Archive for September, 2009

J. Peterman Guilty of Brilliant Marketing

September 30th, 2009

This morning I received a brilliant email from J. Peterman, one of my favorite brands as well as one of my favorite marketers. The highly provocative headline in the subject line: PETERMAN DENIES WRONGDOING IN ECONOMIC UPSWING. Although I certainly suspected that this was a tongue-in-cheek communication, I simply had to immediately click on the email to see what this was all about.

The email claimed that the company had been accused of “single-handedly turning the economy around.”  It cited Mr. Peterman’s press conference denial that he lowered prices in an attempt to move the market, but then reveals his admission that there is a “secret web-only code” that gives special savings to participating customers. (Of course, I was able to click on that phrase and immediately link to their website and access the “secret code.”) It also quoted a respected (but anonymous) economist who speculated about J. Peterman’s success reflecting a “renewed public interest in unique, quality goods.”

Offering savings via discounts always entails the risk of damaging brand equity, particularly for a premium brand like J. Peterman.  But if economic conditions dictate that some temporary price reductions are necessary, you can certainly minimize the damage–and perhaps even reinforce your quality image–by taking a creative, amusing approach like this one.

If J. Peterman is ever charged with being a brilliant marketer, no jury in the world would ever acquit him.

Happy, Yeah! Effective, No!

September 15th, 2009

I’ve never been a fan of commercials that don’t say the name of the brand being advertised out loud. More often than not, these ads are developed by people who would rather be making movies or TV shows and want to minimize the commercial aspects of their wondrous creations. My feeling is, if you’re ashamed to be doing advertising, you shouldn’t be doing advertising.

To have a prayer of being successful with an ad that doesn’t mention the brand, you had better have very high-impact audio and video. The latest campaign from Howard Johnson has neither. The video consists of Mr. Bill-like animation, which evokes–to me, at least–notions of a cheap flea-and-cockroach-infested hotel room. And the audio consists largely of an unappealing song whose sole lyrics are, “Happy…yeah!” I’d probably heard this annoying commercial at least a dozen times over the past several weeks without having a clue as to what was being advertised. It was so bad I finally decided to pay attention just so I could see which advertiser was tormenting me.

I’m pretty sure this campaign isn’t going to make Howard Johnson’s target audience, or its shareholders, very happy.

The Bad Samaritan

September 15th, 2009

Have you seen the TV commercial where a guy picks up a stranded taxi driver and drives him to a service station? It seems like the kind act of a Good Samaritan, until the jerk driving the car decides to show off by taking an alternative route with numerous tight curves that allow him to bounce his poor passenger around in the back seat like a rag doll. The car owner’s snide smile and obnoxious behavior is essentially saying, “Hah, hah!  I drive this really hot car and you’re just a poor schmo driving a broken down taxi!”

The ad’s intent is presumably to demonstrate how impressed the taxi driver is with the car’s handling, but instead it just leaves you feeling sorry for the guy–and hating the guy who just gave him the joyride.

But this commercial isn’t just obnoxious; it’s also ineffective, and in three ways. First, in the “action footage,” the car appears to be going about 20 mph, which hardly wows the viewer. Second, the car’s design is squat and boring, which is a bad fit for the “hot car” positioning this ad is inexplicably shooting for. And third, it does a lousy job of communicating the brand. (The manufacturer is Suburu, by the way, although I’m still not sure what the model is even though I’ve seen the commercial at least six times.)

Effective marketing communications call attention to the brand, make you feel good about that brand, and impress you with what the product can do for you. This commercial fails miserably on all three counts.

If Suburu really wants to be a Good Samaritan to consumers–and its shareholders–it should park this commercial in the garage.

Taurus: A Hot Car By Any Other Name

September 13th, 2009

Ford CEO Alan Mulally made an executive decision over a year ago to resurrect the Taurus brand. While that might not be a mistake per se, what was a mistake was attaching that brand to a very stylish high-performance car that sells for up to $47,000.

The Taurus was a fairly strong brand over 20 years ago, as the then-stylish car won many design awards and for a time was the largest-selling car in America. However, for many years following its late 1980s heyday, the Taurus brand was attached to a series of uninspired models that, despite frequent deep discounts, sold so poorly that the brand was eventually unceremoniously retired.

Thus, while there is certainly some equity in the Taurus name, I suspect it has as much negative equity as positive equity. While I find the new design quite attractive, I would be much more interested in it if it had a new name that was as impressive as the vehicle itself.

Moreover, this seems to be a major opportunity lost for Ford. At a time when Ford, like its domestic competitors, is desperately trying to convince consumers that it has learned from its error-prone past and is now making better cars than ever before, why look backward and associate yourself with an era when your reputation was at or near an all-time low?

Under Mr. Mulally’s leadership, Ford has been by far the most successful of the Big Three U.S. car manufacturers from a financial standpoint, and was the only one of the three to avoid a government bailout. But Mr. Mulally’s financial instincts appear to be much greater than his marketing instincts. Thus, while the attractive new Taurus may experience some degree of success, I have to believe that it would achieve considerably greater success with an attractive new name.

In other words, when Mr. Mulally mandated that the Taurus name be brought back from the dead, someone at Ford should have had a better idea.

Great Lake, Greater Pizza, Greatest Marketing

September 7th, 2009

I just read a fascinating article in the Chicago Tribune about a tiny restaurant called Great Lake, which GQ magazine recently proclaimed to be the makers of the finest pizza in America. Great Lake breaks virtually every rule of marketing: they make customers wait hours for their pizza and show little sympathy for complaints; they have no interest in expanding capacity despite a clear opportunity to dramatically increase their revenues as well as customer satisfaction; and they do zero advertising or promotion because–heaven forbid!–that would attract more customers. Their goal is simply to make the world’s most perfect pizza, and–if GQ and the Tribune are to be believed–they are succeeding.

On the surface, Great Lake looks like the Great Anti-Marketer. Ironically, however, while Great Lake appears to lack a marketing strategy, the fact is that their obsession with creating the perfect product has effectively become their marketing strategy–and a powerful one at that. Great Lake’s off-the-charts product is generating the most cost-effective marketing a business can have: over-the-top media reviews and extremely positive word-of-mouth support. (Case in point: the Tribune article actually has me making plans to visit Great Lake knowing I’ll have to wait in line for 3 hours, which is something the greatest pizza ad ever created could never persuade me to do.)

So, does this mean you should ignore marketing and simply let your quality do the talking? Only if you have a product that is truly rave-worthy and unlike anything your target customers have ever before experienced. Put another way, if your customers are willing to wait in line for 3-hours for your product and then tell others about how great it is, you may not need to market. If this isn’t the case for you, however–and I suspect it isn’t for 99.9% of all businesses–then an effective marketing strategy needs to be a critical priority.

The only product that comes to mind that was able to generate so much “free” buzz that it didn’t need to advertise was the iPhone during its initial launch. See if you can think of any others.

Perhaps it will give you something to do while you’re waiting in line at Great Lake.