Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rebecca Black: Who Dat Girl?

One of my readers sent me this one for "weirdest and worst of the web". It's Rebecca Black's viral "hit" Friday. I'm pretty sure you've all seen it and heard someone mock it. But if you haven't seen it (or if you want to watch it again ;-) )you can check it out here.

So far, the teeny-bopper's Friday video has 82 million (and counting) YouTube views and has been featured on a number of late night talk shows. Even Stephen Colbert sang it on Jimmy Falloon Late Night. But here is what my reader thought was weird. Rebecca's official vanity-made video has an 8:1 ratio of dislikes to likes on YouTube. Numerically, there are 1.6 million You Tube dislikes and 200,000 likes. My reader is right. It's an anomaly when entertainment is so wildly unliked but still gets popular.

Just for the heck of it, I thought I would run my own quick and dirty brand equity experiment. The traditional brand equity experiment is this. You take a branded product and compare it to a non-branded equivalent product. The non-branded product is considered "zero equity". The differential between the branded and the non branded is the brand equity. Pretty simple stuff. So I asked this question:

You have the choice to listen to only one of the following "pop" music artists all night.

Rebecca Black (Singer of the Friday song)
Rebeca Jackson (A singer you have never heard of)

Which musical artist will you select?

Here are the results from 60 responses.

According to my unscientific results of the survey, Rebecca Black has negative brand equity. In other words, her brand is a liability. Given the YouTube dislike ratings, this finding is hardly surprising. The comments on YouTube give some additional perspective on where this "negative equity" comes from. Some argue that her song is just plain bad. Some post that the lyrics suck. (But, I Got a Feelin', We R Who We R, and We're Not Gonna Take it aren't exactly Shakespearian.) Others criticize her voice. (Bob Dylan's voice is iconic but is a lot wierder) Others trash Black because they speculate that she is a spoiled kid whose parents purchased her song production and video for vanity purposes. (Music being made vanity purposes and an artist's desire for adulation! Wow, that's never happened before!) I'm going to argue that the traditional brand equity measure is missing something- the platform that Rebecca has created via her brand awareness.

I've spent quite a bit of time on this blog commenting on how difficult it is to capture consumers' attention. Developing brand awareness has never been so competitive - and keeping it more challenging. But Rebecca has got it- and now can leverage it. In a world of sexually explicit music (eg. Akon, Katy Perry, Enrique Iglesias), Rebecca has a refreshing angle to work: clean, catchy teenage pop. Through a carefully orchestrated public relations campaign and a little help from a polished producer, Rebecca can be on the highway stardom. Think of it this way, if only 1/9 of Black's YouTube visitors come back to check out her next single (in keeping with the ratio of her likes:dislikes), that's still around 10 million downloads- more than the number of downloads that veteran performers Flo-Rida/ Akon's hit Who Dat Girl has. That's not a bad platform for Rebecca to start from.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The wierdest & worst of the web: online branding stuff

I was checking out retro brands today for an upcoming post. I ended up at the Mission Company web site. How anyone thought this home page makes a great impression of the brand is beyond me. Feel free to send me the wierdest / worst / ugliest brand pages on the Net - or other off-the-wall-stuff - and we'll make this part of a regular feature.

The war of names within war

Here’s an addendum to yesterday’s post on names.

Next time you watch the news, check out the branding (and naming) of military ideas and terms. The examples below are overly simplified- but they are there to make a branding point.

Throughout the 1980s, the Americans were supporting the Afghan “freedom fighters” in their fight against the Soviets. A space shuttle launch, which was super cool back then, was even dedicated to the “freedom fighters”. For the last 8 years, this same “freedom fighter resistance” has been renamed the “Taliban” and “Al Qaeda”. I support the “freedom fighters” but let's kick some “Taliban” butt.

In Libya, the American led military coalition is supporting the “rebels”. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the troops are fighting the “insurgents”.

It seems not a lot of people support “torture” but “enhanced interrogation techniques” can gain quite a bit of support.

