Jun 11

There’s dumb, and then there’s GM’s decision to drop the nickname ‘Chevy’


June 11
Every
now and then a corporate marketing decision comes along that is so positively stupefying
that it stops me dead in my tracks. GM's decision to drop the word 'Chevy' in any
and all sales and marketing materials and replace it the more formal
'Chevrolet' is one of those landmark blunders. This is a
train wreck before it even happens. 
Late
Thursday, Chevy tried to clarify their marketing misstep with this video which,
sadly, only further confuses the matter.

Citing
the consistency that other leading brands such as Coke and Apple have employed
in their communications efforts, Alan Batey, GM's VP for Chevy's Sales and
Service and Jim Campbell, Chevy's VP of Marketing, say opting for Chevrolet
will make the brand name more recognizable with consumers. Yeah, sure. And, I
want a pound of whatever drug Messrs, Batey and Campbell are consuming. It has
to be totally mind-altering.

Chevy,
as the
Times article rightly points
out, is an American icon. It's right up there with baseball and apple pie.
People won't stop using it because the brand decided to formalize the name.
Talk about change for the sake of change.

If
Batey and Campbell had their way, FedEx would go back to being called Federal
Express, ARod would go back to being Alex Rodriguez and erstwhile Peppercommer
Stein would revert to Andrew Stein. And, trust me, the latter just isn't going
to happen.

Regardless
of the inanity of their move, the Batey/Campbell dynamic duo will now pour
millions of dollars into a re-branding and re-positioning effort. And, for
what? To get people to say Chevrolet instead of Chevy. That won't happen
either.

Corporate
America never ceases to amaze me. Just when it seems as if smart and
sophisticated marketing campaigns from the likes of OgilvyOne, Crispin and
others are starting to change the way we engage with consumers, something like
dropping the name Chevy comes along.

There's
dumb and dumber. But, this may be dumbest. Period.

May 18

“Hey, honey, forget that weekend in Cape Cod. Let’s take the kids to Alabama!”

I can’t imagine a better tourist destination right now than the pristine beaches of Alabama.
Oil-spill-beach420-420x0 Sure, downtown Baghdad has some great restaurants. And, there’s always the possibility of catching a glimpse of Osama bin Laden in Karachi, Pakistan, but why hassle with foreign intrigue when the Gulf Coast beckons? 

That’s why I’m supporting the Alabama Tourism Department’s brand new, $1.5MM marketing campaign to assure tourists the state’s beaches are clean and open.

I can just imagine the campaign slogans:

-    ‘That’s not oil, silly. Someone just spilled her bottle of sunscreen in the water’
-    ‘Just because our fish are floating face down doesn’t mean they aren’t happy’
-    ‘Alabama’s oil slick waters: the perfect antidote for your arthritic joints’

And, just imagine the added drama of, say, zig-zagging your jet ski in between large oil patches! I could even see ESPN2 covering it as a new type of extreme sport. “Ed, our next contestant is Bunny from La Grange, Illinois. She’ll be attempting to beat Sam from Bowling Green’s time of 2:23 to, and from, what’s left of that oil rig out there on the horizon. And, keep in mind, there must be thousands of dead fish and birds littering her way. This will be a real test indeed. And, the beach crowd is just loving it. Those who haven’t been overcome by the putrid smells are standing and chanting, ‘Bunny! Bunny! Bunny!’”

As for the overall campaign’s theme song? What else but Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water.’

The late P.T. Barnum was credited with saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” But, I have to believe even the most intellectually challenged vacationer in America will be hard pressed to visit Alabama’s beaches in the next few weeks or so. That is, unless BP pulls a real marketing coup and offers to underwrite everyone’s vacation costs. “Hey, Honey, guess what? Those nice people at BP say they’ll pay us three dollars for every one we spend on vacation in Alabama. So what if we develop black lung disease? Think of what this will do for our retirement account.”

May 04

But Today Is Supposed to be MY Day

Guest post by Beth Starkin, Peppercom 


May 4
Today is my birthday (for the record, I like vanilla cupcakes). Call me selfish, but I’ve always thought of my birthday as my very own special day. The one day out of the year where I make the all the decisions, do whatever I want, and no one bothers me. It’s a day all about me.

