Jan 19

Domino’s gets it right

Guest Post by Ann Barlow, Peppercom

January 19 - dominos-pizza Domino’s has taken some heat (sorry) over the last few days for its new campaign. Were they really the last to know how bad their pizza is? And will new sauce and better cheese solve everything? But Domino’s problems are remarkable only in how widely shared they are. How many auto repair chains have annoyed you? Forget the auto repair shops. How about the manufacturers themselves? Shall we talk about the airlines or consumer electronics?

Truth is, businesses get the fundamentals wrong a lot, and there are plenty of reasons for it: we focus on what’s urgent but not important; we’re more concerned with short-term profit than long-term customer relationships (and so are our shareholders); maybe we’re just bored and lazy. 

But once in awhile, circumstances force us to take a long look in the mirror. (Falling sales when cheap food is popular was Domino’s wake-up call.) When you do, and recognize the truth, you have to be willing to make changes, even if it means completely altering the way you do things.  How many people or companies are really willing to take that step? It takes real moral courage.

When Domino’s looked in the mirror, it wasn’t pretty. That part’s hard enough. But they acknowledged their failings publicly and then – most important – took steps to change. Let’s face it: that’s where most of us fall short. And it’s not any easier to make changes as a company than as an individual. Okay, so was it really that hard to fix the sauce? To use quality cheese?  Domino’s took some snark for what seemed like ‘duh’ moves. But at least they did it.

I applaud Domino’s. This time, they really delivered.

Nov 05

Standing Behind a Brand Promise

Guest Post from Matt Sloustcher, Peppercom

November 5 - gm-logo From government bailouts to bankruptcy, it has been a decidedly tough year for General Motors. Adding insult to injury, the company’s archrival just announced a surprising $1 billion in profits while GM continues to hemorrhage. Even the much anticipated “May the Best Car Win” marketing blitz launched with decidedly mixed reviews.

Amidst all of the muck, a positive story surfaced last week that I hope is a sign of greener pastures to come. It all started during a media conference call with GM’s marketing guru and vice chairman Bob Lutz to discuss the previously mentioned marketing campaign. While lauding the performance of Cadillac’s 556-horsepower CTS-V, Lutz boldly stated that he would challenge anyone in any production sedan to a race around Monticello Raceway.

What followed next probably surprised Lutz. Jalopnik, a popular auto blog, took him up on the challenge, and Lutz accepted. 120 others soon followed, and GM selected three journalists and five laymen to participate in the race. In the end, the 77-year-old Lutz posted the seventh fastest time overall, and the CTS-V took home four of the five fastest lap times with more experienced drivers at the wheel.
In addition to standing firmly behind their word, Lutz and GM earned a ton of respect from enthusiasts for participating in the challenge. Automotive companies are notoriously risk averse, and in this instance, GM put their guard down and let the CTS-V do their talking for them. In the days that followed, I counted 50-plus articles that resulted directly from the challenge.

After the event Lutz commented, “There's enormous attention being paid to this, and if you compare this cost-wise and effectiveness-wise to, say, making a bunch of TV commercials, this is a highly effective way to get the word out about how good the car is. If we sell 50 or 100 of the CTS-V off this, we'd consider it a success."

While I was happy to hear Lutz affirm the value of effective PR and out-of-the-box thinking, I would argue that the event was a success no matter what its effect on sales are. The common perception today is that GM’s best days are long gone, and by simply standing by its word and living up to its brand promise, the company has started to restore the credibility it needs to successfully reinvent itself.

Oct 28

Not delivering on the brand promise

I never cease to be amazed how many organizations still don't 'get' the concept of a brand promise. They don't understand they need to deliver the brand experience they promise in their tagline, positioning and marketing messages.

October 28 - comcast Comcast is a great example of a brand that doesn't deliver on its promise. The huge cable systems operator has been running its 'Comcastic' campaign for years. But, as any Comcast subscriber will tell you, the service (and, in particular, the customer service) is anything but fantastic. It's positively dreadful. A better, more realistic brand promise from Comcast might be: 'ComPoor' or 'ComAwful." A brand shouldn't raise consumers expectations by promising one experience and then delivering another.

New Jersey Transit is my personal bête noir. The local transit system heralds itself as 'the way to go.' Now, anyone who routinely rides NJT's trains will tell you it is anything BUT the way to go. It's a necessary evil that one has to take because alternative solutions are either cost or location prohibitive. NJT trains are habitually late, staffed by rude or indifferent conductors and feature restrooms that are definitely NOT the way (or place) to go.

