19 lockdown.

Can you share how the mechanism of the creative industry works?
This hugely depends on the client, the creative company, the expertise of both, and the relationship between both. Research can also be used at multiple stages to test/confirm elements. But, broadly speaking:
    • client team defines marketing problem
    • client team writes client brief
    • client team shares client brief with creative company
    • strategy department of creative company interrogates brief
    • if brief is deemed to be wrong/ trying to solve the wrong problem, dialogue ensues between creative company and client team, until resolved
    • once resolved, the brief is shared with the creative department
    • creative department may challenge the brief, at which point dialogue ensues between the creative department and strategic department, until resolved
    • once resolved, creative work begins on the brief 
    • the creative(s) working on the brief will have scheduled check ins with the creative director 
    • the creative director may have to, or choose to, work on this brief themselves, too 
    • the creative director may have to, or choose to, amend the work themselves, before presenting it to the client team 
    • the best solutions are selected by the creative director is presented to the client team
    • dialogue, and potential rounds of amends, ensue, until a piece of work is “bought” by the client team
    • the creative company then engages a team or company to help with the realisation of the “bought” idea. (Some of these conversations may start taking place after the initial client meeting, if strong interest has been expressed in a particular idea. Or earlier still, to ensure feasibility, and the ability to deliver the idea within the client’s budget.) If the chosen solution is film-based, this would be a production team, or comapny. But, depending on the brief, the chosen solution may be an event, game, app, website, stunt, activation, media partnership, brand partnership, etc.
Each type of campaign has respective experts the creative company can work with to realise their idea. The creative company may also have these facilities in-house.
How does your creative process start before a new project?
The simplest way to explain this is “Just In Case” information and inspiration, and “Just In Time” information and inspiration. As a creative, you generally want to be hoovering up interesting, stimulating, and thoughtprovoking creative work, in a variety of mediums, at all times. If you want to produce quality, you have to consume quality. What you choose, is totally up to you. But you have to consume a decent quantity, of quality.
For example, I absolutely inhale books, audiobooks, podcasts, and films. My wife hates trying to watch movies with me, because I have seen so many. In one light, I’ve wasted a huge amount of my life watching movies. But in another, I have this huge bank of references and ideas to draw from, for my job.
An idea is a new combination of existing elements. Their are videos online of brain scans, literally showing this happening. It stands to reason that the more existing elements you have, the easier it is to make new combinations. It also stands to reason that the more interesting, and diverse those elements are, the more interesting and diverse the connections you make will be. So, try to be somewhat unexpected with the creative work you consume. Try to read, watch, listen to, and attend things you wouldn’t normally. Don’t force yourself to consume things you actively dislike, but it’s good to consume via avenues that lead you to different things, things outside your comfort zone, by default. A simple example might be watching a film on Mubi, instead of Netflix. Or listening to Radio 4, instead of Radio 1. Aside from the occasional guilty indulgence, steer clear of brain junk food” like reality TV, and celebrity gossip. If you think the people in the content you’re consuming are “really thick”, then, every second you spend plugged into them is making you a little thicker. Conversely, every second you spend (via books, audiobooks, podcasts, lectures, interviews) with people smarter than you, is making you a little smarter.
The above, is what you might call “Just In Case” information and inspiration. This is all just filling the creative well – making sure you have plenty to draw from, when it’s your turn to be creative. I have a word document on my laptop with links to websites full of interesting creative work. Design blogs, architecture websites, music video aggregators.
When work is quieter, I’ll sometimes start my day with 30 minutes spent going through those links. All the while knowing, it will come in handy, at some point. As writer Robert Greene says: “It’s all material”. Then, when the brief comes in, you switch focus to “Just In Time” information and inspiration. Usually, when I first get a brief, I try to go for a walk. In doing this, I’m not actively trying to solve the problem. I’m just letting it knock about in my brain. I’m doing a little sense-making, while the simpler parts of my brain are engaged in making sure I put one foot in front of the other, I don’t trip over, and don’t get hit by a truck. This is really just about letting things percolate.
Next, I jump into a deep incubation and try to know the problem, and the business I’m solving the problem for, inside out. That sentence, is kind of shorthand for something much broader, which is knowing:
  • the market context – where the client sits in their market, who their competitors are, what the market looks like, and opportunities and challenges the market is facing.
  • the cultural context – are there specific behaviours of the masses we need to be aware of, or fit into? Are there growing trends? Shrinking trends? Timeless, relevant behaviours?
  • the customer context – exactly who is their customer? What do they want, and how can we give it to them, in a relevant way? 
Then, I’ll jump into creative work. Depending on the brief, this might be one hand scribbling in a notebook and another clicking through Pinterest, or Instagram, or, or it might be a frenzied writing session on the laptop.
The process for me, as I imagine it is for most creatives, isn’t concrete. It’s the result of:
  • the brief
  • the timings
  • the team I’m working with on the brief
  • how much I do or don’t know about the problem/ business/ customer/ market, in advance, and how much information I’m provided on these things, in the brief
  • other projects I have on, and how many other projects I have on.
Then there’s just “life”. Life can change this process a lot. Life can mean there are days when the ideas come fast, days when they come slow, when they don’t come at all. When this is the case, you have to just do whatever you can to ‘get the water running’, and you can’t be precious, or embarrassed, about what you try, in order to do that. So, the process moves around a lot. Sometimes the ideas just appear in a one’s mind, while doing something else that engages the brain. I find that trivial tasks, like washing dishes, showering, cleaning, walking the dog, tend to make ideas “appear”. I get a lot of ideas while I’m working out, usually because all my conscious mind can think about is how exhausted I am, how desperate for breath I am, and how much everything is burning. I do believe there is something to be said for engaging the more basic, repetitive-taskperforming parts of the brain, which sort of makes them “get out of the way” of the deeper, problem solving parts. In another way, sometimes, I might be doing something deeply creatively engaged, like writing this, and ideas fall out, that I stash away, like a dog with a bone, and dig up at a later date. I can’t guarantee, however, like a dog, the I’ll always remember where I put them, unless I have a decent system for saving and storing them. It’s good to have a document, or folder, for all your “bottom drawer” ideas. It’s a good place to trawl through when work is quiet enough for you to do something proactive.
It’s a fact that each project is unique. But how did you choose the styles and concepts of the projects FIFA 21 and Another Tee?


