Archive for May, 2009

The Most Interesting Ad in the World

May 28th, 2009

For some time now one of my favorite TV and radio advertising campaigns–both as a consumer and as a marketing professional–has been the Dos Equis “The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign. It is simply brilliant on several levels.

First–at least if my circle of buddies is any indication–it generates incredible word-of-mouth activity, as we giddily alert each other of new executions like tweens texting about the latest Jonas Brothers release. And its tagline, “Stay thirsty, my friends”, has become part of our vernacular.

Second, while being somewhat outrageous from an entertainment standpoint (“He is left-handed. And right-handed.”), it is actually refreshingly understated from a brand-sell standpoint. In contrast to ads that claim their product is the only one that should ever be–or is ever–consumed, Dos Equis is secure enough to have our Most Interesting Man say, “I don’t always drink beer. But when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.” Not “I only drink beer” or “I only drink Dos Equis.”  Of course, this makes perfect sense, as The Most Interesting Man in the World obviously has too many scruples to speak anything less than the unvarnished truth. In fact, I’ll bet he doesn’t even accept payment for appearing in the ads. Or if he does, he donates it to charity. Because, after all, he is…The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Third, the campaign works! Dos Equis sales are up significantly since the campaign started, despite a budget that’s a fraction of what the bigger brands spend. Anecdotally, the campaign motivated me to purchase Dos Equis for the first time in years, and I’m glad it did; I’d forgotten what a good beer it is. Which brings up a critical point: this campaign wouldn’t work for just any beer. Dos Equis has a distinctive flavor that isn’t for everyone. Once again, this makes perfect sense. I mean, you wouldn’t expect The Most Interesting Man in the World to drink Budweiser or Miller, would you?

Kudos–and thanks–to Dos Equis importer Heineken USA, and to the agency that developed the campaign, Euro RSCG Worldwide. Please keep satisfying our thirst for your most interesting advertising.

McCafé Advertsing: A Real Debaclé

May 26th, 2009

If the latest TV advertising from McDonalds’ McCafé coffees is any indication, this might be a good time to start buying stock…in Starbucks.

As everyone knows, McDonalds is targeting the Starbucks customer, which in and of itself might make sense if handled deftly. However, if they think their lame ads are going to appeal to the die-hard Starbucks lover, they’re apparently drinking immense quantities of kahlua and tequila along with their McCafé coffee.

Starbucks is many things, including extremely clever, and these new McCafé ads are anything but. In fact, they are possibly the least clever thing on TV right now; their inane conversion of “commute” to “commuté” (pronouced “comm-yu-tay”) and “cubicle” to “cubiclé” (pronounced “cue-bih-clay”) are not only neither amusing nor interesting, they’re virtual fingernails on a chalkboard.

The fact is that to make a serious dent in Starbucks’ market share, McDonalds needs to approximate or surpass not only the taste of Starbucks’ coffee but the cool aura of their brand image. From what I’ve heard, McCafé coffee tastes nothing like Starbucks’, and from what I’ve seen, they have even less of a chance of approaching the power of Starbucks’ brand equity.

In this economy, Starbucks is facing no shortage of significant challenges, but at this point it doesn’t look to me like McDonalds will be one of them.

Great. Marketing. Insight.

May 20th, 2009

One of the best TV commercials I’ve seen in a long time is the new “Beach” ad for the Honda Insight hybrid. If you haven’t seen it, please be my guest:

Everything about the ad is smart, which makes particular sense given that–in my opinion, anyway–driving a hybrid is a very smart thing to do. (My wife drives a Toyota Prius.) The visuals are very clever and engaging, and the background music is wonderfully infectious. In fact, it’s so good I had to find out more about the song. It’s title is “Honey Tree,” and the musician goes by the name of Mostar Diving Club.

Honda got everything right: The car looks great, the name is strategically appropriate, the tagline –”The hybrid for everyone”–nicely reinforces the car’s relatively low price, and the “clean and green” logo is–pardon the pun–a natural. Add it all up, and not only are you aware that there’s a new hybrid in town, but you come away feeling it features state-of-the-art technology and is fun to drive.

Were this a General Motors car (yeah, right!), the ad would surely focus on attacking the Prius. But it’s a Honda, and so it focuses on selling itself–and quite entertainingy at that. After all, when you’re smart enough to develop a product that has a good story to tell, you don’t need to resort to trashing your superior competitors.

How’s that for great marketing insight?

The King Is Dead. Long Live…McDonalds?!?

May 18th, 2009

A few weeks ago I ranted about Burger King’s latest horrendous TV ad in a post titled, “I Hate Bad Ads and I Cannot Lie.” I must admit that I just took some pleasure in reading an article titled “A Royal Headache at Burger King” in the May 25, 2009 Business Week. Among the many marketing gaffes cited by the article is the SpongeBobSquarePants ad that was the source of my ire. Now, as a result of this and other marketing misjudgments by Burger King and its ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Burger King’s sales are suffering while competitor McDonalds is experiencing relatively healthy growth.

Burger King’s franchisees are particularly furious about the SpongeBob ad, which prompted 10,000 letters from angry consumers (not to mention one post from an angry blogger) and failed to boost sales despite a big advertising budget.

