Blurring the Lines of Branding & Storytelling with Lee Tone


May 11, 2020

lee tone on brand

“People are smart about how they can avoid advertising at all costs. You have to present them with a story they want to hear and use the brand in support of that story.” Lee Tone of Alkemy X has spent his career navigating the blurred lines of advertising and entertainment, finding ways to talk about brands without directly talking about brands. This has never been easy but it’s even harder today. We discussed all of this on this week’s episode of the On Brand podcast.

Enjoy This Episode Now

About Lee Tone

Creative Director Lee Tone leads entertainment company Alkemy X’s branded content division. Concepting and creating strategically grounded nontraditional work, Lee works with brands to develop content platforms spanning episodic, short- and long-form films, experiential, and interactive. He has a 10-year career as a creative director and copywriter in the agency world, with extensive experience in brand storytelling that blurs the lines between entertainment and advertising. Lee has done global campaign work for clients like Samsung, Google, IKEA, Outback Steakhouse, JBL, AB InBev, and Microsoft.

Notable career highlights include his work for Samsung including ReFrame This Space, a home decorating show hosted by design influencer Emily Henderson. He also shook up traditional outdoor advertising for Outback Steakhouse, causing a commotion (and frantic 911 calls) with flaming billboards to promote the brand’s wood-fired grill offerings.

Episode Highlights

Good strategy always answers a question. “Advertising has always been about how much you can talk about the brand—make the logo 10% bigger. But those rules don’t apply,” says Lee. “People are on to us. Advertising, you can smell a mile away. People are smart about how they can avoid advertising at all costs. You have to present them with a story they want to hear and use the brand in support of that story.”

How has COVID-19 changed brand storytelling? Lee notes that you have to ask yourself a couple of questions first in connecting with your audience under these unusual circumstances:

  • Is it appropriate?
  • Can we produce it? (This is harder than ever with people sheltering at home.)
  • Who’s your target audience and why do they need what you’re selling?

Now more than ever, you have to focus on “talking about the brand without talking about the brand.”

Graduation is just around the corner. What advice does Lee have for creatives entering this decidedly different world of work? “I wanted to make cool things,” Lee recalls. “But I always thought, ‘they’ll never do that.’ But a lot of times they did.” That’s why Lee advises young creatives to keep those bold ideas at the back of the deck as he did with Outback Steakhouse. You never know when someone feels like swinging for the fences.

What brand has made Lee smile recently? “I love the State Farm ads on the Michael Jordan documentary,” Lee notes. “They’re smart, clever, and topical.”

To learn more about Lee, check out the Alkemy X website.

As We Wrap …

Did you hear something you liked on this episode or another? Do you have a question you’d like our guests to answer? Let me know on Twitter using the hashtag #OnBrandPodcast and you may just hear your thoughts here on the show.

On Brand is sponsored by my book Brand NowDiscover the seven dynamics to help your brand stand out in our crowded, distracted world. Order now and get special digital extras. Learn more.

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Until next week, I’ll see you on the Internet!

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Nick Westergaard
Email Brand Driven Digital

is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.




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