Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reigning in Christmas with Deere. The new Rudolph.

In 1998, Sue Fournier did a lot of research on people's relationships with brands. Through 3 in-depth life-history case studies Fournier intrusively investigated and interpreted the respondents’ brand usage histories. She described consumers' relationships with brands and concluded that consumers’ relationships with brands are remarkably similar to relationships consumers have with other people. Her categorizations of brand relationships ranged from committed marriages(on the positive side) to indemnities (on the negative side). Here’s the citation:

Fournier, Susan (1998), “Consumers and Their Brands: Developing Relationship Theory in Consumer Research,” Journal of Consumer Research, 24 (March), 343-373.

This takes us to Christmas.

Christmas consistently ranks as the favorite day of the year for Canadians. It is a day (better described as a season) that is glued together by relationships. For the vast majority of Canadians, Christmas is the day when family and friends get together to wine, dine, and exchange gifts under a tree; it is one time of the year when donations and volunteerism sky rocket as the most generous inclinations of people are unleashed; it is the season when childhood memories surface and when "kids of heart" relive their past Christmases through the excitement of the kids. Of course, the day is even more important to Christians, who mark the birth of their personal savior and Christ. To put it in perspective, at its core, Christmas is about love for the Christian and secularist, for the Buddist and the agnostic. And, for most Canadians, Christmas is the most intimate day of the year.

There are many directions that I could take this blog tonight. We could look at how high-end purchasing patterns change (e.g. Consumer “upgrade” to Haagen Dasz from Nestle), we could examine how some brands got linked to the holiday traditions (e.g. Pot of Gold, Butterball, Crown Royal), or we could look at holiday advertising (any guesses what the most played Christmas carol has been on advertisements?). Tonight, I am going to give an pristine example of just how right Fournier was with her research.

Check this out. A few days ago I went to one of the largest grocery retailers. On display: John Deere Christmas ornaments for $6.99. I was told they sold pretty well too. This means, there are a group of folks out there who are decorating their trees with a farm/lawn equipment manufactuer’s logo. A quick Google search shows you could deck out your tree with Harley Davidson, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Apple and the University of Western Ontario. The “ah ha” moment here is this. Just think how emotionally invested a consumer is in a brand to spend money to purchase a Christmas tree ornament, and place it on the centerpiece of the home Christmas decoration. The tree is the place where families and closest friends exchange and open gifts. This is the place where many Christians place their Creche. This is the most popular spot for an engagement ring to be opened up. This is the most intimate place in a home - on the most intimate day of the year. For some consumers, John Deere is right there. That’s exactly the kind of relationship stuff that Fournier was talking about.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Just a quick follow-up on a recent post. Bieber's Baby video crossed over 400,000,000 views this week. His tally grows at around 1,000,000 views a day. I`m not sure if I should congratulate the Canadian munchkin - or cancel my hope for a better future for the world - but this is the most viewed video online. It's a pretty good bet that his career has peeked and its all downhill after 16...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Boring, babes, and a boy on a horse.

(Thanks to Demetrios for leading me to this discussion.)

Hello ladies. Look at the Old Spice data. Now look at Axe data. Now look at Old Spice data. We don't have privileged access to all the data, but the info below gives us a snapshot of what is going on in the male deodorant/body wash category.

I'm going to make a pretty reasonable assumption: for most men, the male deodorant /body wash category is pretty mundane and the the use of it is very functional. It is the "Give me something so that I don't stink after a workout" kind of mentality. In order to make purchasing more interesting, however, Unilever's Axe launched a more emotive campaign. It came up with tongue-in-cheek and sexually-overt (many would argue trashy) claims to draw young males to its brand. The Axe value proposition is simple. Axe helps you get girls- and lots of them.

Of course when Unilever chizzled out a large niche with its branding, P&G had to get a bigger piece of the action. P&G tried rehabilitating its Old Spice brand using the suave Isaiah Mustafa. The "perfect man" riding on horseback was a lot more experienced, sensitive and mature than any of the Axe characters. Very quickly, the Old Spice ads became a pop culture sensation and total YouTube downloads of the Mustafa ads exceed 120,000,000 views. But who's the biggest winner in the sales category- Old Spice or Axe?

The numbers above suggest neither. The real winner seems to be the Gillette brand. Here lies a simplified and powerful finding. When more attention is drawn to a blase, boring, and base category, the winner can be the category leader. In this case, P&G's portfolio (Gillette and Old Spice) won the most.