Ok, so, everything I could tell you about FIFA21, you can read here

Then, Another Tee…

The seed was planted in 2019, when I attended the school climate strikes. My wife was pregnant at the time and I remembered thinking: ‘my daughter, like all these students striking, hasn’t asked to be born. We’re bringing her into a world that is cooking itself. Based on agreed science, by the time she’s old enough to do anything about it, it’ll be too late.’ Then I started working on OVO Energy, and we built a renewable energy campaign around the following fact: 26% of the average UK person’s carbon footprint, comes from their home energy. I found that anyone I told that fact to, reacted in the same way: “Really, I had no idea. That’s huge. Right, I’m going to switch to OVO, provided it’s not too much more expensive.” 

I found that really interesting, that people were so instantly willing to make that change. Contrast this with, for example, switching to a plant based diet. Due to methane emissions from pigs and cattle being 86 to 105 times as powerful as carbon dioxide at disrupting the climate over a 20-year period, eating a plant-based diet is probably the best thing you can do for the planet. Yet if you talk to meat-eaters about making this change, 95% of them will retreat even harder into justifications for eating meat. They have an emotional attachment to eating meat, and to their identity as a meat eater. Let’s face it, to a meat eater, meat tastes amazing, doesn’t it? So, giving that up feels like a huge sacrifice. (Telling someone why they should stop doing something, or why doing it is bad, is a push strategy, which rarely works. I’ll come onto this later.)

