Facing an Army Of Steamrollers

My beloved New York Times ran an article today about Germany’s national soccer museum in Dortmund that focused on how the museum holds up a mirror to Germany itself:

Any soccer fan — in fact, almost any German — will tell you that the moment the country first felt able to return with dignity to the international arena after the evil of Nazism came with what is known here as “the miracle of Bern,” the 3-2 victory in Switzerland over favored Hungary to win the World Cup in 1954…

…But the museum does not shy from Germany’s past. The national team of 1941 is seen giving the Nazi salute before a game in Sweden. An infamous 1944 propaganda film runs, showing Jewish inmates at the Nazis’ Theresienstadt camp near Prague playing soccer and ostensibly enjoying a relaxed life. (In reality, most were about to be shipped to Auschwitz.)

The German Football Association’s ban on women’s soccer from 1955 to 1970 is also related in detail — as are the considerable achievements of Germany’s female soccer team since.

I’d like to argue that while the Cooperstown Hall of Fame may not hold up a mirror to America, baseball certainly does and that, perhaps, explains why Major League Baseball’s brand has lost some of its shine.

This image was decidedly not approved by Major League Baseball or its affiliates

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Why Did You Spend $5 Million on the Superbowl Again?

Superbowl Monday brings out America’s platoon of ad critics, who discuss which ad had the best joke, the cutest baby/animal and strongest political point.  Rarely, however, do they discuss what the advertisers got for the trouble of spending a reported $5 million on a 30-second spot.

As of this morning, the product page for the Kia Niro has a module with still from the Melissa McCarthy ad that lets you watch it again.  Why not some information about environmental or nature causes such as the ones espoused by McCarthy in the ad?  The NFL page has no mention of the ad with the babies in it, which seems odd for an organization that’s struggling to promote youth football.  Bud’s immigration story ad features heavily on the brand’s home page today but has no follow-up, such as Adolphus Busch’s real story or Anheuser-Busch’s pioneering role in American brewing.

Let’s talk about one advertiser who got it right with, ironically, the most controversial ad of the night, 84 Lumber’s “Journey” ad.

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Plannerben’s Foreign Policy

Last fall, John Chipman, the director-general and chief executive of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, advanced the notion that in our globalized world, “every company needs a foreign policy.”

The New York Times, 31 January 2017

I can’t say that as the owner of a very small business–as small as you can get before you cease to exist–that I’d ever considered the need to have a foreign policy before.  However, executive orders issued by our nation’s President have inspired me to think about the global nature of my business and to respond accordingly.

If it seems ludicrous that a consultant should have a foreign policy, consider this: most of my clients are multi-national and global companies.  Over the past 27 months, I’ve worked with one ad agency that’s part of a Paris-based holding company and another agency based in London.  Those agencies’ clients, in turn, include a global bank accused of bribery in China and a UK-based company with businesses across the globe.  I helped a mid-sized US agency pitch a bank holding company based in Japan.  I’ve even worked for two companies based in that most foreign of locales, New Jersey.

So, while I don’t jet-set around the globe, I do recognize that my work depends in a large part on working with people from anywhere and everywhere.  These people include foreign nationals, naturalized Americans, undocumented residents and people with countless political and religious beliefs not to mention gender identities and sexual preferences.  I can’t count ’em because it’s none of my damn business so I don’t keep a record.

As such, I commit Plannerben | Anecdata to support and work with people and companies in any nation as long as they believe that our differences are strengths and not weaknesses.  I will work with people of any political stripe, with any belief system as long as they recognize that what connects us as humans outweighs what separates us.

I strongly reject President Trump’s attempt to wall off America from the world.

Like my daughter, I support international diplomacy

I recognize that I’m not Apple.  I’m not Hard Rock Hotels for that matter.  And it’s not like Kim Jong Un is burning up the phone lines trying to hire me.  I do not anticipate any substantial negative or positive reactions to our policy.  However, I accept John Chipman’s challenge above as an opportunity to think about my business and how I conduct it.  Even in New Jersey.

No One Cares About Your Origin Story Unless You’re Batman

Far be it from me to tell a vampire squid how to run its business, but I consider it my professional responsibility to pass this story along as a lesson to others:

Goldman Sachs, which has been rolling out its first foray into banking for the little guy, is going back to its history to name its big new push: an online lender for the masses.