But, when there is a winner, there has to be a loser and in this case, Axe took the hit. I'm not going to delve deeper into this topic, but I thought I would leave the last word with Axe.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bieber Tube and what You watch on the Tube.

We're on the advent of a historic first. YouTube is about to have its first 400,000,000 viewer video. In a little over a year, Justin Bieber went from obscurity to the reigning king of You Tube downloads. I'm pretty sure most of us know the story how the Biebs was discovered (by accident) on YouTube by Scooter Braun. But, Biebers isn't obscure anymore. He owns the most downloaded YouTube video of all time- and there isn't a video on the horizon that is close to catching up.

BIEBER: 400,000,000 views (Rank:1)

The Bieber phenomenon - and other You Tube data points, can tell us quite a bit about a lot of things about online marketing and YouTube visitors. By counting down the top 5 most downloaded YouTube videos - and cherry-picking a few examples, let's take a look.

The Titanic Effect is alive and well
The teenage heart-throb's main audience is tween girls. So, Biebs is likely benefiting from the Titanic effect. The Titanic ruled the box office (until Avatar came along), not so much because the masses loved it- but rather because the tweenie girls went to the show over and over. Titanic was LOVED by a narrow audience. I'm speculating here that the Bieb's YouTube reign here can be at least partly attributed this this phenomenon.

Entertain Me Effect

Four of the five most downloaded videos on YouTube are pop-music based: Bieber, Gaga, Shakira, and Eminem/Rihana. This next point is pretty obvious. People who are going on YouTube are going primarily for entertainment purposes. Note the disproportionate weight of musical entertainment.

GAGA 310,000,000 views (Rank:2)

SHAKIRA 245,000,000 (Rank:4)

EMINEM 215,000,000 views (Rank:5)

The Awwwe Effect works online
There are some videos that just "go viral". Generally speaking, these are feel-good videos like the Charlie finger bite, the JK wedding or the dramatic chipmunk. Unlike their pop music counterparts, these videos are not made by celebrities with existing brand equity. These videos tend to be the "slice of life" videos that get posted on social networks. These virals tend to have a universal emotional appeal (the "awwwwwwwe" factor). (This "awwweee" effect reminds me of a line from my old advertising mentor who said, "When in doubt, stick a cute puppy in the ad. At least you get the warm fuzzies...")

CHARLIE 250,000,000 views (Rank:3)

WEDDING 60,000,000 (plus 10,000,000 in other formats)views

Traditional Media Support helps
We just seen multi-platinum videos. Anyway you look at it, the highest viewed YouTube videos all receive traditional media support. Just think of the PR Gaga gets on MTV, Opera, TMZ and Access Hollywood type programs. Even the JK wedding video is not entirely an internet phenomenon. YouTube views skyrocketed after the video appeared on national morning shows.

15 minutes of fame and the new celebrity

The YouTubes and MetaCafes of the world have facilitated a new type of journalism: video blogging. A lot of the video journalists get their "15 minutes" of fame by posting up something very timely. Take this example. This young man was among the first to post up commentary on the Kanye/Taylor swift fiasco. When word-of-mouth spread about Kanye's "sorry Taylor but Beyonce had the best video of all time" line, this blogger, by virtue of being first, had already gotten a jump-start on YouTube and Google rankings for "kanye west taylor swift" searches.

But video bloggers can become celebrities in their own right. Take Zuzana from BodyRock, for example. Her routine posts on fitness receive millions of downloads each, making her a contender for the most popular video blogger. While my trainer goes to BodyRock for grueling work-out ideas, I suspect that Zuzana's fan base is mostly there to be entertained.

A couple surprises
You'd expect that a lot of young guys would tune in to YouTube to catch key highlights of the Victoria's Secret fashion show. Yet, Zuzana the trainer receives millions of viewers more for her weekly work-outs than the much-hyped annual fashion show featuring some of the "best looking women" of one of the strongest brands. I'd like to hear my readers' thoughts on this.

VICTORIA'S SECRET 3,000,000 views

In 2008, we witnessed one of the most historical presidential elections in American history. President Obama was elected. His election victory was largely attributed to his use of online campaigning. But, for some reason, this did not translate into high viewership of his acceptance speech on You Tube. Why not?

OBAMA 1,500,0000

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Whatcha see ain't what I see....

