Archive for April, 2009

Amazon Not Afraid to Play with Fire

April 27th, 2009

Amazon recently announced financial results that virtually any company would die for, and it’s hardly a surprise. This is a company that possesses not only a crystal clear vision but an exceptional ability to execute. But for all the well-deserved praise they’ve received over the years for being the world’s most innovative online retailer, I don’t think they’re receiving all the praise they deserve for their bold launch of the highly innovative Kindle and Kindle 2 wireless reading devices.

I don’t own a Kindle (yet), and I realize that it has its critics, but I also know a lot of people who are head-over-heels in love with their Kindle. One of the most impressive aspects of the Kindle story is the fact that Amazon didn’t wait until the products were perfect before launching them. Rather, they gave it their best shot, introduced it to the market, listened to user feedback, and acted on it. As a result, the Kindle 2 represents dramatic advances over its predecessor, and I have no doubt that the same will be true of the Kindle 3.

It takes a lot of audacity to launch a product as technologically challenging as a wireless reading device, especially when you make a good part of your living selling paper-based books. Amazon, however, clearly realized that sooner or later someone would launch such a product, and it’s far better to cannibalize yourself than to let someone else eat away at your market share. Moreover, given the deep insights Amazon has into into its customer base, I suspect that they felt the Kindle would increase overall book readership rather than merely cannibalize paper-based book sales.  And from some of the reports I’ve read, it appears that Amazon was right.

While I doubt that I would have come up with “Kindle” had I been given the naming assignment for this innovative new product (given that the name is associated primarily with igniting fires and bearing offspring), I think the name works quite well. It has a pleasant, comfortable feeling to it, and congers up images of cozying up to a warm fire with a good book. Or maybe even a good wireless reading device.

Healthy Choice Makes a Dumb Choice

April 20th, 2009

Healthy Choice recently introduced a new ad campaign, and they’ve done the nearly impossible: they’ve made Julia Louis-Dreyfus unappealing. More important, they’ve made their brand unappealing.

In what is apparently and inexplicably intended to be a clever continuing story line, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus is considering becoming the line’s spokesperson. In the first of the two ads I’ve had the misfortune of seeing, the riveting story line is that she’s been asked to be the Healthy Choice spokesperson and is not interested. How this is supposed to reflect on the brand escapes me. Meanwhile, there are no appetizing shots of the product to make viewers’ mouths water, so you’re left with absolutely no reason to like the brand or want the product.

The second commercial shows Ms. Louis-Dreyfus literally stuffing her face with a Healthy Choice meal while a friend (Jane Lynch, another great comedic actress) asks her if she’s decided whether to take on the spokesperson role. (Answer: she’s not sure!) It’s not funny or clever, and the food falling out of Ms. Louis-Dreyfus’s mouth is certainly not appetizing, so once again viewers (if they’re still watching this trainwreck of a commercial) are left to ponder, “Exactly why is this supposed to make me want to buy Healthy Choice?”

The use of a celebrity in an advertising campaign is usually the sign of a company that can’t think of anything interesting or compelling to say about its products. More often than not, the celebrity looks good, and the product gets lost. In this case, only the second part is true.

Sometimes it takes a new campaign a few executions to find its stride, but these two executions are so poorly conceived and executed that it would take one of the great comebacks in advertising history for that to happen here. The more likely outcome is a serious dent in Healthy Choice’s brand equity–not to mention Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s.

Sony: Like Every Other

April 17th, 2009

A headline in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal read, “At Sony, Culture Shift Yields a Low-Cost Video Camera.” In essence, Sony has decided to launch a low-cost camcorder to compete with the Flip camcorder, which was launched three years ago. Sony’s product, called the Webbie, not only has no meaningful competitive advantage over the Flip, it has two major disadvantages: it’s available in only 3 colors, versus hundreds for the Flip, and it cannot be personalized with the customer’s own images.

This announcement is yet further confirmation of just how far Sony has fallen from the days when it was considered not only the most innovative electronics company in the world, but a brand that warranted a significant price premium. Back then, the tagline “Sony. The one and only.” was both memorable and truthful. Unfortunately for Sony fans–and investors–the company decided about 20 years ago to get into the movie business. As so often happens with dramatic diversification moves like this, the company soon lost focus, and its vaunted innovation soon disappeared. Think about it: what’s the last big idea Sony brought to the market? The Walkman? (Speaking of which, when’s the last time you used a Walkman, let alone bought one?)

Around the time it was losing its capability for innovation, Sony also lost its penchant for marketing, opting to replace the catchy and ownable “Sony. The one and only.” with the utterly forgettable “Sony. Like no other.” Sadly, Sony now seems content to act like every other consumer electronics company by simply knocking off the market leader and competing on price. What’s worse, it clearly hasn’t even mastered the art of knock-offs, as its new entry is an inferior product…and a few years late. That’s not great news for Sony customers, and it’s worse news for Sony investors.

