Archive for March, 2010

Jonathan Adler’s Capitalist Manifesto

March 23rd, 2010

jonathan adler
I would never admit it publicly–like in a blog or something–but my wife Mary has introduced me to many interesting things over the years that I would likely never have discovered on my own. These include various foods, restaurants, books and retail establishments, some of which I end up liking at least as much as she does. A great example of this is Jonathan Adler, a one-of-a-kind retailer of pottery, furniture, rugs, lamps, art, candles and other household items. While not everything they carry is a match for my personal tastes (which is a good thing for them, BTW), I could not be more impressed with the job they’ve done creating and maintaining their branding.

Have you ever noticed how often the most successful companies are a manifestation of their founder’s personality and vision? Just as Steve Jobs is Apple, Richard Branson is Virgin Atlantic, Jeff Bezos is Amazon and Howard Schultz is Starbucks, Jonathan Adler is, well, Jonathan Adler. And Jonathan is not only a very talented designer and retailer, he is a brilliant marketer. Everything his company does–from the products they design or carry to the layout of their stores to the design of their website–exudes the same sense of style, cleverness, personality and, most of all, fun. This is a company that knows exactly what it is, and what it isn’t.

So how do they maintain this impressive consistency? Do they have a sophisticated Vision Statement or Mission Statement or both? Actually, they have something much better: a Manifesto. It’s the first page after their home page on their website, and it’s showcased on a large sign in all of their stores. And it does more to capture the essence of their company, their brand, than any Vision Statement or Mission Statement I’ve ever read.

The opening line of the Manifesto is, appropriately, the simplest and most powerful: “We believe your home should make you happy.” But the second line adds a little flavor to give you an even better sense of the uniqueness of this brand: “We believe that when it comes to decorating, the wife is always right. Unless the husband is gay.” The rest of this wonderfully-crafted document contains several other gems, including “We believe our lamps will make you look younger and thinner,” “We believe colors can’t clash” and “We believe our designs are award winning even though they’ve never actually won any.”

I love the fact that they share their Manifesto so transparently with customers–and prospective customers. I suspect that anyone reading it for the first time in one of their 12 stores will have one of two possible reactions: either “Uh, I think I’d better leave now,” or “I LOVE this place!!!” Which is to say that Jonathan Adler isn’t for everyone; it isn’t intended to be. That’s the essence of effective branding.

No, Jonathan Adler isn’t for everyone, but for your sake, I hope it’s for you.

Massage Envy Not a Name to Be Envied

March 22nd, 2010

massage envy homepromogiftcard

I’ve recently been hearing a lot of radio ads for Massage Envy, which I believe is the first national chain of massage clinics. I know very little about the company other than two things: they have a clean, neatly designed website, and I don’t like their brand name.

I’m sorry, but since “massage” and “envy” are two words that don’t go together naturally, I can only assume that the brand name is a play on the phrase “penis envy.” If that’s the case, it’s a pretty tasteless play on words, and if it isn’t the case, it might as well be since that’s the association most people will probably come up with. (Unless, of course, I’m the only one, in which case I should probably be surfing for therapists rather than typing a blog post.)

I love brand names that are distinctive, and I have to admit that Massage Envy gets decent marks on that count. But that’s not enough. A brand name needs to evoke the kind of imagery you want people to associate with your brand. Based on the fairly professional look of Massage Envy’s website, I would have to guess that the imagery suggested by their brand name is not the way they want to position their company.

Selecting a brand name is like selecting a name for one of your children; you’re going to have to live with your decision for a long time, and life can be a lot easier–or harder–depending on what name you choose.

If you’re told that you’re about to interview a job candidate named “Jethro”, you’re likely to develop certain expectations and assumptions about him. Those expectations and assumptions my ultimately prove to be inaccurate, but they will nonetheless form an obstacle this candidate will need to–and might not be able to–overcome. In this age of increasing clutter and decreasing attention spans, new brands simply can’t afford to pose such obstacles to prospective new customers.

So…Is Massage Envy an ill-advised play on words–or is it just me?

HP Does Mediocre

March 12th, 2010

HP is about to launch a new $40 million ad campaign designed to tell the world that it’s more than just the world’s largest manufacturer of printers. This post might set a record for my most premature rant ever, but based on the only ad I’ve seen so far–which takes place in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas–I’m not rushing out to buy HP stock.

For one thing, I don’t care for their tagline, “Let’s do amazing.” I’m never crazy about copy that uses poor grammar, but I could forgive that if the words were clever, and especially if they were a natural fit with the brand name. But they’re not. Any number of brands in any number of product categories could lay claim to that tagline just as easily as HP can. Moreover, I can’t imagine anyone ever trying to inspire their co-workers by saying, “Let’s do amazing!”. “Just do it!”, yes, but “Let’s do amazing!”, no.

