Friday, December 30, 2011

Inspired advertising

Yesterday, I revealed my favorite automotive spot of 2011. Today it's my favorite for any category from any country.

If you have three minutes, watch it and you'll see why. 

You don't have to love motorcycles like I do. You don't have to be getting old like I am. 

You just have to be a fan of great storytelling, great film making, and people who have the ability to take an inspirational story and connect it ever so subtly to the brand in question.

My hat's off the the crew at Ogilvy in Taiwan for this truly memorable gem.

Happy new year to one and all.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

And the winner is...

2011 saw very few examples of great automotive advertising. Basically only two spots come to mind and both were in the Super Bowl: Volkswagen's "The Force" and Chrysler's "Imported From Detroit".

Both spots stood out in the crowded and overhyped environment. Both spots generated a lot of "buzz." But most important both spots drove sales.

Sales for the Chrysler 200 grew 113% in 2011 over the car it replaced, the Sebring

Sales for the 2012 Passat increased 29.9% over the 2011 model.

Yes, the bar for improving on the Sebring was frighteningly low. But even with the improvements, when compared to the Fusion, Camry, Malibu, Accord, Altima and Sonata and Passat, the Chrysler is mid-pack at best.

Even getting car shoppers to consider Chrysler after its recent struggles is a Herculean achievement. But actually making them cool enough to buy amidst this competition is fairly unbelievable. And that's why "Imported From Detroit" is the best Automotive spot of the year in 2011.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The first commandment of business: Honor thy offer

Here's a tip for all the business owners and managers out there:

When you've signed up with a partner to help promote your business, put a plan in place to so your employees actually honor the deal when your customers request it.

Seems pretty obvious, right? Apparently, it's not.

Last week we held our annual holiday "shopping" men's night in Madison. The night always begins at one of State Street's legendary establishments and since I'm trying to fully understand this whole social media/mobile marketing phenomenon, upon arrival I checked in on foursquare where I was pleasantly surprised to find the watering hole in question was offering $5 off your tab when you checked in.

After ordering, I asked the bartender about the deal and his response was, "I don't even know what foursquare is." Upon showing him the screen on my phone, he still had no idea about the special.

Needless to say, he couldn't help me take advantage of the promotion.

Needless to say, I was less than satisfied with that response.

Being that it was the holidays and I was with friends, I let it go. But the lesson here is pretty clear.

A lot of decisions in a business are made at levels way above the front line employees. Whether it's a daily deal offered on the web, a change or update to your product, a customer service policy or any other decision that directly impacts your customer, you must communicate with the front lines.

Nothing makes a brand or business look worse than confusion.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chevy produces a Sonic boom

I'm a sucker for a good event. Something big, fun and brand relevant. I think this giant 3D claw game that helped introduce the Chevy Sonic in Los Angeles qualifies on all accounts.

My only issue is there doesn't seem to have been a lot of mainstream media PR generated by the stunt. There's been a lot of ink in the advertising and production trade press on the stunt, but to maximize the effectiveness, it would have been nice to find a way to make this newsworthy for local TV, newspaper and other consumer media outlets.

Still, nicely done by all involved: Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Pearl Media, and the marketing team at Chevrolet.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Customers before shareholders

One of the long-term problems with our economy is short-term thinking. Too many CEOs are worried about creating shareholder value when they should be creating value for their customers.

When you manage for increased shareholder value, you minimize investments in R&D. You value engineer products and compromise quality. You send your manufacturing to the lowest bidder. You cut your marketing expenses to the bare minimum. You do everything to maximize this quarter's profits regardless of the effects on the long term health of your company.

When you manage for increased customer value, you improve your products on a continuous basis. You ensure your products are built to last for their intended useful life. You make sure people know what you sell and why you're different. You invest in the communities that support your business. You don't let pennies get in the way of a remarkable customer experience.

You can't have happy shareholders if you don't have happy customers.

If you want to be around in 50 years, build your business to satisfy Main Street, not Wall Street.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A fine demonstration

Product demonstration ads are often boring and expected. Not these ads from Grey Advertising for the Pilot EXTRAFINE pen.

They do a great job of advertising's two most important jobs: Grabbing your attention and proving a point.

Well done.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Innovation lessons from Christmas past

Back in the day, Sears used to produce its "Holiday Wishbook" a big, thick catalogue filled with all kinds of wonderfulness for everyone in the family. These were the latest, coolest, must have gifts for the season.

Looking back at the Wishbook from 1975 has me wondering, "What were we thinking?"

Actually, as a marketer and innovator, it's pretty instructive.

The best innovations strike an emotional chord with the user.

Hot new products are often driven by technology.

Sometimes you can put a new twist on an old favorite.

Great ideas are often borrowed from pop culture

And don't forget, kids of every age are always in a hurry to grow up.
I hope you'll find these tips helpful in your innovation program for the upcoming year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The third m of marketing

For decades marketing has focused on two key elements, the medium and the message. What we tell consumers about our products and where we tell that story are both incredibly important. Our media choices, however, have exploded over the past decade and how we interact with media has changed. It's time to add a third layer to the strategy...

The moment.

Watching an episode of Parks and Recreation on an iPhone in an airport is different from watching it on the couch in your living room. Receiving a tweet when you walk into a store is different from reading a newspaper ad at the breakfast table (okay, that's not a fair comparison since no one reads newspapers anymore).

It's not just where your message is delivered, but when. What frame of mind is the person in? What else is going on around him? With smartphones, tablets and 4G connected laptops, we're receiving marketing pitches 24 hours a day. Just as telemarketers were excoriated for calling during the dinner hour, there are better times than others to deliver your message based on who you're talking to, where you reaching them and what you're selling.

Take a moment to understand the moment before you send out your next communique.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Saab dies a second death

Two years ago, Saab was dead. Until Spyker worked out a last minute deal that has kept the brand on life support while looking for someone with deeper pockets to help resuscitate the ailing company. Unfortunately, the only place where that kind of money is still flowing is China, and GM isn't about to hand over all the technology it put into Saab cars since they purchased it in 1989 to a nation of thieves.

A lot of people are making GM the bad guy in this. But they're protecting their intellectual property from a culture and country that doesn't know how to spell piracy much less respect its meaning.

Saab's demise actually goes back a lot further than its sale to GM.

Never able to fully fund its own ambitions, Saab has had a number of bad marriages throughout its lifespan, including a 10 year tryst with Fiat that began in the late '70s. Over the years, Saab products have shared platforms with brands that include Alfa Romeo, Opel, Subaru and Chevrolet.

This lack of consistency and vision has cost the brand in the past two decades. Nothing that Saab has produced since it replaced the 900 was particularly unique or interesting.

I always had a soft spot for the brand after driving a Model 96 from Washington, D.C. to Vermont in the late '70s, and was genuinely interested in it when I went shopping last year. But Saab's inability to find its rightful place in the automotive landscape, to have the discipline to define its core purpose and maintain its differentiation from other cars, finally caught up with it.

