Archive for July, 2009

Metaphors mean business – or – If “G” is for Gatorade, then is “F” for financials?


The rebrand of Gatorade was launched at the beginning of this year and now the results are in.  Verdict?  Not good.  In Thursday’s WSJ it was reported that a large drop in sales of Gatorade is behind Pepsico’s 6% drop in volume during the second quarter.  

This is the 3rd time that an Arnell Group’s redesign has proven very costly to Pepsico.  It’s a classic case of branding getting in the way of business.  In fairness the first case, the redesign of the Pepsi logo, it was more of a public relations issue than a design question.  People said that it was too similar to the Obama campaign logo and the justifications provided by Arnell did not successfully address the underlying issue.  The cost was to the brand’s reputation. Over time the Obama similarity questions will fade away (at least outside of the branding community) and I believe that the Pepsi Smile will ultimately become a successful identity.  That is because a strong new metaphor — the smile — has been woven into the Pepsi narrative.  Drink a Pepsi and smile!

The second was the redesign of the Tropicana brand.  In that case a strong metaphor, the straw in the orange, was replaced by a beautifully shot glass of orange juice.  It was beautiful and well executed but lacking in meaning.  It was an error that should have been picked up in well-designed market research that probes into metaphors.  A typical focus group could easily miss the deeper issue.  In this case the cost was both to the brand’s reputation and an actual monetary loss for returning to the old, stronger, metaphors on packaging.  All of the new work was a needless expense.

What is interesting about the third case?  It is the one most clearly identified as a substantial financial cost to the brand and company.  That was the underlying story in the recent earnings report. 

So what went wrong?

The answer is simple.  The redesign of Gatorade replaced a strong metaphor for a weak metaphor.  

Here is the previous Gatorade design.  The central metaphor is the lightening bolt.  Heavy handed?  Yes but you cannot miss it.   It is Zeus’s lightening bolt, the symbol of the powerful gods. Rich stuff for co-creating meaning.  The old campaigns showed the old metaphors clearly — the victorious warriors, the gods of sport, celebrating with Gatorate.  

If you believe that ancient mythology is long forgotten and therefore that bolt is unknown, consider that Disney’s movie Hercules was released in 1997 and retold that story again for a new generation.  And the popular Percy Jackson series started with The Lightening Thief — which is about to be released as a major motion picture.


And here is the redesign.  The dominant metaphor here is “G”.  The name has been de-emphasize to the point of being nearly invisible.  And the lightening bolt has been demoted to a secondary graphic element.  

Gatorade redesign on packaging

What does “G” mean?  That was the question raised by the new advertising.  Gifted, glorious, golden and the emblem of a warrior are some of the answers provided in the advertising campaign.  Here’s John Swansburg’s take on the campaign in Slate.    In sum, the metaphor of quenching the thirst of warriors has been replaced by people in street clothes talking about “G” as the symbol of the warrior and not the lightening bolt.  

For the average person “G” has little meaning.  What do you co-create with G? Certainly it is not associated with winning teams and sweating athletes.  What might seem a subtle shift in emphasis to update the brand was really a major shift in the metaphor.  And that has proven costly.

In sum, the redesign of Pepsi, adding the smile metaphor, will probably be successful over time.  It was a pr fumble, nothing more.  The redesign of Tropicana and Gatorade show what happens with the opposite situation, the replacement of a strong metaphor with a much weaker one.  The cost has been real, not just in image.  Every business person and every creative person should memorize this line from the poet Robert Frost

Unless you are educated in metaphor, you are not safe to be let loose in the world.


Last Thursday HSBC was giving you the opportunity to make yourself heard.  If you happened to be walking anywhere near Madison Square you were being invited to express yourself about preselected attributes.  

All you had to do was step up on a soapbox, hold up a sign and speak your mind.  JWT and LeadDog Marketing did the rest.  


Speak up America!

Speak up America!










The thought crossed my mind that I could use the opportunity to stand on a soapbox and explain to HSBC that the experience of their branches did not align with the cultural sensitivity of their ad campaign.  There is a lot they can do to improve and brand the HSBC experience.  Just look at what TD Bank (formerly Commerce) did with their brand experience.  At last, a place where  I could make myself heard on the key marketing topics of the day!  

