Friday, December 31, 2010

There is no finish line

This year is ending. A new one begins.

A new product ships. The drive to improve or replace it starts.

A new campaign hits the air, yet the next execution must be ready in just a few short months.

We spend a lot of time looking for the end when life is really a series of beginnings. A continuous stream of new opportunities.

There is no bottom of the ninth. No sudden death overtime. The game is never over.

You always get another at bat. Another chance to hit a home run.

Here's to more hits in 2011.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thanks, but no thanks

Just because it's on the internet, doesn't mean it's interesting. I know. My wife and I are curating a photo blog that chronicles the daily changes on the Lake Michigan shoreline near our house.

I think about six people find this as fascinating as we do.

But because of that blog, I just received an email from the CityMedia Foundation asking me if I'd like to join other bloggers around the world and become the administrator of a local video site for my hometown. Part of the email reads...

"We created the [City].vi network, making videos of world cities instinctively accessible with this address model: "city name" followed by ".vi" for example:,,,, etc."

And of course the promise to me is that as the local site's administrator, I'd earn all of the revenue from advertising, sponsorships, links, etc. 
There's just one problem.

While I'm sure people all over the world will be surfing by to see video of Paris, Madrid,  Chicago and Los Angeles as well as other famous cities, who wants to see videos of Sheboygan?

As spectaculars as Brat Days are and as beautiful as the Harbor Center is becoming, it's not the tableau for fascinating viewing. And if nobody's watching, there won't be any advertisers. And without them, no revenue for me.

So thanks to the accident of geography, I'll pass. But if I ever move someplace interesting, I'll contact you.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The dumbest Ad In The World

Back in January, I wrote about a billboard that featured President Obama and felt it was an effective (if unethical) use of the POTUS.

This spot using Obama's likeness is just as unethical yet it's anything but effective.

It's poorly written, poorly acted, poorly directed and on top of all that, it's premise is awfully thin.

I'm sure the pressures of the presidency can be a 'pain in the neck.' If that's all you got, however, you better execute it well. The folks from Salonpas didn't, which is ultimately why this effort fails.

But that doesn't even cover the biggest problem with this spot. It insinuates that the president uses and endorses the product. He hasn't endorsed it and there's no evidence that he uses them.

At least for Weatherproof the president was actually wearing the product in question. And for the record, it looked good pretty good on him.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Looking for new ideas? Relax.

They have names like Vacation in a Bottle, Mini Chill and Mary Jane's Soda and I never knew they existed  until last Sunday. But I should have.

As the energy drink category exploded and matured, a counter trend has been slowly developing, which is why I wasn't surprised to read that so called 'relaxation drinks' have generated $68 million in sales this year.

Laced with ingredients like melatonin, valerian, kava extract, they are touted to relieve such conditions as anxiety, stress and insomnia. Given that we're living in an age of anxiety and diminished expectations, the timing seems to be perfect.

Of course since these drinks are made with unregulated, natural supplements, none of claims have been proven by significant scientific studies. But whether they actually work or not is probably immaterial. Nobody really expects Red Bull to give them wings. So why should a relaxation drink actually help them relax?

Which is why I'll stick with a relaxation drink that's been proven over the course of a few centuries rather than a few years.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Twitter kills

According to the New York Times, Hollywood has discovered that quality matters.

Too bad it took until after they remade The A Team to figure that out.

It seems that Twitter, Facebook and SMS are capable of killing a movie's box office faster than putting Larry the Cable Guy on the marquee.

This phenomenon applies to more than just the entertainment industry. You can't hide bad products, bad service or bad people in an age where everyone's an expert and everyone has a platform to share their opinions with hundreds if not thousands of friends.

Only one thing matters in developing and launching new products now: EVERYTHING.

If it's not perfectly designed, if it's not flawlessly executed, if it's not expertly marketed, don't even bother.

It used to be said that nothing kills a bad product faster than great advertising. Now it's possible to be done in by tweets.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The internet is worth less

That the internet is continuing to consume more of our time and advertisers dollars is undeniable.

Earlier this year it was reported that people spend as much time on the internet, 13 hours per week, as they do watching TV. And according to Ad Age, the internet has surpassed newspapers in ad revenue.

Yet, while everyone is rushing to get their message online, there's still no clear definition of what a successful campaign looks like.

It's not eyeballs. The New York Times website is one of the most visited online, yet it's never been profitable.

It's not engagement. Millions of people have interacted with Burger King's Subservient Chicken over the years, yet they're still a distant number two to McDonald's.

Even with all it's great promise of behavioral tracking and measurability the internet is still unproven as a sales and revenue driver for advertisers. Want proof? People question the value of advertising with the smash hit Groupon, while Google is willing to offer billions to buy the service.

Yes, it will all settle down and people will find out what the internet is really worth. But right now it's only worth what advertisers are willing to pay. And according to them, it's worth less.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Invention is the mother of necessity

I never knew I needed one of these, but now I do.

