Why I Won’t Buy a Lincoln from Matthew McConaughey

You’ve seen the ads where Mr. McConaughey very seriously mumbles gravitas-laden lines like “I’ve been driving Lincolns before anyone ever paid me to drive one”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4lklnkk8SU Yeah, he’s purty.  Yeah, he has demonstrated decent range, from the decidedly non-Shakespearean Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Texas Buyers Club and beyond.  3 dozen or so movies over the last 2 decades, with a combined box office gross of $1.7 billion or so.  Not too shabby.  Mr. McConaughey seems to have gotten into real money by his late 20s (see chart below).


Mr. McConaughey’s celebrity seems the sole driver behind these spots, as evidenced by the fact that it is high on style, but the dialogue is itself mostly random.  Not a single explicit or implied benefit in the bunch. So what is celebrity and why do advertisers use it? A quick review of what a celebrity can bring to the table:

  1. Breakthrough. Put a loose cannon or a recognizable pretty face on the tube, and people may look up from Heroes Charge and pay attention. Very helpful in a noisy world.
  2. Endorsement. If Celebrity So-and-so chooses Product X, it must be good, because they can afford the best. This works if it is logical that Celebrity So-and-so actually would use the product.
  3. Coolness by association. If a product is associated with a cool person, if things roll right some of that cool rubs off on the product itself.

EXHIBITS 1 AND 2 – These 2 charts demonstrate that over his career, Mr. McConaughey’s movies’ gross revenues rose faster than his movie ratings did (as demonstrated by comparing slope of the trend lines, which is one well-established quantification of celebrity – data taken from table below).  So he definitely has it. MM Rankings But I’m still not buying a Lincoln from Mr. McConaughey, celebrity though he may be. This particular campaign, to me, falls down mostly on #2 – endorsement.  I have done a statistical analysis of Mr. McConaughey’s career and can demonstrate that there is no time in his career where he would have chosen to drive a Lincoln because he “just liked it”.  In other words, I don’t believe him. EXHIBIT 3 – let’s just get this out of the way.  Before MM started making money, he was a kid barely into his 20s in rural south Texas, and this 1988 model is the sort of used Lincoln he may have had to consider.  Case closed.  There were plenty of Camaros, TransAms and F150s to go around. 1988 Lincoln EXHIBIT 4 – shows career movies, Rotten Tomatoes rankings (up or down vote of what % of critics liked it), as well as what he may have been thinking as his star (and paycheck) rose, he aged out of his twenties and eventually 30s, and what sort of vehicle he may have considered. McC Career Net – Mr. McConaughey is by most measures a true celebrity, and he has earned it through quality and quantity of performance (though not always at the same time).  But no one will be able to convince me that he willfully drove a Lincoln when he had all sorts of other options available — which is what his commercials are trying to get us to do with the Lincoln MKC.

Battle of the 2015 Super Bowl Ad Reviewers

It’s time to demonstrate (again) that when it comes to advertising, no one agrees on anything. Raise your hand if you’re shocked.

The Armchair MBA repeated last year’s stunt in comparing the ratings of 10 prominent 2015 Super Bowl ad reviewers, summarized in the handy chart below, along with my personal ratings. (Green/yellow/red coding, alphabetized within my ratings)


While no Doberhuahua this year, there was plenty of dreck and schmaltz to take its place, but a few very good spots as well. Unfortunately many spots were so-so – – either they rewarded our attention with a muddled message or weak branding, or they were copy-by-committee logical with no heart or pizzazz (Hello, GoDaddy. Hello, Weathertech).

