NEWS FLASH: Burger King Learns About Unintended Consequences

Last week Burger King ambushed McDonald’s with full-page ads in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, suggesting the two chains combine forces with a one-time mash-up burger (the McWhopper), ostensibly to further the cause of World Peace.  McDonald’s CEO adroitly demurred via Facebook, suggesting there may be better ways to save the world.  This was covered by The Armchair MBA recently.

TreeLimb

BK’s goal seemed to be to bootstrap its profile inexpensively by forcing McDonald’s to publicly engage with a smaller competitor.

DennysBurger1

Now Burger King is dealing with smaller competitors trying to do the same thing to it.  Both Denny’s and Wayback Burgers (a 100-unit CT-based chain that features the ‘3 x 3’ —  a 9-patty burger) have reached out to Burger King, suggesting they would be happy to take McDonald’s place.

Wayback3x3

Denny’s took out its own tongue-in-cheek full-page ad in the New York Times, saying in part: “Hey @BurgerKing, We love the idea of a peace burger.  We’re just not sure what to call this thing.  Any ideas?  @DennysDiner

We have never heard of Wayback, and never considered Denny’s for burgers, so this seems like a great opportunistic play on their parts, driving awareness via media momentum initiated by someone else.

As for Burger King, while it hoped to trick the prom queen into a date, it is instead being asked to take its little sister to the movies.

Burger King Resorts to Crown-Foolery

Burger King Resorts to Crown-Foolery

Your faithful servant has been busy so this report is a few days delayed, but still worthy of mention.

As you may have seen, Burger King recently ran full page ads in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, inviting McDonald’s to participate in the creation of a joint burger, the “McWhopper”, to be sold at one location for one day, with proceeds benefiting the organization ‘Peace One Day’ – on September 21 (Peace Day).

McWhopper Promo

The premise, according to the ad, is to “create something special – -something that gets the world talking about Peace Day”.

The old “Challenge the bigger guy and have him publicly acknowledge you” play has been used successfully in the past (Avis’s “We Try Harder” campaign, famously) – with benefits of generating free attention and leveling the playing field by being perceived as an equal.  Importantly, in the case of Avis, ‘Try Harder’ has everything to do with Avis’s point of differentiation.

Avis Try Harder

To anyone, including the most casual observer, this is not at all about world peace – – it’s just a clumsily transparent  attempt to lure a larger competitor into a PR trap. And in the end, with no apparent benefit for Burger King.  There is no link to Burger King’s point of advantage, and no apparent end game that links this activity to future profits.

One can imagine the discussion that precipitated this masterstroke campaign: “Hey – I read selected quotes from Sun Tzu ‘s ‘The Art of War” – – there’s one that says: ‘Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.’ How about we publicly challenge McDonald’s to work with us on the biggest possible initiative: World Peace! (giggle). If they engage, we win – – they treat us as equals. If they shut us down (giggle), they look like a mean-hearted big corporation – – we win! This can only have a great outcome!” (high fives, then go for beers).

Well, like the infamous South Park underpants gnomes, Burger King envisions the first step (PR stunt), the end result (beating McDonald’s), but forgets the important in-between part (how can we translate this stunt to actual marketplace advantage?)

Let’s examine a few things:

  • Burger King is owned by 3G Partners, famous for hacking personnel and drastically cutting budgets – waging an actual media battle with McDonald’s is probably not on the table, leaving PR stunts as one of the few available tools (not counting, of course, improving the actual food)
  • McDonald’s has roughly twice as many outlets as Burger King, so it does not benefit by engaging
  • The amount of money generated by a one-day/one-outlet stunt is vapor compared to the cost of the ads that were taken out to announce it

In the end, McDonald’s quietly announced (via Facebook) that it was not interested, suggesting “a simple phone call will do next time”.

In this case, Burger King has used a derivative notion (World Peace? Really?) totally unconnected to a corporate advantage that might be leveraged (how about getting back to ‘flame broiled’?), and while it has generated some free media coverage, it also exposes itself as a mere prankster.