True innovation does that. It creates a need where none could be expressed before. 

Early man existed just fine foraging for food and didn't need meat until fire was invented and it could be flame-broiled for deliciousness.

Business worked just fine with regular mail, until Fedex invented overnight delivery and then suddenly everything needed to be there the next day.

No one needed thousands of songs in their pocket and then Apple invented the iPod and iTunes and the music industry changed overnight.

I've used a shovel to remove snow for my past 25 years of home ownership always thinking of a better way. But, as Henry Ford is famously quoted saying, "If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse." I know why snow throwers never interested me. Sure they're easier, but I still have to put on my heavy coat and boots and brave the cold.

It turns out what I really want is to remove the snow from my driveway and sidewalks from the comfort of my living room.

What do your customers and potential customers really want?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

If it ain't broke, fix it anyway

I'm not one to advocate change for change's sake, but if you put your product out there thinking that it's perfect and it's always going to be perfect, it won't be long before you're in panic mode.

Examples abound of products that have launched to great fanfare, served their consumers well, and then while their corporate owners were counting their riches, a competitor swooped in with a better idea and stole market share out from under them.

Sears and K-Mart ruled retailing until, while sitting on their huge piles of cash, they were crushed by the logistical brilliance of WalMart.

Toyota was on cruise control until they decided being big was more important that being good. Now Ford and Hyundai are filling their mirrors with products that are different and better.

That's what makes Apple, Intel and recently Ford such strong brands. They embrace change, introducing new products before their old ones feel tired. Staying ahead of the market and forcing competitors to follow them.

No matter how good your product is, it can always be better. No matter how happy your customer is, she can always be happier. The trick is to find out how and deliver it before your competitors do. And you better hurry, because they're working on it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lying is a lousy marketing strategy.

When you were a kid and you did something stupid then lied about it to your parents, the lie always made it so much worse.

I think we can each remember a parent saying, "it's not (your bad act here) that has me so upset. It's that you think I'm so stupid that you thought you could get away with it by lying."

Consumers feel pretty much the same way. 

From Toyota to BP, brands that screwed up then covered up this year ended up costing themselves much more than if they had just admitted their mistakes, fixed them and moved on.

Just one of the lessons to be learned from this year in marketing.

Friday, December 17, 2010

He's back in the game

Redemption comes fast in the digital age. Apparently all you need to be is great at something.

Michael Vick is not only the leading vote getter for this year's NFL Pro Bowl game, he's also the new spokesperson Woodbury Nissan, a car dealer near Philadelphia.

Yeah, it's not a new Nike deal. The only compensation he received for the appearance is a new car. But it's putting him back in the game. Whether he should be in the game at all is another question, but he's certainly bringing notoriety to a retailer who would otherwise be just another car dealer.

I don't object to the dealer using Vick. I hate what he did, as do a lot of other people who will never patronize this dealer simply because he's the face of their franchise now. But they had to know that going in.

The dealer is betting that enough Philadephians (they don't need more than a few thousand customers a year) care more about his performance on the football field. And they're probably right.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pandora's Ads

Advertising is evil, insipid, immoral and its practitioners are charlatans of the worst order. At least according to most public educators and the hand-wringers at organizations like the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. That is, of course, until they need the money.

With all the budget woes facing school districts across the country, the once holier than thou are now going out with hat in hand to keep many important programs alive.

Schools need the money. Their budgets across the country have been crushed by falling property values and declining funding from state and federal sources. It only makes sense that they look to private sources for sponsorship support.

So those in power soften their positions yet still make bold pronouncements to demonstrate their superiority to the peddlers of capitalism in the advertising community.

A case in point, the L.A. school district is open to selling ad space on lunch trays or giving out free samples of "approved food products" to the kids. But to show how tough they are, they've said won't sell advertising for liquor, tobacco, firearms or high fat and calorie foods. This is both laughable and sad at the same time.

Of course you're not going to put a Captain Morgan banner in the gym. And Winchester won't become the official starting gun for track and field events.

And what about those high fat foods? If McDonald's wants to advertise their salad menu is that okay, even though most kids will buy burgers when they walk in the door? What about Pepsi? Sure their cola is full of calories, but they produce a lot of healthy drink options.

Hard times force people to make hard choices. If putting a few ads in schools means that music is still played, the sports teams get to compete, the classrooms get new textbooks, and the facilities are kept from crumbling. Then go for it.

Clearly, based the way people have voted over the last couple of elections, that's what our society wants.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Crazy

The holidays make people do some crazy stuff: max out credit cards hoping to demonstrate the depth of their love, drink a beverage laced with bourbon and raw eggs, and send fruitcakes that have a half life of 10,000 years to friends and relatives. But none are crazier than what Schwinn has done.

Embracing their inner dork, they've created a bell choir on bicycles. Resplendent in their couture nerdware, riding Schwinn's ultra hip retro cruisers, they play holiday songs on command wearing grins so wide you'd think they were in an Ipana commercial.

