Archive for the ‘brand image’ category

Ping Quietly Scores an Ace

January 29th, 2011

It’s always impressive when a company performs a sincere act of generosity, particularly when they don’t call attention to it.  And it’s better yet when, despite the lack of self-promotion, consumers somehow find out about the generous deed.

I recently received an email about a wonderful program in which Ping provides a full set of golf clubs to military veterans who participate in the Wounded Warrior Project.  As this article explains, Ping modifies their clubs so they can be used by these heroes regardless of whatever appendages they might be missing.

Now emails like the one I received are making their way to golfers everywhere, making them aware of Ping’s admirable actions and suggesting that it might be nice to reward Ping by making them the brand of choice when it’s time to buy a new driver or set of irons.

My only hesitation in giving Ping high marks for a powerful public relations coup is that it suggests this was a conscious–and exceptionally clever–attempt to build their brand equity rather than a sincere and selfless effort to thank these veterans who have given so much for their country.

Ultimately, I decided that whether Ping is being exceedingly clever or exceedingly generous, they are more than deserving of a rave review.

The Big Ten Needs a Bigger Idea

December 14th, 2010

We’ve known for some time that the Big Ten Conference wasn’t great at either math or communications.  After all, for years this eleven-team conference has inexplicably continued to call itself “The Big Ten”, and they’re sticking with their name even though they’re about to add a twelfth team.  I can certainly understand wanting to maintain your brand name and brand equity, but when your brand name describes the composition of your product (like the number of teams composing the conference) and that composition changes, it seems to me that the name has to change as well.  Otherwise, you just look foolish, and while you’re maintaining your brand name, you’re diminishing your brand equity.

Well, the small minds at the Big Ten offices have done it again:  they’ve just launched a very uninspiring logo (above), and they’ve named the two divisions within the conference “Legends” and “Leaders”.  The logo will surely generate mostly yawns, while the division names are guaranteed to be met with hoots and hollers.  Most conferences use geographic terms–like “North” and “South” or “East” and “West”– to designate their divisions, but the Big Ten can’t because they chose not to organize their divisions on a geographic basis.

Admittedly, coming up with appropriate names that aren’t geographically-oriented is quite a challenge, but I’ll give it a whack.  Given that there are six teams in each division, how  about “Six of One” and “Half a Dozen of Another”?  No?  How about these division names:

  • “Abbott” and “Costello”
  • “Hall” and “Oates”
  • “Captain” and “Tennille”
  • “Yin” and “Yang”
  • “Mac” and “PC”
  • “PC” and “Non-PC”
  • “Rock” and “Roll”
  • “Run” and “Pass”
  • “Hut One” and “Hut Two”

While I’m at it, how about some new equity-preserving names for the conference itself that retain “Big” and “Ten” without being misleading:

  • “The Big Ten-Plus-Two”
  • “The Bigger-Than-Ten”
  • “The Big Greater-Than-or-Equal-to-Ten”
  • “The Big Tension”

Okay, maybe we’re not quite there yet. I’ll keep working on it, but in the meantime, I do have a tagline for them:

“The Big Ten:  12 on a 10-Scale”

Nike Should Just Stop It

April 8th, 2010

For decades Nike has been one of the most creative and effective advertisers on the planet, but I think they hooked one out of bounds with their latest  Tiger Woods commercial.   It shows Mr. Woods blankly staring at the camera while he ostensibly listens to his late father.

Earl Woods’ words, obviously recorded in a different context but made to seem as if they’re about his son’s well-publicized extra-marital affairs, are:  “Tiger…I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion.  I want to find out what your thinking was…I want to find out what your feelings are…and did you learn anything.”

I think that this is a mistake for both Nike and its most famous spokesman for three reasons.  First, given that Mr. Woods has repeatedly insisted that his marital infidelities are a private matter, this very public commercial is extremely hypocritical.  Second, Earl Woods’ words suggest that  people shouldn’t be so fast to pass judgment on his son until they’ve heard his side of the story–as if anything Tiger could say could possibly justify his alleged affairs with 17 women. Third, when Nike and Tiger should be doing everything possible to make this four-month episode fade away from the public consciousness, this commercial has only served to attract extra attention and controversy.

