Post Patterns: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Before anyone could ask, “Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?”, the Patriots were down two to nothing on a safety. Safety first was also the overriding rule for most of this year’s advertisers and their teams.

Most of the ad agencies and their clients were not surprised because they knew they were going to play it safe all along. I am talking back to basics with bowsers, babies and babes. Classic Madison Avenue.

Start-ups and technology companies were practically absent as the more traditional big spenders were ever present. I’m talking food, beer and cars.

Notwithstanding a few excellent spots, this was another disappointing year. At least we were spared painfully poor and insensitive advertising like the shameful Groupon spot of last year.

O.K. Same ground rules for judging as in the past:

“The spots had to be, quote unquote, Super Bowl ads: ads imbued with enough creativity to compel you to want to watch them again. They should stand on their own for pure entertainment value. Being aired for the first time, clock stoppers, buzz creators. And they must build the brand, create memorable awareness or introduce a new product in an engaging way.

I avoided previewing ads on YouTube and other sites so as not to watch them out of context. I wanted to experience them with the full impact of seeing the spots for the first time in all of the communal anxious anticipation of a Super Bowl commercial break.

By the way, I understand the pluses of leveraging YouTube and other social media and the increasing pressure to do so. Some advertisers and their agencies made a good argument that only millions and not tens of millions would see any of the ads before the game anyway. Fair enough.”

Given these ground rules, the best of the best was the spot for the Chrysler Group with Clint Eastwood. More than satisfying the requirement that the spots be made for the Super Bowl, this commercial was specifically designed to run at the end of the half.

Building on last year’s ad with Eminem, no less “studly” a guy than Clint Eastwood himself gave us a pep talk declaring that it was only “halftime in America” and to keep our chins up.

Inexplicably, this spot was attacked by the Republican Party as a stealth political ad for President Obama and the Democrats. The result: enormous buzz from on air political pundits, bloggers and the “man in the street”.

In another stunning example of more internecine behavior by the Republican Party, none other than Karl Rove cried foul and criticized Mr. Eastwood, of all people. The award winning actor and director is rumored to have never voted for a Democrat.

In Rove vs. Eastwood, the court of public opinion handed down a verdict in favor of the rallying cry of the commercial and the delivery by its incomparable spokesperson.

Nothing but the game itself was more notable on Super Sunday, but others deserve a moment to be singled out for the good, the bad and the ugly.

Honda scored big several times with quintessential Super Bowl spots. Meaning that they used tongue in cheek humor, high Q score celebrities, fast paced story lines, special effects and surprise endings.

In one, they re-introduced the perpetually smokin’ hot Acura NSX. From Jerry Seinfeld’s urban zip line to Jay Leno’s rooftop punch line it was a hot spot for a hot car.

In another commercial they combined these winning elements for the Honda CR-V. Matthew Broderick in a reprise of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was pitch perfect.

Volkswagen took a nice turn with “The Dog Strikes Back”. The only thing that would have made this better for me was if they left out the connection to the brilliant mini Darth Vader spot from last year. I got it but it seemed to confuse the message and change the cadence of the spot. Incidentally, that is exactly how they are running that spot now. You’ll see, if you haven’t already.

“Sonic Stunts” for the Chevy Sonic was one of my favorites, partly because I think of myself as a musician trapped inside of a marketer’s body. Talk about appealing to both the right brain and the left brain. BTW: I recommend watching the whole thing online.

According to my own ground rules, “Graduation Celebration” for Chevy Camaro, ought to be excluded since it has already been running. However, I decided to mention it because the product positioning and ad execution are spot on.

As if that wasn’t enough, General Motors bought some more time and dissed Ford by name in ”Apocalypse”. This spot depicted “end of days”events and showed the survivors driving Chevy trucks. One unfortunate soul who did not make it was said to have driven a Ford. The spot itself was not that great but the publicity it generated made it worth the cost of admission.

General Motors Global CMO, Joel Ewanick, was ebullient over the hand wringing elicited from Ford Motor, which asked GM and NBC not to run it. The feud is better than the spot and so once again we see that it is better to be lucky than good.

So much for car ads.

