Rethinking Native Advertising: 3 Steps to a Brand Transplant

Takeaways from #NativeDAYS18, when Carla Johnson spoke about Brand Detachment Disorder, how it can inhibit creativity and how to overcome it.

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By Jenna Mescon
Editor, Brand Movers
Copenhagen, Denmark
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Some years ago, Carla Johnson, an experienced marketer turned professional speaker and best-selling author had a realisation. She realised that every time she heard a presentation about an impressive brand, she would completely check out.

She couldn’t help but discount their ideas as irrelevant to her. At the time, Johnson was working for a mining company and big brands talking about their innovative ideas just didn’t seem like something that would work in her space.

It turned out that what she was experiencing was a psychological phenomenon called Brand Detachment Disorder and it affects us all!

At Native Advertising DAYS 2018 in Berlin, November 6-8, Carla Johnson spoke all about Brand Detachment Disorder, how it can inhibit creativity and how to overcome it, giving way to consistent innovation. I had the pleasure of sitting in on her eye-opening talk. Here are the takeaways.

Brand Detachment Disorder is the tendency to dismiss great marketing ideas as irrelevant or non-applicable because what we do is different or unique.

What is Brand Detachment Disorder?

Ever hear about a brand and think, “My head will explode if I hear about them one more time?” If so, according to Johnson, you suffer from Brand Detachment Disorder.

Among the many brands that spurred this kind of reaction at Native Advertising DAYS 2018 were big names, such as Facebook, Nestlé and even the Trump brand.

Brand Detachment Disorder is the tendency to dismiss great marketing ideas as irrelevant or non-applicable because what we do is different or unique. It’s the tendency to, instead of recognising the great work of others and learning from it, simply say, “that would never work in my organisation.”

RELATED: 10 Quick Takeaways from Native Advertising DAYS 2018

Why is this practice so detrimental? According to Johnson, it’s because these big brands, no matter how different they are from our own brands are essentially setting the stage for what customers expect of all of us. Ignoring them is essentially settling for mediocrity.

“When it comes to native advertising, there are iconic brands that get all the credit for doing the cool work. We have to stop discounting great work from inspiring brands like this and instead use it for our own inspiration because these are the kinds of things that are setting the expectations for our audience, ” says Johnson.

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When you step back to observe, and when you reserve judgment, you begin to see the little things that you may have ignored before.

3 steps to overcoming Brand Detachment Disorder

The good news is, although Brand Detachment Disorder is pervasive, it’s relatively simple to overcome through a process Johnson calls a “brand transplant.”

What’s a brand transplant?

“When you take the essence behind a great idea, a great experience, a great brand and you take that and transplant that into your own work that you do,” explains Johnson.

RELATED: Brands Should Implement Newsroom Best Practices to Engage Their Audience

According to her, being able to carry out this process is critical to rethinking the work you do, and is the difference between companies that innovate and innovative companies. Luckily for us, she broke down the process in three steps:

Step 1: Observe. Begin to observe the world around you with more awareness. When you step back to observe, and when you reserve judgment, you begin to see the little things that you may have ignored before. These little things can present tremendous opportunities for us.

Step 2: Distill. In order to integrate these observations into a meaningful whole, you have to have to distil them into a pattern, with much broader meaning.

Step 3: Transplant. Now that you have a distilled idea, you can take it and relate it to your own brand.

“When we do this process from start to finish, it’s the same process that the most innovative people in the world do, whether they realise it or not.”

Creative brainstorm vs brand transplant

You may be familiar with the process of a creative brainstorm. Everybody rapid fires ideas until one is landed on, pitched to upper management and often rejected. Why is this? There was no context; the idea wasn’t part of a bigger whole.

When following the three steps of a brand transplant, pitching ideas doesn’t even begin until after the third step. In this way, all your ideas are naturally nested in context.

RELATED: How Publishers Can Learn More About Users to Create Better Content

These steps aren’t exactly new. In fact, they summarise the methods employed by many successful persons and organisations.

“When we do this process from start to finish, it’s the same process that the most innovative people in the world do, whether they realise it or not,” Johnson explains.

You can find the inspiration for a great idea anywhere you are.

Creativity is everybody’s job

Another factor that differentiates the good from the great is how creativity is viewed within their organisation. Johnson is adamant that the key to consistent creativity lies in “ the democracy of ideas.” Meaning that everyone in the organisation should be bringing great ideas to the table, in order to account for a diversity of perspectives. She recommends three things to keep in mind, in order to spur creativity.

RELATED: Why Salespeople Are Critically Important to Branded Content

  • You can find the inspiration for a great idea anywhere you are.
  • In order to be creative, you have to practice creativity every day.
  • You have to compete on a much broader scale with the story you tell. Don’t just look at brands like yours, look at any brand that anybody loves for your inspiration.

Jonson’s challenge for reshaping native advertising

Johnson ended her talk with a challenge to all of us native advertisers, urging us to change the way we work and the state of native advertising in general:

“I need you to be the brave one, I need you to be the one to believe that you can deliver these bigger outcomes for your company, I need you to be curious, I need you to be excited and I need you to be willing to experiment, and you cannot let fear hold you back,” she exclaimed and continued:

“You don’t have to turn your entire world upside down to start rethinking native advertising, all you have to do is one thing: just start with what it is that inspires you and connect the dots to what it is that you do.”


Carla Johnson has also been a guest at our Native Advertising PowerHouse Podcast where she talks about “The Three Essential Steps to Becoming Creative and Innovative“. Check out the podcast here. 

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