Monday, December 31, 2012

Best & Worst of 2012

How about a little shameless brand punditry (but with depth, duh!) to close out 2012?  In true pundit style, below are my comments about other people's comments about ads from this past year.  

AdAge recently published their favorite advertising campaigns from 2012.  My favorite among them is Nike's "Find Your Greatness" campaign.  The campaign launched with a jogging themed ad that  features a chubby boy running down the road toward the camera.  The advertisement perfectly personifies Nike's "everyone is an athlete" brand philosophy.  Furthermore, the simplicity, memorability and a motivating element bolster its greatness. 

Additionally, I enjoy the McDonald's Canada "Your Questions" campaign, particularly the ad that delves into the sourcing of its french fries.  But it's a lot of information to digest.  McDonald's could build an offline campaign around these videos that highlights its attributes like "we only cook with vegetable oil."  There could be ten more great ads in that one.  Still, McDonald's should be cautious about running on healthy foods platform because that's a battle they will rarely win.
The rest of them, for one reason or other, I'm less of an admirer.  While the popular DirecTV "don't end up" campaign is entertaining, its message is lost in repetitive story, not enhanced by it.  The frustrations of dealing with cable companies is only briefly mentioned in the beginning and soon becomes an afterthought to a slapstick story.   

Speaking of wild, the Old Spice "Muscle Music" campaign remains wildly creative but completely fails to even hint at points of attribute differentiation.  Unfortunately, they've been beating that drum for way too long and keep receiving industry acclaim for it.

Contrary to AdAge, Adweek published their top twenty brand fails this week.  It surprisingly included category-leading blue-chip brands Amazon, Wal-Mart, Ikea, KitchenAid and Stubhub, as well as strong niche leaders Popchips, the Gap, Burger King, Bic and Huggies.

What really stood in Adweek's analysis is how major brands messed up.  Perhaps this fact is due in part to major brands, for better or for worse, receiving more scrutiny from publications like Adweek.  However, its soft evidence to the extreme importance of a good strategy.  Despite their well-publicized tactical goofs, consumers will soon forget because staying in the mind requires consistent and repeated contact of a unique proposition.  Therefore, no one will easily forget who the world's largest bookstore is unless Amazon lets them.      

Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's A Slippery Slope to The Fiscal Cliff

A couple of words about the fiscal cliff.  The fiscal cliff its actually a symptom of larger problem in this country.  With intense political marketers being amplified by 24-hour cable news, the population that consumes it is trained to focus on the triumph of an ideology rather than the prosperity of a nation. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

If Starbucks Can Do It...

Howard Schultz took people by surprise today when he directed Starbucks' employees in all 120 District of Columbia area shops to write "come together" on the customers' coffee cups.  The message is a statement directed at the politicians in Washington, urging them to fix the pending series of tax increases commonly being referred to as the "fiscal cliff."

Although most people are focusing on Starbucks rightfully poking our political leaders who seemingly cannot bring themselves to work together anymore, I see a great marketing opportunity being missed.  

For the next two days, Starbucks is mandating employees to write a hand-written message to customers, most of whom are not Congressmen.  Still, there is great power in the hand-written message.  I think more brands should empower their employees to hand write messages to the customers they serve.  It does have an effect; I will never forget when a Chiptole worker drawing a :) on the container.  

If the product inside the package is personalized, then why not allow the person responsible for making it so to add their own special touch to the package?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Soft Ads

Earlier this month, I shared an Ad Age column that questioned the usage of marketers selling emotion though in their advertising.  I think this is a good rule of thumb for brands.  

A brand's advertising should sell the facts.  They should explicitly say why your brand is better.  It's during the buying and using of a product or service that brands can implicitly connect with customers.  That's the time to sell the intangibles your brand can deliver. 

Thank you for reading and I wish everyone a wonderful holiday.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Crosstown Rebrand

The goal of rebranding a product or service is to change the way people think about it.  To do so, marketers can change product fundamentally or they can give the appearance of a change.  A fundamental change is a lot of work but certainly necessary in some cases.  A lot of marketers simply settle for presenting consumers with the of appearance of change.  However, the danger of doing so it their effectiveness of changing perception in the long-term is usually null.  Soon enough, consumers will eventually discover that the product is no different.

I'd like to present a recent rebrand that is admittedly close to my heart.  In the city of Cincinnati, the is one basketball game that is hyped up more than any other game each and every season. Known as the Crosstown Shootout, it's the annual basketball game played between Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati. 

I'll try to explain why any of this would matter. The game was first played in 1927 and became in annual tradition in 1946.  So, the game has been played longer than most Cincinnatians can remember.  The game is between the two biggest universities in the city.  Also, the universities are only separated by a couple miles.  Therefore, extra attention paid to the result of the game because the opponent is such a familiar one.

Suffice to say, there is a lot of natural hype surrounding the game.  The Crosstown Shootout doesn't need any hyping up from marketers.  It's always a very intense and highly-competitive game.  

That intensity will often bring out the very best in two competitors who dig deep to give everything they have toward a goal.  It's what makes rivalry games like the Crosstown Shootout so great.

But the opposite can also happen.  And it did happen in 2011.  The pressure and intensity brought out the worst in otherwise good people and the game ended with an ugly brawl.  Sadly, the on-court fight earned the Crosstown Shootout more attention than its ever received before, embarrassing two great institutions like never before.

The result was, in my opinion, a superficial rebranding of the Crosstown Shootout.  The name was changed to the Crosstown Classic.  A branding firm designed a flashy new logo.  The game was moved to a neutral off campus site.  A charitable beneficiary was added.  The 2012 Crosstown Classic was all about creating the appearance of change.          

Although, it's worth noting charity was already part of the Crosstown Shootout.  This fact was just never publicized as it should have been during the national broadcast of the basketball game.

Unfortunately, I'm a little lost as to how a museum visit and monetary donation "embodies values both universities share and helps create a new culture around the game," as the former President of the University of Cincinnati Dr. Gregory Williams put it.      

Real change looks more like the student governments of both schools collaborating with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cincinnati.  Or an annual Crosstown Shootout alumni game with the teams playing for charity.  Or current participants collaborating on youth basketball camp to take place the week of the game.  Personally, I think these changes are a truer embodiment of the values of sportsmanship, respect and community.  

Lastly, in order for perceptions to change, it's necessary for the values of each University to actually receive as much as airtime as the guy dumping a mound of cheese on a plate of chili.      

Friday, December 14, 2012

The First 11 Months Wasn't Long Enough

Did you hear the news? In the days leading up to Christmas, Macy's will stay open 24 hours.  Of course I was surprised to read this but it turns out I really shouldn't have been; Toys R Us has been making a habit of staying open around-the-clock at Christmas, having done so the past two years. 

Naturally, I think that's insanity. The argument that Christmas is a scared season but its true meaning is completely lost in our over-commercialized culture is certainly a valid one.  However, my argument is that this move demonstrates just how sad retail has become.

For retailers, this season is just as sacred as for Christians, albeit for a completely different reason.  Sadly, these thirty or so days are the tipping point to their income statements.  When you focus on that fact, it's actually really pathetic.

I cannot think of a more fitting symbol of desperation than Macy's and Toys R Us pulling the literal equivalent of an all-nighter before a final exam.  Just like the scrambling student cramming for the test at the end of the year, the outlook is rarely a favorable one.

What could retailers do to make the Christmas shopping season the icing on the cake as opposed to the flour and the yeast?  I think the answer could be on the sales floor.

I walked into a variety of retail stores this week and came away with one major observation - most salespeople have almost zero training in sales.  Every salesperson I encountered this week uttered the same opening line; "can I help you find anything?"  It's the go-to line idle salespeople beg to ask even though, a quick "no thanks, I'm just looking" instantly kills any further interaction.