Frito-Lay’s Doritos ads: “Missing Cat” and “Sling Shot Baby” were both “created” by so-called non-professional consumers. Both were engaging, funny and original. Moreover, kudos for smart branding, as they were consistent with their entries from previous Super Bowls.

There is some buzz that a dead cat goes beyond acceptable dark humor. What? Nobody protested a grandma risking a baby’s life using a sling shot for a bag of chips? Warning to those who were offended: please show caution when selecting television shows, video games and movies; especially cartoons.

In another victory lap for dogs, Skechers, went from a lap dance to a victory lap. In a case of dog bites man or woman, Kim Kardashian was replaced by a dog, with an assist from billionaire Mark Cuban, in a huge messaging and creative turnaround from last year’s ghastly failure.

Perennial player, Anheuser-Busch, almost did not make the cut but for its introduction of Bud Light Platinum. “Creation” and “Platinum Party” were straightforward, differentiated from “regular” Bud Light ads and a good use of the Super Bowl.

CHASE did do a very good job, with the Drew Brees football family and the decision to tout mobile banking, the “it app” in banking. Having said that, no T.A.R.P. fund babies (repaid loans or otherwise) had any business buying 3.5 million dollar spots.
Unlike CHASE, the spots by Citi had mediocre creative and were a waste of time and money, adding insult to injury.

With one exception, I have no comments on movie trailers or television promos. The Tonight Show ad with Jay Leno and Madonna in the elevator was short and sweet and was a perfect tie-in to NBC and the halftime show.

In the interest of your time and my belief, if not my behavior, that “brevity is the soul of wit” I have deleted the good, but not great, and suggest we head directly downhill to the bad and the ugly.

Ironically, some of the “ugliest” spots had some of the best looking people. If you cannot make sex sell then don’t try.

FIAT got men and women alike to pay attention. Then they couldn’t deliver. Not good for a car ad to have performance anxiety. The only thing that was not flat was the foam, the sexy Italian model and the car. Too bad for the new FIAT Abarth. Looks like a fun ride. This ad started well, got lost on the way and crashed in the end.

I never thought I would complain about seeing too much of Victoria’s Secret super model, Adriana Lima, but I have to say, she was over exposed. Being in two questionable spots for two different sponsors, and KIA, was a fumble. Super Model. Super Bowl. Super Bad.

I’ve heard some say the ad was offensive. I thought it was pretty tame and typical advertising. The team that created it is not guilty of being sexist, just lazy, creatively speaking.

The KIA Optima spot, “Sandman/Sweet Dreams”, was more of a nightmare. BTW: Great tagline. Wrong car: “A Dream Car For Real Life.” Or shall we say: a dream tagline for a real car.

Still holding its own for bottom feeding is GoDaddy. As impressed as I am with Danika Patrick for combining svelte attraction and high speed traction, these gal pal spots were flat. As we know, consistency is one of the pillars of branding, but I think these sophomoric spots for GoDaddy aren’t even that sexy.

Last year, I gave them credit for driving traffic to their site, which is the goal, but they had all year to come up with something clever. Back to the drawing board. Not “Body Paint”. Oh, and yes, as Danika Patrick and Jillian Michaels said, “I think we missed a spot…spots”. You sure did. In more than one way.

BTW: I did not overlook the H&M commercial with David Beckham. It is not mentioned here because they used sexiness well. If you are old enough to remember, this is the 21st century version of the, dare I say, break through ad for Jockey with Hall of Fame pitcher and Baltimore Orioles announcer Jim Palmer. For younger readers think of Annie Leibovitz’s shots of Marky Mark Wahlberg for Calvin Klein.

Finally, so terrible that it is terrific, I am still amazed and amused with the bizarre ad for Jack In The Box. Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction got nothing on this for intruding on “family entertainment”. The spot ends with this memorable, inexplicable and offensive line. “You may now eat the bride.”
Maybe, “You may now kiss the burger,” would have been a kinder, gentler line.

Either way, if only Mr. Eastwood could come to the rescue again and tell these people, “Go ahead, make my day!”


Netflix Brand Triage: Qwikster Enough?

