Readers know that I’m partial to a couple cartoonists and like to share their work now and then.  On my second blog,  it’s David Jones‘ Adland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.

This entry pays homage to Fishburne’s hero, Maurice Sendak, who passed away in early May 2012.


‘Seen the new Pringles campaign yet? Check out the new post on my second blog, Stephanie Fierman: Marketing Observations Grown Daily.

Let’s talk about Audi and the choices it seems to have made regarding its newest advertising work.

Audi USA’s new campaign is based on the “Green Police,” a band of roving law enforcers who try to protect the environment.  “You picked the wrong day to mess with the ecosystem, plastic boy,” says a Green Police enforcer to a clueless grocery shopper in Audi’s Super Bowl ad. “A man has just been arrested… for possession of an incandescent light bulb,” says a reporter.  Here’s the ad:

There are even educational YouTube videos, like this one that tells you how many napkins to take per sandwich.

Hoo-HOO! Hilarious.

But if your brand had a history that was, you know, linked to the largest human massacre of all time, how funny would an ad have to be for you to go ahead anyway?

Audi’s problem is that there’s already one Green Police in history – a Nazi organization associated with the forced labor andphoto-original-green-police1.jpg extermination of millions of innocent people.  Audi is one of the companies that converted its factories to make automobiles and heavy artillery for the Nazis.  Both Audi and Volkswagen have been named in multiple lawsuits filed by Holocaust survivors and their families over the years.

So the social media campaign and the TV ad comes out… and some people are upset.  Others race to defend Audi’s advertising process, e.g. Audi did lots of research prior to launching the campaign, and it showed the ad to Jewish organizations and Holocaust survivors who were not offended.

These comments just reinforce Audi’s deafness.  Did Audi know in advance or not?  Which would be worse?  And as for the defense that the company showed the ad to some Jewish people… there were thousands of people of multiple faiths caught up in what happened during WWII, and there are human beings of all faiths who could be offended by such a reminder.  We are all citizens of the world – and we are all consumers with money to spend on new cars.  And if I’m not in the market for a car, I can assure you that I talk to someone on Facebook or Twitter or at work who is – someone who values my opinion.

This isn’t about religion, it’s about brand.  It’s about judgment.  It’s about customers.

What was the judgment that Audi made here? As PR flak Melanie Lockhart says on her blog, “Lockstep on PR, “Even if you don’t personally think so, from a PR strategy perspective, it doesn’t matter.  As soon as someone takes reasonable exception to anything an organization does (and especially if that someone has an audience), you’ve got a potential issue on your hands.  Can you reasonably predict that a campaign with resonances of the Holocaust will offend people? I think so.”

green-police-logo-design11.pngOthers on the Web haven’t been so charitable.

Audi volunteered for a big kick in the gut. Why – for a social media campaign? To spend $3 million on a single :30 Super Bowl ad insertion, when said ad drags so much negative baggage with it?  If I were CMO, I’d like to think that I never would have seen the concept in the first place, because my agency would have considered and rejected it. But if it had gotten to my desk and I’d reflexively typed “[Fill in the Blank] Nazis” into Google, it’d have been lights out.  No chance to debate whether or not an ad may or may not offend anyone.  Why take the chance? 

In this case, there simply isn’t enough funny in the world to balance the scale. It’s not as if there’s “another side” to the Holocaust.  This isn’t the same as being “offended” by a bunch of guys farting in a TV ad.  Even if you are one of these folks – in the words of Help A Reporter Out Founder Peter Shankman on Twitter, “Nothing good can EVER come from a PR campaign involving Nazis.”  

In a world where trust is a brand’s greatest asset, one’s very first filter has to be good taste.  Audi had no reason to take this kind of risk.  It makes cars that people love – one guy calls  his Audi TT “lovable and charismatic.” The company doesn’t have any controversial point to prove, and the brand doesn’t need shock value. Why take this road?

And in case you think I’m being overly sensitive, or perhaps that killing the campaign would have been tantamount to censorship, you may have a tin ear.  It’s not about us.  It’s about the audience and the message you want them to receive.

Be tough.  Put ideas to the test.  If one person can “reasonably predict” a problem, don’t hogtie the work and your reputation by asking for a punch in the face. There are plenty of great ideas out there that won’t generate over 100,000* negative mentions on Google.  Go find one.