Mostly universally admired: P&G Always “Like a Girl”, Avocados from Mexico, Dove Men+Care, Mophie, Budweiser/Puppy (I declined highest marks on the last two)

Most universally unloved: Nationwide’s “Boy” (runaway loser), Nissan, Lexus

Most schizophrenic (scored best on some lists, worst on others): McDonald’s “Pay with Lovin’”, SquareSpace/Jeff Bridges, Loctite “Positive Feelings”, Toyota Camry/Amy Purdy, Carnival Cruise Lines, Victoria’s Secret (had to watch this again to make sure I knew how I felt)

A few observations:
– Personally not a fan of high-concept feel-good spots like McDonald’s or Coca-Cola or Jeep, or for that matter, the very cute/manipulative Bud puppy ads. Fun for the agency, probably test well for likability, but hard to see how see how it drives action or enhances the core brand equity.
Love spots like Fiat 500 SUV – simple message (we made the base 500 bigger), using an analogy that’s easy to understand and relevant to the main point (if a bit naughty)
– Would love to be a fly on the wall during the approval process of the Nationwide’s “Boy” spot (spoiler alert: it’s about a charming boy who turns out to be dead. More chips & dip, please).
– For fun, check out some of the breathless, we-take-ourselves-kind-of-seriously reviews comments like “Powerful message but tough ad to watch”, “Disturbingly brilliant and impactful”, “emotionally powerful and good storytelling”, blah blah blah – you can see some here (as well as a CMO’s explanation about why his ad was NOT supposed to sell product.  Hmmm…).

To see the summary, click on the chart below. Click twice for maximum size/readability.


The reviewers:
Kellogg Graduate School of Management

Advertising Age

Wall Street Journal
Chicago Tribune

Entertainment Weekly



Yahoo Sports

New Yorker
New York Post (new this year!)

My evaluations are generally based on the Kellogg ADPLAN approach: Attention
– Distinction
– Positioning
– Linkage
– Amplification
– Net Equity – – along with some personal gut feel.

We know that the Super Bowl is a special stage, and different rules certainly apply.   In addition, there are social media linkages and previews that can dramatically amplify the impact of ads. So it is somewhat unfair to judge an execution in isolation.

On the other hand, we don’t claim to be fair. And as observed last year, sometimes an ad just sucks.

See you next year.

McDonald’s – Kinda Lovin’ La Vida Local

A new ad from McDonald’s focuses on an underleveraged asset – – local stores’ place in their communities – – reflecting a potentially effective component of its plan going forward. McD Signs McDonald’s faces huge headwinds in the form of stalled sales and softness* among younger consumers who seem to favor more contemporary fast feeders like Chipotle that deliver things McDonald’s isn’t good at: local sourcing, transparency, nutrition, etc. (in addition to more tasty food).

Ask any 2 people about what McD’s should do and you’re likely to get 3 or 4 opinions: reinvent the menu to appeal to younger consumers, make everything natural, offer more customization, trim the menu to the core items, invent a sub-brand, etc.

As part of its battle plan, new CMO Deborah Wahl recently announced a broad refresh of the ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ campaign, including among other things an ad that shows its familiar marquees reflecting events in their local communities.

Marquee subjects range from the catastrophic (weather tragedies) to the personal (new babies). This is delivered alongside Love-centric advertising and unapologetic paeans to things like the venerable Big Mac, and efforts to increase transparency and show authenticity of ingredients (you can hear Ms. Wahl’s explanation of the transformation here).

The marquee ad (‘Signs’) was fairly controversial, with many panning it as being manipulative and even disingenuous because of McDonald’s visible role in the ongoing minimum wage debate (‘Fight for Fifteen’) and its appearance as a huge mega-billion dollar company that doesn’t care.

While the ’Signs’ spot is not perfect and is not a little mawkish, and certainly will not turn McDonald’s around, I think it is reflective of good strategic thinking.

Why? Because rather than trying to reinvent itself to reach a fickle audience (at the risk of alienating loyal customers), McDonald’s is identifying what its core strengths are and building its strategy around them.

McDonald’s role for decades has been reliably providing familiar (if not exciting) food at a good value in a clean environment. However, for many people McD’s has also been a reliable gathering place to meet, talk, and in many cases conduct business. Stop by a store on a weekday morning and you’ll get the picture. Working at McD Guys-in-McD For these people, McDonald’s isn’t a soulless corporate behemoth that underpays, it’s a familiar nearby restaurant where you can always get $1 coffee, wi-fi, and time with your friends (or get stuff done) for a few hours. It’s local, it’s part of your routine and part of your life.