So what could shopping be like if retailers taught salespeople something more than proper folding techniques?

Perhaps a salesperson might introduce him or her self by name and shake your hand.  They might look them in the eye or offer a sincere compliment.  Then they might ask if you're looking for anything in particular or who you are shopping for.  If the answer is anything other than no, that salesperson is already halfway to sale.  But if the get a standard no thanks, they might offer to show them the latest products in the store.  They might show them a favorite designer.  They might offer a tour of the store. They might offer them a bottle or water while they look around.  Finally, they might offer them a business card as the interaction comes to an end.
Although that may sound over-the-top considering how retail sales are thought of today, I actually experienced the owner of a store bow out after offering a nonchalant "can I help you?"  Only after prying, I discovered he owned the place.   

I know I probably sound crazy talking about enthusiastic, well-trained people in the retail sector.  But to me, it’s certainly not crazier than staying open round-the-clock and officially killing off what's left of employee moral.

Try something different and they might actually sell something during the first 11 months of the year.  That's all I'm saying.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Free Stuff

I just want to share a couple loyalty marketing tactics that I've run into this week.  The first one is from the beloved Cincinnati staple food, Skyline Chili.  Upon purchasing a gift card for a someone, a friend of mine told me that the restaurant gifted him with certificates for two free chili 3-ways.  What better way to get that customer back into the store or help them give an even better gift. 

The second is at my local Kroger deli.  Even though I always order the same exact turkey, in the same exact amount and cut exactly the same way,  they still offer me a free sample every time.  That free sample is just one of those little things that doesn't go unnoticed by its customers. 

Little gestures like these matter a lot to a brand that's also selling something intangible.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why The Focus On Soft Attributes?

Brand expert and co-originator of the concept of positioning, Al Ries, recently wrote a column explaining why marketers would be better served to promote the hard attributes of a brand, as opposed to soft attributes such as their feelings of emotions.  Or actually telling them how they should feel.

In support of his argument, I'll add that his point that a hard attribute is reinforced every time the product or service is consumed, whereas a soft attribute is not.  How the consumer feels really depends more on the mood of the consumer than anything else. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Where Tesco Went Wrong?

 News broke this week that the British grocery giant Tesco is halting its original plan for expansion into the United States.  According to officials at Tesco, the expansion plans would go through a "review of options" because it's "delivering acceptable shareholder returns on an appropriate timeframe in its current form."

That current form is the Fresh & Easy brand.  Fresh & Easy is described as a small neighborhood market that sells fresh foods at affordable prices.  Tesco moved into the United States in 2007, opening its first Fresh & Easy store in Northern California and then expanded down the state and into Nevada and Arizona over the past five years.  The chain operates 199 stores.

I must disclose that I've never shopped at a Fresh & Easy store.  In fact, I've never even been within a thousand miles of a Fresh & Easy store.  Yet, a couple of things jump out to me where Tesco might have gone wrong with its United States expansion.

The first is the name.  Fresh & Easy is simply a terrible name.  While it may describe the brands' two principle attributes, it does so using two very forgettable and undefined cliches.  At least to the American consumer,  Fresh & Easy sounds like a brand name for kitty litter.  Tesco should have picked a more unique brand name not already in the American lexicon.

Secondly, Fresh & Easy's "neighborhood market" concept places it dangerously in the middle of the market.  Thus, Fresh & Easy is neither a full supermarket with a complete offering for your household and or a get-in-and-get-out convenience store.  Similarly, in the grocery category, there is competition at both ends of the market - from the higher end with Whole Foods and The Fresh Market and from the lower end with Wal-Mart, Safeway and Kroger.

Tesco was close in the United States but ultimately failed because they went where the competition already was.  With a little tighter focus, Tesco is close to developing a new category that they can dominate.  Instead of selling fresh foods traditionally, Tesco could be the first to exclusively sell fresh and already prepared food.  That's a niche that every supermarket currently dabbles in, but no one owns- at least not yet. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Couple Bites From The Apple Brand

There have been a couple of new ads from Apple that I have really liked a lot recently.  The first is in the latest editions of Time Magazine and The New Yorker and is promoting the new iPad mini.  Obviously, the ad's message is about the convenience that a miniature iPad can offer.

Until I saw this ad, I had questions about the strategy behind Apple introducing a smaller iPad that would certainly cannibalize sales of the original.  After seeing it, I realized that the original might just be too big, especially if the consumer is primarily using it as a way to view content.  Unlike its predecessor, the iPad Mini is much easier to carry, will fit better into crowded purses and is easier to hold and use in crowded places like subways.

The second spot I enjoyed was Apple's "Orchestra," which is promoting the background noise canceling feature on the iPhone 5.  I remember hearing a lot of negative buzz about the newest features when the iPhone 5 was first introduced.  One that particularly stands out is the relocation of the headphone jack from the top of the phone to the bottom.  With all the criticism the latest iPhone model received, I was surprised that Apple didn't run this type of ad earlier.  Even though the phone function seems secondary to many iPhone users, in my opinion, this feature seems to live up to the innovation standards that Apple has set for itself.  Naturally, I won't be surprised when it appears on all the latest smartphones next year.



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Who Wouldn't Want A Tax Break?

While watching football on Thanksgiving Day, I was surprised by a commercial promoting small businesses in my beloved home of New York State.  The commercial even features a cameo from a regional western New York and personal favorite, Perry's Ice Cream.

Coming from New York State, I've been there to witness firsthand the gradual deportation of jobs and businesses, particularly from the northern and western parts of the Empire State.  So, I was delighted to see a national campaign promoting business growth in my home state.  However, as a marketer, I wonder if the message of incentives and tax breaks is the right one?

Most people think tax breaks are a great thing.  And in an ad directed at businesses for whom most of the other 49 states are also competing for their relocation, touting tax breaks will make New York more appealing, right?

Perhaps.  But I would argue not.  By saying that New York is offering business tax breaks is not to say that taxes are low in New York.  In fact, what they're actually communicating is the opposite message - that taxes are so high in New York that they have to incentivize businesses with special breaks.  Similar to a store running a sale, where the intention is to showcase the items, the message that's received is that no one wanted the stuff earlier.

Unfortunately, publicizing tax breaks to lure businesses to New York is mistakenly communicating the story that the overall economic climate of the state is difficult.  Instead of trying to obfuscate its tax reputation, the ad should promote why the state is actually good for business.

The entire point of the ad should be to explain what will make a business more successful in New York than anywhere else.  Obviously, simple tax breaks isn't it.    

An advertisement that answered this question would make a far more persuasive case for New York State.

One final thought, am I wrong to think that granting special tax breaks for some will only raise taxes on others?

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Complaint Department

I recently purchased a gift for my father's birthday.  The gift was a hard-to-find barbeque sauce that he had really enjoyed once but couldn't find in any grocery store.  So I looked it up and found it at an online food store. Or at least I thought so. What I actually found was a different variety that is made by same company; however, the picture they use in the product listing is for the sauce that I was looking for.  It was through a Google search that I found this similar but ultimately incorrect listing.   

It wasn't until weeks after my father's birthday that he told me I got the wrong sauce.  I contacted the company to share my experience but fully aware that there was likely little they could do.  Still, I wanted them to know I was thrown off by the incorrect picture and possibly get help locating the correct sauce.  I sent this email over a week ago and still have not heard back.

Naturally, any customer would be offended if any issue they care about is disregarded.  Initially, my feelings toward the store were not negative - I too made an error not reading carefully enough. But they certainly are now.

The company had a chance to make a positive impression out of a less than positive first experience and yet they didn't take it. 

Companies don't always get that opportunity either.  Although customer service can often feel like the complaint department, customers don't always give them the opportunity to right a wrong because it's in our nature to silently walk away from the problem.

