Branding

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Just prior to heading to NYC for the weekend, I got an email from Mike Sisti with the following New York Times story link as possible blog fodder. I found it to be a pretty interesting example of why price wars, in this case between rival pizza parlors, have a tendency to cause pain for all involved.
A temporary race to the bottom can permanently harm multiple competitors and skew consumer perceptions about quality, service, and other differentiators. Being the low cost leader in any business is not necessarily the best position because customers are often left with the impression that corners must be cut in order to achieve the lowest of the lows.

Gray's Papaya is advertising 99 cent pizza.

Gray's Papaya is advertising 99 cent pizza.

While walking around the Village south of Washington Square yesterday, I saw evidence of the cutthroat battle between the non-chain pizza purveyors. I did not come across any 75 cent postings. Gray’s Papaya was glad to have a sign in the window advertising 99 cent slices. Then, I turned a corner and saw a remarkable commitment blending branding and pricing strategies. Between raw materials, cost of labor, rent, and other overhead and fluctuating variables, I am not sure I would ever name my business 99 Cent Fresh Pizza, but I’ll bet for the moment, things are working well.

When you're 99 Cent Fresh Pizza, you are committed to a pricing and branding strategy.

When you're 99 Cent Fresh Pizza, you are committed to a pricing and branding strategy.

In other restaurant news, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (Mental? Why not Dental?), since July 2010, has decided to enter Zagat’s realm and is now requiring food establishments to prominently post letter grades received following most recent spot inspections (A, B, or C). At first glance, I noticed nothing but A’s around the Village and assumed it was not mandatory and only those getting top grades would post (however, all are required by law to post their grades). Soon thereafter I came across a posted B grade (lone cockroach spotted?). This is an unusual blending of carrots and sticks to get restaurants to clean up their kitchens. Most people if given the choice between an A or a B or even a C are not going to want to risk food poisoning and are going to opt for the top grade. Having been a dishwasher in a couple of kitchens early in my working life that were not always pristine, I can see where this regulatory approach has some merits and built in incentives to keep things more toward spotless than spotty.

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The ad industry was once filled with imaginative writers, amazing artists, and exceptional salespeople. Today, it still is, but there are a lot fewer of them, with their thinning ranks filled by technologists. However, I’ve always been buoyed by copywriters who manage to write their way out of the agency business and into fame and fortune. After working on Detroit automotive accounts, Elmore Leonard launched a prolific career as a crime novelist — most recently, his lawman character Raylan has spawned the popular cable show JustifiedJames Patterson, author of the Alex Cross mysteries and now a hugely successful children’s book author, once toiled at J. Walter Thompson.  Even, more serious scribes like F. Scott Fitzgerald (you know, the Gatsby guy) first penned ad copy to pay the bills.

Closer to home, I once had the pleasure of a book-signing meeting with award-winning author of young adult fiction, Jerry Spinelli, who worked on the trade media side of the business as an editor at the long-gone Chilton publishing empire in Radnor. He put Norristown and the Elmwood Park Zoo on the map in the classic Maniac Magee. I also once interviewed with a very personable Jon Clinch, a creative director at Schaefer Advertising, who went on to write a remarkable first novel, Finn, daring to take on Twain’s story from the perspective of Huck’s dead father.

Unfortunately, for every fiction and screenwriter writing about advertising from the outside (MadMen, thirtysomething), there are many more writers in the advertising profession hoping to midwife the Great American Novel. Fortunately, a few are also putting their talents to work creating exceptional thought leadership tomes about advertising, branding, and marketing. Some are brand names themselves (Ogilvy on Advertising). Some are in-demand lecturers like David Meerman Scott.  And others are terrific practitioners of what they preach.

One of the latter is a friend of mine, Lori Widmer, who fills every day as a professional writer, freelancing for corporations and agencies like Newton, writing Words on the Page, a writer’s blog, co-moderating About Writing Squared, a writers’ forum, and now authoring an ambitious and ingenious e-book of ideas, Marketing 365.