So, why so willing to switch energy providers? The answer is that it is of no significance, or consequence, to the switcher. Most people don’t care who provides their energy, they have relatively little emotional connection to their provider. We’ve come a long way from experiencing regular power cuts. So, there is no discernible difference between good energy, and bad energy, good providers and bad providers. It all really comes down to price, customer service, and brand. So, you can switch to a renewable provider and it doesn’t affect your life in any noticeably negative way, whatsoever. Yet, you now have a new, small thing to brag about, if you switch to a renewable provider. I found that very interesting, and I started discussing it with people at 20something. Asking, ‘what’s a common denominator we could tap into? What’s we could create, that makes a massive difference to people’s carbon footprints, that no one could disagree with?’ We got to a t-shirt. Everyone wears t-shirts, no matter their age, gender, sexuality, sexual preferences, dietary preferences, religious, or political beliefs – we all wear, and aren’t going to stop wearing, t-shirts. The beauty of a t-shirt, also, is it’s a walking advert, for a brand, but also for the wearer. i.e. ‘I’m the sort of person who wears an XYZ t-shirt’. So, if that t-shirt offers them a way to humblebrag, people will snap it up. That became really interesting to us, could a t-shirt offset a year of your carbon footprint? What about a lifetime? Then we looked at carbon offsetting options. They were all very dull, geeky, and transactional. You visit a website, that undoubtedly is not cool, you pay some money, and someone, somewhere, offsets your carbon footprint, somehow. It’s a totally hollow experience, with no emotional, or tangible benefit. You don’t get anything in return, and the best you can do in terms of the humblebrag is screenshot your receipt and share it, which, isn’t so humble. So, we started looking for ways to load more emotion into the carbon offset. Then we discovered the power of mangroves – that they are 5x more effective at absorbing carbon than land-based trees, and they do their carbon-absorbing work faster.

This is great, particularly as scientists are telling us we have until 2030 to dramatically reduce the carbon in our atmosphere, before we reach an irreversible tipping point. A Giant Sequoia tree can absorb masses of carbon. But they also do this over an extremely long period of time. We need to absorb carbon as fast as possible. The other great thing about mangroves, is you’re not just absorbing carbon, you’re reforesting the ocean, and creating habitats for marine life – both of which are critically needed, also. This led us to discover SeaTrees, a project by not-for-profit Sustainable Surf, who became our planting-partner. They employ local people in the Biak region of Indonesia, and plant mangroves off the coast of islands there. The mangroves then go on to protect those islands from storm surges, and sea level rise, both of which are symptoms of climate change. They also educate local children, in this process, too. So, we’ve got carbon absorption, and now we’ve got all this emotion loaded into the t-shirt. Next, we need the t-shirt, and we need it to be as sustainable as the mission itself. So, then we hunted down the most sustainable t-shirt manufacturer we could finds, and found one that was: unisex, Fair Wear, 100% organic , climate-neutral, Peta Vegan approved.

These t-shirts are also really good quality (155 GSM), and given all their eco credentials, they’re still about 90% as good as t-shirts I have paid 6x more to own. Next, we look at our process for making them. We opt to make them on demand, to minimise material, energy, and resource wastage. It means people wait longer for their tee. But it’s better for the planet. Your tee is printed just for you. We thought that was a nice touch. Of course, when you buy it, we also plant 24 mangroves on your behalf, which brings its own myriad of benefits.

We do all of that for £39. We do it ethically and sustainably. As I write this I’m staring at a white “premium”, high street t-shirt. (Note: not a designer tee). It has a singular print on the front. Nothing on the back. It costs significantly more than another tee. The fabric is 100% cotton, but not organic. Simultaneously, a sustainable fashion directory tells me that this brand uses few eco-friendly materials. There is also no evidence it has taken meaningful action to reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals. There is no evidence it minimises textile waste. There is no evidence it reduces its carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain. There is no evidence it has worker empowerment initiatives such as collective bargaining or rights to make a complaint. It sources its final stage of production from countries with extreme risk of labour abuse. There is no evidence it ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain. It audits some of its supply chain but does not specify what percentage. It does not disclose any policies or safeguards to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19. There is no evidence it has a policy to minimise the suffering of animals. And, of course, there’s no mangroves.This all begs the question; what is my money paying for? Suddenly, £39 for our tee seems exceptionally reasonable… So, now we have the tee, and we know it obliterates anything in the market on the quality vs. Sustainability vs. price matrix. 

