What Every Brand Needs: An Enemy

Author: Vince Soliven

As an ad man, I love advertising with a passion bordering on pathological. The smell of fresh ink on glossy paper, the thrill of a well-crafted tagline, the sweet symphony of a perfect integrated campaign speaking to me at every touchpoint—it all sends shivers down my spine. Yet, as a wannabe DIYer scrubbing through YouTube on a Tuesday night at 8:39 PM, desperately seeking enlightenment on finishing drywall, I find myself filled with a loathing that could fuel a thousand anti-ad campaigns. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. Skip ad.

The dichotomy is stark and unavoidable, much like the contrast between my professional and personal self. Howard Gossage once said, "People don't read ads. They read what interests them. Sometimes it's an ad." This nugget of wisdom has only grown more pertinent as I’ve progressed in my career. My off-duty brain, weary from the daily grind of conjuring clever concepts, only surrenders to advertising that is not just creative but laced with tension—be it dramatic or comedic.

Upon deeper reflection, the root of bad advertising becomes glaringly obvious: it shouts without a point of view, mimics trends with no rhyme or reason, and is as inconsistent as my attempts at home improvement. In essence, bad advertising is soulless. Good, creative advertising, however, has a secret weapon—it has an enemy.

Enemy #1: The Competitor
In our field, this is the most obvious foe. Our brand is the scrappy underdog, hell-bent on dethroning the reigning champion. In advertising, we wield an arsenal of “reasons to believe”: we’re faster, cheaper, and “cooler.” Take our latest work for Sound Transit. Mass transit’s nemesis? Driving. We painted driving as the villain of the piece, the cause of endless traffic jams, stress, and general misery. We showed how mass transit was the shining beacon of hope, the faster, drama-free alternative everyone should embrace. (Disclaimer: This tactic only works if you have a competitive edge, a RTB that outshines their RTB. It’s Marketing 101, but with a dash of theatrical flair.)

Enemy #2: An Undesirable Emotion
We humans are predictable. We crave happiness and loathe anything that makes us feel mad, frustrated, or cheated. If we can position a brand as the antidote to these negative feelings, our clients win. The brand sentiment soars, it becomes more relatable, and in the best-case scenario, it’s actually liked—perhaps even loved. Consider our Unbearable campaign for Alaska Communications. We waged war against the frustration of subpar internet service, a monopolistic scourge with bad service and high prices. We positioned Alaska Communications as the hero, swooping in to save the day as the obvious alternative. We crafted narratives that tapped into the raw emotion of frustration while leveraging the most Alaskan thing possible—a family of bears. Our ads became an empathetic rallying cry for consumers who felt oppressed by their current provider, a beacon of hope in a world of throttled internet speeds.

Enemy #3: A Misconception
Sometimes, the public narrative about your brand is as wrong as a lettuce sandwich. Correcting this misconception can be transformative. Take our brand activation for Visit Seattle. The enemy? Prevalent belief that Seattle’s rain made the city unvisitable during the Fall and Winter. Our idea flipped this negative into a positive and allowed consumers in drought-ridden cities to have a moment of cinematic romance in the rain. Suddenly, the city wasn’t just bearable in precipitation—it was irresistible. We turned rain, once seen as a deterrent, into a unique selling point. It became a symbol of intimacy and passion, reshaping the public’s perception of Seattle and boosting tourism in the process.

Enemy #4: A Stigma
If you can create a platform that turns this stigma on its head, your brand transcends the product and becomes a symbol for a greater cause. Take our work with Premera and the Seattle Kraken, battling the mental health stigma. We launched a campaign that didn’t just normalize mental illness, but actively engaged with the community, sparking conversations and creating safe spaces for those struggling—even “tough guy” hockey players. But the pièce de résistance? The Dove campaign, which took on the portrayal of beauty in mainstream media. Dove’s enemy was unrealistic beauty standards, and it altered the conversation forever, transforming a humble bar of soap into a legacy of real beauty. It challenged societal norms and encouraged people to embrace their true selves, flaws and all. This bold stance resonated deeply, creating a powerful emotional connection with consumers and solidifying Dove’s place as a champion of real beauty.

Add an Enemy to Your Brief
At first glance, having multiple enemies might seem daunting. But if your brand can stare down these adversaries with an insightful strategy, a fresh, compelling point of view, or perhaps a family of bears, these foes can become your greatest allies. Each enemy presents an opportunity to differentiate your brand, to stand out in a crowded marketplace, and to forge deeper connections with your audience. Choose your brand’s enemies wisely. And if your brand doesn’t have any enemies, you better damn well find one. Because in the world of advertising, an enemy isn’t just a foe—it’s a catalyst for resonance.