Alas, we’ve entered the digital age, where it seems everyone wants to co-op my birthday for their own profit. Starting weeks ago, the emails began rolling in. May 4th is coming up (like I’d ever forget – cake and gifts – it’s a big deal to me). We’ve noticed you have bought books by this author before and thought you’d like to know she has a new book coming out on your birthday! Or, Happy Birthday!  Purchase a flight before the end of the month and we’ll give you bonus miles as our gift to you. Or, this year, for your birthday, change your Facebook status to ask your friends to donate to your cause.  

Um, no. It’s not “Stop skinning baby seals for their coats day” (though I will say right now that this is a disgusting practice that needs to end, and it is one of my Facebook causes). It’s MY BIRTHDAY!

This practice of trying to glom on to my celebration, using stored data from past purchases and near and dear causes to get money from me, my friends and my family is intrusive, and, yes, I’ll say it, a bit tacky. If I’m interested in your cause or what you’re trying to sell, I’ll probably be more interested on some other day, at some other time, when I’m not so inwardly focused. Try selling to me then. For today, let me celebrate in peace.

Apr 19

The Final Frontier

Guest Post by Melissa Vigue, Peppercommotions

April 19 Last week I received an email from WSJON – the Wall Street Journal’s Office Network. The offer stated that I, on behalf of my clients, could reach thousands of young, affluent professionals in the one place we spend the most time – the office. 

The premise is this: Brands can engage potential consumers via “experiential marketing” (think samples and live demos) in hundreds of office complexes nationwide. Sounds great, right?  As someone who executes brand experiences and a real believer in forging a connection with consumers, my gut says, “Yes, another opportunity for our clients.” 

As a consumer and a commuter who is hawked everything from haircuts to handbags on her way to the office, I‘m not so sure. Hitting that lobby, waving to the doorman and racing to the elevator are a delicately choreographed dance and, frankly, one of the last places where I want to be solicited.

Do I have time, or more importantly the desire, to stop and try a sample or hear more about this great new {insert product here}? Keep in mind; this is coming from a New Yorker. For those who commute here, you know what I mean. Is this different outside of major cities? Would suburban corporate parks be more receptive? Maybe.

In my opinion, marketers can’t go wrong with food, beverages or technology and services (think dry cleaning delivery) that can make my life easier. The risk is putting a brand’s reputation on the line to engage consumers in a new way. If I am approached in such a way that leaves a bad taste in my mouth (pun intended), I am much more likely to talk, blog, or Facebook about that experience. 

Whatever your take on this new – or final – experiential frontier, it will be interesting to see how it plays out, both for marketers and consumers.

Apr 06

There’s nothing thick about this brick

It's rare to find an advertising agency that does a superior job of marketing itself. The Martin Single-brick Agency is one notable exception. It's rarer still to find an ad agency that believes advertising exists to sell a client's wares. Most creative directors (and, trust me, I've known my share) think they're the second coming of Billy Wilder, John Ford or Alfred Hitchcock, and look to print and broadcast as a means to express their inner Spielberg and, critically, win awards. Client sales be damned.

That's what makes the new OgilvyOne 'World's Greatest Salesperson' campaign a home run in this agency marketer cum blogger's book. Its genius lies in its simultaneous simplicity, call to action and return to the agency's roots (no mean feat accomplishing those three goals in one fell swoop).

The campaign is actually a 15-country contest to find and reward the world's greatest salesperson. The challenge: use a specially branded channel on YouTube, along with Twitter, Facebook and other social media to sell a red brick. Yes, a red brick. The most creative campaign creator wins a three-month internship at OgilvyOne.

Apart from simply being clever as hell, the campaign returns the agency to its founder's core concepts: Ad legend David Ogilvy always believed advertising existed to sell products, not win awards.

I'm a huge proponent of agency marketing and chafed when my long-gone (but clearly not forgotten) Brouillard CEO told me it was a total waste of time. “Clients want us focused on doing their work. That's how we charge premium rates,” he'd sniff. He was all about charging premium rates and always positioned the now defunct firm as the 'Tiffany's of advertising.' A noble aspiration to be sure but, ultimately a doomed one since no one knew who the hell we were because we never marketed ourselves.