Marketing365 is an idea-a-day business-building treasure chest for entrepreneurs

Marketing365 is an idea-a-day business-building treasure chest for entrepreneurs

This work is literally a year’s worth of advice, (plus a bonus for leap year), to help small businesses and entrepreneurs develop and retain their customer bases by making marketing an essential everyday agenda item. The guide is a quick-read at 108 breezy pages, but it is chock-full of great recommendations. Lori doesn’t want readers to implement one a day, or anything close to all of them. She just wants businesspeople to mine her book for things that fit their company culture and personal comfort level. It is a great reference source to skim through to trigger new thinking about an age-old subject. She manages to mix traditional methods and media with plenty of digital and social options, all without repeating herself January 1 – December 31. It would make a great addition to any marketing curriculum and SBA support center.

Marketing 365 can be yours via PDF download for the bargain price of $14.95. I hope the many readers of this blog will help make Lori rich (just not rich enough to leave the profession and give up occasional freelancing).

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Who cares about the Super Bowl? Certainly not local sports fans in this town. It’s the Philadelphia Eagles’ arch NFC East rivals, the New York Giants, vs. the team that thrashed us in our last Super Bowl appearance, the New England Patriots. It is fortunate we have other diversions like hosting our own long-running annual professional sports championship this weekend — WING BOWL XX!!!!

WIP radio hosted Wing Bowl XX with an incredible sellout of the Wells Fargo Center by over 20,000 well-lubricated fans

WIP radio hosted Wing Bowl XX with an incredible sellout of the Wells Fargo Center by over 20,000 well-lubricated fans

For those of you who don’t follow eating competitions, Wing Bowl, hosted by local radio sports talk channel WIP, has grown from a couple guys sitting around a hotel-hosted wingfest into a Lollapalooza of an event that draws over 20,000 crazy fans who sell out the Wells Fargo Center weeks in advance. It is hard to describe this spectacle — it is part indoor Mummers Parade/Mardi Gras; part burlesque show thanks to hordes of barely clad Wingettes, and part fall of the Roman Empire complete with vomitorium.

Wing Bowl may sound like a slapdash affair, but it has grown from an amusing radio stunt conceived by Morning Team co-host Al Morganti into a mega-event that requires weeks of on-air and remote appearance screenings of professional (and amateur) eaters, Wingette girls, and event promotions. The City and the Wells Fargo Center has to prepare for an army of early a.m. drunks, carefully managing traffic and parking, and even closing FDR Park across the street to keep it from becoming a tailgate city.  The planning of D-Day looks spontaneous by comparison.

Like all good radio contests, zaniness abounds in Wing Bowl. My favorite of many laugh-out-loud moments over the past few weeks was listening to the Morning Team try out a strange fellow who won entry by eating five pounds of canned pineapples. Host Angelo Cataldi surprised his audience by asking the man’s religious affiliation following this tough gastric challenge, because he wanted to know if he was related to a past Wing Bowl contestant. Stagename: The Acidic Jew.

Wing Bowl XX was a record setting spectacle — 337 wings consumed by pro eater Kobayashi.

Wing Bowl XX was a record setting spectacle — 337 wings consumed by pro eater Kobayashi.

In spite of all the good-natured carousing and silliness, Wing Bowl is a serious competition, this year pitting 27 eating-stunt-tested contestants. Past winners like Super Squibb and El Wingador went elbow-to-elbow against a variety of past contestants and newcomers. Incredibly, the legendary Kobayashi, perhaps best known as the champion of other professional eating competitions like Coney Island’s hot dog eating competition, bested not only these all-time greats, but broke the all-time record by eating a jaw-dropping 337 wings. You can read all about it here and here. Or watch coverage here.

The other winners? Smart retail marketers like jeweler Steven Singer and Barb’s Harley-Davidson, who actively take part in the festivities and pony up the major prizes. You can’t buy this kind of publicity (well, actually they do), but it is ongoing, associative, and branded all over the place.

Wing Bowl may not succeed in making Philly sports fans forget that they are not in the Super Bowl this weekend. But kudos to the gang at WIP for creating their own mega-event that is fun, wildly unpredictable, and uniquely and exclusively Philadelphia.

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The Genuardi's grocery brand is going away.

The Genuardi's grocery brand is going away.

Very sad news to report — the death of another beloved Delaware Valley icon this week. But to be honest, the loss was actually a fait acompli, following a long, slow, painful, and predictable process that began in 2001 when the Genuardi family finalized the sale of its grocery chain business, begun in 1920, to West Coast based Safeway.

You can read all about it here, including the closures and store selloffs of Genuardi locations to Carlisle, PA- based but Netherlands-corporation-owned Giant.