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Well they have, several times, and now we are witnessing how quickly and publicly you can damage a brand and how hard, and embarrassing, it can be to repair it.

For years, consumers and business pundits alike have singled out Netflix for being innovative, popular and customer-focused. Their attention shifted inward and they rapidly became the poster child for business school case studies on how to both piss off a rabidly loyal customer base and to taint your brand.

In less than three months there have been over a million customer defections and the stock price has lost almost two thirds of its value. All of this has been self-inflicted.

For those of you who do not know: This all started with a 60% price increase this summer. Netflix said it needed to have separate prices for DVD’s by mail and online streaming. The current business model did not make “great financial sense” for them. Customers exited.

This early adopter of Netflix was undeterred by the price increase itself, but I found the “explanation” to be confounding, both personally and professionally. This was the crack revealing that Netflix had lost its customer-centric culture.

That crack grew into a fissure on September 18 as Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, emailed an “apology” to its subscribers on how the price increase was handled. However, to make matters much worse, he went on to announce the company’s intention to spin off its DVD business into a new entity.

The plan called for Netflix to be the moniker for streaming and Qwikster would be the new brand name for DVD’s by mail. Qwikster? Really? Doesn’t Qwikster sound more like a convenience store, a kitchen mop or a start up company? This was all about them again. Furious customers left in droves.

I thought this was a dangerous strategy with a terrible name to boot. There would be two brand names, two websites, two logins, two credit card bills and two movie queues to manage.

Just this morning, I received a rather tepid and unapologetic email from “The Netflix Team” saying, in part: “This means no change: one website, one account, one password…in other words, no Qwikster.”

Shame on me for not posting sooner. Good for Netflix for pulling the plug on the whole Qwikster idea. Deconstructing their two services, increasing prices and moving to create two entities has been bad for the brand, bad for customers and bad for business.

This is no simple marketing gaffe unfolding in private corporate corridors with a few heads rolling and an agency loosing an account. (BTW: Doesn’t the word “agency” sound quaint?) This drama is playing on screens of all sizes around the world.

Today’s low-key email announcement to delete Qwikster from the queue is necessary but insufficient. Inexplicably, it did not come from their now beleaguered CEO, Reed Hastings. Nor did it offer customers much in the way of reward, respect and recognition for sticking with them.

Netflix needs to do just that if it hopes to retain customers, avoid more comparisons to New Coke and to side step induction into the Bad Branding Hall of Shame.

After all, all hope is not lost when you have a brand name that gets used as a verb. Make a gesture to your customers today so tomorrow they will still be asking people this: “Hey, do you Netflix?”


Post Game Post: Teams Are Classic, Spots Were Not

The brute force that is part of the game of football seemed like just about the only thing that many ads had going for themselves. Spots like PepsiMax (assaulted jogger), Doritos (dog, sliding glass door and man) and Snickers (leveling Roseanne Barr) went out of their way for what might have otherwise been well executed.

Once again the game was better than the spots. What a novel concept.

Without further ado, here are the ground rules that I have used in previous reviews:

The spots had to be, quote unquote, Super Bowl ads: ads imbued with enough creativity to compel you to want to watch them again. They should stand on their own for pure entertainment value. Being aired for the first time, clock stoppers, buzz creators. And they must build the brand, create memorable awareness or introduce a new product in an engaging way.

I avoided previewing ads on YouTube and other sites so as not to watch them out of context. I wanted to experience them with the full impact of seeing the spots for the first time in all of the communal anxious anticipation of a Super Bowl commercial break.

By the way, I understand the pluses of leveraging YouTube and other social media and the increasing pressure to do so. Some advertisers and their agencies made a good argument that only millions and not tens of millions would see any of the ads before the game anyway. Fair enough.

If you really want engagement, and people’s attention throughout the telecast, then set up more contests where pros and amateurs alike compete to create an ending to a commercial with the winning entry airing live. Maybe even offer the winner a new job. These would-be creative directors, and their friends and family, will be forced to watch every minute to see if their creative wins and they become Marketing Guru Action Figures.

Incidentally, this is not at all unlike the excellent Chevy ad in the fourth quarter with the voice over of two guys planning the casting and the storyline for a commercial.
Speaking of car ads, and there were a ton of them, other than a couple of top-notch pieces by Chevy and Volkswagen, few moved me. (More on these later.)

