Bullets Under Branding

“Just the facts, ma’am…”

If you’re a fan of classic American TV, you recognize this quotation as one of a handful of signature catch phrases from Dragnet. Sgt. Friday’s no-nonsense attitude to crime investigation left no room for emotion, inference or induction. He was objective, y’all.

But if you’re not a fan of classic TV, you probably still recognize the quotation as something else: The subtext for a vast quantity of marketing/advertising speak. Surely, the fact that, in either scenario, a lot of your attention would be taken up with “bullets,” is just kismet. At least I hope so.

After all, I’d hate to think the real reason behind the ubiquitous use of bulleted copy in advertising is to beat the consumer into submission. I mean, it would be like saying:

“Get in line, I’ve got bullets here.”

If you think I’m over the top with this analogy, I’m willing to bet you will agree there’s something kind of controlling about a bulleted list. Such a list leaves consumers little room to do the one thing that might make them engage with your brand.  That is, come to their own conclusions about the benefits of your product or service.

Now, I get the bit about brevity. In fact,

  • I
  • understand
  • completely

It’s just that the other thing bullet points do is break up the natural flow human communication, by turning language into signage. Worse, their main purpose is to make a brand’s desperate recitation of product benefits more palatable to its customers.

As such, they’re a solution whose chief function is to mask a deeper problem. If you actually believe your value to consumers is a set of features, rather than a measurable uptick in quality of life, you’ve gone beyond selling the wrong way.

You’re selling the wrong thing.

What matters to Jill42.
At issue is not how to communicate more briefly but how to craft a global message succinct enough to be expressed in a few words. These days, especially, when consumer behavior is heavily influenced by online peer reviews, they’re more likely to see product features as a point of entry rather than a point of sale. Their inner dialogue runs:

“Hmm. 39-inch LED TV. Name brand. HDMI ports. What are my friends saying?”

Far better than chopping your prose into meaningless nuggets, is making an emotional connection—by telling your audience how your product will improve their lives, match their self-image and fit into their personal narrative. Not to mention crucial considerations like “Will my mom like it?”

Keep in mind, however: there are no shortcuts to making those emotional connections. Once you gain a useful consumer insight, it’s no good peppering your ad with bullets like:

“Great for moms!”


“Your mom will love it!”

That’s because, in 2013, when a typical American’s every nerve ending is already tingling with marketing messages, you have to communicate the old fashioned way, with believable anecdotal evidence. In this world, sticking to “the facts” won’t cut it.

Instead, you need a message so clear, so memorable and so tickly that consumers will wonder what Jack24 said to Jill42 about “what it is with your mom liking that TV or whatever on Facebook.”

Knowing the essence of essential.
How do you create such a message? Start by realizing what most people learn in middle school (or, in some cases, 40 years later). Want a response from someone whose attention you desire? Don’t be desperate, and let your innate good qualities speak for themselves. If you’ve no good qualities, you’re simply not ready for market—and should focus on “product development.”

On the other hand, the metaphor continues, maybe your problem is a failure to recognize where your true qualities lie. If anyone, at this point, thinks Apple could boost unit sales of iPad Air by listing more technical details, they’re mistaken. Visit Apple.com and see for yourself: the message is “Lightness.” Even the site’s technical drilldown simply lists more reasons the product is light.

Every “bullet point” in other words, is a restatement of one bullet point, a message you can’t forget even if all you remember is the product name.

And lest anyone miss the obvious, there’s very little more essential to human life than “air.” With messaging like this—that radiates out from core product attributes—Apple’s product leaves the world of facts far behind and enters the consumer narrative whether we want it to or not.

That, amigo, is branding. Anything else is just words, pictures—and tears-on-the-pillow desperation.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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