Building A Brand Without Advertising?

Often I come across clients who want to build their brand without spending on advertising. They will narrate the examples of Amazon, Apple and Starbucks. For good measure, they will also quote from the book, The Fall of Advertising, The Rise of PR, by Al and Laura Ries.

True, there are brands that have grown without spending on advertising — like Krispy Kreme, Facebook and GoPro — but these are rare exceptions to the general rule. (And almost always the examples the clients give are wrong. Apple, for instance, is known for its iconic advertising.)

But is it really possible to build a brand without advertising? I guess theoretically the answer would be yes. Maybe with Richard Branson-like PR stunts, through word of mouth or perhaps with an offering so differentiated that it guarantees automatic PR mileage, possibly you could. Further, you will also need a lot of time to achieve what you would have achieved through advertising.

Though often the client does not realize that when he says advertising, he means traditional advertising, and excludes digital and social media, and some of those who shun mainstream advertising are big spenders in this domain.

However, the fact remains that advertising — particularly traditional advertising — is still the most formidable weapon in your marketing arsenal. This is truer in a market like India where a television commercial aired during a cricket match will practically reach the entire nation.

Imagine you are launching a luxury brand. While it’s important that the advertising communication should reach the potential customer, it’s as or even more important that those who cannot afford it should be exposed to the advertisement, too. Because one reason people choose luxury brands is to flaunt it, and for that others too need to know that the brand is flaunt-worthy. To achieve this, digital advertising targeted exclusively to the target audience alone will not work, but traditional advertising will deliver in spades.

Another point to note is that when a customer sees an advertisement, especially on television, it instils trust and confidence in the brand. In Kerala, quite a few years ago, a television channel approached big spenders in print, and offered to make television commercials for them for free; the only condition was that they should run them on their channel. The leading newspaper countered it by telling the clients that it is far more cost effective to run their ads in print than on TV as newspapers have far more reach, which was indeed true. However I would like to believe that the clients profited by advertising on TV. Though the reach may have been lower, a TV advertisement lends the brand more stature.

Simply put, we are still quite far away from seeing the last of advertising, especially in India where most brands are under-branded and under-advertised. If you are strapped for cash, and would like to build the brand without advertising, remember the words of Bruce Barton, the second B in BBDO, “In good times, people want to advertise; in bad times, you have to.”

So, a word of advice if you are all set to build a brand without advertising. Don’t.

Originally published at on December 23, 2015.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.