Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Thanks to all 1,306 of you who've taken the time to visit my blog since I started writing it a month ago. Especially to the 100 or so of you who read it regularly. I am humbled that you find it worth coming back to.

I can only say, thank god 2009 is finally over. Here's to a smashing 2010.

There's a special place in hell...

There I was on the couch, lost in the rapture that was the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl (no, I really don't have a life) when I saw it again, the commercial for Taco Bell's Drive-Thru Diet. Are they f*#%ing kidding me? This is so bad on so many levels I just can't stand idly by and watch it go down without a comment. Okay, a rant...

First of all, it's derivative. I know some marketing guru at Yum Brands will tell you, "It's proven." But Subway got there first with Jared. They put a big fat stake in the ground and basically own this territory in the fast food category. If you want to take it away from them or at least join the party, you had better do it really well.

Which leads me to my second problem; the spot is just awful. There's no charm, no wit, no irony and nothing to make it memorable other than its utter stupidity. If you're going to do this, plant your tongue firmly in your cheek and have some fun with it. You can't bore me into believing that eating tacos without cheese will cause me to lose 50 pounds.

And that's really the biggest issue I have with this campaign. It's just not honest. "Christine" tells us she lost all this weight "by reducing my daily calories AND replacing my usual fast food with Taco Bell's Drive-Thru Diet." My guess is she cut a lot more calories by laying off the Chunky Monkey and super sized sodas. The Fresco versions of their foods are just 50 calories less than the regular versions. Hell, there's even a disclaimer on the spot that says "Not a low calorie food." So what, she was eating ten Taco Supremes a day? That's the only way she could have reduced her calorie intake by 500 on the "Drive-Thru Diet."

Look, I'm all for eating healthier. I'd love to lose 15 pounds myself. But I'm not that stupid. And maybe that's what really grinds my cojones. There are people in this world who will believe this tripe. They will eat five Fresco Tacos and wonder why they still have that Dunlop around their waist. And there is no doubt in my mind that everyone in Louisville who approved this campaign knows it.

That, my friends, is why people hate marketing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Brand

Aston Martin, the legendary British automaker whose DB5 was the car of choice for James Bond, announced recently that it will be marketing a new city car badged Cygnet, that strays about 5,900 miles away from its heritage of long, low, sexy designs. And while the only things that this car shares with traditional Aston Martin design are the winged badge and the iconic grille, even more troubling is what's under the skin.

This car is nothing more than a Toyota iQ with a facelift and a redesigned interior. Using the same engine, same suspension, transmission and other mechanicals, Aston Martin will sell the Cygnet for $35,000, $15k more than the Toyota. Apparently the geniuses at Graydon are not automotive historians. Back in 1981, GM tried the same tactic by taking a Chevy Cavalier and after adding leather seats, a new grille and badge, rolled the Cadillac Cimarron into the world. How'd that work out for them?

This exercise falls into the "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should" category of product development. If Aston Martin wants to create a small, efficient city car for its customers and to help improve its CAFE rating it should do so. Not buy technology from another company and try to pass it off as their own. Consumers aren't that dumb and they never were.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Save The Best For Now

Do you know who your best customers are and how much they're worth to you? Their value extends way beyond the money spent in your store or on your product. Yes, they're your most consistent revenue stream, but they're also your most important marketing tool and an infinite source of information about your product or service. The question is, what are you doing to maximize their value?

Do you have a system in place for them to tell you what they like and don't like about your product? Have you made it easy and do you reward them for telling their friends about you? And most important, have you thanked them in a meaningful way for their patronage? With so many social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, it's easier than ever to stay in touch with your biggest fans. Your customers, however, have more choices than ever these days and other businesses would love to take them from you. If you're not willing to give your best to your best customers, it won't be long until you find yourself with no customers at all.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Love Bug

I'm not sure if there's something in the water, but agencies around the country seem to be similarly infected with a need to show their clients how much people love them and their products. Today's New York Times highlights ads for Subaru, Honda, Nissan, Blackberry and others who are all on the love train. It never ceases to amaze me how an industry so full of self-professed original thinkers regularly end up at the same solution at the same time. Especially when it's a solution that seems to be so shallow and ineffective.

