The Tom Dougherty Blog
You’re hearing it here. I was wrong. For the last month, I’ve been extolling the virtues of the DirecTV Rob Lowe spots and thought its advertising agency, Grey Advertising, finally became an advertising agency that understood strategy.
Well, maybe Grey isn’t so great, after all. DirecTV pulled the Rob Lowe spots when cable companies, specifically Comcast, complained that the spots were making unfounded claims. Of course, Comcast made the stink because the ads worked. If they didn’t, Comcast would’ve have cared because those claims have been made in previous DirecTV campaigns. It only cared because the campaign threatened its market share.
So what did DirecTV and Grey Advertising do to replace Rob Lowe? They replaced him with a talking horse.
This Hannah and Her Horse campaign is so awful I don’t even know where to begin. For one, there’s no counterpart to Hannah like there was in the Rob Lowe spots where the two identities gave viewers a (albeit, humorous) choice. There’s no sense whatsoever of viewer identification.
In fact, what happens here is that the talking horse is the story. Not the prospective DirecTV customer. The campaign is similar, in a way, to the non-stop series of GEICO ads in which supposedly funny off-the-wall characters chime in on the insurance company’s virtues with little effect. (GEICO has to keep spending all that money on advertising to protect its market share because it hasn’t gained much in some years.)
But at least GEICO has a strategy (price), as ineffective as it is. The DirecTV Hannah and Her Horse campaign has none. It’s just stupid.
The really disturbing part of Hannah and Her Horse
There is also another aspect to this that deeply disturbs me. I always wondered why DirecTV acted so quickly to Comcast’s complaints by dropping the Rob Lowe spots when it wasn’t required to. Comcast only complained to an industry body, not a regulatory one.
Well, now we know why. DirecTV already had the Hannah and Her Horse campaign ready to replace it. It was in the can, all set to go. This isn’t just one ad. This is a whole campaign with a handful of ads. That means DirecTV (and Grey) were already planning on replacing Rob Lowe.
This is the GEICO strategy where ad campaigns are just funny skits without a strategy or a pay-off of the brand promise. It’s just money and time wasted.
Hannah and Her Horse just makes me think that neither DirecTV nor Grey Advertising even knew what they had with the Rob Lowe spots or even why they worked.
They had it. And now they’ve lost it.
Bad focus groups are the norm. Our research arm, Resultant Research, won’t let us conduct focus groups. When you tell the world about the virtues of frankness, the self-imposed prohibition seems entirely right to me. I think, when you consider what Resultant tells us, you will agree.
Our global research experts at Resultant stress to us that focus groups are NEVER projectable to the population you are studying. I know all of us with experience in research know this. The problem is, according to Resultant, that we all seem to forget that fact when evaluating the focus group’s results. As a result, bad focus groups dominate the field.
“If you have a problem resisting the lure of chocolate, don’t eat that first piece”, says JoAnne Cross, President of Resultant. She adds, “In all of my years of experience, I have not met anyone who does not try to make projections based upon a focus group. There are better ways to gather that information.”
Bad Focus Groups Outnumber Good Focus Groups
Resultant has always told us that another problem with focus groups is the clouded vision you get is based upon group mentalities. There is just no way around this. Moderators claim to be able to navigate this deep problem but knowing human behavior as we do we know that no one can.
Just this morning, NPR did a spot on peer pressure in high schools. The findings are quite interesting when thinking about focus groups because it highlights the power of peer pressure.
The study showed that high school students were much less likely to take a pre-SAT course when the enrollment was done in standard high school classes. When the same opportunity was given in honors classes, the same student segments were signing on to the class by over 10%.
Better students were less likely to sign up for the class in a standard class and poorer students were much more likely to sign up in honors classes. The reason? Peer pressure. So just to fit in, both groups of students changed important behaviors based upon the context of the offering.
In my many years of research experience, I have seen this phenomenon first hand. No moderator can get someone to reveal a contrarian insight that the attendee holds closely if the focus group holds a different and more vocal opinion.
I remember conducting one-on-one interviews for Blue Rhino a few years back. An interviewee confided in us that he refilled his tank rather than exchanging it. What was interesting was his reasoning. “I know it may seem stupid,” he said, “but I feel like I own the tank.”
