Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Disclaimer For All Day Breakfast

Last weekend, I enjoyed my first ever afternoon Egg McMuffin.  My visit to McDonald's for all day breakfast paralleled most of my visits to the Golden Arches; an unplanned stop where I happen to be hungry and a McDonald's just happen to be a few hundred yards away.  On that lethargic Saturday of errand running, McDonald's won out because the eggs and Canadian bacon were still sizzling well past sunrise.  And the novelty of all day breakfast didn't hurt in this decision.  

I stepped up to the counter and ordered my go-to; an Egg McMuffin and a hash brown.  The cashier, almost reflexively, quipped that hash brown were not served all day at this location and my only option was french fries and that didn't have the same appeal.

I discovered that day I should have read the fine print on McDonald's All Day Breakfast. About 10 percent of its locations exclude this deep fried delight from their all day breakfast menu because these kitchens don't have enough space for an additional deep fryer. It was an insurmountable operational challenge for McDonald's; however, the cost of disappointing a few would not outweigh the benefit of pleasing so many.       
This real problem is how McDonald's is choosing to combat this pitfall. To compensate for customers coming in for breakfast items and being let down, McDonald's is now promoting the fact that its all day breakfast service is limited.  "Menu items vary by location.  Deliciousness doesn't." is truly a disclaimer spun off into a slogan.

This slogan does more harm to the brand than good.  Although disclaimers and fine print provide a legal safety net for businesses, they incline customers to question what they deem to be true about a brand.  For McDonald's, its customers will have to wonder if their favorites are served all day. 

Branding is about creating an strong identity.  The best brands create a powerful authenticity by giving their customers a definitive identity they can know to be true.

As always, thank you for reading and for sharing. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ad Blocking Uproar

Enough has been said about ad blocking already, but advertisers who are in an uproar over mobile ad blocking should remember that they've had a lot time to earn trust and appreciation for their message

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How Arby's Missed The Punchline

Arby's, a brand famous for its roast beef sandwiches, found itself being famously roasted by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.  Stewart's running gag of revising the brand's slogans snowballed into a fan favorite routine, regularly mocking its food with pretend-tag lines such as "Arby’s: Technically it’s food,” and “Arby’s: You think pain and grief are hard to digest."

Arby's did a masterful job turning punchlines into publicity; graciously sending Stewart off with a smile on their face.  Arby's participated in Stewart's final episodes, producing a goodbye Jon commercial for the host's final episode and even dedicating a sandwich in his honor.  By joining Stewart for a laugh, Arby's earned a lot of buzz on social media.

Yet I wonder if Arby's missed out on a fantastic opportunity more than it capitalized on one.  Sure, stealing a couple weeks of free press and isn't at all a bad thing; however, it takes more than a winning personality to build a strong brand.  To win categories, brands must sustain laser-focused positions that are relevant to a target demographic - something that Arby's has been sorely missing lately.

Arby's has been juggling brand positions and approaches faster than customers can keep up.  Not too long ago, when upscale quick-serve restaurants began stealing share from the fast food establishment, Arby's changed its official talking point to freshness.  Arby's positively proclaimed it was serving up "Good mood food."  Before that they were "slicing up" the same "freshness" as the Subway down the street.  Today, with millennials as a new focus for the brand, Arby's went animalistic with its appeal to to young men, simply saying, "We have the meats."  

Although Arby's proved it could be a good sport, the real punchline might be missed if Arby's doesn't respond with changes to its business operations.  The genius of Jon Stewart's Daily Show comedy routine has always been that it's rooted in truth. This fact doesn't stop with Arby's.  The reason Stewart's Arby's bit resonated with audiences was, at least in part, because of the truth behind it.  For Arby's to not acknowledge that the faux-taglines are real perceptions of the brand is a missed opportunity to transform fleeting publicity into a sustainable, focused position that's relevant to a target demographic.

As always, thank you for reading and for sharing. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

This Crew Has Me All Confused

J.Crew is a great brand that cannot make up its mind at the moment.  Of course, an indecisive brand is a unsuccessful one.

