Friday, September 6, 2013


I wasn't going to comment on the new Yahoo! logo until I read this headline in Ad Age.

Wow, she worked a whole weekend on it!

No wonder it looks like it came right out of the 1980s.

Ms. Mayer, you are the CEO of a company that some say is worth $25 billion. Do you really think the best use of your time is playing with Illustrator? Every designer in America had to cringe when they read this quote:
"On a personal level, I love brands, logos, color, design, and, most of all, Adobe Illustrator. I think it's one of the most incredible software packages ever made. I'm not a pro, but I know enough to be dangerous :) So, one weekend this summer, I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the trenches with our logo design team."
Well, at least she was right about one thing. Based on the result of this project, she is dangerous.

What is it with CEOs and their belief that there is no subject they are not expert in? Are they given a subliminal messaging tape in business school to play while they sleep that says, "You know everything about everything" on an infinite loop?

Here's a tip for CEOs everywhere.

Unless you went to RISD, CCS, Pratt or Art Center, leave the design work to the professionals.

I'm not saying you can't have an opinion, but believe it or not great designers aren't a dime a dozen. Designing a logo isn't as easy as powering up a Mac and opening Illustrator, even though the best designers often make it look that way.

Design matters as much as anything in business. Would you "roll up your sleeves" with your lawyers and help them file your patent applications? Would you dive into the trenches with your software engineers and help them write code?

If the answer is yes, you're going to have a hell of a time getting good people to work for you.

Do your job and let other people do theirs. You'll be surprised at how much better that works for everyone.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ignore your brand at your own peril

Hyundai has hit a speed bump on its way to what it had hoped would be a sales leadership position in the United States auto market.

While Hyudai's sales were up 8.2% over the previous year last month, that lags the overall growth in the U.S. market, which expanded by more than 17%.

What's behind this slow down?

In my mind, a misguided strategy. Funny thing is, it's the same strategy that has hampered VWs growth for decades.

Like VW, Hyundai came into the U.S. market as a classic disruptor, with low-cost materials, basic design and just enough features to be attractive. But their cars were inexpensive, so they sold to those who wanted a new car and could afford nothing else. It was a strategy that helped them grab sales from Toyota, Chevrolet, Honda, Ford and other mainstream brands.

But then they altered their focus slightly, still offering a low price, but attempting to improve the perceived quality of their products by upgrading the materials and their styling. They also helped mitigate the perception of poor quality by offering a ten year 100,000 mile warranty. In addition when the economy went soft, they created their Assurance Program which allowed new buyers to return their cars with no hit to their credit if they lost their job. As they did this sales accelerated and the Elantra and Sonata both climbed the sales charts.

Not satisfied, however, to enjoy growing success at the lower end of the market where margins are thin, Hyundai decided they had the brand power to take on more entrenched and esteemed competition at the high end of the market in the states.

So just a two years after running commercials that were designed to teach people how to pronounce their brand name...

Hyundai introduced the $60,000 Equus in the U.S. adding Lexus, Audi, BMW and Mercedes to their competitive set.

VW made the same mistake in the early 2000s when they tried to move upscale by launching the Phaeton.

While the cars themselves might be fine, with luxurious appointments, acceptable power and everything else the leaders in this category offer, neither the VW nor Hyundai brand are able to support a credible competitor to Audi, Mercedes, Lexus and BMW.

If they really wanted to launch and upscale product, they only had to look at Toyota for a roadmap. Lexus was launched in the late 1980s because Toyota had taken a large chunk of the mainstream market and wanted to migrate into the luxury segment. They knew, however, Toyota wouldn't be relevant at the top end of the world's most important automotive market, so Lexus was born.

They didn't just build a new car, however. They built a whole new brand. With separate dealerships. Separate experiences. Separate promises. That's why they succeeded where VW and Hyundai seem to be falling short.

Hyundai can't compete at both ends of the market with one brand. Luxury buyers don't want the same badge on their car as one advertised by local dealers to the credit challenged. Nor do they want to be seen in the same dealership as consumers who aren't sure if they can even afford a new car.

The powers that be in Seoul need to let Hyundai be Hyundai. And, if they really must compete at the high end of the market, spend the money to create a new brand.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A teaching moment

I can only imagine how unhappy executives at Mercedes Benz were when they first saw this spec ad made by German film school students.

While this ad is clearly disruptive, memorable and demonstrates a new product feature, it is yet another reason why creative directors are critically important in today's youth obsessed advertising culture.

A good creative director has enough experience to understand there's a line between funny and offensive. A good creative director might also have a sense of history and know that there's a direct link between the Mercedes Benz, Hitler and the Third Reich – an association I'm sure the brand is loathe to remind people of. One can only hope that if the team worked in an actual agency a good CD would have reminded them of that fact and sent them back to the drawing board as their teachers should have.

I'm not even sure the students' basic premise makes any sense. Tobias Hunter, Jan Mettler, Lydia Lohse and Gun Aydemir, the creators of this ad were quoted as saying "We wanted to pose the question of what might happen if technology had a soul."

The ability to peer into the future and decide who lives and dies hardly qualifies as soul.
What this spot has me wondering is if those students have a soul between them. Otherwise how could they use the fact that millions of people suffered and died at the hands of Hitler and his disciples to sell a car brand that helped him even peripherally in this effort?

Hopefully they've learned through this little media brouhaha what they weren't taught in ad school.