I know it's important to connect with consumers at an emotional level, but people won't fall in love with you because you tell them to. They fall in love with you because you fill a need at both rational and emotional level. Think of the most successful launch of the past few years, the iPhone. The ads focus on the products and what they can do for people with a personality that is charming. The same with the Mac v. PC ads. Basically it's as simple as this: Give me a reason to fall in love with your product and do it in a way that's interesting.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Do You Want To Dance? Really?

A few weeks ago at the L.A. Auto show, General Motors in its infinite wisdom decided to unveil Chevy Volt, arguably the single most important technological platform that GM has ever produced, with its very own song and dance. The result is predictably embarrassing. To such a degree that it has the potential to undermine the credibility of the car that should replace the Prius as the darling of the American Greens. Good Luck with that. Thanks to my friend and ace art director, Bill, I think we found the choreographer for the dance here.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, Fiat felt an ambush marketing campaign for the new 500 might get it a little (ahem) exposure. I guess their frozen bikini dance contest should get the attention of the young men they hope will buy these cars. That is if they even notice the cars. As stupid as it is, this event is at least fun, intrusive and has an Italian male chauvinist feel to it. The people are upset by a tactic like this would never buy the car anyway. And while it won't play in Peoria, Amsterdam is another matter.

Wishing everyone a merry Christmas. See you next week.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Nation of Winers

I was grabbing a sandwich at the deli the other day when something new in the cooler caught my eye. So instead of having a Dr. Brown's Root Beer with my BLT, I washed it down with a Pinot Noir soda. Not bad. It's like grape soda for grown ups.

After I got home, I did a little research and found that Vignette Wine Country Soda was created 3 years ago and is made from 50% California varietal grape juice, carbonated water and natural flavors. Sounding a little too much like a marketer, Pat Galvin the founder of Vignette says, "The goal was to create a soft drink that captured a little bit of wine country magic in a soda bottle." To me this is a classic case of looking at two things that already existed but had never been put together before – wine grapes & soda – to create something completely new.

The reward for being innovative? While Coke and Pepsi are fighting tooth and nail to squeeze every penny out of a can of cola, Pat gets two bucks a bottle at retail. In the immortal words of Eric Cartman, sweet.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Plane Stupid

Here's an idea for your business. No matter how much your customers complain, don't change the one thing they hate most about it and see how long you prosper. That's essentially what the airlines have been doing for years by keeping passengers trapped on planes on the tarmac for up to 9 hours while waiting for takeoff clearances or open gates. A tip to the airline CEOs: If you wouldn't like it happening to you, your customers probably don't like it either.

Just because you have a functional monopoly doesn't mean you can treat your customers as if they don't matter. And no amount of industry spin about how this practice helps the majority of flights reach their destination on time, is going to change that. Is it unreasonable to provide food and water to passengers after a two-hour ground delay? Is it unreasonable to let them deplane after three? The airline industry needs to stop fighting the new regulations announced by the FAA and figure out a way to deal with it. How about holding a couple of gates at every airport for planes that are delayed? If the airlines had done this years ago, they could have shared the cost, and received PR boost by announcing that you'll never have a long wait on a plane again. Opportunity missed.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Saab Story

Once upon a time there was a quirky little car with its ignition key mounted in the floor between the driver’s and passenger’s seat. It was better than just about any other car in snow, because back then so few cars had front-wheel drive. And it got great gas mileage, but few people cared because gas was just 50 cents a gallon. The Saab 96 wasn’t the prettiest car in the world, but it was one of the safest. There were just enough people who thought it was beautiful and loved this car with a passion. They even loved its successors the 99 and 900. But then changes began to occur and the new Saabs got larger and more like other cars. Until finally a big giant ogre decided they needed an SUV to compete. They took an SUV other brands were using and put the Saab name on it. In just a few short years after that, what people knew of Saab was gone, because it was just like everyone else.

And when the clock strikes midnight tonight, unless a knight in shining armor can convince the ogre to set Saab free, it will cease to exist.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Free Idea Friday

Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. Every Friday I will share an idea that's been rolling around in my head that I have neither the time nor the where-with-all to execute. Remember, it's free, so take it for what it's worth. 

