Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Over-Managed Brand

While I don't normally get my ideas for blog topics from the Colbert Report, I saw something on the show last week that is truly worth a mention.

On his Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert gave special attention during his show to one of its sponsors, Wheat Thins; for what Colbert calls a "sponsortunity." However, the sponsortunity evolved into 6 minutes of well-deserved jabs at the marketers of Wheat Thins when Colbert highlighted some of the more ridiculous "core values" of the Wheat Thins brand, which were spelled out for him by the brand managers at Nabisco in an official memo sent to the show.

In the words of their marketers, Wheat Thins is "a snack for anyone seeking experiences; a connector of like-minded people, encouraging sharing" as well as a snack that "keeps you on the path to, and proud of, doing what you love to do, no matter what that is."

However, Wheat Thins doesn't consider itself a "rebel brand" and strongly discouraged Colbert from any displays of over-consumption, recommending that "if shown out of the box, [Colbert] can only show a max of 16."

Whether or not Wheat Thins, who has shown a sense of humor in their Family Guy spots, was actually in on the joke or not, the memo from their marketers was indicative of how it can be problematic to over-mange your brand.

Only a marketer could dream up that a wheat cracker would "keep you on the path to doing what you love." In fact, as a consumer, I wonder how wheat crackers even have "core values." The impossibly vague and cliche "values" of the Wheat Thins brand were the subject of satire on The Colbert Report because they really are wacky. I don't know anyone who holds Wheat Thins in such high regard. Such connections simply don't exist for consumers and brands.

And yet, marketers are in love with vague generalities to describe their brand. For instance, Wheat Thins competitor Chex Mix is "a bag of interesting." Taco Bell is now calling customers to "Live Mas."

What on earth do these things mean? Nothing. At least to those not on the payroll.

To these marketers, I'd like to remind them that advertising isn't a vehicle for telling people what they should believe. People are going to believe what they believe regardless for what the ad men tell them. Advertising is most effective when it highlights the tangible and relevant advantages that actually exist with one product or service when compared to the competition.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Perfect Problem For McDonald's

Is McDonald's Losing That Lovin' Feeling?

That was the peculiar headline that jumped off the pages of the latest AdAge this week. The article debates whether McDonald's has a problem with its brand perception. Despite McDonald's impressive same-store sales increase of 5.6 percent in 2011 from 2010, the article cites people close to the company who believe trying times lie ahead if the fast feeder doesn't do something to address the perceptions about the quality of the food, where it comes from and the nutritional value of it.

McDonald's is currently addressing these issues in their latest advertising which launched in January and features the hearty, blue-collar farmers who grow the ingredients that will eventually get passed across the counters at McDonald's restaurants.

I use the term eventually because like a lot of consumers, I understand that a lot will happen to the potato once it leaves the farm and becomes a french fry. So a couple of couple of feel-good ads with wholesome ingredients will not change the perception of what McDonald's truly is - a meal which is really cheap and really convenient - but not as nutritious as the ingredients alone.
It's focus on serving really cheap food quickly and being in the places people most need them is how McDonald's has been able to serve billions and billions of burgers as well as increase sales 5.6 percent in 2011. It has always understood what it truly was.

That's summed up best in the article by Jeff Davis, president of Sandelman & Associates, a market-research firm specializing in food-service businesses, said that "McDonald's rates high in variety, indulgence, affordability, kid appeal and convenience. But the flip side to those results is that the chain rates weak on taste, quality, healthfulness and friendliness."

People will not believe food is gourmet if it's cheap. And if it's gourmet, they won't view it as affordable. Even your as powerful as McDonald's, you still cannot change this.

That's the obvious trade-off that marketers must accept - and until this point McDonald's has done. The expression "you cannot have your cake and eat it too" applies to the marketing profession more than any other. However, this AdAge article once again proves that there will always be those marketers who will try.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How Marketing Health Insurance Will Change

One trend in marketing that I am keeping my eyes on is how health insurance will be marketed to a consumer demo in a big way once the affordable care act takes full effect in 2014.

Health care is mostly sold to businesses and thus has traditionally been business-to-business marketing. In fact, I'd bet that most consumers (myself included) don't truly understand the nuances of insurance polices beyond the basic formula that employers will purchase plans and part of the cost is payed through a payroll deduction and when sick, they can go to the doctor.

However, when the law takes effect, health insurance companies will be marketing a lot more to individual consumers. That presents a enormous challenge for these marketers who suddenly must adjust how, what, and with whom they communicate. Furthermore, health insurance is a product layered in complexities and one with no strong brands positioned in the minds of consumers. It will be very fascinating to watch how these marketers will tackle this challenge and how the industry copes with a new sub-category taking shape.

In a recent article in AdAge, Alexandra Bruell wrote that just what insurance companies are planning to differentiate their brands for consumers.

According to the article, "to stand out in what will likely be a crowded environment, companies are building private exchanges and retail outlets."

One of the major insurance companies, "Aetna, recently rebranded itself as a "health-solutions company" to evolve from "an insurance company that was historically more b-to-b in the insurance and benefits arena. We need to think about how, with the tools and resources we have [and] ones we're investing in [building], we make the health-care system less complex and overwhelming," according to Belinda Lang, VP-brand, advertising and consumer marketing at Aetna.

However, the most important part of rebranding health insurance for the consumer market was never mentioned - launching a new brand. Despite undifferentiated positions, I suspect many health insurance companies will resist launching a new brand for this new sub-category, likely worried that their is too much equity in their current position-less brands. If health insurance companies really want to reach consumers with a "less complex and overwhelming" message, a new brand should be at the top of their to-do list.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Habits Change, Brands Shouldn't

Ten years ago I was in high school. With paycheck from the grocery store, I spent most of my earnings on trips to the mall with my friends, my first car and saving for college.

Five years ago as a collegiate, money was spent on tuition payments, books, beer runs, laundry machines, rent for landlord and more Chiptole than I care to remember.

At 26 years old, its become furniture, gym memberships, a work wardrobe and an Individual Retirement Account. For some it might be diamond engagement rings, mortgage payments and babies.

The point is that purchasing habits change for everyone. There is nothing a marketer can or even should try to do about this fact. Yet, many brands often adopt a customer for a lifetime creed even though their need for anything from that category is likely temporary.

Rather than having a customer for life philosophy, marketers should guide their brands to just borrow customers for a while. Doing so will help them stay focused on a target demographic and avoiding reaching to become a ineffective one-size-fits-all brand.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Best Marketing

The best marketing might be all the things people don't realize are even marketing.

I wonder.

An amendment: The worst advertising might be the stuff people don't treat as advertising.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Super Bowl Ads

A quick thought on Super Bowl ads. When your audience is everyone, you end up advertising to no one.

Thursday, February 2, 2012