Next, what are we putting on the t-shirt. Well, we want the idea to spread, and we don’t have endless amounts of money to advertise it. (How ironic.) So, the t-shirt needs to advertise itself. We took that idea and ran with it, deciding to print the entire story of the t-shirt, on the t-shirt itself. If you’re in a queue, behind someone wearing this tee, you can find out everything you need to know about it, including where to go online to buy it. And, of course, for the wearer, they’re getting to signal all that to the world – i.e. “Look at what a good person I am”. That might feel quite “dirty”, but the reality is it’s going to get a lot more people offsetting their carbon footprint than some geeky website with nothing in it for them, other than a small, private, carbon-offsetting victory.

Next, the most important bit, what’s going to make people wear this tee? Sure, it has all these amazing sustainability credentials. But, people still need to want to, and feel comfortable, wearing it. So, it has to be just as cool as any other t-shirt out there. So, our heads turned to streetwear, and the current trends that arena. We noticed that a lot of the more popular brands are unapologetically turning their garments inside out, from a design perspective, and putting information about the manufacture process, or care instructions, on the t-shirt’s exterior. Then, we realise, that we have more to say about that than anyone else. So, now, we have the story, which is the head-to-tail story of this tee’s creation, and why we created it. But we also have the aesthetic, which is clothes care-instruction labels.

Then, the design team at 20something do what they do best. We sourced biodegradable packaging for the tees, and launched on Black Friday, a day set to create 429 million kilograms of CO2 emissions globally, by sending a few t-shirts to environmental activist influencers, and asking them to share it, in exchange for us offsetting a year of their carbon footprint. We even built a CO2-absorption-margin into the tee to cover any emissions created by shipping it. It all leads to this t-shirt that I think, honestly, why wouldn’t someone buy it? Most people spend £40 a month on their phone contract. That’s every month. This is one t-shirt, once, and look at the difference it can make in the world. The t-shirt looks cool, and it’s a walking promotion of what a good human the wearer is. Provided they’re not on the bread line, financially, I don’t know someone who wouldn’t buy that t-shirt, if they’re even remotely climate curious.

What should be the way forward for brands right now?


I’m not sure I, or anyone, can offer a “way forward” for all brands. All brands, and their inherent business problems, are unique. Product, price, place, promotion, are the 4 P’s of marketing. Supposedly an old fashioned maxim, but those things always have been, and always will be central to promoting, growing, and protecting any brand. You have to investigate every one of those P’s, make sure you can hold your head high, and sleep peacefully at night, in regard to how your brand is operating around them. Of course, I’m saying this, assuming every brand knows exactly who their potential customers are, what they want, and what story they want to tell themselves and the world about who they are, and how your product fits into that. You’d be surprised how many don’t. So, where do we go from here? Well, if you’ve sorted the above it’s never going to be hurtful to assume your products are no better, if not worse, than your competitors. Useful questions at this point, are:


  • what’s worse about the product than it could be? How could the right creative idea fix it, change it, improve it?
  • are there obstacles getting in the way of the customer buying it? How could the right creative idea remove friction from this process? (Search: James Clear Atomic Habits)
  • what else, in the world of your product, is valuable to your customer? How might your brand bring that to them in an own able way?


A good example of that last point is Nike Training Club. Which is a free “personal trainer in your pocket” style app from Nike. That is a hugely valuable app in my life. It’s just as good, if not better, than any paid fitness app I’ve used, it keeps me hooked into the Nike brand, and day after day, I’m seeing fit, attractive people wearing Nike, so that emotional, aspirational connection to the brand is being built on a daily basis. 