Remember the first time you came across these images. What did you see? The skeleton or the girl looking in the mirror?

What did you see in this classic? The old woman – or the young woman?

Or here, the rabbit- or the duck?

The point is that different people can see (and interpret) different things while looking at the exact same image. So when it comes to logos, the same idea applies. What may start off as a well-intended meaningful design to communicate associations relevant to the brand can be sometimes receive unintended interpretations. This can result in the logo being mocked (which is a rampant phenomenon online) - or worse yet, the brand becomes subject to rumours that are difficult to squash. The bottom line is this. Brand building efforts can be crushed based on ambiguous logo design. Let’s look at a few examples.

What do you see in this logo? This logo was originally designed for a Brazilian university's Oriental studies program. The purpose of the logo is to give an "Asian" vibe through the Asian architecture that rests ahead of the rising sun. Of course, there is a much nastier interpretation to this logo. To add irony to this logo, the Institudo de Estudos Orientais is part of University Catolica Portuguesa.

Here we see a logo for Safe Places. Safe Place provides access to immediate help and supportive resources for all young people in crisis through a network of sites sustained by qualified agencies, trained volunteers and businesses. What's your impression of this logo? Is it the safe hands of a protector - or the perverted hands of a groper? The two interpretations are communicating opposite messages.

Sometimes fonts or spelling blow it for the brand. Consider Kids Exchange- a brand that allows consumers to buy and trade previously owned kids' toys and clothing. It is almost comical that this name could as easily be read KidsExchange as KidSexChange. All that the designer needed to do here was exaggerate the size of the K and E - or have a bit of a space between "kid" and "exchange". The brander who signed off on the logo design here was just asleep at the switch.

Logo misinterpretations often have a double entrendre of a sexual nature (e.g. Islamic Understanding Institute). Sometimes, however, folks can go out of their way to mock the logo. Zune gets mocked in its mirror image which circulates over the Internet. Once you see this, you'll probably never think of Zune the same way.

The granddaddy logo fiasco belongs to P&G. Procter and Gamble trademarked its man in the moon logo way back in 1851. According to P&G, the 13 stars in the logo paid homage to the 13 American colonies. According to Snopes, the man in the moon was used just because it was a popular design of the time. In those days, brands traded a lot more under graphical images (rather than names) so the distinctive graphic could help consumers recognize the P&G brands of packaged goods. Incredibley, rumors surfaced (many fuelled by Amway salespeople) that P&G had links to Satanism. The bearded-man logo was offered up as evidence. Hidden within the beard are a series of 6’s- marking “666” – the mark of the beast. The 13 stars, "of course", refer to Revelation Chapter 13 which discusses the mark of the beast. The rumor spawning from the logo cost Procter and Gamble unspecified sales and extensive public relations counter efforts, while forcing the company to redesign it world-wide company logo.

There is a simple take away from this post. Logos are intended to convey meaningful associations about the brand. For some reason, poor logo designs sometimes sift through the approval process. Sampling a few employees- or consumers- for their interpretation of the meaning the logo is clearly in order. I'd bet that the brand managers of the brands presented above all wish that they had spent a little more time on this screening process.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Celebrating the best of the worst: negative political advertising.

Most academic advertising textbooks analyze advertising messaging by breaking the ads into categories. Usually the breakdown involves groupings something like: rational, emotional, or slice-of-life appeals. Rational ads target the mind by making logical appeals. Emotional ads, are designed to “hit you in the gut” with an appeal to feelings. Slice-of-life ads try to give a snapshot of reality. But, I think the more interesting field of study involves negative advertising. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in political advertising.

In the latest American mid-term election, more than $3.3 billion dollars
flooded into advertisements. Yep, that is billion with a "B". Heck, there are rumors that former eBay CEO Meg Whitman spent $140 million of her own money trying to capture the California Governorship. (It is an interesting curiosity that those candidates who spend their own money are not usually successful in their bids. eg. Mitt Romney (2008 primaries), Steve Forbes (1996 primaries). Perhaps, this is due to the perception that they are trying to “buy” their electoral seats.) But in politics, some estimate that close to 50% of political advertisements have negative tones. That is about $1.5 billion worth of negative ads this past American election cycle. Some of these ads are down-right nasty too. We’ll “celebrate” the best of the worst at the end of this posting.

