Archive for the ‘public relations’ category

Bully for Red Bull!

October 16th, 2012

Your brand is much more about what you do than what you say, and not many companies embrace that notion more than Red Bull.

For years Red Bull has done an impressive job of reinforcing its edgy, high-energy brand image by sponsoring a variety of edgy, high-energy publicity initiatives, but they really topped themselves with their sponsorship of daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s recent space jump from a height of 24 miles.  

I mean, what could possibly be a better way to bring to life their tagline of “Red Bull Gives You Wings”?

What’s so admirable about this is the risk they were willing to take, and I’m not talking about the reported $7 million they spent on the program over the past several years.  I’m talking about the damage that might have been done to their brand equity had Mr. Baumgartner’s jump had a tragic outcome.

However, this is clearly a smart company willing to take smart risks.  They obviously knew that the scientists and engineers planning the jump knew what they were doing, so that the risk–while not zero–was not irresponsible.  And they also knew that companies that aren’t willing to take smart risks aren’t likely to earn above-average returns.

As happy as I was for Mr. Baumgartner for his safe–and impressively upright–landing, I was equally happy for Red Bull.  Theirs was a brilliant collaboration, and they both certainly earned their wings–not to mention the financial and other rewards they’re likely to reap in the months and years to come.

The Ultimate Weiner Joke

June 2nd, 2011

If it’s true that politicians are the ultimate marketers, then Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York just might be the worst marketer in the country .  Mr. Weiner is getting exceptionally negative news coverage these days due to a compromising tweeted photo that he says (a)  may or may not be of him and (b) was tweeted from his Twitter account by a hacker.

If we assume for a moment that the pathetic photo is not of him, the congressmen must still be faulted for appearing to be guilty by :

  • Failing to notify the authorities that his account was hacked.
  • Failing to state “with certitude” that the photo is not of him.
  • Answering virtually every media question with a style so disingenuous and evasive that he comes across as an actor parodying the stereotypical dishonest politician.
  • Exhibiting an extremely testy and dislikable demeanor.

If, of course, it turns out that he is in fact the person  featured in the tweeted photo, the congressman is additionally guilty of being both a pig and a liar.

I have absolutely zero inside knowledge, but based solely on Congressman Weiner’s behavior in front of the cameras, there is no doubt in my mind that the photo is in fact of him, and that the reason he didn’t involve the authorities is that he knew that this would come out in an investigation.  I also suspect that as the facts come to light over the next few days, that Congressman Weiner will be forced to resign and that his political career will be over.

Anthony Weiner was considered to be a viable candidate for the post of Mayor of New York City in the next election.  If he is guilty of being “the man in the boxers,” then it’s good for New Yorkers that they realized now, rather than later, that he lacks the integrity required for the job.  And if it turns out he really is innocent as he claims, then the manner in which he’s botched this public relations nightmare demonstrates that he’s neither smart nor savvy enough for the job anyway.

Sun Mountain Needs to Get Out of the Sun

October 3rd, 2010

Any golfers looking for a good price on rain gear will probably find plenty of half-price sales on the Sun Mountain line.

In case you’re not a golf fan, Sun Mountain outfitted the U.S. team with rain gear (jackets and pants) for the 2010 Ryder Cup competition against the European team.  As might be expected for early October in Wales, Sun Mountain got a wonderful chance to show off the performance of its product when it rained heavily on the first day of the event.  There was only one problem:  rather than repel the rain, the Sun Mountain rain gear actually absorbed it.  This led to understandable complaints from the American players that it was affecting their play, which was of course reported extensively by the TV and other worldwide media covering the competition.  To add fuel to the fire–or water to the flood–the American team went to the pro shop at the Celtic Manor club hosting the event and purchased the ProQuip brand rain gear worn by the European team–complete with the European team logo.

Normally it would be quite a coup for a golf product brand to get its line selected for use in the sport’s most-watched global event. Such product placement can have more impact and generate more exposure than millions of dollars worth of advertising.  But that assumes one thing:  that your product actually works.  If it doesn’t, it’s a disaster of monumental proportions.

As the owner of a marketing agency, I naturally have a deep appreciation for brilliant marketing initiatives.  However, the first rule of smart marketing is to make sure you have a product that works–ideally, one that works better than any of your competitors’.

Shame on Team USA for not doing its due diligence and making sure that the waterproof gear it selected was, you know, waterproof.  And shame on Sun Mountain for turning a potential marketing coup into a certifiable Waterloo.

Will Apple Admit That It Has a Worm?

July 15th, 2010

For the past several years, I’ve considered Apple to be the best marketing organization on the planet.  Their ability to anticipate–and, more impressively, create–consumer desires has been without parallel, as has their penchant for product design and advertising.  Now, however, we’ll get a chance to see how good they are at crisis management.