McDonald’s neither engaged nor totally ignored, it gracefully demurred, suggesting the companies try something that might make a real difference (how about reducing obesity?).

In the end, Burger King faithfully executes Sun Tzu’s strategy, except they neglected to figure out that pesky ‘crush him’ part.  Next time, linking the stunt to something the company actually stands for might be a better move.

Perhaps they mistakenly followed a different Sun Tzu strategy: “The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.”

HarperCollins Teaches Us About Brand Management

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Watchman A strange thing happened during the recent launch of ‘Go Set A Watchman’, the new(ly discovered) first novel by Harper Lee, author of the classic ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’:

  • Publisher HarperCollins advance printed more than 2 million hardcover books
  • Presses were globally coordinated to simultaneously deliver versions in multiple languages
  • Extremely tight security was used, including shrink-wrap, security cameras, and secured shipments by truck to retail locations
  • Barnes & Noble was in the news

BN-IL593_HARPER_P_20150517145924

A new book shrouded in mystique, focused on retail distribution sounds more like a 1980s release than 2015. Especially for a book that was written before TKAM, which no one had yet read! Why the throwback approach?

HarperCollins very shrewdly realized that it had an opportunity of huge proportions, which could be optimized by understanding the audience and delivering what they would want.

  • A brand, named Harper Lee, with enormous equity from over 50 years of visibility
  • A built-in audience of several generations who first enjoyed ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ in book form
  • A heavily covered back-story concerning the surprise discovery of the secret manuscript and inquiry into the mental state of the author
Watchman at Costco

Display Shipper at Costco

As of now, the book has already been reprinted several times and is the fastest-selling book in HarperCollins history – remarkable in this digital-centric era.   The fact that ‘Go Set A Watchman’ has gotten generally mediocre reviews is almost beside the point.

HarperCollins scored a big success by understanding the audience, the environment, and having the courage to act accordingly and decisively.

Judging a Book by Its Cover – A Tricky Business

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Judging a Book by Its Cover – A Tricky Business

I just had a bit of a branding epiphany.

Recently two new books came out from notable authors:

  • Go Set A Watchman’ by Harper Lee (author of the all-time classic ‘To Kill a Mockingbird‘, published in 1960)
  • Under Fire’ from Tom Clancy (who first published ‘The Hunt for Red October’ in 1984, and went on to sell over 100 million espionage and military thriller books).

Lee WatchmanClancy Under Fire

Both are regarded as brilliant writers, with one key difference: Ms. Lee is still alive, and Mr. Clancy is not.

Apparently able to write from beyond the grave, Mr. Clancy’s name prominently adorns new books in the market, which at closer inspection are actually written by others (Grant Blackwood this time, Mark Greaney previously).

(in a bit of confusing overkill, a sub-brand third name is on the cover: “A Jack Ryan Jr. Novel”)

My initial gut response: Betrayal! They’re selling me Clancy and delivering Blackwood! Marketing malfeasance of the highest order! Isn’t Clancy’s writing the reason people bought the books? Isn’t he the brand? If not, what is the brand when it comes to books?

BN-JC364_queena_FR_20150625124759

ILLUSTRATION: NISHANT CHOKSI

Joe Queenan takes a swing at this very topic in a recent Wall Street Journal piece (mentioning a few other dead-but-still-publishing authors), and this quote starts to get to it: “…it is the vision of Tom Clancy and V.C. Andrews and Robert Ludlum that makes their work so remarkable and unique, not the plots, characters, prose or leitmotifs. The actual writing is secondary.”

Apparently these posthumous publications still sell quite well. People have something in mind when they hear the names Clancy, Ludlum, and even Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys) and Ian Fleming (James Bond).

In the same way a brand’s essence is the expectation it creates for what will be delivered, these authors set an expectation that is the core of these books’ attraction. And apparently the essence of these authors’ brands was their imaginations – the unique areas in which they chose to set their storytelling, and the imaginative approaches to the storyline – – and not necessarily the specific unique quality of their prose.

Indeed, Ludlum trademarked plot lines and partially wrote books before he died, which have been ghost-written as new material afterward, presumably with his blessing from beyond.