His self-effacing comment that he knew it sounded stupid (which it did not) told me in no uncertain terms that he would never have shared that in a group. It turned out to be the number one barrier to adoption of the Blue Rhino model when tested in projectable. quantitative studies that followed.
Remember the movie 12 Angry Men? Henry Fonda’s character holds out a minority opinion in the face of overwhelming pressure by the other jurors. In the end, they all agree with Fonda and the defendant is acquitted. It is great drama because it hardly ever happens.
The importance of qualitative research cannot be overestimated. We always conduct one-on-one interviews so that peer pressure does not enter into the findings.
Remember the adage that you always get what you pay for? Well bad focus groups are cheap and the findings are questionable at best.
April 15th, tax day, is here. It happens at the exact same time each and every year but for many it always seems to come as a surprise. Today, however, for millions of Americans who struggle to make ends meet today marks a different kind of day. It is a day of raising awareness for a living wage and brands, if they know what’s good for them, should take note.
Let’s forget for a moment that today’s minimum wage does little more to raise people out of poverty than EBT or housing subsidies do. The reality is that, for most of the people who are making only minimum wage, they are still relying on federal and state assistance programs. Let’s do the right thing and help people out of poverty rather than keep them in it.
How Fight For 15 becomes a brand opportunity
But this blog is not about a social commentary. This is a business and branding blog. Fight for 15 represents a unique opportunity for brands with the fortitude to make a stand and think long term.
Imagine for a moment what would happen if McDonald’s announced that it was raising its minimum pay to $15 per hour. It would have lines out the door of people wanting to come work for the fast food chain and the PR spin wouldn’t be bad either. They could even wrap it up in their “new” re’launch of ‘Lovin It.’’ McDonald’s could say:
“Because McDonald’s wants to put more Lovin’ into everything we do, we are taking the lead in raising the minimum we pay to our workers to $15 per hour because it’s the right thing to do.”
Forget revamping the menu or introducing artisan chicken, the goodwill alone would be offset by a reduction in advertising expense, not to mention the increased productivity by workers.
Eventually, other brands would have to follow suit – a good thing for everyone. But the one who takes the lead will have an advantage, whether it is McDonalds or another company.
I really don’t think it is a question of if it will happen but when will it happen. A brand can use this as a sound strategic business decision by taking a cause and turning it into sound business. This kind of thing is what they write business cases about and there is always a winner and many losers. Which side of the Fight For 15 do you want your company to be on?
Reed Hastings must be bubbling below the surface.
I would be.
The Netflix CEO has a reason to celebrate. His long touted rival, HBO, has steered course, becoming an emulator of Netflix rather than the trendsetter it had once been with its new app, HBO NOW.
If you haven’t heard about it, HBO NOW is a platform that allows users to subscribe to HBO for a monthly charge of $15. If you have an Apple TV, tablet, PC or smart phone, you can access the app at any time – without having to include it as part of your television package.
All things aside, it’s a nice deal for anyone seeking to cut the television cord and go all in with Internet TV.
Yet, it’s this same reason why Hastings should be feeling great: Netflix is top dog.
Is HBO NOW worth the cost?
Part of the reason why viewers are leaving cable companies is because of cost and lack of control. HBO NOW is another cost, one that’s $5 more than Netflix. The app lacks the plethora of films that Netflix has, leaving viewers with a little less choice than they probably would want.
HBO has a litany of incredible, binge-worthy series. Some of the best, in fact. But I wonder, after initial signees have completed their 30-day trial of HBO NOW, after they plowed through every series they had been wanting to for years, if they will find it necessary to keep up with the subscription. I’m not too certain they will even as new episodes of “Game of Thrones” arrives.
“Many people will subscribe to both Netflix and HBO,” said Hastings. “Since we have different shows, we think it is likely we both prosper as consumers move to Internet TV.”
I think Hastings is playing coy. He’s in good shape because if it comes down between choosing between HBO NOW and Netflix (for those really wanting to lighten the load of their TV bill), my money would be on Netflix.
A people’s champion. A role model. High character combined with great talent. Someone for the next generation to look up to. A true breath of fresh air.
Which Masters golf champion is being described here?
Sounds like it’s the platitudes for 21-year-old Jordan Spieth. But no, that’s the description of a 21-year-old Tiger Woods when he won the Masters in record-breaking fashion so many years ago.