Nike is one of the few sponsors that didn’t abandon Mr. Woods following the revelations about his many infidelities; given their tremendous investment in him, I think that was the right decision.  But I believe that will continue to be the right decision only if it becomes increasingly clear that Mr. Woods is sincerely remorseful for his indiscretions and determined to get his life back on a healthy moral track.  Unfortunately, this commercial makes me question the sincerity of his remorse, and the quality of Nike’s judgment.

Having said that, I gave this commercial a rating of  “2nd floor”, rather than “basement”, because I have to give Nike some credit for having the courage to run this provocative commercial.  In the 1980s people thought Nike was crazy to run commercials without making any reference to the Nike brand (other than its now-famous “swoosh”), and it turned out Nike knew exactly what it was doing.  Maybe time will show that this latest commercial was an equally brilliant stroke.

But I’m betting that the advertising history books will show that, at least in this case, Nike should have taken a mulligan.

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.

Jonathan Adler’s Capitalist Manifesto

March 23rd, 2010

jonathan adler
I would never admit it publicly–like in a blog or something–but my wife Mary has introduced me to many interesting things over the years that I would likely never have discovered on my own. These include various foods, restaurants, books and retail establishments, some of which I end up liking at least as much as she does. A great example of this is Jonathan Adler, a one-of-a-kind retailer of pottery, furniture, rugs, lamps, art, candles and other household items. While not everything they carry is a match for my personal tastes (which is a good thing for them, BTW), I could not be more impressed with the job they’ve done creating and maintaining their branding.

Have you ever noticed how often the most successful companies are a manifestation of their founder’s personality and vision? Just as Steve Jobs is Apple, Richard Branson is Virgin Atlantic, Jeff Bezos is Amazon and Howard Schultz is Starbucks, Jonathan Adler is, well, Jonathan Adler. And Jonathan is not only a very talented designer and retailer, he is a brilliant marketer. Everything his company does–from the products they design or carry to the layout of their stores to the design of their website–exudes the same sense of style, cleverness, personality and, most of all, fun. This is a company that knows exactly what it is, and what it isn’t.

So how do they maintain this impressive consistency? Do they have a sophisticated Vision Statement or Mission Statement or both? Actually, they have something much better: a Manifesto. It’s the first page after their home page on their website, and it’s showcased on a large sign in all of their stores. And it does more to capture the essence of their company, their brand, than any Vision Statement or Mission Statement I’ve ever read.

The opening line of the Manifesto is, appropriately, the simplest and most powerful: “We believe your home should make you happy.” But the second line adds a little flavor to give you an even better sense of the uniqueness of this brand: “We believe that when it comes to decorating, the wife is always right. Unless the husband is gay.” The rest of this wonderfully-crafted document contains several other gems, including “We believe our lamps will make you look younger and thinner,” “We believe colors can’t clash” and “We believe our designs are award winning even though they’ve never actually won any.”

I love the fact that they share their Manifesto so transparently with customers–and prospective customers. I suspect that anyone reading it for the first time in one of their 12 stores will have one of two possible reactions: either “Uh, I think I’d better leave now,” or “I LOVE this place!!!” Which is to say that Jonathan Adler isn’t for everyone; it isn’t intended to be. That’s the essence of effective branding.

No, Jonathan Adler isn’t for everyone, but for your sake, I hope it’s for you.

Why Xfinity Is Anything But Comcastic

February 20th, 2010

It was recently announced that the company formerly known as “Comcast” will now be known as “Xfinity.” The ostensible rationale is that since the Comcast brand is associated with cable television, it is cannot effectively represent the expanded services the company is now starting to offer. Interestingly, company spokesmen also acknowledged that the company’s less-than-stellar reputation for customer service had reduced the consumer equity of the Comcast brand.