* On February 14, 2010 a Google search on “Audi Nazis Super Bowl” yielded 107,000 results.

I am disheartened by GM’s new adverting campaign. And the fact that they even have one.

Oh, you say you didn’t know that GM was advertising again with your money? Exactly.

But putting aside the “taxpayer money” piece… what could the company possibly know yet that’s different from what it’s been saying (not doing, necessarily, but saying) for years? “We’re starting over, we hear you, we’re building ’em small, we’re going green, we’re gonna be competitive on a global scale.”

The company’s been bankrupt for 20 minutes. No one’s ever run or worked for or invested in a bankrupt GM. Why not take a breath and think about the very first words you want the American public to hear from you?

But instead the company moved forward with ads that were obviously made prior to the bankruptcy announcement. They already knew what they were supposed to say (see above rebirth, small, green, etc.), so they put some ads out there and paid Donny Deustch a bunch of money to go on Morning Joe and say great things… just as they might have done for any big new happening.

And there’s the rub. This advertising – who knows, maybe any advertising right now – IMHO says “business as usual” for this car company. With a tinge of humility (see hockey player land on his face), it’s all good feelings and autos and rah-rah.

In World War II, auto plants retooled to make planes, tanks and munitions. Michael Moore has said that “the only way to save GM is to kill GM” and that the U.S. must seize this moment in history to re-envision the corporation on nearly the same scale.

Whatever one thinks of Michael Moore, I believe we can all agree that radical change is in order. And maybe GM will shine once again in some new incarnation. I hope so. But by instantly and reflexively pushing out the standard flag-waving, sun-rising, children-playing advertising, GM has sent that first all-important signal to the marketplace: and it looks eerily like the old one.

Readers know that I’m partial to a couple cartoonists and I like to share their work now and then.  On Stephanie Fierman – Marketing Observations Grown Daily, it’s David Jones‘ Adland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.

On his blog, Tom points out that last year’s “green briefs” have been replaced with “value briefs.”  Or how about… bailout briefs? Obama briefs?  Enjoy!


As I was scanning the paper and my online newsletters recently, a couple of unrelated news bits suddenly coalesced around 3 concepts that have served me well as I’ve sought to help companies grow lo these many years.

dunkin.jpgFirst, it was the Wall Street Journal with a story about Starbucks introducing new breakfast combo pricing.  Talk about being a follower:  this has been McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts turf for some time.  But while McDonald’s responded by saying the same old thing – that it’s confident consumers know where to go for value, blah blah – Dunkin Donuts quietly introduced a new consumer benefit that rose above the existing melee over pricing.  A Dunkin marketer said, “We believe we are the faster and more affordable alternative” to Starbucks.”

Faster?  Faster!  Where did come from??  Curses!  And what can Starbucks say, given that they’re firing baristas left and right and were painfully slow even before that?

Dunkin moved the game into open territory.  Let everyone else try to out-price each other:  we’ll just introduce an entirely new thought that matters to customers.  This reminded me of Life Concept #1:  Wayne Gretzky‘s famous line, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”  I honestly use this thought frequently, when I am thinking about how to build a winning strategy.  Don’t just whack each other with sticks and tear up the ice: take the game into new territory where one of your own assets can be truly superior.stephanie-fierman-success-sign.jpg

Define the field:  don’t let it define you.

Next was a recent blip in the ongoing rift between Barron’s and CNBC’s Jim Cramer.  Apparently, Barron’s doesn’t like Cramer all that much and says (repeatedly, to anyone who will listen) that Cramer’s stock picks don’t live up to the size of his personality. 

Whatever.  A big part of Cramer’s whole shtick is that he’s tough, he’s outspoken, he’s gonna do what he wants and say what he wants.  CNBC should have brushed this off.  Instead, the network took the bait and issued what I thought was quite a surprising “let’s take this outside!” response:

You wrote a premeditated hatchet job to curry favor with your new bosses at News Corp.,” said CNBC’s [spokesman Brian] Steel. “[Cramer] doesn’t consider you a journalist.”

Yikes! So, wait: if CNBC actually cares enough about Barron’s commentary to issue this statement, maybe there is something to worry about here and I should pay a little more attention to Cramer’s recommendations… thinketh the consumer.  Apparently this spat has gone public before, with CNBC responding with lawyers, calls to Dow Jones execs and other temper tantrum-like behaviors.