Forbes covered this topic a few years ago and has some additional interesting examples.

basieDisneyClaiborne St Laurent  Perry Ellis BB

When you think about it, we readily accept the same phenomenon as it occurs for other brands in entertainment, where no one expects (or wants) to run into the name on the marquee:

  • Count Basie Orchestra for big band jazz
  • Disney for wholesome family entertainment
  • Liz Claiborne, Yves St. Laurent and Perry Ellis for fashion

So upon reflection, it seems OK in certain situations to evoke a person’s name that has over time consistently come to represent a type and quality of deliverable, and in effect has earned its right to be a brand.  That is what a brand is.  Even if it can leave you feeling a bit misled.

But this can only go so far.

  • I will not go to see Itzhak Perlman if played by someone else, watch a Usain Bolt-branded ghost-athlete, or read newly published Shakespeare by a ghostwriter.

Some things are not meant to be duplicated.

The Secret to Great Customer Service

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A pair of recent customer service experiences (one very good, one not so good) inspired this post.  (If you’re in a hurry, my POV is at the end.)  If you stick around, I’ve included some juicy case studies.

Happy Customer

These experiences made me wonder – what is the essence of good customer service? Do those famous over-the-top examples make good financial sense?

I’m no customer service professor, and this subject has been covered countless times, but I do have my opinion (and this is my blog /bully pulpit) – but customer satisfaction does not seem directly related to dollar value.

Customer Service has always been a point of distinction for those making The Customer Is Always Right truly a focus of their strategy

  • Nordstrom,  LL Bean and others have long been traditional standard-bearers for ‘no questions asked’ service
  • However, abuse has caused even highly-regarded companies to adjust their policies

http://thearmchairmba.com/2013/09/27/but-what-if-the-customer-is-a-big-jerk/

Social Media has amplified the impact of customer service, both good and bad

  • Missteps are more visible and make companies vulnerable to public shaming or boycotts, or minimally distraction, regardless of a complaint’s merits

For a great set of examples of service gone bad, check out this article.   If you want to focus on one, I personally found the Amy’s Bakery example (#2) delicious to read.:

https://blog.kissmetrics.com/customer-service-mistakes/

  • Good deeds are similarly great opportunities for spreading positive stories – circulated via social media, they often create value much greater than paid advertising.
  • Here are a few great examples.   Check out the Netflix live chat example (#3) on the Helpscout link – – very fun.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stanphelps/2014/08/01/heroic-customer-service-by-a-senior-executive-at-warby-parker/

http://www.businessinsider.com/zappos-customer-service-crm-2012-1

http://www.helpscout.net/blog/remarkable-customer-service/

Two recent personal experiences shaped my opinions of companies.

Carryon

  • My carry-on bag’s handle failed after hundreds of trips. The brand is High Sierra. I contacted them online and explained my issue, with photos (as they requested). My goal was to find a repair shop. I had mentioned that I ideally would like a fix by the weekend as I was traveling on Monday morning. It was Thursday.


BoxHandle

  • On Saturday morning I received, by FedEx, a large box containing a replacement handle, with a few extra zipper pulls thrown in (which came in handy).   A few minutes and I had the handle replaced and was good to go. At zero cost. Fantastic!
  • The brand is High Sierra. High Sierra.  High Sierra. They are now owned by Samsonite. Kudos to Samsonite for allowing this business unit to take care of customers in a highly personal and attentive way.  High Sierra.
  • I have 2 other bags from High Sierra and you can bet that they get right of first refusal on the fourth.

3.84

  • A recent Avis rental came with no washer fluid, which I bought later for $3.84. In returning the car I requested that this amount be taken off my bill. In similar situations with other companies the response was usually immediately taking one of my rental days off the bill and getting me on my way.
  • In the case of Avis, it eventually required the attention of 4 Avis people.  The agent receiving cars didn’t have authority; the front desk clerk didn’t have authority; the manager had authority but couldn’t make a system input; finally the 4th employee was able to input the solution. Total time for a $4 issue? 20 minutes.
  • And the solution? A $10 voucher, which means they didn’t actually refund anything.
  • Worse, this delay caused me to miss an opportunity for an earlier flight.

