Sunday, June 27, 2010

What if Ghana fielded a baseball team?

Yes, I was rooting for Ghana to beat the U.S.A.
Unpatriotic? No, but I'm a brand purist. Our sovereign brand smells of chewing tobacco and glove oil. When it comes to sports America excels at baseball and helmet-to-helmet style football. Other nations – especially the sorrow-torn peoples of the developing world – must have their soccer. They must play it and win. Soccer-style football means so much to them and so little to us.

What if Ghana fielded a baseball team – and beat the L.A. Dodgers? It would be like North Korea holding an international fashion show – and making French women look dowdy. No, Ghana will not beat us in baseball, and we shouldn't beat them in (whatever you call this game where you can't use your hands except for theatrical gestures).

Baseball – the U.S.A. – is unique... and uniquely influential worldwide – both respected and resented for our values and power. Our sports reflect and reinforce our culture. I hope the Ghanas of the world – proud, struggling nations with aspirations of their own – thrash the United States every time we presumptuously attempt to play their game.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Some businesses just have good names

The Brandsinger team convened offsite this week in the charming town of Cheshire, Connecticut. You may know the town due to its international reputation as "The bedding plant capital of Connecticut" – which happens to be its slogan. Our team found savory sandwiches at the local deli and potent coffee at a little roasting shop where the special of the day was a robust coconut, Columbian, hazelnut, mango flavored bean with a hint of... now I may have mis-remembered. But the aroma of the place stimulated the synapses, leading to productive thinking by my brilliant, highly caffed and excitable colleagues Jessica Ohlin and Ernie Mills, of Ohlin Associates and Mills Global, respectively.

Oh yes, and after generating more hot air than a Southern politician at a lakeside bar-b-que, we retired to an unpretentious little ice cream parlor that boasted a world-class name, Sweet Claude's. Now I can't imagine a better job of branding for a business that sells a product that is both very sweet and very cool.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mercury cars – Not for the swift

Background: Ford announced the ending of its Mercury line.
Over the years, what once was an attractive mid-priced car conceived during the Depression (top) became a less and less relevant piece of bland metal marketed to people with a closet full of green slacks (below).

Writing about the demise of US car brands has become a thriving cottage industry. As Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs are tossed from product shelves like musty sweaters, commentators offer nostalgia ("I rode in one on my first date.") or scolding ("It's about time GM killed that brand.") or macro-economic platitudes ("The global auto industry has too much capacity.").

But let's face it, reading about
branding is pretty dreary anyway. I like the people at Brandweek and have written for them from time to time. But geez, the weekly palaver about product strategy is less interesting than articles on back pain. Who doesn't respect David Aaker, that prolific examiner of every dimension of brand strategy? Yet who wouldn't rather wait for laundry to dry than wade through one of his treatises?

Okay, time for one beautiful article on the Mercury brand just laid to rest. If you want to understand the essence of branding – the central idea behind our precious jargon – start with this little essay from the New York Times:

This is – in our world of brand commentary – an absolute gem. It captures the essence of successful branding: Giving others an opportunity to express themselves.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Perp Walk – Just Another Brand Touchpoint

You may have seen photos of accused killer Joran Van der Sloot escorted by Chilean cops. The first thing I noticed – as a mammal attuned to instincts of fight or flight – is how young and swaggery is the Dutch captive in the company of his pudgy, bureaucratic-looking captors. Now what image of Chilean authority does this project?

The Chilean cops are supposed to be strutting around so the world can admire their policing skills. Instead, they look like out-of-shape clerks who forgot their all-weather gear when joining their young boss on a camping trip.

Obviously Brandsinger was not the only one who took notice. Someone in Peru with a brand manager’s eye saw these pictures and thought, “Que passa! Those Chilean cops look like they moonlight as shoe salesmen.” The Peruvian guy wants his country to make a better impression on the world stage... so he makes a call.

A few hours later, when the Peruvians show up to take custody of Joran, it is clear that the prisoner is in the hands of two guys who are always up for a good clubbing.

Look at these cold-blooded crime-fighters. Now Joran appears to be the cowed captive he is. This picture says: You don’t want to screw around with Peruvian national power. Chilean brand managers take note.

Of course, no one orchestrates the intended impression of state power like the NYPD and the FBI. Here’s how we did it stateside when a hapless Somali pirate fell into our clutches.

If the invincible power of the state is what you want to project, this is good branding.