It's difficult to clearly see what position J.Crew is trying to communicate.  Is J.Crew clothing for men or women?  Are they selling clothes for work or the weekend?  Does the brand reflect a stylish upscale status or down and dirty brand that will bargain its way to get by.

There isn't a clear answer to any one of these questions for J.Crew.  Its stores are stocked with an assortment of clothes for men and women.  They have suits for a workday at the office or tees  and shorts that will violate the office dress code.  And their mall locals are are supposed to sell style at a premium whereas the factory stores push the same clothes on price.

This fundamental problem of how to position the brand has led to major issues at J.Crew.  Revenue is trending down which is a double whammy for a brand  racked with debt.  This has led to 175 employees being laid off in June.  Worse yet, a serious culture problem may have been exposed after the layoffs when a J.Crew executive mocked those who lost their job.  He too has since been relieved of his duties

Perhaps the worst part is that the Crew's chief is Millard (Mickey) Drexler isn't able to recognize his brand dilemma and the damage its causing.  On a recent earnings call, he attributed the company's poor performance on a single ugly sweater.  According to Drexler, "the right cardigan" would have made all the difference.

Furthermore, for a brand in desperate need of focus, Drexler continues to undermine the upscale position that J.Crew carved out for itself.  This year J.Crew will add 21 new "discount" J.Crew factory stores to compete with its flagship brand.  If that wasn't damaging enough, J.Crew recently launched the undifferentiated J.Crew Mercantile concept.  According to the brand, "For many of our customers, J.Crew Mercantile or Factory is ‘their' J.Crew, both in our stores and on our web site. They appreciate the sharp price points for classic J.Crew styling, and feel they are getting a great value." I guess the name J.Crew strip mall didn't go over well with focus groups - it may have been too direct. 

J.Crew is one confused brand.  It's brutally ironic that one of the best qualities of J.Crew is that its clothes don't have any visible exterior markings, yet, the brand will continue to suffer with positioning that is undefined.

As always, thank you for reading and sharing. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

When Brands Are Guided By Principle

As the Confederate flag debate swept across the country last week, several brands began looking in the mirror and not exactly liking what they saw.  Walmart, Amazon, eBay, Sears/Kmart and Etsy discontinued all sales (and being a channel for sales) of the lasting symbol of slavery and secession.

It's truly disheartening what was required for these brands to find their respective moral compasses. 

After cashing in on symbols of injustice for decades, their new found stance on the sale of Confederate memorabilia is nothing more than window dressing and convenient timing.  

As always, thank you for reading and for sharing.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Every Detail Counts

If you're going to sell customers on the idea that your resort has every detail covered, it would be wise to proof read the descriptions posted online.  A four figure per night price tag isn't the only basis point customers are looking at.

Friday, June 5, 2015

They Must Be Joking

Why does the FBI have a tab on the website for "Fun & Games"?  Real brand focus is rare.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Wendy's Begs For Salad Authenticity

Wendy's, known for its Old-Fashioned Hamburgers, recently began touting its salads in a commercial titled "Wedding."  The commercial takes direct aim at casual chains such as Panera Bread. It challenges consumers to look beyond the big fancy bowl they're served in and instead look at the ingredients in the bowl.   

Wendy's plea for logic does make sense.  After all, consumers aren't eating the bowl.  However, I would contend that it will be easier and likely cheaper for Wendy's to serve their salads in fancier bowls going forward than it will be to convince consumers it's serving a better salad. 

It's a matter of strategy.  Ironically, Wendy's is paying to run television commercials that essentially argue that branding doesn't matter.  The reason that consumers don't believe fast-food joints can have fresh, hand-prepped produce and hot grilled chicken is because they never been known to.  Although fast-feeders like Wendy's may serve salads, the main menu is still burgers galore. It's been Wendy's point of pride ever since Dave Thomas introduced his signature square burger patty to demonstrate that they would not cut any corners.

Unfortunately for Wendy's, it's logic argument doesn't make real marketing sense.  Like it or not, consumers form their beliefs from cues picked up during the entire experience, not simply from what's consumed (branding = total experience).  So, even though they don't eat the bowl, it and many other factors are a big parts of the equation to consumers.  Consumer logic says that if they care enough about the bowl the salad comes in, then they must care about the ingredients they put in them.