Despite knowing this, most businesses strangely never take the opportunity to follow up with their customers, instead choosing to dedicate significant resources to passive service departments that wind up stalling/ignoring/pushing back on customer complaints.  This becomes instinctual when service agents must endure a beating from angry customers all day.  Yet, most companies refuse to seek out feedback from customers, possibly because they're afraid of generating more complaints.

Oddly enough, the practice of following up with a customer will immediately alter their feelings toward you in a positive way because your brand demonstrates that it actually cares.  Thus, customer service is transformed into an active marketing activity.

I'm particularly surprised that this isn't common marketing practice for smaller brands.  A genuine follow up is easier for a small brand with fewer customers than a larger one with a lot of customers.  Following up is an obvious strategic advantage they could have over a brand with more customers than they could count but I rarely see this being taken full advantage of.      

Finally, a few more simple complaint department tips in no particular order.
  • Keep your promises.
  • Be prompt with your response.  
  • If you don't have an answer, tell them your working on getting one and will reply immediately.
  • Listen carefully and confirm what you are told.
  • When their is a problem, immediately establish what will make a difference to the customer.
  • For web-based brands, don't expect a lousy FAQ page to do all the work.
  • Similarly for others, don't expect fine print to be read and/or remembered.
  • Show customers that you care by serving in ways they won't expect or are use to.    
Feel free to add to this list as you see fit. Thank you for your attention and generosity in sharing the things you enjoy from this blog.   

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Putting A Price On Employee Happiness

Today, a good friend of mine and I were joking about happiness in the workplace.  During our conversation, he quipped that to the people he works for, his name might just as well be employee number 0155077.

In addition to my conversation today, several stories involving workplace happiness have made headlines recently.  

Recently, John Schnatter, the chief executive at pizza chain Papa John's publicly commented that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would raise employee benefit costs and force them to cut employee hours to compensate.  Although Schnatter was making a political statement in advance of the election, I believe that there is something really negative to a CEO telling his employees that he doesn't want the company to participate in providing healthcare for them and cutting their hours to achieve this is a double whammy.     

Also, there is a looming disaster at Wal-Mart this holiday season with employees at the world's largest retailer threatening to strike on Friday, traditionally the largest shopping day of the year.  The employees are continuing to fight the company for higher wages and better working conditions.

Even the headline of the week, the closing of the 85 year-old Hostess bakery, is rooted in a dispute between management and its labor force over wages and pensions.  This negative dynamic helps to explain how a company that made over $2 billion last year is broke and shutting down. 

Unfortunately, each story is an indication that, at least somewhere, a negative culture exists and a clear divide between the goals of the company and its employees.

On the other hand, both Apple and Microsoft, two very successful companies, have dismissed top managers for their "abrasive" management styles over the past couple of weeks.

I am of the belief that happier employees are more productive.  Having worked in a variety of places, I know that it's easy for an employee to disengage when they're unhappy.  This undoubtedly hurts the company in a number of ways that are not obvious simply by looking at balance sheets.  Therefore, companies that make employee happiness a priority, and who perhaps take on additional costs to do so, will often discover net gains from higher productivity, morale and lower turnover.  Of course, happiness doesn't have to come in the form of higher wages and more benefits.  They're are a lot of little gestures companies can make that make a huge difference to their employees.     

Tony Hsieh, the founder of online retailer Zappos, is a pioneer in maintaining happiness within the workplace.  He's written a fantastic book on the subject and is highly regarded for creating a happy workforce at Zappos.    

Whether big gestures or small ones, what ideas do you have for improving happiness in the workplace? Feel free to share any thoughts or personal stories you have from your job in the comments section.  As always, thank you for reading and sharing.    

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pie War Follow Up

Tonight, as I ran by the flagship Busken Bakery, I noticed they made a few edits to the Frisch's billboard that rests atop their building. 

Busken physically repositions Frisch's pumpkin pies as second best in the city, editing the tagline from "Hard-to-be-humble-pie."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fat Blocking Soda

As the soda category erodes, Coke and Pepsi are willing try anything to change people's prevailing perception have that soda is unhealthy.  In Japan, Pepsi is pouring out all the stops and introducing "fat blocking" soda.

Obviously far fetched, soda marketers should probably stick to sweet, fun and delicious as brand sticking points.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cincinnati's Pie Wars

A couple weeks ago, I noted the marketing savvy of Busken Bakery, a Cincinnati favorite, in regards to capitalizing on the hype of American Presidential elections.  Every four years, Busken customers can elect their candidate by purchasing its candidate cookies as the bakery keeps a close eye on which candidate sells more cookies.

The bakery's marketing is in the news again.  This time its for their ongoing competition over who makes the best pumpkin pie, them or Frisch's Big Boy, a chain famous for its Big Boy burgers and deserts.  The battle began when Frisch's inadvertently put up a billboard over Busken's flagship store and both chains have gone back and fourth ever since.  The pumpkin pie touting competition has produced some clever work and interesting stunts, but I might give a slight edge to Busken after dressing up a Big Boy statue in a Busken bakery apron. 

In terms of sales, both sides are winning.  The competition has elevated the status of pumpkin pie and both companies have benefited. This week, the competition earned national attention on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.  

I've not tried the pies from either Busken or Frisch's.  The Frisch's Big Boy burgers were a college favorite of mine and Busken is a great place to stop in for a late night treat.  However, I really enjoy Busken's advertising.  It's both simple and consistent and often very clever.  So much so that they have even been made into a book, titled Have a Crumby Book. 

Although it's only a small local chain that most people have never experienced, I really admire the branding of Busken Bakery.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Speak Softly

In marketing, the goal is to be seen and heard by customers and prospects - repeatedly. 

But it's important that we don't forget that in the outside world, it's often the case that the people who speak the the loudest usually have the least to say.

Remember your audience and the brand can make a deeper connection. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Smart Startegy By Smart Car?

The latest advertisement from Smart car features a terrific visual that really caught my eye.  The visual is a massive Ford Excursion parked on top of the tiny steel frame of a Smart car.  They really nailed it; it's as good as any visual display in an advertisement.  But is it enough to convince motorists of the safety of Smart car and its ability to withstand a serious automobile collision?

The idea that a car so small can also be a safe during an accident with a much larger vehicle defies consumer logic; popular perception and perhaps the laws of physics would suggest that a bigger car will hold up better if the two were ever to meet on the road.

Obviously, the strategy in this latest round of Smart car advertising is to attack their perceived weakness on safety.  But is this a smart strategy by Smart car?

I cannot emphasize the great visual enough; it's truly flawless execution of an ad.  But I wonder if its fundamental message is the correct one.  It actually be might be impossible for Smart car to convince consumers on the safety of their autos at that size.  While I've never driven a smart car, I can imagine the shrinking feeling I'd have when massive sport utility vehicles zipped by.

A smarter strategy would be to focus on the vehicles advantages.  In 1962, Volkswagen and DDB perfected this strategy with an ad to match in their "Think Small" and "Lemon" ads.  Smart car could also use its similar size to their advantage.  It's a brand that pioneered and currently leads the burgeoning electric car category; high fuel economy, low emissions and surprisingly wallet friendly price tag are the obvious advantages of owning a Smart car.

Although I admire the execution of their latest ad and believe that it at least invites the notion for consumers to wonder about the safety of a Smart car.  Yet, despite my meager C+ average in physics class in high school, I can still recall a formula that never fails.  Force is equal to mass times acceleration.  That's one place our eyes won't deceive us.  Even with a sturdy steel frame, the Smart car won't win in a battle of the masses. 

Therefore, despite such a the great ad, I wonder if its message is flawed on a higher strategic level, with the correct strategy being one that positions Smart car as the electric car category leader.     