The grocery business has always been tough, with tight margins, but lately it has gotten even tougher. Grocery stores aren’t going anywhere — it is the smaller family grocery chains that are under increasing pressure from the corporate giants. Not many left in this area. Brown’s ShopRite, Redner’s, Weis come to mind, as well as independents Thriftway/Shop ‘n Bag. The latter two were once separate Newton clients shortly before they joined forces. We still feature one of our Thriftway spots on our web site accessible from the A La Carte/TV link here .

The passing of the Genuardi’s brand is especially troubling, because a little over a decade ago, it was a shining star on the Philadelphia metro food scene. Their St. Davids store was the flagship of the chain and it ushered in the whole concept of specialty foods and an in-store food court, before Wegman’s and Whole Foods arrived on the scene.

Genuardi’s stores were also known for cleanliness, service, and a connection to the local communities where they were located. One quiet example of that were the number of special needs people they always seemed to employ.

It is troubling that America is losing more and more of its family-run businesses in favor of corporate ones. The sense of personal connection (and personal stake on the part of the local owner) is missing, whether it is at big bank branches, home improvement stores, and chain restaurants. When your name is on the store, you tend to ensure that everything is at its best and when problems occur, they are solved quickly and on a first-name basis so the customers understand their business is important. We’ve covered this topic before.

I hear the word “stakeholder” a lot in public company business these days, and I have to laugh. Very few of these people have their names and reputations at stake when it is a major corporation that employs them. The senior most executives often are not even located on any premises where customer interactions take place that they can directly witness or take part in.

Despite the loss of  the Genuardi’s brand, Delaware Valley residents still have plenty of grocery options. From foodie stores like Wegman’s and Whole Foods, to low cost leaders like Wal-Mart and Aldi. Giant who purchased 16 Genuardi store locations runs its stores well and was one of the first in the area to be open 24 hours. Perhaps this is just another case history for the marketing/branding textbooks — Safeway might have done better rebranding locally as Safeway in 2001 vs. trying to preserve Genuardi’s as a family-owned brand when it was no longer one.

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Brave new 2.0 world out there. Iconic brands are finding it is dangerous to play with familiar icons. Last year, GAP got hammered in social media for rolling out a new logo. In recent days, Coca-Cola, perhaps the most revered brand of all, especially at holiday time, has taken it on the chin for changing its familiar red can to polar bear white (and silver).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdxrVabe_C0

You can see Coke’s noble intent here with a temporary can redesign meant to promote giving to the World Wildlife Federation tied to its long-running polar bear commercials. However, the road to hell is paved with similar do-gooder, feel-good efforts. Aside from creating brand confusion at the point-of-sale between Coke and Diet Coke cans, the more worrisome concern was over those for whom the ingestion of sugar is a health issue, namely diabetics. Hard to believe that a company like Coca-Cola hadn’t considered some of these issues.

Not long before this story broke, I was in the soda aisle stocking up for the arrival of Thanksgiving company and it occurred to me how confusing buying Coke has become — there’s caffeine-free regular Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, and there’s the familiar Coke of the past century, with caffeine, and in a red can, but not on the shelf when I was looking, which caused me to pause, but not be refreshed. Perhaps it was already sitting there in the white/silver can and I like many others just missed it.

From a pure package design standpoint, with the exception of all-important color, Coca-Cola did a nice job of carrying over brand identity; however, with so much identity tied up in red, that misstep is not a minor one. To me, it is actually a surprising one. You don’t get to world’s most familiar/popular brand by making many errors in judgment. Beyond the New Coke rollout fiasco, I had to wrack my brain to think of another significant stumble.

The only instance that stays with me is an account in David Meerman Scott’s excellent “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” about the company’s reticence to participate online and offline when the Mentos dissolved in Diet Coke, creating Old Faithful backyard science experiments. Mentos embraced the goofy nature of it all, while Coca-Cola got all stodgy corporate because they could not control the consumer fun. If the same thing happened today, I am guessing it would be front and center on the company’s Facebook page (where by the way, the Coca-Cola arctic home message is still up and front and center — well, at least the WWF donations effort did not suffer the same fate as the white/silver cans).

Coca-Cola's white can redesign went south, but WWF/arctic home donations are hopefully still heading north.

Coca-Cola's white can redesign went south, but WWF/arctic home donations are hopefully still heading north.

