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George Ledo
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No, this column isn't about getting your cattle ready for a trip to market. Smile

My last column here was on connecting with our audiences, and it got me to thinking about celebrities and how they stay that way. If we look at any of our top celebrities from a very detached perspective, one thing that stands out – one thing they have in common – is that they're very predictable in what they do and how they behave. We think of, for instance, the late Victor Borge, and immediately imagine him as he was and as we came to know him; and then, if we watch him on tape, he delivers exactly what we expected.

Think in terms of Emeril Lagasse, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Elton John, Tiger Woods, Martha Stewart, and others. Some of these people have become so familiar that we can almost anticipate what they'll be wearing – like Hugh Hefner – and they won't disappoint us. Think of Donald Trump (the hair and the scowl), Larry King (leaning forward on his elbows and wearing suspenders), Walter Cronkite (“And that's the way it is...”), and Andy Rooney (the lovable curmudgeon).

These people have something called, in advertising circles, “brand identity.” They have set themselves up so we associate their names with what they do and how they do it, and with the experience they give us. And it goes both ways: we associate Woody Allen with his glasses, and we associate that type of glasses with Woody Allen. We did the same with Phil Silvers, and now Harry Potter has entered the mix.

Major corporations have been doing the same thing since the late 1800's, creating a consistent image that connects their name with their products and with the experience we expect from the products. When companies like Coca-Cola, Apple, IBM, and others spend zillions on corporate identity programs to make sure their logos, typefaces, and other identifying marks are used consistently, they do it to make sure we continue to see them as they want us to see them.

They're protecting their brands.

A week or two ago I responded to a post on how to get them to hire you and not someone else. My response was to give the audience something unique about you that they would remember, that would set you apart. Behaving as a consummate professional is definitely one way to do this, but, as an entertainer, you need to be more than that. You need to set yourself up so they think of you as the type of person they associate with an entertainer: a little bigger than life, fun to be around, and certainly providing a pleasant experience.

And here's my whole point: You want the client to hire you, not your tricks. Your tricks don't need the money, and can't spend it. You do, and you can. How often have I seen a comment here to the effect that “they remembered the last guy's tricks, but not his name.” Well, if that's all he gave them, of course that's all they remember.

Now let's think for a minute about some of today's top magicians. Do they have brand identity?

Oh, yeah.

Think of David Copperfield. I first knew of David (I've never met him) when he was in his early twenties, working Las Vegas. He had this persona, this recurring theme, of “the nice kid who can't find or keep a girl.” Later, in the late 80's, I saw his show in upstate New York, and he had evolved into something like a rock-star persona. He even joked about it: he showed a movie of himself doing something on TV the previous year and said that was last year's hairdo. Nowadays he's coming across more informal, more like a street magician. His persona has evolved (probably to keep up with the fact that he's getting older), but yet his overall brand is very consistent. We think “DC” and we know what to expect.

Siegfried and Roy were the same way, and so is Lance Burton, and so are Penn and Teller, David Blaine, and Criss Angel. They present a consistent image, and give us a consistent experience, and therefore we know them as far more than just the guy doing the tricks.

This is exactly what I was writing about in my previous column, when I said I didn't see the light when my audiences started to take an interest in me, because I thought the magic was the important part. I didn't have a clue what a brand was back then (this was around 1970 and I was 18 or 19), and therefore didn't go along with them and develop a brand for myself. In retrospective, I haven't regretted getting out of magic and into theatrical design, but it's a lesson learned.

Just today I found a Web site on branding, which has a number of good and short articles on the subject. Of course the vast majority are about corporate branding (and of course some are heavy on “consultant-isms” and “expert-isms”), but they're a good read, and you can't beat the price. Here's the link:

That's our departed buddy Burt, aka The Great Burtini, doing his famous Cups and Mice routine

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