Brand differentiation. Is your message too generic?

Golf is one of those categories where brand differentiation is difficult. Clubheads are as big as they’re going to get, and every brand promises the same thing… Longer, straighter drives. High technology. And distance above all else.

This headline from a Cobra Driver ad sums it up: “Scientifically engineered for insanely long, straight drives.”

Sounds insanely generic to me. Why pay $50,000 to convey a message that applies to the entire category? You could literally insert the photo of any driver and no one would know the difference. Seems like a high price to pay for invisibility.

Apparently, even golf shoes can help us hit it farther these days. Get a load of these two he-man headlines from a recent Addidas campaign:

“Lock and load… 14 weapons in your bag. Two on your feet.”

“Not a shoe, a piece of artillery.”

The brand managers at Adidas are assuming that high tech features and a Rambo tone will sell shoes just as well as drivers. But as Spike Lee once said, “Is it the shoes? Is it the shoes? Is it the shoes?”

I think not.

Here’s what the copy says in one of those shoe ads: “Three distinct power geometry zones in the outsole for maximum energy transfer during the load phase, impact and finish.”

Here’s what consumers will say: “Yeah, but are they comfortable? Do they have them in my size? How much?” Those are things relevant to Joe sixpack.

This is a category that takes itself quite seriously, indeed. In that environment, humor can be a refreshing and effective way to differentiate your brand. Titlest did it with John Cleese for the NXT Tour golf ball. FootJoy pulled if off brilliantly with their Sign Boy campaign. It’s harder to do in print, however.

Mizuno pulled it off with a series of magazine ads poking fun at the almost obsessive loyalty of their customers. These are guys who love their clubs so much they buy an extra seat on the plane rather than checking their bags. They’re the fanatics who rehearse the golf swing while waiting in line, and consider their forged irons an unfair advantage that borders on sinful. The ads were purposely, humorously, exaggerated, but they captured the authentic passion for the brand that no competitor could claim.

mizunoMp57-extend-500x509-1Those ads would absolutely not work for any other club company. I don’t play Mizuno irons, but I aspire to. And those ads spoke to me. With a wink and a nod, Mizuno confirmed what I already thought… that their forged irons are for smart, accomplished players who know something the rest of the golf world doesn’t know.

see all of Mizuno’s ads here:

Sad to say, Mizuno recently dumped that campaign and started running ads that lack the market wisdom, the emotional connection and the brand personality of the old ads. In fact, the new ads are generic enough to speak for any forged iron on the market.

Successful branding involves a high degree of differentiation. It’s about having something different to say, and saying things differently. But the message also needs to be relevant. Otherwise, different doesn’t work so well.

Adidas has a unique new shoe line and an ad campaign that’s different. I’m just not sure their message is relevant for the category.

Mizuno-MX700-DriverMizuno has a unique story to tell and unprecedented brand loyalty, but they’re running a message that’s generic.

Before you ever approve a new ad campaign for your brand, try this: Take the ads and insert the name of your competitor. Then ask yourself, objectively, does the message still work? If it does, you should seriously consider starting over.

You may just need a new concept from your agency or a new creative brief. Or you might need to devise a strategic approach that deviates from the generic, industry spiel like “Scientifically engineered for insanely long, straight drives.”

Worst case, it’ll force you to look closely at the product itself. Mizuo and Adidas both have great products that are inherently different than the competition. It shouldn’t be that hard to come up with an ad campaign that communicates the product’s differences and the brand personality in a relevant manner.

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About the Author

I’m a brand strategist, creative director, copywriter and published author living in the very livable town of Bend, Oregon. I’m also an ad agency veteran and owner of BNBranding. Read more about me »

Leave a Reply 3 comments

Oxzen Media Reply

great post! thanks for the tips and idea share. it really helps and learn the value of branding. we will come back often.

Thanks and regards,


Arthur Germain Reply


Fantastic points! It’s about telling a strong, non-generic story. In the tech industry it’s worse than golf — everything is speeds and feeds, smaller, faster and lighter. That’s what makes the recent Intel ads so refreshing (Hmm, I feel a post of my own coming on). Thanks for sharing such a great perspective!


What can you learn from Intel’s new ads? | Brandtelling Reply

[…] it’s not Just the technology industry. John Furgurson at the Brand Insight Blog notes in a fantastic post that the golfing industry suffers from similar […]

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