Instead I nearly knocked over a sandwich board filled with fine print.  You’ll see how they start with the alarming statement “…you (i) understand that you will be engaging in activities that may involved risk of injury….”  It goes on to say in bold print “VOLUNTARILY ASSUME ALL RISK AND DANGER of personal injury (including death)…”  


The fine print...

The fine print...

Certainly a sign like that should give you fair warning.  It should be posted at the entrance before you actually go into the park.  That would give you the option of avoiding death at the hands of HSBC, JWT and Lead Dog Marketing.  In fact the sign was a good 15 feet into the park.  By the time I was reading it, I was already taking unreasonable risks into my own hands.

Wow, the agency business has gotten much rougher than the days when I was an SVP at J. Walter Thompson.  

Give me liberty or give me...residuals?

Give me liberty or give me...residuals?










And way, way, way down on the board buried in the fine print is the gotcha line.  It says that simply by walking in the Park you…

grant the right to Producers to utilize your image, likeness, actions, name, voice and statements in perpetuity in any live or recorded audio, video, or photographic display or any other transmission, exhibition, publication or reproduction made of, or at, this event without further authorization or compensation.”

Not only was I risking injury and death but I was also giving up the rights to my own name, likeness, etc. forever!  And in exchange I was getting no compensation at all.  None.  And I didn’t have to sign my name, I just had to walk into the park.

Of course any “unauthorized video recording is prohibited.”  

The final irony?  HSBC was asking people to talk about FREEDOM…


Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose...

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose...

When unpredictable things happen to brands – or – who’s driving that Wienermobile?

Good marketing means keeping your eyes on the road ahead, not watching the world through the rearview mirror.  And a part of that is contingency planning — being prepared for the unexpected.  

The news story of an accident involving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is a perfect example.  In Wisconsin the Wienermobile went the wrong way and crashed into the garage of a house.  If a regular car had lurched in the wrong direction on a driveway it would be noticed only by the neighbors on the same block.  But when the Wienermobile does it, the whole world is watching.  

Now I personally  think that Oscar Mayer is a great brand.  It was founded by a real family.  It has been doing social marketing through Wienermobile appearances long before the phrase “social marketing” was penned.  

The picture below illustrates the consequences for a brand that is driving by looking in the rear view mirror.


AP Photo of Wienermobile crash

AP Photo of Wienermobile crash



This incident happened less than two weeks after Oscar Mayer himself passed away.  This Oscar Mayer was the great grandson of the original Oscar Mayer.  The Mayer family founded the Oscar Mayer company 3 generations ago, also in Wisconsin.  The website TMZ reports that Mr. Mayer did not want the Wienermobile to make an appearance at his funeral because it would be “too much of a spectacle.”

Which reminds me of an old Yiddish saying, “Man plans and God laughs”.

Have you solved the challenge of multi-platform branding?

Well…you aren’t alone.  In our recent CMO study, 71% of senior marketers agree that managing brands across multiple platforms is a big challenge for their company.

Whether you call it cross-media marketing, multi-platform marketing or multi-channel marketing, the number of true success stories is few.  Making it even more difficult is the lack of tools to actually measure that success.  The traditional market research methods weren’t designed for today’s world.

There’s one company that is doing it right — ESPN.  

The good news is that they’ll be sharing some of their insights and ways of evaluating success on July 28th, thanks to the New York American Marketing Association.  Here’s the flyer for the event.  Or you can sign up at the NYAMA website.   Hope to see you there!

ESPN Event

United Breaks Guitars – or – is this any way to fly?

Back in 1970 American Tourister luggage ran an advertisement using a gorilla as a metaphor for airline baggage handlers.  That really struck home with a lot of people who travel.  Yes, exactly, that’s how the airline is treating my precious belongings!

As you can imagine, the airlines were not at all pleased by the portrayal.  But no specific airline brand was singled out, so the damage to any brand reputation was minimal.