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Where Clever Meets Controversial

There is no clear cut answer to what might be clever versus controversial.  But one thing is for sure, there is always a marketer looking for that answer.  American Apparel is the latest brand to discover what that answer is in the case of their 36-hour Hurricane Sandy sale. The story goes that the fashion basics brand sent its locked-down customers in the East Coast a email offering 20 percent off while their customers where "bored" waiting out the storm.

Despite a lack of knowledge of their Sandy sales figures, the customer backlash from the sale is a strong signal that it was a bad idea.  The answer was controversial.

As an aside, perhaps marketers should also be offended by American Apparel using the selling point of consumer boredom.  When did that ever become a compelling reason to by anything?

The marketing industry appears to be one that is comfortable tip toeing around the clever/controversial line.  Whether this is actually the case, the few who are wind up being a loud minority, and are the reason the rest of the industry professionals receive the same reputation.      

Friday, October 26, 2012

In-Flight Thoughts for Airlines

The answer to this question is fairly obvious - it's because there is great demand for air travel.  Every time I'm at an airport, no matter what time of day it is, it's busy.  In a physically far-ranging society, people have to travel long distances and airlines, who cut potential travel time from days to hours, still provide are the most efficient option for doing so.

Yet, most airlines in this country remain on the financial brink.  To cope, most airlines in the United States have adding fees and cut back on amenities like snacks and pillows.  Their biggest gripe is volatility of fuel costs.  Any discussion regarding an airlines financial performance begins and ends with the cost of fuel.

Yet, I'm wondering if airlines are missing out on a great opportunity to capitalize on the demand for air travel.  Currently, if you need a flight somewhere, then you buy a ticket. But what if that wasn't the case.

Would major carriers benefit from selling small blocks of time in addition to tickets?  For example,  my current home in Cincinnati is about an hour flight from my hometown of Rochester, NY.  I know I will go home at least twice a year.  Therefore, it would make sense to purchase, let's says a five hour block with a one-year shelf life long before I ever reserved a flight.  Or, what about a reduced fare for purchasing multiple round-trip tickets to the same destination?  For instance, customers could purchase multiple flights between the two destinations in advance and redeem when they finalize their travel plans.    

In exchange for getting their money way up front airlines could provide discounts or other perks to these customers who make an early commitment.  Consider the potential market of college students who travel great distances several times per year.  Wouldn't an airline greatly benefit from lining their pockets well before the passenger even makes a reservation? 

Just floating the thought out there; as always, thanks for listening.  Email your suggestions for how airlines could improve or add them in the comment section?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gatorade Product Placements Turn Sour

Gatorade's "brand police" are working overtime during the Major League Baseball playoffs this year.  Gatorade, an official sponsor of the league's postseason, has been working diligently to get its logo in front of the camera.  Maybe a little too diligently.

During postseason contests, posters were put up in both dugouts to remind players that Gatorade must remain ever-present in the dugout during postseason games.  Also, during all televised interviews, players and coaches are being instructed to hold a Gatorade branded bottle or cup, even if they are not drinking it.  Not surprisingly, this kind of brand over-reach has created some uncomfortable moments.  During one interview, Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson mocked the brand, sarcastically saying "mmm...this Gatorade is good" after taking a sip of his water.  Similarly, word spread quickly when New York Yankee Raul Ibanez was forced to pour his bottle of water into a Gatorade cup before entering the press room for interviews.  For Gatorade, I guess the oddly staged bottles of Gatorade right next to the microphone don't suffice anymore.

Contrast this the authenticity of the Gatorade shower for the winning coach.  Although the origin of the Gatorade shower has been debated by former New York Giant and Chicago Bear players, it began as a celebratory act during the mid-1980's.  The scene symbolizes a perfect message - winners drink Gatorade.  Perhaps the best part for the brand is that its become a tradition for thousands of winning teams since.

Contrast both tactics.  Although marketing plans shouldn't be left to serendipity, a brand should always remember how absolutely critical authenticity is for a brand.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sears Nails Its New Strategy

The retailer Sears has been without a strong marketing position for decades.  Sears is a store without a focus. You can buy everything from clothes to appliances to tools and lawn movers.  Unfortunately, brands that try to execute an all things to all people strategy always wind up meaning nothing to anyone.  That's the position the retailer has struggled with for decades and they've paid the price.  

So it was great to see this recent Sears advertisement a couple of days ago.  Although I'm not a huge fan of the creative used in the ad, I believe the strategy was perfection.  The ad focuses on Sears strength - its brands.  Popular and brand names like Kenmore and Craftsmen give Sears a dominant in the household appliance and hardware categories. 

This is there strongest position and they should keep hammering home the brands they carry in the Sears store. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Should The NFL Trade Its Pink Ribbon For A Purple One?

The game of football is sacred to American culture. So sacred that practicing football fans (I too am one) are fully aware our Sunday heroes are trading gridiron glory for years off their lives.  Many players who play the game as it's currently enjoyed are know it can be an early death wish as head injuries are commonly suffered on the field and are often life altering in their later years.

If you've watched any football games this month of October, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, then you've probably noticed the eye-popping pink in the player's uniforms and scattered throughout the stadium.  The color pink has been branded the official color of breast cancer awareness and has been a stroke of marketing genius for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation.  Founded in 1982 by Nancy Brinker after her sister, Susan Komen, lost her battle with breast cancer.  Since then the Susan G. Komen for the Cure has grown into a marketing juggernaut, raising over $2 billion dollars for breast cancer research and becoming the world's largest non-profit source for breast cancer research funding.  Most importantly, it's message of regular check-ups and early detection of breast cancer has saved countless lives.

The National Football League began promoting breast cancer awareness a few seasons ago, a movement that was kicked off by Tanya Synder, the wife of Washington Redskins owner Daniel Synder, who is a breast cancer survivor.

My life has been touched by both diseases.  My family tree includes breast cancer survivors as well as two grandmothers who passed away without any recollection of who I was.  Both breast cancer and Alzheimer's disease impact lives in equally devastating ways and are undoubtedly both worthy causes.  I don't write this to be controversial, but with legions of former players suffering from Alzheimer's and Dementia and a growing connection between the game and the disease, shouldn't the NFL trade its pink ribbons for a purple one?  

I fully understand the conflict that the NFL faces.  They currently back an incredibly worthy cause.  Also, the public relations playbook doesn't call for associating the game to concussions and permanent head trauma.  However, this is a problem the NFL can no longer leave on the sidelines.  It needs to be more proactive than it has been in the past or the problems will worsen.  Wouldn't wearing purple on Sunday's, despite the contradiction being made, also send a strong message of the genuine concern they have for what its retirees currently struggle with and its employees will one day will one day struggle with.

I understand that associating the NFL (and the game of football) with Alzheimer's disease in such a public way is not an easy thing to do.  Initially, it puts the league in a very vulnerable spot.  However, a public partnership with the Alzheimer's Association acknowledges that they care deeply that its employees are at a significantly greater risk of acquiring the diseases than you or I but also that it won't rest until that fact changes.    

Do you agree or disagree that this would be a smart public relations move by the NFL?  As always, thank you for reading and commenting. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pizza Hut Follow Up + Loose Ends

Pizza Hut has cancelled its upcoming Presidential debate promotional stunt.  Contrary to popular belief, all publicity is not good publicity.  The criticism they faced didn't amplify or enrich it's marketing position.

After rolling out dozens of new products, now Burger King is asking agencies to develop a brand position to replace the "Have It Your Way" mantra that helped it gain the number two spot.  What is Burger King?  The strategic plan should have been step one in my opinion.

Although I don't carry a Discover card or have ever had to call them, I know consumer loyalty to the brand is high.  Although good customer Service is a tough thing to convince people of,  I think the the "Peggy" ads, which satire painful situations all consumers can empathize with, do a great job at doing so. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Groupon's Business Model Illustrated

In my last post, I expressed my dismay over Pizza Hut's challenge to consumers to interrupt the next Presidential debate with a pointless question for the candidates about pizza.  It's an awful publicity stunt that's somehow receiving acclaim within the industry.

