Using Simplicity and Subtlety to Make a Brand Stand Out

This Ring video doorbell advertisement has been simplified to two images – the doorbell and the image you get on your smartphone showing who is on your doorstep. The visitor faces you see are friendly, but the ad subtly underlines the product’s value when more malign intruders come knocking.

This Ring video doorbell advertisement has been simplified to two images – the doorbell and the image you get on your smartphone showing who is on your doorstep. The visitor faces you see are friendly, but the ad subtly underlines the product’s value when more malign intruders come knocking.

Standing out in the crowd is essential in today’s overloaded brand world. Sometimes it just takes a little imagination and an awareness of the moment.

Highlighter pen maker Stabilo Boss launched a series of print ads in 2018 based on historical black-and-white photos of remarkable women, including Katherine Johnson. She was the NASA “computer” featured in the award-winning movie Hidden Figures who made the complex mathematical calculations for safely returning the Apollo 11 astronauts from the moon to earth.

The simply designed ad pictured the NASA control room full of white men wearing white shirts, except for Johnson, who is African-American. She was singled out in the photograph with a yellow highlight connected to a Stabilo Boss pen. The ad carried the headline, “Highlight the remarkable.” 

The campaign, which also featured similar ads “highlighting” Nobel Prize winner Lise Meitner and First Lady Edith Wilson, was a social media smash and distinguished Stabilo Boss from what we think of as generic highlighter pens.

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What makes this ad series so impressive is how deceptively simple it was to create and execute them. The key was linking “highlighting” and “highlighters,” then imagining what would be impressive to highlight. The ad creators identified remarkable women as a topical, positive and appealing subject. And voilà. 

What makes the Johnson-centered ad so appealing is its simplicity and subtlety. It also should be a light-bulb moment that creating great marketing material can be manageable, affordable and even pleasurable. 

The initial inspiration was to connect the distinctive quality of the product with a concept that embodies or signifies that quality – highlighter/highlight. The purpose of highlighter pens is to make something stand out, so the next decision is what deserves to be highlighted for standing out? All it took was an awareness of trending topics. Recognizing women for signal achievements fit the moment as the #MeToo movement continued to claim public attention and social media traction.

Marketers, brand managers and entrepreneurs can trace a similar logic train to discover a wildly simple, yet evocative way to shine a light on their products. The result of the thought process might be only a sketch or an inspiration image. A graphic designer can take it from there.

Before going all in, test reaction to your ad. Ask your test group if the ad shows off what makes your brand distinctive, catches the eye and is in step with current trends. See if your ad has the sparkle it takes to be shared and talked about.

Developing effective marketing content can be a dreary task. Creating a homegrown winner using the Stabilo Boss formula can be fun and rewarding. It might even be a career highlighter.