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The Nike advertising myth and the Google corollary.

Advertising agencies love the Nike story, the use of high value frequent media space to imprint the soul of a company on our collective psyches.

There is no disputing that this works if done exceptionally well, but that is the problem. For most mediocre brands, with average appeal, driven by average marketers and executed by average agencies the most you can hope for is a slight jarring and some recall the next time we are pushing our shopping trolleys past the your product category.

You might say that in this day and age there are no average creatives in our world class agencies, but consider what average means. The average is determined by peer group, the guy who comes 5th in the Olympic 100m final is way above the collective average but try and name one person who has come fifth in an Olympic event.

The Nike myth tells us that if we utilise the media well and execute well we build a great brand. This is what leads marketers to follow other “similar brand type” successes, when the original success came from the juxtaposition of a unique message in a stand out medium.

In order to succeed in your product category, like Nike did in theirs, the answer is not to follow what has worked before but figure out what could work that hasn’t been done (or done on a large scale) that fits your brand or product. AOL chose to unleash a discstorm on the US while Prodigy and Compuserve were fighting each other on the networks (as suggested by their very well paid agencies) and were handsomely rewarded with customers. Scott Bedbury on leaving Nike for a little coffee company called Starbucks didn’t follow the same path in creating the now dominant coffee brand worldwide.

Advertising should not be formulaic and when it is it is decidedly average.

The corollary to the Nike myth is one spawned by the internet and its myriad of Brands that have never spent anything on advertising to claim their space in the collective conscious. This myth feeds on search and its promises of relevance and timing.

Put your message in the time and place when a user is about to make a decision. Sounds perfect; subject A is hungry, Google adsense for thoughtwaves (beta release set for early 2008) makes a lightbulb go off in A’s head and A is heading for the nearest Burger King.

The problem with this model as the ubiquitous one is that it in its purest form it is advertising after the fact. I need to decide I want something before Google can steer me in the right direction. The Nike model on the other hand makes me believe my life is not complete without something I never knew I needed before. The bottom line fact is that there are no hard and fast rules for advertising other than hard work, constant innovation and testing and the guts to scale when it appears as if you have hit the sweet spot.

Postscript: The Google corollary is only valid as a myth if we see search advertising as the ideal form of advertising. Google’s strength however is that for every Nike there are millions of small companies and traders for whom the idea of large full scale advertising is more of a fantasy than a methodology. So what if we am not convincing customers they have to have my product, the fact remains that every day people buy things they need; all we need to is be there when they need what we have to offer.