Posts Tagged branding

Fundamentally Flawed

A couple weeks ago, going through my DVR lineup, it occurred to me just how much we like our heroes and heroines flawed. The characters that we rally behind are in one way or another fundamentally flawed. From Chuck to Big Bang to Grey’s Anatomy to just about any form of reality TV – the people we love have serious issues. The question is simply whether we know it up front or are waiting intently for the other shoe to drop.

This of course isn’t surprising, we all like rooting for the underdog. No one finds constant perfection entertaining. So if we want the characters of our lives flawed, what about our brands?

I would argue that there should be no difference. Obviously I don’t want to be cruising around in a mechanically flawed automobile that puts my family and other drivers at risk – but I’d also say there’s nothing wrong with an auto brand openly tackling a challenge, problem or cause that we can all get behind. Case in point, the new Chevy Volt. I am not a GM fan and I will not be an early adopter of the EV but I do admire the way GM has more or less put all its eggs in one basket on this one. If the Volt isn’t a success, there’s no way of knowing just how far GM will fall.

Chevy VoltAnd I think this new ‘pioneering’ image of GM will play out in its favor. In the case of GM, it has to. So I am, as I’m sure you are, rooting for them.

There’s also the flipside to consider – when flaws and faults are discovered, why do so many brands try to hide from them, as though ignoring the problem will make it go away. Sticking to the auto and oil theme, both BP and Toyota (anyone else find Toyota’s slogan of “Moving Forward” ironic?) have been criticized for their relatively unapologetic PR strategy – which we’d agree has not worked out well for them. People are still anxiously awaiting a heartfelt apology and/or admission of fault.

So go ahead – embrace your sub-par-ness.  People will love you for it. There’s just no other logical explanation for the longevity of gratingly annoying characters like Urkel.


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Making a mockery of movement marketing

Today, on Facebook, I saw at least 5 pink ribbon videos, articles, symbols, etc. And then I saw one for rescued animals, and then one for substance abuse recovery. Don’t get me wrong, these are all GREAT causes. But I submit to you that social media has let out the air out of movement marketing.

What was once an actionable and noble thing has now become an overplayed and misrepresented form of brand association. And it’s not just big companies that are doing it (though they are probably the worst perpetrators). It’s us as consumers, as friends and as neighbors.

Let’s have less talk and more walk.

Less on awareness and more on action.

Less 30 second Facebook posting and more 30 minutes volunteering.

Social media has made it too easy for us to feel good about ourselves that we’ve forgotten the point behind movement marketing – and that’s to move people.

Will 50,000 virtual thumbs up change someone’s life? Maybe. Would just 50 people giving up an hour to help their community? Abso-freakin-lutely.

Put another way, how much movement are you really doing by posting that FB badge on your profile saying you believe animal abuse is wrong? I mean – I should hope we all feel that way. We need to do more than just give ourselves a pat on the back.

1) Bring people together to become change agents. And a FB page does not mean you’ve brought people together. I work for a giant, complicated organization and one of the things that often frustrates people is how difficult it can be to move the needle. That said, it’s also amazing to see what can be accomplished when the masses are aligned. I’d argue there isn’t a problem we couldn’t solve by working in concert. So don’t just hand out ribbons – bring people together.

2) Don’t make it about YOU. The blatant co-branding with the pink ribbons has become out of control. The pink ribbon isn’t about your fried chicken. It isn’t about your brand. (See my earlier blog about why your brand should come second) The movement is about the people and the cause, not your brand.

3) Give it away. Nothing irks me more than seeing “$.50 cents of every purchase will be donated to blah blah blah”. To me that’s nothing more than the same discount or coupon you’d give to the customer if there wasn’t a charity. That doesn’t move me and I doubt it moves you. Instead of marking it down – GIVE IT AWAY. You don’t have to do it for a month, or even a week. Denny’s gave away breakfast for a day costing them about $14 million in sales but bringing in about $50 million worth of free advertising (source).

Hopefully I’ve successfully turned my rant into something a bit more productive. My fear in all this co-branding is that we’re doing more harm than good, not only for big brands but for the movements themselves. People feel like their part of the movement when in reality they’re just as disengaged as they were before – except with a page on their FB profile. HOW TERRIBLY UNINSPIRING!

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A musician’s perspective on branding

Gibson Les PaulI’m a guitar player and have been for going on 20 years. In the words of Wayne’s World’s Garth Algar – “I like to play”.