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Penn State website is a good place for official announcements on the story.

Penn State website is a good place for official announcements on the story.

Somewhere a new PR text book is being written following early news of the worst collegiate sports, make that collegiate, scandal of all time. Who could have predicted that Penn State University and Joe Paterno could have gone from squeaky clean to skeevy in a matter of days. Heads have rolled, arrests have been made, investigations have been launched, and the rumor mill continues to churn. After what has already been divulged, pretty much nothing is out of the realm of possibility now.

Moment of unity at first PSU football game after the story broke.

Moment of unity at first PSU football game after the story broke.

Fewer and fewer people are leaping to the defense of Joe Paterno because of his apparent lack of action in this scandal, although one who is, NFL great Franco Harris, just lost his spokesperson gig with a western PA casino for his vocal support of JoePa.

Every day, another stunner. The Bob Costas interview with Jerry Sandusky left viewers feeling slimed. Friday, Michael Smerconish’s column in the Inquirer revealed that the university had six months to prepare for this coming storm . It continues to be hard to imagine how you could possibley put any kind of positive spin on charges of pedophilia and cover-ups. As evidenced already, words like “horseplay” don’t cut it.

Only two things have given me pause about  completely rushing to judgment about this debacle. One is the way certain high profile cases, from the Duke lacrosse scandal, to the Amirault day care kangaroo court saga, have turned out far differently than initially reported.

PSU students have created a support wall on campus.

PSU students have created a support wall on campus.

The other is the brilliant Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon, in which an incident involving rape and murder is told from four different perspectives, the attacker, the two victims, and a witness. The truth in this case (and every case), when told from different perspectives, can change like shifting sands.

This 1950 world cinema classic deserves regular screenings on the State College campus in the months ahead. It is important to remember that not all that is being reported now is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We owe it to the real victims, the crumbling Second Mile foundation, and every PSU student, faculty member, administrator, alumni, and alumna affected by this outrage.

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Olive Garden has a social media firestorm on its hands.

Olive Garden has a social media firestorm on its hands.

Hell hath no fury like an 80-year-old Kiwanis Club member denied the chance to proudly display the American flag during the Club’s meeting/meal. Just ask the Olive Garden restaurant chain, which is learning unexpected lessons in handling crisis PR and social media wildfires following the incident and subsequent flare-up. Here is a link to one of the original news accounts, which took place at an Alabama location of the restaurant chain, not exactly the heart of PC policy USA.

Once this news hit the local news, it became a sound bite headline that spread nationally to places like the Drudge Report. By the time I saw the story, the Comments section on the page was loaded with angry posters, many of them Facebook commenters, who had already decided they were done eating another meal at ANY Olive Garden. What struck me was the explosion of the myth that social media, is wholly owned and operated by Generation Y. This is not your son’s (or grandson’s) Facebook network anymore. There are Hank Williams Jr. lookalikes looking like they just got the opportunity to defiantly stick it to ESPN. There are grandmothers forming a solidarity movement with the Kiwanis Club lady. The common theme was that an American corporation had knowingly decided to tread on Old Glory (or at least banish it from their premises) and each poster was weighing in as a former customer (with plans to virally make family and friends former customers as well). Ouch. Some posters noted that Olive Garden is part of a larger restaurant group and they named the other affiliated restaurant chains. The potential for business damage here remains huge.

Many Olive Garden customers are angry over the flag incident.

Many Olive Garden customers are angry over the flag incident.

At this point, I visited the Olive Garden Facebook page and corporate’s web site home page. Both contained the following explanation/apology intended to contain the damage and assure customers that this was not corporate policy and it truly was an isolated, unfortunate incident brought about by one manager or staffer acting in the absence of policy.

Official Olive Garden response to the "flag" incident.

Official Olive Garden response to the "flag" incident.

The following day, Olive Garden announced to the news media that the CEO would be personally apologizing to the Kiwanis lady. Given the heat and the fury out there, I suspect neither of these steps individually or together will be enough to undo the damage.

Lots of "tweets" about Olive Garden after the "flag" incident, too.

Lots of "tweets" about Olive Garden after the "flag" incident, too.