But herein lays another thing brands should be aware of. If I check Nike out on Good On You, I see it is vastly inferior to Adidas, from a sustainability point of view. As a customer, I begin to feel torn. Part of me wants to buy Nike, due to the strong emotional connection the brand has built with me. But another part of me is finding it harder and harder to justify that purchase, because I know there are more sustainable options out there. Perhaps there was a time when those more sustainable options weren’t well-designed, or were the products of small, or non-desirable brands. But now, brands with huge amounts of emotional equity are offering those options. I may have more emotional attachment to Nike, than Adidas, but I still have some attachment to Adidas. If Nike doesn’t up their sustainability game, it may be enough for Adidas to pull me away from them.

Apart from their portfolio, what else should the fresh creatives work on? What do you think about the subjectivity in art?

I think the simplest way to answer this question is to tell you what I work on, on top of my day job, which, technically, all contributes to my own portfolio. If you’re going to take anything on, on top of the portfolio pursuit, and any part or full-time work you might have, it’s going to have to be something that you either: hugely nerd-out over, are absolutely obsessed with, are enraged or outraged by, are really frustrated with the existing quality of.

If it doesn’t fall into those categories, I struggle to see a world where you will create the time and summon the energy to do the work necessary to create anything of value. So you can use those questions as prompts for side projects.

I think Nikky Lyle nailed this when she stressed the importance of these being ‘Passion Projects’, not ‘side-projects’ (The Future of Portfolio). Side project feels like something someone else tells you, you need, in your portfolio. A passion project is born from just that, passion. I use another phrase, in this domain, which is to ‘kiss your love’. Every day, just give a little time and affection to something you love, are curious about, or nerd-out over. Small, little chunks of attention. Read an article. Watch a YouTube video. Try to understand a complex problem that pertains to it. Over time, these little acts of love can add up to brilliant ideas for ‘Passion Projects’, if nothing more, because you know more about the topic than 95% of people.

For me, I have nerded-out over, been obsessed with, and spend a lot of money during my life, on my health and fitness. At times I’ve been really frustrated with the quality of many health supplements, and I’ve been enraged at the lies, smoke, and mirrors many health supplement brands use to sell themselves and their products. So, an on-going side project for me is launching a health brand, that sells a very particular type of supplement. It lives in an emerging sector of the market, so, I don’t want to say too much. But any work I do on this has to be before 8am, when I take my daughter for an hour before my work day, or after 7:30pm, when she is asleep. Suffice to say, that means either getting up early, or working late. Neither of those things happen if I don’t really give a shit about what I’m doing.

I launched Another Tee last year. Beyond the support 20something gave me, the reason that happened is, I was painfully aware of how much carbon we need to remove from our atmosphere, but also painfully aware of how few people would ever have any interest in doing so, if we didn’t package the behaviour up in a different way. So, again, after a lot of early mornings, and late nights, it became a reality. Some questions you can use to poke around at potential side projects are:

  • What fills you with energy? What drains you of energy?
  • What makes you lose track of time?
  • What do you enjoy learning about? Getting better at?
  • What do you find easy that your friends find hard?
  • What swallows the majority of your free time?
  • What do you use regularly that you wish was better? How?
  • After bills, food etc. What do you spend a large amount of money on? Can you scratch your own itch, create your own version of that thing? 

To be honest, those are good questions just to ask yourself, generally. They might help you figure out what you want to do with your life, or if you were to launch your own business, what it might be. (Though launching your own business should also intersect with something you either know great amount about, or plan to learn a great amount about, before spending any serious cash.)

How was the last job interview you participated in? No matter which side of the process you were on, do you have any tips?

Due to my position at 20something, I tend to be the person that aspiring creatives see with their portfolio. These aren’t ‘interviews’, and don’t carry that formality. It’s just a nice casual meeting (physical, or digital, depending on availability and schedules of all parties) where I look through someone’s work. Those meetings usually resolve in me saying one of three things: 

1. “Your portfolio is brilliant” + [some notes on making it really shine] + “I’m going to share it with our ECD, Will, and next time we’re looking to bring someone in on placement, your phone will ring.” 

2. “Your portfolio has great potential, but needs a little work” + [some notes on getting the portfolio into shape] + “Please come back and see me. Together, we can get your portfolio to a place where you’re ready for a placement.” 