After much internal discussion, the Wall Street firm has decided to call the retail banking operation Marcus — the first name of the company’s founder, Marcus Goldman. (emphasis mine; New York Times, 18 August 2016)

Sorry, Marcus the brand, but precisely none of your prospects will appreciate the link between your name and Marcus the founder’s.  People care about superhero origin stories, but not most brands’ origin stories.

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Note: not an accurate depiction of Crime Alley

[Disclosure: I let a headhunter submit my resume to Goldman a few months ago when they were looking for a crew to develop and market Marcus because I MEAN COME ON, back the money truck up, it’s Goldman.  They declined to interview me.]

I don’t mean to single out Goldman Sachs.  In the past few years, we’ve seen ads illustrating Bacardi’s role in the Cuban Revolution, Michael Dell’s dorm room and Dr. Stanley Pearle’s first optician shop.  I doubt any one of them did a damn thing for the brand.

Look, some brands have a fascinating–and relevant–history.  There’s a cult around the Steves of Apple.  Jack Daniel’s historicity–even if it’s not entirely told–gives it a distinct brand presence that helps make an American whiskey that isn’t bourbon the most popular one in the world.  However, most people DO NOT CARE where things came from.

For perspective, two things:

  1. After the invasion of Iraq, most Americans thought Saddam Hussein had something to do with the 9/11 attacks.
  2. Volkswagen still sells the Beetle.

What the Sirens Sang

The New York Times recently ran an article about Pariano, a town on the Amalfi Coast region of Italy where, they claim, the mythic Sirens of “The Odyssey” tempted the equally mythic king of rocky Ithaca to lead his ship onto the rocks.  The story, however imaginary, brings to mind the single most illuminating question asked of me in college and remains a great question for legacy brands:

What song did the Sirens sing?

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Dude, ear plugs are like 99¢ at CVS

The answer actually matters.  In fact, it matters a lot if you develop brand marketing for a living.

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It’s Not a Car Show: It’s Speed Dating for Brands

Once again, I accompanied my research assistants to the New York International Auto Show (#NYAIS) with an eye on evaluating the event as marketing.  Although I didn’t see any new exhibits that made me think differently about any given brand, I did recognize a hidden value of the show: speed dating for brands.

NYIAS Retro: Read My Posts from last year’s show

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

With over one million visitors, all of whom seem to want to slide behind the wheel of the same Corvette that you do, NYIAS has no room for subtlety.  In my personal case, my research assistants made sure that I had even less time to decide whether to visit a booth.

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My research assistants couldn’t even agree on which booth to knock over first

As a result, I started to see the similarities between the show and speed dating (as least as I’ve seen it in the movies; I last dated in the Cretaceous Era).

  • The room has a lot of potential matches who start to look alike after awhile
  • Everyone is trying his or her darndest
  • You always suspect there’s someone better for you…somewhere

So, let me point out the brands that would have merited a second date, at least with me (disclosure: I have not been on a second date since 2001, so YMMV) and why I liked them.

Ford Cars: My Kids Liked Her

The closest thing I saw to a home run was (mixed metaphor alert): Ford’s partnership with the New York City Football Club of Major League Soccer. Continue reading

How to Make Patriotism a Good Business Strategy

With our Presidential campaign in full swing, Americans could easily begin to feel a bit leery of anyone waving the flag too hard, and rightly so.

However, it doesn’t take much for a marketer to do something patriotic, appropriate and (probably) profitable.  Here’s an example:

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This is what you see when your kids watch Nickelodeon 16 hours per day

In the current jargon, CloudPets are connected stuffed animals.  As in, the toys have a wifi-enabled memory chip in them that allows a parent to record a brief message for his or her child on a cellphone and then have the child listen via the inbuilt speaker.  The DRTV spot shows a parent on a business trip recording a good night message on his phone that the child (happily, obviously) receives at home.

Notice the circled offer in the image above: free shipping for active-duty military.

