Clearly, Coke Is Not “The Real Thing”

April 24th, 2014 by admin No comments »

Most branding experts agree that your brand is defined not by what you say, but by what you do.

Well, the marketing folks at Coca Cola’s Minute Maid Division couldn’t have done much more to impact the equity of their brands than they did by deciding to market a product as “Pomegranate Blueberry Juice” knowing full well that it contained a whopping total of 0.3% pomegranate juice and 0.2% blueberry juice.

Just for good–make that bad– measure–the pomegranate image on the label is roughly the same size as the apple image, even though the product contains dramatically more apple juice.

Adding irony to the wound, their label trumpets the phrase, “Help Nourish Your Brain.”  Anyone with a brain would know that most consumers of ostensibly healthy products are label readers and likely to figure out sooner or later that they’re being flagrantly misled by this label libel.

And even if they don’t figure it out, it doesn’t take a genius to anticipate that your competitors are going to call you on your mendacity–particularly when one of those competitors has invested tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in raising awareness of a previously obscure ingredient that you’re falsely implying composes roughly half of your contents.  And that’s exactly what happened when Pom Wonderful launched a lawsuit that is now being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and being covered by every media outlet in the world.

And that media coverage is mentioning the parent Coke brand at least as much as it mentions Minute Maid.

It’s bad enough to have made and blessed the decision to engage in misleading marketing; it’s even more unconscionable to have not at some point had the smarts to say, “Let’s settle this case out of court, fix either our labeling or our formulation, and make sure we don’t devastate our brand equity by letting the planet know about how stupid and unethical we’ve been.”

I remember when, several decades ago, Coca Cola was one of the top marketers in the world, constantly cranking out clever, creative, motivating advertising campaigns that were the talk at water coolers everywhere.  When’s the last time you saw a Coke commercial that was in any way interesting, let alone remarkable?

In retrospect, perhaps this debacle shouldn’t be surprising.  After all, the dumbest marketing decision of my lifetime occurred in 1985 when Coca Cola executives decided to change the flavor of the world’s most popular soft drink.  Why?  Because blind taste tests revealed that rival cola Pepsi was preferred over Coke by something like a 52% to 48% margin.  Of course, the results were different on a non-blind basis, as the power of Coke’s branding led it to be preferred over Pepsi when people knew what brand they were drinking, but this apparently wasn’t take into account.

Coke executives didn’t understand the importance of branding in 1985.  And almost 30 years later, this appears to be equally true.

It seems clear that it’s time for Coke to wise up.  And get real.

2014 Called and Said, “Super Job, Radio Shack!”

February 3rd, 2014 by admin No comments »

Most of the people attending the Super Bowl party I was at last night agreed that the ads were even worse than the game itself, but this shouldn’t be surprising.  Too often the decision to blow millions on a Super Bowl commercial is driven by corporate ego rather than a legitimate concern about the company’s bottom line.

To be successful, a Super Bowl ad has to be (a) entertaining and (b) smart, which I define as “making people remember and want to buy–or at least check out–the product or service being advertised.”

Sadly, most advertisers and their agencies focus solely on being entertaining, and yet despite this focus, they usually come up short.  So the odds of a Super Bowl ad–or any ad–being both entertaining and smart are about as good as the odds of Richard Sherman writing a best-selling book on etiquette.

Last night’s clear exception was this Radio Shack ad.  Anyone who’s ever visited a Radio Shack could instantly understand the point of the ad when the Radio Shack clerk says, “The ’80s called.  They want their store back.”  The rest of the spot gave viewers the fun of identifying a plethora of ’80s icons, all the while reinforcing the message that Radio Shack stores have been dramatically updated.  And I found it very refreshing that Radio Shack is able to laugh at itself and its dated decor; that kind of candor and self-awareness makes me think “They get it” and that they’ve probably fully confronted and fixed the problem.

Contrast this with an even more entertaining ad–the “Puppy Love” ad run by Budweiser.  True, the puppy was extremely cute and the ad was extremely well produced.  However, the ad wasn’t extremely well conceived.  Why?  Because it did nothing to make you crave a Budweiser–or any kind of beer.  It probably made you smile and maybe made you cry, but did it make you say, “Man, I really want a Bud”?  I doubt it.

The only way this ad will have any tangible effect on sales is if beer drinkers decide to reward Budweiser for the touching entertainment.  But there are three reason why this, in my view, is highly unlikely.  First of all, I suspect a lot of people who liked the commercial don’t even know it was for Budweiser.  (I didn’t see a lot of logos, or bottles pouring tasty-looking suds.)  Secondly, this morning’s polls show that the ad appeals much more to women than men, and women aren’t big beer drinkers–especially not big Budweiser drinkers.  Finally, most Bud drinkers I know have a pretty macho self-image, and I don’t see many of them opting to buy more Bud because of a cute puppy commercial.

