December 2nd, 2013
If you’re not careful, you may get your wish.
Given that today is Monday but it’s still somehow Black Friday, and it was Black Friday last Wednesday already, and it appears to still be Thanksgiving and yet Christmas… this panel seems awfully timely.
May 14th, 2012
October 25th, 2011
As a marketer, as a consumer, as someone who appreciates genius and beautiful design – as a human being – I was tremendously saddened by the death of Steve Jobs.
Every homage to him, every video, every shrine feels right and well-deserved. But there is another side of Steve Jobs that is important, as well.
Steve Jobs was a failure. Not once but several times over. How about the Apple III? It was so poorly designed that Apple suggested owners pick it up and drop it a few inches when it stopped working.
Or Lisa? Now that was a spectacular failure. Though significant in many respects, the grossly overpriced machine survived for about 18 months before it was discontinued. Apple ultimately dumped 2,700 Lisas into a Utah landfill to capture a tax write-off on the unsold inventory.
That was, of course, after Apple had spent $50 million on developing Lisa.
But of course, the ultimate Jobs “failure” was getting unceremoniously shoved out of his own company in 1985 by a more politically-astute John Sculley – a big-company executive.
And after getting dumped by Apple, NeXT didn’t do so well, either.
On and on. Over and over.
“We Americans have a terrible habit of distilling stories of our great men and women into simplified and boring sound bites of success while ignoring the long, crooked, difficult, brave roads they took to realize that success,” says Augie Ray, author of a wonderful blog post called The Failure of Steve Jobs and Walt Disney. “We like to believe that success is what defines the American spirit, but the truth is the opposite: failure is what defines the people who achieve greatness.”
I’ve been thinking about how many of us could or would have “come back” from the truly crushing (and very public) failures Jobs endured. Thrown out of your own company? A spectacular product failure? His story is obviously unique, but size these disasters down to something that could happen to any of us and ask yourself what you would do.
How would you feel? Could you still be a leader, a seeker?
This is a dislocating time for many, and everything seems weird. I would advise the average executive as follows: be certain of what you care about, do something about it, and stay focused on what’s really important. Know your story. Believe in your story. And just keep going.
When talking about getting booted out of Apple, Jobs once said, “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”
No one could have said it better or with more credibility.
July 13th, 2011
I blame Oprah. Or at least I want to blame Oprah for an icky, funky (and not in a good way), goofy seemingly-exploding category in the ad world.
Allow me to take you back five years. It’s hard for medical shows not to use words that are, you know, normal words describing parts of the body when these words are forbidden by the standards and practices folks. And so it was in 2006: Grey’s Anatomy needed a word to use during a childbirth scene, and thus the word “vajayjay” premiered on television. [The only thing that was actually born, of course, was the stupid word, vajayjay.]
And then? Nothing, really. Even with Jimmy Kimmel, and 30 Rock, and Tyra Banks all using the word… meh. Everyone seemed to go about their business. Vajayjays stayed wherever vajayjays are supposed to be. Then Oprah I-Utter-Your-Product’s-Or-Book’s-Name-And-You-Are-Set-For-Life Winfrey used the word to describe her own vajayjay, and her friends’ vajayjays, and vajayjays in general (here a vajayjay, there a vayjayjay, everywhere a vajayjay) and that was it.
You could say it was the vajayjay heard around the world (beginning with Oprah‘s 45+ million viewers).
Since then, it just seems to me that we have more and more truly wacky advertising for sex aids, health and beauty aids, self-heating, uh, whatever – you name it. We’ve always had condom ads, then it was the ED ads (Q: When the moment is right, will YOU be ready? A: Maybe, but why are our bathtubs in the backyard?), but now? Whoa.
I was just sort of snorting through all these weird ads and getting on with my life when Fleet Lab’s new viral campaign for Summer’s Eve came along. Alas, I could be silent no more. Witness just a tiny sample of these (and other) ads for yourself:
1. SUMMER’S EVE: THAT’S VAGINAL
This is not my fault.
2. TROJAN: THE NEW TRIPHORIA VIBRATING, uh, MASSAGER
I have all sorts of questions about this ad, but I guess the biggest one would be… is it good that a “massager” blows your hair back? Would I want said “massager” to blow my hair back? Are there settings on the thing? Slow \ Medium \ High\ Blow Your Hair Back? The mind reels.
3. TROJAN: FIRE AND ICE CONDOMS
This ad is so hilarious, it could be a Saturday Night Live spoof on condom commercials, which I’m sure was part of the planned fun. My question here is similar to the one I raised with the Triphoria: less about the crazy ad, more about product characteristics and benefits.