The New Chrysler
Fallon just got the Chrysler account and I for one am looking forward to seeing what they do with it. They're in a tricky position, because they're going to have sell cars now while setting a believable course for their future. Just because I didn't have anything better to do last night (The Office and 30 Rock were preempted for some SNL clip show), I created this ad as a stake in the ground to mark a point between Chrysler's past and their future. Click on the image to view the ad full size, you should be able to read the copy.

Go easy on me with your fact checking as I didn't have Chrysler's product information department to back all this stuff up. Everything here came from a quick google search. And if there's a typo, let me know, I'll fix it. As for the art direction and Photoshop work, just remember this: I'm a writer. 

Oh, and I do know the irony of just putting this ad up here an letting it "reveal its brilliance" to you after yesterday's post, but so be it.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's Not A Great Idea If You Don't Sell It.

Bill Westbrook, former CD at Fallon once said, "The difference between good agencies and great agencies is that great agencies sell their best work."

I've seen it happen over and over again, great ideas killed by bad presentations. Either the team thinks their idea is so great that the client will fall all over themselves once its brilliance is revealed. Or they try to bore the client into buying the work by droning on and on over every insignificant detail. So how do you sell an idea when even if a client's physically in the room he may not be mentally because he's checking his email or updating his facebook status on his iPhone?

First, have a point of view and limit the number of ideas you bring into the meeting. Get to the point. No straw dogs to make your favorite idea look better. If you bring it into the room there's a chance a client will buy it. That's a mistake I'll never make again.

Second, if the meeting is in person create a little theater to dramatize your idea. To kick off the meeting for a mobile phone client we held a funeral for the land line complete with flowers, candles and a eulogy. For another, we converted a conference room to a college dorm room to bring the target to life in front of our client's eyes. The theater must be strategic and relevant to the idea being sold. Done well, it intrigues the client and brings the challenge or opportunity of the assignment to life.

Third, engage the client throughout the presentation. The person talking is the person being sold. Ask them direct questions and phrase them in a way that will elicit an answer that leads to your solution. For a home security client we asked, "What things, other than guns, do people keep in their homes to protect themselves from burglars?" When the client answered, "a dog" the ad was sold, because when I turned the board over showing a cute, lovable dog it was now the client's idea as well as ours.

Fourth, if you're using PowerPoint, use it as a presentation aid, not the presentation. You deliver the information, the slide reinforces it. Make one point per slide, ideally with a headline and visual representing the idea. If you must use words other than the headline, keep it brief. No bullet points. No paragraphs. If you have to say, "sorry this slide is such an eye chart" then change it. You're not selling the client. You're annoying them.

Finally, rehearse, individually and as a team. Work on your transitions, your set ups, your closings. Anticipate questions and objections and if you don't know the answer, don't fake it. Write it down and get back to them.

Great presentations are not about being slick, they're about being persuasive and that happens when you're honest, genuine and prepared. I've seen too many great ideas die before their time. Hopefully this will help save one or two.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Shocking News. Consumers Say They're Not Influenced By Commercials!

Hard to believe isn't it? People actually saying that television commercials don't affect them. What's next? A research study that concludes no one admits to watching porn? This study in Advertising Age is the biggest waste of ink, paper and pixels since the ascension of Britney Spears.

In the main, people don't admit to being influenced by advertising because that would be admitting they don't think rationally. And we all know how rational the human mind is, right Tiger? This study is so full of "duh" conclusions, I wonder which intern performed the analysis for Big Research (if that even is a real company). Here's my favorite: 45% of the people surveyed said coupons were the most influential marketing tool. What a shocker. Of course price matters. It matters a lot, especially today. So what should I do? Stop differentiating, just cut prices and put a coupon in peoples' hands. How'd that work out for Circuit City?

This has always been the knock against television advertising, its lack of measurability. I get it. I've been fighting this battle my whole life. When used for the right purpose, it's incredibly effective. You only need to look at the rise of Apple, Lexus and Viagra to see that. It's just one tool in your marketing workshop and like all tools, it's most effective when used for the right task.

So how do you know if your advertising is working? Here's a tip, don't listen to what people say, watch what they do.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Amateurism Goes Global

As I've noted previously on this blog, getting consumers to advocate for your brand is critical, whether it's good old fashioned word of mouth or via social networks like facebook and Twitter. And advertising plays a role in this. When consumers start creating your advertising, however, huge dangers lie ahead. Take a look at this story about a consumer generated TV spot for Toyota in Australia.

