The Playbook for Terry Malloy Brands

You may not recognize the name Terry Malloy, but I bet you know his work:

 

I coulda been a contender!  I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum.

I’d like to apply “Terry Malloy” to brands, brands that have faded in popularity for any number of reasons including changing tastes, mishandled marketing or the relentless search for novelty*.  While we have a name for brands fighting their way up–Challenger Brands–I can’t think of any meaningful names for brands fighting to keep from falling down.  So I’ll enlist Marlon Brando’s iconic character from On the Waterfront.

Just to give a few quick examples, I’ll list some brands that enjoyed greater followings than they now have.  Mind you, I do this without malice; I like some of these brands, which is a point I’ll revisit presently:

Notice the lack of Fresca?  Fresca fans probably raided this Target’s meager supply already.

 

Aim relegated to the bottom shelf.  Perhaps a casualty of the 3,000 SKUs of Crest and Colgate.

 

Any number of spirits brands would fit here; I just watched an episode of The Sopranos where someone mentioned that J&B was Anthony’s favorite Scotch

 

Step 1: Admit the problem

Perhaps the greatest challenge for Terry Malloy brands lies in fessing up to being Terry Malloy.  Both client- and agency-side marketers work hard to reach positions of responsibility and, as a result, do not generally want to admit to problems in their kingdoms.  In my experience I can remember only one client who admitted “the old gray mare she ain’t what she used to be:” Blimpie.  In the mid-90s, Blimpie was still run by its founders, one of whom spoke openly about his business successes and failures.  To his credit, he knew when he had lost it and made every effort to get it back.

Every marketer needs to look at her brand and, in the matter of all Presidential candidates since Reagan, “are you better off now than you were four years ago?”  Or fourteen.  Or forty.

Step 2: Take a new look at old customers

Assuming that your brand still has sales, it stands to reason that somebody out there likes you.  Spend time with your customers to understand what keeps them with you.  If the answer is “it’s the cheapest,” then so be it.  At least you’ve learned something.

There is, perhaps, a temptation to take this learning and simply go retro–to present the brand as it exists in the minds of former customers.  However, I suspect that doing so limits the ongoing appeal of the brand.  How Pabst can anyone drink before realizing that it’s swill?

Whatever it is that keeps fans with your brand, firm though few they may be, will serve as a launchpad moving forward.

Step 3: Contemporize

To turn William Gibson’s famous quote on its head, “the past isn’t gone; it’s just not widely distributed anymore.”

While expression changes quickly, bedrock values change less so.  Almost no one can relate to Borax’s “20-mule team” strength these days, but we all want laundry soap strong enough to clean our clothes.  Instead, look for ways to update the meaning of the brand.

200-year-old Brooks Brothers might serve as a great example of a brand that contemporized without really changing all that much in terms of product.  It still sells essentially the same preppy polos and khakis that they always have.  However, instead of relying on the Nantucket set for sales, they’ve basically remade themselves as merchants of high-quality, reasonably priced and completely safe office wear.  They realized the same virtues that made them a favorite with the Groton crowd make them relevant to a much broader group of people today.

And if all else fails, be charming

Some brands just don’t make the transition to the modern world so easily, if at all.  However, they can still diffuse the situation with humor.  Arby’s has gotten a lot of mileage over its Twitter feed and quasi-feud with The Daily Show.  Oscar Meyer still has its Wienermobile.  And, dammit, Tad’s Steaks is still holding on, whorehouse moderne decor and all.


*I’m pointedly excluding brands that fell because of a failure to adapt to new technology, such as Kodak or Alta Vista.  Dying technologies rarely enjoy more than a niche following and helping companies recognize technology shifts is a road well traveled elsewhere.

I am also specifically excluding Sears because…wow, where do I begin?

Outdoor Event Marketing: Things to Consider

So last weekend in New York, this happened:

Obviously an out-of-towner.  A real New Yorker would have added two words to that sign

My son and I participated in the first of three Summer Streets Saturdays this year.  In an event started last year, the City shuts down Park Avenue from 72nd Street to the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Cyclists and walkers can traverse the entire length with no cars and only a few stops at major cross streets.