FIRE and ICE? Who is supposed to be enjoying something described as having been “dipped in IcyHot?” It scares me, frankly.
Such is the state of advertising today, my friends. So crazy, it’ll blow your hair back.
P.S. Check out this spoof of the Cialis “When the moment is right” ad. Hilarious.
June 6th, 2011
Birth control ads are strange. Exhibit A: the Nuvaring ad (see HERE) where the gals take off their clothes and climb into a hot tub with their yellow bathing suits on. Each woman has a… each has a number… and… and one has a bathing cap… and then the hot tub spins like a ride at Disneyland… and then there’s a song that makes me hear Satan’s voice urging me to kill (Mommy!).
I don’t know what’s going on, other than understanding that I better use Nuvaring because remembering to take a pill every day is simply too much for me. At least I think that’s what is says.
So in a land of weird, one must rise extra high to be noticed – and I think Beyaz overshot by a mile. Check out the ad (see below or HERE):
The “it’s good to have choices” positioning is fine, but to put women in a shopping setting, where they can simply choose the men, educations, homes and discretionary incomes of their dreams off a shelf at any time – with as much thought and planning as picking a bottle of ketchup – is offensive. And what was the general idea here: that because women understand shopping the best, we can make birth control a section of a department store to help the message hit home?
Then there are the choices themselves. The home the female shopper chooses is a sweet little purple house, with a car out front that looks like it’s from the 50s. Is that where women belong, or when women were “best” – in the 50s? Have we already failed if we don’t want the picket fence?
And the stork: the only “selection” that tries to literally follow the woman once it is rejected (a stalking stork, if you will). All the women in this ad are still in their 20s: are young women supposed to have babies… or else? Note there are no “and” equations in this ad. It’s all about the “or,” as in grad school or a baby. None of the shoppers leave with more than one item.
or me, though, the most disappointing episode takes place over in the Significant Other section of the store. First of all, the store only carries men in inventory. Being homosexual is not a choice in this retail establishment. Then comes the best part: a woman standing in front of a man (under glass…), only to have another female come along with a smirk on her face and snatch the man off the shelf.
That’s nasty and cruel. And pits women against one another.
The site TresSugar.com does a great job breaking down the ad, scene by scene, object by object. Take a look if you get the chance.
Even in the fantasy world of flying snacks, sodas that never make you fat and perfect hair, I think this ad is over the top in its disdain for women.
This is an encore presentation of a blog post originally published on Stephanie Fierman: Marketing Daily.
March 2nd, 2011
December 12th, 2010
Is Santa the best marketer ever? Perhaps.
Consider the evidence:
Long-term reputation management. No steroid use or bogus investment schemes here. Ever.
Take Coca-Cola with its 80-year investment in the big guy. Do you think that Coke worries that a YouTube video will surface, showing 7-year-old girls making lead-laden toys in the Korean outpost of Santa’s Workshop Inc.? Not likely.
And then there’s the third rail: do you think that Mrs. Claus has ever found “hundreds of texts” between Santa and that dumb blonde the Easter Bunny married? Or that’s she’s had to accompany her husband to the hospital for alcohol poisoning (paging Charlie Sheen – again)?
No, no and no. Santa is one reliable dude. And he appears to do what’s right even when no one is looking.
Brand promise and the “continuous connected experience.” No matter where you go, you get the same reinforcing message from and about @SantaClaus. Movies, television, email, social media, online video, radio, snail mail, retail – it doesn’t matter. He has a booming voice, he’s fat, he wears a red suit and he brings good stuff.
And the other thing is… even if you bop from one medium to the other, you won’t lose your place. Forrester calls this the continuous connected experience. Santa is suggesting you be prepared to deliver your own in 2011.
Engagement. Is there any experience more anticipated than Santa’s arrival? And how about expectations met and exceeded? That’s unless you’ve been bad, of course, in which case you should consult the Terms and Conditions.
Accurate, On-Time Delivery. Neither WikiLeaks, nor Chilean mining disasters, nor 0% interest rates will keep Santa from delivering the goods on Christmas Eve. Not December 23. Not December 25. It’s December 24. Every year. And the idea of getting your neighbor’s gift by mistake is simply inconceivable.
Supply Chain Management. You have to admire the man’s ability to manage his vendors, handle inventory, move the merch and turn on a dime. Your kid decides at the last minute that she wants a Wii instead of the bike that Santa has already bought and loaded on the sleigh?
The Wii will be under the tree, for sure.
