Category Archives: Marketing Strategy

Battle of the 2017 Super Bowl Ad Reviewers

Battle of the 2017 Super Bowl Ad Reviewers

Last year The Armchair MBA presciently foreshadowed our country’s potential slide into anarchy – – and we take no pride in noting that we appear to have been right.

Be that as it may, this glass case of emotion that we call the US must go on, and of course the Super Bowl is still the tentpole of our national identity.  So in the spirit of national unity, we herewith put forward our ratings and reviewer compilation of the advertising from this year’s Brady Bowl (or as some might call it from the Falcons’ perspective, the choking chickens Bowl).

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And as a perfect reflection of society, there is very little agreement among the dozen major reviewers we looked at.  This year we’ve added a feature of averaging the critics’ scores so you can see how YOU stack up.

At the bottom of this post is a chart comparing major reviewers for all the spots run during last Sunday’s game.
NOTE: ads are grouped by my rankings of green/yellow/pink and are now ranked by the reviewers’ average within those groups.

A few observations (all Super Bowl ads can be found here):

NO ANIMALS THIS YEAR!  Unless you count the dead (Spuds McKenzie), the 2-dimensional (Yellow Tail wine) or the sidelined (Rob Gronkowski).  I miss these furry diversions and was hoping the lack of reliance on a lowest common denominator would indicate lots of great spots.  Alas, twas not to be.
But there were some themes at work…

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High concept does not necessarily make for great advertising. The Armchair MBA is not a fan of co-opting a high-minded theme just to make a statement- often comes off as stilted or forced.
– Audi, 84 Lumber, Budweiser, AirBnB, and It’s A 10 Haircare (I know – who, right?) all went for the high road by tying into the topical (often sideswiping the President, the Real DJT).
Unfortunately, for this image-driven work to be effective it needs to create a strong link to the brand among a group that might be interested in the product (this is advertising, after all).
– It’s A 10 Haircare is a new brand and while their ad was cheeky and visually interesting, they could have done more to tell us why we should care.
– 84 Lumber is a regional competitor to Home Depot and Lowe’s and ran an emotional immigration spot that, partially due to network censorship, required a visit online to see the conclusion.  The average demo for this vertical is male/50, not necessarily a strong bet for following up online or changing their go-to building supply outlet without a reason. It did generate brand awareness, though.
– Audi made a passionate pitch for gender pay equality (with no apparent reason given for why this is related to Audi), then undermined the message by putting Dad (not Mom) in the hot sports car.

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You simply cannot go wrong with Christopher Walken. He did it for Kia Motors last year, and this year changed sponsors to team with a deadpan/mute Justin Timberlake for one of the best-received spots – for Bai Antioxidant Drink.

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Actually, celebrities were out in force, probably to the greatest degree ever, and generally to good effect.  In this high-stakes, high-octane environment, celebrities provide one of the only reliable ways to guarantee eyeballs. In addition to Walken:
John Malkovich’s arresting visage gave Squarespace breakthrough
– The Coen Brothers directed a Mercedes-Benz spot featuring Peter Fonda
– Kia traded Walken for Melissa McCarthy (and a few draft picks) for a generally entertaining spot for the new Niro
– A newly nerdly Justin Bieber drew attention for T-Mobile in his own polarizing way
– Other celebrities included Terry Bradshaw (Tide), Cam Newton (Buick), Kristen Schaal (T-Mobile), Lady Gaga (Tiffany), Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg (T-Mobile), LeBron James (Sprite), Morgan Freeman (Turkish Airlines), Tom Brady, even Bill Nye the Science Guy!  And the list goes on (including a slew of very amusing high school yearbook celebrity photos in a Honda spot).

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Generally well-accepted spots had breakthrough and were straightforward (usually with some humor)
Honda, Bud, Avocados from Mexico, Skittles, Ford made this list.  Inexplicably so did a Bud Light spot featuring an exhumed Spuds McKenzie.