As always, thank you for reading and for sharing.    

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


When you have to beg people to cooperate, you're in the wrong type of partnership. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Clever Ads

Advertisers don't have to be clever to get people to listen; all they need to have is something worth listening to.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why A Bigger Etsy Isn't A Better One

Early this month, my eyebrows raised a little when I read that Etsy filed paperwork for an initial public offering.  I'm not really sure what that emotion I felt was other than acknowledging a significant Main Street-Wall Street dichotomy.

The ethos of Etsy, as described by its CEO Chad Dickerson, is "at the end of every transaction, you get something real from a real person."  It's a marketplace created for the creators; a storefront to the world for people to sell what they personally have made. The site fostered deeper connections between merchants and customers, a distinction that strongly differentiated the brand from other online marketplaces.  Etsy had standards; it was not the place to go to buy a used napkin.  

However, the definition of selling "something with meaning" is a bit more obscure than it used to be.  Goods sold on Etsy used to mean they were made by hand by the seller.  That's no longer the case since Esty began allowing manufacturing partners.  This decision, perhaps well-intentioned at the time, actually signified a major shift in its purpose for existing - a signal that achieving scale is at least equally important as fostering commercial peer-to-peer connections.

Naturally, these dual-purposes are at is at odds with one another.  In order to continually grow the way Wall Street will demand it to, Etsy will need really need to generate more fees from merchants.  This can be accomplished in a combination of two ways; adding more of them or get them to sell more.  However, this is the path to eroding its brand difference.  

More troublesome, Etsy has a different problem on a micro level.  As a seller grows and becomes more successful, the less they need Etsy.  On the other hand, Etsy will need them and their large fees even more.  Eventually, the high volume sellers will scale to a point where a per transaction fee is more expensive than a percentage based fee, and that will be the time to host their storefront to someplace else.

It's never good to chase growth outside of your brand. In order to do so, marketers wrestle with and reshape exactly what their brand stands for, eventually losing the advantage they once had.  Etsy forgot that on Main Street, bigger isn't always better.  

As always, thank you for reading and for sharing. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Real Help For Realtors

Two years ago, I sat in an interview with a couple of real estate agents and the president of their company and suggested ideas (upon request) that they could use to improve their marketing and client relations.  I offered what is really some pretty basic stuff about showing people how much they matter since it is a quintessential business build on referrals.  The result of this meeting, which happen to be a second interview for an gig they were advertising, was that they never me called back.  Not a single a word.

This cold shoulder I received left enough of an impression that I'll will never choose a Comey & Shepherd agent to represent me for any future real estate deal I make.  Even though such an exchange or lack there of has more to do with common courtesy than it does shrewd marketing, it ultimately led to an impact on their business.

Real estate agents aren't (generally) bad people.  However, I believe they aren't (generally) great marketers either (in fairness, the job combines several different necessary skill sets). 

A week ago, I received an email from an agent I've been working with on the purchase a new home.  It reads: "Dear Alex, Now's the time to be swift. I can get you on track to sell your home quickly and efficiently"
The problem I have with this email is that I currently rent and this agent knows this.  Sure, this isn't the world's first case of a overzealous marketing that leads to a customer being spammed with an irrelevant message.  However, it's a prime example of what I was preaching about two years ago - the real estate business is best conducted at a more personal level.  

Sadly, a halfhearted attempt by marketers at personalization is really worse than no attempt it at all.  When personalization flops, it signals to the customer the opposite of the intended message - how unimportant they are.
Finally, not to rail on the real estate agents but I have a couple other marketing gripes from this industry that I must get off my chest.  First, every (that's a unscientific calculation) agent I've encountered seems to be passing out business cards with a photo that's at least a decade old.  Secondly, during these times of online listings with unlimited characters, simply copying and pasting the  abbreviations and incomplete sentences that are used in print publications to the online medium demonstrates a lack of concern/awareness for the happy details.
Sweet Home! Well cared for! 1st Fl Master Suite! Open LR/DR. Gas FP! Side Porch. Hdwd Flrs! Large Equipt Galley Kit/Wood Cabnts. Spacious 2nd Flr Bdrms, WIC/Study! Large LL Rec Room! New Ovrsized Garage! Replcmnt Winds, Glass Block! roof'14
As always, thank you for reading and for sharing.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Privacy Rumblings Part Two

Last week I shared some thoughts about privacy after the Anthem breach.  The next day I received the privacy notice from one of my banks.  These noticed often end up in the trash can unread; however consumers should take notice of exactly what they are "agreeing" too.