It's all just a little creepy.

But maybe it's also smart. After all, no matter how hard Schwinn has tried over the past 30 years, they haven't been taken seriously as a bike company by serious cyclists. Their forays into hard core, high end road and mountain bikes have all failed. So maybe it's better that they channel their past and become famous for retro cruisers, new Sting Rays and other updated classics.

Then again, maybe it's just creepy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Big Ass Marketers

In Lexington Kentucky, there's a company making fans that knows more about marketing than General Motors, Coca Cola and American Airlines, combined.

Recently profiled in Ad Age, Big Ass Fans is one of the fastest growing companies in the country.

What makes this such a great marketing company?

They listen to their customers. Originally called HVLS Fan Company, when they were out on sales calls to industrial customers, they kept hearing the same thing over and over, "Man, those are big ass fans." So they changed the name.

They created a 'Blue Ocean.' Originally found in factories, restaurants, churches and other commercial settings, they added a high degree of style to their fans and began selling them to the owners of high end custom homes for $3,000 each, more than ten times the cost of the ceiling fan in my screen porch.

They're disciplined. Big Ass Fans sell direct to the consumer only. Even though there are millions of homeowners across the country who install fans, they know their market and are not going to join the race to the bottom by competing with Hunter and Hampton Bay on the store shelves at Home Depot or Lowes.

They know the value of marketing. During the recession their sales, while still growing, had slowed below forecast. Rather than do what most companies did during the downturn and cut back, they added more money to the marketing budget and they are now reaping the rewards as the economy recovers.

They know it all starts with a superior product. The funny name, the controversy it creates, the buzz it generates would all be worthless if the product didn't deliver.

They're fearless. They've had the post office reject their mailers, the Blue Grass Regional Airport reject their ads, and some companies won't buy from them because of the name. But even more are aware of them because of it and they aren't about to cave on the basis of a few complaints by the perpetually offended.

As marketing role models go, you could do worse than follow Big Ass Fans.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Start something

In an era of 10% reported unemployment and chronic underemployment, you can continue to send out resumes, pound the pavement and pray for a break, or you can start something.

There are a million niches out there waiting to be created and served. Starting a business has never been easier and the costs of failure have never been lower.

Start a consulting business. Start an online magazine. Start a movement. Start a blog. Start with your passion, find your voice and you'll find an audience.

You may not start the next Facebook. But you may just create your next career.

John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

It can't happen if all you're doing is waiting for the phone to ring.

Start something.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Not so original thinking

So I was watching TV the other night when this commercial came on.

I know it's not a direct rip off of what George Lois did in the '60s, but "so easy even a Monkey can do it" feels more than a little lazy as a creative strategy.

On top of that, if your product range is so confusing that you need a smartphone app to help your customers figure out which is the right one to buy, you may want to reconsider your product mix, your naming, your packaging and your merchandising.

Just a thought.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Brand Old

Yesterday at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, the rights to over 150 brands were put up for auction. Only a few dozen were actually sold and the total generated from the sale was only $132,000, with $102,500 coming from just three brand names: Meister Brau, Shearson and Handi-Wrap.

Probably the most valuable thing coming out of this auction for most marketers is the wake up call that brands die for a reason. Even great brands. They need to adapt, grow, and evolve to fit a consumer market that changes every day.

So if you don't want to end up on the scrap heap of brands along with Lucky Whip, Circus World and Braniff, make sure the things you do now will build the long-term value of your brand, not just next quarter's profits.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sheep behind the wheel

There will be a traffic jam at the Super Bowl. And it won't be leaving the parking lot after the game.

It seems that very few people learned from the near-death spiral that the automotive industry just went through. One of the key things they should have taken away is that in order to survive you not only need to offer products that have a point of difference but also a point of view.

And yet, here we are after just a few short months of profitable business to find that eight automotive brands will buy advertising on the Super Bowl.

Audi, BMW, Chrysler, GM, Mercedes Benz, Hyundai, Kia, and Volkswagen will all take the field in the big game in an attempt to stand out from the crowd. But how can they when they're all part of the crowd?

Yes, the Super Bowl is the biggest advertising stage of all. But too many advertisers will make distinguishing between spots nearly impossible. If you're the sixth, seven or eighth man in a lifeboat built for four or five, you're all destined to drown.

So rather than spending four million dollars for a slight chance of fame in 30 seconds on February 6th, maybe the marketing geniuses at half of these companies should try something different. Like coming up with an original idea for a change.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Antagonism is not a good business strategy

A friend of mine turned me on to this story in the New York Times about, Vitaly Borker, an internet merchant who used menacing customer service to generate hundreds of negative customer reviews which drove up the Google search results for his store. This strategy helped grow his business to sales of $20,000 per day and up.