The case for going negative and the spirit of Socrates
In a previous blog posting, I commented that the result of negative advertising is
depressed voter turnout. Proponents of negative advertising, however, will argue that negative ads are a good thing. After all, if there is relevant negative information that the voting public should be made aware of, that information should be available for consideration. They will also argue that there is a self-regulating mechanism. If the negativity gets too much, the voters will reject the candidate running the ads. (We saw evidence of this in a 1993 Progressive Conservative attack ad on Jean Chretien). Regardless of the case for running negative ads, depressing votes runs counter to the spirit of democracy. Socrates would feel vindicated.

Political Campaigns – the natural home for the negative ad:
We can’t be naïve. Negative political advertisements are not going away any time soon. The big question is why are there so many negative ads in politics?
1. Negative ads can be extremely effective. The most effective ones work on
emotional levels and often target voters’ fears. The best example is this one run by the Democrats in the 1964 Presidential Election. Johnson was facing off against Goldwater and Johnson wanted to paint Goldwater as a trigger-happy-war-monger. Click here for the ad: “ DAISY” Think how terrifying (fear) that this ad would have been to a non-jaded, less-sophisticated 1964 TV viewing audience. This Democratic ad took nasty advertising to a level never-before-seen. And, it was a big contributor to Goldwater’s loss. Note, I am not saying Johnson’s win.

2. Election cycles have short term objectives. Unlike, traditional brands which have long term sales horizons- and longer term horizons to recoup losses or take competitors to court, political advertising spending is ramped up to peek within days of voter decision. So, if a fraudulent claim is made against a candidate in an ad 5 days before the election, the “victim” candidate can resort to a defensive “that is not true” which makes him look weak, or she can go on attack and demonize her opponent. The latter of course fuels the next wave of negativity. In a zero-sum game (which can deteriorate in to a shrinking-sum game), with a short election cycle, there is a no-holds barred approach to advertising. Industries have self-regulated rules of conduct and “truthfulness in advertising” which holds the brands accountable in the longer term. These apply a lot less in a 3 week advertising campaign.

3. Unlike business, politics is mostly a zero sum game. In business, if Burger King spends millions of dollars reminding consumers that McDonald’s has uber-high fat content in its fried burgers, and McDonalds retaliates by dissing BK’s fat mayo level on the Whopper, the consumer would come to the conclusion that the entire category sucks. The category shrinks. So, BK, McD’s, Wendy’s and company have a mutual interest in growing the entire category. If BK has a slight reduction in market share- but the entire category is growing well, BK is still going to be pretty happy. But, when it comes to an election, there is no comradory among competitors. My win is your loss. It is as simple as that. And, if the candidate is having trouble raising his poll numbers, drag down the opponents. This argument explains why in the 2006 and 2008 election Republicans ran the bulk of the negative ads and why the Democrats outsleazed the Republicans in 2010. Neither party has a monopoly on sleaze.

4. The press likes to pick up “the new negative attack ad.” This goes to the concept that “bad news sells more.” (See Bad is Stronger than Good) Translation, the free publicity from the attack ads gives incentives to make meaner, nastier ads.

5. The rise of the unaccountable endorsements. Despite the well intentioned efforts of McCain and Feingold (who just lost, btw)- recent campaign finance reform has led to soft monies funding more and more American elections in larger and larger capacities. The result, proxy political party “independent groups” get involved in developing ad campaigns. These “independent” 3rd party groups create ads that the Republican and Democratic brands would be ashamed to assign their party brand approvals to. Just think of the punishment John Kerry took fromthe Swift Boat Veterans.

So, now let’s "celebrate" the best of the worst.

Canada's lowball political moment.
End of the Empire Democratic Smears on Republicans
Taliban Dan ads
Aqua Buddah

Republican Smears on Democrats
Ron XXX Kind
Willie Horton ad

Monday, October 11, 2010

Doubles. Diamonds. Damn, I would pay more for that.

Tonight I'm going to bloggify some academics.

About a month ago, I was shopping in my local supermarket and noticed a new product- Kellogg's Fruit Loops Doubles. Yes, they are Fruit Loops- complete with Toucan Sam on the packaging- but the "innovation" here is that the "Doubles" are two regular Fruit Loops bounded together to make 8's instead of "o"s. This reminded me of another cereal that embarked on another innovation. About 18 months ago, Shreddies introduced Diamond Shreddies. In the Shreddies case, the square Shreddies were "rotated" 24.5 degrees and branded as Diamond Shreddies. Both of these examples fit into a category called "irrelevant differentiation" and this is one of the more interesting (and under-explored) brand research streams. The seminal article is by Carpenter, Glazer and Nakamoto and I'll provide the citation in case you want to check it out.

