December 20, 2010

Lost in nomansland: SAAB's 'Change perspective'

'Move your mind'... what do these three words tell us about a car? Pretty much nothing. It is as meaningless as so many other brand slogans out there. Take LG's 'Life's good' or Buick's 'Drive beautiful' (ca. 2007). They are generic statements that have no relevance whatsoever. No link to the brand, no potential to build lasting brand equity. A consumer shopping around for cars needs to be given at least one takeaway that he/she will remember about this car. 'Move your mind' seems more suitable for a travel destination in India offering meditation classes or the like. The fact that the commercial is beautifully shot is not enough.

When GM reorganized its agency roster in 2007, it wasn't doing so well financially, and dramatically needed to cut cost. Negotiations with the Interpublic Group of Agencies (IPG) were opened up, and the accounts were moved within the network to the roster agencies in Michigan (to cut travel cost?). While Leo Burnett in Detroit did the right thing by sticking with probably the second best slogan in automotive advertising: 'We are Professional Grade' for GMC (second after Volkswagen's 'Think small' from back in the 1960ies), the new agency for SAAB - McCann Erickson in Birmingham thought they knew better by changing everything.

HUGE mistake! Granted, SAAB's advertising for years wasn't very memorable. Things changed drastically though when Lowe New York in 2006 completely rebranded the automaker, and brilliantly hooked the brand back to its Scandinavian roots with its then new slogan - 'Born from Jets'. Wow! How powerful. A car. Born from Jets. I see an army of highly skilled engineers not only developing the intelligence for airplanes, they also put that knowledge into a car. How incredible is that?! (SAAB = Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget (Swedish Aeroplane Corporation)).

Now they tell us to "move your mind". What? I'm completely lost. Move my mind? Think outside the box? Change my perspective? What perspective? Does everyone have the same perspective? If so, what is the underlying premise? None of that is explained here. It just doesn't add up. 

Furthermore, McCann wasted 36 out of 42 seconds in the commercial above by not showing a car at all, or giving any indication whatsoever that this is a car commercial. At an estimated $400,000 production cost for professionally made 30 second TV commercials, $360,000 were wasted! Ad the same proportional amount of 85%, you can calculate the financial waste included in every :30 second spot they run on TV. I am speechless, and unable to comprehend how this concept ever got the green light.

Parveen Batish, Saab's Executive Marketing Director tells us "The 'Move Your Mind' campaign concept fits perfectly with the Saab audience". "Our customers want the quality and performance that come with a premium brand, but they don't want the pretense associated with some of the established premium brands." Alright. And they didn't know that before? Did Lowe & Partners just make up their insights and the resulting ideas? I'm sure they spent a lot of time and money on consumer research, market insights and developing the brand strategy platform that led them to 'Born from Jets'. 

Compare this GMC commercial from back in the days that uses the same idea of someone sitting at the drawingboard sketching ideas. How different!

Related links:
Saab on Facebook
Historic Saab advertising slogans

December 17, 2010

Fantastic! Gamestop's 'Cool Dad'

Brilliant idea. Great execution. Simple, and straightforward. On top of it, it's hilarious. Great combination of a sales message, at the right time of the year, and just the right amount of humor. Plus, it doesn't annoy you with yet another "creative" version of all the holiday songs we have to endure for weeks and weeks. Love it!

December 14, 2010

Ouch! JCPenney & the Ho's

JC Penney - now offering escort service?

I love the holiday season. There is so much advertising clutter flying through the orbit... just the odds demand that this incredible amount of imagery paired with type creates one or more really amusing, unintentional, and sometimes extremely humorous byproducts from time to time.

Speaking of the power of type and typesetting. The above would probably have gone by unnoticed, if it were not for the intentional play on words using Santa's annually reoccurring "Ho-Ho-Ho" in combination with the "Who - Who - Who", which creates an extremely funny, and I am sure unintended message, when combined not with the image of a Santa Clause, but a woman instead.

Ever since rap and hip hop music have brought the term "ho" into the mainstream and pop culture, pretty much every junior in high-school knows of its meaning describing a sexually promiscuous woman, and that by no means in a nice way.

What was the Art Director on this thinking? He/she probably had nothing but the holidays in mind, and I'm pretty sure that if you talked to them they wouldn't get the irony of it. That's because of the inside-out perspective of their profession. Problem is: the consumer doesn't always assign the meaning you had in mind when composing your ad and crafting your message... she assigns whatever she thinks it means.

All I see is a woman and three times "HO-HO-HO". Exclamation mark! Oh my....

