The Real Thing About Brand Relationships

April 13th, 2011

It was 26 years ago this month Coca-Cola committed what’s regarded as one of the biggest marketing blunders of all time. But viewed through today’s lens, the New Coke debacle had little to do with product and marketing and everything to do with betrayal of the brand relationship.

First, let’s slip on our Ray Bans and look at the world of 1985.

USA for Africa eradicated world hunger and Back to the Future taught us the origin of Rock n’ Roll music. Meanwhile Pepsi was gaining the upper hand in the Cola Wars and it seemed to have something to do with the long-running and now iconic Pepsi Challenge campaign.

To address the flavor threat, Coke launched the top-secret Project Kansas. A new formula was devised and test subjects liked what they tasted. New Coke was rolled out in major markets across the Northeast and Midwest, and consumers reacted favorably to the new, markedly sweeter taste.

On April 26, 1985, coinciding with the end of production of the old Coca-Cola formula, New Coke made its official debut, and in line with spokesman Bill Cosby’s clairvoyance, consumer response was immediately positive.

But soon, grumblings that began in the Southeast gripped the nation at large, and sales for New Coke began to level off heading into the thirsty summer season. Interestingly, Pepsi was not capturing Coca-Cola drinkers, who were more content dumping out bottles of New Coke in public protest.

Coca-Cola saw the writing on the wall and flowing in the streets, and in July of 1985, barely three months after ending production of the original formula, Peter Jennings interrupted General Hospital with the news: the national nightmare would be over. Within months of the arrival of Coca-Cola Classic the new/old formula was outselling New Coke.

The Cola Wars would drag on, and not even Crystal Pepsi could turn the tide. Flash forward to April 2011: Coke is still #1 and Pepsi is now #3, ousted from its perennial #2 slot by none other than Diet Coke.

The real, 26 years-on lesson of New Coke: don’t mess with a good brand relationship.

Coca-Cola drinkers weren’t reacting to the new taste of Coke, they were reacting to every memory–real or imagined–they’d ever experienced while holding a Coke, and rebelling against the notion that Coke would desecrate those memories.

This deeply emotional–and positively irrational–brand relationship is something all of us in the branding business would kill for, and it nearly killed Coke.

And it’s for the lesson of New Coke that we make this wish to our peers who design and breathe life into brands:

May we all be successful enough to have our own New Coke moment.

Are you ready to run with the wolf pack?

March 16th, 2011


Imagine a wicked-smart wolf pack with deadly brand design skills. And fangs.


Now imagine that wolf pack is one of the coolest brand design shops in Columbus. Then imagine their den is a kick-ass studio space in the heart of the Arena District. And further imagine that wolf pack is looking for interns.

Okay, stop imagining for a second: ELEVATEthinking actually is looking for summer interns.

So if you’re an aspiring copywriter or graphic design major, and you have the burning passion, oversized brain and razor-sharp skills required to dimensionalize brands in all directions, you might have a place to prowl this summer.

Our design intern will shadow and assist the Creative Team in all capacities from concepting to production to running the music.

Our copywriting intern will serve at the whim of our Senior Writer and in turn master the finer points of snappy headlines, engaging body copy and functioning as studio DJ.

Both interns will work independently and as a team, and in addition to their daily tasks, will be expected to witness and document the ELEVATEthinking process.

Send us your best work, and if you get the call, you’ll have a front row seat to a crash course criss-crossed by experience whirlwinds and the occasional Costco run. More importantly you’ll be expected to own projects from kickoff to wrap up, and be involved at every step.


ELEVATEthinking is a highly collaborative environment where you’ll be working with the deadliest designers, writers and account people in town. That’s what our clients deserve, and baby, that’s what they get.


But are you ready to be a huge asset to ELEVATEthinking, our clients, and your fellow wolf pack members?

We’ll see about that.

Send a PDF or link to your work to

2011 = Even Gianter

February 24th, 2011

2010 was a giant year for ELEVATE. But we have plenty of reasons to expect 2011 to be even gianter (yes: we said “gianter.”)