I originally suggested the powers that be at NJT supplant 'The way to go' with 'Just train bad.' I think they may not have understood my purposeful double entendre and ignored it. So, instead, I'm suggesting NJT adopt a shorter, more direct brand promise that perfectly manages expectations and can be delivered every single day. I'm calling it: 'expect less.'

I love 'expect less.' It works in every conceivable way. In fact, I've actually adopted 'expect less' as my personal, tongue-in-cheek brand promise for my upcoming year as chairman of the College of Charleston advisory board. 

Speaking of the CofC, Tom Martin, executive-in-residence at the College of Charleston (and one of the all-time great Peppercom clients, btw) recently created a classic brand promise slide you should check out.

Download Brand and Reputation

It lists what brands say about themselves and what we, as consumers, really think about them. It's worth a gander.

Oct 22

Holy brand extension!

October 22 - Pope-Benedict-XVI How about Pope Benedict XVI's bold and brash end run on the Anglican Church and the archbishop of Canterbury? In case you missed it, the Pope just made a special offer to Anglicans who had grown disaffected with that church's decidedly liberal stance on female priests and openly gay bishops by extending membership in the one, true Church (as the nuns used to like to say).

From a brand extension perspective, the Pope made a very cagey move. Church membership is rapidly eroding, especially in First World countries. So, deciding that the best defense is a good offense, Pope Benedict tries to take market share away from a weaker sibling: the Anglican church. Talk about Machiavellian!

This was front page news in the U.S. However, RepMan Freelance Correspondent Carl "Union Jack" Foster says it barely caused a ripple across the pond. "In a country where the Head of the Church of England is also the Head of State, Britain is a decidedly non-religious place. Coverage of the Pope's move has been reported but it isn't riding high. Look at the homepages of the major newspaper websites and you won't find the story. I presume stories about swine flu vaccinations, postal strikes and celebrity fashion slips are more newsworthy because they got more clicks."

Blasé Brits aside, I find the Pope's move disturbing from a number of image and reputation standpoints:

– By inviting the far right wing conservative branch of the Anglican Church to join the RCC, he has, de facto, moved the latter's philosophy even further right.
– By becoming ever more conservative, the Church is being anything but 'Catholic' and, rather, re-positioning itself in a neo-conservative box that will surely hamper future recruiting efforts for priests, nuns and, of course, congregants.

Brand building depends upon authenticity and transparency. The Church's original mission embraced piety, humility and an openness to all views and perspectives. Clearly, something went awry along the way. In fact, I think Sarah Silverman's recent suggestion that the Pope sell the Vatican and end world hunger with the proceeds makes more sense than the Anglican brand extension (Note: This video contains R-rated material).

Having laid siege to disaffected Anglicans, what religion is next in Pope Benedict's brand extension campaign? Today Anglicans. Tomorrow the world!

Oct 20

What works in Jacksonville may not in Jakarta

October 20 As if marketers don't have enough to worry about, a new blog series run by PepperDigital and Upstream Asia says successful social media campaigns need to resonate with the unique wants and needs of every culture and subculture around the world.

Bottom-line: a one size fits all strategy won't fly. The McDonald's online campaign that drives consumers to stores in Clarksville will probably be a turn-off in Copenhagen (although the Mickey D fish sticks will probably still be big sellers above the Arctic Circle).

The series tracks the rise of subcultures across the globe who, while they may be separated by several oceans, share a common affinity for, say, obscure Norwegian rock music. At the same time, though, those very same affinity groups will have wildly diverging tastes in other areas. So, while savvy marketers may be able to engage with a wide mix of, say, Vietnamese, American and Tanzanian fans of the Norwegian grunge band Lars and the Golden Geese, they need to tread lightly when introducing a second topic to the same group.

The same 'new norm' holds true within borders as well. The discussion that might build buzz in Paris’ fifth arrondissement could be found objectionable in Les cites of Marseilles.

It's a mixed-up world in which we live. This new series proves the old adage that marketers need to walk before they run, especially when it comes to engaging in social media. The land rush mentality to embrace social media we've seen by many U.S. organizations will fail miserably if they extend across borders without taking the time to stop and listen. Listening is, in fact, the single best piece of advice suggested by the series.

'Think global, act local,' is a smart admonition for any traditional marketer seeking to extend its brand beyond its borders. Based upon this new series, it holds doubly true for social media and should be extended to included subcultures and affinity groups.

Oct 19

Too much of anything….

