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


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