Archive for April, 2010

GM’s Mr. Ed Has No Cred

April 30th, 2010

I think it’s fair to say that for decades General Motors has been fairly widely perceived as an ineptly-managed, money-losing manufacturer of unattractive, poorly-performing vehicles.  Moreover, most of its executives–from Roger Smith (memorialized in “Roger and Me”) through Rick Wagoner (memorialized not only for taking a private jet to the 2008 congressional hearings but for being so bad at his job that the President of the United States effectively fired him)–have come across as being woefully out-of-touch with the desires and morals of the American consumer.  If any company is in dire need of an image makeover, it’s GM.

The good news is that–thanks largely to the legendary and recently-retired Bob Lutz–the designs and quality of their vehicles are greatly improved.  The bad news is that sales haven’t responded as positively as had been hoped.  And I think one big reason is that the company is doing a lousy job of telling its story to the public.

What’s worse, their latest TV commercial is a serious step backward.  The first problem is that the star of the commercial isn’t their new technology or stylish new designs, but Chairman Ed Whitacre.  While the jury is still out on the job he’s doing leading GM out of bankruptcy, the jury is in on the charge that he reinforces every possible negative stereotype about GM.  And the verdict is: “Guilty!”

If GM’s message is that it’s transformed itself into a hip, exciting, state-of-the-art innovator, it couldn’t have picked a worse spokesman than a largely unknown 68-year-old in a Brooks Brothers suit and a monotonous Texas drawl.  In 1981, Lee Iacocca was the exact right person to star in Chrysler commercials; Chrysler’s stability was very much in question, and  car industry legend Iacocca gave the company instant credibility.  In 2010, Ed Whitacre could be the exact wrong person to star in GM commercials; America knows little about him, other than that he looks and sounds like just another out-of-touch GM executive.

And what makes the situation dramatically worse is the revelation that Mr. Whitacre’s boasting about GM’s repaying its government loan is misleading at best and dishonest at worst. For Mr. Whitacre to bless–let alone star in–this commercial raises huge doubts about both his judgment and his ethics.  So at a time when GM desperately needs to rebuild its long-eroding credibility, this ad could–and perhaps should–send GM’s brand equity plummeting to an all-time low.

GM founder Alfred Sloan once infamously said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”  If that’s true, then I think I speak for all Americans when I say that Mr. Whitacre needs to remove himself from GM commercials, and maybe from its executive suite as well.

Back on Target!

April 29th, 2010

For years, Target had one of the most consistent and stylish TV ad campaigns in any category.  The ads never said the brand name out loud, and they only revealed the brand logo at the end of each spot–normally two big no-nos in my book.  On top of that, the music varied from ad to ad.  Yet as soon as any given ad came on, you knew almost immediately that it was for Target.

One reason is that the ads were visually connected via a red-and-white color theme and the placement of circular objects to reinforce the design of the brand’s logo.  Another is the fact that all of the songs–while not necessarily familiar–shared an upbeat, contemporary, smart sound.  Add it all up, and you had a campaign that was fun to watch and that appears to have helped drive above-market sales growth for Target for several years.

But then Target’s advertising started to miss the mark.  Its ads no long stood out, and its brand personality was suddenly unclear.  The situation reached bottom as recently as Christmas 2009, when a new series of ads caused me to post a rant entitled, “Does This Campaign Seem Off-Target to You?”

But based on their new TV commercial, it appears that Target’s advertising is back and better than ever.  The first time I saw it, I knew within 5 seconds that it had to be a Target spot, even though there are even fewer conventional branding cues than in their past successful ads.  Frankly, I’m not quite sure how they pulled this off, but to me this spot screams “Target” from start to finish.

The intent of the spot was clearly an ambitious one:  to help reestablish Target as the leading-edge fashion mass merchandiser for young consumers while making those consumers aware of the many leading-edge brands it carries exclusively.  And as far as I can see, this mission was accomplished–big-time!  The ad’s song–”The A.B.C. of L.O.V.E.” by Pravda–is a high-energy tune that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.  And the visuals are as fashion-forward as just about anything on the air right now.

