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.