The difference between these two commercials can be summed up by the fact that today they’re typically being referred to as “The Radio Shack commercial’ and “the puppy commercial.”  Which of the two do you think is more likely to move the sales needle?

Thus, I’m pretty sure Radio Shack got much more bang for its four million bucks (for a 30-second spot) than Budweiser got for its eight million smackers (for a one-minute spot).

On the other hand, I’ll bet puppy sales are through the roof today!

Old Spice Ad Positively Reeks

January 7th, 2014 by admin No comments »

Oh, for the good old days when Procter & Gamble made incredibly boring, incredibly effective ads!  If this latest debacle from Old Spice is any indication of the quality of the decision-making going on at P&G these days, this might be a good time to short the stock.

(Legal disclaimer:  I’m far from a investment expert, but I do know horrendous advertising when I see it. . . and, trust me, this ad is horrendous.)

For starters, this ad is about as visually appealing as the head-rotating, green vomit-spewing scene in “The Exorcist.”  Secondly, the ad makes a big swing-and-a-miss at humor.  I realize the ad isn’t targeting 58-year-olds (although I’d be shocked if anyone under 58 has ever used Old Spice), but I can’t imagine that any reasonably conscious person of any age would find this ad funny.  Compared to the moms in  this spot, Mr. Whipple was freaking hysterical–the equivalent of Louis C.K., Chris Rock and Jon Stewart rolled into one.

Worse yet, the spot never shows the product being applied, so if you have the misfortune of gazing upon this spot and the good fortune to not be able to hear the audio, you’ll likely have no clue as to what the hell is being advertised.  While no doubt millions of people will recall having seen this commercial at least once (twice if you count when it replays in their mind in the form of a 2:00 am nightmare), I suspect that very few will ever know that Old Spice was the product advertised.

Which, come to think of it, may be the closest thing to a silver lining that this dark, disturbing cloud has for the company that once was considered the world’s smartest consumer products marketer.

Creating Brilliance Out of Thin Air

November 10th, 2013 by admin No comments »

I like to say that if a company is getting its advertising right, it’s probably doing other things right as well.  It’s hard to think of a company that better epitomizes that statement than Apple.

Which means that, judging by this new TV commercial, the iPad Air is probably one helluva product.

The ad cleverly makes you think that it’s extolling the many simple virtues of the venerable No. 2 pencil, all the while engaging your interest by slowly zooming in to the changing graphics as said pencil looms larger and larger in the foreground.  The spot ends with the iPad Air being revealed from behind the pencil, a very effective way of conveying that the Air is pencil-thin.

In fact, the ad is so well-produced that half-way through it I started to suspect that it was for an Apple product.  But while that might have slightly spoiled the surprise ending for me, it didn’t affect my perception that the new iPad Air–and anything made by Apple–is best in its class.

So while the pencil might be No. 2, Apple is clearly No. 1.

Pam Commercial’s Message Sticks

November 9th, 2013 by admin No comments »

Sometimes the best way to communicate a product’s benefits is to depict the disadvantages of not using the product.  The key is to do it in a way that doesn’t strike people as taking a cheap shot or being mean-spirited, and  this new TV commercial from Pam pulls this trick off very nicely.

The “residue” character’s cute, funny personality ensures that no one will be grossed out–no minor feat–and the script is clever.   (I particularly loved the reference to “poultrygeist.”)

Bottom line: a clever, simple piece of communication that gets its point across in an entertaining, memorable way.

Pretty slick, huh?

What a (Lame) Feeling!

August 13th, 2013 by admin No comments »

Department stores are among the most image-conscious types of retailers, which makes me wonder what Kohl’s was thinking when they decided to air this commercial.

It would be hard to imagine a less clever,  less cool and less fashionable commercial than this one.  It’s something you might expect from a small, independent clothing store in a small Midwestern town.

I’m not sure what’s more lame:  the fake-looking red hair on the Kohl’s clerk, her sappy facial expression, or the dance performed by the mother and daughter to the sorely dated song, “What a Feeling.”

If Kohl’s has any hopes of competing on the national stage with savvy retailers ranging from Target on the low end to Nordstrom on the high end, they’re going  to have to up their game considerably.

Kohl’s tagline is, “Expect great things.”  I think Kohl’s management needs to heed their own words and expect more–a lot more–from their marketing department and ad agency.

That’s Entertainment. . . Not Advertising

May 19th, 2013 by admin No comments »


Don’t you just love that State Farm TV campaign where the young man interviews several cute and funny kids?

