Archive for October, 2009

Thank you ING, Asics and Poland Spring!

The marathon is a metaphor for life.

It is a heroic Greek myth of a soldier running to deliver an urgent message and then collapsing the moment he delivers it.  Or perhaps a mythic but true story.

This Sunday I will be immersed in this my as I run my 16th marathon.

But this blog is about branding, so let me turn my attention to the subject matter at hand.

Sponsoring a great event like the New York City Marathon creates a great sense of appreciation and good will in all of the people who’ll be out there running.  On behalf of my fellow runners, thank you.

This is a special race, the 40th running of the NYC marathon.  I’ve been in slightly more than 1/3rd of them.

By the way, here’s the “G” brand booth at the runners’ expo.  It is very bio-tech in the copy, imagery and design.  This seems to be along the brand trajectory that Gatorade has been moving since the new brand design was introduced last January.  More high tech, less approachable, more engineered.  Beautiful but is it right for Gatorade?  To me it doesn’t resonate with the picture in my mind of the players dumping a big barrel of Gatorade on the coach.  It’s hard for me personally to identify with those people in the “performance lab”.

What is your opinion?


Gatorade Booth poster



I’ll post again on Sunday or Monday and let you know how I fared.

Designing the butterfly logo for Microsoft’s MSN

Why does Microsoft’s MSN have a butterfly for a logo?  There’s an answer for that is an interview with Michael Thibodeau and I in the recently published, “Taming the Search and Switch Consumer” by Jill Griffin.

In the interview we discuss the strategic need for a new brand architecture and why Michael’s brilliant design is so strategically on the mark.  It was the right metaphor at the right time for the brand.Thibodeau&Ringer_TamingCustomers_2009


The irony of cutting spending on news media and finding no outlet for PR

This article in AdAge caught my eye this morning:

“As media market shrinks, PR passes up reporters, pitches directly to consumers”

This is quite a paradox.

There has been a strong trend of companies increasing spending on PR because they know that a mention in a news article carries more weight with consumers than a typical ad.  Every great brand can make a good news story.

At the same time, these same companies have been cutting media dollars out of newspapers and magazines, a trend that started before the current downturn. They do not want to spend as much generating their own messages and paying for those messages to be delivered to consumers.

However, the newspapers and magazines rely on the paid advertising.  Without out it, they close.  And the PR outlets disappear.  Suddenly companies find themselves in the situation of more stories chasing fewer reporters.  The opportunities for “free media” decline as advertising support for “free media” evaporates.

So what do companies then do?  Send the message directly to the consumers just as they did with advertising.  The media may be different but the need for advertiser generated messages is the same.


Where have all the sponsors gone?

I love to run.  And I love to enter races where you get a nice shirt to wear next time I run or when I’m working out or just to have as a reminder that I ran that race.

To me, each shirt tells a story because every race has its own story.  The story has a narrative arc that matches the pre-race anticipation, the nervous energy of the first mile or two, the settling in to a comfortable pace and then the push to see what is left up to the finish line, that focal point of everything until now.  Then the afterword, the denouement of walking through the chutes, lungs burning, thinking back about the race, about mile splits, water stations, the choice of Poland Springs water or Gatorade.

It wasn’t so long ago that the race shirts were like walking billboards.  The sponsor logos were plastered all over the back of the shirt like sponsors on a NASCAR vehicle.  I was an unpaid media platform for advertisers reaching a small but influential group of New Yorkers.

In my last 3 races the shirts had the following sponsorships:

1. Asics, ING, “G” (formerly known as Gatorade) and PowerBar

2. The Norweigen Embassy

3. Poland Springs.  In fact, the back of the Poland Springs race shirt is bare, not a logo in sight.   Hardly a walking billboard.

It seems like the only sponsors left are the ones who know that runners have been their core audience.  The rest of the sponsors have vanished.  It is just another sign of the times when sponsorships dry up.  It is a worrisome sign for marketing.

Even so, I must admit that I like the cleaner, less cluttered look of the new racing shirts.

Next up for me is the ING New York City Marathon.  There the ING sponsorship is still strong, no doubt from a contract written long before the current troubles.  I’ll fill you in on the walking billboard situation when I pick up my shirt later this week.

Chaotics: the case for marketing in a downturn

Here’s today’s interesting quote from “Chaotics” written by Philip Kotler and John Caslione.  This is from the chapter “Management’s Wrong Responses to Turbulence”:

Reducing Marketing, Brand, and New Product Development Expenses

When it comes time to make cuts, marketing always seems to get the first swipe, and new product development the second.  This is always a mistake because it destroys market share and innovation.

The knee-jerk reaction from most companies is to cut marketing.  When you cut marketing, you are leaving room for your competitors to get their message out in the forefront and to gain greater market share as yours slips away. (pages 55-56)

That was written in late 2008 or early 2009.  Here we are nearly a year later.  Marketing has been cut dramatically.  Advertising expenditures are plummeting — more for some media than others — and media prices are falling.  Consumer demand is down.  The only real pick-up in the economy has come from the government stimulus package.

It is still too early to see if those companies who made the biggest cuts suffered more than their competitors.  We know this has been true in past recessions.  I’ve seen some data in some categories that supports the hypothesis.

This does not mean that marketing should not be cut at all — just that the degree and strategy of the cuts need to be well planned.

It is the relative difference in the cuts that is most important.  If everyone cuts spending by 10%, then there is no comparative advantage.  If one company cuts marketing in half and a competitor stops entirely, then the comparative advantage is great.