As this Wall Street Journal article shows, it seems clear that Apple’s vaunted product design team–including legendary co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs–dropped the ball in developing Apple’s new iPhone 4.  The otherwise well-reviewed device appears to have reception problems that result from a faulty antenna design that wasn’t subjected to adequate testing.

Surprisingly–and disappointingly–Apple’s initial reaction was to cavalierly suggest that the problem was the result of users holding the phone improperly.  They then copped to a software glitch, which they inexplicably tried to minimize by suggesting that it affects their earlier-generation iPhones as well.  And now both explanations are being challenged by Consumer Reports, which claims the problems are hardware-related.

Whatever the truth is–and all signs seem to support Consumer Reports’ side–Apple had better be completely forthcoming from this point forward or its credibility, and its brand equity, will take a serious hit.  Apple and Mr. Jobs have been on an infallibility streak for several years, so admitting they’ve screwed up will hurt.  But Apple’s fans–and prospective future consumers–will forgive imperfection much more readily than dishonesty or cowardice.

Apple has produced millions of sweet, crisp, juicy products that have thrilled millions of consumers–including me–and in the process created a company worth more than Microsoft or General Electric.  But if they don’t start displaying more candor, humility and urgency in confronting this rare misstep, they run a real risk of letting this one bad Apple spoil the bunch–not to mention a bunch of brand equity.

GM’s Mr. Ed Has No Cred

April 30th, 2010

I think it’s fair to say that for decades General Motors has been fairly widely perceived as an ineptly-managed, money-losing manufacturer of unattractive, poorly-performing vehicles.  Moreover, most of its executives–from Roger Smith (memorialized in “Roger and Me”) through Rick Wagoner (memorialized not only for taking a private jet to the 2008 congressional hearings but for being so bad at his job that the President of the United States effectively fired him)–have come across as being woefully out-of-touch with the desires and morals of the American consumer.  If any company is in dire need of an image makeover, it’s GM.

The good news is that–thanks largely to the legendary and recently-retired Bob Lutz–the designs and quality of their vehicles are greatly improved.  The bad news is that sales haven’t responded as positively as had been hoped.  And I think one big reason is that the company is doing a lousy job of telling its story to the public.

What’s worse, their latest TV commercial is a serious step backward.  The first problem is that the star of the commercial isn’t their new technology or stylish new designs, but Chairman Ed Whitacre.  While the jury is still out on the job he’s doing leading GM out of bankruptcy, the jury is in on the charge that he reinforces every possible negative stereotype about GM.  And the verdict is: “Guilty!”

If GM’s message is that it’s transformed itself into a hip, exciting, state-of-the-art innovator, it couldn’t have picked a worse spokesman than a largely unknown 68-year-old in a Brooks Brothers suit and a monotonous Texas drawl.  In 1981, Lee Iacocca was the exact right person to star in Chrysler commercials; Chrysler’s stability was very much in question, and  car industry legend Iacocca gave the company instant credibility.  In 2010, Ed Whitacre could be the exact wrong person to star in GM commercials; America knows little about him, other than that he looks and sounds like just another out-of-touch GM executive.

And what makes the situation dramatically worse is the revelation that Mr. Whitacre’s boasting about GM’s repaying its government loan is misleading at best and dishonest at worst. For Mr. Whitacre to bless–let alone star in–this commercial raises huge doubts about both his judgment and his ethics.  So at a time when GM desperately needs to rebuild its long-eroding credibility, this ad could–and perhaps should–send GM’s brand equity plummeting to an all-time low.

GM founder Alfred Sloan once infamously said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”  If that’s true, then I think I speak for all Americans when I say that Mr. Whitacre needs to remove himself from GM commercials, and maybe from its executive suite as well.

That’s the Spirit…NOT!!!

April 7th, 2010

Spirit Airlines will go down in PR history for making one of the all-time moronic marketing moves:  announcing that it plans to charge passengers up to $45 for each article of carry-on luggage.  The story has been featured prominently today on virtually every national, regional and local television news program, and it will certainly be covered extensively on every other news medium in the country over the next 24-to-48 hours.

Never mind that Spirit offers extremely reasonable airfares; the company will henceforth be known as the jerks who dreamed up the idea of charging for carry-ons, and possibly for giving many other airlines an excuse to do the same thing.  (I say “possibly” because the public outcry has been great enough that other airlines may decline to follow suit.)   I suspect that much of the population had never heard of Spirit before, but they certainly know them now.