However, if marketers work their message into this election season, they should take their cue from these brands who are going about it in the right way.  I love the idea by Busken Bakery, to sell candidate cookies and keep a tally of the more popular cookie.  That's a great promotion.

Secondly, this week the editors of approached me about the a topic I've been covering on here - why daily deals websites like Groupon don't work.  They've put together and shared a great illustration that explains how their business model erodes it's client base. 

I'm glad they did so.  First of all, their site features nice blog and video blog full of helpful personal financial tips.  Secondly, it was great marketing by them.  They clearly didn't spam every blogger on the internet, instead approaching only those to whom the topic was relevant.  Next, I was asked for my input and if I would share it on my site. Shout out to Allison at and thank you for sharing. 


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pizza Hut Cooks Up Poor Tasting Publicity Stunt

Today's AdAge "Creativity Pick of the Day" is a dumb marketing stunt cooked up by Pizza Hut.  Pizza Hut is asking an attendee at the next Presidential debate to ask one of the candidates a nationally irrelevant question about their choice pizza toppings.  The loser willing to oblige Pizza Hut in interrupting a serious debate and abuse their attention being paid to it will win a lifetime supply of pizza.

Although publicity stunts are nothing new, this low level philosophy toward marketing seems to be growing, feed by social media and a desire to go viral.  The industry should be condemning this type of work; not rewarding it with it's "Creativity Pick of the Day."

Perhaps this type of stuff is why the marketing profession is held in such low regard.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Many Brands of Luxottica

Last night, the popular news magazine 60 Minutes did a interesting investigation into Luxottica eyewear.  Triggered by the exploding cost of eyewear, 60 Minutes investigation revealed a market dominated by one company operating many brands - Luxottica. 

Of course, few people know the name Luxottica.  But they know all of their brands. The Italian company owns the names Ray-Ban, Oakley, Lenscrafters, Sunglass Hut as well as holding licensing agreements with hundreds of fashion houses like Chanel, Coach and Polo Ralph Lauren to design and produce and sell frames under their respective brand names.  It's this multi-brand approach that has paved the way for Luxottica to dominate the eyewear category.

Even further evidence supporting a focused brand strategy was dropped in the tidbit that despite all the fashion brands line-extending into eyewear, it's still the Ray-Ban, an eyewear only brand, that dominates as Luxottica's highest seller. 

Unintentionally, this 60 Minutes piece is great evidence of the power of a focused brand strategy.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Redbox Expands To Ticketing

The movie rental brand Redbox recently began selling tickets to live events like concerts and sports through their movie rental vending machines.  According to Redbox President Anne Saunders, this move "will help drive our core business."

How?  Redbox is known as a place to rent movies; not purchase tickets.  How will Redbox relate these two unrelated purchase items?

Sure, Redbox is merely dipping its toe in the water - selling seats to events with limited demand and only in the Philadelphia area. 

However, Redbox's reach into the world of ticketing is another example a brand trying to expand beyond its product and demographic focus. 

Perhaps there is promise for self-serve ticket vending machines.  But without it's own brand, they will never truly know.     

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thank You Cards

As a brand new customer, I recently purchased an eye exam and new contact lenses from a local optometrist.  My experience was easy, convenient, the employees were friendly and overall I was very satisfied.  Having done everything right, I even received a card from them in the mail a couple of days after I received my lenses. 

Thank you cards are a great but much under-utilized marketing tool.  They're a sincere way for marketers to follow up after a sale - a very critical point in the transaction.  Additionally, thank you cards are so under utilized that the marketers who do employ this tactic, are remembered well. 

However, the card I received from the optometrist didn't take full advantage of the tactic.  The card was handwritten - a great touch - but the squiggle-mark signature makes it impossible to decipher who sent the card.  Also, the card doesn't take to opportunity ask about the product I purchased or what I thought of the service but simply says "thank you for choosing Wing."  I was immediately struck by how little is written on the card that I got the impression that it was rushed. 

Marketers - or anyone for that matter - cannot haphazardly go the extra mile.  The impression you're hoping for won't be the one leave.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Suspicious Slogan at Starbucks

Awhile ago, I said on this blog that Starbucks has been losing focus on their brand - again.  This week, I heard an advertisement for Starbucks Refreshers with the tagline "it tastes nothing like coffee."

That slogan is a real head-scratcher for coffee brand. It's also further evidence that Starbucks is taking another step away from the beverage the brand is famous for.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

No Such Thing As A Safe Cloud

Recently, an article in AdAge questioned consumer knowledge of the pitfalls of cloud computing, after a senior reporter at Wired magazine had his cloud hacked.  The author John McDermott suggests that most cloud users know so little about the risks of using a cloud system that if they did, they would have a public relations crisis on their hands.

You won't get any argument from me that users probably don't fully understand the cloud.  Stop to think about it and it's really scary how little most people actually know about the products and services they employ.

But this is not unique to the cloud system.  Most users of social networks know they're putting their privacy at risk - but likely not the details of how exactly.  Most motorists don't understand how the car they drive works but they know we all understand we're at risk every time we driving them.  Or if you take prescription drugs, you won't understand how they work but do know that taking them will have side effects.  How many of these industries focus their marketing campaigns on educating consumers of the risks involved?  None.      

According to McDermott, it's "irresponsible" for these companies to not mention the "inherent security issues of storing data" in the cloud.  But do inherent dangers of product usage really need to mentioned in marketing campaigns?

Inherent dangers are not hidden.  They're already known.  For example, of course the McDonald's coffee was hot - it's inherent trait of coffee.  Similarly, the internet isn't always so secure.  However, if gaps in their security system are to blame for the users loss, then their product isn't living up to it's marketing message. 

If that's the case, then it's lofty message isn't saving the cloud industry but rather going to kill.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Signs Suggest Hyundai Is Still Going The Wrong Direction

South Korean automaker Hyundai has experienced a steady rise in the American car market, particularly in the face of a deep and lagging recession.  Hyundai was heralded (and deservedly so) for innovative recessionary marketing tactics such as the Assurance program - its job loss protection program where car buyers could return a car if they lost their job.  In addition, a pioneering 10 year warranty reinforced its value strategy as a smart buy to cash conscience consumers. 

In January, I wrote about Hyundai shifting it's focus on value with the 2011 introduction of the Equus, a high-end automobile priced at $60,000 and expected to compete with Cadillac and Lexus.   As expected, consumers didn't go for it.

This week, I noticed Hyundai running an ad for its signature Elantra model.  The ad sarcastically apologizes to consumers for building two more apparently irresistible Elantra models.  The ad is dubbed "Miss Decisive" and it clearly reflects a strategy that has failed both Hyundai and competing automakers in the past.   

As Hyundai continues its strategy to build something for everyone, the brand will eventually mean nothing to anyone.    

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Playing A Game No One Wins

A couple of hours ago, the collective bargaining agreement between the owners of the thirty National Hockey League teams and the players officially expired.  With no agreement in place, the labor force is locked out and the work stops.

Obviously, when the work stops, so does the revenue.  That money is lost forever because with each passing day, the opportunity to play expires. Consequently, all involved parties will lose play by these rules.  

Author Seth Godin made this exact point during the National Football League's labor dispute last year.  His solution is to change those rules.

Instead of a system where all stakeholders will lose something, Godin suggests that they keep playing and put all money earned into an escrow account that no one gets to touch.  The money earned piles up and motivation to come to an agreement grows.  Finally, when that day comes, the money is divvied up accordingly.

Option A is to keep playing this game of chicken where everyone loses something.  Option B is to keep playing and both sides will realize a windfall at the end.