December 13, 2010

Way off: Braun's 'Wear your face' campaign


Braun is running a TV commercial these days with one of those uber-handsome, metrosexual model types us regular guys simply cannot relate to. A corresponding ad (above) runs in Redbook, and again a weird model was chosen. Kept black & white, both ad & commercial 's main punch line / slogan / claim reads: WEAR YOUR FACE. And what the hell is he doing in the picture on the left?

WTF?! What? I shall 'wear my face'? What does that mean? Where is the benefit here? What does this razor do that others don't? This line is just as bad as LG's 'Life's good'. It tells us nothing about your company, your brand, your product. It's just a silly line thrown out there that has no relevance and relation to what you are selling. It's one of those 'detached-from-reality' blah lines. I can hear the CD who wrote this rambling on about emotional appeal, aspirational brand image and the like, but come on: wear your face? That's just confusing.

Even the subhead in the print ad reveals nothing. "The perfect gift for back to college." Again. Why? Lesson 1 in copy writing: no one reads body copy in an ad. 1.4 seconds. That's as much time as you have to convey your message. In a picture. And a few words. If you can't say it in those few big letter words you put on the page, chances are you just wasted a lot of advertising dollars.

Don't believe me? Go to the public library, read online in the Journal of Consumer Research, and you'll find plenty of studies about research on advertising impact, especially print ad "consumption". Surprisingly, most copywriters / creative directors continuously tend to ignore these facts. Or perhaps they don't know. Or they don't care. Who knows?

The only piece of information that gets me excited about this ad is at the very bottom of the page: "Designed to make a difference." Aaah. Here is a message I get. My mind interprets this as: "Our team of dedicated product engineers and designers has spent endless hours and days, and tons of R&D dollars analyzing your needs and wants in a shaver, and we have created a piece of technology that will stand out from the competition, and you can feel it." Finally. Unfortunately for Braun, 99% of readers will have turned the page after the 'Wear your face'?! confusion.

Recommendation for the Braun Marketing team: rethink your strategy. Listen to the brand planners first, and don't be fooled by pretty pictures. Then craft a simple and powerful message that corresponds with the image. I bet you can do 10 times better than what this campaign is doing for you.

Related links:
Braun's website
Braun on facebook
Braun on YouTube

December 10, 2010

Same taste in music: Hilfiger & Honda

Imagine you work on an idea for months. One idea that stands for many that did not make the cut, that ended up in the bin. An idea that is part of a big holiday season campaign. The client finally approves the script, and the cost, and the whole production machinery gets rolling. You media slots have been reserved. You finally launch the Holiday campaign, lean back, and then... WTF? Someone else stole your idea?

Not exactly. Someone else simply had the same taste in music. Neither you nor they were willing to fork over the amount of $$$ necessary to get the exclusive rights for the song. So you both end up sharing. Not a tragedy, but certainly not what either of you had in mind when spending six-figure amounts of money on producing your TV commercial, and much much more when sending it out onto the TV programs of the world.

How to do this differently? Either get the exclusive rights, pick a more generic song, or do what Apple does/did - sign young, and upcoming bands exclusively that don't have the leverage to demand ridiculous sums for using their material.

I'm sure neither Hilfiger nor Honda are too happy about this.

Related links:
Tommy Hilfiger on Facebook
Honda on Facebook

December 9, 2010

Very odd: Chocolate Diamonds

Every now and then, you flip through a magazine and come across something that makes you stop turning the page, makes you think. After all, we spend an average 1.4 seconds looking at a full page ad in a magazine, and only .6 seconds more if it's a spread. Sometimes we stop, because the ad is clever, and intentionally set out to make your synapses work. Or in this particular case, we stop because it leaves us lost, raises questions without providing answers.

The December issue of Harper's Bazaar magazine features a whopping 12 pages of advertisements for something called 'LE VIAN Chocolatier'. Fine, you think. They sell chocolate. So what? The problem is that they don't really sell chocolate. Or do they? The product featured on all these pages are actually 'Chocolate Diamonds'. Chocolate Diamonds?

Ah, I get it. A chocolate maker and a diamond maker have paired up to create a co-branded new concept on the jewelry market. It seems kind of odd, but it wouldn't be the first time people believe in a strange product combination. Does anyone remember the 'Burgers & Cupcakes' restaurants in New York a few years ago? I didn't believe the concept made sense, and last year they shut down most of their stores. After all, who wants to smell grilled meat and sweet baked goods at the same time?.

So chocolate and diamonds it is. But in what combination? Does the jewelry come with a bar of chocolate? Is it packed in a box made of chocolate? Is it chocolate pieces put in a box of diamonds? Or do the diamonds smell like chocolate? How do these things fit together? None of this would make sense. Who on earth wants to lick on a chocolate flavored diamond?