My love for music is a huge part of what defines me and while I couldn’t pack an arena by any stretch of the imagination, I can usually hold my own with the musicians I come across. As far as material possessions go, my Gibson Les Paul is among my most prized.  And even though my first purchase 20 years ago wasn’t a Gibson (it was in fact -gasp- a Fender), I promised myself that I’d one day own a Gibson. It took more than a decade an a half to fulfill that promise but, a few years ago, almost on impulse, I pulled the trigger.

Hold back your tears… the purpose of that story was not to reflect on a boy and his longing for a killer 6-string. My point was that 15 years is a incredible amount of time to hold on to a brand as an aspiration.

Owning an Les Paul was always a boyhood dream. But come on, I’m now in my thirties – surely I didn’t think that owning a Gibson would transform me into Slash or Jimmy Page. Of course not (though that would be some nifty marketing). So what is so dang enduring about the Gibson brand? Well…

1) Gibson symbolizes an uncompromising approach to quality, and dog gonnit, I’m worth it.  If it’s good enough for Slash, it’s good enough for me.

2) Gibson owners are fanatical about, well, Gibsons. While I don’t own a Harley, I imagine the kinship to be comparable. There’s a mutual respect and admiration that comes with owning a Gibson – as if it gives you immediate credibility. Part of it is their branding and pricing strategy – which even at the low end will cost you more than most high end guitars – making ownership an elite club among the musically enlightened.  But it’s not just fancy marketing. Last year I had the honor of playing in a fundraiser and tribute to the late (but always great) Les Paul himself and I was amazed at the immediate kinship people had despite having never met before. Yes we were all musicians but this was more than just simple commonality. Which goes to my next point…

3) People are fanatical for the brand, but the brand is also what it is because owners are so fanatical. Or put more simply, Gibson is a brand, personified. The zealots are Michael to Gibson’s Air Jordan. But with even more zeal. Just go on youtube and look up Gibson. From young to old, from hack to pro – people are showing off their finely tuned axes.  There is an incredible symbiotic relationship, a personal pride that defines those musicians, and that in turn feeds the brand. And the best part is that it costs Gibson nothing in terms of marketing dollars.

Play a word association game with a Gibson owner and you’ll see what I mean.

…Party on Wayne.

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Old Spice Braves New World

The first time I saw the Old Spice man, he was riding a horse, backwards.  That was about 6 months ago. On a humor scale I probably found it a 6 out of 10. I then saw Old Spice man #2 – and he was a bit scary, but still funny. And that was about the extent of my thought process. At the time, I figured the Old Spice campaign was a few TV spots – a little edgy but still a traditional medium that you’d expect from an every day consumer product.

Fast forward to today when I stumble upon @oldspice.  With 45K followers, Old Spice has transformed into a social media sensation. Their youtube channel has 6 million views,  and more incredibly, their uploads have a collective SIXTY MILLION views. Wow!!!

How did this transformation happen? Some thoughts…

First, Old Spice invested early on in building brand awareness of the OSG (Old Spice guy). I may be giving them too much credit but in retrospect I really think they had a clear communication and content strategy. Once they established some mass market traction, they launched into phase two…

Leveraging the awareness of OSG, OSG marketers began carrying on conversations with celebs like Christina Applegate and Alyssa Milano, as well as every day Joes. And they all want to talk to him. I don’t think this would have been the case without the traditional media spend they invested in early on (proving my oft made point that social media is just a tactic in the marketer’s arsenal, not a strategy). Add to that well thought out social content with broad appeal and you’ve created a viral need for others to also engage with OSG. I have never seen anything like this.

It’s customized, mass market, 1:1 marketing over a social landscape. Incredible job… I guess the question I have is – will this help sell more Old Spice??? Curious as to whether or not people are embracing this as purely entertainment or if Old spice is building brand loyalty here (in fact I may just ask him). Your thoughts?

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When does a sponsorship make sense?

Watching an NBA game last night, an ad for Kia motors came on. It claimed that the Kia Sorrento was the official vehicle of the NBA. The commercial itself was visually appealing with compelling music, but at the end I scratched my head thinking, what does an entry-level SUV have to do with the most competitive basketball league in the world. As hard as I tried I could find no connection between Kia and/or the Sorrento with the NBA, other than the NBA needs sponsors and Kia has money to be a sponsor.

So the next time you’re contemplating sponsorship opportunities for your brand, consider the following…

1) What does your product have to do with the event or entity in question? The classic example is beer (or chips or other snack items) and football. That makes sense to me – friends gathered around the tube, putting back a few cold ones and routing for their team. But again, to reiterate, what does an entry-level SUV have to do with the game of basketball. Players don’t drive them; it’s not a highly tuned performance (read athletic) vehicle, its not going to make me a better baller. Where’s the connection?