I did like the anachronistic images in the Hyundai ad suggesting they too represent a technological milestone. Great visual metaphor: guy on the street with ear buds and a record player. KIA was close but no cigar as admirers were compelled to hijack the car. More special effects than affect.

Mini Cooper’s “Cram It In The Boot” needs to be mentioned, however crass many grown-ups may have found the spot. They tempted the censors by actually using double entendre to fight against the image that those cute little cars might not be able to carry much of a payload. (Just so you know, there were spots that were kept off the air. Some may have been designed that way on purpose to create a buzz and drive traffic online. Okay now I have to tell you–because I brought it up and you are now curious–one was about extra-marital affairs and one was about vegetarians and their sex life.)

For whatever reason the best work for me was not slapstick this year–as much as I found merit in spots like that in the past. So with that noted the ones that stood out to me were more on the clever and warmer side.

Three that come to mind: The self-effacing humor of excessive product placement of Bud Light was refreshing. One for the Chevy Silverado, “Tommy”, was a great spoof on the melodramas that are truck commercials. It evoked the Lassie movies and television series with its “come to the rescue” themes; ending this time with the hyperbolic: “I didn’t even know this town had a volcano”. Volkswagen Passat’s “The Force” with mini Darth Vader was extremely well balanced with just the right amount of cute, clever and convenience of the car.

Excellent use of the dating theme included the realistic mind reading in PepsiMax’s “First Date” and the brutal honesty about the unromantic side of men and their need for an email florist like Teleflora.

Honorable mentions go to: Best Buy and its new cell phone return policy making good use of chronically befuddled Ozzy Osbourne. CareerBuilder cannot be faulted for scraping the exterior off of the discomfort of being squeezed in a job where no one listens to you or “feels your pain.” Coca-Cola’s “Border Patrol” replete with uniformed border guards was quiet, cute and typically heart warming; working well to support its “Open Happiness” campaign. Doritos’s reincarnation of grandpa played off the broken urn in “Meet The Fockers”. CarMax also went to Hollywood for a good use of borrowed interest. Adrien Brody singing for his Stella Artois. Chrysler’s “Born of Fire” using Detroit’s homey Eminem and his city to evoke pride in heritage.

I feel obliged to mention E*TRADE, too. People love them. I don’t. Even though the spots don’t bug me anymore, I am now convinced that our spokes baby is burying the lead. Also, I’m pretty sure some people of Italian descent will not be using E*TRADE any time soon.

OK, because you want it, here are three that missed far to the left of the uprights: The GoDaddy spot, “The Contract”, offered the not-so-subtle suggestion that Danica Patrick and Jillian Michaels bare more than they have in the past. Not inventive. Not funny. Not happening. Yes, I know, the idea is to drive traffic to the Website, but their internal agency could have tried a little harder as they did with their first half spot, featuring a practical joke with Joan Rivers joining the GoDaddy Girls.

Skechers tripped and fell in their effort to have Kim Kardashian (and her followers) focus on something other than herself. The people who worked so hard on this probably could not imagine a spot with her could be so flat. But worse by far than that, or any other spot I have seen in a long time was for Groupon. The “commercial” with Timothy Hutton in a Tibetan restaurant was just downright tasteless.

Let’s wrap it up on a positive note. I’m not sure Verizon needed a Super Bowl presence given all the publicity (and Apple spots) about the iPhone coming to a new service provider. However, “I can hear you now.” was beautiful in its simplicity and felicity to its own branding.

Bridgestone Tires scored several times with decidedly different approaches. The beaver spot was an advertiser’s dream. A feel good story with visuals of the brand name. Finally, because it may have touched the greatest number of people, was their “Reply All” spot. It was guaranteed to resonate with anyone who had a pulse and an Internet connection. Great emotional hook, clear connection to the benefits of the product and funny to boot.


CEO Gut Check List

The best companies, like the best athletes, reach new heights by making a commitment to excel. Are you improving your game? What does your gut tell you about your company and its sales and marketing strategies? Have you been checking in with your people and your customers on a regular basis? Is your team staying sharp or are you losing focus? Are you and your people in agreement and in alignment?