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There were also some universally unloved spots, mostly due to lack of wit, relevance or originality.
American Petroleum Institute (paaaarrrty!) headed this list, followed closely by the generic twins Fiji Water and LIFEWTR, Yellow Tail Wine, KFC and Michelin.

Finally, our annual check-in with Weather Tech – for this, their 4th effort, they did kick back and have a beer (not while driving) and the result was a looser, more fun spot.  Well done.

This table compares 12 major reviewers, who clearly do not all see things the same.  (did you really expect Vogue to feel the same as the WSJ?) 
Simply click once or twice on the table
 to make it readable.

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

Reviewers and links to reviews (if you were involved in any of the reviews and feel I got something wrong, let me know):
Kellogg Graduate School of Business – Northwestern University
Adweek
Ad Age
Bleacher Report
Chicago Tribune
Entertainment Weekly
The Guardian
New Yorker
USA Today
Variety
Vogue
Washington Post
Wall Street Journal

That’s it for this year – – as always, with The Armchair MBA, you get what you pay for!

Plus, I want that new Alfa Romeo.

See you next year!

Peace of Mind as a HUGE Competitive Advantage

Some of you may know that I recently moved from the Chicago area to Raleigh after some 35 years.

While I have moved away from many close family members and old friends, the person I will probably miss the most is Mr. Lee (who, like my elementary school teachers, has no known first name).

Mr. Lee runs a humble shop called North Town Auto, and took care of our out-of-warranty cars, both domestic and foreign, for many years. It helped that he was only 2 blocks from us in Northbrook (convenient to the Metra Station!). And while there are probably mechanics who could do a certain thing for a slightly lower price. I would use Mr. Lee even if it required a drive to get there.

The reason? Peace of mind. Peace of mind that the car would be fixed correctly, that I would not overpay, that I would not pay for unnecessary repairs, that things would be done on time, that if he said I needed to do something, then I actually needed to do it.  That there was service with respect and a smile.  No worries, as they say.

I had complete loyalty to Mr. Lee.  And when it comes to loyalty, peace of mind turns out to be a huge competitive advantage.

Americans spend a lot on lots of stuff. They generally don’t seem to mind spending a lot.

However, Americans HATE the thought that they might be over-spending. And they don’t want to worry about it.

Think about institutions that offer what Mr. Lee does:

  • fair price (not necessarily the lowest)
  • high quality
  • consistency in delivery – no surprises
  • customer focus – great service, you don’t need to be on guard

Here are a few that come to mind that deliver great peace of mind:

unknowntj

  • COSTCO – – once I pass through those portals with my oversized shopping cart, I’m pretty sure that anything I put in my cart is a great deal and great quality (even if in the back of my rational mind I realize that some things are better value than others)
  • Trader Joe’s – – great value, interesting selection, fun experience – 2-Buck Chuck!
  • Amazon Prime – – I know my selections will be delivered on time and at no cost
  • Tire Rack – – awesome customer service, great pricing, instant shipping – – it’s the only way to go
  • Online window treatments – seriously – – it’s so automated and competitive that you’re not going to make a big mistake
  • Spirit Airlines (just kidding!)

Here are a few organizations that seem to fall down on the peace of mind continuum – – you might be overpaying, you’re not sure of the quality delivered, etc. And that bugs you.

chipotle

  • 1-800-Flowers – – sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t
  • Chipotle – – unfortunately moved from the other list – – love their food, but still have a vestige of doubt
  • Car Dealers – – sorry, guys – no change
  • Movers, painters, realtors, various local contractors – – until you build a track record like Mr. Lee, you’re not on my speed dial.

Why is peace of mind so important? Because we’re so stressed with just the basics of surviving from day to day that we need to simplify and eliminate unnecessary decisions.

dog

While Mr. Lee is a small businessman, the Peace of Mind list includes enterprises of all sizes.  We all have our examples of who provides peace of mind and who doesn’t (would love to hear about yours).

In the end, it’s about delivering consistent, dependable value. And that’s good advice for everyone.

