Monday, May 30, 2011

What's Good For Hulu Isn't Good For You

News Corporation is going to ask Hulu to increase the number of advertisements it shows during Fox programming. I'm sorry, but someone pinch me because I'm in shock.

The formula is obvious. News Corp. is, rightfully so, in business to make money. In order to make more, they must sell more. It's a pretty easy model that every advertiser-supported business follows. Yet, I think the question of "how many is too many?" is a question that every ad-supported business struggles to answer. Viewers want zero. Businesses want more.

Perhaps you agree, but personally, I love advertising and watching what's going on in business. What I hate is the obnoxious interruption that advertising brings, which is what makes this story so intriguing. From the beginning, Hulu's attitude toward advertising was a bit different; more like a viewer. It understood that people hate the interruption of advertising and has tried to keep the ad load small as well as attempting to make them relevant to the viewer. However, their decision on whether to accommodate News Corp. (who is also a major shareholder) will tell a lot about where this brand is headed in the future.

Unfortunately, I think the answer to such a question is far less intriguing.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath The Brand blog.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Why Domino's Still Doesn't Get It

In January 2010, I wrote that Domino's, after its widely-heralded "Pizza Turnaround" campaign doesn't understand marketing.

I said this because Domino's underwent a complete marketing overhaul and began marketing a new better tasting pizza, which is a very tough title to sell and a tougher one to own. First of all, taste is subjective. Secondly, taste at Domino's was always secondary- its pies were more about being made and delivered fast (in thirty minutes or less) and for a cheap price. However, after hitting rock bottom in late 2009 with a grossly embarrassing YouTube video courtesy of two idiot employees, Domino's chose to tout a new recipe with fresher ingredients after admitting past failures. But while they tried separating themselves from their past, Domino's forgot how they got there- with delivery.

In the short term things have been great. Sales shot up, the stock has been on fire, and Advertising Age honored them with the runner up position for marketer of the year in 2010. Although, with all due respect to AdAge, the award's meaning might equal that of a senior superlative in a high school yearbook. Call me skeptical, but I think the entertaining creative work and big bump in ad spending at networks and agencies when both are hurting from lean recessionary years had more to do with the nomination than the campaign's effectiveness.

Yet, despite their accolades, after a year or so long Pizza Turnaround campaign, Domino's started messing with its brand messaging by introducing a new chicken campaign. Now, Domino's is back with a different message for its carry-out business.- in response to growing competition from Little Caesars. With its new extended promotion called the "Early Week Pick Me Up" deal, Domino's is offering a three topping large pizza for $7.99, valid only Monday through Wednesday.

Aside from their lack of focus, this is an example of a strategically flawed promotion because Domino's loses twice in the end. First of all, the $7.99 price offered on Monday through Wednesday for carry-out pizzas repositions the perceived value of the rest of its menu. A Domino's pizza on Saturday or one that's delivered suddenly feels more expensive. Secondly, Domino's price and commitment to carry out pizza still cannot equal its rival's $5 Hot-N-Ready pizza, available for pick up any time of any day.

Either way, Domino's won't win. Especially without a strong brand position.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ronald Remains McDonald's Man

The world's most famous fast-food chain recently side stepped another attack from activist health care professionals and Corporate Accountability International, a consumer watchdog organization known for its influence against big tobacco companies. They're pushing for changes in how the fast feeder markets itself to children, specifically calling for longtime mascot Ronald McDonald to take accept an early retirement.

With the support of a McDonald's shareholder (the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia), CAI was able to force a vote on the issue of Ronald's future at McDonald's shareholder meeting last Thursday. Jim Skinner, McDonald's Chief Executive stood by his mascot, saying that "Ronald is going nowhere." The shareholders backed him up; the issue failed with only 6% of the vote.

While I don't completely agree with the CAI's mission of "Retiring Ronald," I believe their mission will progress if it stays focused and consistent. It has astutely chosen Ronald as the scapegoat for an obesity epidemic and simplified the complex problem's root cause as junk food being marketed to children. Hard to argue against protecting the welfare of our youngest generation, isn't it? They picked that battle long ago and have kept fighting the same fight; while never getting mixed up in arguments about the low nutritional standards of other restaurants or their marketing practices, how the same junk food in larger portions is marketed to adults, with greater frequency or how living a more active lifestyle can curb obesity.