And what was once a very nice niche brand is no more.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Lincoln gets serious

It looks like Ford is ready to put the full-court press on to revitalize the Lincoln brand.

Yesterday, they announced a new marketing initiative being put together by the WPP group that will be based in New York.

Okay, nothing earth shattering there. Everybody changes agencies whether they need to or not when they're in rebuilding mode.

What interested me most in this article in Ad Age is that they are planning on launching seven new vehicles in the near future. So it appears that they've taken the resources that were deployed on Volvo, Aston Martin and Jaguar and have invested them in Lincoln.


Ford has done a terrific job with it's blue oval branded products. The Focus that my son just bought is a really nice car. How do I know? We shopped them all: Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic, Mazda 3 and the Chevrolet Cruze (you can thank me for not subjecting you to that process). The interesting thing was his decision came down to the Cruze and the Focus. What tipped the scale for him were the dealer experience and he felt the Focus was a little sportier.

I can't wait to see what Ford has planned for Lincoln and what niche they want to own in the luxury market. It's a crowded space. While BMW and Audi remain almost invincible, there are chinks appearing in the armor of brands like Lexus, Mercedes, and Volvo.

In my mind, this is the automotive story to watch in 2012.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lexus has a December to forget

The holidays are here and that means everyone's getting a new car for Christmas, right?

That's what you'd be led to believe if you've been watching any TV over the last few weeks. After all, who wouldn't want to find a shiny new Lexus with a big red bow on top under their tree?

Apparently no one.

According to a new study by Ace Metrix, the Lexus holiday ads aren't just ineffective, they're actually hurting the brand. I'm not surprised for two reasons.

First, if you're not going to buy your loved one a convertible or something special, you might as well buy her a toaster. Buying someone sedan or SUV even a Lexus, is just buying them a big, expensive appliance.

Second, there's context at work here. A lot of people are struggling right now, people who may someday want to buy a really nice car when the economy improves and they're doing better. But here's Lexus thumbing their metaphorical nose at them, delivering the exact same message they were in the mid 2000s when the economy was booming.

Empathy is an important trait for a marketer. I'm not suggesting they be a downer during the holiday season and they don't have to be. Mercedes has done a nice job with their spot, putting their brand at the center of a holiday message.

It's important to remember that in advertising, even during the holidays, context matters.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


In the midst of the madness that is the holiday season and the crush to wrap things up by the end of the year, the BBC reminds us that there is a lot around us to observe and enjoy.

What follows is a wonderful mash up of their brilliant cinematography, the poignant words of Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, and the voice of David Attenborough.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Putting Bud in a better light

Yesterday, the ad agencies McGarryBowen and Translation won shared duties on the Bud Light account.

I have four words for the two agencies: good luck with that.

As I wrote in a post last year, there's never been a better time to be a beer drinker. There are so many good, interesting beers out there, including light lagers that there's really no need for people who like beer to drink the tasteless colored water that Bud and Miller have been passing off as beer for the past few decades.

Not that it can't be done. In the food and beverage industry, taste has very little to do with mainstream success. After all, Kraft still sells a lot of its blue box Mac & Cheese. What Bud Light must become is interesting.

Right now it isn't.

The ads, the promotions, the packaging, have all been as predictable as a Justin Beiber chart topper.

Frat boy humor and scantily clad women can only take a brand so far. Especially when we've seen it all before a million times.

Here's to hoping the new agencies try to add some flavor to this stale brand.

Monday, December 12, 2011

No good deed goes unpunished

Saturday night, Chase Bank sponsored the "American Giving Awards" on NBC. Well, sponsored isn't exactly correct. This was a one hour infomercial for the centerpiece of Chase's annual corporate giving program where five charities were awarded between $125,000 and $1,000,000 based on an online vote that took place on the Chase Community Giving Facebook page.

I've always been a believer in the "Do good. Take credit." school of public relations, but something about this feels a little unseemly.

With negative PR continuing to taint the big banks from the "Occupy" movement and huge pay and incentive programs for bank CEOs – Chase's James Dimon earned over $11 million last year according to Forbes, down from $30 million in 2007 – it makes sense that Chase does everything possible to tell its side of the story. I'm just not sure this is the best way.

Yes, 1.5 million people watched it (for reference over 5 million watched Rudolph which aired on CBS at the same time).

Yes, To Write Love on Her Arms is an incredibly deserving charity.

Yes, Chase has every right to promote its charitable giving.

Maybe that's the problem I have with it.

Chase is promoting their good works as they would a new checking account or rewards credit card. It feels like they're more interested in taking credit than actually doing good. Packaging it as an awards show, making it seem as though it's endorsed by an independent third party is disingenuous at best.

I'm sure Chase does a lot of good in the communities they serve. They've given out over $18 million to 500 charities since 2009.

I'd just feel better about it if I actually believed their primary intent was to do good in addition to selling credit cards and checking accounts.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My hiatus

As you may have noticed. I've taken a few weeks off from the blog. The view's been pretty cloudy lately. I'll be back with new posts beginning next week. Thanks to all who inquired as to where it's been...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fiat's failure

Yesterday, reported that Fiat has sold only about 30% of the new 500s they had planned to sell this year after investing millions each to build a stand-alone Fiat dealership.


Not having a strategy is expensive.

Not having a clue is disastrous.

This kind of failure goes way beyond bad advertising. After all, if bad advertising was all it took to kill a product, we wouldn't have Mentos, AT&T, or Velveeta.

The real question here is what led Fiat to believe that the 500 would be a success in America in the first place? Was there a need in the market for an Italian Mini? Does it offer anything substantially different or better than what's currently on the market?

Cool, competent and interesting isn't enough in a competitive market. It has to be better.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Strategy matters

Fiat seems to belong to the "Throw it onto the wall and see what sticks" school of advertising.

So far none of the spots they've done have anything to do with one another.

Their first effort was this attempt to position their micro car as a cultural icon with the likes of Elvis and rock and roll, and drive-in movies...


Their next campaign was an epic exercise of advertising cliches, hiring the oh so irrelevant J. Lo to pitch a car that she would never drive to a place she rarely visits, delivering a message that makes no sense.


And now we get this. A little bit of sex with your latte for their performance model, the Abarth.

Of the three the last feels closest to right to me. Italian, a little sexy, and a bit more fun. But it shouldn't take millions of dollars of wasted spots, over a year, and what appears to be blind luck to get this right.

A bad launch can hamper a product's success for years, just ask Infinity. There are too many good agencies, too many smart people in this business for Fiat to have botched it this badly. Hopefully, it's not too late, but after a start like this, you never know.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pure advertising

Wieden+Kennedy is back to doing what it does best; advertising that is confidently understated and has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.

These new ads for Ivory soap are a great example of moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the category by honoring the brands "99.44% pure" heritage in a voice that's as contemporary as it is jaded.