Consumers may know your brand. Consumers may love your brand. And if it's really well managed, consumers will feel your brand's promise at a visceral level. That doesn't mean they're qualified to create advertising that is consistent with your brand's vision and goals. And, just because it's produced for a contest in Australia doesn't mean it won't be seen around the world.

There's more opportunity than ever for consumers to spread the word both positively and negatively about your brand. That doesn't mean, however, you should cede control of every message. Bill Bernbach had it right when he said, "We are so busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mold it."

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Happiest Cows On Earth

With all due respect to California and their extremely efficient factory dairies, there's a farm not far from here that must have the happiest cows in the world if research published in this Sunday's New York Times is to be believed.

At Sassy Cow Creamery, they not only name their cows, but attach trading cards with each cow's picture and a brief note about that cow to every bottle of milk. This is a nice symbol for the dairy that brings their philosophy of "the cows come first" directly to the consumer.

At a time when people are more and more concerned about the origin of their food and wonder about the effects of antibiotics, hormones and other additives, this sort of transparency is reassuring.

And profitable.

With more than 500 cows on their farm, producing both non-organic and organic milk, Sassy Cow bottles their milk on the same day it's produced so it's fresher. It sells for a significant premium to the commodity brands.

So not only are the cows happier, the dairymen are as well.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Free Idea Friday

 Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. Every Friday I will share an idea that's been rolling around in my head that I have neither the time nor the where-with-all to execute. Remember, it's free, so take it for what it's worth.

Is GM Ready To Cruze?

In Q3 of 2010, General Motors will launch it’s latest Corolla/Civic fighter, the Chevy Cruze. The first major new product to debut since GM’s bankruptcy and restructuring, it’s not an overstatement to say that this is a make or break product for the “New” GM. In order to make sure the launch is successful, GM has broken with its past and thrown a creative jump ball to advertising agencies across the country to see who will have the honor of introducing the Cruze to the public. Good luck with that.

This isn’t 1970 when people had a positive impression of Chevrolet, and you could roll out a new car knowing they would at least give it a look. Today Chevrolet ranks well behind Toyota and Honda in brand perception. Changing perceptions takes time, unless you’re willing to do something radical. And having a different agency create your ad campaign isn’t radical.

It’s time for an intervention.

What GM must do is demonstrate that the Cruze is as good or better than the Corolla and Civic to the very people most likely to buy those other brands. So here’s my idea.

Take 1% of the first year’s projected production, that’s 2,500 cars, and put them in the hands of Toyota and Honda owners for free.

There are only two stipulations. The first is that they have to write a weekly blog about their experience with the car. No editing, no censoring, just their unvarnished truth. The second is that they have to give up their Corolla or Civic. After 90 days, the owners have the option of keeping the Cruze or getting their old car back.

The upside? They have the potential to convert 2,500 competitive owners into Chevy evangelists. The national publicity from giving away 2,500 cars will be huge. (Remember the firestorm of publicity Pontiac received from giving away 276 cars on Oprah.) And when a greater percentage of people decide to keep the Cruze rather than return it, there's another big PR opportunity.

The key is to have a complete program in place to build on the buzz created by the initial announcement. In order to do that, Chevrolet should set up a specific blog site that’s easy to find, something like “”, give each participant a Flip video camera so they can easily create and upload videos of their experiences, allowing them to tell their stories and show others the Cruze has the features they need, is fun to drive, efficient, of high quality, and that the ownership experience is every bit as good as you would expect from Honda and Toyota.

The downside? The Cruze doesn’t live up to its promise and GM dies a quicker death than it would have otherwise. 

If GM truly believes in this new nameplate, then it's a bet worth making.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

When Innovation Lags, Prices Fall

While many are blaming this year's lackluster holiday sales season on the economy (and believe me, I know it's an issue), there's another factor at work here. According to Ebay's CEO, there just aren't very many killer new products that people have to have. In year's past we had new items consumers craved like the Xbox, iPhone, and GPS systems. This year the only new present that seems to be hot is Zhu Zhu. And if you don't have kids, you don't care.