First off, we’re pleased to announce the addition of American Signature Inc. to our client family. Second and third off, we’ve pulled Andy Fisher and Bryan Mulvany into our talent pool.

Back to American Signature Inc. You may know they’re a leading home furniture provider headquartered right here in Columbus. Well, they’ve officially picked ELEVATE thinking to assist with their outreach and communication efforts in 2011. This cool new partnership includes public relations execution, new product promotion and community outreach projects. With unique furniture lines such as HomeCourt by Lebron James and the Miss America collection, American Signature Inc. will be a perfect fit here at ELEVATE.

As for those two handsome new faces you’ll see should you get the chance to stop in and join us for an afternoon of creative brainstorming…

For starters, there’s designer Andy Fisher. He’s a graduate of CCAD and a self-proclaimed Columbus townie. He loves snowboarding and the smell of carburetor cleaner. Don’t let his curious tastes and quiet confidence fool you. Behind those chic glasses and easy smile lies a badass digital packrat ready to let loose his razor-sharp design skills on the rest of our creative team…and the world!

Follow him on twitter, if you dare. @wiiildstyle


And then there’s Bryan Mulvany. A graduate of Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, Mulvany’s inner struggle to acclimate himself to big city life is often entertaining. His purple lunchbox and disdain for wearing shoes and undershirts make him the subject of steady criticism. But with his lack of uptown etiquette come serious task managing skills that will serve our account team well.

Tag along on Twitter. We promise he won’t bite. Much. @bryanmulvany


To make room these shining faces and all the new work they’ll be crushing, we just put the finishing touches on our expanded new studio space. After Troy had his fun literally knocking down a wall or two, we added four new work stations, an executive office, a private conference room and two collaborative work spaces. True, this afforded us some much-needed breathing space. But more important, it gave us more room for the claw game (yes: that’s an iPhone in there), the Ms. Pacman/Galaga machine, the Elevate moped and other vital pieces of office machinery.




There’s always something new and exciting taking place here at ELEVATE thinking, and you’re always invited to call us up and beg permission to stop on by and check it out. Seriously: we look forward to showing you our space, our people, and most of all, the outstanding work we’ve been providing our clients.

But enter at your own risk. You just might stumble into a Nerf gun battle. And, in Nerf, as it is in the branding process, our team has been full granted permission to fire at will.

Not following us? Do so on Twitter. Like us but haven’t “Liked” us yet? Click your bad self over to Facebook.


July 14th, 2010

Once again I have the privilege of announcing a great addition to the ELEVATE crew. I’ve said it before and you’re about to hear it again, we’re all about bringing the right people to the table, and Bill Black is another perfect example.

I’ve known Bill as a friend, adversary, colleague, and all-around stand-up individual for almost ten years. That’s why I know he’s the perfect fit as ELEVATE’s new Director of Business. Sure, he has the sort of professional experience any agency would want – roles in all areas of advertising, marketing and operations management; clients spanning finance, retail, hospitality and more; and critical account management and leadership skills. But more than that, he understands our culture, our passion, our values and the way we and I work (not an easy task).

Here’s the technical mumbo jumbo for what he’ll be doing at ELEVATE: Bill will be responsible for providing strategic leadership and helping manage day-to-day operations for the group. Along with developing new business relationships, he will also provide tactical direction across all client accounts.

What that means is Bill will be digging into projects and delivering results. I’ve seen him engage clients, involve them in the creative process and earn their trust. And I’m excited to watch him build on our recent growth and help take ELEVATE to the next level.

Welcome, Bill – we’re glad you’re here.

Learn more about Bill, his family and his incredible community involvement on twitter @jasperblack.

To read the “official” release –> click here


Mike makes right.

June 7th, 2010

What started as a hunt for the most perfect, brilliant writer ever ended with ELEVATE bagging 183 pounds of free-ranging advertising man-monkey commonly known as Mike Rehfus.

Native to the wilds of Detroit, but well-acclimated to Columbus, Mike brings fierce brand, retail, promo and b2b chops to the crew along with vast experience with clients the likes of Coke, Blockbuster, UPS Store, Canadian Tire, Chase Bank, Eli Lilly and your Columbus Crew (to name a scant few).