I certainly understand that most airlines are in severe financial trouble and need to find new ways to eke out a profit, but Spirit couldn’t have landed on worse solution.  Every consumer I’ve seen interviewed–as well as many of the anchorpeople reporting the news –are absolutely outraged at this decision.  After all, carry-ons have helped us avoid four major hassles associated with flying–damaged luggage, lost luggage, time wasted at the baggage claim, and fees for checking luggage–and now Spirit has the audacity to mess with this.

If Spirit wanted to enhance their revenues, they should have silently raised their airfares, which they could have done without jeopardizing their positioning as one of the lowest-cost airlines.  Few people would have noticed, and it certainly wouldn’t have been headline news.  And had United, American or some other larger competitor decided to test the waters of charging for carry-on luggage, Spirit could have gauged the public’s reaction before deciding whether to follow suit.

But now Spirit has taken a huge, self-inflicted hit to its brand equity, a hit from which it may never fully recover.

It’s great to innovate, but your innovations should be based on things you hope your customers will love rather than ones you know they’re going to hate.  In other words, you have to be smart enough to recognize an idea that isn’t going to fly–and especially one that’s going to crash and burn.

Toyota PR Efforts in Need of a Recall

February 6th, 2010

The public relations challenge currently being faced by Toyota is perhaps the greatest one faced by a major corporation since the Tylenol catastrophe in 1982. But while Johnson & Johnson deservedly received rave reviews for its forthright and expeditious handling of their situation, I have been far less impressed with Toyota’s response to date. In particular, I don’t think they’re giving the public the sense that they’re moving as quickly as possible to fix the cars on the road, or that they’re passionately determined to discover and address whatever flaws in their manufacturing processes allowed these problems to occur in the first place.

I give Toyota USA president Jim Lentz good marks for making himself available to the media, but low marks for his performance in front of the cameras. He comes across as a nice, mild-mannered, slightly nervous guy, and I don’t think that’s what consumers want to see. I think they want to see a leader with a passionate sense of urgency. Imagine how Lee Iococca–in his prime–would have handled this. I’m pretty certain he would have left viewers thinking, “Wow! There’s going to be hell to pay at Toyota until every single problem has been fixed, and I don’t think we have to worry about this situation ever happening again!”

In much of his Today Show interview with Matt Lauer, Mr. Lentz came across as a politician who had been coached–as he surely was–to not give any direct answers. While I realize that he has to be careful of what he says for legal reasons, that’s hardly an approach likely to build trust with your audience. What’s worse, in other parts of the interview he ignored this coaching and made self-incriminating statements without appearing to realize it. For example, he acknowledged that Toyota had known about one problem since October, but he didn’t go on to say what they’ve been doing to address the situation since then. As a result, he left the viewer with the (presumably inaccurate) feeling that Toyota simply ignored the problem–and put its customers at risk–for several months.

On February 5, Toyota uploaded a video to YouTube showing Mr. Lentz at a Toyota dealership announcing that repair parts are now being delivered to service departments. There are several problems with this piece. First, Mr. Lentz looks very unnatural walking through the service area, awkwardly gesturing repeatedly with his left hand like he’s dribbling an invisible basketball. Second, behind Mr. Lentz we see dozens of Toyota cars being repaired for unrelated problems, which doesn’t exactly reinforce the notion of Toyota’s high quality. And third, the video ends with a repairman making a repair to a faulty accelerator pedal. Inexplicably, there’s no narrator to explain what he’s doing, and he looks rather unsure of himself as he installs a part that presumably will correct the problem. It would be nice if there were a straightforward, impressive “before and after” demonstration, but there isn’t. In fact, I was left wondering, “Is that the fix? Seriously?”

Don’t get me wrong; Toyota is in a no-win situation, and it’s going to be difficult for them to look good no matter what they do. But an effective public relations effort can minimize the damage currently being self-inflicted upon the brand equity they’ve worked so hard to build over the past several decades. Unfortunately, the quality of their damage control is not much better than the apparent quality of their accelerator pedals.

Bearish on the Bull

March 12th, 2009

The outrageous bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch executives despite the company’s devastating financial troubles–and resulting bailout from the U.S. taxpayer–have raised the ire of New York’s state attorney general, not to mention millions of Americans. One can only wonder what the long-term effects will be on what was arguably one of the most respected and trusted brands in the financial services world.

To quote Andy Sernovitz, author of the brilliant book Word of Mouth Marketing (, “Marketing isn’t what you say; it’s what you do.” And from now on, no matter what Merrill Lynch says to us in their advertising, public relations and other forms of marketing communications, I’m guessing that their ill-advised actions in the fall of 2008 will always speak louder than those words. It could takes years, and even decades, for this company to recover its credibility and trust.

Turns out that a bull was an even better symbol for Merrill Lynch than anyone had realized.