It turns out, however, that shouting obscenities at your customers then threatening to stalk and do bodily harm to the people who've just paid $400 for counterfeit eyewear has its downside. According to CNBC, the proprietor was just arrested for making bodily threats, mail and wire fraud.

Sure you can make a living selling one item to one customer and then moving on to the next. But most businesses thrive on repeat purchases. And while your customer service may not be quite as bad as Mr. Borker's, we all are guilty of doing something to make it easy for customers to look somewhere else the next time they buy. It's just not always as obvious as this.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hyundai drives past Toyota

In the category of things that slipped under my radar screen over the past holiday comes this news from Europe: Hyundai and its sister company Kia have outsold Toyota/Lexus/Scion in Europe.

I, for one, am not surprised. Here's why.

Hyundai (and Kia) are building a fan base and gaining market share the same way Toyota did and the same way VW did it before that. They have been building cars that offer the features required in each category with styling that sets them apart from the category leaders, for a price that's significantly less expensive.

It's a simple formula, one that has worked over and over again in category after category. In 2009, Vizio passed Sony for the lead in LCD television sales. It's how Dell overtook IBM in the PC market.

New competitors come into an established market space, offer products with acceptable features and quality, lower prices, and one significant differentiator.

In Toyota's case that differentiator was quality. By failing to maintain that perception with a slew of recalls and unfavorable news stories about product issues, they opened up the door for Hyundai.

How long will it be before Hyundai becomes fat and happy, opening the door for another upstart to change the dynamics of the auto industry again?

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Power of Crisis

Crisis is like rocket fuel for innovation.

Back in the '80s when Chrysler was failing for the first time, they did something bold and introduced the minivan to the world, saving the company and creating a whole new category of vehicles.

When it looked like three astronauts would be lost in Apollo 13, a team from NASA performed amazing feats of engineering and got them home against all odds.

When Apple's slide into oblivion seemed to be unavoidable, they introduced candy colored computers that shook up the industry and reinvigorated the brand.

Now, I'm not recommending that you run your company to the brink of bankruptcy or put people in imminent mortal danger. But is there a way to replicate the urgency of crisis to provide the inspiration for reinvention before your company ever even approaches the edge?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The past is just a few clicks away

In a time when the world-wide interwebs gives us access to incredible amounts of information the past is always just a few key strokes away, as Colgate-Palmolive found out.

A few years ago they bought a toothpaste brand in Hong Kong that markets itself under the brand name "Darlie" featuring a smiling black man on the front of the package.

A deeper look into the brand reveals it used to be called Darkie and the translation of the current Chinese characters on the package reads "Black man's toothpaste."

It seems that back in the 1930's the brand's founder was a fan of Al Jolson and thought the minstrel look effectively showed off his pearly whites, a perfect image for marketing. Maybe back then. Not today.

I'm all for honoring a brand's heritage, but not in this case. Even though this brand is sold only in China, in today's wired world it has the power to negatively impact the global Colgate brand.

This is one of the rare instances where throwing the baby out with the bath water would be a good thing. The time to completely rebrand and repackage this product was about 50 years ago.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Don't make promises you can't keep

Poetic words and pretty pictures do not a brand make.

This spot by Wieden+Kennedy for Delta is gorgeous. It features spectacular imagery, wonderful music, and the work of one of my favorite voice-over actors, Donald Sutherland.

It's also a complete waste of money.


Because all this artistry leads to the completely empty promise, "We're not just building a bigger airline, we're building a better one." Oh really?

Do they make people wait in long lines for ticketing and boarding like all the other airlines?

Do they charge for bags and make passengers wait for 30 minutes or more to pick them up after every flight like everyone else?

Are the prices passengers pay subject to whims of when they purchase and when they have to travel like everyone else?

Do they charge for in-flight meals like everyone else?

Do they compromise legroom to fit more passengers on the plane like everyone else?

Do they charge extra for the exit row seats like everyone else?

Do they overbook their busiest routes like everyone else?

Do they experience mechanical and weather delays like everyone else?

Do their flight attendants read the same preflight safety script as everyone else?

This is the worst kind of advertising on television. Worse than screaming car dealers. Worse than cheesy infomercials. Worse even than Flo from Progressive. This is incredibly well produced, artistically designed, first-class filmmaking that fails on advertising's most fundamental level.

It makes a promise that the brand can't or is not willing to keep.

Delta claims in this spot that they "still have the passenger's back." But when you walk up to a Delta counter to find that you've been bumped from your flight and the agent says, "Sorry, there's nothing I can do but put you on the first flight out tomorrow." the promise is broken. The passenger says, I guess you're really not any different. And the millions of dollars spent to communicate the brand promise has been wasted.

Here's a tip for Delta and anyone else developing a brand campaign to communicate their values and promise to the world: before you start saying you're better, figure out how you're actually going to be better maybe then your expensive advertising will have some impact

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Costanza Principle

On one classic Seinfeld episode George had an epiphany. He saw that every decision he had ever made in his life up to that time had been wrong. So from that moment on he would do the opposite of what he thought was right.

