The Tom Dougherty Blog
Remember your father (or someone) telling you, “Actions speak louder than words”? Well, I have an addendum to that. Actions speak louder than your brand promise (look no further than the Religious Freedom Restoration Act).
I bring this up in light of Indiana Governor Mike Pence signing into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which permits business owners who oppose homosexuality for religious reasons the right to turn away gay, lesbian and transgender people.
Pence said over the weekend there is still some interpretation left to be done in enacting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act law but the damage as been done. Indiana is now known as a state that is not open to everybody. That directly contradicts the brand promise of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce that says: “Leading business. Advancing Indiana.”
I suppose as a brand guy I could say that Indiana has put a stake in the ground, saying who it is for and who it is not for with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But that’s not the point here. Indiana becomes now known as a state that could refuse you service.
What century are we in?
Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Thinking outside of politics
Politics aside, this is a slippery slope as it’s not that far from a business owned by a Muslim saying it will not serve Christians in a country that was founded on the ideology of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Turning this subject to a business perspective, this is the reason we tell brands that they should never veer away from their brand promise or it becomes less believable. Any communication that steps away from that promise lessens the impact of what you are trying to say.
For example, if Apple starts looking and sounding like everybody else, its promise of “Think Different” becomes less believable. How many times have you seen a brand promise in an ad or any other form of communication only to find that that brand’s website is completely different? Consistency is key.
So when Pence said on Saturday that he supported introduction of new legal language to clarify that the new law does not promote discrimination, it’s hard to believe him.
His brand promise (and, by proxy, that of Indiana) has already been established when he signed the law in the first place. Angie’s List has announced it is re-thinking its plans for a campus expansion in the state while the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has called the law “unnecessary.”
What kind of impact those will have is up to debate. (After all, money trumps all.) But there’s an important lesson to be learned here for brands. Understand what you represent, and don’t do something that contradicts that message.
Well, well. So consumers aren’t happy with the way retailers are integrating (or not integrating) in-store, mobile and online. What a surprise.
I say this to point out a retail study we did some months ago that demonstrated just how poorly retailers have approached the digital age – and what is at risk.
This week, Accenture, a consulting company, announced a survey with consumers that should make retailers quiver in their pants.
Less than half of the respondents (42%) find it easy to use their mobile device to shop with the retailers while 82% say store prices should be the same as online. Yet, only 34% of retailers actually do that.
It gets worse. Only 53% of retailers optimize sites for tablets, which is a shockingly low number. To be honest, I would have thought every retailer would have done that by now.
What’s the problem?
My guess is that retailers know they are under siege. Sales are down and it’s created a kind of inertia among them. So they fall back on weekly sales, hyping the brands of items in their stores and shudder to think of the effect of e-tail, especially with Amazon looming out there like a coming zombie apocalypse.
This kind of thing does happen in many industries as brands are reluctant to do anything new so they simply re-hash what has worked in the past. (Or, more honestly, kinda, really didn’t work.)
This is a common rant of mine but part of the problem for industries like retail is that they think they have to use the same consultants and ad agencies that someone else in their category has used before. Like knowledge of the industry really makes that much of a difference. It only means you churn out the same drivel year after year.
A plea to retailers. Get it together, think forward and call me.
The Battle of the brands. Can Sea World win?
Business at Sea World is off by about a million visitors per year. No one doubts that this dramatic drop in visitations to the theme parks has been due to the bad publicity generated by the documentary Black Fish.The documentary relied upon stories and testimony from former Sea World employees documenting the tragic deaths of a few Sea World employees by the parks Orcas (Killer Whales). But the damage to the theme park brand hinged on the poor treatment of the park’s sea mammals. It is alleged in the documentary that the whales are stressed beyond all reasonable boundaries, isolated, confined and drugged. All this in the name of entertainment.
Sea World has just struck back and has released a new Sea World advertising campaign designed to mitigate the damage done by PETA and Black Fish by attacking their agenda and offering the positive testimony of staff veterinarians.
This is a battle Sea World can’t win. The reason is brand. You see brand is built upon beliefs (not truths) and without passing judgment on who is right here, it is just simple common sense that says the belief in ethical treatment for animals is a more strongly held belief than a belief that entertainment is ok. Human beings also hold as a brand precept that everything has a cause and effect and few are willing to believe that a confined giant animal lives a full and robust life when compared to their wild brothers and sisters. Just ask Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey who have announced that they are fazing out live elephants from their shows (despite their own denial of mistreatment) because of very similar accusations. The problem that Sea World faces is more severe. The Circus is still a Circus without Animals (Check out the Big Apple Circus or Cirque Du Soleil) but Sea World without Orcas and Dolphins is… well a wet desert.
Swim with the Dolphins
I have no doubt the next victim will be all of the Swim with the Dolphins parks. All you have to do is watch the amazing film The Cove to feel that the cost of populating these parks is way too high. It is an unnatural stress placed once again on tranquilized and intelligent creatures who would prefer not to swim with us.