When you want the answers to these questions, and more, take five minutes and do the CEO Gut Check: the dozen questions that all CEO’s must be able to answer. Take the test yourself.

Then have some of your people do the gut check, too. The findings will surprise you and help you to prioritize your initiatives. At your request, we will review your answers, and those of the people on your team, and offer our observations.

Want to hear more about the CEO Gut Check before completing the test? Click here to listen to Gary White talk with United Airlines Sky Radio about the benefits of the CEO Gut Check.


When It’s All About Them, You Win Too!

Are you unable to articulate a monetized value proposition and create sales ready messaging?

Not to worry. Here’s one way to remedy the situation.

I call it Customer Success Story Selling TM.

First, make success stories the primary vehicle to engage your audience and provide customers and prospects with reasons to believe you can give them what they need. Value already delivered, as opposed to promises, builds credibility.

Second, make it mandatory that everyone in your company memorizes at least three success stories.

Third, make a commitment to capturing past, present and future success stories of value received by your customers.

Don’t have them in writing? Don’t have one for each vertical market? Don’t have the facts and figures you need for a compelling story?

Here are just a few tips and techniques I shared in a recent workshop I did:

—Think problem/solution.

—Think contributions made and value received.

—Think about their positive outcomes.

—You must use $’s, %’s, #’s and time frames.

—Use action words like increase, improve, accelerate, enhance, maximize, minimize, save, cut, reduce, eliminate, motivate, revitalize.

—Get in the habit of asking your clients why they work with you. Your good clients will help you.

—Use the Internet to find long lost facts and figures to re-construct success stories from the past.

—Do not write or talk too much how you do what you do and nothing about how much you receive in compensation.

Here’s an added benefit: When everyone writes and speaks the language of success stories your sales and marketing people will finally be “reading from the same script”. They will literally and figuratively be telling the same story.

When you focus on customer success story selling your true value proposition will begin to reveal itself to you, your people and your target audience.

As a result, you will see an increase in referrals, sales calls and requests for proposals. You will see more people walking in the door. You will see an increase in the demand for your products and services.


Xfinity and then some

Initiating…in three two one…

If those words don’t sound refreshingly familiar then you have not caught one of the better television spots to air in a long time. Why is it so good? Because it doesn’t get in the way of itself. Other than cost and clutter, I don’t know why Comcast did not run this Xfinity spot during the Super Bowl.

Xfinity is the new name for the re-branding and rollout of their new and improved digital services. According to Comcast, some 30 cable networks are providing over 2,000 hours of programming and eventually all content will be accessible on the screen of your choice, including mobile devices.

As the “launch” spot and promotional materials claim: customers will be getting more high speed Internet, more downloads, more channels, more choice, more control. Get it: infinitely more than Hulu, Direct TV, DISH, Verizon, Apple and other competitive sources of content and delivery. Get it: Xfinity.

I know some of you may be saying, “Oh, that’s so clever. Not! How un-CLIO like.” Just to be clear, I am not saying this solves everything for the Philadelphia cable giant or its 23.8 million subscribers. But you have to admit, they got this part of the equation right.

In a world where everyone is too cool for school, there are times to be straightforward and not overly clever. Ironically enough, there are times when less is more even if the pitch is all about more.

In more ways than one this commercial is spot on. It starts with a little late night mystery reminiscent of the movie Poltergeist where the TV is on and everyone is asleep.

Every thing delivers individually and collectively. The message is crystal clear, the visuals engaging and the voice over is pitch perfect; thanks to a superb use of actor John Hamm.

If you are still not buying it, at least get hip to the inside joke using Mr. Hamm; who plays the creative director of a 1960’s Madison Avenue ad agency on A&E’s award winning series “Mad Men”.

Just to prove it, I have not talked to anyone yet who recognized his voice. Sometimes the medium is not the message or if you’re lucky at least it doesn’t get in the way. Given the advertiser, the target and the topic, they appear to be getting the best of both worlds.