Of course, I’m not exactly in Target’s target audience–at least for this campaign–so maybe the fact that it appeals to me is actually a bad sign.  Only time will tell, but until it does, I can’t wait for Target’s next ad.  And I’m betting that Target might be a good place to target not only your consumption dollars, but your investment dollars as well.

McDonald’s New Ads: I’m Not Lovin’ It

April 24th, 2010

The good news:  here’s a sneak preview of three new spots from McDonald’s. The bad news:  here’s a sneak preview of three new spots from McDonald’s.

From the Advertising Age column that reported on the ads, it looks like McDonald’s considers them to be a major breakthrough, but I’m not buyin’ it.

Describing the chain’s “I’m Lovin’ It 2.0″ campaign (which she termed “our multi-billion dollar asset”), McDonald’s CMO said, “We’re bringing it out from behind the arches and into the action to better brand and celebrate those uniquely McDonald’s moments.” Well, I guess that sounds like something a CMO would say, but the words don’t match the reality, at least in my world.

Maybe it’s just me, but the image of a bear terrorizing motorists and destroying a car doesn’t strike me as a “uniquely McDonald’s moment.”  Instead, this TV spot just reminds me of horrific news reports of such things that have actually happened; it certainly doesn’t make me smile or give me a warm and fuzzy feeling, nor does it make me crave McDonald’s food.  The second TV spot, which shows a dad continually going around the drive-through without stopping so as not to wake his sleeping baby, was a little better.  But it evoked only a slight and brief smile rather than the ear-to-ear grin it worked so hard for, and once again it didn’t do anything to whet my appetite.  And the three-minute online video showing thousands of teens and twenty-somethings around the world paying homage to the Big Mac struck me as clueless egotism. McDonald’s employees might get all choked up when they think about all the Big Macs they sell, but I don’t think the typical consumer gets all that excited or emotional about the topic.  I also couldn’t help thinking that most of the slim-waisted female celebrants depicted in this big-budget, narcissistic spectacle wouldn’t go near a Big Mac.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this video were pitched to the client as McDonald’s version of Coca Cola‘s legendary “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial from nearly forty years ago.   If so, that pitch is as bad an example of truth-in-advertising as is this three-minute video.  “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” worked because the spot celebrated humanity, which is something worthy of celebration; the new McDonald’s video doesn’t work because it celebrates a 576-calorie sandwich.

While I’m piling on, I’d also like to take issue with the notion that “I’m Lovin’ It” has been a hugely successful campaign, although I’m admittedly relying purely on anecdotal evidence.

Anecdote #1: I can’t personally recall a single McDonald’s ad from this from the past several years; they’re all part of a big blur.

Anecdote #2: I have never heard anyone–not one person–ever make a reference to the “I’m Lovin’ It” line.  When you’ve invested that much time and money in your advertising, it seems to me it should be part of your target audience’s everyday conversation, like Nike’s “Just do it” or Wendy’s decades-old “Where’s the beef?”  Let me ask you:  Of all the times you’ve chosen to express your pleasure with something over the past five or six years, have you ever once said, “I’m lovin’ it”?

Anecdote #3:  I think “I’m Lovin’ It” is one of the least interesting, least provocative taglines in recent memory.  Great taglines are clever and maybe even have a little double entendre working for them; “I’m Lovin’ It,” on the other hand, is just an unimaginative way to say “I really like this product.” Isn’t that what every advertiser wants you to think?  Then why are we supposed to find the McDonald’s message interesting or motivating?

In contrast, I can’t tell you how many times my buddies have uttered the words “the most interesting man in the world” or “stay thirsty my friends”, yet Dos Equis has likely spent a fraction of one percent of what McDonald’s has spent.  The difference?  While Dos Equis’ words tell an engaging story and reflect a distinctive idea, McDonald’s flatfooted words provoke nothing but indifference.

So count me as someone who has never loved–or even liked–”I’m Lovin’ It.”  And someone who’s giving “I’m Lovin’ It 2.0″ a 2nd floor rating.

How Do I Like Kia Now? Don’t Ask.

April 20th, 2010

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t like Kia’s latest TV commercial when it debuted on the Super Bowl, and I don’t like it any more now.  After almost three months on the air, this spot still makes no sense to me.