Never any hidden charges. There are no Congressional committees convening to discuss whether Santa is taking advantage of consumers. There are no pending FTC rules in the pipeline. No small print. Just because you get one set of skis, doesn’t mean that you’ve “agreed” to receive a new set every month (along with the bill). No nickel and diming. No charge for the second bag.
Santa’s pricing policies appears just perfect, in every product category ever invented. And shipping is always free.
Brand advocacy. Think of all the parents who read stories about Santa, take their children to see Santa and tuck said children into bed on Christmas Eve with the promise that Santa will soon arrive with presents. Even adults will sometimes tell each other what they want from Santa. The dude’s got an army of advocates carrying his message each and every year, and everyone’s happy to do it.
Wow! That’s gonna be a lot of “Likes” on Facebook. A lot.
No invasive pat-downs. Do you remember leaving cookies and milk out for Santa, and then sneaking down the stairs just in time to see him putting your presents under the tree? Well, when he saw you, did he beckon you over, force you through a machine and feel up your naughty bits? Or when he came down your chimney, did your parents do these things to him before letting him into your living room?
TSA does not stand for “Total Santa Aggression.” Personal respect is important to ol’ Kris Kringle.
Returns and Exchanges. No problem. While one of Santa’s elves may ask you to accompany him to the mall, that’s a small price to pay for better loot.
Long-term view of the customer relationship. Santa is committed to lifetime value. If you’re a kid, he wants you to tell your parents and your grandparents and your teachers all about what you want. He wants you to post what he gave you on Facebook. He wants to take a picture with you and your friends at the mall. And when you grow up, he encourages you to invite him into your home and buy extravagant gifts in his name.
Santa: the ultimate “circle of life” promoter.
Customer targeting and personalization. If you ask Santa for an iTouch, you’re going to get an iTouch. You might also get underwear and dental floss (paging my childhood), but he will be sure that your music itch is scratched. And if you state a preference, Santa is also highly likely to deliver an iTouch in the color of your choice. With the accessories you mumbled something about last March.
He invites you to be a vital part of his brand and help make the world a better place. Be nice, get your gift. Be naughty, and you’re on your own. No anonymous troll behavior on the Web, no TMZ stories, no threatening or yelling. Everyone knows the rules, the rules don’t change and there are big rewards for all. Or not.
Brand benefits powerful enough to overcome controversy. Santa has a problem that few other brands ever experience: that is, some people don’t believe he exists! You may not like Red Bull, or Microsoft, or Kim Kardashian, or whatever, but you wouldn’t think of denying their very existence on the planet. And yet, Santa transcends even this existential challenge. Even those who say they “know” he doesn’t exist still enjoy the gestalt of the brand. Name me a pizza chain or a department store or search engine who can say the same.
I could go on (ultimate loyalty program, no channel conflict, customer service support…), but you get the idea.
I did think of one problem area this year: money management. In his zeal to delight his customers, Santa does sometimes buy things he can’t really afford. His heart’s in the right place, though, and I think a little executive coaching might do the trick. I am confident that he will want to change once he understands the problem.
And so, as yet another December passes, perhaps we should all look to #Santa for guidance in the coming year. After all, his operation is well-loved, profitable, always in growth mode and a new, devoted customer is born every minute. I think most of us would be happy with that.
A version of this post originally appeared on the Marketing Executive Networking Group’s blog, MENGBlend.
October 31st, 2010
It was my pleasure to be interviewed by Peppers & Rogers‘ 1to1 Magazine for a story on the evolution of branding. My responses were folded into the article “Hasbro Gives Control of Its Brand to Customers” HERE.
Below is an expanded version of my answers. It’s a topic that’s at the very core of how I think about brands, communications and the marketplace. I would welcome your thoughts.
I’m doing a story about the evolution of branding: particularly the growing influence of the customer experience in branding strategy. How is branding strategy different now than it used to be?
The biggest difference is that a “brand” is something that marketers and companies are accustomed to controlling. In the past, a company sent all of the brand messages that general audiences heard. Brands pulled the strings – they had all the information that was to be had, and so were able to manage consumer expectations and impressions. In that kind of world, an unhappy customer or supplier – or a disgruntled employee or competitor – could only reach as many people as were in his or her own circle of friends and associates.
Today, any individual can reach literally millions of people in real-time. The message is whatever each person wishes it to be. Even if that message is inaccurate or unflattering, its reach is almost limitless. And a message someone posts can grow in influence as others pick it up and begin circulating it to ever larger circles – that’s how something becomes “viral” – which means that marketers have to be as viral as their customers, ever- vigilant and ready to address whatever comes their way from any corner of the world.