Okay, I understand the predicament they find themselves in, but I don’t think they have a smart solution. First of all, it doesn’t matter what they call the company if they don’t fix their problems with customer service. Assuming that they do fix those problems, it’s not clear to me that a name change makes sense. I have to believe it will cost tens of millions of dollars more to create awareness of the new brand than it would to tell the story that Comcast has dramatically improved its service. (Note: I wouldn’t say that if the Comcast name were an object of scorn or considered to be the universal symbol for bad service, but I don’t believe that to be the case. Rather, I suspect that most consumers would be willing to change their image of Comcast as long as the company gives them a legitimate reason to do so.)

Moreover, I don’t like the name “Xfinity.” It looks like a typo and sounds like a typo. There’s simply nothing interesting or clever about the name. Two similar but better choices right off the top of my head are “Nfinity” (which sounds like “infinity”) and “Dfinity” (which sounds like “divinity” and is a play on high definition).

To make matters even more confusing, the parent company is still going to retain the name Comcast, so the name they can’t wait to get rid of has been exhumed even before it gets buried.

What’s ironic about all of this is that I’ve always been a fan of their use of the phrase “It’s Comcastic!” To create an adjective that they could own was a brilliant stroke of marketing, and now the value of that trademark will soon be absolutely zero.

I just hope we’re not soon going to be subjected to ads exclaiming, “It’s Xfinitive!”

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.

Another Stellar Ad from Stella Artois

November 29th, 2009

When an ad is so good that both your wife and your best friend tell you to write a blog post about it, you know it’s something special. The ad in question is a visual stunner from Stella Artois that’s currently running–as far as I can tell–only in movie theaters.

Virtually everything in this exceptionally elegant commercial is white, with two exceptions: the gorgeous gold of the beer, and the brilliant red of the Stella Artois label. The ad accomplishes three things that ads in general, and beer ads in particular, rarely do: the product looks amazingly appetizing; the brand name is inescapable; and the brand image is beautifully enhanced.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an online link for the ad, which means you might have to go to a theater to see it. The good news is that based on the caliber of the movies coming out of Hollywood these days, the Stella ad will likely be much more entertaining and captivating than whatever flick you see. Here’s hoping you give the ad a “thumb’s up”–or, better yet, a “14th Floor”!

Short These Stocks

February 2nd, 2009

I’ve long had a theory that you could make a lot of money by shorting the stocks of companies that have really bad advertising–especially companies that run really bad advertising on the Super Bowl. My feeling is that if they’re making stupid decisions about something as important as how they present themselves to their potential customers, they’re probably making a lot of other stupid decisions, and sooner or later those decisions will negatively affect their financial performance and their stock price.

It takes a pretty effective commercial to generate enough incremental sales (and incremental gross profit) to justify spending $3 million or more on a 30-second exposure.  Of course, many will argue that an advertiser can reap other benefits from Super Bowl exposure–such as increased brand awareness and perhaps an improved brand image.
But Super Bowl ads are a huge crapshoot.  First of all, a high percentage of the viewers are drinking alcoholic beverages at loud parties that make it hard to hear most of the commercials.  Second, expectations are high from an entertainment standpoint, and if your commercial falls short of the bar, the criticism from both viewers and the media can be brutal.  And, perhaps most important, the premium placed on entertainment often means that the ads forget to communicate why the viewer should purchase the product being advertised. To me, the best (or worst) example of this over the years has been the Bud Light ads, which are usually hysterical but never give you a conscious (or even subconscious) reason to buy Bud Light over any other beer brand.  Sure, Bud Light is the number one light beer, but I suspect that’s driven by the superior quantity–rather than quality–of their advertising.
So what companies should you short based on yesterday’s ads?  My #1 choice would be Teleflora, for a tasteless ad that generated groans from the people I was with and focused on taking a shot at its competition rather than telling us why we should become a customer of Teleflora.  My #2 choice would be Cash4Gold, a sad ad that tried to be clever but missed by a mile. Given the nature of their business and the state of our economy, the company may succeed, but it won’t be because of their advertising.