We went from the hard line “war on terror” (Bush) to the milder “overseas contingency operations”(Obama 1) although it appears not a lot has changed in actual military ops.

Let’s not forget the Patriot Act (which is an acronym for Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act). Which American wouldn’t want to be a patriot immediately after 9-11? It is unlikely such an intrusive and sweeping act would have passed (or mostly renewed by Obama) under a more “neutral” brand name.

Words mean things- especially brand names. In the military and politics, the name alone can rally support around an idea or group- even though sometimes, not much has really changed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What makes a great brand element?

The beauty(and problem) with a branding/business/marketing blog like this is that there are so many things to write about. Canada's got an election coming up and there is so much to say about political party branding and positioning. There are geopolitical developments around the world that are shaping the future of the business climate. Furthermore, I still have to present #3, #2, and #1 of the most difficult branding decisions. Add on to all of that- several guests have agreed to provide their perspectives on marketing topics in the upcoming months. Indeed there are so many topics- and so little time. Tonight everything gets bumped because a good friend asked me a question related to brand names. Instead of cranking out a long email to him, I'm blogging on it for his benefit - and for others who are making naming decisions.

My friend is senior exec of a major corporation who is heading up a chunk of his organization's new branding. The company is most likely coming up with a new brand name, logo,
slogan, and color scheme. These aspects of the brand (name, logo, slogan, colors, characters, jingles, scent) are what academics call brand elements (or brand identities). Keller (1993, 2008) defines brand elements as trademarkable devices that are used to identify the brand. And my friend's question, "What makes a great brand name?", is one that I've been asked by a leader of a political party, brand managers, a managing director of a non-profit organization, a supermodel (hi Miranda), 2 Canadian pop stars (no not Beiber), a philanthropist who donated millions to a university, entrepreneurs, and presidents of companies. "Brand elements" is one of the sexiest marketing topics out there and is also one my favorite topics. SK, this one is for you dude!

I've looked at a lot of frameworks to evaluate a great brand element. The best framework that I have come across so far is what I call the Montreal Map (MTL MAP) framework. (It is largely based on Keller's 2008 Strategic Brand Management work)

A great brand element should be: Meaningful, Transferable, Likable, Memorable, Adaptable, and Protectable. Take the first letters of each word and you get MTL MAP. (I owe this insight to a former student of mine.)

Meaningful: If I say "Speedy Muffler" what do you know about the service just from the name? It's fast muffler repair. If I had a company that competed against Speedy in fast muffler repair services and called it "Bob's Muffler", I would have to spend lots of money advertising linking "Bob's Muffler" to "fast service" (see Seth Godin's Guerrilla Marketing for more extensive discussion on this). Speedy Muffler doesn't have to spend that money because the brand's value proposition (fast muffler service) already embedded in the name. But, a name doesn't have to be as descriptive as Speedy Muffler (We will see below that it shouldn't be actually). In North America, Haagen Dasz sounds exotic, European and imported - so it conveys an upper-end brand with out being too descriptive of the product offering. "Ok", you might say, "we think that only because we know Haagen Dasz." I disagree. Let's go to another example. As far as I know there is no brand out there called "Finnissio". Give the name some cursive writing and I'll bet you anything that it will conjure up refined, European, feminine imagery for most North Americans. That's what I mean by having a name that is meaningful to the brand.

Transferable: Why can Nike cross over into so many categories and countries? Nike, as many of us know through the company's promotion, is the Greek God of Victory. But when it comes to the name, "Nike" can be spoken/written reasonably well in many different languages. The name is also flexible enough to extend from running shoes to yoga pants and hockey skates. If writing the name Nike runs into problems in some other language's script (say Chinese), for example, Nike can just use its logo. The swoosh is extremely transferable logo across categories and geographies. Generally speaking, logos are more transferable than names. That being said, the overall idea here is to make sure that the brand element is not going to be incongruent with new categories or have a bad interpretation in other geographies/languages/cultures.