I'm of the opinion that clients and prospects hire agencies who understand how to differentiate and market their own services. In fact, I've often heard Peppercom clients say that our agency first attracted their attention through our thought leadership on a relevant subject. 'Why hire an agency to market for me if they can't do it for themselves?' clients would ask rhetorically. And yet most agencies can't, or won't.

We're one of the few PR firms that believes in aggressive agency marketing. It's stood us in good stead and we'll continue to invest the time and resources to drive it forward.

I'd like to think it takes a good marketer to recognize a great one. So, here's a tip of the cap to the OgilvyOne greatest salesperson contest. I love it. And, I have to believe the late David Ogilvy shares my feeling and is smiling down from that great sales convention in the sky. Always be closing, David. ABC.

Apr 01

Just call me the Mr. Blackwell of Corporate Icons

April 1 Remember the late Mr. Blackwell? The man who made tons of money and received oodles of publicity for publishing an annual list of Hollywood's best and worst-dressed celebrities? Well, I've decided it's high time the world of  had its own best and worst lists.

But, before unveiling who made my list, I think it's important you first understand my motivation.

Corporate icons exist for a reason. They personify a brand's essence and, de facto, an organization's values. Whether their creators agree or not, I believe icons send a very direct message to anyone and everyone who comes into contact with them. That's why I wrote in yesterday's blog that Ronald McDonald has done incalculable harm. Why? Because kids love the loveable clown and the loveable clown gets kids to love his calorie-laden Big Macs and fries.

In light of America's obesity problem, I think every major corporation should take a second look at its icon to see if the tiger, cow or panther in question might be sending a subliminal message that obesity is A-OK.

So, with that criteria in mind, it's time to unveil Mr. RepMan's fittest and least fit corporate icons.

Fittest icons……

1.) Mr. Clean. The man has been jacked from day one. You may think he's ingesting steroids and that Mr. Clean is actually the A-Rod of kitchen cleaning. No way. Juicing didn't exist when this bald buffed boy toy made his debut way back when.
2.) The Jolly Green Giant. This fella could start for any NBA team. He's tall, lean and muscular. And, you've got to believe his diet is rife with beans, peas, and other good stuff. No wonder he's so jolly. The man's high on life.
3.) Brawny. The name speaks for itself. Well done, B.
4.) Tony the Tiger. You look ggggggreat!
5.) The Marlboro Man. So what if the guy was filling his lungs with deadly carcinogens, he looked great doing it.

And, now Mr. RepMan's least fit corporate icons……

1.) The Michelin Man. This guy's had serious middle age spread from day one and has never made any effort to lose the spare tire. Get on a treadmill, Michelin Man!
2.) The Pillsbury Dough Boy. Talk about a heart attack waiting to happen. This icon's clogged arteries have clogs. Has he not heard of gastric bypass surgery? It's 'Just do it,' not 'Just dough it.'
3.) Aunt Jemima. I understand it's tough when your life consists of waffles, pancakes and syrup, but think about inserting some fruit in your diet, Jemima.
4.) The Kool-Aid Man. The man sells empty calories and smiles about it all day long? C'mon. where's the accountability?
5.) Elsie the Cow. Moo is no longer cool. Even cows can stand to lose a little weight. I'd like to see some more muscle definition, Elsie.

That's Mr. RepMan's list. Thoughts? Comments? Observations? Bueller?

Mar 31

The trial of Ronald McDonald

March 31 A coalition of health care professionals, parents and corporate accountability advocates are calling for the retirement of fast-food icon, Ronald McDonald. The coalition, Corporate Accountability International, plans to hold ‘retirement parties’ for good ol’ Ronald at various McDonald’s restaurants and college campuses. They believe the clownish icon is a huge cause of our nation’s obesity problems. And, I agree. I think retiring Ronald is a cool idea. But, it doesn’t go far enough.

In my mind, Ronald McDonald is a cartoon criminal, responsible for causing much of America’s obesity problem (I’m sure there’s a direct correlation between the growth of the McDonald’s chain since the 1950s and America’s expanding waistline). In fact, I think Ronald McDonald should go on trial for his crimes against humanity.

