March 01, 2018

How Brands Become Famous

For several years I have been saying that I can't think of any famous consumer-facing brands that have been built primarily by online advertising.

Whenever I write this I get one comment that is absolutely predictable. I usually get it from people who have an economic or ideological reason to defend digital advertising, but sometimes it's from people who just don't think too well. The response is, "oh yeah, how about Google and Facebook and Amazon?"

So once and for all let me deal with this so the next hundred times I get this comment I can just reply with a link to this post.

Google, Facebook and Amazon were not brands built by advertising.

There are several ways brands become big and famous. Advertising is only one of them. The other ways include: word of mouth, PR, news media coverage, ubiquitous public visibility (wide distribution.) These "non-advertising" ways usually revolve around uniqueness.

In other words, for many famous brands advertising plays a large role in their success. For some it plays little or no role.

I believe in the case of most of the famous web endemic brands -- those brands that live on the web like Facebook, Google and Amazon -- advertising played little to no role in their success. This is also true of a few non-web-native brands like Tesla.

It's my belief that advertising had very little to do with the success of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Tesla. They became famous primarily through news media coverage and word of mouth resulting from being unique.

I can think of a hundred Coke, Nike, McDonald's or Apple ads I've seen. I can recall only a handful of ads for the Google, Amazon and Facebook brands combined.

One of the confusing factors is that some of these companies - in particular Google and Facebook - make almost all their money from advertising. But as brands, they did not need much advertising to become famous. Mass media did it for them.

Getting back to the issue in question, it is my contention that Google, Amazon and Facebook did not rely on advertising for their success in the same way that Coke, Apple, Nike, or McDonald's did.

I still maintain that it is very hard to find any famous consumer-facing brands that were built by online advertising.

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