Silicon Alley Reporter‘s Henry Blodget hit the nail on the head: CNBC played Barron’s game, instead of its own.  Jim Cramer’s entertainment value makes huge money for the network.  So why stoop to play Barron’s level? 

If I were in charge of CNBC’s brand and communications I would simply say (to my angry bosses, probably), “Who cares?  Who cares what Barron’s thinks?  Why are we giving Barron’s the time of day? Let’s issue a statement that says ‘We love Jim Cramer and his fans do, too,’ and that’s it.”  Over and out.   

Which brings me to Life Concepts #2 and #3…

lighthouse-stephanie-fierman.jpg#2 is an old Chiat|Day planning concept: you want to be a lighthouse brand.  You want to be the brand on the hill, whose certain features/benefits/emotional connections others can’t touch.  You want everyone looking up the hill at you.  Dunkin Donuts understood this with just one tiny statement and CNBC should have, as well.  Cramer is entertaining and fun.  Is Barron’s fun and exciting?  No?  Then use that.  Too much obsessing about the competition can cripple innovative thinking if it gets you all tangled in the other guy’s rules. 

What have you got that they don’t?

And finally, Concept #3 comes from the world of media training, and anyone who has trained (me) or been trained (by me) knows this critical rule:  regardless of what you might be asked, make sure you say what you came to say.  You are there to communicate certain points and you will do that regardless of whether it fits the other person’s/group’s agenda or not.  Have you noticed how well politicians do this?  Have you ever watched the Sunday morning news shows and thought that maybe you just missed something, because a commentator asked a question and the guest answered an entirely different question?  A new friend from Thomson Reuters just reminded me that Reagan was the master of this at press conferences.  You ask about the Middle East and – if he’s there to talk about the economy – that’s what you got.

Don’t let anyone else make you fuzzy, or pull you off course.

These concepts and their application are a big part of my passion for making brands, and businesses, and YOU a success.  They are timeless and true.  Whether you are a one-man shop or one of a zillion employees, change your thinking.  Be the lighthouse.  Set the agenda.  See what happens.  No one can respond to something you uniquely own.
So own it.


If you’d like to see more of Stephanie Fierman (and, really, who wouldn’t?), please check out my second (and more frequently updated) blog, Stephanie Fierman Marketing Daily.  Thank you.

Despite a massive media focus on the event, there’s not a lot one can one say about a photograph of Michael Phelps smoking marijuana from a bong.

Did he do so on his own time?  Definitely.  And is there a near-100% likelihood that Phelps’ was and is entirely in control of his athletic performance?  Absolutely.  Will this matter to some people? Not at all. 

South Carolina, after all, is pondering filing criminal charges.  

Putting aside the criminality of smoking marijuana… there is no question that this is a hit to Phelps as a revenue-producing business. Whether fair or not, Phelp’s representation and sponsors are placed in a tough spot: kid-focused McDonald’s and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, for example, have both counted on Phelps to project a wholesome, healthy All-American image.  Yes that’s right kids, your gold-medal idol is smoking grass. Weed. Ganja. He’s inhaled. And it looks like he’s done it before, too. Yikes.phelps-frosted-flakes.jpg

Phelps has issued a statement and apology using the “I’m young and dumb” approach and, as Fox Sports has already reported, this event is likely to fade in the memory of the public. The question is whether sponsors will stick with him and help mend his reputation permanently.

The Mojo believes that Phelps’ fortunes are likely to survive long-term if this side of him never sees daylight again. But if there’s more to come – if this episode turns out to be only Strike 2 following his arrest for drunk driving in 2004 – his sponsorship potential may not recover for decades, if ever.


UPDATE:  A version of this post is available on, where a frustrated fan imagines a hypothetical “Dear America” letter from Phelps: “I work my a** off 10 months a year. It’s that hard work that gave you all those gooey feelings of patriotism last summer. If during my brief window of down time I want to relax… you can spare me the lecture.” 

The Mojo could definitely understand, even sympathize, with Phelps if he’s having these thoughts.  There are, however, two relevant concepts here: (1) When the “institution” in question is an individual, it can be challenging to separate the person from his or her behavior.  As a matter of cold, hard cash, Phelps damaged his sponsorship machine.  It doesn’t mean he is a “bad person.” (2) Life is not fair.  The bank bailout debacle has, in particular, brought out the fact that how society measures behavior whether it be personal indulgement or taking “deserving” bank executives to Vegas is not always rational or fair. If there is heat around an issue (like illegal drugs), people may vote in a way that is not entirely logical.  An institution can subsequently correct its behavior, or continue on and accept the consequences.