Which leaves us with one reasonable explanation. The only thing the diamonds and the chocolate have in common in Le Vian's case is the color brown. But if it's only the color - why do they give the name ' LE VIAN Chocolatier' so much weight on the chocolate side? A chocolatier in my understanding is a chocolate maker, a very fine one. This is a totally confusing approach of launching brown diamonds. The naming hierarchy is completely off.

What would have made sense is:
Level 1: "Le Vian Jewelers" - or - "Le Vian. Diamond Makers"
Level 2: "Introducing: Chocolate Diamonds. Never before seen sparkles of chocolate color in a diamond." (or something along those lines).

I ended up going to the Levian website, thinking my confused mind may find more answers here, but it seems Le Vian is not aware of its communication mishap. A quite expensive one. At an estimated $40K - $60K per page in Harper's bazaar, only this December issue's media buy must have been in the half a million dollar range. Wow! That's a high price to pay for sending a confusing message.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe this brand is so well known that I've lived in a bubble for years without knowing. After all, you don't shop for jewelry often as a man. So let's do a quick check on the Le Vian facebook page, and see if I missed the train... but no, I'm not wrong. Here a quick comparison in terms of facebook fan count:

Le Vian: 1,401
Cartier: 57,640
Tiffany & Co: 684,567

Neither quite a social media sensation, nor a well known brand it seems.

Which brings us back to the first and fundamental lesson in marketing communications: Be clear. Be concise, when crafting your message. If the consumer doesn't know who you are and what you are offering, she will flip the page, and your media dollars go down the drain.

Related links:
Le Vian website
Le Vian on Facebook

December 8, 2010

Me too! Me, too! The NY Food Truck Craze

Nice one. 6th Ave at W 46th Street.

Not so nice. 6th Ave at W 26th Street.

Nice one again. 7th Ave at 26th Street.

First there was one. Now there are dozens. It's impossible to count them all, since they are always on the move, but they are everywhere. Walk the streets of Manhattan on any given day for a few blocks, and chances are you spot at least two or three of them - Food Trucks.

What started out as a fresh, and brilliant business idea of a very few, has turned into a regular staple of New York routine. It shows how easy a great idea can be copied, and if you are number one, and the concept works and takes off, there will soon be a bunch of copycats riding your tail.

Patenting or protecting the concept of selling food out of a movable truck apparently is impossible. Everyone can do it. You either have to be very different (kind of goods your are selling), or have a beautifully designed food truck, or you simply apply a unique strategy to build a loyal following. Some have done it via social media engagement, by tweeting or posting their times and locations to their fans.

The problem with the business however is that it is difficult to scale. Getting a fleet of five, ten trucks off the ground is a huge investments, and margins are limited - there are only so many cupcakes you can bake & sell in a day. By the time you get your second and third truck rolling, you'll most likely have a handful of competitors selling similar baked goods / foods on the streets of New York.

I wonder though if Magnolia Bakery should ride the trend while it's hot. Their store expansion on Fifth Avenue was highly successful - the last time I walked by the line was around the block, and a security guard was limiting the number of customers allowed into the store. I can see Magnolia aficionados jumping on the twitter feed, and happily running out of their office tower to pick up their vanilla cupcake.

A second problem I can foresee in the not so distant future is the environmental aspect once it's been put on the public radar. How much of a carbon footprint does each cupcake / coffee / falafel carry, if its home is constantly on the road, every day, adding to the congestion of New York City streets? Multiply the number of food trucks by the average carbon monoxide emission of a vehicle of that size, and I'm sure we will have a public discussion going.

December 5, 2010

Acura: great concept - wrong timing

I really do like the latest round of Acura commercials. In one iteration, a soft-spoken man praises his high-end, luxury chestnut roaster. In another version, a different man sits proudly in front of his 60ies, post-modern gingerbread house, designed by a fictitious star architect. The punch line: "In a season marked by overindulging and overspending, Acura introduces the concept of oversaving."

Everything in this concept is perfect. Various, interesting story lines building up momentum, and a resolution that has a clear link to the product and the benefit Acura brings to the table. It makes you smile. It makes you think. It has a clear message.

So what is wrong with the concept? Well, it's not exactly a time of overindulgence and overspending. Perhaps three years ago it was. Maybe in two years it will be again. But this year? OK, some rich people may or may not go a bit overboard in their shopping behavior, but as a matter of fact this country is still in a recession, millions of Americans still feel the pain from the housing crisis. The job market looks far from rosy, and for many of our fellow citizens this holiday season will have to be marked by oversaving. Not by choice that is, but out of pure economic necessity.