Strangely, this is not a bad approach to take when developing new products: see the obvious, then do the opposite.

If you think you should make the product cheaper, what would happen if you made it more expensive?

If you think you should go upscale, what would happen if you went more basic?

If you think the product should be easier to use, what would happen if you made it more esoteric?

If you think everything is trending digital, what would happen if you made it low tech?

If you think it should be more convenient, what would happen if you made it more scarce?

If you think you should develop more options, what would happen if you offered just one sku?

Sometimes the doing the obvious is the right thing. But there are times when it pays to do the opposite.

Monday, November 29, 2010

You're welcome

When I first saw this ad from GM over the weekend, I was a little concerned. Why remind people of the failed past? Why give those who didn't agree with the bailout more another reason to complain? Why even say thanks at all?

First of all, it's just good manners. Someone gives you something, like say billions of dollars, you say, "thank you."

Second, it's good business. GM needs to ensure that people know they appreciated the help and cue that things will be different this time. If people think GM received this money (and like the banks on Wall Street) have gone right back to their old ways of doing business, they won't even consider looking at a GM product.

But now that they've said thanks, it's time to move on. It's time to prove to people that they deserved the infusion of cash. It's time to act with less arrogance. It's time to understand what people really want from a car. It's time to deliver a line up of brands that are truly meaningful, not just a collection of products. It's time to stand for something different.

Oh, just one more thing. Don't expect everyone to accept your thanks. Like the folks at Campbell-Ewald. This is a nice spot, but it's not something they couldn't have done.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I'm thankful...

For marketers who do dumb things so I always have something to write about.

For marketers who do smart things so I always have something to write about.

That the Super Bowl is still the greatest ad spectacle ever.

That new channels of communication provide more opportunity than ever for brands.

That buying a car is such a pain in the ass, it provided me with three weeks of content.

That advertising is often incredibly derivative.

That advertising is occasionally spectacularly original.

That no one complained when I quit doing "Free Idea Friday."

That people care enough to point out my mistakes and argue with me when they think I'm wrong.

For the words of encouragement.

That I've had this forum to keep me sane when work was slow.

That I've been able to keep it up when times have been busy.

That even though I sometimes struggle when staring at the blank text box, I don't feel like stopping anytime soon.

That in the one year and one day I've been writing this blog, I've had over 6,500 visitors from 82 countries who've viewed a total of 26,339 pages according to Google Analytics.

So "thank you" to everyone who has read and continues to read my ramblings from the ramshackle beach cottage. In honor of each of you, I've made a donation to Feeding America to help those who are less fortunate find the food they need this holiday season. If you are so inclined to thank me for my work, please go to the Feeding America website and make a donation of any size. Every little bit helps.

Finally, I'm thankful for a loving family, the four-day weekend, incredible food and college football (even if I expect Michigan to get crushed by Ohio State this weekend).

Enjoy the holiday. See you Monday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Oprah bugs her audience

Yesterday, when Oprah gave the keys to a 2012 Beetle to each audience member on her "Favorite Things" show, the crowd, predictably, went wild.

It's a nice bit of publicity to build some awareness for the redesigned Beetle that will be coming next fall, but ultimately I'm not sure it's really worth the millions of dollars based on Volkswagen's stated objective for the new car.

First of all, it's been done. Pontiac gave away G6s to every Oprah audience member in 2004 creating a huge amount of media buzz. How'd that work out for the now defunct brand?

Second, women love Oprah. Women watch Oprah. But Volkswagen wants to increase the appeal of the Beetle to men, thus the new, more aggressive styling. Choosing a venue like Oprah for the first major pre-launch announcement is only going to reinforce the notion that the Beetle is not a guy's car.

Third, the actual launch is still a year away. This car's not that revolutionary. There's not that much to talk about. Starting this conversation now will have prospective buyers bored to death before the product is available.

If Volkswagen is going to increase sales to their stated goal of 800,000 units, they're going to have to be a lot more original and a lot more relevant in their marketing.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Power to the people

Microsoft is angry (What a surprise). They're angry because tinkerers and hackers are taking the amazing technology available in the Kinect device and using it for purposes other than gaming.

They need to get over it. People are always finding new ways to use existing products. It has been a big part of the innovation process. And no amount of hand-wringing and lawsuit-threatening by Microsoft is going to stop it.

If you want people to love you and your product, let them use it how they want to use it, not as you intended them to, then learn from them.

Friday, November 19, 2010

How not to succeed in business

Driving home yesterday, I saw this sign in Escanaba, Michigan and I don't think it's a good sign long-term for that business.

Maybe the owner is trying to be ironic.

What it says to me, however, is "I want to make sure I have something for everyone." Even corn dogs.

I think we all know how this story will end.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Flying for coffee

It's not often a friend's work gets so prominently featured in a national TV spot. Especially when that work is flying kites.

