Wrap Tip: Sell the Message (Not the Medium)

A vinyl-wrapped vehicle is a perfect medium for a visual hammer message

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Wrappers have done a wonderful job in selling the medium of vinyl vehicle wraps. The business is booming and is sure to increase. But it might grow even faster if wrappers also learned to sell a type of “message” that vehicle wraps would be perfect for.

And what is that message? It’s the message conveyed by a visual hammer-a visual element that nails an ideainto the minds of consumers. Some prime examples include:

  • The “contour bottle” that says Coca-Cola is the real thing.
  • The “lime” that says Corona is the authentic Mexican beer.
  • The “cowboy” that says Marlboro is the masculine cigarette.
  • The “straw in the orange” that says Tropicana is not from concentrates like the other orange-juice brands.
  • The “polo player” that says Ralph Lauren is the upscale shirt brand.
  • The “Tri-Star” that says Mercedes-Benz is the prestige vehicle.

All of these are leading brands and much of their success is due to the exceptionally powerful visual hammers that have been put into play.

Visual Hammers that Work

Take Corona, for example. The only real difference between Corona and hundreds of other beer brands is the lime served on top of the Corona bottle. Corona advertising uses nothing but limes on top of beer bottles.

Yet Corona, a working-class Mexican beer with a painted label, has become the largest-selling imported beer in America, ahead of Heineken, the No.2 brand by about 50 percent. Corona also became the 86th most-valuable brand in the world, the only Mexican brand on Interbrand’s list of 100 most-valuable global brands.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, a Belgium company, ending up buying the share it did not already own of Grupo Modelo (owners of Corona) for a price that valued the company at $40 billion. (InBev acquired Anheuser-Busch in 2008 for just $52 billion.)

Then there’s Stella Artois, the Budweiser of Belgium, so ordinary that fast-food restaurants in Brussels serve it in plastic cups. No plastic cups for Stella Artois in the U.S. market. The importer provided bars and restaurants with its unique, gold-tipped chalice glasses. Today, Stella Artois is the eighth largest-selling imported beer, ahead of such well-known brands as Beck’sFoster’s and Amstel Light. As the advertising says: “It’s a Chalice. Not a glass.”

Then there’s the Silver Bullet train, the visual hammer of Coors Light, the only mainstream beer brand in the last few years to have increased its market share. Recently, Coors Light passed regular Budweiser to become the second largest-selling beer in America.        

Consider the Aflac duck. Before the duck, Aflac had a name recognition of 12 percent. Today, it’s 94 percent. The first year the duck was advertised, sales went up 29 percent; the second year, 28 percent; the third year, 18 percent.

Then there’s the watchband of a Rolex. There are hundreds of Swiss watches and Rolex certainly wasn’t the first watch, nor was it the first expensive watch.

But today, Rolex is by far the most-profitable Swiss watch brand. Why? Because of its visual hammer, that unique watchband that has been copied by many other brands. But it doesn’t really matter. Those copies just look like “imitation” Rolexes.

Then there’s the pink ribbon of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Consider what that symbol has done for Nancy Brinker who started foundation in 1982 to fight breast cancer in memory of her sister. Since then, the foundation has raised nearly $2 billion. Today, Susan G. Komen for the Cure is the world’s largest nonprofit source of money to combat breast cancer. In contrast, the American Cancer Society was founded in 1913, yet most people have no idea what visual symbol the society uses.

Then there’s the green jacket of a Masters champion. In the world of professional golf, there are four major championships: (1) The U.S. Open, (2) The British Open, (3) The PGA Championship and (4) The Masters. The first three are hosted by major golf organizations, but the Masters is hosted by a private club, the Augusta National Golf Club.

Guess which tournament draws the most attention? The Masters, of course. And the reason is the green jacket.

Then there’s … Well, you rapidly run out of examples of successful visual hammers because very few brands use them, very few brands even think about using them, and very few brands know exactly what a visual hammer is.

In the Automotive World

Take the automobile industry, for example. There are 22 brands that each sells more than 100,000 vehicles a year.

  • What’s the visual hammer for Ford? It doesn’t have one.
  • What’s the visual hammer for Chevrolet? It doesn’t have one.
  • What’s the visual hammer for Toyota? It doesn’t have one.

Of those 22 automobile brands I alluded to, there are only two brands with visual hammers: Mercedes-Benzand BMW.

BMW owns “driving,” an achievement that turned the brand into the world’s largest-selling luxury vehicle. The visual hammer that nailed “driving” into the minds of consumers were TV commercials showing happy owners driving BMWs around winding roads.

In 2009, BMW switched to “joy,” a verbal concept that tried to broaden the appeal of the brand. But how do you visualize joy? Like many other high-level abstract words (happiness, enthusiasm, customer satisfaction, quality) joy cannot be visualized in any meaningful way.

For nine years in a row, from 2001 to 2009, BMW led archrival Mercedes-Benz in the U.S. market and then, in 2010, after launching the joy campaign, fell behind Mercedes. Wisely, BMW ditched joy and drove back to its driving nail.

Two out of 22 is the score for the automobile industry. Most other industries do even worse. Most other industries are even more baffled than the automobile industry about visual hammers and their function.

Golden Opportunity for Wraps Industry

The wrap industry has a golden opportunity to educate marketing people about the development and use of visual hammers. And the payoff could be enormous. A vinyl-wrapped vehicle is a perfect medium for a visual hammer message. A vinyl-wrapped vehicle is big, bold and awfully hard to miss. Furthermore, you don’t need words to deliver your message. The visual is the word.

It’s the visual that says Corona is the authentic Mexican beer. It’s the visual that says Coca-Cola is the real thing. It’s the visual that says Tropicana is not from concentrate.

If you can convince your prospects of the power of a visual-hammer message, you don’t really have to sell the vinyl-wrap medium.

There’s no other medium that can communicate a visual message better than a wrap.

Laura Ries

Laura Ries is president of Ries & Ries, a marketing-strategy firm located in Atlanta, Georgia. Her book, Visual Hammer, is a digital book available from Amazon.com and Apple iTunes. Her website is www.ries.com.

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