For those of you who watched the final round of the Masters yesterday, Spieth’s charge to a record-tying victory was thrilling and did seem to herald in a new superstar for the sport.
But I cringed when one announcer called him a role model, citing his strong character. Even Sports Illustrated, who should know better, has this headline this morning: “Jordan Spieth Has a Champion’s Character On and Off Course.”
Now, I have no doubt that Spieth is a nice, young man who obviously loves his family and has polite manners, along with a killer sense of how hit just the right shot at the right time.
But there was a time when we said the same things about Tiger, long before his fall from grace from which he has still not recovered despite his fine showing this weekend.
We, especially sports fans, love to find new heroes and I’ll admit I have some of mine as well. But haven’t we learned anything? Should we be putting a 21-year-old on a pedestal just yet? It does a disservice to both Spieth and us.
The lesson of Tiger Woods.
I suspect Spieth (who finished second in the Masters last year, so he’s no fluke) will now get plenty of endorsements, ala Tiger. But we know how it worked out for Woods. He was connected to so many brands who thought they were buying a shiny, pure brand equity that it all fell apart once the scandal broke that Tiger was a serial philanderer. So much so that a new campaign by Accenture that was unveiled just as the news of the scandal broke made Accenture look silly.
I have always cautioned against brands aligning themselves solely with a person to piggyback on that person’s perceived character. It can be dangerous and Tiger (and Lance Armstrong) is just one example. (Tiger’s only major sponsor today is Nike.)
Now, athletes find it more difficult to be spokespeople as brands are wary and negotiations for endorsements can last up to a year with all kinds of character clauses included.
In my heart, I believe Spieth will continue to succeed and that he won’t damage a brand. But I thought the same thing about Woods. So let’s not put someone so young in high character mode just yet. Just let him play golf.
Brand names to increase preference
Often as not, rebranding involves a new name. This is because most existing brand names arise organically. They were product, corporate or brand names created to reflect a value or need that existed at the time of the brand’s founding. Often, when we look at the names, they seem like a time capsule reflecting an earlier epoch.
Think about a few of these brand names and you will see exactly what I mean. Electrolux, Jiff, Tang, Duncan Hines, Aunt Jemima, Polaroid, Tupperware, Wonder Bread and Pepsi are all brands whose name alone indicates the era the brand name found its way to the market. Some feel dated because we are less familiar with them. Some, like Pepsi, are so familiar that the brand name is not given a second thought in terms of intrinsic meaning. Electrolux (including its logo script which was recently updated) looks so dated that it has a slight resurgence of cool.
When we create a brand name we think more about the emotional importance of the product to the target audience than we do with any form of corporate identity. This is because our understanding of the emotional properties in brands and brand naming has changed.
Today, we know that brand purchases are all a part of the customer’s self-identification. We all tend to favor brands that in some way reflect back to us an image of ourselves. The most powerful brands allow us to find ourselves in that value. Simply put, we like to buy things that are in concert with our own expressed values and precepts. We appreciate brands that reinforce our ability to say to ourselves (as opposed to showing off to others), “Yes, I want to be THAT.”
Brand Names in the Diaper Category
So let’s take a look at the disposable diaper category (called Nappies in Europe). This category dates all the way back to the 60s and, in some ways, the brand names reflect that. However, the naming tried to own an emotional intensity that best described the value and self-description of the target market.
For anyone who has had a baby, you know first hand the emotional changes that arise. Suddenly, your own life is less important and the care and nurturing of that little infant becomes your life’s highest emotional intensity. (This is before they become teenagers and you want to kill them!)
So it made sense that diaper brand names should reflect this highest emotional intensity.
Think about this: Pampers, Luvs and Huggies all represent a hook into that emotional chord. Of course, the purpose of the brands in those days was not stealing share from one another but in the conversion from cloth diapers to disposable ones.
In many ways, the early converts had to battle the cognitive dissonance of leaving a labor-intensive process (collecting the used diapers in a pail, washing the cloth diapers, disinfecting them and, in many cases, boiling them) with simply opening a package and then throwing a soiled diaper away. Process often is translated in terms of importance and it took years for dependence on cloth diapers to go away.