October 19 - information-overload
I think most Democrats and Republicans alike would agree we see far too much of President Obama. He’s here. He’s there. He’s everywhere. As a result, voters tend to suffer from Obama Fatigue. I simply don’t want to see the guy anymore.

Too much of anything is a bad thing, especially for a brand. Case in point: I’m on the e-mail distribution of a certain law firm. Back in the good old, snail mail days, I looked forward to receiving their timely, thought provoking tips, trends and analysis reports.

Now, though, I’m continually bombarded by this very same firm. I must receive a new thought leadership article at least once a week, if not more. At times, I equate the law firm to the Allied invasion fleet and me as the defending German Army hunkering down on the beaches of Normandy as yet another salvo speeds my way.

It’s a shame, because I’m sure the content is relevant and important. But, in an information overload world, too much is, well, too much. I think it’s important for any and all communications to strike the proper balance between ‘just enough’ and Obama Fatigue. As for the law firm’s missives and me, I’ve adopted a Pavlovian response. As soon as I see the incoming article, I reach for the keyboard and hit ‘delete.’

Marketers should be constantly gauging the impact of their communications programs. It’s easy to do and will enable the organization to dial back the frequency and intensity of their outreach. To do otherwise is to court the bane of any communications program: indifference.

Oct 09

A miniature statue of a 5th Century Greek boy? Sure. It’s right by gate 124.

Met I've seen some questionable business decisions in my life, but none quite as perplexing as the sight of a Metropolitan Museum of Art Store right smack in the middle of Terminal C at Newark's Liberty International Airport.

The store features everything from Egyptian cat bookmarks (now there's a perfect stocking stuffer) to busts and miniatures of ancient heroes ('Honey, let's pick up that figurine of Herodotus before we board.'). There are also books on Cleopatra and 2010 calendars featuring the works of Monet and Winslow Homer.

And, of course, the store is completely deserted.

I like to think I appreciate finer things in life and I really enjoyed strolling through the Classic artifacts and facsimiles thereof. But, an art store at Newark? That's like having a Bentley dealership in South Central L.A. It's laudable, but makes no sense whatsoever from an image, reputation or target audience standpoint.

The average Newark Airport visitor appears to be harried, hurried and much more interested in a quick Sbarro pizza slice than a Degas pastel of some South Sea island.

I'm not sure what Met executive made the daffy decision to situate a high-end boutique in the midst of a déclassé thoroughfare like Terminal C, but I'm guessing his or her career will soon be experiencing its own version of 476 AD.

Oct 01

What do you get when you mix an old white guy with a beaten down brand? GM’s new ad campaign

October 1

Have you seen the new TV spots from the 'new' General Motors that feature the 'new' CEO Ed Whitacre? They're just dreadful and reinforce the brand's image as yesterday's car for yesterday's consumer.

The spots sport a robotic Whitacre walking around the empty hallways of GM's corporate headquarters and extolling the virtues of the new, lean and mean General Motors. Whitacre ends the commercials by laying down the gauntlet to GM's competitors and declaring, “May the best car win.”


I know people who work with GM today and who have worked with them in the past. There's a pervasive 'not invented here' mentality that permeates the company and its marketing strategy (if you can call it that). The corporate hierarchy continues to espouse inside-out, top-down sales and marketing that fails miserably at connecting with consumers. The Whitacre campaign is just the latest example. It features the wrong man saying the wrong things at the wrong time.

I won't buy a GM car. Period. In fact, the only way I'd even consider one is if I saw someone I knew and trusted sitting behind the wheel. I'd want to know that the quality and service issues had been fixed and that the ride, design and style at least approximated what I get from the European and Japanese models. Even after all that, though, there's nothing a GM salesman could ever do to get me to purchase one.

Seeing a doddering, out-of-touch old man meandering through the lonely offices of a battered brand is a huge turnoff that would be laughable if it weren't so sad.

Who comes up with this stuff? Mr. Goodwrench?

As for the better car winning, it already has. And, GM's continually-shrinking market share is the best indicator that Toyota, Honda, BMW and others have long ago put GM in their collective rear view mirrors.

Sep 21

Survey Says: Paul Is Still the Cute One

By Guest Blogger, Julie Farin ( http://twitter.com/JulieFarin) PR pro and Beatlemaniac – not necessarily in that order.


Who is your favorite Beatle?  That seems like a question one might have been asked on February 10, 1964, the day after the four lads from Liverpool first performed on The Ed Sullivan Show to more than 70 million viewers across America, officially pulling the trigger on The British Invasion. 

