The Tom Dougherty Blog
The Southwest Airline brand has its positives, but is lacking in the most important element.
It’s easy to rag on airlines, so let me recognize something positive – to a point.
Southwest Airlines, as you may have seen, has rebranded with a new logo and a new look for its airplanes, and a “heart” position that says the airline cares more than the other airlines.
First, the positives. The look is different than the competition and, based on its promises of low fares and no baggage fees, Southwest may be the only airline capable of taking that “caring” position. (United’s “Friendly Skies” is no longer believable.)
In addition, we live in a time when most of us believe airlines couldn’t care less about its passengers, finding every which way to charge us a new fee and slamming us into tight spaces on the airplane itself. You could argue that the new brand is aligned with that belief.
However. All that is terrific, but the new brand is all about the airline, not about the passengers themselves. It doesn’t say who the Southwest travelers are or why they are different from other travelers.
I suppose you could say that the Southwest traveler is the one that’s cared for, but, by emphasizing what Southwest does, that brand face becomes less emotional.
Also, I’m not so sure the “heart” position really captures what travelers are feeling. We’ve taken a look at the airline industry several times over the last few years and what travelers are feeling is not the desire for the warm and fuzzy. They are angry.
If an airline tapped into that emotion, making the choice of airlines a sign of passenger revolution, that airline would have achieved the right tone and would have superseded the new Southwest brand.
So, I guess, in the end, I’m not all that complimentary of something in the airline industry. Too soft, too banal, and not enough about the angry passenger.
Guess it’s not that different after all.
I have told clients that a single mediocre idea is better than a basketful of great ideas. My point is to stress how important it is for a brand to be single-minded. Find the single most important thing you can say about your brand that causes a change to take place in the target audience. The accent is on single.
I did not say this is easy. Making decisions is one of the hardest parts of my job. As Picasso famously said, “Omission is a creative art”.
Remember Lite Beer from Miller? It started the light beer category but decided it was going to stand for two things. Great taste and less filling. I am betting that the brand’s fall from grace can be directly traced to its desire to mean more than one thing instead of making a decision.
Last night, I saw a new victim fall to the desire to be everything to everyone. Moen, the faucet people. It was advertising the kitchen faucet that turns on and off based upon a motion sensor. You know, a wave of the hand starts and stops the water flow.
Well, Moen sold the hell out of those features and benefits. The spot was well produced (reminded me a bit of Kohler, which was a bit of a shame) but then it ended it with its tag lines. Notice the accent on the plural. “Buy it for looks. Buy it for life.”
Moen can’t decide on the highest emotional intensity. Therefore, neither can we. At the end of the day, the prospect is left feeling the brand lacks confidence in what it means and that means we prefer “The Bold Look of Kohler.” Kohler made a decision and so has the consumer.
Well, maybe Moen can compete on price?
As someone who is proud of his Irish heritage, there’s a part of me that understands why so many Scots are for independence as they vote today whether or not to split from the United Kingdom. The Irish and Scots have always shared a certain brotherhood as the “other” situated next to Britain.
As someone who sees everything through the lens of brand, I understand it even more.
Now, I’m not necessarily advocating for independence because it’s a thorny issue. A vote for independence may prompt economic ruin, many economists say, while the pro-independence supporters say Scotland will be better equipped to take advantage of its oil & gas and tourism revenues without paying the UK taxes.
From what I’ve read, the economic risk is real and that fear is what is driving the anti-independence push. But what’s driving the pro-independence movement is the brand of Scotland, a brand that is powered by pride, authenticity and a longing to reverse the decision of the British social class that voted for the union in the 1700s without Scottish consent. (Read an article on branding in nation building here)
Think about this. The rational side says that Scotland should vote to keep the union. Therefore, to vote for independence, you may be voting against your own best interests.
No matter how the vote turns out today, even a close vote will demonstrate the power of a brand. A vote for independence is practically the definition of a powerful brand: You will inconvenience yourself to be a part of it because the brand is a natural reflection of your own sense of self.
If companies would only develop brands that powerful, then they would steal market share because a large portion of consumers would be unable to pick another product. It would be emotional suicide to go against their personal brand.