Carpenter, GS, R. Glazer, and K. Nakamoto (1994). Meaningful Brands from Meaningless Differentiation: The Dependence on Irrelevant Attributes. Journal of Marketing Research. 31 (August), 339-35.

The premise behind modern day branding is this: A brand does not achieve a high level of equity without developing a strong, favorable, and relevant point of uniqueness. Sometimes, the basis of the uniqueness may be meaningless in reality - but in the consumer's mind the irrelevant uniqueness can sometimes imply purpose. In the case of "Diamond" Shreddies, for example, Shreddies didn't change the Shreddies recipe, texture or taste. But "diamond" conjures up premiumness, sophistication, royalty, and superior images to the kid-shaped square Shreddies. If you actively think about this, everyone knows that a square Shreddie is the same as a diamond Shreddie, but in the subconcious part of the mind, a different part of the brain is lit up. The result, many consumers are drawn to the irrelevant attribute (diamond vs. square) - at least up to a point.

Let's look at a few classic examples of irrelevant attributes and then bloggify Carpenter experiments.

1. Corinthian leather in the Chysler Cordoba. (Sorry, but corinthian leather is a made up term) Check out this vintage ad.
2. Folgers Flaked Crystal coffee. (Newsflash: flakes imply they disolve faster, but in reality this is not the case)
3. Alberto Natural Silk Shampoo. (Awwwe. The presence of silk in no way impacts the performance of the shampoo)
4. Mountain grown coffee. (Guess what? Almost all coffee is mountain grown) see Kellogg on Marketing.

Carpenter and pals were among the first to catch on to the irrelevant differentiation and they ran some experiments.

The basic set up went like this. Consumers were presented with two identical jackets. The jackets had the same color, shape, fit, stitching, style, brand etc but one jacket was "down filled" and the other jacket was "alpine down filled." But if consumers were advised in advance that alpine down filling was exactly the same as regular down filling- would they choose the alpine down filling? (The premise here is that "alpine down filling" implies more warmth and better quality than regular down filling.) What would happen if pricing was raised on the jacket with the "alpine down filling"? Let's look at a selection of manipulations that illustrate the researchers' findings.

Remember, consumers are advised in advance that the alpine down is 100% the same as the regular down. At the same price point, which jacket do consumers prefer?

Result: If you thought that consumers prefer the alpine down filled jacket, you're right. Ok, that makes sense. If alpine down filled ingredient implies great warmth, why not get it if there is no price penalty for it? But what happens if the price goes up a few dollars for the alpine down jacket?


Consumers are again advised in advanced that the alpine down is exactly the same as regular down. With a modest price premium, which jacket do the consumers prefer this time? Will they will flock (pardon the pun) to the regular down because they perceive the marketer to be taking advantage of them? Or does the irrelevant attribute effect still kick in?

Result: Consumers still prefer the implied warmth and benefits from the alpine down filled jacket. But what would happen if the price of the alpine-down filled jacket was cranked up a lot?


Consumers are again advised in advanced that the alpine down is the exactly the same as regular down. With a large price premium, which jacket would consumers prefer?

Result: This time, consumers selected the regular down filled jacket. The authors argue that when the price goes up significantly, the consumer starts paying more attention to the irrelevant differentiating factor and hone in on the fact that it is indeed irrelevant.

There are a bunch of conclusions that can be drawn from these experiments on everything from consumer manipulations to marketing strategies. I'm going to bring this discussion back to the cereals.

In the Shreddies example, my local retailers did not elevate the price of Diamond Shreddies relative to regular Shreddies. Most likely, this was the decision of the makers of Shreddies. The experiments suggest that both Shreddies and the retailers left "margin on the table". Some would argue that Diamond Shreddies positioning was actually making light of the irrelevance of the attribute (see ad here). I'll argue that the marketing campaign which makes light of the irrelevant attribute makes the brand more honest and likable- but the images of "diamonds being better, more precious" still would be conjured up in the consumers' minds. Of course, margin is not the only benefit that Shreddies could receive from such an initiative. The diamond campaign created some excitement around a stale brand in a stagnant growth category. Furthermore an extra facing in a store shelf enhances consumer exposure to the Shreddies brand and can displace a competitor which can only help sales. In short the campaign around the diamond differentiation helped to revitalize a brand but missed the essence of the price premium.