"Ahhhha," you say. "Speedy Muffler fails here". You're right. Names that are too descriptive run into trouble if the brand expands to other product categories. For example Speedy Muffler does not work as a great brand name if it provides transmission overhauls or brake pad servicing. To get around that Speedy could become Speedy Auto Care") So think about the categories your business is going to be in- and the geographies that it will be operating. A little extra prep time here can save all sorts of headaches down the line.

Likable. This is the most subjective part of the criteria. A great brand element should just "feel" right. Call this the emotional side of selecting an element. I ask my class: how many of you like the London 2012 logo below? About 2/50 usually give it a thumbs up. About 48/50 say "it sucks really bad". Even after explaining the descriptive nature (look closely and you will see "2010" written in the shape of the city of London) one student asked me if the logo was a joke. The real joke is that the London Olympic committee spent about 400,000 British pounds on just the design of the logo. Jokes and expenses aside, selecting brand elements gets people within the organization passionate. I've seen this time and time again. Quite frankly, there are a lot of bad brand elements out there that not only do not help the brand- but hurt it - precisely because some folks get emotional on the selection.

Memorable. A brand element ought to be easily recalled and recognized. The aim of the brand element is to have the identity of the brand stick in the customer's brain. My professional recommendation (generally) is that the logo ought to be distinctive for recognition purposes- and the name/slogan should tend to use familiar words so they are easier to retrieve when the customer is given a cue. This combination can be tricky, but understanding the nuances between "recognition" and "recall" is very important.

Adaptable. Times change. Customer views change. Company brand values evolve. The elements need to evolve over time to stay relevant. Unless you were going for the retro-feel, would the original Tony the Tiger work today? The original Tony was such a wimp.

Protectable. Remember the Keller definition of the element? Trademarkable devices used to identify the brand. Organizations need to have trademark searches in the regions where they plan to trade the brand - and legal protections filed for the brand. This part of the job is getting tougher and tougher to do as more and more brands have international trade territories. Of course, protectability goes far beyond the trademark. Consideration has to be given to protecting the elements online. I learned this one from personal experience. One of my company's brands: Peachtree had full trademark protection in Canada for the space it operated in. But when it came time to reserve domain names, someone had beaten us to the punch. The online aspect includes consideration for commonly mis-spelled url entries - and even being proactive to block hater web sites. For example, why wouldn't Wal Mart want to take ownership of (and derivatives) to prevent haters from developing nasty sites? That's part of brand element protection.

Best of luck with Brand Elements!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Magical Branding of Disney

I just came back from Walt Disney World (Florida) and I’m tanned and stoked. I'm stoked not just because Disney is truly a magical imagination playground for kids and kids at heart- but because Disney has done an exceptionally excellent job at branding. There are so many directions that I could take tonight’s post- but I’ll focus on just one key part: the consistent and integrative promotion of Disney brand values. But first, some fun facts that would make David Letterman proud:

• Walt Disney World size: 47 square miles of property.(2) That’s about double the size of Manhatten.
• One third of Disney World property is developed, one quarter will always be preserved in its natural state. (1)
• More than 75 million Cokes are consumed each year at Walt Disney World Resort along with 13 million bottles of water.(1)
• 62,000 employees work at Walt Disney World Florida (1)
• About 47 million visitors visit Walt Disney World per year. (2) That makes it the most visited tourist attraction on the planet. Incidentally, Times Square is #2 at 45 million.(3)
• Since 1971, an estimated 1.65 million pairs of glasses have been returned to Walt Disney World's "lost bin".(1)
• There is a tree farm on site so that when a mature tree needs to be replaced, a thirty-year-old tree will be available to replace it.(1)
• More than 30 tons of fruits and vegetables grown at The Land pavilion at Epcot are served in Walt Disney World restaurants.

The Magic of Walt Disney
The Disney brand is about magic, memories, and Americana wholesomeness. Each of these intangible values are intertwined and impeccably guarded through Disney’s brand building measures. Very little of the brand is left to chance- and so much of it is steeped in Walt’s vision. I watched a video on the founding of Disney at one of the pavilions. Walt started Walt Disney parks where children and parents could be whisked away into a world of imagination. He resented the foul language and “dirty” living habits of carnival people. In a world that has been desensitized to “immoral living”, when you walk in a Disney park, you won’t hear foul language, see R-rated attire, drunkards, or litter.