First of all, the kid-oriented but rather bizarre characters are irrelevant at best and distracting at worst.  If their role is to reinforce the kid-friendliness of the car, showing them cruising the Las Vegas strip and partying in a bar, with monotonous rock music blaring throughout the commercial, pretty much defeats that purpose.

Second, other than demonstrating a push-button ignition, the spot does little to showcase the car or whatever pseudo-innovative features it presumably has.  Having seen the spot several (i.e., way too many) times, I still struggle to recall what the car even looks like.

Finally, the spot does a horrendous job of brand identification.  You never hear the names of the brand or the model, and you only see them a few times, and very briefly at that.

But none of this is surprising.  With the notable exception of Southwest Airlines, companies focused on selling products on the basis of low prices rarely deliver creative or strategically sound advertising.   And while customer surveys indicate that Kia’s vehicles are  actually  a pretty good value, their advertising is no bargain.

Hey, Kia–How do you like me now?

Nike Should Just Stop It

April 8th, 2010

For decades Nike has been one of the most creative and effective advertisers on the planet, but I think they hooked one out of bounds with their latest  Tiger Woods commercial.   It shows Mr. Woods blankly staring at the camera while he ostensibly listens to his late father.

Earl Woods’ words, obviously recorded in a different context but made to seem as if they’re about his son’s well-publicized extra-marital affairs, are:  “Tiger…I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion.  I want to find out what your thinking was…I want to find out what your feelings are…and did you learn anything.”

I think that this is a mistake for both Nike and its most famous spokesman for three reasons.  First, given that Mr. Woods has repeatedly insisted that his marital infidelities are a private matter, this very public commercial is extremely hypocritical.  Second, Earl Woods’ words suggest that  people shouldn’t be so fast to pass judgment on his son until they’ve heard his side of the story–as if anything Tiger could say could possibly justify his alleged affairs with 17 women. Third, when Nike and Tiger should be doing everything possible to make this four-month episode fade away from the public consciousness, this commercial has only served to attract extra attention and controversy.

Nike is one of the few sponsors that didn’t abandon Mr. Woods following the revelations about his many infidelities; given their tremendous investment in him, I think that was the right decision.  But I believe that will continue to be the right decision only if it becomes increasingly clear that Mr. Woods is sincerely remorseful for his indiscretions and determined to get his life back on a healthy moral track.  Unfortunately, this commercial makes me question the sincerity of his remorse, and the quality of Nike’s judgment.

Having said that, I gave this commercial a rating of  “2nd floor”, rather than “basement”, because I have to give Nike some credit for having the courage to run this provocative commercial.  In the 1980s people thought Nike was crazy to run commercials without making any reference to the Nike brand (other than its now-famous “swoosh”), and it turned out Nike knew exactly what it was doing.  Maybe time will show that this latest commercial was an equally brilliant stroke.

But I’m betting that the advertising history books will show that, at least in this case, Nike should have taken a mulligan.

That’s the Spirit…NOT!!!

April 7th, 2010

Spirit Airlines will go down in PR history for making one of the all-time moronic marketing moves:  announcing that it plans to charge passengers up to $45 for each article of carry-on luggage.  The story has been featured prominently today on virtually every national, regional and local television news program, and it will certainly be covered extensively on every other news medium in the country over the next 24-to-48 hours.

Never mind that Spirit offers extremely reasonable airfares; the company will henceforth be known as the jerks who dreamed up the idea of charging for carry-ons, and possibly for giving many other airlines an excuse to do the same thing.  (I say “possibly” because the public outcry has been great enough that other airlines may decline to follow suit.)   I suspect that much of the population had never heard of Spirit before, but they certainly know them now.

I certainly understand that most airlines are in severe financial trouble and need to find new ways to eke out a profit, but Spirit couldn’t have landed on worse solution.  Every consumer I’ve seen interviewed–as well as many of the anchorpeople reporting the news –are absolutely outraged at this decision.  After all, carry-ons have helped us avoid four major hassles associated with flying–damaged luggage, lost luggage, time wasted at the baggage claim, and fees for checking luggage–and now Spirit has the audacity to mess with this.