I think Shamu is history.
Taco Bell is expanding its breakfast offerings to include a Chicken Biscuit Taco. Consider this news in light of the fact that McDonald’s commands the breakfast meal and that it accounts for about 25% of McDonalds revenues compared to about 6% for Taco Bell.
As I have previously written, the sales at McDonald’s have been in steady decline for some time and I have made a number of comments that its brand is not really reflective of either McDonald’s or the customers it is trying to persuade. But as I think about it, McDonald’s is not the only fast food chain that is suffering from a marked lack of brand.
Fast food brands are confused about one thing – the difference between the business of their businesses and the business of their brands. They are in the business of selling relatively inexpensive food quickly, period. It is the definition of what it means to be a fast food restaurant.
What all of them have confused is that the business of their brands are something else. The business of your brand is not what you do, it’s who your customers are when they use your brand. Sorry to say it, fast food industry, all of you are trying to sell what you do – make fast food.
Therefore, fast food menu items are becoming increasingly ridiculous. Chicken biscuit tacos? A sausage breakfast crunch wrap that exceeds 700 calories? Chicken fingers, extra long BBQ cheeseburgers, monster double omelet biscuit, BBQ pulled pork from Wendy’s?
That list is only a smattering of what the fast food chains are trotting out these days. You even see this confusion with their names. Domino’s is running a campaign in support of changing its name from “Domino’s Pizza” to simply “Domino’s” to, according to the commercials, reflect the fact that it is no longer just pizza. It has pasta, sandwiches and those little fried pieces of chicken topped with pizza toppings.
Anyone with any marketing sense has to look at the mess fast food has created and chuckle. Fast food has made a mockery of itself. The industry, whose sales are down as a whole, is short circuiting itself by putting all of its development into new menu items without considering brand values.
The only brand that seems to get it right is Hardee’s, which went against the grain and actually tried to own the idea of fast food being about high calorie, high fat food – what else would “eat like you mean it” mean? Its brand is reflective of its target audience.
New menu items (or “food innovations” as they are called) do not build a brand. Rather, they dilute brands because they are only about what these companies do.
If you look around you, you see fast food chains trying to out-menu each other. Fast food brands are all about the same and the new fat in a wrapper breakfast item won’t change that.
The new commercial for Lowe’s Home Improvement is a perfect example of an ad agency that not only does not understand brand but has a limited grasp on their own craft as well.
Harsh words? You bet? But this kind of brand mismanagement by an advertising agency is not unusual and I think it might be valuable to discuss it here.
The commercial running right now, which I will call “glow in the dark cat hat” is so off brand that it screams for commentary.
Take a look here.
So, based upon the content of the spot we will tease out the strategy—convince less than confident husbands that they can do home improvement confidently.
The Lowe’s Home Improvement brand message is lost
The idea is that we can identify with this guy who hesitates to take on home improvement projects because his skill set lies in other places — beyond installing bathroom vanities. It almost makes sense if the idea for Lowes Home Improvement is to expand the home improvement category and is designed to get people who have never done a home improvement project to consider taking one on. If the idea is to steal share from those that frequent Home Depot the strategy is completely wrong. I am hoping the former because if Lowes intended the latter this strategy is failed as well.
From a brand perspective, the ad failed because the hero husband, whom we are supposed to identify with (a hallmark of branding is to emotionally connect with the self-reflection of the brand itself), is misguided and foolish. The intended humor in the ad points this out with precision. Now that he is confident in his ability to feel confident in what he does, he takes the ridiculous idea to his boss (his big idea) of a glow in the dark cat hat. Not only does his boss dismiss the idea as stupid, the viewer is separated from the character because we all see how dumb it can be to feel confident. This is precisely the WRONG brand message.
Now I recognize that you think I have no sense of humor because it is meant to be funny. I get that. The question raised is this: Is humor the best way to make he brand point that Lowes Home Improvement gives those who try home improvement projects successfully greater confidence? It is a difficult task.
All to often advertising agencies hoist humor on a client for self-serving purposes. The agency creatives LOVE funny commercials because they win awards and industry wide self-congratulations. It is a victory for the agency rather than a victory in market share growth.
Worse still, no one told Lowe’s Home Improvement about the costs of humorous ads. They have a minuscule shelf life and require tons of executions. Look at the number of spots the Rob Lowe campaign has for DIRECTV. DIRECTV purposefully chose a format that allows for multiple shoots and endless executions because it recognized the drawback inherent in humorous ads. You need to keep them so fresh that they are raw. You can recycle a funny ad, but it needs to have some planned breaks in its rotation.
So the question I have for Lowe’s Home Improvement is quite simple. What are your strategic goals? Are you looking to speak to folks who have never done any home improvment or steal share from those that purchased the raw materials from a competitor? Did you invest enough money in the campaign to have a dozen executions or were you focusing on frequency?
But the biggest question is about the Lowe’s Home Improvement brand itself. Who are you (speaking about your customer) when you shop at Lowes? Are you confident in what you do? Are your confident actions rewarded with success or is that confidence ill placed?