I’m also not a fan of advertising that relies on celebrities, and this campaign will be swimming in them. I am a fan of the actor Rhys Darby (from HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords”), who’s featured in all of the ads, but apparently most of the ads will also feature additional celebrities like Annie Liebowitz and Dr. Dre. If you’re trying to make HP the star of the campaign, why detract attention from its glow by forcing it to compete with real stars? If HP were a new or unknown brand desperate for credibility, then maybe relying on celebrities would be a wise investment, but I don’t see it making sense in this case.

Finally, the Venetian ad mentions the HP name twice, and shows the logo only once–during the last 3 seconds of the spot. Considering that HP isn’t exactly the most distinctive brand name in the world, the odds of this ad making any meaningful impact seem pretty remote.

Perhaps the campaign will grow on me once I’ve seen more ads. After all, it took me a few times weeks before I realized what a great TV show “Cougartown” is. At this point, however, about the only thing I find amazing about HP’s new campaign is the fact that HP management agreed to spend $40 million on it.

New Charmin Campaign a Wipeout

March 6th, 2010

Oh, for the days when Charmin‘s advertising consisted of dear old Mr. Whipple pleading with grocery store shoppers, “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin!” For the past year or so, Procter & Gamble’s marketing antics have surely had Dick Wilson, the actor who played this lovable character (as well as Darrin and Samantha’s neighbor in “Bewitched”), rolling over in his grave. They’ve certainly had me retching on my sofa.

First, about a year ago we were subjected to a TV ad promising that with Charmin you’ll have “fewer pieces left behind.” To make sure that we could grasp the concept, the ad showed an animated mama bear literally wiping pieces off of her baby bear’s behind. Recently, the marketing mavens in P&G’s Cincinnati headquarters have developed (or at least green-lighted) the theme “Enjoy the Go!”, which surely has the parody commercial writers at Saturday Night Live asking themselves, “Why didn’t we think of that!” The ridiculous phrase is not only featured in their latest TV ad (which I haven’t been able to locate online yet), it was the theme of a public relations event in New York City over the holidays. Among other things, this event encouraged people to “Do the Potty Dance.” As SNL‘s Seth Meyers would say, “Really?”

I realize that the world is changing at a rapid pace, but I apparently missed out on this “Defecation Celebration” trend. If Charmin has its way, “Have a nice day!” will be replaced in our vernacular with “Have a nice poop!”

Procter & Gamble, which essentially invented the concept of brand management, is perhaps the most respected marketing company in the world. They’re also probably the most research-oriented marketing company in the world, which suggests that consumer research must have led them to conclude that America was ready for this rather graphic and even celebratory talk about the joys of using toilet paper. On the other hand, consumer research also led Ford and Coca Cola to believe that America was ready for the Edsel and New Coke. Sometimes you have to ignore the research and defer to your judgment.

I do have to give the normally risk-averse P&G credit for having the courage to take a bold step, and I suspect that this campaign has been the subject of great debate in Cincinnati. However, I have a hard time believing that this campaign is not turning more people off than on. Niche brands can afford to do things that offend a lot of people as long as they’re appealing to a meaningful minority, but mass brands like Charmin often have more to lose than to gain by employing controversial tactics. For this reason, I have to question P&G’s judgment in blessing this campaign.

So until I see evidence that this campaign is having a positive impact, I have no choice but to assign this campaign a rating of Floor Number Two.

CarMax Ads Dramatically Stupid

March 2nd, 2010

I’ve never been a fan of CarMax‘s advertising campaigns, but their current effort hits a new low. It’s so bad that no one has bothered to put it on YouTube, which means that I can’t give you a link to view any of the campaign’s ads. It’s probably just as well; asking you to view these ads is tantamount to someone handing you sour milk and saying, “Here–Does this taste funny to you?”

If you’re fortunate enough to not have been assaulted by these ads, here’s what you’ve missed: each ad features a different dog or other animal watching a CarMax commercial and turning toward the camera; when the image freezes, a harsh musical chord is struck, and the words “Dramatically smart!” are splashed across the screen.

Duh, gee, I get it; they’re telling us that becoming a CarMax customer is a dramatically smart thing to do! Why, however, is dramatically less clear. Even though I’ve probably seen at least 10 of these commercials, I honestly cannot recall a single thing that is said about CarMax or why you would want to give them your business.

There is nothing the least bit clever or engaging about any aspect of these commercials, and they were executed as poorly as they were conceived. (For example, once the image is frozen, it seemingly takes forever before the words “Dramatically smart!” appear.) It is absolutely astounding to me that the marketing powers-that-be at CarMax could have determined that these ads would interest or in any way impress prospective customers.

As I often ask whenever I see a major corporation with such ill-conceived advertising, “If they’re this clueless when it comes to advertising, what other things are they getting wrong?”

The only thing that makes sense about these ads is their use of dogs, as this campaign is a real woofer. (I know, that was a predictable joke, but thinking and writing about this campaign has apparently dulled my own creative senses. Woof!)