It seems like a easy choice.  Yet, for the third time in eighteen years, the NHL finds itself once again playing in a game where absolutely no one wins.   

Friday, September 14, 2012


In a world where information (perceived knowledge) can be accessed instantaneously, it's easy to forget that acquiring and perfecting a skill only happens with repetitions.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Work In Progress

The key word of course, is progress.

A few months ago I shared some initial t-shirt prototypes that I was working on.  The focus of the line is hometown pride.  However, unlike many of the styles that share this concept, the line I've been working on takes a different approach.  Rather than many dramatic designs printed onto a shirt, the line I am working on downplays the design for a retro looking shirt.  But these shirts are anything but simple. The embellishments are individually cut and sewn by hand, which is a very unique style as compared to the vast amounts of screen printed t-shirts that can be found almost anywhere. 

Several months after I began working on this project, I would like to again share my progress.  I have four working designs that I am beginning with.  While I already know I will be making changes to them (they're working), I am offering them for sale online on the website Etsy.  Even the name of the line is a working title.    

That's how these things go.  However, since my shirts are a work in progress, I've decided to offer these early models at a discounted price of $28 because delivering is critical to keeping any project alive. 

Be one of the first to represent your hometown with this look.  Or you can help by being a critical person to future success of this project by sending your feedback or sharing with your friends.

As always, thanks for reading and keep on grindin'  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

No Girls Allowed

Word from the popular toy brand Lego is that they will start producing Lego's for girls.

If Lego can get little girls to play with Lego's, then their potential market doubles.  However, if little boys see girls playing with them, will they still want to play with them?

I'm not so sure.  That's because the children's toy category is perhaps the best example of strong product and attribute focus of any category - and most toys have and will continue to reinforce the traditional roles of boys and girls.  Many are upset that Lego is doing the same thing most toy companies have done for generations.     

In the short-term, this classic line extension strategy from Lego that looks like a win - the move is credited with a 24 percent increase in revenue.  But make no mistake that this new piece to the Lego brand could drastically alter its strong foundation.

Splitting your demographic, especially in the highly-focused children's toy category, is a very difficult thing to ask of your brand.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Change Or Die

A great quote from the book Change or Die

"Why do people persist in their self-destructive behavior, ignoring the blatant fact that what they've been doing for many years hasn't solved their problems? They think that they need to do it even more fervently or frequently, as if they were doing the right thing but simply had to try even harder."

If you want your career or business or relationship to change, then you will have to as well.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Getting To The Point

The easier you are to understand, the more successful you will be.  Generally, this advice applies to your product - the easier it is for people to use, the more successful it will be.

This excellent cartoon speaks to this very thing. 

Cigarette Marketing Follow Up

In December 2010, I wrote that the United States and the United Kingdom were taking two separate approaches to curbing youth cigarette smoking.  The United States pushed for stronger and more graphic warning labels on the packages while the United Kingdom pushed to eliminate the power of the brand, making the packaging generic.  

On Friday, a Federal court ruled that forcing tobacco marketers to include stronger warning labels, which would take up over half the area of a package of cigarettes, was in violation of the first amendment.

Friday's ruling directly conflicts with another Federal U.S. court's ruling, setting up for a major Supreme Court case that will rule whether the tobacco law passed in 2009 is violates the U.S. Constitution.

Interestingly, this case reopens the discussion of whether marketing messages fall under freedom of speech.      

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Too Groupon To Be True

Over a year ago, I wrote that the professional discounting brand Groupon had major flaws.  The trade off of bigger margins for more traffic has always been bad for a brand.  Customers learn never to pay full price for your goods.  Although Groupon's paying customers may not have known this at first, I knew they would eventually wise up (like these angry customers).

Now, it looks like investors in the daily deals site have finally learned this as well.

As an aside, the same thing is happening at Facebook. These examples serve as more evidence that  fundamental marketing principles still apply in the much hyped social-media world.    

Monday, August 20, 2012


Writing a compelling brand story requires a lot more than a few search engine friendly keywords.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Axe Falls Out of Lust and Into Love

The first thing I ever noticed about the new Axe body spray commercial was how beautiful the Susan Glenn character is (played by model Jessica Cook).  Her look into the camera while flashing a hint of a smile does an incredible job at grabbing the viewers attention right before the conclusion as the viewer discovers the narration is actor Kiefer Sutherland and the product flashes on screen. 

I've seen the commercial several times now and continue to be impressed with it.  I love the writing in the ad and the storyline of a crush that got away and the regret felt later on is universal.  It's also completely uncharacteristic for the Axe brand.

Is this ad a sign that the Axe brand is maturing?  It's a major move from lust to love, previously never abandoning a strategy that uses humor and innuendo to reel in young men with the simple message that wearing Axe will get them laid.  Needless to say, the poetic Susan Glenn spot is a drastic contrast to just about every Axe commercial that has come before it (See Exhibit A and Exhibit B for a limited sample).

As an adult I truly appreciate the more mature message in the Axe commercial, although as a marketer I wonder what prompted Axe to grow out of a successful strategy.   Are teenage boys no longer the core demographic? Perhaps Axe is trying to grow with the customers they once fell in love with; those once-upon-a-time teenagers that have now grown into married men but cannot help but reflect upon their days as a bachelor.  But if this ad reflects a long-term shift in strategy, then how long will the brand want grow with their aging demographic?  A focused brand borrows customers for a short time and understands that they don't get them for lifetime.

Regardless,  I appreciate the more sophisticated and reflective Axe ads and will keep a watchful eye on the impact the new strategy will have on the brand.      

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Holes In Budweiser's Patriotic Positioning

First introduced over a century ago in 1876, it's that long history of Americans drinking Budweiser which has made more than just a beverage - its achieved the recognition of being true Americana.   

The beer's American tradition was the brands' strongest defense and best offense against the wave of imported beers marketed to the American beer drinker.  But Budweiser's best asset was sold away in 2008 when the stockholders of Anheuser-Busch agreed to a foreign takeover by the Belgium-based brewer InBev.  Although the beer is still made in St. Louis by American workers, it's difficult to muster the same patriotic feeling holding a Bud in your hand when you know that it's now part of some Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate.

So Budweiser is fighting back against this perception with its new "Made In America" campaign.  The campaign piggy-backs on Budweiser's sponsorship of the Made In America Music Festival in Philadelphia during Labor Day weekend and is slated to return annually.  The music festival will feature dozens of acts alongside headliner Jay-Z, who without coincidence released a hit single last year titled "Made In America," along with collaborators Kanye West and Frank Ocean.  It would seem like the perfect opportunity for Budweiser to restore itself in the minds of the consumer as being an All-American beer.  

Unfortunately, I don't believe that's something Budweiser can really get back.  Anheseur-Busch can hammer home a patriotic message in every advertising opportunity, whether it be sponsoring a summer music festival called "Made In America,"sponsoring the United States Olympic team, or even draping the bottle in red, white and blue, but each time they do, I'm only reminded of the fact that they're not All-American anymore.

The facts are no longer with them.  Although Budweiser says can claim all-American status, when they do, we recall the summer sale in 2008 because it now triggers the implication of the opposite being true.  A common example of this is a money-back guarantee.  While marketers offer this compelling claim in an attempt to convey the utmost confidence in their product, it actually conveys a lack of confidence in it by acknowledging that consumers might find themselves dissatisfied. 

Trying to fix a known weakness by fighting against it will get brands into trouble.  Anything short of breaking off of the InBev family tree, Budweiser will still be foreign and still remind people of this every time they try to tell us how American they really are.

But Budweiser can turn this perceived weakness into its strength.  In a crowded category where every beer is fighting to be the local favorite, Budweiser's days of being the local micro-brew have long past.  And it's no longer just an American brand.  Instead, Bud is the most recognizable beer in the world and available in all corners of globe; therefore, it should position itself as the first beer of the entire world.    