Craig Wilson has been flying kites professionally since the 1980s as a photographer. His images provide amazing aerial views that are very difficult to capture by any other method. Take a look at some of his work on his website.

While his photography skills aren't on display in this commercial, his kite flying skill are.

It just goes to show that when you're great at something, you never know where it will take you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Like father like daughter

Heritage can be an important part of a brand. It's important that Levi's are the product of the wild west. It's important that Ferrari has its roots in Formula 1 racing. And, it's important that Wendy's was founded by Dave Thomas.

So important in fact that the brand has wandered aimlessly in the 8 years since his death. You could tell from his performances in his commercials that Dave wasn't much of an actor. He was first and foremost, a product man. And as such his sincerity came through. If anything he represented the anti-McDonald's making the square burgers to order. Wendy's always seemed to be focused on quality rather than trying to crank out as many burgers as possible.

So now Wendy's advertising agency is tapping into that heritage by creating new spots that feature Dave's daughter and the namesake for the restaurant, Wendy.

It's not a bad spot. She has the same awkward folksiness as her father. The opening reminds you of the original promise of the brand. And the new product looks as though it will deliver on the promise.

Will this spot reenergize the franchise? Probably not. While she's definitely sincere, the spot's a little flat. And they can't open every commercial with a bromide from Dave. We'll see if she grows into the roll as her father did. If not, they'll be looking for yet another campaign in the next few months.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

And in a surprise to no one...

For those of you who've been sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for the announcement, Chevrolet Volt was just named Motor Trend's car of the year.

This ranks right up there with the sun rising in the East each day in terms of predictability. Sure, if they wanted to give it to an alternative fuel vehicle, they could have given it to the Nissan Leaf, but GM was not going to let that happen.

The success of the Volt is too important to the company's image to have an award this well known go to another electric car. So they bought it.

In case you're not aware, in automotive circles, it's well known that the Car of the Year Award goes to the highest bidder; the company that's willing to commit to the most aggressive marketing plan in both the magazine and for the award.

So you'll see pages of Chevy and GM ads gracing the pages of Motor Trend and its sister publications. You'll see the trophy plastered in ads (I found out through a post on GM's facebook page). I have no doubt the TV spot is ready to rule the airwaves this evening.

It's absolutely the right thing for GM to do. And frankly the Volt is an interesting enough car to deserve this award. It's just not the independent validation of excellence that Motor Trend claims it to be.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A bite of passion

On Saturday morning my wife and I went food shopping. We spent too much time in line and more money than we had planned, yet left feeling enriched.

That's what Zingerman's Delicatessen is all about.

Their mission statement reads, "We share the Zingerman's experience selling food that makes you happy giving service that makes you smile in passionate pursuit of our mission showing love and care in all our actions to enrich as many lives as we possibly can."

Every aspect of our experience lived up to that promise. From the young man who expertly explained their new holiday roast coffee as he offered me a sample cup to the woman behind the deli who hand-sliced the pancetta and Serrano ham to the woman at the register who upon seeing me purchasing the owner's new book on bacon, told me that Ari was at a table in the restaurant and loved to sign his books.

Zingerman's is what great retailing is all about: founded on a love of the product, offering knowledge-based service, in an environment where you can't help but stumble upon one wonderful thing after another, where the experience adds value way beyond the product sold.

Friday, November 12, 2010

They've got personality

Sometimes we get so caught up in the functional elements of a brand and product that we forget about the role personality can play in marketing.

Brand personality has long been a key component of advertising, but it's hard to define and often misapplied. Usually just a few words on paper like "innovative, quirky, friendly," brand personality statements are so ill-defined that almost any execution can fit.

That's why it's helpful to create 3-dimensional characters to define the brand. Apple did this successfully with it's classic Mac vs. PC campaign.

Allstate is doing the same thing, with a slightly different strategy personifying the brand through the actor Dennis Haysbert in some commercials, and the brand's nemesis with the Mayhem character, portrayed by Dean Winters in others.

It's not necessary to personify your brand's personality in commercials as these marketers have, but their example demonstrates how powerful having a well-defined personality can be.

So the next time you're asked to define your brand's personality, don't just toss a few well-chosen words down on paper. Create a character based on actors or characters in film or television. It will help demonstrate a clear and common understanding for all who are responsible for creating communications around your brand.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Death by hamburger

How does one burger stand in Arizona gain national attention and drive sales through the roof in the face of competition that includes multi-million dollar marketers like McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and others?

By embracing a truth in the category that no one else is willing to cop to.

The Heart Attack Grill in Chandler Arizona has been featured on the Today Show and in newspapers across America and as far away as India because of its complete dedication to its positioning and excellence in the execution.

While every other restaurant in the country is racing to embrace healthier options in an attempt to slow the expansion of America's waistlines, the Heart Attack Grill proudly serves up "A taste worth dying for."

It starts with the menu: Single, Double, Triple and Quadruple Bypass Burgers, Flatliner Fries, Jolt Cola and Lucky Strike unfiltered Cigarettes. Nothing healthy here.