Since the event attracted a lot of marketing participation, from lead sponsor Citi to relatively small brands such as GoGo Squeez and Nuun, I thought it might provide a good opportunity to discuss how marketers can get the most out of sponsorship and other types of participation in events like these.

Strike while the iron is hot & other cliches

It should come as no surprise that the Knicks missed what we can only call an easy layup. Continue reading

Baseball’s Foreign Policy: Where is It?

With baseball’s All-Star Game taking place next Tuesday, I wanted to weave together two frequent topics in my blog (baseball, social awareness) and ask a question: why doesn’t Major League Baseball speak up more about current events overseas?

For those of you keeping score at home, Venezuela has descended into near anarchy.  Violence has become a standard political tool.  Their free-falling economy threatens reach Weimar Republic levels.  A renegade policeman commandeered a helicopter to attack the Supreme Court with grenades, perhaps as a false flag attack.

Meanwhile, MLB, currently home to over 70 Venezuelan players, has not made any statements I can find to address the situation. Put another way, about one-in-twelve men who pull on an MLB uniform comes from Venezuela and, presumably, still has family there.

Miguel Cabrera, Venezuela’s top export now that oil prices are low

Just after President’s Trump’s inauguration, I wrote about the need for every business, even one as small as mine, to have a foreign policy.  Given MLB’s efforts to popularize the game overseas, you’d think that goes double for them.  Already, some Venezuelan players have spoken out via social media and other channels.

I realize that MLB does not dictate foreign policy in Latin America in the way that, say, the United Fruit Company did.  MLB clubs have largely closed their baseball scouting operations in the country, thus depriving them of on-the-ground influence.  However, they can still lead positive change in the country.  If I could share a nice, cold cerveza Polar with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, here’s what I’d suggest:

  • First and foremost, use the upcoming All-Star Game as a platform to talk about Venezuela.  The game will take place in Miami, the de-facto capital of Latin America, especially affluent Latin America.
  • Offer mediation help.  While it’s tempting to recommend that MLB support the disgruntled opposition, I can’t ignore the harm it might do to families left behind.  That said, MLB has deep experience in mediation both at the micro scale (negotiating player contracts) and the macro scale (labor agreements).  If she weren’t otherwise engaged, I’d recommend Justice Sonia Sotomayor, not just because she speaks Spanish, but because she settled the last baseball labor action.
  • Support players’ social media activities.  Consider using MLB and MLB TV resources to amplify what they have to say, especially in international channel.

I reached out to the Commissioner’s office to see if they had anything to say.  However, they’re rather busy with the All-Star Game festivities, so they didn’t get back to me.  I’ll share if they do.

Amazon’s Customer Strategy

When Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13,7 billion, pundits and punters alike weighed in on what drove the acquisition: technology, distribution or as a shareholder value play.  I don’t know enough about the business to tell you which of these opinions–or others–comes closest to Amazon’s actual logic.

However, I’d like to speculate on a much simpler organizing thought: enveloping mass-affluent consumers.

Yes, this lot.  Again.

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Marketing’s New C-Word

There’s a word out there that begins with the letter C that simply has no place in modern society.  You’ve used it.  I’ve used it.  We tend to use it as an epithet, unfairly.  Marketers use it all the time and we, as a group, should stop.  Right now.

That c-word is, of course, “crazy.”

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How to Scumbag, by Lands’ End

Compliance with the law–or even your own promises–leaves plenty of room for bad behavior.  Lands’ End, formerly owned by Sears and, as such, noted weasel Eddie S. Lampert, demonstrates how not to treat new customers in a master class.