Cutting marketing that is effective (and not all marketing is effective) becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because it leads to declines in sales.  Declines in sales then become the justification for further cuts in marketing.  It becomes part of the “Downward Spiral of Doom” as James Kilts calls it.

Kotler and Caslione say, “Marketing is muscle, not fat.”

In the current economy, we all want a little more muscle…

Are you a fickle consumer or a smart shopper?

I was surprised to read this in today’s New York Times:

Nearly four in five Americans were repeat buyers back then, staunchly faithful to brands that they knew, trusted and were part of their self-image. The allegiance often continued through generations of families, like party affiliations in politics.

Now, partly as a result of increasingly fickle consumer tastes and the industry turmoil in Detroit, that hard-won loyalty is largely gone. (Emphasis added)

Are we fickle because we moved away from one brand and toward another?  It seems to me that there has been a shift in mindset among car buyers but that doesn’t mean from stable to fickle.  Also, some of the brands that people are moving away from are soon disappearing from the marketplace.  Hard to remain loyal to a brand like Pontiac that is being decommissioned.

Shifting Car Preferences from NY Times

Shifting Car Preferences from NY Times

The growth of Hyundai and Kia are noted in the article but what isn’t noted is the really really smart marketing that Hyundai has done with their buyers assurance plan.  Switching to a different brand that better meets your needs is not fickle. People change their minds all the time without being fickle.

“Fickle consumers” makes us sound like the a teenager with a crush on a different person every week.  To their credit, the Times does go on to acknowledge the role internet has played by opening up a whole new way of thinking about car buying.  Perhaps I am being unfair.  One sentence should not drag down what is an otherwise interesting story.

Corporate reputations require actions – or – Apple, the US Chamber of Commerce and You

What is a company to do when their corporate reputation is founded, in part, on being a greener Apple and the company is a member in an anti-environmental organization?   If a green apple is your metaphor, how does that influence your actions? You need to act on your stated goals or else gain a reputation of being hypocrites.

That is why Apple has resigned from the US Chamber of Commerce, joining a group of well known companies such as Nike to distance themselves from the organization (Nike resigned from the board but is still a member…for now).  The Chamber of Commerce has been a vocal critic of all legislation to curb greenhouse gases.  That sets it on a direct conflict with members such as GE who are building their reputation on finding innovative and profitable ways to address the environmental problems we, as a society, are facing.  Ecomagination advertising and membership in the Chamber are at cross-purposes.  The company’s narrative is more than just an ad campaign and website and PR.

Nike knows this well from their struggles in the past with other social issues.

Do all consumers really care about such issues?  No.  But enough of them do that it matters.  And the other audiences matter, too, including NGOs, employees and prospective employees.

The implications for branding are clear — practice what you preach.  When redefining your corporate identity, you need to look across all activities of the company beyond marketing practices.  It extends into unexpected areas such as membership in organizations like the Chamber of Commerce.

The conflict between the Chamber and the corporate reputations cannot continue long now that the public has become aware of it.  Companies that are building their image around sustainability and environmental awareness will find themselves under pressure to withdraw.  And they, in turn, will put pressure on the Chamber to change it’s position on environmental legislation.

As the old saying goes, people will judge you by the company you keep.

Best marketer of the year, cont’d

Ad Age has also nominated Lego as one of the top 5 marketers of the year.  We, dear readers, are in the cat-bird seat to select the winner.

In my last post I waxed eloquent about Hyundai (my choice for winner) and McDonald’s.

This post I want to wax eloquent about Legos.  They have been phenomenal in the past couple of years.

Today I was walking through the fabled F.A.O. Schwartz toy story here in NYC.  I was picking up my daughter from a birthday party that was being held in a special party room of the store.  We took a few minutes to just wander around the store and talk.  At one point my daughter pointed and said, “How cool is that!  It’s the Harry Potter characters in Lego.”  Indeed, there was an enormous Rubeus Hagrid along with Harry and several other characters.

So, Legos, you got a big thumbs up from a 12 year-old girl who remembers playing with your toys when she was younger and now sees a whole new reason to play with them…without feeling childish.  How cool is that!

Just remember, vote early and vote often!

Best marketer of the year: Hyundai!

Ad Age has given all of us readers the opportunity to pick the marketer of the year.  My vote is for Hyundai.

The editors have done all of the hard work, sifting through all of the candidates and making a strong case for the finalists. The five finalists they are presenting are Amazon, Hyundai, Lego, McDonald’s and Walmart.

The two who really stand out are McDonald’s and Hyundai.

McDonald’s has been a perennial top marketer since their turn-around in 2004.  They won the marketer of the year award back then and continue keep up their momentum.  They just keep getting better and better at it.  Some people say that McDonald’s is doing well because of the bad economy.  Yes and no is my response.  Yes the economy makes people more interested in a lower cost alternative.  But no because McDonald’s is up far more than Burger King or other competitors.

So why don’t I vote for McDonald’s a marketer of the year?  Mostly because they’ve already been there.  It’s time for another Cinderella story to be given the prize.

My vote goes to Hyundai because they have an incredible story of moving the brand from a “me-too” car from Korea to a “me first” car for everyone concerned about the economy and the environment.  Hyundai is top of the charts in product quality and now the audacious buyer’s assurance marketing campaign has caught everyone’s attention.  They had a great story to tell and they had a great way to sell their story.

As they say in South Philly, “vote early and vote often”!

AdAge nominations

AdAge nominations

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