Its heritage supports this position as well. It was created by Aldophis Busch, a German immigrant, who studied in Belgium (the home of InBev) and then settled in America.  Budweiser's heritage not only reflects that story of America, a nation of immigrants, but also that of a world where everyone is an immigrant in search of their own opportunities and upward mobility.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hitch A Ride

A lot of brands, both big and small, dedicate a lot of resources to trying to go viral.  But are these resources being put to good use? 

The concept of going viral is like trying to hitch a ride to a shooting star; there both unpredictable and short-lived.  And short-lived is typically followed by soon forgotten. 

Rather than working speculating about going viral, a better marketing strategy is to consistently deliver on your promises.  

Frequency adds up; and it's far more effective than a one-time reach.  

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Less Respected Profession

Advertising isn't exactly known as being the most respected profession in the world.  However, one professional that often trumps advertisers for the "less deserving of respect" award would have to be politicians.

Political campaigns are even more notorious for distributing their own selective brand of the truth to the masses.  But regardless of which brand of the truth you subscribe to, it's unanimous that the high-road isn't exactly the one most traveled along the campaign trail.

So imagine my surprise when I read that both Presidential candidates vowed to tone down their campaigns in Colorado following the mass-shootings in Aurora.  Obviously, it shouldn't take twelve dead for this to happen.         

Advertising with class and dignity should be the rule and not selectively reserved for times of mourning.  Candidates should have the same respect for the voting public and even their opponent as they do citizens who are grieving a loss. 

That's the level of respectability we should demand from our leaders; some might even call it Presidential.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

British Petroleum's Branding Without Basis

With the Opening Ceremony for the London games this week, brands sporting their Olympic tie-ins are in full campaign mode.   A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Coca-Cola's "active lifestyle" Olympic platform, questioning the believability of connecting a sugary soft drink to healthy lifestyle position.     

This week, I was struck by the British Petroleum's Olympic campaign here in America.  The new  campaign profiles the hard work and determination of the athletes who will be competing in the games, who are then graced with support from BP in the ad.  Although the ads share an interesting story of the athlete, there isn't an authentic connection to the oil company.  Naturally, BP's strategy is to connect their brand to the feel-good stories of Olympians; however, such tactics are a lazy attempt at brand marketing.  That's becoming a predictable trend for oil companies who are resigned to the idea that they sell a commodity. Last year, I questioned the brand marketing of ExxonMobil, who runs a similar bogus campaign in support of math and science education.

The problem I have is that both campaigns are irrelevant to the brand.  They're strategic public relations moves designed to make consumers feel better about the brand as opposed to convincing them with the merit of their product.  Neither the Olympic platform or the education platform are essential brand propositions that have anything to with differentiating their oil (or the delivery and sale of it). 

Differentiation should be the focus of their ads, especially since the product is increasing relegated to commodity status.  A commodity product negates the purpose of a brand.  It's essentially becomes generic.

There are a lot of ways oil companies could differentiate their brand beyond a price point a couple cents cheaper than their neighbor.  The origin of the fuel, the quality/cleanliness service stations, how their unique chemical make up and additives are good for your engine or even number of convenient locations to fill up at.  I would suggest environmental impact, however, considering the public environmental catastrophes that companies have on their records, a campaign of this nature would be pushing the bounds of believability.

Perhaps British Petroleum could build on this by continuing their post-Gulf of Mexico oil spill campaign.  The company did a lot of environmental branding work before the spill.  After the spill, they apologized and then were quick to tout that the Gulf region is back and tourism is booming once again.  They should go a several steps beyond saying sorry.

The rig that exploded was improperly inspected- not enough Federal inspectors.  However, maybe BP could develop a position of being the safest oil company.  They could hire independent inspectors to oversee all of their operations and tout that in their commercials.  Their positions would be supported with hard facts, as the best positions are.  

Oil companies have many disbelievers and even detractors passionate enough to deface their ads.  Thus, convincing people of the contrary (or just getting them consider it) will require nothing less than facts backing a unique and meaningful marketing position. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Simultaneously The Solution and The Problem

For any company who generates revenue from advertising, such as magazines, newspapers, television networks, websites or sports leagues, the answer to all of their budget-crunching problems appears, at least on the surface, to be more ads.  In order to make more money, you must sell more ads.

However, there is a self-defeating side to this under-analyzed equation.  The more ads you sell, the less effective they become.  That's because your client, who is paying for the space, now has more competition for the attention of the audience being delivered.  In turn, the price should drop along with the client's returns.     

Back in December, I wrote about this exact problematic advertising cycle while discussing Facebook's decision to sell advertising in newsfeeds of its users. It also explains why seven months ago, Facebook increased its limit of ads per page from six to seven and now, only seven months later, is testing ten ads per page.

See the trend?

Many advertisers consider sports a holy grail of returns. They garner a lot of attention from desired demographics and with rapid escalating costs, sports teams are also desperate for the money.  So it's no surprise that stadiums and arena's have become cluttered with advertising over the past twenty to twenty-five years.  They even pioneered the practice of selling the name of the building.

So it comes as very little surprise that today, with very little valuable space left to sell, the National Basketball Association announced a tentative plan to sell advertising on team uniforms, thus becoming the first major professional sport to take the plunge for game uniforms.  A "final decision" on uniform advertising is expected to be made in September. 

Although it's being reported slightly differently by some people, the advertisement will be about two square inches and located over the heart on the uniform.

But when you understand that in advertising, more is simultaneously the problem and the solution, then you know better than to believe that.  Instead, it recreates the problem its supposed to solve.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Eight Million Stories

New York City has a earned reputation for being a place that can challenge a person, a fact that is most beautifully captured by the in the old adage "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere." Everyday, eight million people test their fortitude by overcoming obstacles that only this city can throw their way. Whether the challenge is as big as a skyscraper or simply making a rent payment with a little left over, overcoming these challenges can feel like pulling off a minor miracle.

On my trip to New York this past weekend, the city lived up to its well-deserved reputation.  As I waited in the airport on Sunday night, panic began to spread throughout the terminal as one flight after another was canceled.  Around 10 p.m., my 8 p.m. flight home was the grounded as well. 

Typically, this isn't a huge hurdle.  However, I lost my cell phone this weekend and had no way to communicate, so obviously, the cancellation put me in a serious bind.   

I was being forced to find a place to stay at the last minute without any way communicate.  Thankfully, I wasn't the only one facing this big apple-esque test on Sunday.  With the help of two other stranded travelers, I was able to find a room back in the city for the night. 

In a city of eight million stories, I am truly grateful to have shared this one with such perfect strangers. 

Thank you for sharing this New York moment.   

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Peanut Persuasion

Although the campaign is already a few months old, I saw this Planters Peanut commercial for the first time last night.  What struck me about the ad was their use of an endorsement from Men's Health Magazine.  Planters seemed proud; even going as far as to change the color of their packaging and include a Men's Health logo side-by-side with Mr. Peanut.  Obviously, the brand really ran with their endorsement from Men's Health Magazine.

For the peanut producers, receiving the "healthy" endorsement is a positive, especially as calorie-cutting consumers are seeking healthier alternatives or at least (marketer provided) healthy reasons to justify their current snack selections.

However, any reasonable consumer should question the cross-promotional baggage that ensued.  Men's Health didn't just endorse peanuts as a great source of protein, a fact that isn't exactly breaking news, they specifically endorsed Planters Peanuts as a great source of protein.  Obviously, Planters isn't the only peanut packing the protein.  Therefore, consumers walk away with the feeling that any genuine sentiment that may have existed when endorsing peanuts is overshadowed by a partnership between deceitful marketers and journalists willing to jeopardize their credibility.