3. “I can see you are early in your journey with your portfolio. If you’re willing to keep coming back to see me, keep listening to me, and keep working on your portfolio, and actioning the advice I give you, I’m willing to keep seeing you.] + [some notes on the portfolio basics]. 

It’s rarely number one, it’s more often number two, and very often number three. The shame is, most people whose portfolio is a number two or three, never come back to see me. But therein lays the benefit for anyone who does come back, even once. No one is going to get a placement at 20something by meeting me, once. But someone who sees me again, even if only a second time, basically increases their odds of getting a placement by 100%, because almost no one ever does this. Again, as we touched upon in ‘The Future of Portfolio’ – above average results require above average efforts. There’s this Jim Rohn quote I absolutely love: “Here’s the big challenge of life: you can have more than you’ve got because you can become more than you are. That’s the challenge. And of course, the other side of the coin reads: unless you become more than you are, you’ll always have what you’ve got.” If we focus on the things we, personally, can control in life, that quote explains 95% of our results.

How important is it to look at other creative’s work, for inspiration, for being aware of what your competitors are doing?

My answer to this really just comes down to a few simple principles. Yes, I look at the work a lot of other creatives are making. But it treat it like a buffet. I take what I want (learnings, inspiration, insights, thought-starters) and I leave what I don’t (jealousy, criticism, happiness-crushing comparisons). I think you need to look at what other people are making, to challenge yourself, and make sure you aren’t limiting your perspective in any way, seeing your industry through tunnel vision, so to speak. You have to look closely to uncover the brilliance in other’s work, but you also have to make sure you’re occasionally zooming out, and making sure you can see the wood for the trees. While you’re at it, make sure you’re learning from parallel industries. (For example, creative ideas born from insight don’t just live in Advertising. Stand up comedy, really, when you break it down, is creative ideas, born from insight, pieced together into a narrative, or logic flow. Or an Adam Curtis documentary, which is like a master’s degree in how to influence the masses, teaches you a lot about connecting cultural and political dots.) Then, if something is really successful, commercially, creatively, or both, I like to try to dig, and discover, or at least ponder, “what conditions led to that?” I try to get below the brilliance and ask myself what conditions led to that brilliance. McWhopper was one of the most awarded campaigns in the world a few years ago. I don’t know the exact conditions that led to that idea happening. But, I do know it does exist at the intersection of: brilliant; affordable-easy to do. 

It was ultimately a website, featuring an open letter, and an animated film. At best, maybe the creative agency needed a little money to make the film, and record the voiceover for it, etc. You’re already a hell of a lot closer to getting a client to say yes to that idea. What’s more, there’s no way for Burger King to look bad in that campaign. If McDonald’s agrees to make the McWhopper, Burger King looks good, if McDonald’s disagrees, Burger King looks good, and, what’s more, McDonald’s looks bad. McDonald’s is a more risk-averse brand than Burger King. As a result, they were likely to say no, and they did. Burger King, and their creative agency, I imagine, knew that would be the case. What’s more, if McDonald’s did say yes, McDonald’s then has to take on 50% of the responsibility for making that idea a physical reality. So, the already small risk for Burger King is now reduced by a further 50%. I don’t know if that idea came from an official brief, from a client. But, if it was a proactive idea, it had absolutely everything going for it. There was so little for a client to say no to. That’s why I love the McWhopper campaign so much. But inspiration for me can also be things like Air Company, who are somehow making vodka out of air. It’s a brilliant idea. Because it’s combining a timeless truth (people like alcohol and its effects) with a timely truth (people are increasingly concerned with what is going in their bodies, and increasingly concerned with climate change). 

Combining a timeless truth with a timely truth, or a timeless truth with timely tech, can always lead to something brilliant. Just look at Uber. Think about this scenario. I’m having fun in a bar. I need someone to pick me up. Why would I leave my friends, leave the fun, and go wait outside in the cold, rain, or wind, and try to hail a taxi, when I could just push a button? The unsurprising answer is, I wouldn’t. To sum up, there’s huge value in looking at the work other people are doing, but treat it like a buffet, and try to unpack the ideas. Try to work bak to a brief. Was there a brief? What might it have been? What might the business problem have been? Why did the company end up with that business problem? Was it a proactive idea, if so, what made it happen? What did it have going for it? And, of course, don’t just look at your own industry.