Post Game Post: Super Bowl Spots Fail to Cover the Spread

Who woulda thunk it. The game itself was far better than the ads. The game was super. The spots were not. There were a few exceptions. Film at eleven.

BTW: Last February I was so underwhelmed that I gave myself a bye. However, I am back at my post (pun intended) by popular demand.

Now, the ground rules. Same ones I established a few years ago.

The spots had to be, quote unquote, Super Bowl ads: Ads imbued with a creativity that would get you to want to watch them again and would stand on their own for pure entertainment value. Being shown for the first time, clock stoppers, buzz creators. And they had to either build the brand, create memorable awareness or introduce a new product in an engaging way.

I avoided previewing ads on You Tube and other sites so as not to watch them out of context. I wanted to experience them with the full impact of seeing the spots for the first time in all of the communal anxious anticipation of a Super Bowl commercial break.

This approach differs from the likes of Barbara Lippert of AdWeek and Bob Garfield of Advertising Age. We agreed on many things but had widely different opinions on the same spots on more than one occasion. Is this validation of no unequivocal standouts?

For example, Ms. Lippert’s fave was Google. Building a more emotional connection to the brand: great idea. Showing screen shots of someone navigating through a search on Google: boring. Something most of us see and do everyday.

On the other hand, something that you have never seen on the Super Bowl is a spot promoting a political position. As many of you know CBS broke precedent. My personal, ethical and political views are not at issue here. Although, I do have to say this could be a disturbing trend for the day of the year when we just want to have a good time with friends and family.

In this case it is the much ballyhooed and controversial piece by the Pro Life organization Focus On The Family. Again, personal and political beliefs aside, you could not have made up a better story. This was perfect: Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and his mom. However, they did not get a first down and they fumbled on the punt. Without pre-game publicity this spot would not have even been a blip on the screen.

Other things you don’t see every day, nor would you want to: Betty White being slammed to the ground. That certainly got a rise out of the viewers at the party I attended. Too violent? Oh please.

She was playing a game of football during the Super Bowl. Good tongue in cheek. Consistent tie in for the Snicker’s instant energy value proposition, too. Plus, it was one of the few ads that had a kicker in the end with Abe Vigoda’s cameo as the second celebrity tackling dummy.

The Denny’s spots satisfied all of my criteria. They were whimsical, creative and funny. The joke, the plight of the hens who had a production challenge, clearly supported the FREE Grand Slam offer; which has proven to be a winner for the company in the past.

Where’s the beef? Speaking of ground rules, the ground meat purveyor Burger King missed a great opportunity to introduce their new BK Whopper Bar, which serves beer! (Please see my last blog post below. BK and Bud together again for the first time.)

Doritos ads were consistent with their smack down themes from previous Super Bowls and they worked. Some of my armchair marketing consultants liked the one with the dog. I preferred the gym ninja using the chips as martial arts throwing stars. Certainly qualifies as the classic Madison Avenue approach: the product as the star. (No pun intended.)

Speaking of featuring the product, I found Coca-Cola’s sleepwalker spot engaging. It was pleasant to the eyes and the ears enabling it to cut through the cacophony of the day.

Cutting through the clutter was also achieved by Motorola employing vixen Megan Fox to carry the story line of the “It” device of the day, if you will. I was impressed that both men and woman alike felt good about the ad, at least at the party I attended. Among a flood of tech toys and TV’s, it was arguably the best.

An honorable mention for VIZIO. They were able to inform by saying the right things to the right people at the right time. That is to say, speak to the growing addiction to bigger, flatter and brighter screens.

OK. Now I have to fess up. I have never gone for the eTrade baby spots, although I know amateurs and professionals love them. I must tell you that the room fell silent when the spots played. At least there was no projectile vomiting this year.

Show stopper for me was the piece on the LATE SHOW. I got a huge kick out of seeing Letterman, Oprah and Leno on the couch. All the more reason I was left empty. How could you not get a solid punch line from that ensemble?

Although bordering on depressing, misogynist and ultimately trite, the Dodge Charger entry grabbed everyone in the room and resonated with the guys. Credit to the sponsor and the agency for having the horsepower not to reveal the product until the very end.

Dove successfully introduced its new line of products for men, but it was not a super spot.