And for the rest of us? Well, a car is not exactly your typical holiday season gift. It still comes with quite a hefty price tag attached to it. A five digit price tag that is. That is not exactly saving, it is spending. Spending a lot of $$$. Even if Acura throws in hefty discounts, don't forget you haven't technically saved money - you have spent a lot of money. The savings are only theoretical. In reality, there is a huge hole in your pocket.

Acura may have been better off putting this idea onto a shelf, and executing it when the timing would have been right.

December 3, 2010

UPS, you owe Dean Martin an apology

Dear UPS,

You have produced a wonderful commercial. The images are beautiful, the pacing is right, the graphics are fantastic. It is fresh and contemporary, certainly 'on brand', but there is one major issue with it. You have violated a piece of American music history, an iconic song that for years has brought 'Amore' from Italy to America.

"When the moon hits you eye like a big pizza pie, That's amore..."- oh Dean Martin, if only you were still alive, could raise your hand and say: "No! Not with my song! You don't take it and turn it into some twisted version to illustrate how trucks and airplanes are taking packages from A to B. Are you insane? Go, and write your own music!"

What on earth went on in the creative minds who cooked up this idea? Have you no integrity, no respect for the arts? Can't you create something original? Taking an artist's piece, then painting over it, and declaring it your own - that's blasphemous. While there are plenty of awards for great advertising, there should be the equivalent of a 'Golden Raspberry' for the opposite as well. Just think: would you take a Chagall or a Monet, and then paint over it? I bet you wouldn't.

Dear Raymond Bark, you directed this commercial, and you did a truly great job. I just wish you had told the folks from Ogilvy "No. Please guys, don't do this to Dean Martin. Can't we give a composer, sound designer the chance to create something new and iconic instead?"

Now it's too late. The damage has been done. And that awful song is stuck in my head. It will take some time to erase it from my memory. I am afraid however that it will always be tied to Dean Martin's original. And that - UPS & Ogilvy - is not a good thing.

December 2, 2010

Buick - the wrong car for Xmas?

What a man wants for Christmas?

Buick is running TV commercials these days - this one ran during the Arizona vs. Arizona State College Football game - where she (the wife) gives him (the husband) a car for Christmas. The car is parked in the driveway (it is sunny, there is no snow - was this shot in California?), with the annually reoccurring red ribbon wrapped around it. At first, he is happy. But wait. While he is sitting inside the car, taking it in, hugging the steering wheel, the new Buick Lacrosse drives by. All of a sudden all joy is gone, and we see a mixture of envy and sadness in the husband's face.

There is something fundamentally wrong with this concept. Whoever wrote the script at Leo Burnett, the agency for Buick,  has no clue about guys and their cars. There simply is no way on earth that a woman will ever buy her guy a car. Unless she is loaded, and knows her hubby wants a certain kind of luxury sports car. But a Buick? Give me a break. Watching one episode of 'Top Gear' should be enough to teach them what real guys want in a car. And an entire season of the show will erase any last doubt about it.

We know GM has struggled over the years to make something out of Buick. Whatever they have done, was simply awful and bad, showing no understanding of brand segmentation, brand perception and the reality of their product. For a long time, they simply thought showing Tiger Woods driving around in a Buick for 30 seconds on screen would be enough to convince consumers to buy a Buick. Were they really that naive? Is there a single person on this planet who seriously believes Tiger Woods would ever voluntarily drive a Buick? No way. Tiger doesn't drive a Buick. Tiger is not in the middle segment. Tiger has the money to afford a luxury car. Tiger rides Cadillac. Just google "Tiger, accident", and you'll see images of his banged up Escalade when Elin Nordegren did or did not go after him with a golf club back on that November day in 2009.

And now Buick wants us to believe guys get car envy when simply seeing a Buick Lacrosse on the street? That thought is wishful thinking. And that is besides the point that the concept of a woman giving her man a car is totally wrong. We (men that is) are very particular about what we want in our ride. No woman would ever get that right. Just think of the guy who watched the football game during which this spot aired. That's the target group. Now think of this guy. Imagine him. Do you see him in a Buick? I don't.

The target for this kind of car is older. They are not in their 30ies. They are 45+. Back to the drawing board, Leo Burnett.

Related link:
Buick's YouTube channel

Lufthansa: No better way to fly?

No better way to fly?

One thing that has always bothered me when seeing an ad or a commercial by Lufthansa, the German airline, was their positioning line, or claim. "Lufthansa. There is no better way to fly." Something in this message was always disturbing. Two things actually.