This is classic Wieden. Right up there with their This is SportsCenter and the original High Life Man commercials.

The lesson here is just because your product isn't "on trend" doesn't mean it can't be successful.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Tomorrow is a figment of our imaginations. It's a myth, a hope, a trap, a day that will never come.

There are thousands of hypothetical tomorrows. There is only one today.

Use it wisely.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Big things brewing at MillerCoors

If I'm reading this clip from Ad Age right, MillerCoors may be about to ruin the best thing it has in its portfolio.

Mr. Long (Tom Long, CEO) said MillerCoors intends to make its craft business (Leinenkugel's, Blue Moon, etc.) "much, much bigger," noting that it needs to "transform to meet those consumers needs" of "these fuller, bigger-tasting beers."

MC's craft beer portfolio works precisely because it isn't big. It's seen as different, interesting and special. Limited advertising means people "discover" the beer and can make it their own.

I can understand their desire to grow the most profitable part of their business while watching their flagship brand fall by nearly 15% last quarter, but they need to be careful here. The brand graveyard is full of regional and niche beers that have attempted to become national players.

Anybody remember Schaefer or Stroh's?

Sure it can be done. But it will take real marketing savvy and a deft hand, neither of which have been evident in any form of Miller or Coors marketing for the past 20 years.

If I were a member of the Leinenkugel family, I'd be worried about my legacy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

When the going gets tough

Yesterday, I was interviewed about how food businesses can find success in a tough economy. Here are some of the highlights of my advice. Remember what you're paying for it, so take it for what it's worth.
  1. Stop trying to be all things to all people. Find the 20% of your market that loves you and do everything you can to make them love you more.
  2. Connect your products and brand to something that's trendworthy and newsworthy
  3. For every trend there's a counter-trend. Head in the opposite direction of the market leaders and you'll find a lot less competition.
  4. Make sure people know the story behind your product.
  5. Just as in society, the middle class is vanishing from the shelf -- if you're not the least expensive or incredibly special, I wish you luck. You're going to need it.
It's a tough time for business right now. But no one ever got through tough times by laying low. That doesn't mean you have to buy TV commercials, distribute coupons, or slash prices.

There are more ways to reach consumers and distribute products than ever before, but they require work rather than money. We're in a 'sweat equity' economy and those marketers who are willing to roll up their sleeves and work social media, work events, work mobile, work public relations will earn their way to the top as long as they have the right position.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Good enough isn't

I saw this headline in this morning's AdAge and I just had to laugh.

Quality matters when developing a new product? Who knew?

Whether it's an economy car, a gourmet appliance, or a local restaurant, quality is the only thing that matters.

If you're making something, anything and you find yourself saying, "that's good enough..." you're in trouble.

The world has plenty of crap that's "good enough."

Make your product special, or don't even bother.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

All atwitter...

With all the Twitter faux pas that have occurred over the past year or so, it's not surprising to hear that a celebrity had bad-mouthed a brand in what they thought was a private message, then sent a positive tweet about it a few minutes later.


That seems to have been the case Tuesday when Rainn Wilson (Dwight from the office) posted the three tweets pictured here. (If you're not a part of the twitterati, the timeline reads bottom to top).

So there are three possible explanations for this.
  1. It's 100% honest. He posted all three not meaning for his fans to see the first one.
  2. This was all a set up worked out between him and Del Taco to help the tweets go viral and gain more awareness for Del Taco.
  3. And finally, it's a bit that 100% fabricated by Wilson with no input, direction or payment by Del Taco.
Here's why I think it's #3.

This ain't no Paris Hilton we're talking about. Wilson is a pretty smart guy and has been tweeting a long time. I can't see him making this mistake. Also why would he use the @ symbol in a "private message?"

Del Taco would never pay someone to call their food "shitty." Crappy? maybe. Lousy? Yes.

And finally, Wilson's been known to tweet some outrageous things about himself, other people and brands. On Monday one tweet from Wilson read "McRib is people! @McDonalds McRib is PEEE-PULLL!!!!!"

I doubt the folks in Oak Brook paid him to tweet that.

A fourth, more plausible, option occurred to me on my drive to work: Del Taco attempted to hire Wilson to send a positive tweet and this is his way of saying "Fuc.." I mean "no."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

America's game?

Football is doing to baseball, what Ndamukong Suh does to opposing guards.

On Monday night, when the NFL was on cable (ESPN) with a terrible, essentially meaningless regular season game – the New Orleans Saints against a Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts – more people watched  the NFL's 62–7 blowout than a World Series 4–0 nail biter.

I'm not saying that baseball is dead, but if a World Series that's tied at 2-2 with all-star names like Pujols, Hamilton, and La Russa can't outdraw a mid-season matchup in the NFL, America's pastime is clearly past its prime.

I get it. We don't have the biggest teams with the biggest stars so the ratings are bound to be lower than a Yankees/Cubs series, but that's exactly the point.

Nobody tuned in to MNF to watch Curtis Paynter. They tuned in to watch the game. So obviously, it doesn't matter who's playing. Even if it had been the Browns and the Seahawks, Monday Night Football would have out-drawn the baseball game.

This is baseball's biggest event. A week long festival that's supposed to be an exclamation point on the end of a grueling 162 game trek where a champion is crowned and a loser sent home saying, "There's always next year."

Can baseball ever compete with football without a series of hall-of-famers on the field? Probably not. But if TV ratings are important to MLB (and they are) at some point their going to have to objectively look at the product as it's presented and make some changes.

Until then, their long slow slide into sports niche-dom will only continue.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A fitting tribute

In case you hadn't noticed, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Chevrolet brand.

Aside from building some of the best cars in the brand's history, they've also produced this really nice ad for the occasion.

No, the technique of holding an old photograph over the same scene isn't new (see But expecting advertising to be original is like expecting congress to get something done. You'll waste a of energy complaining about either. The technique is artfully deployed in service of commerce to remind those who may not know of Chevrolet's distinguished past without completely overshadowing their relevance today.

Using Ray Charles' classic version of America the Beautiful sets the tone without being overly patriotic. Over the years in all the automotive research I've witnessed, the vast majority of people don't buy a car because it's American. They would gladly purchase a good car, however, that happens to be American.

Who knows what the future holds for Chevrolet? But today I feel better about the brand because of their product and this spot.

Nicely done.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Brilliant beer marketing

In a category rife with awful advertising, it's nice to see when someone gets it right.

Funny, relevant, memorable and it does a great job of bringing their theme to life.

I wonder if the folks in St. Louis and Milwaukee are paying attention?

Thanks to JLK Davis for the tip on this one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The worst of the worst

A few weeks ago The Consumerist magazine invited its readers to nominate and vote to determine which commercials are the worst on television. A sister publication of Consumer Reports, The Consumerist is the perfect place for this type of competition because of its overall disdain for advertising and its readers heavy skepticism of businesses.