On the other hand, I also believe that if you're McDonald's you can make some very strong arguments for Ronald, other than the standard law-abiding rebuttal of "we offer a variety of food choices to our customers and provide nutrition information about our menu items so that families can make informed decisions." For example, it's difficult to ignore Ronald's namesake charity, the Ronald McDonald House, which provides "a home-away-from-home" for families who must travel long distances so their children can receive treatment for serious illnesses.

As an aside, I think this situation raises some interesting questions about what exactly the power of marketing is. Further, is it really that responsible to treat marketing as a low-level form of brainwashing when children are involved, yet adults are not immune from it's power either? Who is going to decide at what age we all become smart enough to outsmart the marketers?

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand blog. As always, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts and opinions on Alexander Branding.

It's Terrible Branding....For Real

A recent headline in Advertising Age about the city of Buffalo's new tourism slogan may seem self explanatory; however, I think there is a deeper statement being made when AdAge exclaims that "Buffalo's Tagline Highlights the Worst of Tourism Marketing."

The easy conclusion to reach is that the new hired pitch for the city of Buffalo- For Real, is truly terrible. However, it speaks volumes that AdAge, perhaps the strongest voice of the industry and a publication of choice for defenders of this type of meaningless "branding" is trying to tell them that their work is so bad it's comical. However, these jokes are getting quite old.

Buffalo's For Real campaign is bad for lots of reasons. The words are not distinct. It takes no specific position or particular meaning to the city. Yes, it makes sense if you think about it but a good slogan shouldn't have to be thought about to be understood. It just is.

Eventually, the slogan will make sense if one thinks about for a bit. Essentially, the message that Buffalo's tourism organization is trying to convey is that their town is much more than the snow, and chicken wings and closed factories that most people know it for. They're trying to change people's the perception of the city, which is what will really sink the new campaign. That's because perceptions rarely change.

Smart marketers don't fight to change a perception. They work with it. The reason is these marketers know that people will rarely make the necessary leap that's needed to change a perception. They simply won't believe it just because some marketer said so.

Therefore, in Buffalo's case, they use what people already know. A gray, snowy, wilting rust belt city that only survives because of it's citizens ingrained blue collar work ethic, grit, determination, toughness and pride.

Buffalo is a city of hearty souls. For Real.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


If you advertise x for "Free" and it's not, aren't you setting your customers up to be disappointed when they wind up paying for something else?

Well, you get them in the door. But what good is getting them through the doors if they are going to leave disappointed?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Don't Give Social Media All The Credit

As a kid, my grandmother would always tell me: "monkey see, monkey do." If you've never heard this before, the idiom is used to express that children behave and learn from their surroundings. Although, if adults aren't just as susceptible to this condition then I think someone should investigate if the marketing world is being run by monkey's now. For every enlightened social media marketing guru wanting to pitch people on the benefits of the next groundbreaking technology or why a soap brand should consider itself a "content" publisher, they're two marketers eager to listen. It's the new ideology of the day and it's easily packaged into a magical formula of clicks, likes, retweets and followers that's far less easy to explain. But that doesn't matter because a lot of really smart marketers are being sold long before any introductory handshakes are made. It doesn't hurt that this stuff sounds great and looks good on PowerPoint presentations given watched in conference rooms. It just doesn't add up when really put to task.

Dare to divert from the day's convention and you risk being deemed socially unacceptable by the crowds making the decisions on such matters. The choice becomes feed the beast or be eaten by it. Who is asking what happens if the crowd is wrong?

Consequently, there is not shortage of brands blindly pumping significant marketing resources into Facebook, Twitter and the next social network of the hour; following the formula written to solve the problem of generating awareness simply for awareness' sake. Who cares what their being made aware of because they say their fans. The like us and that's all that matters, right? Even if this only requires a minuscule and artificial commitment to the brand on their part.

Recently, I learned about a young, small group of entrepreneurs in Rochester, New York who, dissatisfied with the current selection of energy drinks, created their own. The drink is called Vital Energy and bares a striking resemblance to Vitamin Water, being billed as a blend of B vitamins, water and as much caffeine as a large coffee. Without question, barreling on into such a crowded category takes a lot of determination; however, I question how shrewd it is to fight their daily marketing battles with what they call "social experiments."

Their first creation was an entertaining web video where the entrepreneurs filmed themselves playing a prank. They filled their parents' entire house with energy drinks when they went on vacation. Although the video doesn't actually say much about the drink or the brand, it's popularity did help garner a bit of local and national press.