This takes us to Double Fruit Loops. On this one, I am stumped. I can't think of any reason why Kellogg's would push "doubles" as an irrelevant attribute. What could possibly be the advantage in the "dark side" of the consumers' minds related to the "8"s vs. the "Os"? "O"s are more fun for kids to play with - and from my breakfast experiment at home, I can't get more "Doubles" on my spoon than the originals. Because there is a lack of implied benefit to the 8s, Doubles probably won't be joining Corinthian leather, flaked coffee crystal and silk shampoo in the "winning" irrelevant differentiation category.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Canada's Most Loved & Hated Brands - press release

Montreal, October 6, 2010 - BrandMojo, a not-for-profit brand rating site that explores the most loved and hated brands, today announced Canada’s most loved and hated brands. The results are based on more than 68,000 ratings by more than 1,000 Canadians over a 9 month period.

As of October 6, 2010, below are some key Canadian brand rankings extrapolated from the site:

#1 Google - Most loved brand of Canadians
#16 Cirque du Soleil -Canadian's most loved Canadian brand
#20 Tim Horton’s - the other "dearly loved" Canadian brand
#290 TD - most loved Canadian bank brand
#302 Fido - most loved Canadian telecom brand
#606 Halliburton & Enron - Canadian's most "hated" brands

#1 Red Cross / Habitat for Humanity Canadians’ most loved charity brands.

BrandMojo presents visitors with a logo of a randomly generated brand. The visitor then rates the brand from a scale of 1 (Hate) to 5 (Love). After rating the brand, the visitor can then see how other visitors rated the brand. The rater can skip the brand if he/she is not familiar with it. The BrandMojo site ranks more than 600 corporate brands and 40 non-profit brands through visitor ratings. Recently, sports teams, universities and celebrities have been added for rating.

Brands are rated at www.brandmojo.ca or www.brandmojo.org. Real-time rankings of all brands can be seen at the BrandMojo leaderboard.


The BrandMojo site is a not-for-profit site that explores the most loved and hated brands. It was created by Bob Mackalski as part of his doctoral dissertation research at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. The research is overseen by a team of professors who serve on his supervisory committee.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Society of Sissies and a Bloodthirsty lot

One of the most interesting questions that I ever received during a job interview was from an ad agency. The question was “Talk to me about a trend…” Of course, there were obvious trends that I could have talked about: the baby shortage, the aging population, and obesity. I can’t remember my answer at the time, but the question stuck with me. Tonight, I will comment on something that impacts the obvious trends.

It was 19 something
When I was a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, I remember racing my wagon down steep hills, building forts which were later used as defensive empires in mud-ball flights, swinging from ropes of the tallest trees, amassing giant artilleries of snowballs to be used in snowball fights, jumping off cliffs on motor bikes and bmxing off ramps. I remember traveling in the back of my parent’s wood-grained-panel station wagon (where there was no seat), sitting in between my parents in the front of our old Ford where there was no seatbelt, and cuddling with our sick dog on the way to the vet. I remember lighting firecrackers to blow up ant hills, playing organized ice hockey in -40 outdoor stadiums and competing hard to make hockey teams. Some times I made it, sometimes I didn’t. But, along the way, I collected my share of scrapes and a lot of bruises - but they all forge an extremely happy collective of my childhood. Even the bloodiest moments would end up well because of a loving hug from my mother, a “This is what it takes to be a man, son” command from my dad – or a cup of hot chocolate from my grandmother.

We’re now in 2010. I don’t need to say a lot has changed but I will say that a lot of the trend lines are absurd. Schools have been on the attack against basic child-hood games. Dodge-ball, tag , soccer, and even balls have been banned from school yards. Sparklers have banned from public places. There are movements to assign warning labels to Coca-Cola, Big Macs, and iPhones. Law suits are sure to follow. There are campaigns to ban preservatives on apples. There are fines for not wearing a bike helmet (1,2) or riding in a car without a seatbelt. By today’s standards, most of my family’s trips of the past would have been illegal.

