Image advertising can be one of the most powerful tools in all of marketing. Beyond simply telling what a product does, image ads encourage consumers to actually feel more about a brand. And it is in those feelings that meaningful brand equity, loyalty, and consumption growth can be best stimulated.

But, like any challenge requiring a tool, you've got to be sure to use the correct tool, and then to use it correctly. An advertising approach that works well for one brand, might be woefully inappropriate for another; even a competitive brand in the same category. One brand might employ an approach that is perceived as an inspiring piece of brand advocacy. Another brand can try the same tack and it could have very different results. Such is the case comparing recent image ads from Coca-Cola and Cadillac.


Coca-Cola is one of the few truly global brands. Sure there are lots of companies that sell around the world, but few that seem to be found in quite so many nooks and crannies globally like Coke does. This ad, Together, celebrates the universality of the Coca-Cola experience: the diversity of its consumers, its red bottle cap, and that they are all brought together - both literally and figuratively - by the iconic shape of its bottle. All of this forms a warm, emotionally resonant package that reinforces the ‘feel good’ aspect of the brand.


In contrast, I recently wrote about Cadillac’s new image commercials. The company has meaningfully upgraded its fleet's performance and has launched a campaign to present the 'new Cadillac'. The ads showcased some interesting creative elements to deliver their new positioning: a hardscrabble view of NYC, an obscure french anthem, an inspiring Teddy Roosevelt quote, a new tagline (Dare Greatly) etc. In their own way, each might be aspirational, perhaps even cool. I'm sure they contribute to the internal vision of the new Cadillac.  

The problem is that their connection to the new Cadillac experience has yet to be established with consumers. As such, they seem to metaphorically float out there around the brand without the gravity of a clearly articulated message to attach them to it. Many consumers are probably left with the feeling, “This is all kind of cool, but what does it have to do with Cadillac?”  As a result, the campaign could be more  persuasive.


The Coke image ad, on the other hand, stands in stark contrast. While it also features imagery that is disconnected from the product experience - the connection to the Coke brand here is crystal clear.


Why the double standard? Why can Coke get away with subtle and creative image-driven advertising and not Cadillac?


It’s because Coke has been investing in communicating these types of images and messages (and feelings), seemingly, forever. Whether its the Sundblom Santa or the Polar Bears or the syrupy “niceness” of the Mean Joe Green spot, consumers have been seeing this type of image advertising from Coke for generations. As such, this spot simply reinforces what we already know. It underscores (strategic) messages already in our heads!


Coke is what it has, pretty much, always been. 'Together' simply reminds us of that. And in this day when all carbonated soft drinks face existential threats because of serious health concerns, Coke must 'up the volume' significantly on these types of feel good ads.

Cadillac, on the other hand, has been doing exciting new things with their cars and is evolving their brand to take better advantage of that. They are communicating a new positioning and message as a result. Before those messages are firmly seeded in consumers' minds, they just have to clearly articulate what the future vision is. Don’t allude. Don’t be subtle. By all means, be creative - but just tell us!

Image advertising can be an extremely important brand building tool. In particular, it can help burnish the all-important emotional connections that consumers can have with the brands in their lives. Companies just have to be thoughtful and strategic about the use of this approach, if for no other reason than to ensure that consumers get the full benefit of the message that they intend to communicate.

Marketers just must be clear that a blanket approach to image advertising will not work. 


BTW, this Coca-Cola ad is actually quite brilliant creative!  Great stuff!


To learn more about how to apply the principles from this blog to your business, please get in touch! michael[at]



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Tags: advertising, brand, brandstrategy, cadillac, coca-cola, positioning


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