So, what is the secret to customer service?

BE CUSTOMER CENTRIC. Simple as that.

  • Let the customer know they have been heard – this alone is more important than any dollar amount of a solution.
  • Treat the customer like a human. Stay off the scripts if possible.  You don’t have to pretend to be Captain Kirk (see Netflix example above) but a personal touch is incredibly effective.
    (By the way, insider tip:  as a customer, treating any customer service person or clerk or waiter or sales person etc like a human being almost always yields positive experiences).
  • Demonstrate that the customer is priority #1, company is priority #2.  Avis was clearly all about Avis.
  • Delays in response exacerbate frustration.  Speedy response shows that you are listening and can nip negative feelings in the bud.
  • Going above and beyond has significant upsides – you want to be on the ‘best customer service’ blog post, not the ‘disaster stories’.  And a few well-placed good deeds can get a ton of mileage (see links above).

HighSierra

I would have been satisfied with a recommendation for a good repair shop for my bag, and High Sierra (High Sierra. High Sierra.) went above and beyond, to my delight.  As a result, they have the opportunity for word-of-mouth recommendations from unexpected places, including people like me. (High Sierra!)

And Avis? They worked to win a little battle, and lost a round in the war.  They will get less consideration from me next time around.  Try Harder?  Good idea.

Diet Pepsi drops aspartame: Gilding the Lily?

PepsiCo just announced that it will be taking the artificial sweetener aspartame out of Diet Pepsi and replacing with another artificial sweetener, sucralose (known more commonly as Splenda®), combined with another sweetener named acesulfame-K (‘Ace-K’), which is a lower cost ’sweetener helper’.

apm-free D Pepsi

The stated reason is to respond to consumer objection to aspartame, as stated by a Pepsi Sr. VP: “Aspartame is the number one reason consumers are dropping diet soda.”

The more likely reason is that Diet Pepsi volume is down over 5% in the last year, part of a long-term slide, and nothing so far has worked to reverse the trend.

But this change is unlikely to make a material difference, for a few key reasons.

First, let me risk public embarrassment to try to establish my bona fides.  I marketed aspartame (Equal® Sweetener) for 6 years, and sucralose (Splenda) for another 5.  Did a lot of consumer research during those years.

DavesSweetenerBonaFides

Left: failing the dorky marketer test. Right: at a trade show, excitedly pitching sweeteners

Here’s why I don’t think this will make a difference:

1) Consumers generally don’t know what’s in their diet soda to begin with.  When asked open-endedly about ingredients in diet sodas, they have a vague notion that they contain artificial sweeteners, but the sweetener is not often mentioned by name.  When prompted, they will recognize aspartame.  But while consumers may theatrically claim that they avoid aspartame when they’re in a focus group, in reality very few actually check labels.

2) Consumers are generally full of it when it comes to stated preferences.  They will tell you all day long that they want less fat, less sugar, less salt, etc – – but in reality they will rarely change ingrained habits if there’s even the slightest risk of compromise (such as taste or cost).

3) Non-users or lapsed users have a handy reason for why they don’t use the product.  Aspartame has enough negative PR that it is an easy, politically correct and inarguable reason as to why surveyed consumers aren’t using the product.  But the true answer is a more complicated mix of dynamics including macro consumption trends, emergence of new alternatives, and changing demographics (‘modern’ diet sodas were first introduced, and gained loyal followings, in the early 1980s).

4) Changing out one artificial sweetener for another just reminds consumers that diet sodas generally contain artificial sweeteners.  Not a great plan to bring in new users. 

5) Changing ingredients to meet claimed consumer preferences is no guarantee of success.  3 years ago ConAgra changed its Hunt’s ketchup back to High Fructose Corn Sugar after a 2-year switch to sugar, ostensibly to answer consumer objections to HFCS.  Sales volumes showed that consumers didn’t really care.

