Archive for February, 2010

Why Xfinity Is Anything But Comcastic

February 20th, 2010

It was recently announced that the company formerly known as “Comcast” will now be known as “Xfinity.” The ostensible rationale is that since the Comcast brand is associated with cable television, it is cannot effectively represent the expanded services the company is now starting to offer. Interestingly, company spokesmen also acknowledged that the company’s less-than-stellar reputation for customer service had reduced the consumer equity of the Comcast brand.

Okay, I understand the predicament they find themselves in, but I don’t think they have a smart solution. First of all, it doesn’t matter what they call the company if they don’t fix their problems with customer service. Assuming that they do fix those problems, it’s not clear to me that a name change makes sense. I have to believe it will cost tens of millions of dollars more to create awareness of the new brand than it would to tell the story that Comcast has dramatically improved its service. (Note: I wouldn’t say that if the Comcast name were an object of scorn or considered to be the universal symbol for bad service, but I don’t believe that to be the case. Rather, I suspect that most consumers would be willing to change their image of Comcast as long as the company gives them a legitimate reason to do so.)

Moreover, I don’t like the name “Xfinity.” It looks like a typo and sounds like a typo. There’s simply nothing interesting or clever about the name. Two similar but better choices right off the top of my head are “Nfinity” (which sounds like “infinity”) and “Dfinity” (which sounds like “divinity” and is a play on high definition).

To make matters even more confusing, the parent company is still going to retain the name Comcast, so the name they can’t wait to get rid of has been exhumed even before it gets buried.

What’s ironic about all of this is that I’ve always been a fan of their use of the phrase “It’s Comcastic!” To create an adjective that they could own was a brilliant stroke of marketing, and now the value of that trademark will soon be absolutely zero.

I just hope we’re not soon going to be subjected to ads exclaiming, “It’s Xfinitive!”

Going Gaga over Google’s Super Bowl Ad

February 8th, 2010

I’ve never felt that advertising on the Super Bowl was a smart investment for most companies. One reason is that a significant percentage of the audience is watching the game in a party environment that makes it almost impossible to hear the ads. But in yesterday’s Super Bowl, one very smart company ran a very smart ad that virtually silently managed to tell a very engaging story while conducting an in-depth product demonstration. I’m talking about Google’s “Love Story” ad.

While so many Super Bowl ads are about simply entertaining or shocking the audience without saying or showing anything about the benefit of the product, this ad brilliantly gave the viewer a new appreciation for the amazing capabilities of Google Search. As I often say, great marketing is great story telling, and that’s exactly what this ad is.

What’s particularly impressive to me is the fact that Google is not an advertising-oriented company. Normally companies that have been successful without advertising struggle when they decide it’s time to advertise, but this clearly isn’t the case here.

There are many answers to the frequently-posed question “What would Google do?”, and now there’s a new one: great advertising!

Risqué Bud Light Lime Ad Too Risky

February 7th, 2010

I have mixed emotions about Bud Light Lime’s internet-only a “in the can” commercial. Privately telling an off-color joke to a friend is one thing, but publicly making implicit references to anal sex, even if it’s “just” on the internet, is something else. From a business standpoint, it’s both risqué and risky. Moreover, the spot repeats the same play on words ten times; however funny it is the first one or two times, it’s not nearly as funny the ninth or tenth time.

The reason I have mixed emotions is that four friends found it interesting enough to forward to me, and I suspect that there are many people–probably millions– who will find the ad to be quite entertaining. So the question is, do the positive points Bud Light Lime scores with people who like the ad outweigh the points they lose among people who find it offensive?

I often tell my clients that their ads and other communications efforts don’t need to appeal to everyone, and that communications designed to not turn anyone off usually also fail to turn anyone on. Often the answer to “Do we dare do this?” comes down to two things: how deeply are certain people likely to be offended, and are a lot of those people likely to be in the target audience? On the first point, I suspect that those who dislike the Bud Light Lime ad will really dislike it; on the second point, I would argue that Bud Light Lime’s target audience is broad enough that it will contain a lot of those people.

A true niche product that’s cultivating a maverick, rebel image has little to lose–and maybe even much to gain–by offending those who aren’t in its tiny target audience. But Bud Light Lime is targeting a mainstream crowd, many of whom I think will find this ad to be offensive. And keep in mind that this has implications not only for the brand equity of Bud Light lime, but of every brand in the Budweiser portfolio.

So while I’ll give Anheuser Busch owner InBev credit for taking a risk in this increasingly risk-averse world of ours, I don’t think it was a smart risk. In other words, I think this ad should have been canned.

What do you think?

Toyota PR Efforts in Need of a Recall

February 6th, 2010

The public relations challenge currently being faced by Toyota is perhaps the greatest one faced by a major corporation since the Tylenol catastrophe in 1982. But while Johnson & Johnson deservedly received rave reviews for its forthright and expeditious handling of their situation, I have been far less impressed with Toyota’s response to date. In particular, I don’t think they’re giving the public the sense that they’re moving as quickly as possible to fix the cars on the road, or that they’re passionately determined to discover and address whatever flaws in their manufacturing processes allowed these problems to occur in the first place.

I give Toyota USA president Jim Lentz good marks for making himself available to the media, but low marks for his performance in front of the cameras. He comes across as a nice, mild-mannered, slightly nervous guy, and I don’t think that’s what consumers want to see. I think they want to see a leader with a passionate sense of urgency. Imagine how Lee Iococca–in his prime–would have handled this. I’m pretty certain he would have left viewers thinking, “Wow! There’s going to be hell to pay at Toyota until every single problem has been fixed, and I don’t think we have to worry about this situation ever happening again!”

In much of his Today Show interview with Matt Lauer, Mr. Lentz came across as a politician who had been coached–as he surely was–to not give any direct answers. While I realize that he has to be careful of what he says for legal reasons, that’s hardly an approach likely to build trust with your audience. What’s worse, in other parts of the interview he ignored this coaching and made self-incriminating statements without appearing to realize it. For example, he acknowledged that Toyota had known about one problem since October, but he didn’t go on to say what they’ve been doing to address the situation since then. As a result, he left the viewer with the (presumably inaccurate) feeling that Toyota simply ignored the problem–and put its customers at risk–for several months.

On February 5, Toyota uploaded a video to YouTube showing Mr. Lentz at a Toyota dealership announcing that repair parts are now being delivered to service departments. There are several problems with this piece. First, Mr. Lentz looks very unnatural walking through the service area, awkwardly gesturing repeatedly with his left hand like he’s dribbling an invisible basketball. Second, behind Mr. Lentz we see dozens of Toyota cars being repaired for unrelated problems, which doesn’t exactly reinforce the notion of Toyota’s high quality. And third, the video ends with a repairman making a repair to a faulty accelerator pedal. Inexplicably, there’s no narrator to explain what he’s doing, and he looks rather unsure of himself as he installs a part that presumably will correct the problem. It would be nice if there were a straightforward, impressive “before and after” demonstration, but there isn’t. In fact, I was left wondering, “Is that the fix? Seriously?”

Don’t get me wrong; Toyota is in a no-win situation, and it’s going to be difficult for them to look good no matter what they do. But an effective public relations effort can minimize the damage currently being self-inflicted upon the brand equity they’ve worked so hard to build over the past several decades. Unfortunately, the quality of their damage control is not much better than the apparent quality of their accelerator pedals.