That having been said, this is one of the best lists I've seen in a long time. It includes the AT&T spot I ranted about last week, the incredibly horrible Summer's Eve Hail to the V spots, and this gem from Luvs, voted Worst Ad in America...

Creating spots this bad isn't easy. You have to come up with a horrible idea, convince the creative director, the account team and the client that it's really not that bad. Then somehow you persuade the songwriter's agent that money is more important than his dignity while finding an animator who has the sense of humor of a seven year old.

Congratulations to the folks at Saatchi for this well-deserved win.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Boring is boring

Over the past 30 years, the Toyota Camry became America's best-selling nameplate specifically because of its rock-solid reliability, uninspiring design and lackluster performance.

Now Toyota wants to change that.

According to this article in the New York Times, they're feeling pressure from others (read Ford and Hyundai) who have caught up in the area of reliability while offering products that are just a little more interesting.

So they're injecting "attitude" into their campaign with the slogan "It's ready. Are you?" and spots that feature smoking tires...

Maybe it's time someone told auto company executives, most of the country finds NASCAR boring. Just check out the ratings and attendance figures over the past few years. Putting the car in this context does not make my heartbeat race. And neither does a "reinvented" Camry.

I'm sure the Camry's a great car but sportier body panels won't make it more interesting, any more than dressing Mr. Rogers in a track suit will all of a sudden transform him into Usain Bolt.

Friday, October 14, 2011

3 Ways to Tap into the Voice of the Culture

For decades we’ve been taught the surest way to developing successful new products is to listen to the voice of the customer. Companies have spent billions on VOC research encompassing everything from massive quantitative surveys to rapid ethnographies, in-home use tests and social media customer feedback mechanisms. Some have created whole divisions dedicated to it with executives who have titles like Chief Customer Officer and Director of Customer Experience.

The New VOC
 Putting your customers at the center of your enterprise isn’t a bad idea. But if you want to separate yourself from others in your field, you should innovate around a different VOC – Voice of the Culture.

Think about the most innovative companies in every category: brands like Google, BMW, Apple, Target, DC Shoes, Virgin and others. They don’t stop at doing what the customer says they want, they go beyond. They understand the very culture of their users, introducing products that do more than attract mere customers; they create passionate fans.

Filtering out the noise 
As innovation professionals, there’s one thing we rarely lack, data. We’re not just swimming in it; we’re drowning in it. Everyday new information comes across our desktops that seemingly contradicts what we knew to be true the day before. One customer wants it bigger. One wants it smaller. One wants it red, while another would prefer black. Listen to the voice of every customer and soon you’ll be spun in so many directions, you won’t know which way is up. The result in many cases is a tangled mess of line extensions and SKU proliferation that is practically unmanageable.

Tap into the culture, however, and you’ll be able to create real value for your users.

The irrational consumer 
We’ve all seen it in focus groups and on surveys. Consumers tell you they want one thing and then turn around and do another. Ask who wants a cheaper smart phone and everyone raises their hand. Yet Apple continues to dominate the market. The new iPhone 4s is only in pre-order, and they’ve already sold a million of them at $399. 

Apple knows it’s about more than functional benefits and price.

Innovative Culture 
Innovate around charts, graphs, numbers and dots and you’ll get incremental improvements that people will appreciate but rarely pay extra for. Remember when only luxury cars had power windows and automatic climate control? Now you can find those features on entry-level subcompacts. BMW continues to demand a significant premium for its cars, however, because it ties those features into the culture of driving. BMW positions itself as The Ultimate Driving Machine and thus those who own one see themselves as ultimate drivers. Every feature and interface is designed to reinforce the culture of driving from the power assist steering that gives you excellent feedback to the adjustable suspension with sport mode that lets you dial in a setting for more spirited driving.

So how do you gain an understanding of the culture of your customers? 

1.) Immerse yourself 
Harley-Davidson does it by making sure product developers, engineers, designers and other key employees attend the various gatherings and rallies that happen around the country every weekend. From poker rides organized by local dealerships to the massive annual gatherings in Daytona and Sturgis, Harley employees are everywhere interacting with customers, looking at their bikes, listening to their music, seeing what they’re wearing, paying attention to their stories – not just about bikes, but their lives. With this as a backdrop Harley was able to create their new H-D1 Custom Bike builder concept

2.) Don’t ask what or why 
If you want to change the world or at least your business, stop asking people what they want and why they want it, and ask them for a window into their world. A few years ago on a project for major global beverage company, we gave video cameras to 15, 16 and 17 year old boys, asking them to create a movie of their lives for us. After 5 days, they brought us the footage and we sat with them editing the biopic, complete with the songs that served as the soundtrack. The resulting Culturescape™ videos held incredible insights into not just their eating habits; they also communicated volumes about their relationships with friends, siblings, and parents; as well as expressed their aspirations, dreams and fears in a way no interview could have. This cultural deep-dive provided incredible insight for product development as well as provided the inspiration for innovative marketing programs.

3.) Become an expert or hire one 
Companies like Target have formal structures and processes for staying in touch with the cultural values of their customers, for spotting the trends that will interest them, and using that information to inform both product development and customer experience. They have teams dedicated to and individuals responsible for identifying and integrating the latest cultural trends.

The extreme sport apparel company, DC Shoes employs a network of athletes and artists who their customers have identified as influencers to help them make sure their products don’t just follow trends, but set them. There’s not one right way to keep your cultural edge. The most important act is to adopt a mindset that what your customers believe is more important than what they say. Then develop a program that helps you understand those beliefs and integrate them into your organization so you can create products and services that embrace that culture.

Do that and you may just create the next Mini Cooper instead of the Yugo.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

BoA is DoA when it comes to PR

Whoever is running the PR department at Bank of America better own stock in Rolaids.

This summer a homeowner in Florida foreclosed on a BoA branch after it refused to abide by a court order and pay his legal bills. This was after Bank of America tried to foreclose on the house, even though the home was bought with cash and BoA never held a mortgage on the property.

They're the butt of jokes regularly on Colbert, The Daily Show, Letterman and other late night talk shows.

And just a few days ago, when two customers, following an Occupy Santa Cruz rally, tried to close their accounts, the bank manager refused and threatened to have the customers arrested.

I'm not here to talk about the politics of the situation, rather the marketing.

Here's a tip. If your customers don't want to be your customers anymore, let them go as quickly and quietly as possible. If the manager had just said, "I'm so sorry you feel that way. Come with me, we'll take care of the paperwork and get you your money right away." The video would have ended there and the protesters would have looked like whiny, privileged middle-class suburbanites out for a thrill.

Instead the bank looks like a bully and those they are trying to silence have been able to amplify their voices via Youtube and the news.

The lesson: Don't deal with difficult customers by being difficult. Kill them with kindness and you'll lower the noise.

(Oh and for all you would-be documentarians out there, don't do what this woman holding the camera did. Keep your mouth shut and let the action play out. You're not the star of your movie, they are.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Does mean sell?