Brand can change history.
We’re only into week 2 of the NFL season and the NFL is reeling from a series of events that it either failed to acknowledge in the first place, was incompetent to investigate, or simply did not think mattered enough to properly act upon. But the reality of the situation is that this is nothing new. Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson are just the latest players in trouble in a league with a history of looking the other way.
The third case on the radar concerns Carolina’s Greg Hardy, which exemplifies the league looking the other way. Hardy was convicted on domestic assault chargers by a judge earlier this year but the NFL is not imposing any sanctions until his jury appeal later this year.
We can go back to 2000 when Ray Lewis was charged with murder, later plea-bargained to obstruction of justice and was fined $250,000, the largest fine ever imposed for a non-substance abuse infraction, but pocket change to a player like Lewis. He was never suspended.
The NFL may think it has an image or PR problem but I don’t think many thought it had a brand problem – at least until late yesterday.
Anheuser-Bush sent a letter to the NFL stating its displeasure with the way the NFL has handled these most recent events. It reads:
“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.”
Anheuser-Bush spends more than $200 million a year with the NFL. McDonalds and Campbell’s Soup have also voiced their concerns, and Nike announced today it is suspending Peterson from endorsing its products.
The NFL has a serious problem.
A brand is certainly about what a company represents and stands for all in the context of those who use it, but more importantly it should be a reflection of those who consume the brand. The public outrage by itself demonstrates that the NFL brand (or “the Shield,” as commissioner Roger Goodell tells it) is failing.
Anheuser-Bush, McDonalds, Campbell’s and the rest know that when they advertise, their brands are always seen in the context of the medium it is presented in. That is, the NFL.
They now see the potential for their brands to be negatively affected by the NFL’s brand and are proactively addressing them by hitting the NFL where it hurts the worst, its wallet and the threat to pull out altogether.
The NFL’s brand seems to be more about protecting revenues than doing the right thing, which is why we have all the uproar, the NFL is being far too reactive in dealing with the issues.
And yet again, the NFL will react to Anheuser-Bush, not because it is the right thing to do, but it is the right move financially. The brand of the NFL needs to do better than that.
I’m a little taken back by Urban Outfitters desperate cries for attention.
In case you missed the story this week, the retail chain has apologized for a tastelessly designed sweatshirt that it had recently offered online. The shirt, which featured a vintage Kent State University logo splattered in faux blood stains and gunshot wounds (a deplorable reference to the Kent State massacre of 1970), has been hotly criticized — as it should be.
Come now, the folks at Urban Outfitters didn’t realize the shirt was in poor taste when it offered it? Give me a break.
Rightly so, the design has drawn the ire of the National Guard, as well as survivors of the shooting, and Kent State officials, who stated: “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.” I couldn’t agree more.
I’ve always been skeptical of the notion that any press is good press. The example here is simply classless and crosses an ethical line, and only paints Urban Outfitters as being careless.
What’s more, the selling of said shirt indicates that Urban Outfitters believes its target audience is both out of touch and self-absorbed. Oh, the irony that exists in that.
Just consider how wrong this sweatshirt is.
It’s just as bad as a blood stained Columbine High school shirt.
It’s just as horrible as one with a Sandy Hook Elementary logo.
In fact, anything like this is simply unacceptable. I’d be ashamed if I were you Urban Outfitters.
Adapting to change is the precursor to success, an adage that many retailers fail to understand. When we took a look at the retail industry, we found that many lost retailers that were hanging on to old business models and advertising with excepted messaging. There was little new and fresh happening.
That’s why the news of RadioShack filing bankruptcy is no surprise, nor is its attempt to raise cash to close more stores (it costs money on the front end to close stores). Basically, RadioShack is going the way of Borders, Circuit City, Coldwater Creek and so many other retailers that die a confused, painful death.
Because they did not adapt to change.
We’ve talked about Radio Shack before and our basic thrust about its failure wasn’t just in the tiny offerings the retailer offered or even about it failing to identify what it was. (Lately, it’s been in the business of selling cheap phones.) It failed to adjust on a brand level to change.