In this commercial, your target audience does not covet such foolish confidence as to roll up your sleeves and then fail so miserably.
Let’s build something together has some responsibility. I think it is time to change agencies.
As a general user of Twitter, I’ve been astounded by the wellspring of negative comments and general harassment that can seemingly happen on a daily basis.
Ashely Judd, just a few days ago, tweeted during an NCAA game that the Arkansas men’s basketball team was playing dirty. Fair enough.
The responses she received to that tweet were appalling:
“What the hell do you even do you stuck up c—. What are you famous for again?”
Or, “Go suck on Cal’s two inch d— ye Bitch whore.”
Up until now, Twitter has maintained the right to delete accounts of users flagged for this type of inexcusable behavior. But what it cannot stop is these same users opening another page where they continue unwanted banter until they are once again removed. This cycle can be endless.
Most likely in response to Judd’s interactions on the site, Twitter has just released a “quality filter” that allows users to remove threats and abuse from personal timelines.
If you ask me, a quality filter feels like a band aid for a bigger problem.
Here’s the gist of what I mean:
I’m all for sharing an opinion on a topic (obviously), but ethical standards should be upheld and monitored by social networks. Threating comments should never see the light of day and feeling safe must be a table stake in these types of settings.
Twitter’s quality filter is an improvement, but it’s a filter for tweets that have already been posted. In my estimation, the filter that should be implemented is one that catches the imposing threat before it has even posted. It’s the ethical duty of Twitter.
Love it or hate it, Fox News has a brand and that’s the single reason why it leads in the cable news ratings by a large margin. With news that MSNBC will shake up its primetime lineup to jump start its lagging ratings, it would behoove the network to think less about what personalities it puts on the air and more about what personality the network itself presents.
To be fair, MSNBC is second, while CNN is third. CNN has its own problems of which I’ve laid out before, but the point is that both of them are too concerned with the personalities they put on the air and not enough on what the whole network means.
The constant handwringing at MSNBC comes as viewership dropped 27% from February of last year and a whopping 48% among viewers age 25-54.
Basically, MSNBC is in a free fall.
So here’s MSNBC’s plan, according to Politico. All in With Chris Hayes will be moved, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton will now air on the weekends and the network is going to trot out new faces.
This is the hamster wheel MSNBC is running on and it won’t work. Changing out this show for that one, introducing a new host and coming up with a new catchy phrase to describe said show is more turns on the wheel.
Fox News, while sporting well-known hosts like Bill O’Reilly, could change out shows and see very little change in its viewership. That’s because its loyal audience knows what the network stands for and, therefore, they become loyal to the network, not the personalities, because of it.
What MSNBC must stand for does not have to be a spot on the political spectrum. In fact, I have long urged CNN that it must stand for the voice of reason but it keeps falling into the same trap with The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, Erin Burnett OutFront and Anderson Cooper 360. Shows focused on personalities.
Those may be fine shows, but few tune in because CNN as a brand doesn’t mean anything.
What networks like MSNBC are doing is akin to BlackBerry trotting out new product features and wondering why it can’t make any inroads into Apple’s market share.
Start with the brand first, then it doesn’t matter who you put on the air.
For those of us, like me, who can’t start the day without a strong cup of coffee, Starbucks remains an interesting company that is always trying to find ways to be one of the most powerful consumer brands around.
At Wednesday’s shareholder meeting, the company announced several initiatives that hold promise. And a few others that are an overreach.
On the positive, Starbucks will begin testing delivery in Seattle and New York City, which I’ve always thought was an idea whose time has come. The name of the game for consumers in this technological age is simplicity. The easier you can make it for consumers to buy your product, the better off you are.
That may seem like an obvious statement. But look around you and you’ll see how companies think so inside out that their processes become more complex than they should be. (Think banks.)
The Starbucks Brand
The Starbucks brand is looking to simplicity in a few endeavors. The delivery system would only work in dense urban areas, but I can imagine it being a boon to the brand and shut out competitors. Starbucks is also instituting a mobile ordering and payment app, which it should have done long ago.
I guess you could also say that its plan to expand with more locations, adding more than 3,500 units in the next five years in the US, is also about simplicity, but I worry about that one. Starbucks is entering McDonald’s territory where there’s one on every corner and you begin to lose emotional preference. You become only about location. (Think pharmacies.)
But the one that really concerns me is its plan to add more food. Starbucks will add more lunch options and afternoon snacks, but the brand doesn’t have permission to grow later in the day with food. Its brand owns coffee, with a large, emotional footprint in breakfast. Increasing your presence into other dayparts is always a risky proposition for brands that have been linked with a certain daypart. (Think Taco Bell and its weak attempt to enter the breakfast market.)
The overall concern would be that Starbucks believes it can dominate more than it can. You don’t want to hold a brand back, but as Clint Eastwood said in the Dirty Harry movie Magnum Force, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”