Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween Tag-line

Seen recently on a street in Connecticut...
Now one of my favorite tag-lines. Has brand attitude. Is descriptive. Suits the season. And you just know these guys would be easy to work with... "Hell, that ain't no ant... that's your mother-in-law..."


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Wal-Mart Bank not in trouble

The Wal-Mart Bank is not mired in the banking crisis. Why? Because there is no Wal-Mart Bank. Plans for a Wal-Mart Bank were fought during 2005 and '06 by a bitter cabal of labor unions and local banks. In the spring of '07 Wal-Mart withdrew its application for a charter that would have allowed it into banking. Today, Wal-Mart invites bank partners into its stores and also offers its own smart cards and other services via in-store financial centers.

What's your point, brandsinger? Okay, my point is this: Everyone opposed to Wal-Mart moving into banking CLAIMED to be fighting to preserve the integrity of the banking system. That's right – there USED to be integrity in banking. Here is what the Independent Community Bankers wrote in attacking Wal-Mart's plans: "Mixing banking and commerce would create conflicts of interest, with banks pressured to make credit decisions based on competitive position rather than the creditworthiness of the borrower."

Loans based on creditworthiness! What a quaint notion – abandoned by the nation's banks some time ago, apparently. Perhaps – as they now claim before Congress – community banks have been more careful in their practices than the high-flying money-center banks. But local banks too are lining up for government aid. Bankers who opposed Wal-Mart because it might have been "pressured to make credit decisions based on competitive position rather than the creditworthiness of the borrower" should be ashamed of their industry's self-protective short-sightedness coupled with its over-reaching imprudence.

Would a Wal-Mart Bank have been a source of desperately needed loans during today's crisis? Gee, we'll never know. The chartered banks kept them out of the game which they themselves have played so badly.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bank advertising from la-la land

I've seen ridiculous bank advertising over the years. I once sat through an agency presentation in Wellington, New Zealand during which both the client and the creative team puffed up proudly over scenes of people diving into piles of coins. So fresh! So un-pompous! So NOT what you'd expect from the typical BANK!

And that was true. Not what I would expect from the typical ADULT. I didn't smile. Probably the first time in my life I didn't smile with my client. I always smile when my client smiles. But the actors in the video clip diving into piles of coin were covered in gold paint. The music was from Cabaret. I seem to remember plumage of some sort. I couldn't have smiled if they had rubbed me with sheep's milk. They lost me completely. And I lost that client.

During the dot-com frenzy, First Union Bank aired television ads born from the union of bank pomposity with agency conceit. I remember blasts of stormy air, people running and screaming, bowler hats flying around – and then a towering presence, a massive building rising and dominating the chaos like the Eighth Wonder of the World. It was the First Union building. It was us, we, the greatest. I'm sure the agency left the first screening feeling like kings. We nailed it, baby! Did you see the CEO's face when the clouds parted and the sun-beams shot through?

First Union caved, of course. Couldn't hack the competition and sold out to Wachovia. WACHOVIA. Does that name ring a bell? Surely you've seen their recent, cocky commercials featuring customers being blessed by raining dollars while the other schmucks stare in envy. When I first saw these commercials – oh to turn back the clock! – I should have RUN to a stock broker – any guy who could pull the trigger on a trade – and hocked everything I own to short Wachovia's stock. Money would have poured down on me. I should have remembered: First Union! Probably the same marketing team! The sheer idiocy of these images and this haunting line: "Are you with Wachovia?"

Then this week – Wachovia declared the largest loss in the history of advertising... uh, banking. Money wafted out the door by the billions, apparently. The bank will be taken over by Wells Fargo – they of the dusty stage-coach logo and the sober management, they that remember a bank is a place of predictability and industry and hard work and care and prudence.

I am not against whimsical advertising, even for a major financial institution. Why should beer makers have all the fun? I just get very cranky when bank marketers encourage their ad agency to get creative... have some fun... let out all the stops... show us what you can do... let your right brain run wild... while the bankers themselves are driving their organizations into the mud.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ackerman and the quest for brand identity

Knowing what OTHERS think of you is essential to understanding YOURSELF... and to social success. But too many marketers are slaves to external research. They obsessively sniff around and measure what CUSTOMERS seem to want, while neglecting to capitalize on what they actually are able to provide.

Larry Ackerman – author of Identity is Destiny and other works – is champion of putting self-awareness first – and building companies – and individual lives – on unique, underlying skills and talents.

Last week Larry (a former colleague of mine at Siegel + Gale) spoke to my graduate class in branding at University of Hartford. His methodology is sophisticated – intensely probing an organization’s business via a range of research techniques. But his goal is reductionism – to find the single shared competency.

If branding were religion Ackerman would be a resolute fundamentalist. If branding were music, he would be a purist – listening to the drone of waterfalls and pounding out rhythms with a stick.

