Identity crisis: the Masterbrand vs Campaign debate

January 19, 2023

By Zaina Muir, CEO.

What’s the difference between campaign identity, and Masterbrand identity? What should we use and where?

Questions we hear a lot. Many brands spend significant portions of their year in campaign mode. And the biggest marketing spend is usually on the creation of comms campaigns. We rightly put effort and energy into our campaigns. Internal teams get excited by them. And often creators will want to push campaign work into every facet of the brand to give it maximum visibility. So, it isn’t surprising that deploying campaign creative often causes confusion for brand owners and agencies alike.

It can be hard to find clarity, and we often get asked to help when things are already going wrong.

Without a clear plan of how campaign creative contributes to the overall brand presence, there is a risk of it taking over every brand touchpoint. And so a campaign identity that has been designed for comms assets suddenly starts showing up everywhere, regardless of the purpose of that touchpoint. So over time, the brand no longer looks like the brand- it looks like a campaign. Which is a problem. Because a campaign creative is not designed to replace your Masterbrand identity. It is a limited-time idea that has been developed to enhance the presence of your brand for a specific reason.

It might be an idea to grow affinity with your brand. It might help consumers understand a new product. It might be trying to change opinion on price or value. Whatever job the campaign is doing, it builds on the Masterbrand. And the Masterbrand continues to provide the long- term visual representation of your brand’s DNA.

But if the campaign looks great and works hard, what’s the problem with it taking over Masterbrand?

On the face of it, the damage may feel minimal in the short term. The campaign idea is strong, and the creative is successful. What’s the problem with it taking over the Masterbrand identity? Why can’t every touchpoint look like the campaign?

A campaign idea doesn’t show your full character or deliver on your full promise. And campaign visuals and assets are not intended to live forever- they will date and become irrelevant over time, especially if used out of the intended context. In the worst cases, when Masterbrand becomes totally recessive to campaign creative, brands lose salience, trust and consumer preference; they have stopped being able to tell their story fully or clearly enough through their consumer touchpoints, and their identity becomes blurred and weakened.

Finally, a campaign idea won’t work for everything- in fact, for some things, it could be harmful or confusing. Packaging, signage, e-commerce platforms- and many other consumer touchpoints- need the purity and purpose of a Masterbrand visual to ensure clarity and simplicity.

But while there are lots of questions, there are also solutions.

Successful Masterbrand identities are created from a deep-seated strategic base that gives the foundation to everything that follows. Anchoring your Masterbrand in a clear DNA and building a rich world of distinctive, ownable brand assets will mean that the Masterbrand has flexibility and durability- and isn’t reliant on campaign visual assets to prop it up. A brand playbook that is embedded and respected within the business will help ensure that your identity is coherent, and that there is clear direction for how it is applied in and out of campaign examples- creating memory structures and building presence.

And to get ahead of the mission creep, creating clear campaign guidelines is key. Especially where there is a significant spend and the campaign involves a big 360 activation. Clear campaign guidelines help brand teams know where and how to deploy their campaign creative assets, and when to leave the Masterbrand to do its job.

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