Making Sense of the Unexpected

By now everyone and his mother/brother/horse has opined about how Donald Trump, inarguably a petty, bombastic vulgarian, climbed to the highest perch in the land (at least from a status/power standpoint).

trump

So I will chime in, with a very able assist.  Professor Tim Calkins (Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University) has defined Trump’s ascent as an example of the concept of benefit vs values.  In short, people are attracted to and identify with values but ultimately vote for benefits.  A link to Prof. Calkins’s piece follows below.

Before that, however, a thought on how this can be applied to marketing.  Values may be good, but not necessarily sufficient to make the sale.  Strong clear benefits have a better shot.

A good example was provided by colleague Harvey Chimoff, regarding an innovative round paper towel (Ora Paper Towels) that provides dual benefits of one-hand grabbing and environmental benefit (no cardboard tube).  Scores very high on the innovation scale (although I remember round beach towels long ago that allowed rotating to catch the sun without moving your towel – – was interesting but didn’t really catch fire.)  Actually, this design ultimately proved unique but not trademarkable.

round-towel
As it relates to Ora, seems that the values are admirable but perhaps not earth-shaking enough to generate a change from the old familiar cylinders (higher cost; where do I put this stack; etc)

Regarding values vs benefits as a motivator: the Clinton campaign had sort of a feel-good, I’m with her, we’re on this bus together sort of feel but didn’t seem to have at its core a defined cause/benefit that people really were passionate about and willing to make a stand on. It was almost literally, vote for no change.

clinton-celebrities

The Trump campaign (and Sanders’s, for that matter), had at its core a group of people who were feeling disenfranchised, mad as hell, pitchforks and torches handy, skin in the game, and willing to hold their noses and vote for change. (hmm…sounds a little familiar…)

trump-supporters

In the end, seemed like a much higher level of passion, frustration and motivation (and maybe desperation) among Trump voters. And they acted on it.

And now, Professor Calkins’s adroit dissection:

http://timcalkins.com/brands-in-the-news/marketing-observations-on-the-trump-victory/

Clip and save for the next election!

Don’t Be Something You’re Not

This week a woman named Federica Marchionni was eased out of her position as CEO of Lands’ End after only 19 months on the job.

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Federica Marchionni

This illustrates (fairly predictably) what can happen when a brand tries to be something it’s not.

Ultimately, brand-building success is driven by meeting customers’ needs, not by trying to teach them to want something different. And loyal customers have this peculiar habit of resisting (resenting) signs that they’re being taken for granted.

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Lands’ End 1983

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Recent Lands’ End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the case of Lands’ End, since its 1963 founding by Gary Comer as a sailing supplies business, it developed a heritage as a casual sportswear business that was eventually bought by Sears (and spun off in 2014).  Mr. Comer was fond of saying “Take care of the customers, take care of the employees and profits will take care of themselves.”

But Lands’ End had recently been stumbling, so Ms. Marchionni, with a background at high-style retailers Dolce & Gabbana and Ferrari, was brought in and offered an experienced, glamorous executive who could help reshape Lands’ End “into a meaningful, global lifestyle brand”.

That’s when the trouble started.

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Marchionni and actress Kate Hudson

New lines were immediately introduced, meaning loafers were sold alongside stiletto heels. Ms. Marchionni dropped low-profitability catalog shoppers and hired prominent fashion photographers to shoot elegant catalogs at exotic locations. She insisted on working out of New York City rather than the corporate headquarters in Dodgeville, WI, and was often seen hobnobbing with celebrities.

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New Lands’ End Canvas Line

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Lands’ End shoes – traditional and new

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of this alienated not only customers but employees, who were used to casual access to top management in Dodgeville and who would be critical in execution of plans. And unfortunately sales lagged spending, creating a lot of red ink. Ultimately the board decided it was time for another change.

old-spice

Successful reposition – Old Spice

While there are success stories about brands repositioning to catch a younger/new demographic (think Old Spice or Target), this is not the first time a brand has suffered from trying to fly too close to the sun.