I loved Brett Farve making fun of himself. Unfortunately, he was a good sport in search of a good ad. Hyundai missed the uprights. In fact, I found many of the cars ads ho hum. Nice try by Audi. At least they created a wacky story to get their green message across.

While we are being automotive, kinda sorta had it working but could not clinch, get on the team bus and go home. Bridgestone ought to be just thrown under the bus.

What was the deal with men running around in their underwear this year? OK for Dockers who is trying to sell pants. KGB’s sumo wrestlers. Huh? Career Builders once again succeeded in creating spots that got people to stop look and listen and then quickly try to forget what just happened. Insult to injury as it ran back to back with the Dockers deprived men.

Also, little people spots ran back to back too. Neither of which were worth the risk of insulting people or the venerable Ground Hog. KISS of death for the good Dr. Pepper? BTW: I did get the message of the new flavor.

Bud Light and Bud spent a fortune, as always, but the creative was consistently not up to par with past work. The human bridge was predictable and worse: weird and grotesque.

Just to be even handed, let’s look for the silver lining in the cool blue aluminum bottles of Bud Light. The house of bottles was an arresting vision.

The “LOST” spot used a classic story line: “We are stranded on a deserted island and we don’t care because we have beer.” The nod and the wink to the popularity of the show gave this some freshness.

In the interest of some quickly disappearing attempt at brevity and to be kind, I will not savage any more spots except the ones by Go Daddy. Those offered up by Boost, FLO TV, Intel,, Home, VW, Diamond/Pop Secret and Taco Bell may remain on the sidelines.

Go Daddy failed to launch. You got everyone’s attention and then each time there was a big groan. “Is that it? Is that all you got?” “Did you give it your best shot?”

They will undoubtedly be successful again in driving traffic to their site but bodice ripping is so passé after Janet Jackson’s costume malfunction. Even the “racier” stuff on the Internet is awfully tame. Actually this year’s entries were just awful.

Too bad, because I think Danica Patrick is swell. You go girl and keep up your gutsy behavior on and off the racetrack were she has given a fantastic boost to both Indy and NASCAR racing.

Did I say gutsy? How about that onside kick to start the second half? Congratulations to the City of New Orleans and the Saints. No longer to be ridiculed as the “Aints”. Now it just seems to apply to so many of the ads.

Better luck next time to the advertisers and their agencies; and to the great Peyton Manning who came a heck of lot closer to achieving success than most of them did.


How About a Beer and a Burger? Sure! Beer and a Burger King? Really?!

OK this is a real whopper. I mean a real whopper with a capital W.

Unless you haven’t heard, Burger King is opening places they call the Whopper Bar: a place where you can get a beer and a burger. Looks like McDonalds has driven them to drink.

You heard me right. Evidently, “Have It Your Way” is back big time. I guess the folks at Burger King feel this radical differentiation strategy will position them to be the true purveyor’s of Happy Meals.

Whopper Bars will be open around the clock. They are slated for destination metros like South Beach where hipsters and touristas alike will be secure in the knowledge that they won’t go hungry.

Bud and Miller are both bellying up to the Whopper Bar. Seems like an exclusive co-branding strategy with Anheuser-Busch would have yielded a crisper concept: a Bud and a burger before bedtime!

Legal, operational and training issues aside, going from “Do you want fries with that?” to “Can I getcha a beer?” is risky business.

No matter how you slice it, BK is exposing their brand in a business that practically lives or dies on families and fries.

Sure, segments like “drivers ed” and “co-eds “may think it’s cool, but is this really worth it. Does any fast food company really want to involve their franchise (pun intended) in the heated discussion over alcohol and young adults?

Besides who are they really going after and what is the long term plan?

BTW: BK has had a Whopper Bar in California at Universal City, but there is no beer there. Huh? Nor is there any “on tap” for the foreseeable future. Really?!

Which also raises a key issue: how does this concept work after last call? A Whopper Bar with no bar.

Many course changes mark the history of positioning Burger King. Different management teams have labored under the yoke of their main competitor, a consistently superior fast food master.