In this way, McDonald’s delivers a local connection that few of its competitors do. So they’re wisely making a point of it.

Sure, they also need to offer more transparency and things like Cuties for Happy Meals, AND continue to work on speed, service and cleanliness, AND some of the customers pictured above will not likely be patrons forever, AND they have a LONG way to go to reclaim relevance, but they cannot turn this oil tanker around overnight and positioning as local stores rather than a huge multinational seems to be a step in the right direction to stabilize things now.

On the other hand, I’m not so sure that forcibly selling a generic Love message is the answer. Last time that seemed to work was for Coca-Cola 40 years ago.  Actually, not sure it even worked – and in viewing it now, frankly, many of those fresh-faced singers look like aliens.


*pun partially intended

What a Urinal Can Teach Us About Statistics

We lead with a photo of a urinal valve to demonstrate one of 2 points that will be flushed out* of obscurity for your edification:
1) As a marketer, any sort of statistic seems to be fair game to get a point across – even if it makes no sense.  It just has to sound impressive.  So go forth and make your claims.

And the second point:
2) As a consumer, do as Ben Franklin said: “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.”  Particularly when statistics are involved.  So do not believe the claims made by marketers.  At least not at face value.


Example 1: The EcoVantage Urinal valve makes the following claim: “Saves 88% more water than a one-gallon urinal”.  On the surface this sounds impressive (it must use very little water!), but on further thought it makes no sense:
– If it ‘saves 88% more’, then what does a one-gallon urinal save?  If a one-gallon urinal uses any water whatsoever it isn’t saving anything.  Unless it’s saving relative to a two-gallon urinal, if such a thing still exists.

Cowboy Urinal
What they actually mean (according to the website) is it uses 88% less water than a one-gallon urinal.  In any case the claim is pure gibberish.  On the other hand, it gave me something to read at a key time.

Example 2: A local security company claims: “Homes with a security system are 15 times less likely to be burglarized.”  I have taken a lot of math, and I don’t know how to calculate ‘x times less likely’.

What is this fixation with silly statistics?  Perhaps this is what happens when copywriters are given numbers to work with.

Other examples focus on a big number to make a point.

Example 3: Several years ago Colgate UK made the claim that “80% of dentists recommend Colgate”, implying that the other 20% recommended all other brands combined.  In reality, dentists were able to recommend multiple brands (not implying preference), rendering this impressive-sounding statistic meaningless.


Example 4: Innocent water company made a product, This Water, that had its advertising banned.  The reason? They claimed it was “90% fruit juice and water” and neglected to mention the up to 42g of added sugar. Oops.  The brand has since relaunched as Juicy Water.  They dropped the 90% claim but still work to get #s in their product descriptions.

Booth logo

You may object to the practice of statistical sophistry, but it seems to work.  A 2008 study conducted by the Booth School at the University of Chicago (does this surprise you?) observed that consumers are swayed by specifications.  In other words, size, so to speak, does matter in purchase decisions.

This is why (per the study):
– The % increased size of a TV is often expressed in terms of area, not diagonal – – because the multiple is higher
– A study of Chinese shoppers showed they would pay 5x more for a 5 megapixel camera vs a much cheaper 1 megapixel camera, even though they objectively judged the quality of the photos to be identical.
– Other examples use sesame oil, towels, potato chips and cellphones and generally demonstrate that specifications influence choice even if personal experience is available and the specifications don’t provide additional information.

Apparently, consumers love numbers and are generally susceptible to being influenced by them.

Sell Anything Wrighter

A 40-year old classic, I Can Sell You Anything, by Carl Wrighter, does a great job explaining how this and other advertising sleight of hand works.  Yes, marketers take advantage of how consumers are wired.  This is not news and is not changing any time soon.