Problem # 1
It is a quite arrogant statement. Lufthansa is putting itself on a pedestal, saying that it has found the holy grail of air traveling, and every other airline is pretty much a worse way to fly. What if a competing airline makes vast improvements; improvements so good, that Lufthansa all of a sudden looks like a has-been? Do they really want to take that risk? We know the Germans do many things right. T'hat's why we often buy "Made in Germany". But to say that "there is no better way"? Really?

Problem # 2
The second problem lies in the use of a negative term. Even though Lufthansa is making a positive statement, it is doing it by using a negation, which is a bad choice as the use of 'No',  'Not',  'Never' and the like automatically puts you on the negative side of life. Think of it. If you are a law-abiding citizen, making a statement such as "I am not a thief" kind of states the same, except that you are associating yourself with a negative simply by saying that you are not. Not a wise choice. Instead of stating: "There is no better way to fly", Lufthansa could simply say: "The best way to fly - Lufthansa". It would still sound arrogant, and take you back to Problem Number 1, but at least you kill the negative connotation in your statement.

As a general rule, you should never say what you are not. Say what you are. Be clear, and concise. Have you ever noticed how often people struggle  when telling you which foods they do actually like? It is easier for them to tell you what they don't like. Furthermore, many people's political views are composed of 'anti-this' and 'anti-that' statements. Being against something seems to be easier than actually thinking about what you stand for and what you believe in.

The Solution for Lufthansa?
A great lesson here can be learned from the success Avis has achieved. "We try harder" is what really turned things around for them. Why is this so perfect? On the one hand, it tells the customer a clear message. A message he/she actually cares about. On the other hand, it has a hugely positive impact on the entire organizational culture. Every employee at Avis must have felt a clear and concise mission statement being injected into their every day's lifeblood.

From a brand strategy point of view, it is simply brilliant because it's timeless, and it works no matter if you are number 5, number 2, or even number 1. You can always "try harder". Even if you are on top. It sends one message to your customer - that you are continuously striving for improvement. Simply brilliant.

What is the solution for Lufthansa? It is actually quite simple. Instead of:

"Lufthansa. There is no better way to fly",

they should get rid of the 'no' and tell us what they are really doing:

"There is a better way to fly - Lufthansa".

Related Link:
Lufthansa's Facebook Page

November 30, 2010

A few thoughts on 'Viral Marketing'

17-year old Joshua Beattie from Brisbane, Australia, makes a 7-minute shortfilm on a zero dollar budget. The actors: his friends. The cameraman: too. Equipment: a video camera and a laptop. He puts the film on Youtube, and generates almost a million views in one week. No marketing dollar spent. No 'Below-the-line' campaign. No PR agency paying bloggers to 'spread the word'. None of that nonsense. Just a really good story. Well told. Perfectly executed. His story is everywhere these days.

When a journalist asks him if he intended to spread the word through social networks, he shakes his head. No, he simply sent a link to a few friends who missed the screening at the local high-school. People simply forwarded it to friends, who forwarded it to friends, who forwarded it to friends.

In the old days, this was called 'Word of Mouth', the passing of information from one person to another. Somehow this concept got twisted, abstracted, and then misunderstood by ignorant marketing managers and advertising specialists, who called it 'Viral Marketing'.

There is something fundamentally wrong with this concept. While 'Word of Mouth' is an outcome, 'Viral Marketing' is most often misunderstood as a marketing strategy. Who doesn't understand the difference is almost doomed to fail when pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into a 'viral campaign'. Very rarely does this approach succeed, because you simply cannot force your friends to forward a link. If they think it's crap, they simply delete it. If the content is really outstanding - as in the above video - we forward it to five, ten or even twenty friends. After all, what we forward, reflects back on us. And who wants to build a reputation for sending lame links around?

What most marketing managers don't understand is that 'Viral' is an outcome, not a strategy. A few campaigns have succeeded, either because they were first, and no one else had done it before. Remember 'The Blair Witch Project'? That was a viral success story. Remember the roller-skating babies for Evian? A viral hit. Remember 'Fantastic Freddy' for Radisson Hotels? Chances are, you've never heard of him. He was planned to be part of a viral campaign. Look him up on YouTube and judge for yourself.

Fact is, these days you've pretty much failed if your viral video does not generate at least a 100,000 views in a week. Looking at the Top 10 hits of viral marketing per week, you need to even crack the 500,000 view mark to be mentioned anywhere.

So think twice before doing something 'viral'. Do you have a good story? Do you have a great execution? Would you yourself send this link to ten of your best friends, and ten of your top business contacts?