The Waitresses don porn star nurse outfits. The grill chef wears a physician's coat with a stethoscope around his neck while he flips burgers with a coffin nail dangling from his lip. They don't take orders, rather serve up "prescriptions." Their spokesperson is a 600 pound former football player. The disclaimer on their web video spoofs all those ridiculously long warnings in drug and diet ads with phrases like, "In some cases, mild death may occur." And when you're done with your meal, they roll you to the door in a wheelchair.

Of course, the marketing would ultimately fail if the product was no good, but according to reviews on their Facebook page people love it.

Will Heart Attack Grill ever supplant the national chains in sales? No. But it will provide the owner with a great income because it appeals to a smaller but passionate segment of the market.

This is a classic example of a challenger brand and a great lesson for marketers everywhere.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Brands for sale

On Wednesday, December 8, nearly 150 classic brands across a number of categories will be auctioned off at the Waldorf in New York City. It will be interesting to see which brands still have some value to investors, entrepreneurs and holding companies looking to expand their portfolio of brands. A few of the brands I found interesting include:

Relax-A-Cisor – as seen on Mad Men
Meister Brau – Sounds like something Homer Simpson would drink
BOAC – I wonder if it can take me back to the USSR?

You can see the full list here.

While all the brands on the list have nostalgic value, I wonder how much commercial value is left in their tanks? It seems much easier than ever to build and gain acceptance for new brands now. Google, Hyundai, HTC weren't even on peoples' radar screens 10 years ago, yet once great legacy brands like Chrysler and Motorola have trouble regaining traction.

If a brand fits your vision for a product or company, it might be worth the money. Otherwise you might be better served to invent a new brand and create all the assets that surround it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The most powerful word in the world


Toddlers know how to use it with great efficacy. But somewhere along the way, we forgot its power. It's especially tough to wield it in these recessionary times, but now we need "no" more than ever.

No. We won't do the project for 25% less because someone else will do it cheaper.

No. We won't change the design to please the president's wife who took art history in college 30 years ago.

No. We won't take on that project because the extra money would be nice, but doing so would compromise the outcome of your project and the work we already have.

No. We won't give you our ideas for free just to show you how we'd approach the problem.


It's a great little word. And when used judiciously, it does wonders for your self respect.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Great advertising does not insult the target.

Toyota is well on its way to becoming the new Chrysler. These guys can't seem to do anything right. The latest example? Their new campaign for Highlander.

Here's a great strategy: insult the very people you're trying to sell your product to by having the cool kids taunt them. Nice.

In a press release announcing the campaign, Toyota says Highlander is a "...vehicle that resonates with parents while still earning the stamp of approval from kids."

Do I need the approval of an eight year old for the car I drive? Was I a bad dad for making my kids ride in the back of that Tahoe during their formative years? Have I scarred them for life? I doubt it.

Peer pressure is real. Kids get ridiculed all the time by their schoolmates for being different. Something feels terribly wrong about building an advertising campaign around this insight.

It's not the work of a brand that respects its customers. And it's not going to help reverse Toyota's sales slide.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Big is not a benefit

The news for Toyota was good this week as global sales and profits rose for the quarter, but not really good because all of those gains were in Japan and other Asian markets. In the US and Europe, however, where their reputation had been most damaged by recalls and accusations unintended acceleration, sales fell by 44,000 units in the quarter that just ended.

To put this in perspective Honda increased its sales by 98,811 units in the US, even with largely invisible marketing and products that are the very definition of bland. Nissan sales also increased, Ford is on a tear with sales up 15% and even GM is reporting gains of 3.5%.

When leaders at Toyota shifted their focus from building the highest quality cars and trucks to becoming the largest car maker in the world, they almost guaranteed this outcome.

Consumers don't care if you're the biggest at something, only that you're the best at the thing that matters most to them.

When Toyota's reputation for quality came into question, they lost the one thing that mattered most. And now they're paying the price.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pizza Power

In Advertising Age this week, Al Reis, he of "Positioning" fame, writes about the downfall of Little Caesars and lays it squarely at the feet of the client who has constantly tinkered with its ad message over the past 15 years.

For the most part, it's a great piece about consistency and owning your place in the market. There are a couple of key factual errors, attributing too much of the chain's success at that time to the talented Cliff Freeman.

First Little Caesar's got the idea for two-for-one pricing from Sy LaChiusa, a Detroit marketing consultant. And, the brand's funny, off-beat personality wasn't the brainchild of Freeman, but John DeCerchio and the other talented creative teams working at W.B. Doner. Their work was awarded a Gold Lion at the Cannes Advertising Festival in 1987.

I was lucky enough to spend a year there in 1985 and learned a lot about humor, positioning and the dedication to craft that is great advertising.