The names are interesting. Pampers was a very intelligent means of telling the purchaser that they were in fact pampering their child (meaning taking better care of them than the cloth standards). Huggies, which came along after Pampers, was an attempt to equate the disposable diaper with hugs and kisses (similar to the Pampers story). Luvs needs no explanation but is certainly a dated name that sounds rooted in the 60s and 70s.
The problem these brands face today is that the purpose for which they were created is no longer viable. None of them need to convince cloth diaper users to switch. Instead they need to steal share from competitors and this is difficult when all the brand names claim the same turf.
I believe it is high time for a flanker brand to be launched by either Kimberly Clark (the makers of Huggies) or P&G (which makes both Pampers and Luvs) to reflect this new market flux. I believe a newly branded flanker in this category could increase its relevance and therefore gain preference on an aging category.
Today, parents do not need to be reminded by a diaper that they love their baby. Instead they need to find an emotional reason to choose a brand beyond just price, fit and dryness.
What do you think? What do the brand names mean to you? How are you choosing between diaper brands?
I wrote a few weeks ago how much I admired the DirecTV and Rob Lowe advertising campaign “Don’t be like this me” (Read that blog here). It was smart, funny and right on target for the brand.
Sure, Comcast was complaining and threatening legal action claiming the superiority claims made by DirecTV were exaggerated, but I think the same smarts that created the campaign knew they had lightening in a bottle and that they should end the campaign before it had become dog-eared and worn out.
But claiming exaggerated superiority claims in a campaign based upon farce is, in a word, silly. Of course it was exaggerated. That was the whole point.
What is next after the Rob Lowe Advertising Campaign Ends?
Don’t worry about the next campaign (unless you are a cable company). It will be smart, funny and effective.
I say this confidently because few advertising agencies (the campaign was created by Grey in NY) and few clients have the foresight and intelligence to pull a campaign before it loses effectiveness. Few have the foresight to create a new rotation of ads that can reinvigorate an eager audience. Showing this sort of awareness is why I am convinced the next campaign will be great and I am filled with anticipation for it.
From a brand perspective, the current Rob Lowe advertising
campaign was right on the money. It gave permission for prospects to attach a small dish outside of their homes and not be perceived as someone outside of the grid or blue collar in social status. This is not meant as a dig on blue collar, it is just a brand guy’s understanding of the current target audience and the barriers to growth in a new segment.
Suddenly, it is cool to have the dish. It said you were a bit cool, irreverent and clever. Not a bad brand message don’t you agree? Thank you Grey, DirecTV and Rob Lowe for a very good ride.
The sexiest ads on TV right now feature women in lingerie who proudly proclaim, “I’m no angel.” They are also among the best ads on TV right now, period.
These are the Lane Bryant women who do not have the perfect body type and embrace that, being what we often say all marketing should be: An aspirational reflection of its target audience.
That last part is key. When most marketers talk about target audiences, what they are really saying is that they want to be for everybody. The target audience is just whomever they hope to attract. In the end, by trying to be for everybody, they are for no one.
Identifying a target audience means emphasizes the word “target,” narrowing your scope so that you become exclusive, in a way, to that audience. You must put a stake in the ground and say, “This is who we are for.” It brings clarity to your message.
Lane Bryant ads
The Lane Bryant ads are also terrific because they go even further than that. To steal market share, you must also be positioned against the rest of the market. You must be a true choice. And this is where most marketing fails. Most marketing simply copies the same, tired messages that have churned through the industry over and over again, producing little preference among audiences.
The Lane Bryant ads are positioned directly against Victoria’s Secret, which presents size 0 models with perfect hair and bodies that wear angel wings in some spots.
If you placed Victoria’s Secret and Lane Bryant on a map, charting what they claim and who they represent, you would find them at opposite poles. That’s positioning against the competition.
And yet, there’s a whole other reason why the Lane Bryant ads work and it’s something that other apparel brands should notice. In a recent retail study, we said that most apparel shops really own nothing. To be more relevant in the marketplace, those retailers need to own something unique or they get lost in the shuffle and the pieces of their brand crumbles to the ground. Soon, CEOs resign, mergers are made and jobs are cut.
With this campaign, Lane Bryant has done more than show a new kind of sexy. It has shown the rest of the industry how smart marketing is really done.