A quick example is Motrin. Motrin created an ad in 2008 that used an irreverent tone in an effort to sympathize with moms who have sore backs from carrying their infants. This offended some moms, Had this happened in 1988, you probably would not have heard about it unless you were personally close to one of these women. Today, moms created and posted angry videos of their own online, the Motrin ad was viewed 400,000 times on YouTube and thousands of comments were posted on Twitter alone. And this happened on a Saturday, by the way: we’re on consumer time now, not brand time. So same reaction, perhaps, as many might have had 20 years ago, but much bigger megaphone.
This is something that companies and marketing teams are not organized to address – and it exposes all elements of a brand, warts and all, 24/7. Brands are no longer the shouters: they’ve got to be the listeners. For brands that embrace a conversational relationship with the market, this can be an exciting experience that ultimately creates even more respect and love for a brand. But for marketers who are accustomed to maintaining a tight rein, there are fundamental challenges ahead.
Branding used to be a way to gain awareness to a mass audience. But tools like social media, more robust customer data, and increased online activity in general seem to be pushing branding toward more personal engagement. What are your thoughts?
I don’t think it’s an either/or: each makes the other better. Better data helps companies spend their mass advertising budgets more effectively and more precisely, which in turn provides air cover for more personal, individual efforts on the ground. But there’s no question that it’s always been somewhat difficult to measure the effect of many forms of mass media, and – as other customizable channels become even sharper – there will be even more pressure on companies and their media partners to “prove” value from TV and other big efforts.
Personal engagement has another effect, as well: it raises consumer expectations. How many times have you heard a frustrated person say “but they know me!” in response to an email addressed in the wrong language, or to the opposite gender? Consumers now know that companies have all this data, and they expect to benefit from it. How well this data is, in fact, applied may then have an impact on whether the market listens to any messages a brand might send in any channel.
How do trust and credibility play a role in branding strategy these days, and how is it different than before?
Everything’s laid bare now. There is virtually no nugget of information that isn’t available with a quick Google search. An employee can create a pseudonym, for example, and tell the world how things “really” work, or that a company is being misleading or untruthful. There’s no way to hold things back, or sweep something under the rug anymore.
This puts intense pressure on brands to be more authentic and more worthy of consumers’ trust. Let’s say a company manufactures merchandise overseas in unacceptable or even illegal conditions: in the past it could continue to do so for years, if not forever. Now that people walk the globe with high-speed Internet access and cell phones that capture video, those times are over. And if a company does get “caught” doing something today, these dynamics make the blast exponentially more damaging.
Where do you see the future of branding headed?
I’m hopeful about the future. My own professional community is full of marketers who understand that a brand is no longer corporate IP that needs to be policed and protected: it’s the beating heart of the enterprise. Instead of being talked at, consumers want to talk with a brand, and see the very human passion behind what you sell. That can be scary, but it’s also pretty darn exciting.
What’s the biggest challenge to getting there?
One of the most difficult challenges is the uneven level of understanding and expectations of those who surround the marketer: the CEO, the CFO, the pressured head of sales and the Board, to name a few. Executives already know what television advertising or print is, no explanation needed. There’s comfort in that. There’s going to be a lot of uncertainty and skepticism about dipping into a world that looks a little crazy, to do something a brand’s never done before. And the road won’t be smooth: it’s already difficult to explain why something “negative” that’s said online is par for the course and why the brand must continue to engage, not back away. I am very empathetic to the people on both sides of that table.
Any other thoughts?
For those who already know that good ideas rarely come from sitting behind a desk and who get charged up by listening to product users, prospects and partners, this is a great world. Assuming a brand is being authentic, there is no real “bad” feedback – there are only lessons that help make you better and better. There’s going to be plenty of trial and error, but this is all about getting closer to your customer, and that’s a great thing.
October 1st, 2010
It’s true that people love certain brands, and it can be awfully expensive to launch new ones. I started thinking about this after seeing some slightly off-kilter commercials: could it be that established brands are trying to extract value by presenting new uses for existing products?
* EGGO ON THE GO-GO. Working three jobs to pay the mortgage? No time to sit down for breakfast? No problem – take Eggo waffles with you! Last I checked, butter and syrup are a real pain on the subway, so this ad shows kids and adults running out the door with waffles in their hands. A kid is just running with – you know, a plain ol’ waffle – and a woman says that she takes hers with just a “smudge” of (what looks like strawberry) cream cheese. A smudge? What’s a smudge? And is that waffle toasted? Because raw would be gross, but cold and toasted and hard would be, well, gross… And then you’ve got the smudge… Eeeee!!