If Spirit wanted to enhance their revenues, they should have silently raised their airfares, which they could have done without jeopardizing their positioning as one of the lowest-cost airlines.  Few people would have noticed, and it certainly wouldn’t have been headline news.  And had United, American or some other larger competitor decided to test the waters of charging for carry-on luggage, Spirit could have gauged the public’s reaction before deciding whether to follow suit.

But now Spirit has taken a huge, self-inflicted hit to its brand equity, a hit from which it may never fully recover.

It’s great to innovate, but your innovations should be based on things you hope your customers will love rather than ones you know they’re going to hate.  In other words, you have to be smart enough to recognize an idea that isn’t going to fly–and especially one that’s going to crash and burn.

Liberty Mutual Files Irresponsible Claim

April 6th, 2010

Last night I  had a trivial but all-too familiar experience:  a TV commercial began, and immediately I realized that while it was one I had seen dozens of times, I had no idea who the advertiser was.  A whopping 51 seconds into the commercial, I learned that the advertiser was Liberty Mutual.

It’s bad enough that this spot does such a poor job of registering the name of the advertiser.  But what’s just as bad is this:  after nearly a minute of  watching people do good deeds while we listen to a background song with barely intelligible and rather irrelevant lyrics (HEM’s “Half an Acre”), we finally hear an announcer telling us something about the brand being advertised.  What’s even worse, here’s what the announcer says:  “When it’s people who do the right thing, they call it being responsible.  When it’s an insurance company, they call it Liberty Mutual.”

Oh, really?  Is that the way people talk about Liberty Mutual?   Have you ever heard anybody mention what a responsible company Liberty Mutual is?  Me neither; in fact, I’ve never heard anyone ever mention Liberty Mutual period. Don’t get me wrong; for all I know, Liberty Mutual is a wonderful company, but this commercial does absolutely nothing to persuade me of that.

If you’re trying to convince me that Liberty Mutual is truly a beacon of responsibility, give me some substance.  Build a commercial around a true story of how Liberty Mutual did the right thing when other insurance companies were shirking their responsibility.  Show me an actual client raving about how Liberty Mutual went above and beyond the call of duty for her.  Give me some statistics about how Liberty Mutual is ranked #1 by insurance clients for responsibility or integrity or customer service.

In other words, give me something I can believe instead of insulting my intelligence and wasting my time by simply making an empty, flat-footed and utterly unimpressive claim about how people talk about you.  Wouldn’t you think that an insurance company would be a little more adept when it comes to claims?

To paraphrase Liberty Mutual’s announcer, “When a company spends money on a bad campaign, they call it being irresponsible.  When it’s a really bad campaign, they call it Liberty Mutual.”

The Perfect Precept Person

April 3rd, 2010

I’m normally not a fan of celebrity endorsers, as they tend to overpower the brand they’re endorsing.  The exception to this rule is the current  TV commercial for Lady Precept golf balls.  The reason is that Precept found the perfect endorser in Paula Creamer, arguably the most charismatic and appealing player on the LPGA tour.

Precept’s strategy is to position the Lady Precept as the ideal blend of power and touch, which they convey by showing “two Paulas”:  the strong, overpowering Paula dressed in black, and the soft, sensitive Paula dressed in her trademark pink.  This isn’t the most original approach in the world, but it works for two reasons.  First, since most golf fans know that (a) Ms. Creamer plays pink golf balls and (b) Lady Precept is the best-known maker of pink golf balls targeted at women, it’s hard to miss the fact that this is an ad for Lady Precept.  Second, Ms. Creamer’s natural charm and likability make the commercial eminently watchable.  The line “sensitive Paula” delivers after being roared at by “strong Paula”–”It looks like somebody needs a hug”–could not have been delivered more appealingly.

I might be a bit biased because I briefly met Ms. Creamer a few years ago at the baggage claim at Laguardia and could not have been more impressed with how friendly she was.  (She also could not have been more down-to-earth: she was traveling alone and lugging her own luggage and clubs.)  Still, if you’re going to use a celebrity, you would do well to select one who embodies your product as well as Paula Creamer embodies the Lady Precept.  And one who’s as impressive a young lady as Paula Creamer appears to be.