On Branding: How Would You Fare On American Branding Idol?

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"American Idol" fever is sweeping the country again. It's amazing that thousands of people line up for days for a chance to meet Simon, Randy and Paula and sing for the judges. What makes it even more amazing is that most of the contestants on "American Idol" cannot sing. Not a note. They can't carry a tune in a Samsonite suitcase - they are that bad.

As you watch one tone deaf person after another submit themselves to total humiliation on national television you wonder, what on earth made those people think they can sing? How delusional do you have to be to think your off-pitch, tuneless mumbling is singing. Or, even worse, to think that singing ability isn't needed to be an "American Idol" singing star-because, as one contestant told the judges, you can do it all on personality.

I was really trying to understand what makes people do this. And it suddenly occurred to me that I face the same phenomenon all the time in my work. Because when you work in marketing you discover that most people believe if they just had a little more time they would be brilliant at marketing and advertising.

As much as I value collaboration with my clients I have a confession to make. I would love to see the launch of "Branding Idol"-with me playing the Simon Cowell role. Don't get me wrong, I respect my clients and their boards and their passion. But when you spend weeks-and sometimes months-working with professionals to develop just the right logo and tagline it's a little discouraging when someone's neighbor's best friend who bears no resemblance to the target group you designed the logo for doesn't like it. So your client comes back and asks to look "at a few more ideas." And just once I would like to answer the way Simon Cowell would answer-with a bazooka launch of scorn.

I'm talking about the person who thinks the IBM logo would look better if the "I" became a stick figure, the "B" looked like a keyboard and the "M" was a computer screen. Or who would give Burger King CU the tagline, "Have it your way because we have the best service and lowest rates because we're a credit union and you're a member-owner-so let's all walk in together holding hands and order everything together!" I know if "Branding Idol" became reality, hordes of self-appointed marketing geniuses would be ready to hit the auditions. And I would be waiting in hopes of saving the world from one more mediocre, poorly-conceived, badly designed ad.

So the next time you're tempted to start designing your own ads, or "dressing up" your logo, stop and think-would I suggest my new version if Simon Cowell was in the room?

Paul Lucas is a marketing consultant specializing in credit unions. For info: www.pauljlucas.com.

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