To be fair to Burger King, any successful company has to take risks, and that sometimes includes running ads that at first blush might seem inappropriate but eventually have a positive impact. The key, however, is to be able to differentiate between those risks that are likely to pay off and those that will likely bomb. Unfortunately, Burger King and its agency have not been demonstrating that particular skill of late, and their franchisees and stockholders are now paying the price.

Can Starbucks Brew Effective Advertising?

May 11th, 2009

I’ve been a big fan Starbucks for many years. As a consumer, I love their coffee, their ambience, their music, their food, their other products and their service. As a businessperson who is in the brand loyalty business, I admire how loyal they’ve made me–and millions of others–to their brand. To me, Starbucks is about so much more than just coffee, and as a result, it is in a class by itself.

Even though my career has always revolved around advertising, I also love the fact that Starbucks was able to build their business on the basis of word-of-mouth support rather than conventional advertising. But now Starbucks, like so many other companies, is feeling the impact of a deep economic recession, and they’ve decided to lean heavily on advertising to help reverse their fortunes. From what I’ve seen so far, I like their strategy, but I’m not yet sure about their tactics. Their strategy is to counter attacks from lower-priced competitors like McDonalds not by slashing prices, but by communicating that they deliver excellent value because their higher pricing is accompanied by significantly higher quality. It’s always refreshing to see a company that maintains the courage of its convictions in tough economic times and holds the line on pricing rather than taking the easy and myopic way out by simply taking its prices down.

However, while I certainly endorse this strategy, I’m not sure Starbucks will be up to the task of effectively executing it. Their first print ad  features a feint image of a coffee bean sack and the headline, “Beware of a cheaper cup of coffee. It comes with a price.” There are two things that concern me about this ad. First, it’s not visually arresting.  Second, it focuses more on attacking the competition than on singing the praises of Starbucks.

Coming up with effective advertising is very hard, which is why you see so little of it. Starbucks is good at many things, but it’s never had to be good at advertising before. Perhaps they’ll figure it out, but the odds aren’t in their favor. Still, it will be interesting to watch their progress, and I’ll be rooting for them every step of the way.

Chivalry Lives!

May 6th, 2009

A brand’s tagline–like any form of communication–should be “ownable”. By that I mean that if you remove your brand name from a tagline and substitute a competitor’s name, the tagline should not be nearly as effective. If it is, it’s time to find a new tagline. (An example that I’ve blogged about before: “Sony. Like No Other.” is not ownable, whereas the tagline it replaced–”Sony. The One and Only.”–is.)  I would guess that roughly one tagline in ten is truly ownable, which is quite a commentary on the state of marketing today.

One notable–and noble–exception is the new tagline being used by Chivas Regal: “Live with Chivalry.” Brilliant! The line clearly was designed for this brand, and it would make little or no sense if used by another scotch brand–or any other brand, period. Chivalry is a classy word and a classy concept, and now it’s being associated–exclusively–with a classy brand.

One of Chivas Regal’s competitors, Johnny Walker, has also recently launched an ownable campaign under the “Keep Walking” theme. While the concept of “walking” might not have the cachet or the distinctive sound of “chivalry”, this is nonetheless a smart campaign that I would expect to strengthen Johnny Walker’s brand equity.

Two brands in the same category that understand the concept of ownability? I’ll drink to that!

Subway Chooses A Bad Way

May 1st, 2009

For months I’ve been considering a rant about Subway’s irritating “Five Dollar Footlong” ad campaign, but I never followed through because it seemed too easy of a target. However, their latest pathetic effort simply demands comment and condemnation.

A generation or so ago, it was common to be subjected to intentionally annoying advertising that was effective at getting viewers’ attention and, inexplicably, inducing a lot of those viewers to buy the product. A prime example: Ralston Purina’s “Meow Meow Meow Meow” campaign for Meow Mix. It was grating rather than great, but by all accounts it was effective. While the quality of advertising in general doesn’t seem to have progressed since then, at least these so-annoying-you-can’t-help-but-pay-attention campaigns seem to be less common. Unfortunately for all of us, Subway’s “Five Dollar Footlong” campaign is the exception; it’s now in its third or fourth incarnation, the latest of which is by far the worst of the bunch. It features what seems like dozens of individuals and groups attempting to sing a part of their exceptionally mundane theme song, with each being more off-key and obnoxious than the next. If you love the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard, you’ll love this advertising,

What particularly aggravates me–and this was true of their earlier versions–is when the people laugh like what they’re doing is really funny. What I want to know is, do Subway’s management and ad agency really think this is clever stuff? Or do they realize that it’s inane and annoying, but they simply don’t care because it’s somehow good for business? Speaking of which, while they may have data indicating the campaign is “working,” I firmly believe that whatever success they’re experiencing is due more to the millions of dollars they’re spending rather than the distinctly unclever advertising they’re spending it on. In fact, I have no doubt that a smarter, more endearing campaign would have an even greater impact. Unfortunately, it’s hard to be clever but easy to be annoying, and Subway has opted to make it easy on themselves…and hard on viewers. But there is no way their brand equity is not taking a hit as a result of the aural and visual pain they’re inflicting on current and prospective customers.

Marketing is about capturing the audience’s attention and then conveying a compelling message. There are lots of ways to capture my attention. A good way makes me go, “Hey, that’s really cool!” A bad way makes me go, “Ugh, that’s disgusting!” Unfortunately, Subway has chosen a bad way. A very, very bad way.