There’s a lot more to cover on this topic, so expect a follow-up installment soon.

(*yes, we know)

Specification Seeking: How Product Specifications Influence Consumer Preference”: Christopher K. Hsee,  Yang Yang, Yangjie Gu, Jie Chen, October 21, 2008

SAP spells ‘Trust Me’: S-I-M-P-L-E

Say ‘SAP implementation’ to someone who has been through one and you are likely to get a look conveying some combination of pain, pity, terror and dread (and perhaps schadenfreude).

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) giant SAP recently announced an approach and suite of applications called ‘Simple’.

For a company with a reputation of being anything BUT simple, this casting-against-type positioning could be tricky business; successful transformation will not be immediate.

And one look at their recent 2-page WSJ ad indicates they may not yet be fully embracing this ‘Simple’ concept.


5 years ago Domino’s acknowledged that it didn’t taste as good as it should, and used this acknowledgment to justify a reformulation that was the focal point for a new campaign.  By many accounts, this bold ‘we sucked, now we’re better’ approach has yielded good results.


But ERP software is not pizza – – with pizza, a $10 or $15 mistake and you’re on to someone else.

Do a search for ‘SAP Implementation’ and it’s obvious that the stakes are quite a bit higher – – not only $100 million or more, but years of organizational churn and resources, as well as lost opportunity if/when things go awry.  You can’t say ‘we know we’ve messed these up in the past, but going forward we’ll be awesome – trust us’.

A few examples here, some others below:
Avon Products halts an SAP implementation, leading to write-down of $100-125 million
– Waste Management and SAP in $100 million lawsuit
– HP claims $160 million damage from flawed SAP implementation
Select Comfort abandons SAP ERP implementation
SAP issues at Hershey prevents $100 million in shipments for key holiday
While client’s management often has a hand in screwing things up, at the end of the day, it’s SAP’s name in the headline.

SAP has chosen to own ‘Simple’ as its defining principle going forward.  In the ERP space, this is a compelling proposition. And some industry experts are cautiously optimistic.

But based on SAP’s history, it’s a tall order – – and prospective clients will certainly have a ’show me’ mindset.

Requiring 2 full pages to explain Simple is not a great start.

A Wilde Affair – 5 Lessons for Marketers

By now you’ve seen Chevy Sales Executive Rikk Wilde’s cringe-worthy presentation of the World Series MVP Award to the SF Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, as reporter Erin Andrews and Commissioner Bud Selig both looked to be trying to flag down a cab.


Not surprisingly, this clip immediately lit up the Twitterverse and generated a remarkable amount of media attention (and references to Chris Farley, with whom Mr. Wilde was frequently compared).


But perhaps unexpectedly, rather than distancing itself, GM took advantage of it with a wink and a smile, embracing Mr. Wilde’s performance and his instant classic utterance “Technology and Stuff”. Within a few days of the event, there was a full-page ad in USA Today playfully referencing the World Series MVP ceremony.


Chevy Tweet

T&S - USAToday

USA Today Full-page ad

So of course, The Armchair MBA has decided to spoil the moment by trying to extract object lessons from this episode.

And there are clear lessons from L’affaire Wilde that today’s marketers need to keep in mind:

1) Expect the unexpected.   Speed is key, so be ready.

2) Serendipity can be your friend – be open to improvisation to marketing plans.

  • Even the best plans need to be able to stretch sometimes to take advantage of marketplace events
  • The Chevy Colorado pickup had just (Oct. 3) been named in a large airbag recall, which was limiting sales
  • The publicity surrounding Mr. Wilde’s presentation drew new attention to the Colorado, and the recall went from front burner to a secondary issue, at least temporarily

3) Consumers like authenticity and the little guy.   And they hate to be manipulated.