Related links:
The Top 10 Viral Video Ads of the Week
10 Memorable Viral Videos of 2010

November 29, 2010

A joke: The Nissan Juke Launch Spot

It must be really hard being a young creative in an ad agency, when you're working on a car account. On the one hand you are trying to establish yourself as the next hot shot and build your portfolio, on the other hand there are these annoying people called clients, who have never understood your genius and who demand the same lame car driving around somewhere somehow over and over.

Just try to remember a really great car commercial you've seen in the last ten, five, three years. Not many, right? Because let's be serious here. Most work is interchangeable, and too often just quite boring. A car driving in the mountains, a car driving along the ocean, or a car driving in the city. They all do the same. Take you from A to B.

The Nissan Juke however is different. And it shows. It's an ugly car to begin with, which means we have to make the ad campaign surrounding it somehow cool, and fun, and witty. I am pretty sure the folks at Nissan have never really understood what the ad agency, in this case TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, has sold them on here. Because it is just stupid. The whole commercial is nothing but a joke. An expensive one, when you think that :30 sec like this pile up production cost of half a million dollars easily. Add all your media dollars on top, and you're throwing a lot of money out of the window.

Why is this so bad? Well, this kind of car and its commercial are clearly targeted at young, urban, post-college-graduate kids, like the guy in the commercial - Kowalczyk. There is an entire campaign built around him. So far, so good. But "the intern forgot the donuts for the status meeting"? Seriously? That's "the mission" for Kowalczyk? Who of these young, urban, cool kids wants to be reminded of the misery of corporate life in a cubicle, with boring status meetings in plain ugly conference rooms next to awful office environments like the one shown in this spot?

And Kowalczyk breaking the window of a donut store to get a few, stupid donuts? Is everyone so scared of the boss being p... ed off that the intern forgot the donuts? Or is life in this fictitious office so dull that the donuts are the only highlight of the day? Or perhaps the target group isn't that cool, young kid, but the grey suits in their fifties? Can't be. The crazy stunt driving wouldn't appeal to them. These people buy Buick or Volvo while aspiring to a BMW or a Mercedes. I'm really lost here. If anyone in the industry has sales numbers of this vehicle, please share with me. I would be surprised if this vehicle sells at all.

Advice to Nissan: don't let a kid in his/her mid-twenties go crazy with an idea, unless your entire brand premise is build on that idea (think Axe). Entire Nissan that is. Not just one design accident like the Juke.

And TBWA? Come on. You can do better than this.

November 24, 2010

Heineken's brilliant activation stunt in Italy

This is clearly one of my favorite activation stunts this year. The recipe: take a major beer brand, men's obsession with football (read: soccer in the U.S.), a European Champions league match between Real Madrid and AC Milan, and wrap it all around a simple, yet brilliant idea. Then go and execute it in all the right channels. Why is this so amazing? Because football is a global religion for many men, and this concept could have very well been executed in Spain, England, Germany, France, Argentina, Brazil... you name it.

It was, however, only executed in Italy. Mind-blowing, how a local event has caught the attention of a whole country, then spread across the globe. There is no marketing budget in the world that can buy the kind of true joy every football fan got out of this. This is a story that will live forever.

No further comments necessary. Just sit back, watch, and enjoy.

November 23, 2010

Scent & the city

New York push-cart vendor on Times Square.

Same vendor. Meat on fire.

Some marketers aim to target all of our senses, when trying to seduce us. Fact is the right design of sound and scent can make us spend more time and dollars in a store, and taking in that sweet smell of warm muffins and creamy cupcakes from the bakery on your way to work in the morning not only evokes childhood memories of grandma's homemade goodies, it most likely makes us stop midstride, walk right in, and before we know it, we're taking a bite out of that incredibly delicious vanilla cupcake.

But what on earth are these New York city push-cart vendors thinking? We see them every day, on dozens of street corners, selling hot dogs, sodas, pretzels and grilled chicken skewers. Grilled chicken skewers? Make that burnt skewers. They are either bad marketers or the worst grill masters walking the face of the earth. Whatever it is they are doing, their fare seems to remain most popular with the highly intoxicated on a late Saturday night. The two pictures in this article were taken on a warm, sunny, 55 degree New York day in November with not a single cloud in the sky. Yet half a city block was covered in smoke. I'm surprised no none had called 311, and filed a public complaint.

Just a few blocks away, on 39th Street and 7th Avenue, there is a Burger King, who for years has directed its exhaust pipe directly to the iron air vent grids outside that are supposed to get fresh air onto the subway platforms. But trust me: nothing good comes out of these pipes. The result: if you are standing on the subway platform of the 1 train underground, you wish you had an oxygen mask. What your lungs are taking in is not that summer night barbecue grill flavor making you dream of a juicy steak, but the putrid smell of rancid fat burning in the fire instead. The memory of that awful smell has been stuck in my mind for years, and it truly has has put my loyalty to the Whopper to the test.