So what are the implications of this? We’re becoming society of sissies and driven by fear. Kids’ favorite games have been taken away from them resulting in less exercise and more inside time. Instead of playing dodge-ball, a lot of kids are dodging fiery bullets in bloody, violent video games. Instead of competing and learning how to be gracious winners and losers on a soccer field, kids ain’t doing what kids ought to be doing. Worse yet, kids become conditioned to accept the big brother mindset on things that are incongruent with their nature.

But, this trend of “big brother knows best” has a lot of far reaching implications. Just think what a simple regulation on mandatory child restraint seats means to a new family. To have a 3rd child, the family requires larger cars for transport- which is a financial tax on having an extra child- exacerbating our already low birth rate. This, in turn, has implications on the nation’s aggregate future tax base which impacts social policies for dealing with our aging population. And what about warning labels and bans? Well, reduce the preservative and the supply of available apples will go down - driving up prices. Of course this will affect the poor and working classes disproportionately while the affluent shift to organics. All of these rules are part of the "big brother knows best" mindset. But as long we do not resist this mentality, we become compliant in its issue - and complacent on regulations that intrude on individual freedoms and personal responsibilities. We accept laws that limit choice and by "being boiled slowly" (starting in our school system), we get sissified, and lose our gumption to resist attacks on individual freedoms and personal responsibilities. These are precisely the values that our ancestors shed blood to defend.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


In 1828, a bitter American presidential campaign was waging. The vicious personal attacks and spin doctoring going on at the time would make James Carville very proud. Andrew "Old Hickery" Jackson, an outsider, was running against an establishment incumbent President John Quincy Adams. Jackson was "a man of the people" and was the first leader of the newly formed Democratic Party. Quincy was portrayed as an "elitist" and represented wealth, establishment, and the status quo. But the campaign between the two leaders was a rerun. They had faced off in in the presidential election of 1824, and Adams won. Some historians tag the Adams victory as “The Corrupt Bargain.” In short, since the election was controversial, the House of Representatives determined the winner. Speaker of the House Henry Clay allegedly used his influence to give the victory to John Quincy Adams.

With that background in mind, here is where we get into branding. During the election of 1828, the mudslinging escalated and Adams group labeled Jackson a "jackass" (which was a particularly derogatory term back then). In responses, Jackson "spun" the insult into a positive- taking the image of a donkey and used it as his symbol. Jackson's point was the he was like the "strong willed" donkey. It didn't take too long before political cartoonist Thomas Nash took the donkey idea and ran with it. Democrats became donkeys in the mass media. The Democratic symbol had taken root.

Since that time, the Democratic National Committee has used the donkey as a shortcut to represent their candidates - from the local level to presidential candidates. It has been along side Democratic presidents over 171 years, through 14 different presidents and 15 presidential victories. (Astute history readers will know that Harrison interrupted consecutive terms for 2 time winner Cleveland). Throughout its history, donkey logo has been endowed with some of the most amazing times in Democratic-inspired American history (Jackson's win for "the common man", Kennedy's inspiration to have Americans walk on the moon, Obama's win as the first president of color) and has served as a short-cut to Democratic positions during some of the most challenging times(Civil War, World War I & II, Korean & Vietnam wars, 9-11, the Great Depressions and civil strifes). And, just because times are challenging doesn't mean positive associations can't flood to the brand. Some of the most endearing bits of hope are associated with the donkey. After all, Democrats using the donkey coined the iconic lines: "The only thing to fear, is fear itself" (Roosevelt); "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" (Kennedy), for example. Of course, in addition to the rich history endowed on the donkey, it also serves as a short-cut to today's Democratic positions on social policy, taxation, war etc. In a world that is unsettling both economically and geo-politically, the Democratic Donkey provides a sense of Americana, tradition, stability and current relevance. In short, the donkey is loaded with a lot of positive brand equity.

Usually when a brand element (a trademarkable device like a name, logo, slogan, symbol) is so iconic, custodians of the brand will go through great pains to preserve it. Sure, it might need updates to give it a more modern feel- but common sense tells you to preserve as much of its relevant design as possible. Think how crazy it would be for Coke to all of a sudden to abandon its red and make all of its its bottles green- or for Apple to throw away its apple-with-a-bite-out-of-it logo. For 171 years the Democratic Party has understood the value of its donkey and appropriately adapted it over time.

But a few days ago they unveiled their new logo.

