Archive for March, 2009

Great Value…Bad Brand

March 23rd, 2009

Wal-Mart recently announced its plans to market its Great Value house brand more aggressively, which certainly makes sense in light of the current economy.  What makes much less sense, however, is the Great Value brand name, which screams “I’m cheap!”

To be sure, the prices of this product line are low, so you could argue that the name accurately describes the product. However, it’s important that a brand bring more to the party than just accuracy; it should also bring some cachet or some form of attractive imagery, even when attached to a low-priced product.

What’s more, Wal-Mart has the luxury of not needing to reinforce the fact that this line is low-priced; anyone shopping at Wal-Mart will know that this is a house brand, and if there’s anything this house stands for, it’s low prices. Thus, rather than a name that screams  “I’m cheap!”, it would be far better to have one that screams “I’m smart!” (as in, “I’m smart enough not to waste money on premium-priced products that don’t deliver meaningfully better quality”). Possible names that come to mind include Smart!, Bright Choice, or even Wal-Smart.

The approach taken by Wal-Mart competitor Costco for its house brand is, although not pefect, much better. While its Kirkland brand doesn’t convey “I’m smart!” (it’s named for the city in which Costco is based), at least it doesn’t scream “I’m cheap!”

An i-Opening Experience

March 16th, 2009

My daughter’s iPhone locked up yesterday, so I went to to see if I could troubleshoot the problem. After a few minutes of trying to find the solution, I saw that I had the option of speaking to an Apple Expert. I provided the requested background information on the problem (which took about a minute), and clicked on “Submit”.

Miraculously enough, within 15 seconds, I was called by my Apple Expert! And no more than 2 minutes later, the iPhone was up and running, and I was a hero to my daughter.

To call this a refreshing experience would be an understatement of monumental proportions. Not only did I get to speak to a live human being, but it was within seconds of submitting the request. Oh, and the fact that the problem was solved quickly didn’t hurt, either.

According to Michael Treacy’s The Discipline of Market Leaders (one of my favorite business books), a company must excel at one of the three core strategic disciplines–Product Leadership, Operational Excellence or Customer Intimacy–and just be good at the other two. Those showoffs at Apple must have neglected to read the book, as my experience would suggest that they’ve decided to embrace all three.

To again quote from one of my other favorite business books, Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Marketing, “Marketing isn’t what you say; it’s what you do.” As if there were any doubt, Apple’s handling of my little problem reaffirms its position–in my mind, at least–as the world’s most formidable marketer.

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.

“CC” Gets a C-

March 8th, 2009

This weekend I’ve seen several ads for a new Volkswagen sedan that’s quite attractive and priced in the mid-$30,000 range. At first glance I thought I was looking at a new Lexus model, and a very stylish one at that. Unfortunately for Volkswagen, however, this handsome car has a very bland name:  the Volkswagen CC.

I’m all for brevity when it comes to most things–brand names, taglines, headlines, etc. But while “CC” is certainly concise, I don’t find it to be distinctive or interesting, especially for a car priced above what you’d normally associate with a Volkswagen. In fact, it could even confuse some people who assume its a reference to the car’s engine displacement (as in cubic centimeters).

I’m not saying this car is going to bomb because of a boring name, but I’m pretty sure they’d have a lot more buzz had the VW marketing “volks” brought their A game to the naming meeting.

Cool…But It’s Not Comcastic

March 7th, 2009

Comcast has recently launched a new ad campaign. The ads feature very cool and colorful animation surrounding a live action actor singing about the various things Comcast can do for you. While this campaign is clearly aimed at people who are younger than me, I really like it from a style standpoint. The music, while intentionally monotonous, is interesting, and the visuals are a real grabber.

Where I think they’ve missed the boat, however, is on substance and branding. First of all, it’s hard to understand the lyrics, and there’s so much happening visually that it’s hard to comprehend exactly what you’re seeing. As a result, halfway through the ad you find yourself thinking, “I know I’ve seen this before, but I can’t remember what it’s for.” And the ending doesn’t help your memory, because you never once hear the word “Comcast”; rather, the singer spells out “C-O-M-C-A-S-T”. If an advertiser is going to wait until the end of the commercial to reveal the brand–which is almost always a bad idea–it had better be revealed in a very powerful way. In this case, it isn’t.

What’s worse, the campaign doesn’t exploit what I’ve always thought was a brilliant non-word featured in previous campaigns:  “Comcastic”. That’s a word Comcast owns; no one else could ever use it, and I suspect that it has a lot of equity with consumers. Moreover, it’s a cool word that would complement the cool visuals and music.

Too often agencies seem much more focused on creating art than creating sales, which is why so many ads seem so hesitant to stress or even show the brand being advertised. It’s great to be entertaining, but only in the sense of finding an entertaining way to educate the viewer about why they should purchase the product being advertised.

In other words, it’s not enough to be cool; you need to be Comcastic!