Archive for January, 2009

The Brilliant Marketer You’ve Never Heard Of

January 31st, 2009

This morning I read an obituary about a man named Harry “Bud” Hildebrand, who owned and ran a sporting goods store for over five decades in a less-than-fashionable suburb of Chicago. By all accounts, the store enjoyed tremendous loyalty, and the reason seems clear:  Mr. Hildebrand understood that he was in the business of making customers happy.

While I suspect he would never have described himself this way, he was also a brilliant marketer who knew how to build a brand. There are three things in particular about the way he ran his store that fascinate me. First, he kept his desk in the middle of his store so he was accessible to his customers. Second, the back of the store featured pool and poker tables–for use, not for sale–that made the store “a place to hang out”, in the words of one long-time customer. And third, whenever a child visited the store for the first time, he would talk to them about their interests, disappear into the back room, and soon return and present them with a trophy that had their name engraved on it.  
I can only imagine how many times those children returned to that store over the years, or how many of their friends they told about the nice man who gave them their first trophy. I only wish I had had the good fortune of being a satisfied–and loyal–customer of Hildebrand Sporting Goods.
And isn’t it ironic that the last syllable of this brilliant marketer’s name is “brand”?

Brand Spanking Cool!

January 27th, 2009

Yesterday I was driving to a client meeting in Chicago, and within the space of two blocks I passed two great examples of branding.  The first was an optical shop I passed while driving on Division Street.  The store’s name:  d/vision.  The logo was very cool, and the only assumption I could make based on a clever name and an attractive logo was that this store must have some very stylish designs.  And when it’s time for me to shop for new specs, I won’t have any trouble remembering what street the store is on!

Two blocks later I saw an eye-catching billboard for a chain of bead stores called Beadniks.  The ad featured a great tagline: “Don’t worry–bead happy!” When I Googled the company, I found that they have two URLs: the expected, and the unexpected (and very cool)  This is clearly a company with a ton of personality–not to mention a passion for beads. I’m not currently in the market for their products, but if I ever decide to draw a bead on beads, I certainly know where to head!

Like a Bad Advertiser, State Farm Is There…Again!

January 25th, 2009

The other day a friend of mine said, “I love that new commercial where Lebron James joins the Cleveland Browns.”  I then asked him, “Whose ad is that?”, and he was stumped.   When I told him it was State Farm Insurance, he said, “Really? I’m seen it several times, and I had no idea it was a State Farm ad!”

This ad commits three unforgivable sins:  its story line has nothing to do with the product or service being advertised; it doesn’t mention the brand until the very end of the commercial; and it no doubt cost the advertiser a fortune in endorsement fees for a celebrity who steals the show from the brand. 
Of course, this isn’t the first time someone has remembered an ad and its featured celebrity but not the advertiser.  It happens all the time, but that should be no consolation for State Farm–which wasted a ton of money on this ad–or for its advertising agency–which did not earn whatever it was paid to produce it.  

Ty, That’s a Ly!

January 24th, 2009

It never ceases to amaze me how stupid smart people can be.  Ty, Inc., the ultra-successful makers of the Beanie Babies, presumably has some pretty bright people running the show. But the way they have mishandled the controversy over the launch of their “Marvelous Malia” and “Sweet Sasha” dolls sets a new low in corporate ignorance and arrogance.  And it puts a huge dent in Ty’s credibility and brand equity.

Their first mistake was to shamelessly try to exploit the popularity of the Obama daughters without seeking the permission of the Obama family (which, I suspect, would never have been granted had Ty had the courtesy to seek it).  Then, to make matters dramatically worse, they have insulted the intelligence of the media–not to mention their customers–by claiming that the dolls’ names were chosen not because they happen to be the names of the Obama daughters, but “because they are beautiful names.”
What a co-ink-i-dink!  The people at Ty in charge of doll names pick the two most beautiful names they can think of and, wouldn’t you know it, they just happen to be identical to the names of the First Daughters!  What are the odds?!?!
Perhaps Ty Warner and his PR people should make a field trip to a local theater watch the Academy Award-nominated “Frost/Nixon.”  If they do, they just might learn that sometimes the coverup is a bigger offense than the original crime.
In the meantime, will any objective customer or prospective customer of Ty ever again believe anything the company says?  Not if they’re smart.

No, Daddy!

January 22nd, 2009

I’m a big fan of Go Daddy’s services.  I use them for both of my websites as well as this blog. Their prices are extremely reasonable, and–amazingly–I virtually always get a live voice, within no more than a minute or two, whenever I call their support line.

