Tag Archives: wall street journal

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.

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?

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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.

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)

2015SuperBowlCollage

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.

SuperBowl2015

The reviewers:
Kellogg Graduate School of Management

Advertising Age

Wall Street Journal
Chicago Tribune


Entertainment Weekly

Variety

Slate

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.

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”

Mosegi_Quote

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.

Mosegi_Cartoon

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.

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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?

Marvin

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.

First Ever Battle of the Super Bowl Ad Reviewers!

Ever wonder why you never totally agree with Super Bowl ad reviewers?
Well, other than for a few good ads* they mostly don’t agree with each other either.  

Doberhuahua

The Armchair MBA has selflessly taken on what is certainly is a vast unfulfilled need and compiled a comparison of 9 disparate SB ad reviewers just for you!   Wow!   Almost as much fun as being a Broncos fan!

Just click on the chart below to see that while there is some consistency, in the end advertising is still an art and everyone’s got their opinion.  (You can click on the chart twice to make it even more readable.)

(*Generally universally liked:  Budweiser, Cheerios, Radio Shack, Microsoft – – although I’m not in the bag for all of them)

The reviewers:

Kellogg Graduate School of Management
Advertising Age
Wall Street Journal
Chicago Tribune
Entertainment Weekly
Variety
Slate
Yahoo Sports
New Yorker

I’ve provided my own opinion, to make it an even 10.

SuperBowl2014

Green/Yellow/Red ratings were my best interpretations of what the reviewers meant.   White means they didn’t review this particular ad –  – which in itself tells you something.  They are grouped based on my ratings, on an alphabetical basis by brand within ranking.

My evaluations are generally based on the Kellogg ADPLAN approach, which is becoming the standard:
Attention
Distinction
Positioning
Linkage
Amplification
Net Equity

However, I also incorporated a liberal dose of my visceral reaction during the game.

Quick commentary:  The Super Bowl is a unique marketing environment where stakes and expectations are high, and the bar for breakthrough is considerably higher than any other day.
Advertisers use the SB for much more than the eyeballs – – as a way to make a corporate statement, introduce something new, reposition themselves, set up other promotional activity, and many other things.
So these spots can be seen through many different lenses, which is why reviews often differ dramatically.

Having said that, sometimes an ad just sucks any way you look at it.

Not included in my ratings (but increasingly important) is how long of a tail these ads might have – – what their viral reach, impact and duration becomes.

Maybe next year.

BUT WHAT IF THE CUSTOMER IS A BIG JERK?

You’ve probably known someone like this – – returning a new dress the day after the big event (“wardrobing“); using influence to get a fake handicap parking tag, etc.  Those who think the rules don’t apply to them; who make George Costanza seem almost normal.

Recently 2 equally intriguing and infuriating news stories raised a special challenge to marketers:
Should the customer always be right?   Isn’t that one of the Marketing Ten Commandments?

What if the customer is a big jerk?

REI Guarantee

Case 1) REI reduced its famous unlimited return policy to one year (still quite liberal).
– this was in response to increasing numbers of customers gaming the system, and in some cases bragging about it
– According to the Wall Street Journal, one customer “returned a backpack he bought in 2004, which he had hauled up the tallest mountain in Yosemite National Park and hundreds of miles. But it “was getting old and dirty, and I didn’t like it anymore,” he says.  He returned the backpack; REI gave him a brand-new one which he later returned when he realized there was a newer model.  His justification: Since he bought hundreds of REI products over the years, he says, the retailer still has made a healthy overall profit on his purchases.
– This is just one of many similar stories, here are some reactions to the new policy, along with some amusing pretzel logic.

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Case 2) Disney discontinued its policy that let physically handicapped guests and their parties avoid long waits in line.
– This was in response to abuse of the system – – according to some delicious reporting in the New York Post, some wealthy parents were paying physically disabled ‘tour guides’ up to $1000 to accompany their parties, thereby allowing their kids faster access to rides.  This remarkably selfish act of course mostly punishes the truly disabled kids; indirectly the PR hurts Disney as well.

Many companies have built loyal followings with liberal return policies.  Business Insider lists their top 10 here.

But why is there a seemingly growing numbers of abusers, and what should marketers do about it?

FIRST, THE WHY:  MY THEORY –> Abusing rules is a way of ‘Sticking it to the Man’:  for someone who feels insufficient influence on their world, any way to exert some control on a more powerful entity is satisfying.   This can apply to someone who feels economically disadvantaged; for the privileged it could simply mean an organization whose rules cramp their style.  Anything goes.
An excellent scholarly description of ‘The Man’ is in this brief clip:

School of Rock:  'The Man'

Definitive explanation of ‘The Man’

Except that now, due to politics and the state of the economy, the definition of ‘the Man’ is expanding; pretty much anything now qualifies as ‘The Man’.  This, naturally, leads to greater return policy abuse.

Evolution of (the) Man:  1960s – The Government;  1970s – Your Boss;  1980s – The USSR; 1990s – Big Business; 2000s – The Other Political Party;  2010s – Any Company OR the Other Party OR anything else

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT?
– the options are pretty clear:   A) attract and presumably keep customers by keeping and advertising a liberal policy, OR B) manage profitability and integrity by installing guardrails to limit abuse
The Case for A:   Supports the original brand promise (‘satisfaction guaranteed’); doesn’t give a reason to defect; lifetime value of loyal customers may be profit-positive
The Case for B:  Limits financial liability from abuse; signals to honest customers that they’re not subsidizing dishonest customers; arguably can still have a liberal policy.

Personally, I’m supportive of adjusting the rules to match the times.
In the case of REI, a one-year policy still supports the company’s core value of backing up its products.  Thus, those customers for whom REI’s products and prices are appealing should remain customers.  The minority of customers who abuse the system might claim to be loyal, but they’re loyal mostly to their dollars – they’ll shop online and either adjust to the policy or take their ‘business’ elsewhere.

In the case of Disney, it will almost certainly lead to a policy that may involve some additional steps for guests, but which will help to assure that Disney is doing what it can to continue to ensure a great experience – – which is absolutely core to the Disney brand promise.  In the end, it shouldn’t affect attendance.

What do you think?