I couldn’t find any free stock images of douchebags

A timeline:

Wednesday, 24 May: Lands’ End sends me a postcard with an offer I couldn’t refuse, 50% off my entire order if I texted them my email address.  So I did, and promptly got back an email offer for 40% any single item, which is not the same thing at all as 50% off my entire order.  Nevertheless, I called them on the phone and they honored the coupon after the obligatory intercession of a manager.  To his credit, the manager also gave me free shipping even though my order came up about $3 short of of the $50 threshold.

Thursday, 25 May: I get a marketing email with the offer of 50% off all swimsuits and 30% off everything else.  I immediately downsub to one email per month.

Friday, 26 May: I get a shipping confirmation…and another version of the 50% off swim/30% off everything else email.  Also, another email with an offer for 40% off home products.

Saturday, 27 May: Two more emails, the swim offer and a new, 40% off pants offer.  Also note that although I have elected men’s clothes as a preference, every single email to me has featured women’s products.

Sunday, 28 May: the 50% off swim offer.  Again.

Monday, 29 May:  Yup, same offer.

So, after asking them to send me one email per month, I got six emails in the space of four days.  Legally, they’re probably in the clear to fusillade me like this because a) CAN-SPAM  dictates a 10-day response for opt-outs and b) strictly speaking, I haven’t opted out.

Nevertheless, let’s look at what they did here:

  1. Honor the offer they mailed to me only after I had to speak to a manager
  2. Did not immediately respond to my request for fewer emails
  3. Failed to honor my preferences for men’s clothes (I know, cis-gendered men can’t exactly claim too much agony here, but still)

Not bad for the first five days of customership!

More Lessons from the Stripe Life

A while ago, I shared some things about marketing that I’ve learned refereeing my kids’ soccer matches.  I wanted to add one more: how and why to spread the work across multiple channels and campaigns.

Soccer pitch with referee running routes; also candidate for a really cool flag

See that big orange S-shape in the middle of the pitch?  That’s roughly the route that the center referee (CR)–the boss on the pitch–runs during a match.  Those red and blue lines that each follow half the sides of the pitch?  That’s where the assistant referees (ARs, formerly known as linesmen) run.  This setup gives the officials reverse angles of play on either end of the pitch.

Last weekend, I worked as an AR with a CR who simply ran along one side of the field, the same one I was on.  Thus, during any play on my end of the pitch, the CR and I had either the same view or, worse, she blocked mine.

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Autonomous cars are coming. Are marketers ready?

Every passing day brings new stories about advancement in the realm of self-driving vehicles.  Just this weekend, Ford announced that it had appointed the head of its autonomous vehicle unit to the CEO post (Automotive News, subscription required).  Now that a pillar of the auto industry has made a major step to prying our fingers off the steering wheel, how should marketers respond?

Courtesy of the Ford Motor Company

As always, remember your Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Don’t Panic!

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How to Prevent an Advertising Disaster

We’ve had a good run of ad disasters lately, haven’t we?  Nivea inadvertently flirted with white supremacy and Pepsi trivialized a century or so of nonviolent protest with the aid of a Kardashian.  Last week McDonalds UK tried to sell Filets-O-Fish (Filet-O-Fishes?) on the backs of dead dads.

After picking up their jaws, the first question most right-thinking people ask is “who the hell let this happen?”  As most ad agency vets can attest, ideas often snowball before anyone can put a stop to them.  Usually, these snowballs simply hit the side of a barn; they tend to result in campaigns or ads that made sense to a small group of people in a conference room but not in the real world.  A career-minded sort (not judging) gains nothing by voicing qualms about them.

However, when an idea has the potential to become explosively damaging, everyone has the responsibility to stand up and strongly advise restraint.  As an example, let me share the time I helped prevent an agency from re-fighting WWII.

One would think this would be hard to forget

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Book Review: Written in Stone

At first glance, a book on geology should have no resonance with marketing communications whatsoever.  Other than the outsize role that pressure plays in both fields, very little links them.  And yet I found a simple truth in Written in Stone that speaks to me and should also speak to anyone whose job entails understanding consumer behavior.

These rocks are 440 million years old and were formed in the era of the 15% commission

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