This commercial has been running a lot lately and I wish it would stop.

I know humor is subjective, but who finds this funny? These two people so completely unlikeable, their relationship so completely dysfunctional, that this spot is hard to watch. And it's not the only one. There are a number of spots on the air now using protagonists who are just flat out mean and ugly individuals. 

The last time I checked, the idea was to have people like your brand. Someone please explain to me how this trend of commercials featuring bitches and jerks helps make that happen?

I know this is intended to be a parody, but whoever at the agency wrote and approved this should leave comedy to the professionals because it's just not funny.

And if it's not funny, it's not going to sell.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The saga continues

So Netflix finally came to its senses and killed not just the Qwikster name, but also the concept and will continue to distribute both streaming content and DVDs on one site. Good.

The damage, however, has been done.

Brands are about trust, and trust comes from consistency. Lately, Netflix has been anything but.

Between its price increases, inexplicable communications, the decisions to split into two companies with two separate websites, and now this tersely worded post on their blog, Netflix has been as consistent and focused as an 8-year-old with ADHD at a carnival.

I know they're hoping this will all go away and maybe it will over time. But in these last 60 days they've given their subscribers a reason to look elsewhere, and over a million have taken them up on it.

Brands are fragile things. The only way to protect a brand, is to know what it stands for and work hard at being that every single day. All it takes is one mistake an you're the next Oldsmobile, as Netflix is finding out the hard way.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Why Kindle Fire will torch everyone except Apple

Amazon is smart.

Yes, they're late to the tablet market, but they used that time to create a strategically superior product to the tablets from Motorola, HP, Dell, and the other iPad wannabes.

Unlike those brands, who looked at the market leader and asked, "how can we give iPad users more for a little less?" Amazon asked, "How can we give others exactly what they need at a price that radically realigns the category?"

At $199, the Kindle Fire is 60% cheaper than the least expensive iPad. Since most tablet usage is at home, it has only WiFi, gives you access to Amazon's huge catalogue of books, music, magazines and video, and offers a limited suite of the most popular Apps.

It only has 8 gigabytes of memory, so storage is limited, but that's part of the strategy to make users reliant on the Amazon cloud service, generating significant amounts of annuity revenue through purchase and storage of Amazon's content.

This is a classic disruption strategy. While everyone else is battling for the same customers at the top end of the category, Amazon found a way to open the market to a huge swath of people for whom a $500 tablet just doesn't make sense.

Very few people who "need" an iPad will trade down to get one of these. But those tablets stuck in the middle will see their volumes fall to a product that's just good enough but a whole lot cheaper. The fact that Amazon is being launched with an integrated multimedia ecosystem guarantees it.

I hope Amazon has their production ramped up because they'll sell every one they can make this holiday season.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Knowing history is important. What's been done can offer lessons for the future. But often history handcuffs a company and its future.

Every business is on a path and it's hard not to look back at milestones, strategies, and tactics that worked just a few years ago. As they say in the brokerage business, however, past performance is not a guarantee of future success.

Kodak's success selling film in the '70s, doesn't necessarily make it relevant in the world of digital photography.

Miller and Bud's historic strength in distribution doesn't help it in a world that's looking for better beer.

Miles of paper, barrels of ink, and presses as big as a battleship won't help the New York Times distribute information in a world that wants its news on a smartphone.

Every once in a while, every business should press the reset button. If for nothing else than to see what's happening in the world around them and determine if where they've been has any relevance to where the world is going.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Preaching isn't marketing

If you want to get people to change their behavior, don't tell them they're stupid, ignorant, fat and going to die, as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is planning to do.

The objective of this billboard is to convince the people of Green Bay, Wisconsin (it's scheduled to be installed on the main route to Lambeau Field) to reduce their cheese consumption.

The problem is, the head of PCRM thinks Wisconsinites are ignorant as evidenced by this statement: "People have really no idea that cheese can cause what makes them fat and what makes their children fat," said Dr. Neal Barnard.

We know. Cheese, like just about every other food, when eaten to excess can make us fat. Some of us choose to indulge in moderation. Others not so much. But you're not going to alter that behavior by vilifying something they love, something so fundamental to the culture, something so damn delicious.

"We know what's best for you" never works in cause marketing. Especially when there's little truth behind the message.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

This research has a bad aftertaste

A few months ago Burger King dumped its ad agency. About a month ago it debuted this well-shot, if extremely ordinary spot.

And now a research company, YouGov says that consumer's perceptions of the number 2 burger chain have nearly doubled on their "BrandIndex."

Two things.

First, As much as I hated the previous campaign, I find it hard to believe that dumping the creepy king character and running 30 seconds of food shots would really push Burger King's image past McDonald's. The folks at YouGov had better check to see what the people on their survey panel have been smoking over the past month. That may explain their increased appetite for Whoppers.

Second, even if the results are accurate and people think Burger King's food is more appetizing than McDonald's, they'll be sorely disappointed once they get into the store. I haven't been into a Burger King that looks either like a) it has been updated in the last 30 years or b) anyone in the place knows how to use a mop.

As McDonald's continues has proven with same store sales increases throughout the recession despite burgers that have as much appetite appeal as a bag of nettles – fast food is about much more than the food.

Until the franchisees that operate their restaurants get this, Burger King will continue to be a distant number two in the category.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Netflix will flame out

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix messed up. Now he's apologizing for it. If you're a subscriber as I am, his mea culpa email was in your inbox yesterday morning. If you're not a subscriber, you can read his it here on Netflix blog.

The problem is, he's apologizing for the wrong thing to the wrong people and taking the wrong steps in an effort to correct the problem.

He's apologizing to customers for not communicating about the service and pricing change that caused over a million of them to leave. And in response he's splitting the company in two and making it harder for people who want access to both DVDs and streaming video.

First of all, he doesn't need to apologize to his customers. He needs to provide them with the service they want at a price their willing to pay and all this will be over. Too many businesses overestimate the power of social media and how it can help them maintain a "relationship" with their customers. Here's a clear demonstration of what that relationship is really about. Give me the service that I want and I'll give you money. Period. End of story.

Stop wasting so much time and money trying to be "friends" with your customers.

The people he needs to apologize to his investors who lost half their money when Netflix stock price plummeted over the past two months thanks to their inability to anticipate consumer rejection of their business decisions. He will also need to apologize to those who will be losing the rest of their money in the coming months thanks to the incomprehensible business model they've created moving forward.

How did this happen? Just read the blog post and see how many times the pronouns "I," "me" and "we" are used versus "you." (It's funny the only time he uses "you" is when he describes the inconveniences of the two company structure).

Netflix is operationally focused around what's best for them, not their customers. and that's ultimately why they will fail. Not because they communicated a pricing change badly. If that were the case most companies would be in trouble.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Things die for a reason

This week a production company called Oink Radio announced the winner of its 14th annual Dead Radio Contest. It's going to a script written by a freelancer to promote the power of radio, which will now be produced for free by Oink. If it's like any of the spots from past winners, the client may have been right to kill the script.

