Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Thanks, candidates!

This presidential campaign has been one fat, juicy lesson in branding. It’s as if Hillary, Barack and John got together last year and asked, “How can we get the ignorant, flailing American citizen to understand how brands work? What can we do to help?” They must have discussed it and come up with a presidential campaign shrewdly crafted to teach you and me about brands.

First, the campaign tells us over and over that successful brands are mirrors. You look at them and you see – oh, a little bit of me. “There I am, sipping at Starbucks, driving a BMW – that’s me! And look, that handsome young Harvard guy in crisp white shirts offering his vision for change, that’s me. I’m like that. I want that.” David Brooks in today’s N.Y. Times says that demographics is king. People vote for the one who is most like they are. Women, African-Americans, young, old are following the pattern. I see me in there!

Next, this campaign illustrates the brander’s favorite term, “touchpoints” – as in “Your brand must be consistent across all touchpoints.” Start with the candidates’ clothes – a touchpoint. Their associates – oh, what a touchpoint. Hang around with an inappropriate preacher or starlet and your brand suffers. Hair-do – touchpoint. Gestures, phrases, smiles, laughs, tears – all touchpoints. Pizza-eating – with fingers? With smile? While talking? All touchpoints.

Here’s a touchpoint no one thought of before this campaign: Hand on spouse’s shoulder, neck or waist? Never dotingly on the spouse’s hair or lasciviously on the spouse’s derriere – that’s off-base and off-brand.

Finally, best of all, this critical lesson: The campaign drives home, over and over, that branding requires consultants. That’s right, no business managers can possibly build a brand without expensive consultants explaining how. There is no brand without a consultant’s blessing – and that comes through each time we see that there is no Hillary strategy, no Barack rhetoric, no John McCain POV until a team of smart, well-paid strategists huddle up, review the options and deliver the brand message.

So thank you Hillary, Barack and John. Thanks for teaching us more about branding in a year of fascinating jousting and jesting than we could have ever learned from taking a branding course in college. Well, unless that course has a module on politics.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Destination brands: Name that city

I was intrigued by a promotional speech from a city trying to improve its brand image. Play along and see if you can guess the city. Here’s the local leader:
He starts with some ideological clap-trap – “Our form of government is called a democracy because its administration is in the hands, not of a few, but of the whole people… Everyone is equal before the law.” He says “a sense of freedom regulates our day-to-day life… We pay special regard for the protection of the oppressed.” So far you might be thinking San Francisco – or a town in Vermont?

“Let me add another point. We have had the good sense to provide for our spirits more opportunities for relaxation from hard work than other people.” – Now we’re at the heart of the promotion – Is this Orlando? “Throughout the year, there are dramatic and athletic contests and religious festivals.” – Dramatic could be Seattle, athletic might be a city in Tennessee – but religious? There is a town in Texas that boasts the highest number of churches per capita. Then again, Christmas is beautiful in New England.

“In our homes we find beauty and good taste” (gated communities?!), and the delight we find every day in these things drives away our cares.” Carefree suggests Honolulu. “Because of the greatness of our city, all kinds of imports flow in to us from all over the world.” San Diego is a thriving port… We know this isn’t Detroit.

He then celebrates globalization: “The way we live differs in another respect from that of our enemies: Our city is open to all the world.” The reference to “enemies” suggests New York, which has its critics. “Open to all the world” – that would be his tagline and, I have to say, an inspired choice.

Did you guess the city? Alright, let’s look at the cover of this book… Hey, it’s the Greek chieftain Pericles speaking of Athens in 431 BC. Quite the local booster. His city had democracy, drama and international commerce – a good place for tourists and investors. If there had been a banner or brochure, it would have read: “Athens – Open to all the world.”


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

So that you are not misunderstood...

Great moments in the annals of communications:


Personal branding

Philadelphia yesterday –
The man in front of me was also waiting for the next available ticket clerk. He wore jeans, had a white t-shirt stretched over broad shoulders and amber-colored glasses pushed up on his shaved head. His duffle bag was heavy canvass and he… oh right, he had READY 2 DIE! tattooed on both sides of his neck. The blue letters looked as if they had been carved into his skin. Was this a member of the U.S. armed forces grimly coming to terms with his possible fate? Or a really angry man set to tear your heart out for accidentally brushing his elbow. I guess I could just ask him... I’d have to put it just right… respectfully… something along these lines, “Excuse me, sir, but I couldn’t help but notice your uniquely worded tag-line…”

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Global warming is good for the Atlantic

I mean the Atlantic magazine. Thanks to a stampede of corporations asserting their concern for Mother Earth, the Atlantic has a nice battery of glossy ads this month.

Check out the April issue. GM uses two pages to celebrate the Volt electric car "that plugs into an electric socket" and "produces zero emissions." The car may not be actually available, but GM's "commitment to energy diversity" is right there in black and white. (Diesel buses nowhere in the picture.)

GE has a nice glossy ad that pictures rolling acres of romantic ocean. Desalination is their contribution to the cause – "all part of our blueprint for a better world." (Jet engines not pictured.)

Leaf on through. There is a shot of a lovely green tree – courtesy of that famous Johnny Appleseed of an outfit signing itself "BASF – The Chemical Company." Look closely and you'll see a fire extinguisher strapped to the tree, representative of the fire-retardant gel that BASF makes to "preserve the world's forests for generations to come."

Chevy and Honda are eager to tell Atlantic readers of their contributions to saving life on earth. Chevy tosses around the playful phrase "technologies that go from gas-friendly to gas-free." I breathe easier with every ad.

But I've saved the best – the most moving – for last. Here is a two-page spread – green picture and text set tastefully amid a veritable sea of white space. The text shares insights of a depth not experienced since the time of Socrates. "Looking at your environment from different perspectives and gaining insights from the experiences of others help you get where you need to go." I... well... you... um... I can only sigh and ponder the wisdom.

Oh, the sponsor of this one? Why, the global cigarette-making giant, Altria. After leafing through the April Atlantic, these car, chemical and cigarette makers have convinced me to leave our planet entirely in their hands. Wait a minute, we already have!

brandsinger 4.17.08

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Is being an Olympics sponsor risky?

Will Coke, Samsung and other Olympics sponsors suffer the heat of the Tibetan firestorm.? Are their brands now linked to Chinese political oppression? Will they spend the next year parrying jabs at their social values?

First, no one should be shocked that "politics" intrudes on the Olympics. International sports have always been highly charged with political overtones. Black Power salutes in the '60s, terrorist attacks on Israelis – politics is at play every time a U.S. boxer climbs into the ring with a Cuban. Chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" must seem like the playing of "God Save the King" in Calcutta c. 1900.

But second, global powerhouses like Coke and Samsung are going in with their eyes open. They know that political and social conflicts are uncontrollable flames and that no one knows what these fires might consume.

For sponsors, however, there are huge gains – high visibility, energizing association with youth and vitality – and of course tempting opportunities to make inroads in the Chinese market. The upside is very seductive and, if you have the fat budget to invest, irresistible.

So, I say the known gains outweigh potential damages to the brands.

Plus, look at it this way: Olympic sponsors are giving activists a chance for the spotlight. One could argue that without the sponsors, there’d be no world stage on which to dramatize political protests.

Brandsinger 4.13.08