Don’t Get Cute…And Don’t Refute!

April 10th, 2009

Have you ever tried to be cute or funny at the end of a conversation, only to wish you’d kept your mouth shut? Too many TV and radio commercials make that mistake, the most recent example being the Stanley Steemer carpet cleaning service.

After roughly 25 seconds of telling you what a great job Stanley Steemer will do cleaning your carpet, the commercial ends by showing a female customer saying with a slight laugh, “If only it would stay that clean.”  Now WHY would they have her say that? Why encourage the viewer to think, “That’s a good point–Why spend all that money when the carpet is just going to get dirty again?” Granted, not everyone will respond to the line this way, but some might. So why take the chance?

it’s essential that advertisers scrutinize every line of copy for any potential downside.  And if there is potential downside, the only way the line should survive is if it entails even greater upside. In the case of the Stanley Steemer ad, the closing line does not contribute one iota of charm or humor; it’s all downside with zero upside, and thus it should never have been proposed by the agency or approved by the client.

Lord knows that customers can think of all sorts of reasons not to buy your product on their own; there’s absolutely no reason to sow any seeds of doubt that might grow into additional reasons for them to take a pass. And remember–If you’re going to try to be cute at the end of your commercial, you’d better be sure you’re reinforcing your message rather than refuting it.

Nothin’ But Net!

April 6th, 2009

As I was ranting about the latest Burger King advertising disaster during the NCAA championship basketball game, I saw two other ads that more than made up for that sad experience.  One was a brilliant ad featuring classic college basketball footage of Bill Walton, Dwayne Wade, Michael Jordan and others while legendary coach John Wooden recites a touching poem about the importance of not disappointing those who look up to you. The ad does one thing I normally don’t like–it doesn’t reveal the advertised brand until the very end of the spot–but the ad is so engrossing that it makes you want to see what wonderful advertiser has entertained you so richly. (It was Gatorade, by the way.)

The other ad was for Guitar Hero and featured current and former college coaches Bobby Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Digger Phelps wearing guitars, dressed in long-sleeved shirts and underwear ala Tom Cruise in “Risky Business”, and engaged in a lively debate with the heavy metal band Metallica. It very effectively made the point that Metallica’s music is now available for Guitar Hero, while making you laugh out loud in the process.

And unlike the inane Burger King Kids Meal ad, both the Gatorade and Guitar Hero ads made perfect sense sponsoring a college basketball game. In other words, while Burger King shot yet another air ball, Gatorade and Guitar Hero hit nothin’ but net!

I Hate Bad Ads and I Cannot Lie

April 6th, 2009

Who’s minding the store at Burger King?  During halftime of the NCAA championship basketball game I had the deep misfortune of being exposed to their latest trainwreck of a TV commercial. It’s hard to say what was more moronic: the fact that they were advertising a Kids Meal product at 10:25 pm Eastern time, or the utter tastelessness of the advertisement.

The opening line of this kid-targeted ad is “I love square butts and I cannot lie.”  The last line is “Booty is booty.”  In between there’s a bunch of rapping by the most unimaginative mascot in the advertising industry, and a plethora of young women shaking their square butts in a misguided homage to Square Bob Sponge Pants.

I can’t for the life of me tell what audience Burger King is targeting. If it’s kids, that’s shameful. if it’s parents, that’s idiotic. About the only plausible explanation I can come up with is that Burger King’s advertising agency was trying to entertain their twenty-something friends. And if that’s the case, all I can say is they need to find new friends…and that Burger King needs to find a new advertising agency.

GM: Godawful Marketers

April 6th, 2009

Is it any wonder GM is about to choose between going bankrupt and becoming a ward of the state?

Smart companies use their advertising to creatively persuade you that their innovative products can solve your problems; dumb companies use their advertising to try to fool you into thinking that their imitative products are as good as their competitors.  And really dumb companies take cheap shots at their competitors.  The latest Chevy ad sets a new low–which is saying something, by the way–by comparing several of its vehicles to Honda’s on mileage and then poking fun at the fact that Honda also makes lawnmowers. The smirk on spokesman Howie Long’s mug is pathetic, leaving you wondering (a) why Chevy is feeling so cocky, and (b) why it thinks unfounded cockiness is an appealing trait.  Incidentally, this ad falls on the heels of a Chevy truck ad in which Mr. Long belittles an innovative feature on a Toyota truck.

As any marketer worth his or her salt knows, companies that aren’t clever enough to find something positive to say about themselves will resort to saying something negative about their competition.  Detroit has been taking potshots at their overseas competitors for years, and for virtually all of those years Detroit’s market share has continued to plummet.  Hmmmm…Does anyone else see a pattern here?

As a taxpayer, the last company I would want to own is General Motors.  On the other hand, if Honda were to become available…