I believe a smart district attorney could put together a fool-proof case for the jury’s consideration. And, here’s how I envision the cross examination:

D.A.: “Mr. McDonald, your corporation is serving billions of Big Macs daily. How many calories a day do you think that adds up to? Trillions? Zillions?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. I don’t make the hamburgers, Mr. District Attorney. I just bring happiness to people’s lives.”

D.A.: “Nice. How many morbidly obese people do you think are happy, Mr. McDonald?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. I see lots of happy, rolly polly people every day, Mr. District Attorney.”

D.A.: “I’ll bet you do. Your honor, if it pleases the court, I’d like to enter into evidence this MRI photograph of severe arterial blockage. It was taken of a lifelong devotee of McDonald’s hamburgers who recently died of a massive heart attack. Mr. McDonald: how does that make you feel?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. Hungry, Mr. District Attorney. Hungry. That picture looks like one of my super-sized Macs. Kids just love ‘em to death.”

D.A.: “You mean they love them until they’re killed by them, is that what you’re saying Mr. McDonald?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. I’m just the Chief Happiness Officer of McDonald’s, Mr. District Attorney. You’d have to ask someone else about death. That’s a real downer.”

D.A.: “No further questions, your honor.”

Judge: “You’re free to step down, Mr. McDonald.”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. Thanks your honor. That was fun.”

Judge: “You may not think so when the jury returns a guilty verdict, Mr. McDonald.”

Mar 23

A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon

March 23 Ever since writing the very first RepMan blog back in 2006, I’ve been trying to find a good fit for my favorite Pink Floyd lyric, ‘A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon.’

And, while I’ve never been quite understood the lyric’s context within ‘Comfortably Numb,’ I’ve always found it incredibly evocative (and, can actually visualize that ship sailing on the horizon trailing a plume of smoke in its wake).

So, here’s the link. I’m starting to see just the faintest hint of an economic turnaround. A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon, if you will. 

The initial harbinger was a robust two or three week’s worth of new accounts and new business prospects at my favorite PR firm. Yay!

The second was the hustle and bustle at the good old Lincroft Inn on an otherwise quiet weekday night. Virgil, the ever-affable bartender, confirmed that he, too, has been noticing a definite uptick in midweek elbow benders.

The big breakthrough, though, came today at Boom, my local Park Avenue fitness club. There, in the men’s locker room, I spied Q-Tips. This is a very big deal. Those damn Q-Tips have been noticeably absent since the market meltdown in mid-September of 2008.

Q-Tips are important to me. They form part of my daily hygiene program. And, based upon the brand’s longevity, I would suspect they play a role in many others’ wellness programs. In fact, in their heyday at the pre-market meltdown Boom, Q-Tips disappeared faster than one could say Bear Stearns. So, for me, a Q-Tips free locker room has been a depressing, if not unhealthy, thing.Curious about the big, and unexpected, Q-Tips comeback, I asked the guy at the front desk what was up. He shrugged his shoulders. The fitness trainers were equally clueless. The locker room attendant finally gave me the inside scoop. The Mt. Sinai Medical Center is apparently donating coffee cups filled with Q-Tips to all the fitness clubs in the area. Ah ha. Smart marketing, no?

So, while the Q-Tips may or may not be a distant ship’s smoke on the horizon, might they still be considered a harbinger of better times? Mt. Sinai clearly had the marketing money for the little white wonder sticks.

If not a harbinger of better times, maybe the prodigal Q-Tips at least signal the end of bad times. The latter thought enables me to inject one of my favorite Winston Churchill comments as well. Speaking about his country’s victory at El Alamein, Churchill said, ‘This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. Though it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ Here’s hoping those Q-Tips mark the end of the beginning as well.

Feb 18

We Suck…but we’re working on it

Guest Post by Sam Gordon, Peppercom

February 18 - domino-pizzaLast month Domino’s Pizza started their Pizza Turnaround campaign, telling consumers that Domino’s has heard the complaints regarding their pizza and is responding. As I’m sure you’ve seen, Domino’s takes its campaign farther than simply advertising a new pizza. It displays real customers’ most negative tweets and comments with actual Domino’s chefs reacting to them.

I, for one, thought this was genius and audibly gave the ad a wow the first time I saw it. One of the rare times a company actually admits its mistakes (before a giant recall or government takeover) and makes a commitment to correct the course.