I am not a fan of their marketing, however, for two reasons.  First, it’s blatantly sexist. It gratuitously features generic “Go Daddy Girls”, as well as attractive female celebrities like Candice Michelle (does she qualify as a celebrity?) and Danica Patrick.  Currently the website is excitedly hyping the new Go Daddy commercial that will air on the 2009 Super Bowl, reportedly featuring “Danica in the shower.”  (What is she thinking, by the way?  This is hardly going to get people to take her more seriously as a race car driver.) Said another way, Go Daddy comes across like a sister company of Hooter’s.
My second complaint is that too much of the website indulges the abundantly apparent ego of Go Daddy’s CEO/Founder, Bob Parsons. Mr. Parsons may well be a visionary when it comes to creating a building a successful company, but his brilliance does not extend to the arena of marketing.  His ads and website devalue his company’s brand equity, and probably have cost the company customers as well. Whenever I’m on the Go Daddy website, I have to remind myself that Bob’s last name is Parsons, not Guccione.
One of Mr. Parsons’ lieutenants (or family members or friends) needs to tell the emperor that he’s naked as a jaybird, and it ain’t a pretty sight.

The Audi-city of Dope

January 20th, 2009

I drive an Audi, and I love it. In fact, it gave me cause to create my first and only vanity plate:  HAUDI.  (It’s not so much a vanity plate as it is a friendly greeting to my fellow motorists!) But as smart as the folks at Audi are when it comes to designing cars, they just exercised some surprisingly poor judgment from a communications standpoint.

Today–January 20, 2009, Inauguration Day–Audi ran an 8-page insert in most major newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune to which I subscribe. The cover of this insert is very stark.  It reads:  “PROGRESS. It shapes. It changes. It leaves old ways behind. And brings new ways forward. It comes in many forms.  The big and the small. The historical and the personal. The social and the scientific. And while we may never see it coming, we most certainly know when it has arrived.” At the bottom of the page:  “January 20, 2009.”
This is clearly a reference to today’s historic inauguration of the first African-American president, Barack Obama. So when I opened the insert, I expected to see a sincere, well-worded message of congratulations to our new president, and perhaps some inspirational statement regarding the future prospects for our economy, our country and our world. Instead, I found seven pages that are all about Audi; there was absolutely no reference to the inauguration. What’s more, the few photos of Audi automobiles shown were quite unflattering.
So rather than making a classy move and scoring points with current and prospective customers by congratulating America on this momentous occasion, Audi is attempting to exploit the occasion.   And in doing so, they made their cars look bad and their management look worse.
Call it “The Audi-city of Dope.”

Like a Bad Neighbor

January 12th, 2009

I was just bored to tears–once again–by a commercial I’ve seen seemingly thousands of times and yet don’t understand.  It’s a State Farm commercial about fans anticipating and preparing for the upcoming Sunday NFL games.  The inane lyrics say things like “Hey Mr. Sunday” and “Lookin’ kinda fun day”.  Huh?!?! The spot ends with people in the stands holding cards forming the State Farm logo–I think. I qualify that last statement because–despite repeat exposure–I have only a hazy memory of this exceptionally unmemorable commercial.

In fact, when I heard the annoying song that starts the commercial, I looked up from my laptop because I was curious to see who the advertising assailant was. After all the times I’ve been exposed to the spot, I couldn’t for the life of me recall the advertiser.  A classic sign of a poorly designed piece of communication.
Beyond the lack of creativity, what bothers me most is the lack of any apparent strategic underpinning. What does any of this commercial have to do with insurance? What service exactly is State Farm advertising?  Are they saying they can insure you from getting hit in the face with a wayward field goal attempt?  
State Farm has been my insurance company for my entire life, and I’ve always been happy with their performance.  But this spot makes me long for the days of “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”…and wish that I could buy insurance protecting me from boring, inane, annoying advertising.

Surprised? Yeah.

January 10th, 2009

In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I just saw an excellent commercial from a company I blasted in a recent posting:  Burger King.  The ad was for a new, apparently very hot-and-spicy sandwich called the “Angry Whopper”, and it’s superb.  First of all, I love the product’s name.  The word “angry” is unexpected, edgy, full of personality, and–to use my favorite word–provocative.  The visual shots of the product look very appetizing, and the end of the spot–featuring a customer who has just taken a bite of his Angry Whopper filling his mouth under the ice machine–is not just funny but strategic.  I love the fact that the last thing you see is a powerful reinforcement of the product’s #1 benefit.

The strategic superiority of this commercial to Burger King’s commercial showing hamburger “virgins” preferring the Whopper over McDonald’s Big Mac cannot be overstated.  The latter takes a cheap shot at a competitor that has cleaned Burger King’s clock in the marketplace for decades; the former sings the praises of a truly unique new product without calling attention to or insulting the competition.
I suspect that this Angry Whopper commercial will make Burger King management and stockholders very happy.