I predict that Olive Gardens will have to start couponing deals like crazy to win back lost customers and flying a flag twice the size of the ones at Perkins Pancake Houses outside all locations. This isn’t a case of isolated anecdotes about bad service or a cold meal. It is much more visceral and hits at the heart of American culture and patriotism. It isn’t clear what the decision-maker at the Alabama Olive Garden was thinking, but the default corporate answer to most such “special” requests these days is “No.” Sometimes the perpetual worry about offending “someone” clouds your ability to see you might wind up offending “nearly everyone.”

Does anyone still doubt the power of social media, especially when triggered by news media? Does anyone want to bet against civics lessons being added to corporate managerial training at every restaurant chain and retailer in America after this?

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Conan turns to blimps and digital and tv to build his brand.

Conan turns to blimps and digital and tv to build his brand.

No wonder advertisers get confused about how to allocate media dollars. It is an absolute free-for-all. A day does not go by without another news item suggesting how one medium or platform is overtaking or supplanting another. I routinely remind myself of the progression that TV did not kill radio when it came on the scene, and likewise, the Internet did not replace TV. Every form of media is still in active use (papyrus scrolls and carrier pigeons excepted). I see latest Conan TV ads feature blimp advertising blended with mobile platforms. As a big fan of Team Coco, I am hoping for Goodyear associations, not Hindenberg.

A quick sampling of recent stories should give everyone pause about claiming superiority over another medium or about writing a competing medium’s obituary.

This intriguing story from Advertising Age suggests Facebook is voraciously eating the lunch of major magazine brands. It left me scratching my head about how Burberry, frozen in my own brain as a conservative British purveyor of fine raincoats, has attracted over 8 million followers on Facebook. I visited their pages and came away still scratching my head. This Google search revealed a few clues — fashion launches via Facebook and iPads, free samples of a new fragrance, interactive videos, and easy-to-follow followers like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Still, that is a staggering number of followers, but more power to them. Whatever Burberry is doing, it’s working.

Next up, two stories from Digiday. One reveals how Google is preparing a full frontal assault on newspapers’ biggest cash cow — Sunday circulars. Imagine a digital version of a circular that gives a retailer all kinds of local control to customize content by store, pricing, and product category. Also from Digiday is a rather depressing, confusing  picture of the landscape of digital advertising tech companies. The bar is low for entrants. The result is a mixed bag of options and results for advertisers. Not sure who is being served by this.

This week, New York magazine devotes an extended article to Twitter and whether it is becoming too big for its 140-character britches, er tweets.

If you’re not completely boggled yet, here is video reporting by the print-based Wall Street Journal delivered online from their web site to explain how tv ad spending can be rising as viewership is dropping. Got that?

My next media recommendation? Burma-shave style billboards but delivered with a twist — constantly changing messaging on a series of digital billboards. The product? Attention-deficit disorder drugs.

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We’ve written before about the importance of jingles in broadcast for brand building. However, most tv and radio spots don’t use original music. They borrow the appeal of popular recordings. Some find hits played a billion times that have an obvious tie-in to the marketing message (back in the 80s, Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” for AT&T; the Beatles’ “Help” currently pushing customer service for HH Gregg).  Others unearth really catchy gems, some from the archives and some current, not-yet-widely-known talent (Apple sold a lot of iPods and iTunes with great “Who did that song?” spots).

talbots

Currently, a new tv commercial from Talbots, the women’s clothing retailer, is effectively using music to stop everyone dead in their tracks and push “timeless” fashion and style. It is more than a catchy hook — it is propelled by a great vocal performance in sync with the visuals, spanning black and white to color of a confident Talbots customer parading down the street in her Talbots ensemble, with her Talbots bag, all in slo mo. If “History Repeating” by Shirley Bassey doesn’t help Talbots jumpstart sales, it will have at least succeeded in earning Talbots some serious brand awareness and recognition.

Ironically, Shirley Bassey came to fame in the 50s and is perhaps best known for her James Bond theme songs in the 60s and 70s, but “History Repeating” only recalls this period — it is actually a 1997 collaboration with British electronic music producers and ensemble, The Propellerheads. Here is the original video.

The music industry has long had a love-hate relationship with the advertising industry. Rock artists especially have had to weather taunts of sellout for taking fat royalty checks for licensing their music. Remember the outcry when the Beatles’ “Revolution” was used by Nike to sell sneakers?

So, it is only fitting to close out this week with a “live” opposing opinion on this subject from rock’s most notable, go-your-own-way guy, Neil Young.

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