Knowing I had the money back guarantee in my back pocket if it was a train wreck, I picked up the phone and ordered two mediums for the first time in six years, i.e. college.

The result: eh.

Better? From what I recall of their pizza, yeah, it’s better – especially the crust. But I’m still not a fan of their pizza.

Here is what I am a fan of though: 

After my pizza experience, I took ten minutes and gave feedback on their corporate site. I received no immediate reply and thought I suppose those comments went into a database and will be ignored, or they’ll just cut me a check or perhaps they are planning to film a surprise visit to me with free pizza and use it for their next commercial?!

Actually, the last was not far off. A week later I received a phone call from the local Domino’s franchise owner. After apologizing for the delay, she offered me a full refund, but said that she would love the chance to change my mind by sending my entire office pizza that day for lunch. She was confident if I tried a few options that I would enjoy Domino’s Pizza.

Impressed with the personal touch, I was game to try and have my mind changed. She ended up sending my office five pizzas and happily accepted everyone’s feedback, the positive (there was more than I expected) and the negative.

To me, this is the impressive part of Domino’s campaign.

Not only is the company taking a chance and displaying some vulnerability (my ex girlfriend would be so proud), but they are backing up their marketing efforts with good old-fashioned customer service and moderately improved pizza.

This campaign made me wonder why more companies don’t take such bold measures as to admit there might, just might be something they can fix with their product (I’m looking at you AT&T Wireless Coverage, United Airlines and Star Wars Episodes I, II and III).

Sure, after our office pizza party I still really didn’t love Domino’s pizza, but here’s what happened when I told the franchise owner that. She offered to have me come into the store and taste all of the different options they have. She’s still confident I will find something I like – I’m going in this week.

I suppose the reason that more companies don’t take such bold measures is because they are unwilling to follow them up with bold actions. Bravo Domino’s for trying.

Feb 03

What would you do?

Ad Age just ran a fascinating article about the industry's 'most toxic' clients. According to 'unnamed' advertising search consultants (Don't you just love that they won't go on record? What is this, Watergate?), there are several brands that are positively notorious for churning their agencies. They incFebruary 3 - logoslude:

 - Chipotle (which has had something like 30 agencies in five years)

– Quiznos (we had a small project this past Summer and really enjoyed the working relationship. Go figure.)

– 1-800-Flowers

Ad Age suggests the churn is caused by a constant turnover at the CMO level. That sounds right. I'd suggest, though, that the CMO churn is precipitated by constant change at the organization's CEO level. One begets the other (I love Biblical speak).

We've fallen prey to three recent CMO churns, losing an existing relationship in each case.

The whole sorry and sordid mess got me thinking. What would I do if I were a newly-minted CMO at a Fortune 500 organization? Would I:

A) Alert the incumbent firm(s) that they're dead meat and have 60 days to wrap things up? Like Nick Lowe, I believe it's cruel to be kind.

B) Put the account up for review, but assure the incumbent CEO that his firm has the best chance of winning? I fell for that line.

C) Tell the incumbent it has one chance to defend the business before you'll put the account up for review. Then, hold the meeting, tell the incumbent they've addressed your concerns and fire them regardless immediately after the new year? That one just happened. Nice, no?

I, personally, would go with option one. As a newly-minted CMO, I'd want to be surrounded by people I've worked with in the past, not vestiges of a predecessor's regime. That said, I'd call the agency CEO, tell him or her that I respect their work, but was making a change. It's the only humane thing to do.

One new top kick at a Fortune 500 company called our account team together this past Fall, lauded our efforts, said his direct report raved about us and even told us he'd like to expand the relationship. In the process, he asked for no fewer than four separate proposals on how we'd do just that. We were psyched to say the least. Then, we heard absolutely nothing for 30 days.

His lieutenant (the one who'd supposedly praised us in absentia) finally sent me a note, asking for dinner and commenting that it had been 'too long' since we'd last broken bread. We met and, after telling me about his son's soccer team, said, 'Steve, it's time to dial down the relationship.'

Advertising has its toxic brands. PR should have the same. The group I just mentioned would top my list. Have any toxic client churn stories you'd like to share? I find it quite cathartic.