Unfortunately,  their execution may make this a moot point anyway.  In the ad, the viewer must sift through a ridiculous side story loaded with unnecessary and obviously questionable proclamations about "manliness" before Planters ever gets to the important part - the protein.  That's the whole key.  

Peanuts (and other types of nuts) are packed with protein.  It's a fact that can be supported by real evidence, as opposed to the to weak linkage of peanuts and masculine machismo.  Even though Planters isn't the only nut with healthy protein (they all do), but it's the most popular peanut.  Peanuts will gain the perception of healthy and when people think peanuts, they already think Planters first.

It's the luxury of being the category leader.  And that's real peanut persuasion.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


You have a choice.  You can either take great pride in your work or you can let it be what prevents you from ever trying.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rethink Social

If you would like you're brand's message to be read more than once (so it's actually absorbed by the listener), then maybe social media isn't the best channel for you. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Coke's Unbelievable Branding

The opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympic Games is less than month away.  Athletes from all over the world will be competing for gold medals, while marketers blessed with budgets big enough will be there to fulfill a different type of golden opportunity.

A brand that always makes the trip to the Olympics is Coca-Cola.  According to a report from AdAge, Coke's strategy is to use the global athletic platform to debunk the perception that Coca-Cola is bad for your health by connecting Coca-Cola with the athletes who are representing the United States in the games and who, if I may go out on a limb, don't include Cokes as part of their training regimen.

Coca-Cola executive Katie Bayne explains their Olympic pitch to consumers by saying "We have a timeless commitment to enhance well-being in all of its forms. Encouraging people to get active, and providing them with opportunities to do so, has always been at the heart of our brand values."  

When I read the quote, I hear a lot more crisis management than great reasons we all should be drinking Coke.  It's a defensive quote because people don't associate Coke with active and healthy.  Can you blame them when Coke is the number one option complementing every high-calorie fast food meal and their doctor recommends they cut back on the drink?

Connecting Coke to healthy is just not believable at all.  Therefore, Coca-Cola attempting to do so, with or without the backdrop of the Olympics, is a bad idea and won't benefit the brand. In fact, engaging in a dialogue they're sure to lose, will actually be destructive to the brand.  Their marketing should tell people why they made the right choice by reaching for a Coke, not reminding them that it's only a small part of what's making them fat. 

The obvious connection Coca-Cola should be making on the Olympic stage is one of patriotism.  Coca-Cola is classically American.  Who's going to argue that that's a bad thing, especially during the Olympics?  And get this, it's true too.  

In fact, patriotism should be Coca-Cola's response to critics who blame it for society's health problems.  Like freedom itself, Coca-Cola is a pillar of American society.  Their rebuttal should be that in the land that protects freedom at all costs, people should have the right to choose for themselves something as simple as what they want to drink.  Even if that means reaching for something as innocuous as a little Coca-Cola.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Target's Supermarket Strategy Misses The Mark

Its been a long time since I have found an advertisement as annoying as the Target jingle that regularly interrupts my Pandora radio.  The comments posted on the article linked above echo my annoyed frustration with the jingle, so I take some comfort in knowing that I'm not alone.

Yet, despite my annoyance, I know the tactic Target is using is sound.  The ads are very consistent and their high frequency is a good thing in marketing.  However, Target's new market strategy is missing the mark. 

Their new strategy focusing on adding fresh foods seem like a very logical move for the retailer.  In a 2010 New York Times article, Target executives Tim Murray and Will Setliff summarize such logic. "We focus on mom and she’s quite busy, dinner is ticking in the back of her mind every day."  So, says Setliff, "the concept is built around the notion of fill-in trips and convenience trips. There’s a real need for convenient and affordable grocery options."  After all, it's very logical see how one-stop shopping would be very convenient.

Unfortunately, human behavior consistently proves otherwise.  The specialists who own a singular position in our minds have the most success and Target's grocery initiative takes a step back from that focus.  Although that's not exactly a logical defense, 'll also remind skeptics that consumer behavior rarely ever is. 

Maybe I can logically explain why Target's combination retail/supermarket concept won't work long term.  According to statistics from the Food Marketing Institute, the average supermarket in 2010 carried almost 39,000 items.  If Target cannot stock 39,000 items like the grocery store down the street does, then Target is at a big disadvantage in terms of product selection.  Consequently, consumers will discover that shopping at Target isn't exactly one-stop after all.

Thus, Target's grocery-centric strategy is actually advertising a weakness and not a strength; and that's a marketing strategy that's way off-the-mark.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Beware of the marketers who believe there is no consumer they cannot conquer.

Monday, June 25, 2012

This Tide Truck Needs A Fix-Up

If you live in a major American city like New York City, you may notice a large vehicle resembling a food truck parked around town town this summer.  The difference is that this truck, which is the brainchild of consumer products company Procter & Gamble and retail giant Wal-Mart, will be packed with soaps, detergents and toiletries.   

The purpose of this joint marketing experiment is to capture greater share for P&G products and Wal-Mart's online ordering within big cities, as Wal-Mart is still not a city resident.  Further, marketers have discovered that online ordering is prefered by city dwellers because going to store and lugging bulking items like paper towels and laundry detergent home is a real pain.  The problem according to this article in AdAge, that Amazon dominates online ordering like Wal-Mart dominates retail.

Alas, the strategic partners have cooked up the @PGMobile truck, which is strategically parked around the city to save nearby residents some of the hassle involved in purchasing their products.  Or people with smartphones who pass the @PGMobile truck can scan the QR code on the side of the truck and be automatically directed to Wal-Mart's online shopping site where they can buy the products.    

The story published in AdAge about the P&G-Wal-Mart joint marketing effort strongly emphasizes its similarity to the food trucks that have recently risen in popularity and stature in inner cities.  But is taking their cue from the food truck trend the best tactic for increasing share? I wonder.

What's really driving the food truck trend is convenience.  Despite all the stuff that people credit for the food truck craze, like more options, better tasting food and social media marketing, it's still all about convenience.  A convenient location is really their only advantage over restaurants who also have plenty of options, trained chefs and yes, even Twitter accounts.  But unlike most restaurants, the food truck can be waiting for you when you head to the park on your lunch-hour or when you leave the bar at two in the morning.

Is the P&G-Wal-Mart marketing effort really making life any easier for consumer in the city?  If they pick up the items from the truck (once they find it), the still need to carry them home, and most likely up a couple flights of stairs too.  And if the bulky items are the same size found in the store, finding a place to store them in a cramped apartment is also a challenge.

They could order online with the QR code.  But finding a truck in a city of 8 million people for a link to a website isn't as practical as reordering from the retailer they already use.  Unless they unleash hundreds of trucks on the city streets, the @PGMobile truck isn't any more convenient than stopping by the Duane Reade that exists on every corner of Manhattan already or ordering online from Amazon.   

If the food truck really was their inspiration for this experiment, I think they overlooked one critical point.  The food purchased on the street is consumed within steps of the truck and often without utensils, and absolutely without plates.  If they want to make buying convenient for people in busy cities like New York, put the product at the point of consumption.    

A couple thought starters using the Tide brand for example.  Through vendor agreements with laundromats and housing managers, put detergent dispensing machines where people do laundry.  If people have their laundry sent out, a tag on the bag lets them know that Tide was used.  This tactic would also work for fabric softener.           
Second, create city friendly packaging for bulky space-consumer products.  They will be easier to carry home and store away in the tiny apartments of the big city. Perhaps a more streamlined package with a plastic handle attachment on the outside of package would help consumers carry bulky items like paper towels home.        

What are your thoughts on how consumer goods companies like P&G or retailers like Wal-Mart could improve design products to be used by people in the inner cities?  Please reply with your suggestions in the comments section.