The few that I've listened to, though funny, were either off brand or didn't succeed in communicating a relevant message that differentiated the client's business from its competition in any meaningful way.

Like any writer, I have a file folder full of scripts I've written that clients didn't buy for one reason or another. Many are scripts I still think would have helped move the needle for their brands. But I've never been a fan of these types of awards.

First of all, it's my responsibility to sell my best work to the client. That's what separates great agencies from good ones.

You have to know how to present your work in a way that makes it easy for your client to buy what you're recommending. If you find clients are killing a lot of your great ideas, then stop blaming them and get some help. There are a lot of good training programs that will help you become a better presenter. Here's my favorite.

Second, Dead Radio Awards, and others of this ilk, only reinforce the "us versus them" mentality that runs rampant inside the walls of most advertising agencies. Clients are not the enemy. Entering work in competitions like this says "you were too stupid to see the greatness of my idea." I can promise you, that attitude won't endear you to them.

And finally, the only reason competitions like this exist is for the ego gratification of the idea's creator. This is advertising. It's a business where we make money by selling things of value to clients. If you want to make stuff for yourself without pay, become an artist.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fiat aims 'Lo

This spot interrupted my football game last night and I thought, huh, this seems a little off of the strategy I remember them talking about when the Fiat 500 was launched a few months ago.

So I went back and looked and damned if I wasn't right. The Fiat 500, the reincarnation of a classic European marque, was originally pitched this way, "as time changes and things become modern, the simple things in life are what matter," by Laura Soave, Fiat Marketing director.

In case you hadn't noticed this spot is not simple.

Now, I know strategies change. Sometimes your first idea doesn't move the needle so you have to try something else. But this something else seems to be from a brand that isn't really sure what it stands for.

How do I come to this conclusion? Here's what Fiat CEO and Chrysler Corp CMO, Oliver Francois had to say in Ad Age.

"Like the Fiat consumer, Jennifer Lopez sees the world as her canvas and is not afraid to express herself; she is continuously drawn to projects that are authentic and real. Jennifer fits perfectly with the brand not because of who she is but because of what she is -- authentic, passionate, modern and a fighter determined to stand out from the rest. As you look at her career path, she embodies the Fiat philosophy, 'Life is Best When Driven.'"


Yes Fiat and J-Lo have been adored as sex symbols. The 124 Spider is still one of the most iconic automotive designs ever produced. And they've both seen their share of failure. Anyone remember Gigli? Anyone?

These similarities do not a brand match make.

This is just another case of a marketer not having a clue and covering it up with some borrowed interest and a huge production budget. Work like this for a brand that's so rich in heritage, style, differentiation and relevance is just plain sad.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cool marketing

It's time once again for life to imitate art, that is if you consider popular television to be art.

Ben & Jerry's announced a new flavor to it's line up based on this Saturday Night Live sketch.

The newest pint – vanilla ice cream with fudge covered rum balls – is bringing a lot of attention to a brand that had lost a little momentum over the past few years.

It may not become my favorite ice cream, it's going to remind a lot of people that Ben & Jerry's is still out there. And that's what good marketing is all about.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Flying blind online

I know that several University of Wisconsin alumni have done very well for themselves. But honestly a college newspaper's website seems like an odd place to advertise corporate air travel.

Now, I may be wrong about the readership of the Badger-Herald online, but I know that I'm not going to be spending this kind of money on a plane trip any time soon. So however they're doing their tracking, something is seriously wrong.

If they're really interested in reaching people who can drop $3,400 an hour on air travel, I'd recommend my friend Christopher Parr's new site, Pursuitist.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A meal with a really bad aftertaste

Conagra, one of the largest manufacturers, distributors and marketers of food in the U.S. manufactured a little PR problem for themselves last week after creating a marketing event that was just about as genuine and fresh as their food.

According to the New York Times, they hosted an event for food bloggers featuring "a delicious four course meal" by Food Network Chef, George Duran at was supposedly his new "intimate Italian restaurant." They invited the bloggers to bring a couple of their readers to share the experience with them.

The twist on this evening (you guessed it), the food being served wasn't Mr. Duran's. It was Frozen Lasagna and Razzleberry pie from another famous American chef, Marie Calendar. The idea was that the bloggers would be so impressed by the food that they would talk about it on their sites and also agree to appear in commercials that were being taped with hidden cameras.

As you can imagine, not every blogger was happy to find out they had been deceived, especially right in front of one of their loyal readers.

Conagra and Ketchum, their PR agency, made a couple of key mistakes.

First, they didn't know their audience. They should never have invited true foodies to an event like this. Even if the bloggers liked the food, they'd never admit it. They can't. It goes against everything they stand for and write about.

Second, they lied. Okay when you look a the fine print they didn't actually lie. They never "said" the food was going to be actually cooked by George, they never said Sotto Terra was an actual restaurant. But it's pretty clear that's what they wanted those invited to believe.

Third, they didn't give the guests a way to save face. Bloggers write because they're passionate about a topic (it's certainly not for the money). Their readers trust them to tell them what's good and what's not. By exposing their naivete to the invited readers, they put at risk the one and only thing of value that bloggers have, their reputation.

A good lawyer never asks a question he doesn't know the answer to. A good PR person doesn't host an event that they don't know the outcome of. This was a failure that is spreading like wildfire around the web. And anyone who's any good at this business could have seen it coming from a mile away.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The greatest car ad ever

DC shoes has yet another installment of its wildly popular viral video series. The latest, posted here, has already been viewed seven and a half million times on Youtube since August 16th.

As my friend, Rick Rusch, said when he emailed the link to me, "I think I want a Ford Fiesta..."

DC may have paid for this. They're logo may be all over it. But undoubtedly the stars of this epic production are Ken Block and his Fiesta.

Yes, DC features its products right up front – the shoe on the foot of a leg being eaten by a zombie, the jacket exploding, the hat sliced in half by a samurai – but by the time you get to the end of Block's amazing feats of automotive acrobatics, I don't remember anything but the car.

Not that I'm complaining. I'd rather see this than glamor shots of their products. Plus, I'm sure they do a lot of event and in-store marketing to close the loop on these.

I have no idea what DC's sales are like, but I applaud their effort and hope it's paying off for them. It's certainly paying off for Ford.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pen and ink and pixels

Now this is cool.

If I were a designer, illustrator, animator, art director or just knew how to draw a straight line, I'd be first in line for one of these.

Coming soon from Wacom, the Inkling (great name) is a pen that writes in ink on paper while it also captures your sketches digitally in vector layers through a receiver. You can then import your sketches and refine them in Photoshop or Illustrator. 

If it works in practice as well as it seems to in the video, I can see a lot of these in agencies and design firms in the very near future.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How not to use a celebrity in a commercial

Let me start this post by saying I like Tim Gunn. I like him on Project Runway. He's a good mentor to the designers, a tough critic of their work with a lot of experience who provides enough support through the creative process to help them through their task.