So the boys at Vital Energy went back to the lab and created an even bigger experiment. This time they are giving away $10,000 in a scavenger hunt game to contestants that sign up and receive clues through their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Yet, I cannot figure out what this will experiment will prove other than tell them that lots of people like free cash and are willing to tolerate some annoying corporate messaging for a crack at ten grand. How does this tell the story of a drink or organize a tribe of its most ardent supporters? Perhaps that's the question that all these new marketing "experiments" should try to answer.

The reason they don't? Monkey see... monkey do.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's
Beneath the Brand blog.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Consider Marketing's Un-Sexy Side

It's very fascinating how so many smart business people get stuck thinking about marketing in terms of advertising when it's obviously way more than that. If making a promise, either explicit or implicit, is in your job description, then congratulations, you're a marketer. Therefore, if even a simple promise is broken — for instance, if a restaurant's restroom is grungy — it's becomes a real marketing problem. These operational details never get the headlines or the credit that the new million-dollar campaign does, but perfecting the nitty-gritty stuff is vital to every brand.

The only time it becomes noteworthy is when operations go astray. The Sony Play Station's current tribulations are a perfect example of this. At Sony, the marketing department recently moved in with the IT guys after its major security breech, forcing PlayStation 3's online network to its knees and putting millions of gamers private information in jeopardy. According to AdAge, more than two weeks have passed since 77 million users have had service and early estimates suggest this problem could cost Sony $2 billion. Suddenly, its $61.4 million measured media expenditures feel far less significant.

This problem prompted Sony's marketing brass to offer customers a one year free enrollment in its "All Clear ID Plus" protection plan last Thursday. In his recent apology letter to customers, Howard Stinger, Sony's chief executive, made specific mention that the "All Clear ID Plus" includes $1 million of identity theft insurance, with the hopes of preventing angry customers from fleeing. This is certainly a nice gesture by Sony; however, I wonder if the strategy of offering extra insurance is reliable from a marketing standpoint. I'd compare it to similar "satisfaction or you're money back" guarantees. They actually imply the opposite of confidence in the brand. Offering a money-back guarantee is a brand's way of saying "we don't know if they will like us." Therefore, isn't Sony's offer of extra insurance to protect consumer identities just their way of saying, "We're not sure we can prevent this from happening again."

If they can't be sure of this, perhaps they should explain how it will try every day to make it so. The strategy should be to convince the customer that their personal information is being protected by some of the world's very most capable, um, marketers.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo's
Beneath the Brand blog.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Going Viral

There is a common misconception floating around that public relations is free. It's not- at least the good stuff anyway. The costs to public relations are just slightly hidden. Consider public relations something that is earned. In order to get your word out through the media, you have to actually be doing something relevant, interesting or worthwhile.

I'm pretty sure that most people understand and accept this.

Yet, many of these same smart people think the social web is somehow different. Going viral (for brands) is the same thing. Do something interesting, relevant or worthwhile and you're far more likely to make an impact on people, who then share it. Simply spewing new content onto the web is guaranteed not to deliver the desired result.

(Hint: this could require getting off the computer too)


Why does a $6.50 chicken salad at Wendy's feel like you're getting ripped off but a $7.50 (ish) chicken salad at Panera Bread feels like a great value?

Marketers should be concerned with brand authenticity throughout all areas of the business. Is it a priority for you?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Trump Brand Buffoonery

Without question, Donald Trump is a very smart guy with an incredible marketing mind. He has never wavered in marrying the Trump name with some very powerful and highly desired characteristics. The Trump name has long stood for uncompromising wealth, power, and luxury. Donald's carefully crafted brand is living proof of the power of focus for a brand. Clearly a man who understands the power of focus, his professional success is undoubtedly reflective of his aptitude and ability.

Of course, there is a personal side to the businessman that is not easily respectable: the qualities of a man that is uncompromisingly brash and bold, spoiled, and arrogant. Trump, like a three year-old, is sustained by the attention of others. So, his conveniently timed gimmick of a possible Presidential campaign during the airing of his struggling reality television series or the distasteful architecture of his pseudo-political warm-up act is the least bit surprising. Nor is that the fact that the drama of misbehaving celebrities in front of cameras is not what it used to be. Naturally, the only fix, in true Trump style, is an even bigger celebrity misbehaving for different set of cameras.

America has been really great for Donald Trump; however, a real political career could be devastating to the Trump brand. The campaign trail would become the unfortunate axis where an unlikeable man and a respected brand collide and become inseparable—posing a real threat to the brand. Instead of lighthearted jabs in a crowded ball room, the one-man reality show will learn what it's really like to have his credentials scrutinized beyond his net worth. He might just find that it's rather humbling.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's
Beneath the Brand blog.