opinion

Big-time Branding

Stephen Yagielowicz

When it comes to taking your company to the next level, branding is an essential element of the equation needed to gain mindshare among the firm’s audience, customers and prospects. The process would be an easy one if it happened in isolation — but your competitors are targeting the same consumers and seeking that same mindshare, forcing decision makers to think bigger (and to take more chances) in order to be seen.

Let’s take a closer look with an unlikely segue into the concept of pilotage, or the use of fixed visual references and locatable landmarks while navigating oneself to a desired destination, such as when a sailor seeks out lighthouses while cruising down a coastline, or a pilot scans the ground for those giant airport code letters or town names emblazoned in stone upon a hillside. Motorists may likewise rely on seeing a city’s name on a water tower or other structure as a navigational aid while driving down the road; i.e. Stockton, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas come to mind.

When enough people see a symbol attached to a specific entity, whether a city, brand, structure or other venue, that association remains long after the initial application.

What all of these practices have in common is that a major entity that wished to be easily found, even from a great distance, made itself known in a big way. In these cases, cities are those entities — with public safety and the flow of interstate commerce at stake in their being readily identified.

Today, it could easily be argued that the flow of interstate commerce is even more at stake as ecommerce plays an increasingly vital role, forcing companies to go big in order to be readily discoverable by search and social media, and thus have a chance at survival.

While an advertisement during the Super Bowl is often considered at the pinnacle of going big, few mainstream companies — and even fewer adult companies — have the budget or acceptability to play in this lofty league.

This doesn’t mean that your company, regardless of size, should stay out of the game, however, if it can do something relevant.

The storied Hollywood sign is a great example of how navigation, marketing and iconography can come together in a culturally significant way, even if the origins of the landmark were far different. The same could be said for the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which was so loathed by the locals from its earliest days, but which cannot now be separated from most people’s favorable mental image of that city.

While you might wonder how adult entertainment could possibly boast a culturally significant icon, one needs look no further than the Playboy Bunny for an easy example.

When enough people see a symbol attached to a specific entity, whether a city, brand, structure or other venue, that association remains long after the initial application; and in increasingly diverse contexts — such as when a marketing attempt creates a widespread stir based upon unexpected instances of creative iconography.

One high profile example occurred in Boston back in 2007 when a publicity stunt that used battery-powered LED displays featuring a “Mooninite” character from the popular Aqua Teen Hunger Force cartoon series was mistaken as bombs when found throughout the city and its suburbs, leading to panic and police uproar — there was lots of publicity and international attention — but it came at a price for the promoters.

Flashback a couple decades to a much younger author tripping balls at the laser light show in the Planetarium at Boston’s Museum of Science, The Grateful Dead playing on the venue’s amazing sound system and the mysteries of the universe unveiled. It occurred to me then what an enormous marketing opportunity it would be if I could use a powerful laser to display corporate logos on the moon for all to see: the world’s greatest billboard.

Even the attempt would drive super publicity and sponsor dollars…

The idea has resurfaced now and again, with some smaller scale examples such as the XBIZ and sponsor logos swirling around the sides of previous event buildings, including poolside at Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel — showcasing a message that is hard to ignore.

But I still had the marketing potential of lasers and space on my mind, when I started eyeing the closer (and much more affordable from a laser firepower standpoint) target of our nearby glacier, which would make a great backdrop for the local residents, travelers on California’s Interstate 5, and the authorities, to see animated advertising displayed on.

Global warming doesn’t need help with receding the glacier, however, and I would be the first one to complain about someone ruining the view with such advertising; but there had to be a way to deliver a big time branding impact — even if on a smaller scale, along the lines of what we’ve been exploring here.

I started thinking about those stone town markers on the hillsides for early aviators and other navigators. I remembered my earliest days on the Internet, when my goal was to “put billboards on the Information Superhighway.”

And then I went about my mainstream endeavors, which rely on Google Earth and its highly detailed satellite images — images that are used, studied, reproduced, and often included in mainstream news broadcasts and other media, for a wide range of purposes. Of course, there are other such services and many sources of aerial photography, which will only increase in quantity, quality and accessibility as mobile mapping applications flourish and we enter the personal drone age where many hobbyists and other users have an aerial camera and shared imagery.

A thought took hold and I started looking up.

When Google’s April 1 “ISS” prank showed the International Space Station flying overhead in webmaster’s Google Analytics live screens, I knew I was on the right track.

What I wanted to find was a way to flip my virtual billboards so that they faced up — building the modern marketing version of the Nazca Lines — those mysterious, ancient rock designs in the Peruvian desert that can only be viewed from the air, and which are apparently meaningless when seen from the ground.

It was time to start experimenting, so in an effort to give satellite image marketing a try I cleared a flat spot out in the back yard and began planning a resolution test to see just how big a logo or URL would need to be in order to be clearly legible from space in a commercial context. Unfortunately, within moments of lighting my resulting brush pile on fire the local police and fire departments showed up to inform me that open burning is prohibited in my community. I’m really sorry to have caused such a ruckus, but it was all in the name of science.

My initial plan was a six to 10-foot diameter smiley face and a URL in three-foot-high block lettering, all done with colored gravel; but a more advanced approach has me thinking about bold and simple iconography, and what makes a good logo, but I digress.

Obviously the bigger your ad the better, but biggest isn’t always best.

Testing is also problematic, as the images I’m working with only seem to update every six months to a year; but if you have a stable base of operations, there may be no reason not to use your rooftop or other assets as a new advertising platform (check your local ordinances).

If you think of these processes as the ability to visibly watermark aerial and satellite images that just happen to coincidentally feature your home or place of business, you’ll get the idea — and you will be exposed to diverse audiences that you can’t even imagine just because they were looking down while you were looking up; and thinking about big time branding.

Stephen Yagielowicz is XBIZ’s senior technology editor.

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