His drive is a relentless quest for one prize: The beating heart of a brand – an organization’s unique value-producing role in society’s complex web. That's what he does as consultant to major corporations and as prolific author of works cited at

When you ask Larry to define his own identity, the answer is startling for its lack of irony or humility. “My gift is to help people see.”

Our motto at brandsinger is “To thy own self be true.” Larry Ackerman embodies a tireless quest for truth.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Stradivarius – Legendary brand that endures

Great brands are supposed to last. Consider Stradivarius and Amati – brand names that have endured since the 17th and 18th centuries.

This Stradivarius violin – known as The Hammer – was made in 1707... and sold at Christie's in 2006 for more than $3.5 million. Bidding lasted five minutes.

For comparison, let us note that some brands do not endure as paragons of excellence but as symbols of misguided marketing. Here is a 1958 Edsel Ranger with original green paint. It was put up for sale in July of this year for $3.5 thousand.

An Edsel is a work of legendary foolishness which, in restored condition, can move people to places. A Stradivarius is a work of unmatched artistry which, in the hands of a skilled musician, can move audiences to tears.


Is fall a brand?

We are entering the heart of fall, when the air is chilly in the shade… and the sunlight a blessing on the skin. Manhattan elevators smell of mothballs as the older folks bring forth sweaters. The park smells of earth. New England trees are splashed with orange and gold.

However you define “brand” – as perception, as experience, as promise – the fall season has characteristics of a brand. Fall is crisp, a blade with a sharp edge. It has depth, a rustling deep in the forest. Fall is a time to prepare… for evening performances… for contemplation… for winter’s onslaught… for the implications of dying leaves.

What – to you – is fall’s “brand essence”? Vigor renewed? Time to take stock? Each of us has a unique fall feeling… but all of us share awareness of the bright sun casting long shadows, of yellowy lights in the early darkness... of the urge to buckle down.

Fall is not a brand, of course. No one shapes its image. Fall is not a brand experience. It is inscrutable nature’s most serious season… and thus its most human.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Last word on national brands (for now)

We have had several discussions of national brands (or sovereign brands, as some call them). So as not to seem obsessed, we will be moving off the subject and on to jeans, candy bars and beer... but first, let's give the last word to an excellent review article in Interbrand's, October 6 issue. (Thanks to Mr. Kuyper for drawing it to our attention.)

The article by Randall Frost compares two recent polling of national brands (one covered here several posts ago).

The article ends by citing how fickle such polls are:
Prof. David Gerstner of Pace University is currently developing yet another nation branding index. Says Gerstner, “Given the increasing importance, attention, and interest in place branding, more nation rankings are likely to appear in the future. The results of these studies are likely to vary. The reason is that, even though they claim to measure the same idea—how attractive or well-regarded a nation is—due to differences in methodologies they are actually measuring different things.”

The problem I find is that magically and incredibly ALL these methodologies seem to produce high rankings for Old World or Third World nations and mediocre standing for the world's oldest democracy, largest economy, savior of civilization in the 20th century, disseminator of the most widely used language, and seat of the highest ranked corporations and universities. So let's see if Professor Gerstner's NEXT new methodology can be based on a definition of "leading brands among nations" that parallels our understanding of leading brands in the commercial sector.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Brand USA lags Italy (supposedly)

The latest word on the weakening of Brand America was reported in Sunday’s International Herald Tribune: “Based on surveys of people in 20 countries, the researchers measure how each of 50 nations' ‘brands’ ranks against the other 49, based on factors ranging from governance to culture to the economy. The United States ranked seventh overall, behind Germany, France, Britain, Canada, Japan and Italy...”

While at least the US did not trail Singapore, as it did in a poll reported here last month, this survey once again suggests that 1) The idea that nations have brands is widely accepted 2) The status of US as brand continues to seem remarkably middling in poll after poll.

Brandsinger’s stance continues to be that:
1) Such polls are varied and arbitrary, folding in and weighting whatever factors a pollster deems significant.

2) These polls confuse “brand” – a comprehensive, lasting impression in people’s minds – with “reputation” – a rollicking roll-a-coaster ride through the soup of daily news.

3) The USA is the world’s strongest brand due to historical factors – largest economy, highest achievement in technology, victory in the bloodbaths of the 20th century, irresistible spread of American English, etc.

Bransinger is not home to delirious patriots and USA-promoters. We are global-minded analysts of brands – viewing the world through the lens of branding. But a true measure of nations' brands would reflect the standing of global corporate brands (per the annual Interbrand survey, for example, cited above)...

...and a true gauge of national brands would incorporate the standing of key pillars of society and culture, such as the Times Higher Education/QS World University Rankings cited here.

Of corporate global brands, eight are US-based. Of global leaders in science and technology, six institutions are US-based, and in the arts and humanities, also six, including the top two.

The U.S. President may disgust the international media and sully America's image abroad. Wall Street's crash is the scourge of national markets everywhere. Nevertheless, if you want the best education (presumably to lead the best life in Peoria drinking Cokes), you would choose Harvard. Although brandsinger has his own preference – University of Hartford.