2) Would your brand benefit from exposure to the target audience? Here’s where Kia may pick up some points. NBA basketball is a mass market, largely watched sporting event… but then, why not just advertise? Why pay the additional funds to be a “sponsor”? So I would caveat this by also adding that there should be added value by associating your brand to the product in question.

3) Is there a clear consumer insight to you being a sponsor? I’ve watched this ad multiple times and I’m not sure how Kia has made my enjoyment of the NBA better. This partly goes back to point #1 but the other half is simply that I was not compelled to action nor did it push me to view Kia in a different light. The one glimmer of insight I could see was that Kia was trying to position the Sorrento as a hip urban vehicle (which might have some ties to NBA culture)…but that message did not resonate with me, and I doubt it dd with other viewers.

So can sponsorship dollars be wisely spent? Of course, beer and football, auto parts/accessories and NASCAR, brands in related trade shows…I just think that in today’s world where the mediums with which to touch your customers are ever growing – sponsorships become increasingly more costly on a relative scale. So lets make sure we assess the true value of a sponsorship and more importantly the opportunity cost of that investment when compared with other opportunities that more closely align with our customers’ preferences. 

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Good viral marketing means putting your brand second

Any marketer that sets out to make “good viral marketing” is probably setting themselves up for failure. I hear the words viral and marketing thrown around all too often, and those words are usually followed by “how do we create more exposure for our brand”.

I’m sure there are those who disagree but good viral marketing by definition means not putting your brand first. Something that’s a blatant self promotion of your brand is likely to fail as a viral tactic because no one wants to pass on a commercial. They want to pass on things that are

a) Not blatant self-serving commercials selling things

b) Humorous and/or entertaining and/or informative

c) Support or benefit a cause that people connect to emotionally

d) Remember to go back to a

Below are three examples, all of which meet 2 or more of the three things above.

Xerox – Lets Say Thanks Campaign (sorry, just a link…no video)

The first I’m sure many of you have seen… I don’t think Dave Carroll ever set out to get 6 million viewers and tank United Airlines stock price. But people found the video humorous, and they emotionally connected to the “little guy” fighting the big bad corporation. And through it all, he didn’t try to sell you any of his music, though I’m pretty sure he got some guitars out of the deal courtesy of Taylor Guitars and sold a few more downloads in the process.

The second campaign was paid for by Medline who makes, well duh, among other things gloves. But how many viewers new medline was behind it…not until the end do you see who paid for it, and through it all medline never tried to promote their product. Just a great cause presented in an entertaining way that people connected with.

The last one,, is one I just stumbled upon. And thumbs up to Xerox…what an outstanding concept. I’m not going to tell you what its about because I want you to click on the link yourself. Xerox has enabled all of us to connect with our troops this holiday season, and all you need to do is click the link. So take 10 seconds and click for our troops! Thanks!

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LeBron's Brand part II

Below is a response I posted to another blogger on Brand LeBron. Thought I may as well share it here as well.

I should say that since I first criticized LeBron’s behavior, he has since come forward and apologized. The NBA also fined him $25,000 for his actions (a pittance in LeBron currency though sizable to us normal people). Nonetheless credit him and the NBA for making the right decision.

I think LeBron has surrounded himself with some of the brightest minds in marketing. He also has the benefit of two predecessors, Michael Jordan, who really didn’t fully capitalize on his marketability until the second half of his career and Kobe Bryant, who we all know lost out on millions in endorsement money by making poor life decisions.

That said, at 24 years old, LeBron is still just a child who I think tries to take on too much. Yes he’s an “adult”, but that doesn’t equate to maturity, especially when your formative years are spent being celebrated like his. As such he made a poor choice after Cleveland’s elimination. Forget talking to the press, I’m referring to not shaking the hands of his opponents. Some players have said it wasn’t a big deal but I think that’s the brotherhood sticking up for one another. At the end of the day, if someone doesn’t shake my hand (win or lose) I question their love of the game and I question their values. Where does fair play and integrity place on their priorities?

LeBron has never shied away from the spotlight, making clear his intentions to be the first “Billion” dollar athlete… well there’s a catch. To succeed in that measure the public really needs to embrace you. But the very notion that greed is his ultimate motivator, coupled with his lack of sportsmanship is bristling and in my eyes makes it that much harder to embrace him as an American icon.

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