  • Wilde’s memorable performance, while not pretty, was also clearly not slick corporate-speak, and therefore broke through the clutter, arguably much better than if a senior executive, or GM CEO Mary Barra herself, had presented the award
  • We will use ‘little guy’ in the figurative sense. Mr. Wilde, by virtue of his stammering, sweating performance, reminded us that we’re all human, and if faced with a global TV audience, might be a little nervous ourselves.  So in an unplanned way, this helped connect the audience to the product.
  • This was 100% authentic. If it turned out that it was at all scripted, it would have backfired on GM in a huge way
  • (As a side point, apparently Mr. Wilde was selected to give the award mostly because he was a long-time Royals fan and his management thought it would be a thrill for him — even though he was obviously not a media trained spokesperson.  Good for you, Chevy!)

4) Consumers like humility and a sense of humor

  • “Technology and Stuff” was a perfect way for GM to gently poke fun at itself
  • In contrast, denying or attempting to spin would have been futile

5) Branding is very powerful for people too

  • Unless you, as new parents, know with 100% certainty that your precious child is headed for a career path involving heavy metal bands or the adult film industry, for heaven’s sake, do NOT name him Rikk Wilde.

What an Epic Fail Integrated Marketing Campaign Looks Like

Monday’s Wall Street Journal delivered a rather amazing example of how NOT to promote a product, along with the news and pithy commentary.

Most marketers know that messaging can be maximized if deployed consistently across vehicles.  This is apparently more difficult than it seems.

Page A7 of today’s WSJ featured a full-page color ad for €5.99/$7.99 dress shirts, from a manufacturer somewhat oddly named ‘Mosegi & Haberdashery’.

Mosegi Ad 2

It is important to keep in mind that a full-page color ad carries a price tag of $386,865.98.

A cursory scan of the ad shows a few obvious errors:

  • CEO Earl Mosegi’s promise includes: “…will not lose their shirt off there back” (sic)
  • Featured product claim: “Women shirt now available”
  • Key contact called “Sale Representative”


It gets worse.

  • Ad contains a QR code that is inactive
  • Ad implies a Facebook page (but no URL) which if you find it, not only doesn’t reference the ad, it features products not remotely like a dress shirt. Seems to be targeted at kids.  And it hasn’t been updated since July 2014.


But wait – there’s more!

  • The website itself is remarkably incomplete but also quite entertaining.
    • Of 8 main tabs, only 3 have content. There is no contact info.
    • The all-important ‘ORDER’ page contains just a static image – – there is no ordering mechanism for all the consumers who have seen the ad to take action online!
    • The ad shows a minimum order of 12 shirts; the website lists minimum orders of both 100 and 300 shirts. Clearly this is a wholesaler trying a direct consumer appeal.
    • Most remarkably, an unfortunate keystroke error removed a key letter from the word ‘shirt’, resulting in an entirely new word, which shows up on the home page as well as every single header.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 5.07.52 PM

This brings up a few key questions:

  • Is the entity who placed this ad a) the playboy son of a Turkish billionaire setting up shop online? b) an unemployed Russian hacker? c) a Nigerian scammer? or d) a third-grader?
  • How does an ad that has a bargain-basement pitch, contains so many obvious errors and leads to an online dead-end, get approved by the Journal’s advertising department? (guess: maybe $387k has something to do with it?)
  • Is this our official notification that QR codes are truly dead?
  • Does a re-integrator exist?


This is a campaign that seems to have been thrown together with not much thought other than a price point and a photo.

These people really need to get their shirt together.

One thing this ad is excellent at is demonstrating, by omission, some obvious basics of an integrated campaign:

  • Start with a compelling message/offer (arguably they are ok here)
  • Infuse every element of your marketing mix with the same consistent message, offer and look
  • Make it easy for customers to take action
  • For crying out loud, have someone who knows the language check for accuracy.   (The Armchair MBA is particularly pained at this last point, as its companion business, Peregrine Advisors, specializes in helping clients avoid online gaffes).

The Armchair MBA works hard to scour the globe for stories worthy of your attention. This one fell into our lap.

As the saying goes, better lucky than good.


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