As you might remember, Radio Shack at one point attempted to be known as the “The Shack.” Well, it flopped, of course, because it was the retailer only being half-pregnant with its rebranding effort. It was trying hang on to what it mistakenly thought was a brand equity while attempting to be cool and hip for a new generation. After all, it thought, if the term “radio” was holding it back, let’s just get rid of it.
Instead, RadioShack should have gone all in and completely transformed itself, knowing the landscape had completely changed. It could have tried to understand what the electronics buyer (like me) wanted and aspired to be. Instead, it stood in its tracks, with only a tentative step forward. That was exactly the same strategy Circuit City and Borders took.
They are gone now.
So, retailers, even those in clothing, you are living in a changing climate where you can become irrelevant in a matter of months. Abercrombie & Fitch, one of the “hip” brands of yesteryear, is struggling and going with gimmicks (like its “no logo” approach). The discount stores are consolidating and the big box retailers are all failing at the knee of Walmart.
It’s not that difficult. You need to accept that change is happening and make the honest and brave decisions to change as well.
The NFL and the Baltimore Ravens got things right yesterday – but it sure took long enough and there are still enough questions left unanswered to prevent you from holding both up as pillars of the moral code.
If you’re a fan at all of professional football, you probably knew about Ray Rice’s suspension.
But if you’re not aware of the news, here’s the gist:
Ray Rice, a running back for the Ravens, earned a paltry two-game suspension at the start of the NFL season for assaulting his then fiancee, Janay Palmer. Most were up in arms about Rice’s seemingly short punishment, and even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell admitted later that he blew it with the short suspension. A few weeks after handing down that punishment, the NFL increased the suspensions for domestic abuse.
Then came Monday. TMZ Sports released footage of the abusive incident that occurred in an Atlantic City hotel elevator. The film, which was recorded on a security camera inside the elevator, shows Rice punching his Palmer with such severity that she went airborne, hit her head on the handrail, and was knocked cold for several minutes.
Here’s the footage.
Following the release of the footage, the Ravens cut Rice from the team and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.
Those were the right moves, but did the NFL and the Ravens see the footage earlier? Both claimed they hadn’t until the rest of us saw it, but I’m doubtful. Some reports have suggested that both parties had seen the tape when the original two-game suspension was handed down.
Even so, what did they think went on in the elevator? A game of patty cake? We didn’t even need the elevator tape when the outside security camera caught Rice dragging his fiancee through the elevator doors.
We’ve given too much rope to professional athletes. Like teachers, an athlete’s job is to perform, but to also recognize their inspirational hold on others. It’s why we can’t allow incidents like this with Rice to go unpunished or be brushed aside. Our world needs better.
For the NFL and the Ravens, I think this was a case of both wanting the story to be swept away and got caught with the broom in their hands. So the next time either claims to have high, moral standards, I’m going to be skeptical.
The fact that a few of the leading for-profit universities are seeing their stock prices rise may seem like good news, but a deeper look demonstrates that most are heading down the wrong, well-worn path.
For example, Strayer’s shares have risen 75% over the last year, the first bounce it’s seen in five years. In that span, the price had dropped 70%.
But the reason investors are interested again is because those online universities are cutting costs and lowering tuition. This is basically the equivalent of a business like, oh, Circuit City laying off workers, putting everything on sale and, soon enough, closing its brick-and-mortar stores.
This has been the basic problem with for-profit universities for years. In fact, a few years ago, we published a study on universities as a whole, including examining the for-profit ones, and came to that same conclusion.
As we noted then, “For-profits seek to strike a cord with low-income potential students looking for degrees to change their life’s circumstance.” That’s gotten them into trouble in the past with investors and government regulators alike. As CNN reported today, “Critics of for-profit colleges argue that they prey on the poor by over promising and under delivering on career prospects after graduation.”
So, basically, the rise in shares for for-profit universities (DeVry’s shares have risen 20% while Capella has jumped 13% in the past three months) is because of the same exact reasons why they were in trouble in the first place: Lack of depth among degrees (cutting costs) and preying on lower income students (cutting tuition).
It’s a route heading into disappointing returns again for the for-profits. It’s just being done a little more drastically. The for-profit universities need a different approach or their reputations – and bottom lines – will take a hit again.