Are there some foundational thoughts people who want a career in advertising should know?

I think knowing the brand/ conversion balance is very important. There are differences from sector to sector, brand to brand, product to product. But, broadly, successful advertising comes down to the right efforts, in the right amounts, applied at the tight times, to two things: building the brand; converting prospects into customers. 

Brand advertising is about getting people to buy into a brand, believe in a brand, feel an emotional connection to a brand. Dave Trott did a great post on this. What every business desires is to build a brand that people want, because of how it makes them feel, and the story they think it tells the world about who they are. To a degree, this is also a story they tell themselves. “People like us do things like this” is a well-known quote from Seth Godin, which points to this phenomena. 

It takes time, effort, and consistency to build a strong brand. Some products take longer than others. A car, for example, is a big purchase, one of the biggest purchases most people make in life, after their house. You have to spend a very long time building a brand people trust, and desire. Once built, and successfully maintained, ‘brand’ is exceptionally powerful. Take Audi, for example. There is no logical reason to buy most models of Audi’s. Almost every single part of each of those vehicles can be found in Volkswagen’s, Seat’s, and Škoda’s, and the parts get cheaper as you move through that list of brands. I actually own a Škoda, and its cigarette lighter has an Audi logo on it, as does the fuel cap, the spare wheel, and, I imagine, most parts, if I could get a good look at them all. So, you’re not buying an Audi because it’s better made, or safer. Maybe, if you’re buying the RS models, you’re buying them because they’re fast. But those cars are bought by very few people. 

So largely, most people buying an Audi, are buying it because of the brand, because of what they hope it communicates to other people, about them. Just think about alloy wheels. If you’re the owner of the vehicle, you spend 99% of your ownership-time of that vehicle sat inside the vehicle. You can’t even seen them. They don’t really make the car go faster (aerodynamic, racing wheels might, but who owns those?), stop quicker, handle better, or reduce likelihood of punctures (actually, they probably increase the likelihood of punctures). What does it matter if your car has alloys? Because other people see them, that’s why. So, a lot of advertising is aimed at building the brand. The more you can get a person to buy into the brand, desire to be a part of that brand, and reflect that out into the world, then, when the time comes that they’re in the market for a new car, they will consider buying an Audi more than other brands who have failed to build this relationship. This ‘consideration power’ converts into more time and energy spent looking at Audi’s, which Audi can then use to convert that customer into a sale, using conversion advertising. i.e. ‘book a test drive’, or ‘configure your dream Audi A4’, or ‘come to the showroom event this weekend’. The more you build the brand, with successful brand advertising, the easier it is to convert with conversion advertising. I think that’s a fundamental thing more aspiring creatives should know. Both parts of the equation are important, necessary, and interdependent. As media increasingly fragments, people are experiencing ‘brand’ at more touch points than ever before. Almost everything a brand does is now recorded, forever, digitally. As are the things it doesn’t do, doesn’t say, doesn’t respond to, and doesn’t accept responsibility for. 

This all builds, or damages, brands. Let’s look at the iPhone. 95% of that phone’s features, no one gives a shit about. Probably 99%. People queueing for hours, for the new iPhone, are in that queue to be the sort of person who owns the new iPhone. Apple know this, and they prime your brain with this, at every possible opportunity. For example, look at the stores, they’re effectively modern churches. This isn’t an accident. What about when you lift the lid off the box of the iPhone? There’s a NASA-like decompression as it slides off. That’s an intentional design feature, the intention of which is to elevate your perception of the phone before you even have it in your hand. All of this adds up to an ability to sell a phone that is more expensive than any other phone in the market, yet no better in any discernible way. With the power of Apple’s brand, you could actually sell a worse phone, for more money than any of your competitors.

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