But it is the “magic” value that drives the Disney brand. Anyone quasi-familiar with the Disney brand viscerally understands that Disney magic does not mean what David Copperfield magic means. Disney magic refers to that imagination zone- where anything is possible. It is the magic of adventure, childhood escapism, cartoon dreams and never having to grow up. It involves the magic of being in a world of innocence and make-believe- a place where goodness triumphs and fun flourishes.

I tell my students that “there are 3 ways to build a brand” (theoretically they are brand elements, marketing programs, and secondary associations). These brand builders largely refer to consumer touch-points and Disney masterfully executes on all of them. Check out this quick selection of how “magic” is constantly emphasized in Disney's branding efforts.

• Walt Disney World’s Flagship Park: Disney’s Magic Kingdom
• Walt Disney’s World’s Flagship Pavillion: Magic Castle
• Magic Kingdom’s official slogan: The Most Magical Place On Earth
• Walt Disney World’s Bus: Disney’s Magical Express Bus
• Walt Disney Cruise: Disney’s Magical Cruise
• Disney/Coke co-brand drink machine (click here): Where magic is real.
• Employee greetings at the Disney Boardwalk hotel – “Have a magical day”

Of course, the Disney characters, pavilions, promotions (“Welcome to Walt Disney World. Come and enjoy the magic of Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL”),signage, and employees (“Have a magical day Bob") support this magical brand value. Heck, even Aladdin asking me if I wanted to go on a magic carpet ride reinforced the notion. By the way I accepted under the condition that I could go alone with Jasmine. Instead Aladdin and Jasmine agreed to the picture below.
As a kid I was a fan of Disney. As a marketing professional, I am impressed with its branding.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tablet Wars – iPad vs Everyone Else

A while back I put out a call to some industry captains. These are folks who have rich experiences with brands and deep knowledge in a particular industry. I invited them to do some guest lectures. Today I am proud to post the tablet-thoughts of a tech-captain. Take it away Greg.
* * *
As someone who has been deeply involved with the high-tech industry and as an all-around avid gadget consumer, Bob asked me if I would write a guest blog about the burgeoning tablet “wars”. I'm happy to share my thoughts with you today.

Some background: At CES 2011 in Las Vegas, it seemed almost every company - and every brand- was announcing an iPad “killer”. The most serious threat to the iPad’s market share dominance was emerging from the Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets such as the Motorola Xoom – a big winner at the show. Of course, there are others as well – the HP TouchPad, RIM’s Playbook and let’s try not to forget the Microsoft based tablets – but today we will focus Google’s Android platform.

Recently, the tone from the pundits has changed from touting the new tablets to a discussion on what they need to do in order to pose a more serious threat to the iPad. I’ve been struck by how these professional opinions often miss the key marketing components of the iPad’s success.

Communicating the Brand's Value Proposition
The Apple of today, perhaps better than any other company, knows how to create and communicate a value proposition. Take a look at the marketing of the iPad2 – everything from Steve Jobs’ keynote address, to the Apple website, to the TV commercials – clearly communicates what an iPad is and why you want one - See:

These reasons – a blend of emotional and cerebral – focus on:

• The beautiful and practical design
• The cool things you can do with it
• The ease with which you can do cool things

Marketing For and By Techno-Geeks
Next, let’s take a look at the Motorola Xoom’s Super Bowl ad:
This ad references the ground breaking 1984 ad that Apple used to launch the Macintosh. But how well does this commercial communicate the product’s value proposition? In general, I’d say it does a poor job. While it provides a glimpse of two features that the iPad does not have – 1) vector based maps (definitely a techno-geek feature); and 2) the cameras – the main message is that you should buy a Xoom because it will “empower you”. It’s not super clear what you will be empowered to do but apparently the loveliest of the drones will be impressed. I suppose the commercial is designed to appeal mostly to hardcore techno-geeks.
Let’s compare it with this TV commercial for the iPad2.