Unfortunately, Little Caesar's left Doner when they accepted the Arby's business. The client, rightly so, felt it was a conflict and moved the business to Freeman precisely because they demonstrated they could continue the campaign in a consistent fashion.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How to make more bread

This spot for Hovis bread in the UK was just awarded the top prize in the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising awards. During the time this commercial ran, sales were up 14%, profits increased $145 million and the ROI was $5 for every dollar spent in advertising.

What's remarkable about this is that it bucks many trends in the advertising industry. First in a time when more marketers are buying shorter units – 15, 10 and 5-second spots – this is over two minutes in length. Second, its classic storytelling. No hip techniques. No self-congratulatory celeb-fest. Just a great depiction of how the brand and its country have been linked over the past 122 years. And finally, it actually works delivering measurable sales results for the client.

It's the kind of advertising that got me into advertising. And something we could use more of today.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wasting away

Research indicates that anywhere between 25 - 50% of food produced in the United States ends up going to waste. Some point to large refrigerators where food gets lost and forgotten as the culprit.

I blame The Food Network.

According to a Cornell University study most of the food that's thrown out is purchased for recipes that are never made. So clearly it's not the people who are to blame, it's the recipes.

Okay, maybe it's the people.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Holidays

I still had a full bowl of Halloween candy by the front door when I saw it last night. My first holiday television commercial. It was for Macy's but apparently according to the New York Times, they're not alone in getting an early start on the season.

This is a mistake.

I know everyone is trying to get a jump on things and sell their inventory of big screen TVs before the other guy does, but it's like NASCAR and election commercials: More of something doesn't make it better. It makes us less interested.

A NASCAR season that runs from February through November means very little of it really matters. Just look at the waning attendance numbers and ratings. They even had to create the phoney-baloney chase just to try to keep things interesting late in the season. And who among us hasn't tuned out the election ads that have been bombarding us for months.

More holiday commercials only means we'll be wishing the holidays were over sooner.

Thanks for ruining my Christmas, Macy's.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Taking parody to the next level

Chevron and their marketing partners aren't very smart.

At least they're not very aware of the sophisticated tools available to its critics, and they greatly underestimated the extent to which they'd be used against them when they created their new campaign.

This brilliant parody campaign created by a group called The Yes Men, shows just how far a committed opponent is willing to go to undermine Chevron's message and sabotage its marketing.

Parody ads have been around since the first ad was written. They were a staple in the issues of Mad Magazine I read in my youth. Now, with the distribution provided by YouTube and message amplification outlets like Facebook and Twitter to help spread the word, parodies are fair game in political discourse as well as a way for disgruntled consumers to get back at brands they perceive to have failed them. One only needs to watch this video for proof.

If you do not plan for your critics' rebuttals when you're creating your next campaign, prepare to be skewered.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chevy runs quietly

There's no bravado. No all-star line up. No bold statement. Just a series of 'truths' about the brand and our relationships with our cars in the new Chevy campaign from Goodby, Silverstein and Partners.

As evidenced by the copy and images in this spot for trucks, it's not about features or functional benefits. This campaign's objective seems purely to make people smile along with Chevrolet at these simple human truths.

Advertising is about setting expectations and managing perceptions. Its job is to put Chevy on the consideration list and get people into the dealership for a test drive. By that measure I think this campaign does a good job. It is understated and simple, but passionate. There's a genuine sense of caring that I get from these spots. The images feel real.

When people drive the Malibu, Cruze or Silverado they won't be disappointed because they weren't promised the greatest driving experience this side of Indy. And that's really the issue. Chevy's problem isn't (and has never been) an advertising problem. It's a product problem.

Up and down the line, the cars Chevy makes are as good as they've ever been. They'll do what you want efficiently and last a long time. But drive a Malibu then drive a Sonata. Drive a Silverado then an F-150. Chevy needs to win these battles and in my opinion, it just doesn't.

The ad strategy is perfect for the current line up. I just hope the line up improves quickly to a point where the brand wins at retail as well as on TV.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The end of innovation

I heard someone say the other day that everything we need has already been invented. Yeah, right.

Back in the stone age someone invented the wheel, then sat back and said, "Life is perfect now. I have everything I need." Until winter arrived and it was decided that heat might be a good thing, so fire was invented.

From the beginning of time, people have assumed that everything necessary has already been created. Walking through the aisles of a superstore like Walmart or Target you might assume that to be true.

But innovation is problem solving and as far as I can tell, people still have problems.

So if you want to invent something new, figure out what the real problem is first then find a way to solve it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reality check

Recently the Parents Television Council released a statement condemning GQ magazine and the cast and producers of Glee for their recent editorial photo shoot, saying it "borders on pedophilia."

Note to PTC, the actors aren't really high-school students. They're all 20-something adults.

I'm sure the producer's of Glee are happy for the controversy, the extra headlines, the buzz it's creating and the extra viewers who will tune in thanks to your little tantrum.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Spongebob doesn't really live under the sea. He has a nice bungalow in Santa Monica.