I do not understand in any way why the party abandoned its high awareness, richly-association endowed donkey - and replaced it by an ill-conceived logo that lacks any imagination or captures any of the Democratic party's rich legacy. This, of course, occurred under an Obama presidency- by the same folks who engineered a masterful "elect-Obama" marketing campaign. It makes me both frustrated and sad to see how cavalierly an iconic brand element can be abandoned - and how the Democrats could throw away a wonderful piece of American history.

The legacy of the Jackass Bad-Ass: (About.com) Jackson Bio

Jackson appears on the American $20.
By 13, Jackson was orphaned. He lost his father at an earlier age and then lost his mother and two brothers during the Revolutionary War.

Jackson bore scars from a British officer’s sword on his skull and hand, and bullets from duels in his shoulder. In an 1806 duel, Jackson had killed a duel opponent.

When commanding troops in 1815, he had ordered the execution of militia members accused of desertion.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hey, isn't that the Old Spice Guy?

Here's a brain-candy blog post. It came to me after watching the movie the Expendables on a guys-night-out. One of the guys said, "Hey the guy with the big gun, wasn't he the Old Spice Guy?" (There were many big guns in the Expendables but one gun was bigger than all others so we all knew what he was talking about.) Read on to see how this relates to marketing and brands...

Being an aspiring actor is a tough gig. The cliché is that aspiring actors move to L.A, take on minimum wage waiter/hostess jobs in order to pursue their acting dreams, and audition for roles- most of which do not materialize. Along the way, some actors are able to pick up some advertising gigs which provide relevant experience ahead of the camera, exposure, and money to pay the rent. In addition, ads help actors develop their network. A lot of the directors of ads become A-list directors and producers. (e.g. Ridley Scott, director of the famous 1984 Apple ad went on to produce blockbuster films like Robin Hood, Gladiator, Blade Runner, American Gangster; Michael Bay worked on ads for Dairy Producers, Nike, Budweiser/Miller, Levi's and Coca-Cola and before moving on to producing Transformers, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and Miami Vice.) For the actor, ads can be an effective springboard to launch their movie/tv careers. How common is this? John Travolta started off in Band-Aid ads, a young DiCaprio pitched Honda, Wesley Snipes modeled Levis and repped Western Union, Keanu Reeves drankCoca-Cola, and Jodi Foster got her start as the Coppertone baby. But every once in a while, an advertisement connects with the public and the actor’s career becomes overshadowed by his/her performance in the ad. Below is a fun top-5 list of actors whose fame is intimately linked - and overshadowed - by the role they played representing brands.

#5 Tom Bodett. Here’s a guy who has done a lot of narration, but he’s most remembered for the folksy award winning radio ads for Motel 6 that feature the line, “We’ll leave the light on for ya”. Bodett allegedly ad-libbed that line during the commercial recordings. Evidently Motel 6 is now using Tom's voice for wake-up calls.

#4 Vince Offer. Offer is a comedian whose writing, acting, and directing skills did not earn him critical acclaim but he found his niche as a quirky, fast-talking, irreverent pitchman for Slap Chop and Sham Wow. According to Wikipedia, Offer is going to use his advertising celebrity to re-release some of his past film work - but he's been framed by audiences as the SlapChop Guy.

#3 Jonathan Goldsmith. Here’s an actor who has been working the tv/movie circuit since the 1960s. IMDB lists Goldsmith as having more than 100 different working credits - including a prominent role on Dallas - but his acting career is clearly eclipsed by his work as “Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World.” Check out the lengths that Jonathan goes through to say that he is not the most interesting man in the world - but rather the “the actor who plays the most interesting man in the world.

#2 Isaiah Mustafa. Here’s an athlete-turned-actor whose career got a huge boost via P&G’s Old Spice campaigns. Although he has been cast in Jennifer Aniston's upcoming film "Horrible Bosses", it is likely that he’ll always be remembered as the Old Spice Guy. By the way, contrary to internet rumors, Mustafa was not cast in the Expendables, but Old Spice model Terry Crew was.

#1 Justin Long. Long’s had quite a few roles in feature films including Live Free or Die Hard and Dodgeball - but he’s clearly most known for the laid-back, casual likable guy that personifies Mac. A rep for Long confirms that Long's ties with Mac are over: "Justin’s a movie star, not a commercial guy."

I'm going to close this blog with a cheesy observation: Bodett, Offer, Goldsmith, Mustafa and Long share brand-characters who are anything but Expendable.