Monday, November 29, 2010

Missing Tiger, dissing elephant

And now for sports: One of the year's most entertaining moves was Accenture's yanking of Tiger Woods as brand ambassador and substituting a surfing elephant. It was like taking the bat away from Babe Ruth and giving it to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

We know why Tiger was canned, of course. Public disgrace is always the looming danger of letting a mortal celebrity become intertwined with a brand identity. What could have happened did happen.

Ah, but picking a surfing elephant to replace Tiger was a declaration of surrender. Kiss elegant art direction goodbye. No more ingenious analogies to the salient dimensions of business strategy. Now it's slapstick – a goofy elephant catching waves. Being "nimble."

Such a drastic deviation for the brand... such a change in brand voice... and such a forlorn attempt to pick up the pieces. Accenture surely knows what it takes to be a Tiger.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Tell me your brand story, o hausfrau

Stories work, yes. They dramatize, convey and explain.

What does your daddy do? My son, when young, once told his teacher what I did for a living: "He types and sends in bills." True, but not much of a story. What if the boy had dressed it up a bit: "My dad used to be an aimless gym rat... skipping around plodding white guys... exposing his nose to every street kid's elbow. One sunny day, he stumbled on the concept of brand... and his life began to make sense..." Maybe "types and sends in bills" does a better job.

Here's a fellow named Mark Thomson writing for BrandChannel in 2004:
I came to branding from Anthropology, armed with the understanding that one of the primary ways we make sense of our world and our place in it, is through stories. The same is true of brands. Brands are the stories that unite us all in a common purpose within an enterprise, and connect us with the people we serve on the outside. These brand stories give meaning to who we are and what we do.
Eloquent. So the brand is the story and the story gives meaning to the brand. According to linguist George Lakoff and other bitter academics, the nutty conservatives are better story-tellers than liberals – and hence more potent vote-getters.

Today, everyone with something to sell tells stories. In fact, marketers now want you to tell stories about them! We have reached the logical end-point where everything in life has a story... every purchase... every decision... and according to Whole Foods, every dinner.
Okay - here we go... "Story of my dinner: Dusk... that magical, threatening time... The angry fingerlings lounged in my bowl, daring me to finger them..."

No. The story of my dinner will not be shared tonight. It would be a tale told by an idiot, full of salt and pepper, signifying nothing.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Clothes don't make the man

You have to feel sorry for the people of South Korea. They live under the shadow of a fanatical aggressor to the north. They are pushed around and provoked. How do you stand up to a bully?

Projecting a firm, confident attitude is part of the answer, as demonstrated by President Lee Myung-bak. After the North Korean bombardment of a remote South Korean island, President Lee appeared with his war chiefs... wearing a black leather – leatherette? – tough-guy jacket.

Ah but it's hard to conceal that Lee is a former student body president, CEO of a major corporation, and mayor of Seoul. "Dock worker" or "marine sniper" is not in his resume.

As successful politician, this is Lee's usual attire...

It's obvious which outfit suits the man. (Was the leather jacket hastily borrowed from a larger fellow? Perhaps Lee's driver?)

What we see is important. Outside reflects the inside. But donning a costume – or changing a logo and tag-line – can only have intended impact if backed up by ACTION.


Monday, November 15, 2010

He doth offer fealty to Sir Panera Bread

“Loyalty programs” are so named because companies want to be honored with our lasting patronage. In return, they grant us points toward discounts and gifts.
The relationship is charmingly feudal. I swear loyalty to Lord Staples by signing up for his rewards. A brisk but moving ceremony at the cash register – smiles, congratulations – is followed by welcoming salutations in my in-box.
Then one day, Lord Staples finds himself under siege from the grasping Earl of Office Depot. Lord Staples sends out a call for my dollars. I saddle up my war-car and muster with other customers to pay homage at Lord Staples’ big, boxy castle. I faithfully deploy my dollars in his behalf… and ride home – battered – lugging a box of paper and other spoils of war.
At some later date, Lord Staples grants me a free pen and a promise of future favors.
That’s how loyalty programs work.

Banks, restaurants, hotels, airlines – all promote such feudal arrangements. My objection is to their sheer complexity – also feudal. Am I exempt from service at harvest time? Do I owe Lord Staples my daughter for a few nights (or knights)? Does he get his third of my wheat before or after I beat it against the rocks?

With the Duke of Delta (here illustrated), the program has the typical complexities.

Note this handsome ad for the Duke of Delta’s pact. Great graphics – but such confusing terminology! “SkyMiles program”… “rollover elite miles”… “Medallion qualification level”…. “the new Diamond Medallion tier.”
Tough to figure out. I worry that, if I swear allegiance to the Duke of Delta, I might unwittingly be ceding over a beloved pet – or even a cherry tree – in exchange for one of these "medallions."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Feedback frenzy

Who are we? What have we become? To brand managers, we are empty souls craving to be engaged, members of a “segment” seeking a more perfect “experience.”

View, click, buy, touch – whatever you do produces a cheerful call for comments. To provide “feedback.” To share your experience with other customers and would-be customers ­– and to ponder other customers’ feedback.

People who sell stuff think that our lives are so empty that we care about everything they do. That we will voluntarily enter their realm. That we want a relationship with them. That our shopping experience dominates our consciousness.

We live in an era of feedback frenzy. (click on the picture)

Think of human purpose as it once was – scraping roots from the soil and hewing villages out of forests – and is today for millions of people fighting for their lives against desperate odds.

Now consider what we have become... that you – a person with a past and future, who works with human beings and exists in the natural world – are asked to extract energy and breath from the fleeting moments of your life – to express your feelings toward a stapler.

Yes, it has come to this. Brand marketing principles demand it. Best practices require that nicely-smelling men and women sit around a conference table and scheme to suck you into their tribe as a loyal member.

Please review our stapler! Compact? Easy to use? No jams?

Well, no mas. I don’t care how valuable the data is, how polite the request – I’m not giving up any more of my data. No matter how fortifying it is to my self-esteem, I refuse to submit my reflections on the functioning of the stapler.

From now on, I'm not telling. If I buy an avocado and it’s rich and creamy inside and a charming woman with a clipboard comes up and asks me to describe my shopping experience, I’ll call the cops. No marketer is getting any more of my life and soul.


One more thing: I wonder if they could make staples out of multi-colored wire? That would be fun. They could try to muffle the clicking sound… Oh, about that hinge…

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Too many taglines?

A client of mine blurted out in frustration – “There are too many taglines!”

I was dumbstruck. How can there be too many taglines? It’s unthinkable. Can you have too many raspberries in your bowl or too many snow-capped mountains in your view?

Taglines are glorious – good ones are. They are nuggets of communicative gold. They are icing without the dry cake. Taglines are like mosquitoes gleefully smashed against the garage door.

"Too many taglines"? That’s like complaining of too many naked women running around the parking lot.

Taglines are the shiny championship belts that pro wrestlers wave in their opponents' faces. Taglines are red maples in a forest of blah evergreens.

When you need to build a robust new brand, you need all the tools in your kit. Don’t forget your tagline. Might as well leave behind your name and advertising budget. No, I say, the more taglines the better.

Robinson Pest Control – Drive Safely and Leave the Killing to Us

InfoShred. Don’t regret it – Shred it!

Local Rockport barber: We repair home-made haircuts

Great taglines reside with enduring adages – like golfer Gary Player’s “The harder you practice the luckier you get.” Great taglines are like classic NBA nicknames – Marvin "Bad News" Barnes... and Marvin "the Human Eraser" Webster.

Great taglines are delights of which surfeit there can never be. And by the way: I make 'em and sell ‘em myself.