JCPenney famously failed recently; going farther back, the breeding ground (figuratively) of nerds, Radio Shack, tried and aggressively failed to get more hip by calling itself ‘The Shack’. And even staid Dolly Madison snack cakes invented a character called the ‘Snackin’ Dude with a Snackin’ attitude’ to try to become somewhat more hip. Another whiff.

radio-shack-the-shack

Radio Shack unsuccessful reposition

Back to Lands’ End, the acting CEO (COO James Gooch) spends all of his non-traveling time in Dodgeville and is odds-on favorite for the permanent role.

We’ll see how the company and customers respond to an expected return to tradition. On the other hand, Mr. Gooch was recently CEO of the S.S. Radio Shack. Hmm…

Conclusion #1- – ignore loyal customers at your own peril.

Conclusion #2 – – just because a brand isn’t hip, doesn’t mean it isn’t great

You LOVE Modified Foods – you just don’t know it

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Modified foods are everywhere and we all prefer them. I am, however, not talking about GMOs. No whining diatribes here (stage whisper: get over it).

No, in this case I’m talking about word modifiers. You know, descriptors: adjectives and their ilk. The way food is described has a big impact on its appeal.

Despite your insistence that it doesn’t affect you, it does.

ApplewoodBacon

We will approach this post with increasing levels of pretentiousness.

Let’s start with bacon (please!).
“Applewood Smoked Bacon” sounds delicious, and is possibly the most perfect meaningless descriptor since it conjures images of fruit and juiciness and wholesomeness but in reality is not detectable for most people*. Closely related is hickory smoked. Everyone smokes their bacon and hickory is the most commonly used wood. But you will buy either of these before you buy something called simply ‘smoked bacon’.
*According to Joseph Sebranek of Iowa State University, “most of us can’t tell much of a difference.

Artisan

Everyone in the food business plays these games. Restaurants use throwaway terms like farm fresh, handcrafted, artisan and slow-cooked to lend some authenticity to otherwise generic fare. ‘Crispy’ has more appeal than ‘fried’ and ‘poached’ sounds better than ‘boiled’.

And these modifiers can help the bottom line. Stanford’s Dan Jurafsky and colleagues studied 6,500 U.S. restaurant menus covering 650,000 dishes, and found that “every increase of one letter in the average length of words describing a dish is associated with an increase of 69 cents in the price of that dish.

This article in the Daily Mail does a great job describing this phenomenon and explaining what’s going on – – essentially a fancier name is there simply to support a higher price.  To absolutely no one’s surprise.

And this handy chart can help those of you who are thinking of opening up a restaurant.

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Marketers would be well-advised to use descriptors to add that extra bit of specialness to their offerings.  And not just food – just watch a few minutes of direct-response marketing to get a heavy dose of it.

Fancy modifiers, in addition to driving appeal, can also make a dish more socially acceptable. How else to explain that you’ll feel ok ordering ‘poutine’ on a first date but maybe not ‘gravy-drenched fries with cheese curds’?

Inward Focus is not Customer Focus

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velveeta1

The apocryphal story goes like this:  at the old Kraft, the Velveeta brand manager crowed during Brand Review (think: Inquisition without the charm) about his 95% market share of ‘pasteurized process cheese spread’.  The senior marketer, Yoda-like, then asked “but what is your share of all cheese used for cooking?”, to which the Brand Manager burped out “around 5%”. The senior manager suggested that maybe there is more to marketing than just comparing yourself to your own internally defined category.  And she was right.

Sometimes as marketers we forget that not everyone (read: no one) thinks about our product as much as we do.  This myopia unfortunately translates to missed opportunities.

Marketers need to consider each product interaction as an opportunity to intrigue and possibly inspire a new user.