Burger King almost seems to relish playing Avis’s “We Try Harder” to McDonalds, who plays the golden Hertz. Now that I think about, it’s the red team against the yellow team in both industry contests. (Sounds like a separate post to me. But I digress.)

So, we will wait and see if this can be well done or if it will be just a little too raw for the partners and their brands. Read the rest of this entry »


United Airlines: “It’s Time to Paint”

What does it cost to paint a plane? And what is the cost to the brand if you don’t?

Staring out at the tarmac as I hiked through SFO, I wondered for the umpteenth time, when is United going to unify (no pun intended) the look of its fleet. I felt a need to issue a citation for a major branding violation.

What are they waiting for? You are probably thinking, the last thing the airline can afford to do is paint their planes. I’m not buying that argument. That’s just like the people who cut advertising budgets in a recession.

Plus, for reasons too numerous to mention, it looks like the airline industry as a whole is going to be beleaguered for a long time to come.

The latest color scheme evocative of friendly skies of puffy clouds and blue horizons is good to go.

Way better than the awful gray fuselage that looks militaristic and anything but welcoming. And speaking of which, what is with the blue and black horizontal lines on the tail. Was that supposed to make the planes look like the ride would be smoother than the competition? Never got that.

Next time you are at the airport and you run out of things to read or your Blackberry needs re-charging, count the number of colors they used on those overly demure planes. They went over to the dark side and lost touch with years of red, white and orange.

To be even handed about this, United has shown patience and consistency when it comes to the sound of their brand. They deserve kudos for co-opting George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and sticking with it for so many years.

Also, I have made inquiries with some of my long time air freight clients in hopes of getting the hard numbers on what it costs to paint planes.

Finally, I must fess-up. I am approaching a million miles flown on United and wish them continued success. Having said that let’s finish where we began.

No paint job for the brand – cost effective? Yes.
Good branding? No.


When Does A Person Become A Brand?

Shortly before Thanksgiving, and well before Tiger’s bogeys, I started this post because I was kinda miffed at what I think is the overuse of the word “brand” when applied to people. It seems every time you look around the media and even “the man in the street” is wielding the concept of branding.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was my beloved Sunday New York Times where no less than two separate articles in the same issue declared that both Malcolm Gladwell and Megan Fox were brands. Being a best selling author/essayist or the current “It Girl” does not automatically give you status as a brand. Not to worry, the word is regularly bandied about in a way that is condescending, dismissive and pejorative.

If you’ve spent as much time as I have in the marketing trenches you know that creating and building a brand is not as easy as people think and tainting one is actually easier than running over a fire hydrant and crashing into a tree.

So what are the requisites? “A brand is a promise,” I once opined while sitting on a panel at USC. A tried and true test is the ability to successfully extend the name to other products and ventures. You may be famous. You may be a spokesperson. Being a celebrity is not enough. Nor are lucrative endorsements. Even being a super star does not a brand make.

I sat down and proceeded to make a list of people from all walks of life. I asked friends, family and colleagues to weigh-in. After further review, as they say, I decided on who was and who was not a brand. (Please post or email your votes.)

Unequivocally nominated to my short list were Oprah, Martha and Tiger, quintessential examples of a person as a brand. These three are so powerful they need only their first names. You knew exactly who and what I was talking about. The person and the brand.

As I was procrastinating – I mean researching this piece and building my list – okay sleeping off my Thanksgiving – the Woods family was up in the wee hours: Tiger debating the downside of night putting as the Mrs. was working on her nocturnal short game.

As we know, things have gone quickly from the need for some damage control on the dented front end of the Tiger Woods brand to a full blown sex scandal that brings a whole new meaning to body shop.

With all due respect to the Woods family, this piece is about branding. Brands live in the hearts and minds of people. The crucible of public opinion creates its own tiered value system where excess vanity is soon forgotten, insider trading is forgiven and even infidelity may find redemption. However, the continued revelations of the number and type of so-called “transgressions” are each blows to a formerly pristine brand.

Please remember what I said earlier – “a brand is a promise.” Beware the perils if you become more of a brand than a person. The rewards are great but so are the risks.

Gotta go. I have an overwhelming desire to make some Newman’s Own Popcorn and watch the news.