How powerful these memories can be? Well, if I close my eyes, I am reliving the moments of joy I experienced back fifteen years ago at the Horton Plaza mall in downtown Sand Diego, brought to me by a place called - come on, google, help me real quick - ah, there it is: Cinnabon. I will never forget the sweet smell of oven-fresh baked cinnamon buns that came out of an oven-exhaust pipe that was strategically pointed at the sidewalk outside, which made escaping the temptation almost impossible.

For further reading, I recommend Marcel Proust's: In search for lost time. A Reader's Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past.

Related link:
A blog dedicated to the science of Scent Marketing

November 22, 2010

The Gap new logo mess – what went wrong?

"Classic, American design to modern, sexy, cool"?

Rewind: on October 4, 2010, The GAP announced it would transition its iconic logo from “classic, American design to modern, sexy, cool”. What followed was a storm of negative consumer feedback – about 90% rejected the new version.
(For links relating to the full story, see at the bottom of this mail).
The new logo however looked like it was designed in MS Paint or Word Perfect. It was just so… plain ugly. After just one week, GAP pulled the story and buried the project silently.

What went wrong at ‘The Gap’? I don’t think they will ever tell us. Let us however think for a moment. You have serious business people running a company in San Francisco. They went to Business school. They work for a public company that is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. They have pressure from their investors – they have to publish quarterly results. And that is as much long-term focus as they have. Add an economic climate to the mix that has most retailers mark down their goods by 20, 30, 40 or even 50% (yes, it’s nasty out there right now), and you have people panicking.

What can we do? Well, you can’t force people to buy. You can change advertising agencies. Or you can try yet another advertising campaign to seduce the people. Gap’s advertising agency of record, Laird & Partners in New York, is very good at that. If the campaign however doesn’t get people to spend their dollars, what else can you do?

Enter the Gap’s marketing department. Strategy meeting. Panic there as well. Measure of last resort: let’s change the logo! Everyone nods. Ad agency gets a call. Creative presentation with a strategic set-up outlining the rationale. Something about a new customer type. They call them ‘millennials’. And the new logo is for them. Everyone nods. Let’s do it.

The problem with all this: between the Gap’s marketing meeting, and Laird designing a new logo, no one did the thinking. No brand strategist sat down and analyzed the brand’s equity, assessed the implications, the possible outcome, did some consumer testing. What a mess this was. I’m pretty sure someone got the boot for that.

A lesson for every marketing manager: don’t confuse an advertising agency with a branding/identity shop. Laird & Partner is a formidable agency with a proven track record, and an impressive client roster. Just check out their website. They are, however, a creative boutique. They produce aesthetic visuals. Still, and in motion. Agencies like that are not strategically driven. Creative people, often-flamboyant personalities, and sometimes even eccentric ones run them. Strategy there is the ugly step child, serving the purpose of post-rationalizing the creative in some kind of way. Most often it exists primarily to sell an idea or a concept to the client vs. doing what's right for the brand and the client's business.

Yet in the case of the GAP logo, even that doesn’t serve as an explanation, since the outcome is just so very bad. Did an intern work on this? I don’t know. What were clearly missing in this ‘value chain’ of creative components were a brand strategy/brand identity firm, and preliminary consumer testing. The results would have shown that this was a bad call from the beginning, and the story would have never seen the light of day in the first place.

Lesson for The GAP: You’ve spent years building an iconic brand. You’ve pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into this. Don’t throw your most valuable asset out of the window just like that. That’s just plain dumb. Seriously. Look at the logo evolution of Coke vs. Pepsi. It’s pretty clear who’s number one, and who’s the runner up.

One thought on the "modern, sexy, and cool" attempt of the new logo. Well, it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t mean anything. It shows how poorly thought through this project was. The meaning assigned to these attributes solely depends on your age and where you’ve set your cultural anchor... something that is modern, sexy and cool is not so much modern, sexy and cool six months from now. What do you do then? Change the logo? Again? Timeless, classic, and cool would be a better attempt. But wait – isn’t that what the iconic GAP logo is all about?

I think I just heard Mickey Drexler laughing out loud in his offices at J. Crew...

Related links:
Oct 12, 2010: New Gap Logo Dead at One Week (Vanity Fair)
Oct 7, 2010: Gap Speaks Out: Yes, the Logo Is Real (AdAge)

November 21, 2010

Social Media Experiment: American Airlines & John Legend

It all began so well. We were in the Meatpacking District on a fashion photo shoot. Next to us, in front of Hogs and Heifers, a New York dive bar, three guys in blue American Airlines t-shirts were handing out free concert tickets for John Legend & The Roots to those 'fans', who found time and location on AA's facebook page. So far so good. Word spread, a constant flow of frequent fliers came to pick up the tickets, and I managed to disguise myself as part of the in-crowd as well.