Flash forward to 2008.  This time it’s a Canadian singer, Dave Carroll, who is pointing the finger at airline baggage handlers.  Specifically, the baggage handlers of United Airlines.  Seems that a year ago the baggage crew was seen throwing around Dave Carroll’s $3,500 Taylor guitar at O’Hare airport.  Sure enough, that guitar was broken.  Carroll spent a full year trying to get United to pay for the damages.  And for a full year the airline said, “no.”

So Dave Carroll created a new song and a new video to share his experience with the rest of us.

He didn’t have a big advertising budget.  He didn’t spend a dime on paid media.  He named names — United — and told a story that  really strikes home with all of us who fly these days.  In 4 days the video has been played over 1.6 million times.  The damage to the United Airlines reputation is being replayed on mainstream TV, newspapers and other online sites.   

After the first few hundred thousand hits, someone at United recognized the cost of repairing the guitar was nothing compared to the cost of repairing their brand.  By that time it was too late.  In fact, it was like pouring gasoline on a fire.  The story spread faster and further.

And for this kind of treatment, United and the other airlines are asking us to pay additional $$ for checking baggage.  No room in the overhead bins on overcrowded airplanes and the privilege to pay for having your personal belongings destroyed.  Is this any way to fly?

There are two more songs about United Airlines that Dave Carroll and his band The Sons of Maxwell are making and releasing.

So is there a lesson in all of this?  Actually there are several. The first is the power of a metaphor (the gorilla).  The second is the power of social media.  And the third is that the power to influence opinion is shifting from the corporation to the consumer. Just plug a Taylor guitar into the internet amplifier and hear what kind of feedback you get

After seeing this video, would I fly on United again?  Perhaps.  But I certainly would not check my baggage with them!

I’ll go out on a limb and make a prediction: this story will become a business school case study.

All branding is local – or – you say potato and I say potato

There’s a funny story about the old George and Ira Gershwin song “Let’s call the whole thing off.”  In those days the hit songs in the US were sent to the UK as sheet music, not as record recordings.  That caused a bit of confusion about the song which has lines like “You say potato and I say potato. You say tomato and I say tomato.”  Anyone who has heard the song knows that phonetically it goes, “Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!  Let’s call the whole thing off!”

Alas, the original song sheets didn’t have phonetic pronunciations in them so the first British singers recorded the song as “Potato, potato, tomato, tomato!  Let’s call the whole thing off!”  And they were all bewildered why this became such a big hit in the US.

Without the right language, the song fell flat.

The same thing is true for branding.

A brand that is strongly rooted in a local culture needs to find a way to  connect with other cultures as it goes multinational.  For instance, not all “independence day” holidays are the same.  In Canada there is Dominion Day, in France it is Bastille Day, and in the US it is the 4th of July.  Each is a celebration of independence.  But hardly ones with equivalent cultural meaning. While the fireworks may appear the same, the holiday metaphors are very different.  

It doesn’t mean that only local people can make the branding locally relevant.  The logic of that approach would lead you to saying that only teenagers can make ads for teenagers.  All you really need is the eye of an anthropologist, empathy and a non-judgmental attitude.  

Some brands, like Chevy or Budweiser are quintessentially American, right?  Oh, even though the original Chevrolet brothers were from France.  And Budweiser is a Czech brand with the trademark rights across Europe.  So local cultures can make brands local captives.

To get around that Budweiser is sold as “Bud” in other countries.  

Some people believe that the way to avoid this trap is to adopt the Theodore Levitt approach of globalization.  As Nigel Hollis points out in “The Global Brand”

Encouraged by Theodore “Ted” Levitt’s 1983 prediction that the future of brands was global, and expecting to reap tremendous economies of scale, multinationals sought to standardize their brands.  But to their chagrin, they found that the future Levitt predicted had not yet arrived. “

A brand that ignores local cultures in the noble purpose of global uniformity, is in danger of becoming uniformly bland.  

As brand marketers we  must actively avoid being tone deaf.  To increase my own sensitivity, I am actively campaigning for a week in Paris to celebrate Bastille Day.  After all, it is a singular experience to see the fireworks the transform the Eiffel Tower.



Bastille Day for brand marketers

Bastille Day for brand marketers

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