Creative Works Brand Strategy #advertising

A ‘platform idea’ is so much more than a tagline

By Elliott Starr, Creative Director



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April 17, 2024 | 8 min read

A good brand needs a great platform idea, says Elliott Starr of Impero. And don’t think you can get away just using its tagline: the two have very different jobs.

A sunset with a melting smiley-face sun

A platform idea has to do more than a tagline, says Impero's Elliott Starr / Credit: Impero

What exactly is a 'platform idea'? I’ll do my best to explain. But, to divide the room right off the bat, it isn’t a tagline – and I’ll tell you why.

Put down that pitchfork, ye’ mobber. I know, I know. It’s more jargon. It’s more words just to explain ideas. But as the landscape on which we distribute our ideas changes, and dramatically so, so does the language we use to describe those ideas.

Besides, wouldn’t it be a little concerning if a creative company’s leadership described their approach to marketing success using the same language as 100 years ago? Would any client buy that pitch? Nein, danke.

Firstly, thank you to creative director Jason Bagley and his superb podcast, Bagley Talks to an Important Person, for getting me thinking about this, and for providing some of the nuggets below.

Like a tagline, a platform idea needs to be both expansive and inspiring, able to act as a creative springboard for the brand. Where it starts to deviate from a tagline is that it needs to be able to do this anywhere.

The platform idea should be able to inspire everything, from a musical theatre production about the brand, to a 60-second TV ad, a six-second pre-roll ad, to on-pack copy about why – in the instance of a homeware brand – the company prefers to use a particular type of screw.

Internally, it should mean so much more, and ladder up to a broader brand philosophy. Upon hearing the platform idea, a person should be able to complete the sentence: “Brand X cares more about [insert here] than anything else. The entire way they look at the world is through the lens of [insert here].”

Who has the meat?

A good platform idea should be a statement, not a point of view. It's a microscope, not a telescope. And nuanced as it may be, that difference matters. The example Bagley provides in his podcast is Arby's: “We have the meats.“

In one sense, this is a factual statement. In its competitor set, Arby’s offers the greatest variety of meats and ways to eat meat. In another, it's a focus for the brand and all of its communications – they're all about meat, obsessed with it.

If you wanted to nudge this a few meters down the side of the brand pyramid and turn it into a tagline, you might say: Home of America's best meat.“ But I'd argue your workforce, and your customer base, would be less galvanized by this around a collective worship of meat. It's also a vastly inferior piece of writing.

“Home of America's best meat,” doesn't give me Arby's perspective on the world. If I handle Arby's social media, it doesn't tell me how I should respond when things are popping off amid a new Glasgow Willy Experience fiasco. Because it doesn’t completely tell me what Arby’s is: you've given me a line that sits on the end or in the corner (usually) of an ad.

Platform idea, then tagline

Another way of putting this might be that without the platform idea, the tagline wouldn’t be possible. Years ago I worked for the charity Anthony Nolan, which supports people with diseases of the blood, finding suitable stem cell matches for them. Their tagline was: “Saving the lives of people with blood cancer.“

But they needed a platform idea. We found this in: “Without you, there is no cure.“

This is to say, that without you, and your stem cell donation (most literal) or financial donation, or fundraising efforts (least literal), Anthony Nolan literally can’t save the lives of people with blood cancer. So the platform idea acted as a parent, sitting above the tagline.

A platform idea is not an execution, like a TV ad. It does not live in a particular medium. It informs the medium. It informs the way a brand behaves and speaks to its customers, and its market. It's a belief. It's a philosophy. It's what the brand stands for. It's a set of words that you can very easily use to talk about where the brand stands on anything. (Thank you, Mr. Bagley.)

A central, unifying creative expression of a brand's strategic positioning within its competitor set. A foundation for all of a brand's marketing, communication, behavior, and product development, and customer experience strategies.

A cornerstone of consistency

Humans love consistency in other humans, and they feel no differently when it comes to brands. They want to be surprised, sure. But they want to be surprised by a brand they feel they know. (Who wasn’t a completely different brand last week, after all?)

The platform idea allows the brand to show up as the same human in each space a customer can come into contact with it. It encapsulates the essence of the brand, its values, personality, and promise to its customers, providing a consistent narrative and personality across all touch points.

In contrast, a tagline is the brand's catchphrase. Rooted in the platform idea, it's a specific, memorable way the brand signs off when it speaks to the world.

Like a tagline, a platform idea helps to build emotional investment in the brand, of both customers and internal stakeholders.

Unlike a tagline, it doesn’t just inform ads.

Creative Works Brand Strategy #advertising

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