So consequently we're all out looking for a cheaper GPS, a cheaper LCD TV, a cheaper gaming system. It shows in the numbers. This year, according to NPD Group, black Friday sales were up about half a percent, but revenue was down over one percent. Basically, more people were buying cheaper stuff. Meanwhile, parents and grandparents are lining up to pay forty bucks or more for a mechanical hamster (Really? Is this the best we can do?). The lesson here is that people get excited about two things when shopping: New or Deals. If you're not giving them new, be prepared to give them a deal.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Was Wrong.

Shortly after making his pro debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open, I wrote a memo to my client at Oscar Mayer suggesting that they get on board early with Tiger Woods and work with him to develop programs that would help kids build self esteem and see new possibilities for themselves (and of course sell a little bologna and a few hot dogs along the way). Well, 13 years later they're looking pretty smart for ignoring my advice.

That's the problem with the celebrity endorsement, one of the mainstays of American marketing, sooner or later everybody does something stupid or worse. In today's world where we all live in glass houses, there is no place to hide. So before you hop into bed with the movie star du jour, sports legend or musical genius, you may want to know who else he or she has been sleeping with. Better yet, figure out how to make your brand famous without borrowing fame from someone else. The reputation you save, may just be your own.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Strategy Laid Bare (Almost)

One of the most important aspects of strategy is knowing who your target is and who it is not. You can't mean something to everyone, so you better mean everything to someone. Such is the case with a few entrepreneurs that have decided to innovate in their categories by focusing on the hormonally active, serving their products with a side of skin. I'm not sure I'd recommend this as a business strategy for an accounting or law firm, but one thing's for sure, it's certainly going to generate buzz. Okay, so this is a crass example, appealing to the basest level of man's desire, but the principle here is solid.

Build fundamental differentiation into your business that's incredibly meaningful to a significant slice of your potential customer base and don't worry about anyone else. If you own a coffee shop and you get a majority of men 15 - 45 coming into your store every morning, you can probably make a living good living. Who cares if your mother, wife or members of the Mormon Church would never go there? Seth Godin calls this being a Purple Cow. Adam Morgan refers to it as creating a Lighthouse Brand. Whatever you call it, it's smart marketing. The pantheon of brands that have foundered by trying to be popular by not offending people is long and filled with storied names: Oldsmobile, Pan Am, Montgomery Wards, Howard Johnson's.

Don't become one of them. Differentiate or die.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advertising Is The Match That Lights The Fire.

It used to be that advertising was your marketing campaign. You ran a commercial and people beat a path to your door. (Anybody remember 1984?)

Now advertising is just the start. If you're not prepared to back your ads up with strong PR, promotions, and online/social components, don't even bother. Nowhere is that better illustrated than with Super Bowl advertising. Yes, you have to have a great ad that stands out from the crowd. Yes, you must communicate the positioning and benefits of your brand. If that's all you do, however, especially on Super Bowl Sunday, you may as well just take $3 million and flush it down the toilet.

Snow Day Special Extra!
In honor of the first real day of snow in Sheboygan, here's a link to an article I wrote for Winding Road magazine about the Bridgestone Winter Driving School. Enjoy.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Free Idea Friday

Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. Every Friday I will share an idea that's been rolling around in my head that I have neither the time nor the where-with-all to execute. Remember, it's free, so take it for what it's worth.

There are over 100,000,000 households in the United States. It's a pretty good bet there's at least one refrigerator in each of those households and many of those refrigerators are not full which wastes a significant amount of energy since a full refrigerator runs much more efficiently than an empty one. So how do you keep your refrigerator running at peak efficiency if you don't keep it full of food? Fridge Savers energy absorbing blocks fill the empty spaces in your refrigerator, reducing it's energy usage. A savings of just 10% will save the country at least $1 billion in energy costs and cut CO2 emissions by 1.8 billion pounds. 

Okay, so it's not the next iPhone and a lot of work needs to be done to investigate the design and materials. But, here's a concept board to take to consumers to gauge their interest in the idea (Click on the image to see the concept full size). At a time when people are concerned about the small steps they can take to save money and energy, it might be worth a look.

