Friday, April 12, 2013

Pepsi and Coke run dry

When I first got into the advertising business, I heard this joke.

"When the French don't have an idea, they take their clothes off. When the British don't have an idea, they tell a joke. When the American's don't have an idea, they sing a song."

It's become even worse. Now when American's don't have an idea they hire a pop star to be their "creative director" and then they sing a song.

When all you have to sell is flavored sugar water (or aspartame water in the case of Diet Coke), differentiating one product from the next is hard enough.

Neither Coke nor Pepsi are doing themselves any favors by attempting to build their brands solely on the borrowed equity of a diva du jour, especially at a time when kids have everything from Frank Sinatra to Pink on their iPods.

Music is more inclusive than ever. When Pepsi was The Choice of a New Generation it used rock and roll – then a divisive genre – to say, "we're not your parents' cola." It actually positioned them against their larger, more mainstream rival. It made a statement.

By aligning Coke and Pepsi with Jay-Z, Beyonce, Taylor Swift or any other of the thousands of interchangeable pop stars that appear in ads and promotions, the only statement these marketers are making is that they're out of ideas.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

JCP is not Apple

When JC Penney went looking for someone to take over the reins of the venerable but struggling retailer, Ron Johnson seemed like the perfect savior. After all, oversaw the creation of the wildly successful Apple Stores. How could he not succeed at JCP?

Let's start with the fact that JCP doesn't sell iMacs, iBooks, iPhones, iPads and iPods. They sell Levis, Nike, Liz Claiborne, Disney, Cuisinart and Keurig.

Apple Stores were built to be the best place to buy the hottest products in the world.

JCP sells the same products as Kohl's, Target, Boston Stores, Macy's and WalMart.

Apple Stores have "Geniuses" who can help customers select the right products and provide expertise on how to use them.

JCP employees know how to use the cash register. 

I have no idea why I'd choose JCP over any of the other options I have to buy my 501s.

Consequently after just 17 months, Johnson is out as CEO of JCP and the strategies that made Apple stores successful are being replaced with sales, specials and other traditional retail tactics. 

In hindsight it is obvious that what worked for Apple wasn't going to work for JC Penney, because your marketing strategy is only as good as the products you're selling.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Flying into turbulence

Let's see, Southwest grew to be America's largest domestic airline buy being interesting, quirky, fun and different.

Southwest grew because they operated differently, quickly and efficiently.

Southwest grew because their communications were memorable and focused on things that matter to a lot of people: low fares, no baggage fees, no red tape.

Now that they're big, of course, it's time to abandon those things that have made them successful and do this.


Southwest became America's biggest airline by dominating their niche. They had a strict focus and interesting personality. But that personality and focus also limits them. It makes it harder to attract high-margin business travelers for example

So they're attempting to broaden their message and appeal to more people through this effort. What they're really doing, however, is watering it down so it appeals to no one. A lot of great brands have made the same mistake and those who lead Southwest, unfortunately have ignored brand positioning history.

Miller Lite grew to the #2 brand in the category with its clear position and iconic advertising "Great Taste. Less Filling." But #2 wasn't good enough so they decided to reposition themselves from a great tasting light beer, to the best beer for everyone and changed their slogan to "It's it and that's that." Soon after the the long, slow inevitable slide began.

In marketing, business and life, it is better to be everything to someone than something for everyone. I fear that Southwest Airlines is about to learn this lesson the hard way.