This campaign is all about the cool things you can do with an iPad. If you didn’t know why you wanted an iPad, you probably now have a good idea.
Which brings me to CNET’s Top 5 ways that Android Tablets can beat the iPad (according IDC Research’s survey of app developers – do you already sense this is going to be problematic?) Click here.

#5 More Places to Buy Apps
I really don’t understand this one – how does the consumer benefit from having more places to buy apps? More apps - yes, better apps –sure... but, as far as I’m concern having more “places” to buy apps only serves to fragment and complicate the user’s experience. (More on fragmentation below).

#4 Honeycomb OS
This refers to Google’s latest operating system Android 3.0 (a.k.a. the Honeycomb OS). It’s designed specifically for tablets and offers the user greater flexibility to customize their workspace. There is definitely a segment of the market that wants more control over their devices – and the complexity that comes with it - but I think most people are interested in using their tablets to do cool things – like consuming or creating new media.

For example: You want to watch a movie. On the iPad you can rent or buy it from the iTunes store. Alternatively you can sign up for Netflix. It seems much more complicated with Android Tablets. Netflix is not offered because of the lack of copyright enforcement mechanisms and there is nothing that rivals Apple’s ecosystem of content from iTunes and apps from the App Store.

#3 More bells and whistles
This is where the pundits and the marketing of Android tablets miss the point. It’s not about bells & whistles per se, it’s about what you can do with those bell and whistles.

#2 Control Fragmentation
Ah yes, fragmentation... Android is more open, flexible and offers more freedom to developers and hardware manufacturers. The result is somewhat chaotic with multiple versions of the Android OS competing in the wild along with the possibility that the hardware manufacturer will add their own customized skin. It’s somewhat of a mess but yes, it could be tamed. However, it will never be able to match Apple’s well developed ecosystem where everything works together seamlessly and simply.

#1 Be Cheaper
It seems competing on price would offer the best potential to vanquish the iPad. If only someone would offer a similarly spec’d tablet at a lower price, perhaps it would make a real dent in Apple’s market share. However, it seems Apple has anticipated this strategy. While Apple has traditionally charged a premium for its products – a Macintosh usually costs 2 to 3 times more than a similar PC – it has decided to price the iPad very aggressively. Clearly, Apple’s intends to dominate this market through volume and the purchasing power that it bestows.

So far we’ve covered: Product, Promotion and Price – 3 of the 4 P’s of the marketing mix. What about Place? Well, where would you rather try, buy, and learn how to use a Tablet? Show of hands please:
1) Wal-Mart
2) Best Buy
3) Rogers Wireless
4) Apple Store

Given Apple’s advantage on all 4 Ps – a superior product with better promotion, at a very competitive price, through a more convenient distribution place – I believe Apple’s dominance in Tablets will continue and that it will be next to impossible for any competing tablets to outsell the iPad anytime soon.

Think I’m wrong? Feel free to let me know your thoughts – comments make a blog interesting ;-)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The scourge of government on brand MBA McGill.

McGill University got hammered with a $2-million fine by the Quebec government. The "crime": raising its tuition for an MBA – from $1,700 to $29,500. Premier Jean Charest's Education Minister Line Beauchamp argued that keeping universities on equal financial footing is crucial to making them accessible to all.

There are many reasons why the overall government decision is wrong. We could list them alphabetically, chronologically, by order of importance... A few of the reasons are presented in McGill University's press release below, but before I reproduce that, I am going to say a few words on McGill University and branding.