Thanks to Glenn Fuller, new product visualizer extraordinaire, for the illustration.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Unleash Your Inner Edison

Are you a great, innovative thinker? Do you want to be? Recent research shows that there are five keys to innovative thinking and that they are not innate talents hardwired into our DNA. Pretty much anyone can learn them (and I always thought I was special). So if you want to invent the next iPhone or Pet Rock, here are the five secrets to becoming a creative genius.

  1. Connect Ideas -- Take two or more things that already exist and combine them in new and unique ways.
  2. Actively Observe - Watch what people do and listen to what they say without any preconceived notion of what the answer is.
  3. Ask Questions - This is a skill that people don't practice enough. Asking the right questions that get deep is the key.
  4. Experiment and Optimize - The first internal combustion engine wasn't perfect. Your idea probably isn't either. Be ready to show it to a lot of people early and improve it quickly.
  5. Explore and Discover - How big is your world? Who do you talk to? What do you read? The more you experience, the more resources you'll have to draw from to develop new and innovative ideas.
That's it. Simple, huh? Tomorrow I'll demonstrate this practice with a new product idea on Free Idea Friday.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Merry Freakin' X-mas

Yesterday, the American Family Association took The Gap off their anti-Christmas watch list. I'm sure the folks at Gap, Inc. in San Francisco are breaking out the eggnog over this news. It seems that in years past The Gap used phrases like "Merry Gap-mas" to promote their seasonal offerings and managed to rub the perpetually offended the wrong way with that bastardization of the greeting.
I'm guessing the AFA lifted the ban grudgingly, given that Christmas now shares top billing with Hanukkah, Kwanza and Soltice in this year's Gap spot. But they're not above taking credit for the change. "We firmly believe that Gap is responding to an enormous amount of pressure from the AFA network," said Bryan Fisher from the AFA. I have a hard time believing that was in the creative brief at Crispin, but hey, I've seen stranger client requests.
This doesn't end the work of the AFA as there are several retailers on their naughty list, including those bastions of heathenism: Advance Auto Parts, Kroger and Radio Shack.
So Happy Holidays, and in the immortal words of Stephen Colbert, "Only 24 more shopping days to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior!" (Thanks to my friend Ryan Arnold for that one.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Smart Marketers Fix The Product First

Levi Strauss will soon re-introduce Dockers brand khakis to American men with a new advertising campaign sporting the theme "Wear The Pants." Having owned my share of Dockers over the years, I am a little skeptical that the brand will resonate with their intended target, 25 - 35 year-old men, given that Dockers are probably seen is "their father's pants." And we all know how well that "not your father's" thing worked out for Oldsmobile.

There are two things, however, that Dockers seems to be doing right. The first is illustrated by this statement from a New York Times article, "The campaign... will be accompanied by changes in the pants, including more colors and different fits." Nice to see a marketer not taking an outdated product, dressing it up with a new campaign and then blaming the agency when it fails.

The second smart element of this makeover is acknowledging the brand's heritage. They're not running away from their past by claiming Dockers are something they're not, such as the latest hip pant for a new generation. They're taking the core equity of the brand, "casual work pants," and trying to make it relevant today. I'm betting on a successful relaunch. For Levi's sake, I hope that works out better than the bets I've made in the market.

Monday, November 30, 2009

For Retailers Twitter Is The New Radio

In the old days of advertising (up until 2001 or so) there were essentially four ways of communicating with consumers: television, print, outdoor and radio. Of those, the "retail media" were newspaper and radio because they were the most targetable and you could change the message frequently. This article in the New York Times shows how retailers are embracing new media including Facebook and twitter, to get the message out at a moment's notice. That's great if you have perishable inventories that you want to move or other timely information you want to share with fans of your brand. It is, however, a double-edged sword.

Tweeting deals is one more way to communicate that what you're selling isn't worth the price you've been asking. Just as the auto companies conditioned consumers not to buy until the big red rebate tag was on the windshield of a car, retailers may find their customers waiting to buy because they know there will be another deal coming soon. In twitter and Facebook you have tools to help fans feel like insiders. The key is to find ways to alter the value equation beyond price reductions, because a customer who buys solely on price is only there until he finds a better deal. And in the information age that could be... now.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Free Idea Friday

Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. Every Friday I will share an idea that's been rolling around in my head that I have neither the time nor the where-with-all to execute. Remember, it's free, so take it for what it's worth.