But this commercial for Expedia makes him look like a buffoon and I blame the agency.

First, it's a lazy concept.
"Hey, with expedia people get to 'design' their own vacations, let's have Tim Gunn coach people on how to do that!" Ugh.

Second, the writing is insipid. 
"Let's take every catchphrase the man uses in on Project Runway and cram them randomly into the spot connecting our copy points." This felt like it was written between sips of coffee a few hours before the client meeting.

Third the direction is terrible.
They couldn't possibly have made him look any worse or any more stiff. Clearly they didn't do any research before the spot to see how direct-able he'd be. Just because someone is on TV doesn't mean they can act. Appearing on an unscripted reality show is different from hitting a mark an reading lines off a teleprompter. Not everyone can do it, that's why we pay actors.

Featuring celebrities in your spot is not always a bad idea. I've worked with Dabney Coleman, Bjorn Borg, Ernie Harwell, John Candy and others over the years. They can bring interest, credibility and humanity to your message when used correctly. But too often they're reduced to two-dimensional caricatures which leads to ridiculous spots like this. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Is BMW on the right road?

BMW has a new agency. Well, kind of.

After a five month review that included agencies from across the country, BMW parked it's brand in New York at KBS+P, an agency that's been doing dealer and other special projects for BMW over the past few years. Their work includes this spot for the BMW clean diesel.

It's a spot that gives me hope for two reasons. First it positions it as the "performance diesel" designed to deliver a superior driving experience. Second it closes with BMW's iconic tagline, "The Ultimate Driving Machine."

After the failed experiment with the "emotional" tagline of Joy, I hope they've come to their senses and will let BMW be BMW again. Time will tell. And I'll be watching.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Repost

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 a design class 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.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thanks Steve

I'm not going to go deep into any analysis of his career, the difference he has made (and hopefully will continue to make) on technology, business and our world.

I'm just going to say "thank you" for being a champion of advertising and helping to lift the state of our industry by approving and paying for the production of some of the best commercials and campaigns of my lifetime.

Here's a great video of Jobs introducing the "1984" spot to people at Apple a week before it ran on the Super Bowl. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Toyota "learns" from Detroit

Yesterday Toyota unveiled the 2012 Camry to the press at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California and webcast the event online for all to see. After watching the entire video live during my lunch hour (I've embedded an edited version for you here), I have just one question, why?

Why would they hire dancers, actors, acrobats, free runners, and bmx riders, dress them in red and have them pretend this is the coolest car they've ever seen?

Why would they have Bob Carter (a very nice man, I'm sure) act as the main presenter and not coach him on the proper pronunciation of the word hybrid?

Why would you have the chief engineer, Yukihiro Okane drive the car to the stage, introduce him and then not let him say a word to the automotive journalists gathered there?

This kind of "theater" is what Detroit excelled at years ago when they'd introduce car after car with nothing new to say. The lame jokes, the pointless pomp, the obligatory indie L.A. rock band, they all add up to nothing.

I understand the new Camry is a big deal to Toyota. It's a big deal in the auto industry. It's been the best-selling car in the U.S. for the past seven years. Everybody – Chevrolet, Ford, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, Kia – has it in their sights. But an event like makes it feel as though Toyota has nothing to say about the product so why not just put on a show.

Most automotive journalists I know are a pretty jaded bunch. They see events like this and roll their eyes while accepting the free travel, food and other entertainment from Toyota that surrounds the launch. But none of that is part of the story. None of it will make the pages of their magazines or the posts on their site.

And that's what's wrong with a launch event like this. The redesign looks good (if still a little on the blandtastic side). The performance numbers look good. The fuel economy has been improved. They lowered base prices across the line. All good things. Yet, it's all made a little less credible by this incredibly irrelevant event.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Riding with the past

If you're tired of riding the same Moto Guzzi, Ducati or Husqvarna that everyone else is, then maybe you should look at a Hammarhead Motorcycle.

Manufactured in Philadelphia by the handful, these bikes are inspired by some of the most iconic motorcycles of the past. My favorite, the Jack Pine, recreates the Triumph Scrambler to the smallest detail, except for the oil leaking all over your legs.

At $16,500 it seems like a bargain considering they're only building two next year. Put your order in now.

Pier 18 from Hammarhead Industries on Vimeo.

Monday, August 22, 2011

When advertising gets ugly

One of the necessary evils of the advertising business is the agency review.

Pitching new business is exhilarating, demeaning, exhausting and costly. When you win, you feel like you're on top of the world. When you lose, you wonder why you even bothered.

A major pitch, like the one just announced by Bud Light, will cost participating agencies hundreds of thousands of dollars each on research, travel, spec production and all the other things required by the process. It will take the time and attention of each agency's top talent away from their best clients putting those relationships at risk. And in the end, only one will walk away with the prize.

It's a rare industry where companies give their product away with only a 20% chance of winning new business. Until somebody figures out a better way to pick a new agency, we'll continue to be put through the wringer by clients who either are naive or have unrealistic expectations about the process.

Either way, a lot of good people will waste a lot of time developing good ideas for bad beer. And that, my friends, is a damn shame.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Ideas without action are worthless.

Don't wait for permission. Don't assume someone else will take care of it. Don't let the enormity of the task prevent you from taking the first step.

The only way to add value is to do something.

What are you waiting for?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The web isn't clicking

Here's a little secret for the folks at Google and marketers everywhere:

People don't come to the internet for the ads.

You can stop scratching your head over why only .09% of people actually click on your rich media creation and try to figure out a way to be relevant online.

Unlike TV, the internet is an active media. People are doing things while they're here. They're connecting with friends, researching a new car, spreading conspiracy theories, searching for recipes, and lying about the size of their body parts.

What they're not doing is waiting for your cool new ad to show up so they can stop what they're doing, click on it and go to your irrelevant microsite.

I'm not saying advertising online is worthless. Your presence builds awareness, and sponsorship of content that people want to interact with will build your credibility, likeability or whatever -ility you're hoping to achieve. 

Just don't go online expecting people to click on things that don't really matter to them.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

20 years of stuff

It's hard to understate the importance of the web in both society and business. So much so that it feels like it's been around for generations, when in reality the world wide interweb is just 20 years old.

Invented in 1991 by a scientist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research – not Al Gore – as a way to share scholarly research, it's amazing how how quickly it has come to be essential to our lives.

Imagine what the world would be like had it never been invented...
  • Would we have ever heard the terms e-commerce, disintermediation, and ROTFLMFAO?
  • Where would we get all of our coupons, news, and hollywood gossip?
  • Where would we be without those companies that transformed business like, and AOL?
  • How would we meet our soul mates?
  • Where would we go to watch videos of cats?
  • How would we learn about lowering our mortgage rates?
  • Who would deliver our letters from deposed Nigerian princes?
  • What would we do with all our free time?
And most importantly who would we turn to for advice on all manner of topics, including marketing?