I’m feeling a bit huffy about Advertising Age these days.

First it was the story on ad agencies that have their own bars and – woo-hoo! – staffers who drink on the job. Now, I know that this is all just good bonding fun: 99.99% of folks aren’t getting drunk on the job. I just thought the piece was a little insensitive (and not too reader-friendly) given that the rest of the issue was focused on layoffs, ad cutbacks and clients bleeding to death.stephanie-fierman-adage-cover1.jpg

Now comes what I would call the “Call Me Irresponsible” issue (August 4, 2008).

1. A sidebar about the TV show Mad Men discusses the big sales of Frank O’Hara poetry after Don Draper reads O’Hara‘s poetry on the show. The article’s title: “TV Can Boost Book Sales, Too.” Didn’t Oprah prove that… years ago? And, like, over and over? Hmmm.

2. On a Law & Order episode I saw last weekend, a witness testifies that violent television programming makes juvenile delinquents delinquent. Sam Waterston then proceeds to eat said witness for lunch by quizzing the guy about the difference between “cause” and “correlation.” Now comes the inadvertently humorous, self-involved AdAge article, “Ad Cutbacks Backfired For Bankruptcy Victims.” [Even though your product is lousy, and you expanded too fast, and your customer base dried up… you’d have been fine if you’d only kept advertising!]  The article does admit that perhaps there are other factors that make companies go belly up, but when push comes to shove…  See Wikipedia on this topic.  

3. Finally, an article titled “How The Economy Is – And Isn’t – Affecting Our Lives” tries to take a sort of tongue-in-cheek view on how the recession is changing consumer behavior. We’re buying (cheap) coffee at McDonald’s instead of Starbucks. We’re “ordering from the dollar menu” instead of choosing Big Macs.” We’re “knitting ponchos” instead of “buying back-to-school clothes.” OK.  Not brilliant, not offering me any insights for my subscription dollar, but fine. Then I got to a claim regarding our reading habits: We are “reading Stephanie Meyer,” but not “reading Maureen Dowd.” The writer’s evidence for the latter is The New York Times’ declining profitability. 

Oh… Trying.  To.  Move.  On.  Can’t…  Drat.

(a) Nearly every newspaper is losing money at this point because offline readership is declining, (b) Maureen Dowd has written two books that have done pretty well, and (c) Dowd’s columns are quite popular online where – unlike the paper – they can be read for free. So what the heck does the Times‘ profitability, in this particular case, have to do with Maureen Dowd? Nothing.  The article does, however, include a picture of Maureen Dowd, so maybe they just thought that that would attract attention. And while I’m on a roll, the author’s supporting evidence for the idea that we’re knitting ponchos is Martha Stewart Living’s increase in 2Q08 sales while consumers are cutting back on back-to-school clothes.  Help me.

If AdAge was known and purchased for its satire, this wouldn’t annoy me. And you may conclude that I’m making a big hoo-ha over nothing.  But you know what? I really look forward to getting something out of AdAge every week.  I give Crain Communications my time and my money, and this stuff isn’t worth either.  It’s just dumb.  A revered trade journal owes its readers more.

welchs-lickable-stephanie-fierman.jpgMagazine inserts have long been a fact of life.  The “interactive” ones most familiar to women typically deliver a scent (marketing perfume) or a tiny sample of lipstick, blush, foundation or cleanser.  Boooring.

Now we’re in a whole new world!

For me, the insert became noticeable again with Welch’s grape juice LICKABLE insert.  Have you seen this thing?  It’s crazy!  And clever.  I sat on my own couch and licked a magazine.  And it wasn’t even a picture of George Clooney this time!  Oops, sorry… How’d such an ingenious ad happen? It was sparked by a new CMO, of course.  With sales down, the team looked hard at everything from Welch’s age-old positioning focused on moms to its CPG-typical media mix of heavy TV and Sunday coupons. 