Regular shipping and handling costs the buyer $6.99, which represents mostly profit for the seller.  The manufacturer can well afford to give away the cost for the relatively few military families who will take up the offer.  Saving seven bucks on a moderately-priced toy does not–and cannot–fully compensate the families of our armed services members, but it still represents a nice gesture.  It gives non-military families a sense that CloudPets has good priorities.  I couldn’t say that the offer drives incremental sales (perhaps they’ve tested it), but a little goodwill goes a long way.

At the same time, CloudPets deserves kudos for making the offer without making a huge deal about it.  They offer this simple, patriotic gesture without acting as if they had raised the flag on Iwo Jima.

Nicely done.

Superbowl Ad Fail: Williamsburg Plantation Owners

Yes, I liked the wiener dogs.  No, I didn’t think Snickers got it right with Willem DaFoe.  Forget all that.  Let me get at the commercial that really made me angry as hell.

What, no “Brown Sugar” for the music bed?

The revitalized New York Daily News has already picked up on one of the signature scenes in this commercial for Colonial Williamsburg (shown in some East Coast markets, but not the national broadcast), the Twin Towers building themselves back up.  I found that moment shocking, but I didn’t personally take offense.  I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking offense, of course, but in the context of the commercial, it appeared around other violent moments in our nation’s history, such as the WWII landings at Normandy Beach and fighting in Vietnam.

Rather, I couldn’t believe what I saw at 0:38.  It showed marchers from the 1960s holding a banner labeled “We Shall Overcome” marching backwards.  “We Shall Overcome,” of course, was the motto of the Civil Rights movement.  Later, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it montage, the commercial also showed a still picture of, I believe, Martin Luther King’s 1963 speech in Washington.

In case you didn’t catch it, the commercial suggested that none of these moments, fair or foul, would have happened if America as a nation hadn’t started in Williamsburg.  I’ll accept a little tourism puffery (after all, Philadelphia and Boston may have had a little to do with it as well), but I can’t accept the symbolism of our nation marching backwards to a time when the good white people of Williamburg owned black people.

As an ardent reader of history, I appreciate what Williamsburg wanted to do.  They wanted to import upon a now-focused audience that the city depicted in their theme park (or whatever you want to call it) played a major role in the creation of this Republic.  However, they played no small part as well in ensuring that slavery became a part of this nation, a stain we must never forget or underestimate.  Naturally, I don’t think Williamsburg’s marketing people meant to suggest that they want to see the return of slavery, but I do question the sensitivities of people who don’t appreciate the power of symbols taken lightly.

We have plenty to celebrate in this country, Colonial Williamsburg.  And we cannot even hint that we can roll things back to less enlightened times.

Marketing Winners and Losers at the NY International Auto Show (Part 3)

Manufacturers put on exhibits at auto shows because they want to sell cars to adults, but sometimes they recognize another key attendee group: kids.  Subjects of “My Super Sweet 16” aside, the kids don’t buy cars, of course, but they do have immediate value to the exhibitors for two reasons:

  1. Kids attend the auto show in droves ($7 tickets help) and drag adults with them.  As in, adults who potentially buy cars
  2. Kids actually influence car purchases to a large degree

While a lot of brands offer kid-friendly exhibits (Jeep had Camp Jeep and other booths had video games), not as many have anything specific for the kids.  Let’s look at one that did have something for the kids, Ford Trucks, and what they did well and not so well.

Good: Hands-on brand experience

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My Research Assistants

Ford Trucks let kids 12 and under built snap-together models of their halo truck, the Raptor.

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Marketing Winners and Losers at the NY International Auto Show (Part 2)

The marketing spectacle known as the New York International Auto Show had more to chew on than one man’s rant about station wagons.

For this installment, I’d like to focus on one exhibit with its hits and misses.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present Camp Jeep.

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For the past 11 years (give or take), Jeep has given consumers the opportunity to experience their vehicles’ capabilities in a first-hand manner.  They chauffeur participants over an obstacle course that shows how well the Jeeps can attack slopes, uneven ground and other things that 95% of drivers will never encounter.  All cynicism aside, the exhibit really impresses upon participants the astounding performance of the fabled brand.

Even within this impressive showcase, some aspects stand out: 2 good and one not-so-good

The upshot

  • Good: data collection from participants before and after
  • Good: keeping the troops happy
  • Not-so-good: the world’s most pointless cell phone charging station

Collecting data for fun and profit

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