Hunts No HFCS

6) Most importantly, consumers like their products the way they are.  ANY CHANGE in a loyal user’s product formulation will arouse suspicion.  A product as iconic as Diet Pepsi owes its unique taste to the specific combination of sweeteners in its formula.  It is impossible to improve the taste of Diet Pepsi, because its ideal is defined by its current taste.  So any change will alienate current users, who are currently drinking it even knowing in the back of their minds that it contains an artificial sweetener.

Ironically, this is the same category where New Coke infamously demonstrated what happens when you change the formulation of a well-loved product.  It will be interesting to see whether this ‘New Diet Pepsi’ fares any better.

Below is an introductory spot for New Coke in 1985.  In retrospect, a product and spokesperson that ultimately followed similar paths, albeit on different timing.

Change.org gets it right on rotating April Fools’ Day.

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I’m not a huge fan of Change.org – not that it doesn’t do a lot of great things, but because of its too-frequent tendency to allow weepy personal causes that are more like fund-raising than awareness-raising.

However, an arguably trivial recent Change.org petition to rotate April Fools’ Day throughout the month resonated with me.

The petition (viewable at www.change.org/aprilfoolsshift) simply recommends moving this ‘Holiday’ one day later every year, thus repeating the cycle every 30 years. That means if this change is adopted, we should actually be celebrating April Fools’ Day on April 2 this year, April 3 next year, and so on.

01-april-fools-shame.w529.h352.2x

Why is this a good idea?

There are a few days in the calendar that are traditionally bad to have a birthday: February 29 (although they will inevitably argue they age at ¼ the speed of the rest of us); Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa (because one way or the other you will be left wanting in the gift department); and of course, April 1.

The Change.org argument is that people with this unfortunate birth date are uniquely subject to gentle ridicule their entire lives, and that lifelong association with April Fools’ Day (and perhaps some resulting lack of confidence) could actually be cumulatively damaging to their careers. Reputational harm was not the original intent of this holiday. Rotating the holiday retains the fun part of the day (it’s still in April), without the collateral damage.

This is an excellent example of the power of newer social media to positively influence even age-old traditions.

Below is a list of notables whose birthdays happen to fall on April 1 (below, from http://www.famousbirthdays.com). I can personally identify at most 4 (Susan Boyle, Jimmy Cliff, Debbie Reynolds, Ronnie Lane) – 5 if Rudolph Isley is in fact one of the Isley Brothers. A rather motley crew, actually (Kid Ink? really?); it seems that this theory might have some credence. These people need a little time out of the April Fools’ spotlight so they can build or salvage their careers, or at least glide a bit more gracefully into the sunset.

Old April Fools'

So go to the petition page and sign it. With over 330,000 signatures, there are apparently quite a few people who are in agreement.

The people with April 1 birthdays can get on with their lives, and those with April 2 birthdays can pretend they never heard of it.

So hope you enjoyed your day, Adam Shulman, Clark Gregg, Supla (?) and Michel Troisgros — (Marvin Gaye and Sir Alec Guinness, be glad you missed it)

April 1 Birthdays

Susan Boyle

Kid Ink

Asa Butterfield

Ella Eyre

Elizabeth Gutiérrez

Hillary Scott

Park Ye-jin

Matt Lanter

David Oyelowo

Jimmy Cliff

Debbie Reynolds

Taran Killam

Annette O’Toole

Rudolph Isley

Ana Maria Braga

Sam Huntington

Chris J. Evans

Vincent Bolloré

Milan Kundera

Jon Gosselin

Cécile Duflot

Marcel Amont

Barry Sonnenfeld

John Butler

Ronnie Lane

April 2 Birthdays

Michael Fassbender

Christopher Meloni

Bethany Joy Lenz

Linda Hunt

Leon Russell

Roselyn Sánchez

Marie-Ange Nardi

Ibrahim Afellay

Clark Gregg

Lee DeWyze

David Ferrer

Jesse Plemons

Adam Shulman

Gregory Abbott

Nati Abascal

Supla

Marc Caro

Mariella Ahrens

Éric Besson

Marvin Gaye

Serge Gainsbourg

Alec Guinness

Michel Troisgros

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