But with months of multimedia marketing leading up to the 09/09/09 release of The Beatles Rock Band video game along with the release of digitally remastered “boxed sets” of the Fab 4’s historic music catalogue, it seems like just about everyone is climbing aboard the Beatlemania Reloaded bandwagon.

It comes as no surprise that Zogby International recently decided to poll Americans and ask them which of the Mop Tops – John, Paul, George or Ringo – they like best. “Paul was always more popular than the rest of us,” John Lennon once told Tom Snyder in a 1975 interview.  Well, Lennon would not be surprised to learn that Sir Paul McCartney continues his 45-year reign as the most popular Beatle with 27 percent naming him their favorite, Lennon taking a distant second at 16 percent, George Harrison coming in a dark horse at 10 percent, and Ringo Starr an even darker one at 9 percent.

What surprises me most about this seemingly unscientific survey is the admission that nearly a quarter of those polled said they didn’t even like the Beatles, while three percent said they weren’t familiar enough with the band’s music to make an informed decision.

“It must be the crazy love songs and ‘Yesterday’,” said John Zogby, the CEO of the firm that conducted the poll.  He attributed McCartney’s popularity to his looks (Paul was always considered The Cute One), and his longevity (he’s 67-years old and is still releasing albums and selling out concert tours).  Zogby adds, “Interestingly, John is the main answer for people who never go to church.”  That seems too convenient a statistic to associate with an outspoken man who once infamously proclaimed, “We’re more popular than Jesus” and who also considered himself “basically a Zen pagan.”

It also seems a little unfair to compare the two Beatles who are still living, performing, and releasing albums, with the two who have been dead for many years.  Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me how well McCartney topped this poll.  [Disclosure:  John Lennon has always been my favorite Beatle, and yes, I do go to church and consider myself a spiritual person.] 

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Paul is fab and quite gear after all these years.  In fact, my good friend Michael Starr (no relation to Ringo) has nicknamed me “Lady Macca” because I never miss a McCartney concert when he comes to my town (New York City).  The results of this survey seem as irrelevant and invalid as asking a card-carrying Beatlemaniac to name his or her favorite Beatles song.  That’s “Something” I can never “Imagine” doing.

Sep 15

Hiding The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg

Guest Post from Michael Dresner, CEO, Brand² Squared Licensing

Last week, I ordered a time capsule from Amazon.com which features news articles from the future. Sure enough, on Saturday I got a fresh copy of The New York Times dated June 27, 2099. (Ok, this sounds far-fetched. Bear with me). The Business Section reported a new venture initiated by the great grandchildren of Vera Wang, in honor of her 150th birthday. Wang’s descendants decided to re-launch the brand – with powerful PR support (given the coveted NY Times impression). To commemorate Vera’s contributions to bridal fashion, they were re-introducing Vera Wang bridal gowns. But, in an effort to protect the prestige of the brand, no other product bearing the Vera Wang name would be available. The gowns would only be distributed through verawang.com, or 15 sales representatives. Furthermore, the original patterns that made Vera so successful when she first commenced bridal gown design would not be available. “The patterns remain the most potent symbol of the Vera Wang name,” her great grandchildren said. “Sooner or later we’ll embrace that opportunity.”

September 15 - FabergeEgg Does that sound absurd? Economically naïve? Could Vera’s descendants undermine her accomplishments by creating such a limited context in which to enjoy the brand? I would say yes, resoundingly. Turns out a variation of this future shock is happening today. The House of Faberge – founded in 1842, a purveyor of high-end jewelry and coveted Easter Eggs originally created for the Tsar of Russia – presented its first new line of jewelry in more than 90 years last  week. Consumers can only buy the merchandise from Faberge’s website, or 15 sales reps. And, no plans exist to launch the jewel-encrusted Easter Egg. “Eggs remain the most potent symbol of the house of Faberge,” manager Mark Dunhill said. “Sooner or later we’ll embrace that opportunity.”

Being a connoisseur of brand re-launches, I was hoping for more. The House of Faberge is a regal reflection of personal luxury with a history of making people literally feel like kings and queens. Perhaps the current protectors of the brand could have at least read a page from the Vera Wang business plan. She started in bridal gowns, and ultimately parlayed a design aesthetic and brand name that represents a cross-category solution for brides, before, during and long after the nuptials. Or Louis Vuitton (a brand which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2004). Vuitton started as a luggage and trunk retailer, and now is a symbol for prestige across dozens of personal accessory categories.

Continue reading