Two weeks later. Brooklyn. Williamsburg. Hipsterland. Getting off the L-Train at the Bedford stop, you could feel the cool factor coming. American Airlines seemed to have gotten this one right. A legitimate artist, the right location, some mystery surrounding the hunt for tickets - makes you feel special. Enter the venue. Crowd check. Style check. Positive. A nice mix of people. A good vibe. Surprisingly exciting for a Tuesday night.

The tension rises. The place is packed. The crowd is pumped up. Then, finally: stage lights on. Final sound check. The spot light pointing to the stage entry... the crowd gets louder... the stage door opens... and here he is - no wait, here he's not - who the f... is that?

Onto the stage walks a stocky guy in his mid-thirties, worn out blue jeans, square tip bulky black leather shoes, ill-fitted business dress shirt, the collar tips curled up, the top button casually unbuttoned, sporting a goatee and square black eye-glasses.

"Hello everybody! My name is John Smith (name altered by author), and I'm the Director of Social Media for American Airlines..." What follows are ten minutes of CAMS - Corporate American Marketing Speak. "... 10% off your next flight with the coupon handed to you at the end of the show...", "... make sure to tweet and post about this event on your facebook...", and so on and so forth. One could feel the cool vibe that had filled the music call being sucked out the door with every second he kept on talking.

Advice to American Airlines: If you pay John Legend and The Roots tons of money to have some of his vibe rub off on you, you should at least throw in a few bucks to pay a professional VJ, actor, or even one of those uber-cool Brooklyn hipsters to give the intro. Put them in skinny jeans if need be, add some Chucks to it, and for Christ's sake even a trucker's hat. Let him talk for two, three minutes, max. Keep the excitement level up. Mold the energy, before handing it over to Mr. Legend.

When the artist finally appeared on stage, one could read his thoughts in his eyes. To John Smith: "Yes, I'm taking your money. But I'm not going to bed with you. Now get the hell off my stage" To the crowd: "Sorry guys. I'll have my manager rewrite the contract so things like this won't happen in the future. Now let's play some music, and have some fun."

The lesson here: If you're a Director, stay in the background, and direct. Unless you have the talent, and the charisma of a Richard Branson, a Donald Trump or a Karl Lagerfeld, stay in the background, and hire a professional.

Oh, and that coupon, with the 10% off, I must have lost it somewhere. John, if you're reading this, would you mind sending me another one?

November 20, 2010

Girl scout cookies anyone?

Peanut Butter Pattie + Peanut Butter Sandwich + Thin Mint

And the award for most brilliant marketing scheme of all times goes to - The Girl Scouts of America! Just a few days ago, it dawned on me. These girls have it all figured out. The perfect business plan.

As I walked into my Manhattan office tower, I saw them standing in the lobby. Three little girls in their spotless, green little uniforms, supported by their proud moms, standing by a plastic folding table stacked with cookies. Impossible to pass them unnoticed. "Hello Sir! Do you want to buy some cookies?" How can you say no to that? Three boxes. Done. Into the elevator. Up. Out of the elevator. Into the office. On every single desk: cookies. Two boxes, three boxes. Five boxes.

Flashback: a year ago, different company. Girl scout cookie season. A female co-worker working the office, one desk at a time. In her hand: a sign-up sheet for her daughter's girl scout cookie sales contest. What are you going to do? Say no, and feel the abuse for weeks to come? Hell no. "Yeah, sure, sign me up for three. Peanut Butter Patties, Peanut Butter Sandwich and Thin Mints" Done. And I don't even like cookies. Oh well. You can always share the love and make some friends, right?

Sitting in my cubicle, and thinking of all the millions of boxes of girl scout cookies being sold simultaneously, I couldn't help but wonder - is there a gigantic girl scout cookie factory somewhere in the U.S., with little girls mixing flour, eggs, and chocolate chips? Can't be. That would be child labor. So it must be a legit business. With a real CEO, factory workers, full-time employees, a truck fleet, a marketing and a distribution strategy.

Wait - distribution strategy? Of course! Little girls, working for free, in every state, county, and city in America! Being supported - for free - by their moms and dads, leaving no stone unturned. Simply brilliant! Payroll for sales force - zero. Commission for sales results - a badge. Motivation of sales force - purely intrinsic!

If only the people at the post office showed some of the commitment these little girls do...

And that's the way the cookie crumbles.


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