McGill University is THE crown jewel of Canadian university brands. It's the brand that gets a proud Canadian shout-out by William Shatner at the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics; it is the emblem that the Canadian men's hockey coach insists on wearing during the gold medal game at the Olympics; it is the name that appears in international photos in the New York Times; and it is the brand that gets knocked -along with Ivy league schools- on the Simpson's. The school is anything but just another university. Its notable alumni include nine Nobel Laureates, one hundred thirty-one Rhodes Scholars, three astronauts, two Canadian prime ministers, four justices of the Canadian Supreme Court, three foreign leaders, nine Academy Award winners, three Pulitzer Prize winners, and twenty-eight Olympic medalists (Wikipedia). In management, Henry Mintzberg is easily considered one of the world's best management minds. Who wouldn't want to study at such a school?

But let's get back to the McGill MBA program and its economic realities. Currently, the cost of educating an MBA student is about $10,000 more than the combined revenues from government grants and tuition fees. Take a class of 100 students and that is a $1,000,000 funding shortage per year. So how can the McGill MBA (at the Desautels Faculty of Management) maintain a competitive brand with its natural international competitive set (London Business School, Insead, HEC Paris, etc) when it is financially disadvantaged relative to its privately funded counterparts? Dollars mean better profs, better facilities and better marketing to attract the best students. Private tuition means more accountability to the students. Collectively, these help to build the MBA school's brand. If governments are unwilling to crank up education funding rates to a competitive level so the brand can be supported, an injection of funds through privatization is a necessary option. Furthermore, an MBA is the natural degree to privatize. Why? Most MBA students are already in management positions and, by nature of what they study, they realize the fundamental concept "Value = Benefits - Cost" more than students from other disciplines. Paying $30 k per year for 2 years to get a pay hike of $30 k immediately on graduation happens all the time in business. This doesn't happen in art history, theology or psychology.

Here is a glimpse of the MBA mindset from MBA360: "The average cost for an MBA is between $80,000 and $130,000 for the two-year course. With MBA courses the more you pay, the greater the benefit. The more prestigious the school, the more expensive the tuition. This is one area where the brand name, or the name of the academic institution that you choose, will definitely make a difference, both in the type of education you receive and how potential employers perceive your degree."

If this is the mindset of an MBA student, then the McGill MBA program price hike may not even be enough to support where brand McGill MBA is - or is going. The applying students and the firms hiring from McGill will ultimately make that call. But McGill "gets" this. Applying students understand this. The provincial government doesn't. Ironically, Jean Charest was the one who said, "In politics, common sense prevails, but it is usually the last option." Well Jean, my friend, on that you are right.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

McGill disappointed by government’s response on MBA

Program has made remarkable progress since self-funding model adopted

McGill University is perplexed and disappointed with the response of the Government of Quebec to the changes made by McGill to transform the University’s MBA program.

Rather than celebrate the dramatic progress and success McGill has achieved in a short period of time with its renewed and self-funded MBA, the government has imposed a significant fine against one of its own universities.

This action puts an arbitrary, elective and unprecedented exercise of authority of government as a priority over demonstrated quality and program performance.

Since McGill moved to a self-funded program, it has developed an MBA that is attracting top-calibre students from Quebec (some of whom would have otherwise gone outside the province for their MBA), and from elsewhere.

The McGill MBA’s improvements include: leaping from 95th to 57th in the prestigious Financial Times rankings; maintaining stable enrolment rates; having McGill graduates enjoy the highest job placement rates and highest starting salaries in Canada; being ranked by FT as the only Quebec MBA program in the Top 100 in the world.

To sustain the University’s increased investments in its program, McGill moved last fall to a self-funded tuition model under which it does without any government subsidies for its MBA students, thus saving Quebec taxpayers about $1.2 million annually.

McGill has created, at the same time, student aid at a unique level of support for any Quebec university program, on a per-student basis. The McGill MBA program provides an average of $12,000 per student in financial aid.

Quebecers deserve better than to have a top quality program fined. Quebecers deserve a world-class MBA program and McGill is providing it. McGill has demonstrated that it can do so without limiting accessibility, and without doing so on the backs of our undergraduate students.

McGill’s rejuvenated program, now with better facilities, improved student-teacher ratios, top-level professors, improved advising and novel educational elements, costs significantly less than top MBA programs elsewhere in Canada, and the world.