When I was a kid the seatbelts in our Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser had a logo on the latch that read "GM Mark of Excellence." I've always wondered why that stuck with me, but now I think I know. It meant that GM stood for something. Which prompts the question, what does GM stand for now? (Insert bankruptcy joke here) No matter what they say GM stands for, it's meaningless unless it's manifested in the products. So, what can GM stand for that ranges across Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, GMC and, if they choose to keep them alive in some form, Pontiac and Saturn?

Here's a thought. What if GM stood for "est." No, I'm not talking about the crazy, quasi-religion founded by Werner Erhard in the '70s. What if every GM car and every GM brand was the "__est" of something? What if every Chevrolet model had the highest fuel economy in its class, every Buick the boldest styling, every Cadillac the latest technology, every GMC the strongest construction? Sure these may not be the right things, but the fundamental principle is the key. Each brand has to stand for one thing and then execute it flawlessly across all models. Right now their strategy feels like "good/better/best" and anything goes within that range. You don't get famous by being anything.

You get famous by being something.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Do More Than Give Thanks

According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 45 million turkeys are cooked and eaten in the United States at Thanksgiving. That number represents one sixth of all the turkeys sold in the U.S. each year. Yet, even with so many turkeys being cooked, people still go hungry.

Please take a moment to help those who don't have enough and donate to your local food pantry or soup kitchen. Another option is to donate to Feeding America, an excellent national organization dedicated to helping people in need.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Toyota Makes A Withdrawal From Its Brand Equity Bank

Toyota announced a recall of 4 million vehicles today for sticky gas pedals and excessive frame rust. The good news for Toyota is that unlike GM or Chrysler, they have a ton of capital in their brand equity bank. So while this is a huge recall with some very serious safety implications it will have little effect on their overall brand image.

A strong brand can give you cover for a multitude of sins and Toyota certainly has done a lot of things right to earn it's reputation as a leader in quality and efficiency. It's interesting though, that in the 2009 JD Power study, Toyota was not in the top 5 of brands in initial quality behind both Cadillac and Hyundai. And while it boasts the Prius as a leader in fuel-efficiency, the Toyota Sequoia and Camry are no more efficient than a Chevy Tahoe and Malibu.

Toyota's strong brand will help them weather this storm. The question is, how many more hits can their brand take before they are seen as just another car company?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Must Not See TV

An article in yesterday's New York Times featured advertisers who are sponsoring web-specific entertainment developed by the same studios that create shows for the leading network and cable outlets. Likening it to the early days of radio and television where companies provided direct funding for name sponsorship, the premise is that these shows delivered through a branded portal will somehow increase consumer engagement with the brand. While in theory, this may be true, the practice as demonstrated by the few samples referenced in the article leads me to believe this model may not be ready for prime time.

I may be in the minority in this opinion, but a lot of the programming on network and cable TV isn't very good. (Can someone please tell me how Two and a half men is still on the air?) And pushing more bad content out to a public, no matter how captive, isn't going to help advertisers. Just how does a badly written, poorly acted, three-and-a-half-minute sitcom about an insurance agent who can understand what a dog is saying help American Family Insurance "engage with our consumers in a broader way, on a deeper level?"

Quality matters in every consumer interaction, whether it's your product, your customer service, or your communications. Rather than create their own mediocre entertainment (I'm being generous here), why not find something interesting and original like Chad Vader and sponsor it?

Frankly, if anything this made me feel worse about AmFam. They took three minutes of my life that I'll never get back.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Recipe Rut

A recent study in the UK has found that the average household has a rotation of just nine dinners that are prepared on a regular basis in each household, and that the nine most popular dishes are...
  1. Spaghetti Bolognese
  2. Roast Dinner
  3. Shepherd's Pie
  4. Pasta Dish (hmmm isn't Spaghetti pasta?)
  5. Meat and two vegetables
  6. Pizza (home made or frozen I wonder)
  7. Casserole/Stew
  8. Sausages and chips/mash
  9. Curry/Indian
It's not surprising that people lean on just a few recipes given the time and attention crunch in today's households. I wonder how long this list would be here in the States, what the key regional differences are, and how easy it would be to add or replace a dish on the list?