Happy 20th birthday, www. Thanks for giving me this forum along with a lot of other useful stuff. Just think, next year you'll be old enough to drink and then the fun really begins.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The apple of GM's eye

This statement from Joel Ewanick probably didn't make it into the mainstream press, but I found it interesting.

"'s time to clearly differentiate our brand and align closer to a true global brand like an Apple. It's time for an automotive company to step out and address consumers and their needs in a way that's never been done before."

I know, every company wants to be Apple, and having a stretch goal is a good thing. But there are significant challenges ahead if that's their path.

First, GM is four brands – Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC – not one, and these brands need to be differentiated. They can't all be the Apple of automobiles.

Second, Apple controls the retail environment from pricing to staffing to training to design to POP to advertising. GM's dealers have a little more say in which products will be pushed, how they'll be displayed and serviced. That has an incredible impact on the brand, and the fact that the manufacturer has little to no control over most of the sale and after-sale experience will continue to pose problems for their brands.

Finally, Apple is only Apple because of Steve Jobs. He's the visionary who led the development of not just the products but the ecosystems that made those products indispensable. The iPod would be just another mp3 player without iTunes. The iPad would be just another tablet without the App Store, iChat and other utilities.

Who is GM's Steve Jobs? Who's the visionary who's going to lift the company from one that makes excellent products (and they still have some way to go to get there) to a company that becomes woven into the very fabric of our lives.

It's one thing to say you want to be Apple. Making it happen is a whole other matter. Given the realities of 10-day sales reports, quarterly analyst calls, and the constant pressure to offer financial incentives because that's all dealers know how to sell,  it's not going to be easy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Content isn't king

The NFL may be America's most popular sports league, but it's not a miracle worker.

"The shield" makes money by the millions for players and billions for owners, but if Bud Light expects their partnership with the NFL to resurrect their image and their sales, they may be disappointed.

Bud CEO Carlos Brito thinks otherwise and has bet $50 million on this premise. "When you become the exclusive sponsor of something as huge as the NFL, the biggest sports franchise in the U.S., you have tons of content and that's what consumers are looking for. They're not just looking for nice ads before and after games. They are looking for content ... and we can provide those contents."

Here's an idea, instead of worrying about the "content" you get from the NFL, what if you invested fifty million bucks in the content of your bottles? What if you did something to differentiate your product? And then what if you owned that instead of trying to borrow interest from the NFL.

Everyone knows Bud Light isn't great beer. It's the stuff you drink when you don't really care about taste. And since nobody cares about taste, they won't care if you make it taste good.

You can still have your gimmicky bottles. You can still put on your singles' cruise. Hell, you can still advertise on the NFL. But at least now you'll give people something to talk about.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Protecting what matters

Earlier this week Tag Heuer announced it was not renewing its contract with Tiger Woods, even though he's on tour and has pronounced himself ready to resume his normal schedule of events.

So if Tiger's back, why are his sponsors still dropping him nearly two years removed from the scandal?

Because Tiger's not back.

Tiger hasn't won a tournament since 2009. That's the only reason that sponsors flocked to him up until two years ago. He was a winner. The most spectacular winner in the history of golf.

Brands like Accenture, Buick and others aligned themselves with Tiger, not because he was a good guy, but because he set a new standard for excellence and they wanted some of his mojo to rub off on their brands.

Winning is the core asset of the Tiger Woods brand. Not his smile. Not his soft spoken style. Not his red and black outfits on Sunday. Until Tiger wins and wins regularly, he will be just another golfer.

And that's the lesson brands can take away from this.

There's always one thing that's most important to your brand. One asset, one facet, one benefit, one attribute that sets you apart from the others. Don't let anyone take that from you and don't, like Tiger, let yourself be distracted by all the shiny things that don't matter. Or one day you'll wake up to find you've lost everything.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Brands need their space

In spite of all the good news swirling around the Renaissance Center these past few weeks, this article in today's the Detroit News has me a little concerned.

"By 2018, she (Mary Barra, GM Product Chief) told the Wall Street analysts at the annual briefing, GM hopes to build 90 percent of its vehicles on 14 platforms — half the number now — and boost manufacturing efficiency by 40 percent. About one-third of its globally sold vehicles now share the same underpinnings."

I have just two words in response to this: Cadillac Cimmaron.

These guys can't be that bad at history that they can't remember 1982, can they? Maybe they'll be a little more subtle about platform sharing than Roger Smith and his cronies were. Maybe they won't just take a base Chevrolet change the fascia, add some gold trim, bolt in leather seats, and call it a Cadillac.

Efficiency is important. The financial realities can't be ignored. Some sharing of components between brands is necessary – Lexus and Toyota do it, Infiniti and Nissan do it – but it can't come at the expense of the identity of each brand. That's why GM shed Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Saturn, to make sure there was room to maintain differentiation between brands.

When the lines start to blur too much on the product side all the marketing in the world won't help them. Chevrolet needs to be Chevrolet. Cadillac must be Cadillac. And Buick has to be Buick.

If they're not?

Well, lets just say we've seen that movie before and everyone dies at the end.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

There's no substitute for quality

Yesterday Volkswagen announced the creation of a new post, "VP of Customer Experience."

Considering all the VW customers out there who have had less than stellar experiences with their cars and dealers over the last few years, this could be a good thing.

Unless it's not.

Of course it's important to have dealers who know how to "live the brand." (If you know what the brand is) And yes, customers must be treated consistently and well at every touch point. But if the wizards in Wolfsburg don't fix their quality problems, it's all just whitewashing.

99% of the customer experience in the automotive world is your interaction with the product. No amount of dealer hand-holding can overcome a slew of bad product experiences. VW ranks near the bottom in the latest J.D Power initial quality survey behind Kia, Chrysler and Jeep. That means a lot of people have had a bad experience where it matters most.

A good dealer can only do so much to ameliorate the damage done by poor vehicle quality. If VW doesn't get the product right, all the "experience" in the world won't help them.

Just ask the folks at Saturn.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Making it at GM

A funny thing happens when you make products that people want. They're willing to pay for them.

As the New York Times noted, General Motors' earnings were up 89% in the second quarter largely because sticker prices are up about $500 per car and GM is spending $800 less per car in incentives.

Yes, the earthquake and tsunami helped by reducing the production capacity of Toyota and Honda, but in general buying a new car is not a "now" decision. If people really felt if it were worth waiting for their Camry or Accord they would. Apparently, it's not.

This is a far cry from the dark days of the late 1980s when all I had to promote were the Corsica, Baretta, Celebrity and Caprice. But 30 years later, they seem to have figured it out.

Things will get tougher for GM in the third and fourth quarters, but at least they're on the right track: listening to their potential customers, benchmarking their competitors like never before, and producing cars that are actually surprising and delighting both owners and critics.

And as long as they do that, they have a fighting chance.