Simply put, a one-off is an advertisement outside of your annual campaign. Most companies use one-off advertising for special promotions, events, product launches, etc.

For example, if I make pizzas and promote my pizzeria as a classic, Italian-style family restaurant, my branding would most likely target women with warm imagery and rich, heart-warming text.

If my pizzeria were to launch a lunch buffet special for the road construction crew working down the street from the building, I have a few marketing options.

I could try and sweet-talk the construction worker, using the soft, gentle tone of my brand, or I could fire something loud and direct at them to spur immediate action.

If I go the loud and direct route with a single ad, I’d be doing a one-off.

There are pros and cons to either option. As an advertising creative, I love the thrill of a one-off.  I have one shot to make the most clutter-shattering, buzz-worthy ad.  On the other hand, I’m a writer who evangelizes brand integrity. I emphatically stress the importance for companies to deliver messages that show the real benefit and strengths of the products and services they sell. In short, I believe brand truth will save us.  Watch my struggle with this topic unfold.

The Opposed to a One-Off: Brand Jeopardy

Companies invest incredible resources to develop a unified brand. Agencies preach branding as the ultimate path to marketing nirvana. The brand is sacred. To deviate from the brand assures advertising damnation for blasphemy.

The Supporter’s Rebuttal: Target, Time, Place and Tact

Altering your brand persona needs to be done in some cases. You certainly don’t talk to your mother the same way you talk to the fellas. Your brand doesn’t need to completely change  to reach a new target. As long as you know which target your speaking to and keep your core brand values the same, modifying your message is a safe approach.  Show a new audience a new side of your brand and maybe get them in your door. Who knows, you might find this new approach works better.

The Supporter of a One-Off: High Impact

No agency dismisses the importance of branding. BUT, when the promotion is short, the budget is small, the target is different and time is of the essence, companies need to realize impact and buzz drive immediate results.  Branding takes time. In the example of the construction crew, the road repair has a due date. By the time the first cone is dropped, your window of opportunity is closing. Yes, you cater to women, but make a quick buck and produce something that will grab these burly men by the short hairs and get them in your door.

The Opposed’s Rebuttal:  Watch Your Tone.

Good brands with clear tones possess a certain degree of flexibility. Sure you may speak differently to your family than your friends, but a genuine person doesn’t completely reinvent themselves every time someone new enters the room.  A smart brand seizes marketing opportunities with sincerity and a dedication to self.  Returning to the example, rather than try to appease the road construction crew with sex or bravado, welcome these workers in for a warm, hearty meal like mom makes.

The Verdict:  Know Your Brand Equity

Ultimately, the choice to chase off-shoot opportunities with one-offs comes down to brand equity. If your brand is very well established or completely brand new, it’s advisable to stay the course.  For venerable brands, the public already knows your business and has a general idea of who you are as a brand. You can change your brand at any time, but the change needs to be universal without the one-off.

For young companies, your brand is trying to grasp hold of any mental market share.  If your target has yet to be exposed to your brand, don’t mislead them with a one-off that’s not in line with your overall brand message. This same principle applies to companies who have recently changed brand directions in the last year.  Your working to retrain your audience and show off the new you.

There are brands that can pull off one-offs.

These brands are established but not staples in the community. In other words, the community as a whole may have heard of the brand or know a little about them, but a switch in the program wouldn’t deter or shake an individual’s perception.

These brands also might be looking to make a change in the near future. If you aren’t sure how your brand is performing or if you feel like a makeover is in order, you can use one-offs to your advantage and test new creative approaches.

Lastly, some brands are random by nature. GEICO runs anywhere from five to six ad campaigns at the same time. Each leans towards a certain audience. Each appears totally unrelated to the other. The only commonality is that the ads are humorous, memorable and have the same offer. The beauty to this approach is that the brand always stays fresh, always keeps people off guard and always delivers its message to an audience forced to listen.  Not every brand can support this tactic, but for some companies toying with where to go, it might be a good way to test the waters.

After all that banter, the choice to do a brazen one-off ad really comes down to the brand. Yet again, the uniqueness of every marketing situation dictates the proper course of action. But I think both sides of the one-off argument agree that an off-shoot campaign needs to be direct and address the immediate need with a sense of urgency.  Even in the craziest execution or the most brand-vigilant creative, knowing what your company can truly provide and what the customer truly needs is what matters most.