* I LOVE THE SMELL OF ASPIRIN IN THE MORNING. Then there’s Bayer A.M. A television ad features a working dad moving in slo-mo while the voiceover asks whether you’ve ever needed a little get-up-and-go in the morning. He takes Bayer A.M. – “an extra-strength pain reliever with alertness aid specially formulated to fight morning pain and fatigue” – and suddenly he’s racing out the door. Specially formulated! My goodness, what is this magic drug? That would be caffeine – 65 mg of caffeine in each tablet. Less than 1 cup of coffee. So much for pharmacological breakthroughs.
* GOOD DIGESTION FOR DESSERT. Lastly, there’s Yoplait positioning yogurt as dessert. This was new to me, but apparently Yoplait actually sold “dessert yogurt” back in the 80s. I don’t know – it’s hard to ponder “dessert!” when all I can think of is Jamie Lee Curtis and those animations of little microbes floating around in my gut. Maybe it’s just me.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these, of course; one could say they actually represent the creativity of the folks behind these brands. But there are limits: when they start suggesting that we use Stayfree Ultra-Thins as shoe insoles, I’m outta here.
September 1st, 2010
There’s been a bit of a scramble among brands seeking to leverage AMC’s popular series, Mad Men. BMW is one of the largest and most frequent sponsors, prompting an auto site to gush, “BMW’s underwriting for Mad Men is mad marvelous.”
Maybe so. After all, the series is about an advertising agency and the supposed glamour of the post-War period, all glowy and wistful. It’s an unusual opportunity to create a fresh and fun message… IF it makes sense for the brand.
BMW did two things right. First it aligned itself with the overall je ne sais quoi of the show: the ambience, the characters, their lifestyles, their appearance, their tastes, the physical environment. That provides a very broad base upon which to construct an association. BMW is already an upscale, luxury brand, so this association is more of a positive reinforcement than a flat-out creation.
Second, this attachment is even further strengthened because BMW’s ads run during the episodes themselves. As the show transitions almost seamlessly from content, to commercial, and back again, the company and its cars place themselves directly alongside the target of their (and your) dreams. The viewer sees both in the same sitting; the brain experiences both in the same moment. The connection is made in real time.
London Fog‘s new Mad Men-related ads, on the other hand, miss on both these counts.
Unlike BMW, London Fog’s owner, Iconix, chose to bet all its chips on one single character, Joan Holloway (aka Christina Hendricks). This demands a plausible or at least believable connection between what the product and the individual represent, which is not present here.
Today, London Fog is generally utilitarian, functional, male (androgynous?), classic (tired?) and generally unremarkable, while Hendrick’s Joan is nearly the polar opposite: voluptuous, sexy, powerful, womanly, stimulating. She’s brightly-colored cotton candy in a dress. When you watch the show, her sexual presence makes her nearly every man’s fantasy at one point or another. She’s unattainable, like a rare luxury item.
London Fog is the opposite. By its own admission, the brand has far-flung distribution and high consumer awareness: it holds little mystery, no magic, no unattainability. Mad Men‘s Joan would not wear a London Fog, and no woman (consciously or unconsciously) believes that she will be “more Joan” by wearing the brand. The effect is double-whammy, given that the clothes (which might look fine on “normal” people) appear boring, dull and awkward draped on Hendrick’s frame. The two zeitgeists are just too far apart.
Iconix may have thought that Joan’s essence would rub off on the product. And, prior to Hendricks, Iconix enlisted Eva Longoria and Giselle Bunchen for its ads, presumably with the same objective. The problem is that consumers cannot make brand connections that aren’t there or – worse – pulling in opposite directions.
Forcing an otherwise adequate brand into an environment that makes it appear inadequate is sad and unnecessary: an embarrassing kind of brand dissonance that can do the brand more harm than good.
Lastly, the Joan ads do not have the benefit of being absorbed in the same moment as the story itself. The connection failure is particularly dramatic when experienced in the middle of a fashion magazine, surrounded by circa 2010 fashions, photos and messaging.
Managing a brand – particularly one trying to meld a perhaps very different past with the present – is a fine art. The brand steward must have an unblinking grasp on what the brand is and is not, what it might become, how fast such a change in direction might be made and how to begin. If that direction is wrong, or the speed too fast, the desired messaging won’t find its target and you may needlessely displace the neutral-to-positive feelings most people have about the brand in favor of all the characteristics the brand does not possess. It’s work grounded in an almost DNA-level of understanding of brands, consumer desire and human behavior.
Most brands have positive if not wonderful attributes to emphasize. Show yours in its best light. Avoid whatever might be hot right this second if it just doesn’t fit, and create an environment in which the product can truly shine.