What are hardwood pellets?
During a recent Costco expedition I went to grab the traditional, if unexciting, big blue bags of Kingsford for the summer.  My 40 lb snatch and heave into the cart was interrupted when I noticed an appealing orange bag with copy that excitedly extolled the virtues of what was apparently an alternative – – gourmet hardwood pellets!  They promised ‘superior quality you can taste every time’ and ‘food infused with flavor’!

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Curious about a potentially new way to spend even more money in the vain hope of improving my grilling, I looked further at the package to see what these ‘pellets’ were.  I was up for it!

Unfortunately, there was no explanation of what pellets are, no visual of what they look like, nor any indication of how they might be used.  Nothing.  You apparently were either a Pellet Person or you were unimportant to the manufacturer, Traeger Wood Fired Grills.

A quick smartphone check revealed that there is indeed a unique type of grill that uses pellets instead of charcoal.  These devices are also made by Traeger, which features grills from about $400 to $1200, along with a huge array of accessories.  Cool looking stuff.

Pellets!

And it appears that pellet grills are a growing segment, presumably stealing share from traditional charcoal or gas grills.  Because they require less effort.  Of course!  God Bless America!

Raichlen

According to the aggressively coiffed Steven Raichlen, the host of cable’s Barbecue University and writer of the Barbecue! Bible blog, “the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA) reports that wood pellet grills are one of the hottest trends in the industry, offering consumers the primal flavor of wood smoke coupled with the turn-of-a-knob convenience of gas. Roughly 300,000 units were sold last year—less than 2 percent of total grill sales—but the popularity of pellet grills is surging.” (http://barbecuebible.com/2015/02/20/new-pellet-grills/)

Presumably those people in the pellet grill business would be interested in inspiring avid grillers, like…me.  But they whiffed on this chance.

There is a basic lesson here – – don’t waste a valuable potential messaging opportunity.

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If you are in a position where potential future users may be exposed to your product or service, don’t breathe your own exhaust – – remember that there are people there who might be interested – – if you just give them a little information.

So even if you consider yourself the king of your particular pellet hill – – remember that there’s probably a bigger mountain to climb out there.

I Know, It’s Only Rock ’n Roll, but…

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We try to refrain from simply reposting articles but this is a great example of how basic business principles can apply pretty much anywhere.

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The Rolling Stones – Masters of Their Universe

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a short article highlighting keys to the remarkable success and longevity of the World’s Greatest Rock ‘N Roll Band.

Ultimately, following these guidelines (with some caveats) are a pretty good prescription for success.

  1. Choose the right name.  We’ve commented before that a company shouldn’t try too hard on finding the perfect name.  If the product is excellent, the name will seem genius in retrospect  (witness Death Cab for Cutie and the Arctic Monkeys – – or the Beatles for that matter).  So, really, there are 4 tips here, not 5.
  2. Find a unique position in the market.  The Stones realized that they could be the bad boys relative to the Beatles’ wholesomeness.  Everyone loves a bad boy.
  3. Creatively beg, borrow or steal.  The Stones’s early hit “The Last Time” was gently lifted from the Staple Singers’s “This May Be The Last Time”  – only with a more catchy guitar riff and decidedly different lyrics.  They made that song their own, unlike Robin Thicke, who more blatantly ripped off Marvin Gaye.  Be inspired, but don’t plagiarize.
  4. Shed barriers to success before it’s too late.  The Stones’s arguably most talented member, Brian Jones, became unreliable and disruptive.  The group decided they needed to kick him out if they were to succeed.  They did, and a month later he was found in the bottom of his pool, another member of RnR’s infamous 27 Club.

5.  Continually reinvent.  Markets change, competition changes – – to survive long-term you must be able to anticipate and change.  Madonna and David Bowie are great examples of morphing to meet the need.  The Stones’s 1978 album Some Girls was a direct response to the threat of the burgeoning punk scene that included new artists the Sex Pistols, Ramones and the Clash.  Definitely different product than “The Last Time”.  As Keith Richards remembered, “It moved our ass, boy”.

Perhaps not something you’d hear from Peter Drucker, but still illuminating.