Add to that a background in design and mix in hours (and hours) of stories from his former lives as a touring musician and owner of a coffeehouse, and it’s clear: Mike’s one of the most dangerous writers in Columbus and we’re damn proud to have him.

Give the man-monkey a follow on twitter @mike_rehfus – if you dare.

Now enjoy a little taste of the gun show!




April 15th, 2010

Long story short: ELEVATE is growing and we need another brilliant writer who can keep up with Darren (good luck with that). Someone who can think on their feet, generate great ideas and make concepts real – sometimes with a deadline looming closer than you’d like. I won’t lie, it’s not an easy job. But you will be surrounded by a great group of people helping you do it – while having a blast.

So take a look around our site. If you think that you and your writing talent would be a good fit… then why haven’t we heard from you yet?

Send your resume and samples to

What are you waiting for? Go! Go! Go!



March 5th, 2010

This is a post I’ve wanted to write for more than a year. When I finally could, client meetings, workload – the usual stuff – pushed it back a couple more weeks. After all the delays, I’m excited to say that Heidi Kahrl has joined us as the studio director at ELEVATE.

I could talk all day about her talent and experience. Blah blah blah. But what’s really important is how rare it is to find people who “get it.” Heidi is one of those people. She’s in perfect alignment with ELEVATE’s philosophy, has an unbelievable work ethic and is dependable to a fault.

I worked with Heidi for several years prior to forming ELEVATE and I consider her a good friend that I hold in high regard. I know her ability to plan, organize and flat out get things done is going to be a benefit to our crew and clients. Add that to her personality, and she fits right in with the way we work.

Heidi will be challenged with keeping me on task (good luck), enabling Kim and her account team to focus on client relations, helping Darren prioritize and chasing Jared among many other things. It’s more than a full-time job, but she just has this way of making it look easy.

Get to know Heidi, learn about her upcoming wedding to the “stud” known as Ed and what’s happening with her house hunting explorations by giving her a follow on twitter @HK02.

Welcome Heidi.



January 25th, 2010
Things are busy and the company is growing. Fast. So what’s the first thing I do when you give me power? Add to our baller status*.

ELEVATE would like to welcome Korey Ferguson into the mix. Sure, he’s got design skills. Yes, we believe he can think on his feet. But it’s his dislike of large cats and natural ability to be a smartass that made him a fit.

Korey, a CCAD grad, previously worked for Graphica, a design and communications firm in Dayton. While there, he worked with clients such as Proctor & Gamble, JC Penney, and IBM. Korey is also involved with organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and the Columbus Big Brother/Big Sister program—Nice guy, huh?

We’re happy to have him broaden our pool of talent, embrace our culture, and add to our playlists. And he brings great enthusiasm and interest in growing right along with us.

So go ahead, introduce yourself to him @iamferg.


*Terminology compliments of @jaredlangston

One Year and Growing

January 15th, 2010

Over the holidays at ELEVATE, our diets often consisted of cashews, generic licorice, beef sticks and, in Jared’s case, Pierre’s sandwiches. Which probably caused all of us to grow in a way that’s not necessarily health-conscious. But during that time the company was growing in a healthy way – in clients, projects, brain power, building size, employee counts and the list goes on.

While we may not be excited about our new waistlines, we are proud of ELEVATE’s growth. We started in 2009 with a petite client list that quickly expanded to include three AOR’s and many other clients and projects. It’s a trend that has already continued in 2010, starting off with two new business pitches within the first five days of the year.

And at one year old, we’re happy. At my daughter’s first birthday party, she was ecstatic with the cake that was as big as her head and the mounds of gifts our families gave to her. We are that happy. Maybe a little happier.

We’re anxious to be in the new space – of which the build-out is coming along very well. And we’re happy that two, talented people accepted offers to join our team (more on them later!)

ELEVATE is growing and we’re proud and happy, excited and anxious. Thanks for a great first year and here’s to an even better year #2.