It’s not what you like, it’s what they like. I am constantly approached by people who make a thing that they think is awesome, but nobody else cares about it. When I first started my agency, this was the lion’s share of my business, trying to retrofit something someone was selling to an audience that didn’t ask for it. A commodity isn’t about what YOU need, it’s about what THEY need. Pay attention to THEM.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Alexander Ferzan.
Alexander Ferzan was born and raised in New York, and now proudly claims “Miami transplant”. He came to life in the late 90’s punk scene, transitioning from mediocre musician to talent representative, pursuing a path in music management for almost a decade before jumping ship to put his art school degree to work. Now specializing in non-traditional marketing and advertising, Ferzan prides himself on developing alternative ideas for brands that can stomach the risk. From Bieber, to Four Loko, Ferzan has spent the better part of the last 10 years creating out of the box initiatives for some of the best brands on the planet, out of a small creative shop he calls ZADDY.
Ferzan, The Fat Jewish and White Girl Problems also founded BABE (recently acquired by Anheuser-Busch), a wine company that revolutionized the alcohol industry by leveraging audience and voice over social media and traditional advertising outlets. When he’s not handling special projects for his clients, Ferzan is focused on owned and operated brand development, creating intellectual property in house and building teams to bring each initiative to life. Oh, he’s also 5’9”.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The truth lies in a confluence of two factors; I refused to work for anyone else, and my process was a bit too alternative for any employer to truly stomach. That meant I had no choice but to work for myself, applying a whole quiver of amalgamated skills to whatever project I could see myself benefitting. From managing punk bands as a kid, I had no choice but to do everything — from sending out demos, to doing packaging design, to even hopping on stage and playing when a band member had the flu.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve mad countless mistakes, it’s part of innovating. One that my colleagues never let me live down was with regard to a meeting we had with distributors for White Girl Rosé early on, where I had the stage for 5 minutes and completely blacked out, going full wax poetic on super deep cut entertainment and internet industry jargon. Essentially, I was telling a room of 350lb liquor sales reps named, “Sal” about how @browncartigan isn’t a good outlet for marketing spends due to the disconnect between meme audiences and theme or personality accounts. Biggest take away, know your audience.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We focus on non-traditional tactics in every strategy we design, that’s the gist. When Four Loko wants to make a splash, we do a collaboration with Fleshlight and send celebrities prosthetic vaginas in a Four Loko can. When Babe wants to prove that they crush the competition, we build a wine endorsed monster truck and jump it 100 feet in the air, only to land on a bunch of spiked seltzer demolition cars. We just don’t care what anyone thinks is “too much” or “nuts”…we do what we think will slap, and we do it hard.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, every project we are working on is exciting, that’s something I can say with confidence. While some give away money or help people get tested for STD’s (stay tuned for that one) the one that stands out as the most exciting and helpful at the same time would be “99PROJECTS”, a CSR platform we built for AriZona Iced Tea. 99PROJECTS is AriZona’s commitment to bringing 99 creative ideas to life, no matter how long or how much it takes. People can submit their ideas at99projects.org and AriZona will choose the ideas they will fund.
We’re also doing a bunch of notable talent initiatives, in trade. From sending Mike “The Real Tarzann” Holston to Ecuador during a global pandemic to continue his conservational efforts, to helping Raw Rodgers live out his dreams as a 50 year-old pro skater, we’re the team helping to make it happen.
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
Brand Marketing and Product Marketing used to be different, but now everything is the same. When I was a kid, you were a skater, a punk, a jock or a nerd. These days it isn’t so segregated. All creative types have converged, thanks to the internet, and it’s an amazing time to be everything at once. For brands, it’s no different. A brand’s voice is just as important as the Product Integration and it all needs to hit just as hard as the call to action. Everything is happening at the same time, and the ones who get that are the ones who are winning.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
You know, a few years ago I think I’d actually agree with the presumption of this question, but I’ve grown out of it. Building a brand is kind of bull, to be honest. It’s a tactic that us woke millennial entrepreneurs engineered to increase the value of our product or service to out of touch executives, basically the VICE methodology. “We control the audience, so we can just tell them what to do.” We now know that’s not true, it’s smoke and mirrors. There is no brand without a great product or a great offering. My goals have shifted from storytelling to consumer listening. Some of the most ubiquitous brands we intimately know did nothing but offer something great at a value, brands like OxyClean, Cellino & Barnes and Glock didn’t focus on building a brand, they focused on a product people needed, and how to offer it in an enticing way. Tesla and SpaceX are the best examples of that today. No commercials, no real social media, no ads…just great products.
Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
1) It’s not what you like, it’s what they like.
I am constantly approached by people who make a thing that they think is awesome, but nobody else cares about it. When I first started my agency, this was the lion’s share of my business, trying to retrofit something someone was selling to an audience that didn’t ask for it. A commodity isn’t about what YOU need, it’s about what THEY need. Pay attention to THEM.
2) “Too far down the road” is B.S.
A lot of people fear shutting a project down or pivoting because they consider the amount of time and energy invested to be a factor in the potential success, or lost revenue. That’s not true. Beating a dead horse will only result in a really dead horse that no one cares about. If it’s not working, cut your losses! You’ll limit your wasted utilities and probably make up for it sooner with a better idea.
3) There is no “way” to do stuff.
If you don’t have a hammer, you’ll probably whack a nail with the nearest hard object. You’re not going to not get that nail in the wall. Similarly with marketing, advertising, brand development, etc., if you follow the path of someone before you, you’re not innovating. Now, that path might be a thorny trail of potholes and oil slicks, but if you get to the end faster, better, richer — who cares? Agencies and brands all think they know the path to success, and the truth is most of the time all they do is proliferate mediocrity. Do it your way.
4) You don’t know one thing about anything at all.
Spew heaps of B.S. at all times to get the job done, but then just shut-up and listen. You’re the only one who knows you actually don’t know anything at all.
5) Ok now you’re a F*ing genius.
Ok truth is, if you made it this far, you’re on to something. Appease everyone by listening with one ear open, exercise ‘assimilation contrast’ where it fits, but know that you know what’s best in the end — and do what you have to do to protect that.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Apple, Tesla, Nike, blah, blah, blah…ALSO, FOUR LOKO, never once defined a brand voice or narrative, they just let the consumer believe what they wanted and give the product an organic voice. They let the fans do the work because the product was so strong.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
Said it before, I’ll say it again…branding and marketing and sales are all part of the same 21st century beast. Can’t have one without the other. Success is paying your bills and putting some money away at the end of the month.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Media, be it social, earned, traditional, is at the root of all campaigns we design. We typically think headline backwards when we’re ideating, and if it’s not going to work in the news, then we make sure it’s photo-worthy for the internet. If it isn’t on the internet, did it even actually happen?
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
If you don’t want to avoid burn out, don’t do this. Get a job that allows you to retire at 45 with full bennies, and enjoy your family and ice -cold Bud Lights the rest of your life. Otherwise, burn the f* out. That’s how we do it, we rip and shred.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Proofread your meltdowns. Type it out, read it an hour later, edit it, read it an hour later, edit it, read it an hour later…then see if you still want to send it. You’ll get a lot further doing the exact opposite of what you want to do at any given moment, then doing what you want to do at any given moment.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Omg, I’m literally writing a toilet top book on euphemisms — this is my thing! Ok…
Mom: People tell you who they are everyday, only you refuse to believe them.
Ram Dass: Everybody’s busy being somebody.
Fat Jew: There’s a million ways to say, ‘fuck you’.
Ace Ventura: If I’m not back in 5 minutes…just wait longer.
The relevance for all these quotes is simply to reflect on what you do, say, hear, and think — just be different, ’cause if you’re different, you’re probably better.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Hmmm, how’s about Donald Trump (yes, I think he’s an a**hole obviously), the ghost of Steve Jobs and that 12 year-old Burger King hired as their creative director like 6 years ago — that kid rips.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.