This includes: collecting and sharing information such as your social security number, income, account balances, transaction and payment history.  Furthermore, simply by doing business with these companies, consumers are granted zero say about the information the company can share both inside and outside of the organization. Even worse, they include a sneaky opt-out clauses like the one above, which reads "if you are a new customer, we can begin sharing your information 30 days from the date we sent this notice.  When you are no longer a customer, we continue to share your information as described in this notice."

Although these notices may look like nothing, they're designed to self-authorize businesses to help themselves to sell your information without explicit warning or consent.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic and any other interesting marketing-related musings.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Making Privacy A Priority

I recently received an email from my employer that I might be one of the 80 million or so people who have had their private information, including name, date of birth, social security number, address, phone number, email address and employment information compromised by a cyber attack on the health insurance company Anthem.  Of course, this is enough valid personal information to open up just about any type of fake account and exploit the victim without being detected.    

An official notice of whether my personal information was actually stolen will follow in the coming weeks via mail, because, as we all just learned, the digital world just too risky for that information to be floating out there.  However, while I wait for the postman to deliver my fate, myself and anyone who has ever carried an Anthem insurance card can pretend to be reassured by consulting a website;

Perhaps the scariest part of all is that these massive breaches of cyber security are becoming ever more commonplace.  Whether it be Target, Home Depot, Apple, Sony or Anthem, a hazardous consumer privacy landscape appears to be part of the deal.  The question consumers will eventually find themselves asking is whether this trade-off ultimately benefits them.

Businesses will need to do more to convince them that it does.  Consumers will not blindly opt-in to "privacy" policies designed to obfuscate the rules and ultimately exploit their information while CEO's are routinely penning apology letters for fumbling it away to criminals.  Or equally disturbing, padding their bottom lines by selling information to their marketing partners.

Consumers and lawmakers won't buy the line that businesses are doing everything in their power to keep our information safe when they're actively tricking consumers about what they're signing up for and passing it around town to their friends.

One final thought on privacy.  Upon learning that my information could be vulnerable, I researched identity theft protection service from Lifelock.  I have heard personal stories about how the company supports its marketing position "Relentlessly Protecting Your Identity."

However, by offering a three-tier pricing structure, Lifelock is contradicting its own marketing position.  If its services improve proportionally to the cost the customer pays, then there are two groups of customers that they are not being "relentlessly" protected.  A flat rate would fix this dilemma between sales and marketing strategy. 

Finally, I believe the company and others like it are missing an opportunity in marketing itself.  Sold independently, Lifelock just feels like another thing consumers have to shell out for that they didn't in the past; therefore, its market is limited to those who already need it.  But this market could grow substantially if its bundled with insurance, thus expanding the market to those who might need it in the future.  Both companies would benefit; Lifelock could dramatically grow the industry pie while insurance companies would find a new slice in a slow growth industry.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic and any other interesting marketing-related musings.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Advertising Worth Sharing In The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

This upcoming Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue will feature a couple of advertisements that are just as easy on the eyes as its bikini-clad content.

The buzz worthy DirecTV campaign featuring Rob Lowe is remixed with Sports Illustrated models Hannah Davis, Chrissy Teigen and Nina Agdal and Snicker's "You're Not You When You're Hungry" takes over the back cover with a "super irritated Hannah Davis" as Medusa.  

Both efforts are great examples of how to weave a commercial message into content in a manner that's interesting and relevant to the topic.  Each ad truly enhances the content rather than distracting from it. And as a result, they made something worth sharing.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Breaking Down Which Budweiser Ad Is Better?

The Budweiser brand is synonymous with advertising during the big game, producing such memorable spots as the "Bud Bowl," "Wassup," the Budweiser "Frogs" and "Puppy Love."  This year the brand followed up on its viral hit from 2014 with another beloved spot staring a Labrador, "Lost Dog."