Me too. . . . except that it’s not a State Farm campaign; it’s an AT&T campaign.

This is just the latest example of clever, humorous entertainment that many people–including advertisers and the ad agencies–mistake for effective advertising.

In this case, there’s absolutely no reference to the brand or the benefits it provides until the commercial is three-quarters complete.  Even then, you hear the AT&T name a grand total of one time as part of a rapid-fire voiceover that is virtually indiscernible.  This campaign doesn’t sell; it merely entertains.  And it does a marvelous job of entertaining.  The campaign is brilliantly cast; the guy is dryly hysterical, and every one of the kids is very cute, charming and funny.  But while the campaign is doing viewers a favor by providing free entertainment, it’s doing AT&T no favors.

This is what happens when ads are written by people who would rather be working on a sitcom than on an ad campaign.  (To be fair, I don’t know for a fact that this is the case with this campaign, but it certainly fits an all-too-common pattern.)

And frankly, if the people who created this campaign were to ever develop a sitcom, I’d want to see it.

I just wouldn’t want to see them doing my advertising.

The Winner of the Super Bowl is. . . Tide!

February 4th, 2013 by admin No comments »

Normally I’m not a fan of TV commercials that don’t mention the brand name until the very end, but I’ll make an exception for this commercial run by Tide in last night’s Super Bowl.

The commercial is brilliant for two reasons.  First, it’s extremely well-produced and fun to watch; it grabs–and entertains–its audience from start to finish.  Second, and more important, the drama of the spot is focused on Tide’s reason for being: removing stains.

In other words, unlike so many Super Bowl ads, this ad wasn’t entertaining for the sake of being entertaining; it was entertaining in order to dramatize the product’s effectiveness.  That’s what I call StrategiCreativity®: a very creative execution build upon a strong strategic foundation.

As I look back on last night’s commercials as a group, I’ll remember them as one of the worst in Super Bowl history.  But Tide’s brilliant commercial came close to removing the stain of that memory.

A “Booking” BRILLIANT Idea . . . Or Is It?

January 25th, 2013 by admin No comments »

Initially I had mixed emotions about this TV commercial for booking.com, which bills itself as “Planet Earth’s #1 Accommodations Site.”

On the one hand . . . It grabs your attention and does a spectacular job of leveraging–and registering–its brand name seven times in sixty seconds, which is critical for a brand that’s relatively new to the US market.  It also does a nice job of visually demonstrating the benefits it apparently provides its customers.

On the other hand . . . Much of the impact described above is due to its intentional and frequent use of the word “booking”  in place of an “f word” that almost rhymes with “booking.”  While I personally find this to be pretty clever, and I think a lot of people will find it entertaining, I also suspect that a lot of people will find it offensive.

So is it a brilliant idea or not?  If–as I suspect–booking.com is consciously targeting younger, liberally-oriented consumers who like an edgy approach, then I think it is.  However, they need to realize–as I again suspect they do–that they’ll be turning off a number of older and/or conservative consumers who will find this spot to be in extremely poor taste.

The essence of effective marketing is knowing your target audience, doing whatever it takes to thrill them, and not worrying about what people you aren’t targeting think.  As the late advertising legend Hal Riney once told me, “When you try to appeal to everybody, you usually end up appealing to nobody.”

And the more I think about it, the more I think Hal would have found this commercial to be “booking” awesome!

Latest Subway Ad a Real Turkey

January 21st, 2013 by admin No comments »

The only thing worse than not being clever is thinking you’re clever when you’re not.  Exhibit A:  this latest TV commercial for Subway, one of the least clever advertisers on the planet.

Do Subway’s executives, or their ad agency, actually think the phrase “Turkeytopia” is clever?  Worse yet, do they think their audience thinks it’s clever?

If we’re to believe this ad, Ndamukong Suh, one of the celebrity athletes featured in this spot, finds the phrase absolutely hysterical.  Then again, he thinks it’s fine to stomp on an and maim opposing players on the football field, so his judgment is suspect to say the least.

Speaking of questionable judgment, who thought it was a good idea to feature Suh–the NFL’s dirtiest player with numerous off-the-field mishaps as well –in this commercial?  Generally speaking, the rule of many hapless advertisers seems to be, “If you don’t have a creative idea, use a celebrity.”  As it is wont to do, Subway was so lacking in creativity that it decided to use three celebrities in this spot.  Thus, not only is the commercial totally lacking in cleverness, it’s also unnecessarily expensive.

I’ve always liked Subway as a provider of reasonably healthy and tasty fast food, but I’ve never understood why they can’t get it together from an advertising standpoint.

And if Subway doesn’t like the opinions I’m expressing, they can Suh me.