McGill will continue to meet the interests of our students, and of Quebec.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The unCanadian values of the NHL and Zdeno Chara

In some countries, sport is more than sport. In Brazil, soccer is religion. In Pakistan, cricket reigns supreme. In Canada, Canadians bleed ice hockey. To illustrate this last point, Canada’s 3 largest markets for professional sports all drive at Canadian notions: Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Vancouver Canucks. Further evidence of Canada’s link to hockey- according to TSN, nearly 80% of Canadians watched the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey game.

If a brand sponsors ice hockey in some way (like Tim Horton’s sponsors the NHL and minor league hockey), the brand gets endowed with intensively visceral Canadiana notions. This endowment then stirs up patriotic notions in the consumers’ gut – which increases the likability of the brand. Of course, the reverse is also true. Brand sponsorships reinforce hockey in Canada, furthering interest in the sport. But the brutal back breaking hit by Boston Bruin Zdeno Chara on Montreal Canadien Max Pacioretty shows a deep wedge in “brand values”.

Yesterday, Air Canada pulled its $6 million NHL sponsorship of the NHL after the league failed to consider disciplinary action (beyond the in-game penalty) on Chara. As the Montreal Canadiens’s player lies almost motionless in hospital, there is a debate waging in marketing rooms, Parliament, sports bars and law-enforcement offices about what to do. Let’s be very clear. This is a national story that goes the heart of Canadian values - and has an interesting relationship to brands.

Canadiens and Canadians
Let’s begin with the 3 organizations involved in today’s headlines: Montreal Canadiens, Air Canada, and the NHL. The Montreal Canadiens, as the name suggests, is a Canadiana brand. Air Canada is Canada’s national airline. The NHL is, of course, the guardian of Canada’s national game. But the blurring of Canadiana and brands runs deeper than just business and hockey. At stake are the values of the brands, the players, and of the Canadian people. These public statements issued over the last 24 hours shows just how far apart views on the handling of the hit are.

Air Canada issued this statement:
“From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it is becoming increasingly difficult to associate our brand with sports events which could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents…”

Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner responded:
Air Canada is a great brand as is the National Hockey League and if they decide that they need to do other things with their sponsorship dollars, that is their prerogative, just like it is the prerogative of our clubs that fly on Air Canada to make other arrangements if they don’t think Air Canada is giving them the appropriate level of service.” (Globe and Mail, March 11)

The values of Air Canada and the NHL are clearly not in sync.


The NHL is the pre-eminent custodian of Canada’s game. It is the organization that makes the rule of fair play and sets the parameters around player conduct. These rules affect the “values” of the players. In its handling of this situation, the NHL is saying that serious injuries- even death can result from playing in the NHL game. The commentary is cool and rational.

"After a thorough review of the video I can find no basis to impose supplemental discipline. This hit resulted from a play that evolved and then happened very quickly -- with both players skating in the same direction and with Chara attempting to angle his opponent into the boards. I could not find any evidence to suggest that, beyond this being a correct call for interference, that Chara targeted the head of his opponent, left his feet or delivered the check in any other manner that could be deemed to be dangerous...This was a hockey play that resulted in an injury because of the player colliding with the stanchion and then the ice surface. In reviewing this play, I also took into consideration that Chara has not been involved in a supplemental discipline incident during his 13-year NHL career." -

With the NHL's frigid “it’s part of the game” response, should we be surprised, then, that its player Chara (who also belongs to the same players' union as Pacioretty) has (at least to this point) not reached out to Max Pacioretty or his family? I find it hard to believe that any mainstream Canadian who participated in the back-breaking injury of another person – who would not be constantly expressing deep sorrow about the injury, immediately conveying sympathy to the victim’s family, and offering prayers of hope for a recovery. That’s the decent thing to do. These are the values of humanity that Air Canada expected. These are the values that the NHL and its players seem to miss. You see, it's not really about the suspension, this is about the values of sympathy, caring and respect. How unCanadian of the NHL, Canada's guardian of the national game.