Feb 01

The color purple

Can an organization 'own' a color? By own, I mean, can an organization's corporate color elicit an emotional connection with a consumer that will immediately stimulate endorphins in the brain and make said consumer think good thoughts about the entity?

February 1 - image There are definitely some examples where it's worked to a degree:

UPS has done an extraordinarily good job of associating an otherwise yucky color, brown, with dependability (that said, I never understood how or why the UPS delivery guys in their ugly brown shorts became short-lived sex symbols).

– Lance Armstrong and Livestrong certainly 'own' the yellow wrist band. It elicits a near universal response. But, I don't think of Livestrong when I see the color yellow anywhere else.

– The great Oakland Raiders teams of the 1970s and '80s 'owned' silver and black, and tied it directly to their harsh, ferocious and, some would say, cheap shot brand of football. The silver and black inspired genuine fear.

– That nauseating Pepto-Bismol pink is unlike anything else I've ever seen and immediately stimulates a nasty, Pavlovian response in this blogger. I detest that particular shade of pink, but would argue that Pepto does, indeed, own it (and, they're welcome to it as far as I'm concerned).

Enterprise Rental Cars has done a superior job of branding their emerald green color. But, when I happen to see the color, do I stop and think, 'Dandy has to get me an Enterprise rental car the next time I travel'? Nope.

The reason I ask the color question stems from a rather bizarre conversation with a very bizarre company about a year or so ago.

We were running from one background session to another as we ramped up our knowledge of the brand and its intricacies. In one of these meetings, we were greeted by an in-house brand ambassador. He sat us down and began a serious Power Point presentation all about the color purple. He told us the color's origins (even I knew it was created by mixing red and blue). He told us when the first businesses started adopting the color in their logos and, critically, what companies were using purple today. The big take away? This organization had a 'white space' or 'blue ocean' (choose your color metaphor) opportunity to own purple.

The brand ambassador walked us through his purple implementation plan and showed how, in a very short time, the organization would become absolutely synonymous with the color. The internal PR team feigned faux enthusiasm for the 'idea' and asked us how the business-to-business media would respond to the 'story.'

We stifled a collective sigh, agreed that an Ad Age or AdWeek might find it mildly amusing, but said that non-trade press would laugh and hang up their phones in a nanosecond if we suggested this was a story worth covering.

Needless to say, the color purple idea (like most within this chaotic organization) died on the vine. I do think, though, the very same organization could own chaos.

I'm not sure if there's a color associated with chaos but, if so, I'd suggest an immediate Pantone change. The color of chaos would definitely create an emotional connection with this organization's target audience.

Nov 20

The History Channel is finally delivering on its original brand promise

November 20 - HistoryChannelTV Like its siblings in the Discovery Channel programming stable, The History Channel has badly lost its way of late. Rather than broadcasting historical programs that subject matter buffs like me covet, the network has focused instead on such garbage as the travails of Alaska ice truckers and tabloid shows on Nostradamus and his ersatz predictions.

Lately, though, The History Channel has been delivering on its original brand promise: historical programming that provides a unique perspective on the past. Its new series, 'WWII in HD' is world class. It combines the best elements of a Ken Burns PBS documentary with a color version of the legendary 'Victory at sea' to provide an amazing, new look at 'the greatest generation' and its incredible victory against the Axis Forces.

The History Channel has lined up a number of actors (i.e. Rob Lowe) to provide the voiceover narration of real life, if little-known, WWII heroes.

It's absolutely mesmerizing, has stopped me in my usual viewing tracks and led me to hope and pray that the cable network has abandoned its current, mediocre fare and committed itself, instead, to provide higher quality content.

I'm not sure why Discovery, TLC and The History Channel lost their respective mojos but, knowing business as well as I do, I have to believe it was conceived by some hotshot programming whiz kid. I'll bet the kid failed and has been replaced by a new executive who has been charged with righting the badly listing ship.

So, here's a note to The History Channel's new programming honcho: whoever who you are, and whatever you're doing, keep it coming. I adored the 'original' History Channel, dropped you when you lost your way and am now prepared to give you a great, big, welcome back, man hug.

Apr 09

We have no intention of becoming PR’s version of the Packard

Al Ries, marketing, branding and positioning guru
extraordinaire, has penned a most fascinating opinion piece in a recent Ad Age. April 9 - Packard

The Ries piece (I couldn't resist) warns such marketers as
Starbucks and Cadillac to stop cheapening their brand before it's too late.
Ries says the long lost Packard automobile did just that and died as a result.

Prior to The Great Depression, says Ries, Packard totally
dominated the U.S.
luxury car market. In fact, Cadillac was little more than a distant blip in
Packard's rear view mirror. But, when the downturn came, Packard developed a
much lower cost alternative. The cars sold well. But, when the economy
rebounded, newly affluent Americans went with Cadillac, which had remained true
to its high-priced, high-quality roots throughout the Depression. Packard never
recovered and eventually disappeared altogether in 1957.

Now, fast forward to today. I see lots of commentary in the
PR and advertising trades from agency leaders who are suggesting that others
follow their lead in cutting billing rates to 'ensure ongoing business and
demonstrate value.' I see other 'leaders' offering 'lite' versions of their
positioning, media training and media relations services or charging $500 per
press release. I think such 'strategies' scream desperation and cheapen an
agency's brand.

I think, instead, we should be providing additional value by
being more creative, getting closer to our clients' customers and helping our
clients fight the good fight when their purchasing, finance or legal
departments suggest wholesale marketing cuts.

Cheapening your brand by lowering your billing rates or
giving away your services in "a la carte" menu style will cause you
huge headaches when the economy rebounds. And good luck convincing your clients
that you deserve a rate increase just because other vendors have increased
theirs.

We all have to endure budget cuts. They're a fact of life.
But offering the PR version of instant coffee a la Starbucks or a Cimarron a la Cadillac is a penny-wise, pound-foolish
strategy. (And Cadillac's mistake of the 1980s was all the more dumbfounding,
considering that it defied the very strategy that made them a big name brand
coming out of the Depression.)

The good times will return. Maintaining one's position as a
high quality service provider during the downturn will ensure a swifter return
to heady profits in the days to come. We, for one, have no interest in
becoming our industry's version of the Packard.

May 21

Product design pros would have loved the Spanish Inquisition

Do you have as much trouble as I do opening some of the space age product packages being made by the P&G’s, Unilevers and others?

Just this morning, I barely missed slicing opening an artery as I vainly tried to gain access to a new Mach packet of Mach III razor blades. These packages are fool-proof, knife-proof and bullet-proof. The packet containing five little containers of dental floss is positively maniacal in its stubborn refusal to be opened and could confound the cagiest bank robber.

Not only are these packets impervious to simple opening techniques, they’re made of some nasty, ragged plastic that, when punctured at long last, lie in wait for the unsuspecting consumer to reach inside and try to extract the desired consumer product.

I’m sure these Fort Knox-like packages were created in response to the Tylenol-type product tampering scares of the 1980s and 1990s. But, c’mon. There has to be a happy medium. What good to me is a new razor blade, box of dental floss or can of shaving cream when I’m howling in pain, and searching for some band-aids to stanch my bleeding? In fact, wouldn’t it be ironic if the Gestapo-like product packaging people decided to encase band-aids in these fool-proof, lethal packets? If they did, then we’d have arrived at the true end of the universe: a product that both caused pain (i.e. Slashing the bejesus out of yourself when opening the packet) and provided the solution (a band-aid to control the bleeding).

It’s madness. Sheer madness. And it does nothing to build product loyalty, either.