kid-licking-welchs-ad-stephanie-fierman.jpgSidebar: When looking for innovation, sometimes the biggest obstacle can be your own history.  I’ve been the “change agent” in many situations, and it can be very hard to motivate and inspire tenured employees.  Many sometimes feel that you’re disregarding a brand’s history: that you don’t appreciate that that history is precisely what’s gotten you your new job, etc.  It can be tough going.  One of the things I’ve noticed in the Welch’s case is that its new CMO was in fact a VP promoted into the job.  Let’s assume that he’d been there for awhile and that his promotion indicates that he is well liked and respected for his work.  This doesn’t guarantee success, but being on the “inside” can make a significant difference when delivering a message of change.  Fellow employees know for themselves that you truly understand and respect the brand’s history, challenges and realities.  This helped pave the way for this guy, Chris Heye, to succeed with a “nothing is sacred” approach to an decades-old brand and (with a little help from Britney) win big.  Major kudos to him. 

To kick it all off, Chris challenged his team to create an ad that would stop people in their tracks.  JWT subsequently First Flavor, a company that created the first lickable ad using “Peel ‘n Taste” taste strips that dissolve in the mouth like a breath strip, and turned to print to reach Gen X.  People Magazine – with its huge circulation and experience handling odd materials – was the big choice.  The luck came with the Britney Spears cover that happened to grace the issue in which the ad first ran. 

Then viral success whipped the attention even higher with a flurry of news coverage from the Wall Street Journal, GMA, NPR and more.  Based on the brand’s own research, nearly 16 million consumers say they heard the Welch’s name in the month after the ad ran.  The company says those are big big numbers for them.

The most recent new innovation in inserts – also tipped into People – is the one for the upcoming movie, Mamma Mia!.  “Singing” greeting cards and inserts aren’t new, but this one let’s YOU record your voice, too (and suggests you try singing the Mamma Mia! song yourself.  Pass.).

This intriguing technology comes from Americhip, which claims to create “the most vibrant, spectacular, interactive Multisensory solutions experienced anywhere.”  Judging from my first experience with them, and their impressive website and client roster, they may just do that.  

So what do both these mini case studies have in common?  The answer is an ability to recognize and leverage the old – the true essence of the brand, what makes it special – but deliver it for new audiences in new ways.  Welch’s grape juice tastes great.  The calling card for Meryl Streep’s new movie is unquestionably the great ABBA song by the same name.  Neither team made the mistake of straying from these positives: they just refreshed the delivery.    Both are great examples of good judgment matched with a healthy restlessness to stay current and breakthrough in an exceedingly cluttered world.

I would like to wish all of my readers and their families a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2008.  And a forgiving one, too, since too many candy canes pulled me off track from posting my weekly Favorites. Yes, that’s right, I blame the candy. I’ll get back on track next week. 

In the meantime, here are some pieces that ran from mid December ’07 to early January ’08.  Enjoy.

Steve and Barry’s Uses Celebs to Drive In-Store Traffic
The 265-store retail chain rarely advertises, but gets plenty of fresh exposure from partnering with celebrities who get their own exclusive line of clothing.

Study:  Googling Oneself is More Popular
While self-Googling is becoming increasingly popular, about 60% of Internet surfers say they aren’t worried about the quantity or quality of information available about themselves online.  Readers of this blog know otherwise.

How Silicon Valley and Washington Say “I’m Sorry
Do we have a leadership vacuum?  I say we do.  And how many times can we buy into “I’d rather apologize later than ask permission first” before we start asking questions?  How much of this is marketing spin and how much is real?

Bhutto News Draws YouTube Crowds To TV Coverage
Not everything is a “tipping point,” but there is something real happening across demographic segments when one clip (on YouTube!) draws 185,000 views within 24 hours of the assassination.  Many clips drew between 40,000 and 80,000 views.

Walk 100 Yards North, Turn Right, Enter Store
ShopLocal is just one company pioneering product locating and comparison via mobile devices. Shoppers get search results that provide product, pricing, retailer information and GPS-driven directions to the store of their choice.

Marketer Discontent Set Records In 2007

This is a tough one.  There’s so much change in the marketplace that marketers are more prone than ever to shop their accounts from agency to agency.  Aside from the obvious pain on all sides, there’s no way to interpret this phenomenon broadly.  Bad creative, weak client direction, pressured CEOs, lack of reporting and measurement skills… there are a lot of reasons for this wrenching trend.

Big Fish, Little Fish—Choose Your Pond
Here is an interesting piece of research on executive pay.  It looks at a number of elements including the ratio of average employee to executive pay and how the size and structure of an organization impacts compensation.