However, my love goes out to Bud's other spot, "Brewed The Hard Way."  The ad certainly won't win any awards for its special affects, heartfelt sentiment or plain ole' likeability, but it will definitely motivate the King's loyal subjects.

What the offended masses tweeting @Budweiser are misunderstanding is that this spot wasn't produced to put an end to craft beer or even get craft beer lovers to have a taste of their dad's beer but rather to rally those already drinking it.  That's exactly what this ad will do.

Budweiser simply cannot act like a craft brew.  It's not small batch, wild-flavors, different formulas, seasonal and in most corners of the world, local.  In order to survive, it must carve out a position where size is perceived to be to its advantage. "Brewed The Hard Way" is at the very least an unapologetic step in that direction. 

Even Jim Koch, founder of Sam Adams and pioneer of the craft beer category recently discovered how fickle the craft-brew culture can be to show some love to one of the big boys.

So the best strategy is to not even give them a taste.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic and any other interesting marketing-related musings

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Chicken Check-Up at Subway

I will confess that I probably eat Subway about once a week.  I go there for the same reasons that I think most people do - it's an easy meal that won't do chernobyl-like damage to my insides.

However, despite maintaining regular visits to Subway for more than a decade, I've never ordered a sandwich with chicken.  There's a really good reason for this.  It's simply the sheer sight of chicken breasts themselves.  The product display is so bad it's infamous; chicken breasts looking cold, pale and rock solid, just haphazardly tossed in the bin without any regard that this item is supposed to end up in the mouth of someone standing over it. 

So it was to much shock and disbelief that I stumbled across recent advertisements from Subway that describe its new chicken as "a breakthrough" and "our best chicken yet."  The "best chicken yet" spot provides viewers with a heavy dose of empty superlatives like "chicken you can feel good about," "better tasting/just is better" and "premium cut" before they get to the stuff that consumers can actually prove, "all white meat, no artificial flavors or preservatives."

While consumers won't ever mistake Subway chickens to with those of the Portlandia variety, it's a major branding mistake to drive people to the stores on a position of quality when they will see fossilized chicken breasts once they get there.  By this point, everyone has been to Chipotle, so we all know what grilled chicken is supposed to look like.  They will only hurt themselves by trying to join the (some)food with integrity movement but under-delivering on this new market standard and/or in the practical reality department.

Even if Subway were able to deliver in the reality department, a "new and improved" position is still a risky play.  It's taunting consumers to ask the question, "well, what the hell were you serving us all these years?"

The right move would be to fix what consumers will see at Subway when there isn't a television screen between them and their chicken.  Only then can and should the story of new and improved actually begin.

 As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic and any other interesting marketing-related musings

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lazy Look for NFL

Interestingly layout for the homepage.  If they couldn't get an image of Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers post-game handshake then why stay married to the idea? Odd choice.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Lovin' It Might Just Be Overstating It

McDonald's recently reaffirmed its faith in the I'm Lovin' It campaign with its super-appealing, happy-go-lucky Arch Enemies spot despite a mad-scramble for answers to its financial results (read:lack of customers) problem. 

On one hand, this is a good thing.  It would be a cop out to blame a an overly-simplistic three-letter tagline because it no longer strikes consumers' stomachs like cupid's arrow. It's refreshing to see a company not "rebrand" itself every couple of years when the misused messaging gets stale.  The practice of sloganeering for its own sake is a tired marketing practice when the correct strategy starts with the less sexy heavy-lifting in operations, food quality and customer experience.  

On the other hand, perhaps "I'm Lovin' It" should be changed because it too is part of the problem.  An aspirational tagline such as "I'm Lovin It" flings the door wide open to criticism when customers discover they aren't exactly lovin' what they're getting.  For any brand, when there is a gap between what it truly is and what it wishes to be to customers in its messaging, the real problems become more apparent to customers. In fact, this problem has long been brewing at McDonald's while its messaging kept overstating our love for it.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic and any other interesting marketing-related musings

Friday, January 2, 2015

An Advertising Resolution

If you respect their attention, they will respect yours.  It's as simple as that.