The Tom Dougherty Blog
The Matthew McConaughey Lincoln ads have been mocked by Jim Carrey on Saturday Night Live and been criticized by some who ask, “Why is last year’s Oscar winner doing TV ads?”
Why all the hate? In my book, they are among the best and most effective brand ads of the year.
Carrey’s skit was amusing enough (although the old codger in me hasn’t found an SNL skit to laugh at in years) and who knows the reason why McConaughey did the ads. But the fact that the question is even asked supports his claim that “I drove a Lincoln before they paid me to drive one.”
McConaughey is riding a wave of cool right now, winning an Oscar and garnering acclaim and popularity with True Detective. (All-riight, All-riight, All-riight.) At this moment, he represents the epitome of adult, mature cool.
For any brand ad to work, it has to have a meaning that reflects who the viewer aspires to be. I’ve often said that the greatest brand ad in the last decade was the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads that presented a true choice. (It was key that PC was likable.)
For a car brand that, while existing in the luxury category, has often been seen as an old man’s car, using Matthew McConaughey as the brand face (the reflection of the brand) is a perfect realization of where Lincoln should position itself.
We live in an era in which commercials are judged by their entertainment appeal, a strategy that rarely does anything to move the needle. They come and go, and brands wonder why their bottom lines are still suffering. I laugh wholeheartedly at the Ickey Woods GEICO ads (“I’m gonna get some cold cuts!”), but it does nothing to convince you to switch car insurance to GEICO.
So, go ahead and mock if you want. But the campaign has probably done more for the Lincoln brand than anything it’s presented in many a year.
During Game 6 of the World Series last night, I saw for the first time the ad for a new initiative by Pepsi, Coke, Dr. Pepper and the American Beverage Association called Mixify. Mixify is a initiative that, well, let them tell you:
“#Realtalk: Coke, Dr. Pepper and Pepsi understand that balancing your mix of foods, drinks and physical activities can get a little tricky. And since our products can play a part in that equation, we’ve teamed up to help make it easier to find a balanced mix that feels oh so right. That’s where Mixify comes in. It’s like a balance wingman. Bringing you new combinations to keep your mix fresh and your body right. Like mixing lazy days with something light, following sweaty workouts with whatever you’re craving, and crossing cats with dragons. Because at the end of the day, finding balance keeps you feeling snazzier than the emoji of the dancing lady in red.”
Thank goodness I am going to finally have a “balance wingman.” Seriously? I’ll have whatever the Mixify brain trust had when they thought up this thing. If we were flies on the wall in their marketing meetings, we would hear them saying, “How do we sell more Coke, Pepsi, or Dr. Pepper?” I don’t believe for a minute that any of these companies really want people to not drink their beverages as much and I am quite positive most of their stockholders don’t either.
Unlike the great tobacco settlement in 1998, where tobacco companies were required to contribute to anti-smoking ads, Mixify is a volunteer effort. The campaign does not tell people that they should stay away from soft drinks because they could make you fat or give you diabetes.
Instead, the soda brands want to convince viewers to only drink them after they have worked out or when they are “crossing cats with dragons.” The whole idea is so contrived and is entirely disingenuous. Even taken as it is, it is the worst kind of a very thinly veiled PR stunt.
Many times when I write a blog, I think about the brands that have become mainstays in my life — so much so that they are easy to overlook. These brands are those that I trust implicitly.
Saving myself from getting too heady about the psychology of brands, I’ll cut to the chase. Last night, in an epiphanic moment, I realized that Rotten Tomatoes has become one of those brands for me.
I like to consider myself a bit of a film snob. I love the classics, especially David Lean’s catalog. But Rotten Tomatoes is one siphon I wield when deciding whether or not a new flick is going to be worth my time and money.
Any time I feel that a film preview looks exciting, I look to its coterie of reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. I want to know if the film is fresh: that is, any film earning a consensus rating of 60% of better by film critics. Personally, I want to see anything in the 80% approval rating or higher (I do have my standards.) Anything below 60% is considered a “rotten tomato.” Based on this scale, I don’t waste my time on any film that’s rotten.
Yet, the story here isn’t about the Rotten Tomato rating scale (though that is one facet that has caused trust the site), rather, it’s how it has carved a niche in my life. It’s about how I rely on the site completely to do a particular job, and it meets my expectations without fail. The consistency to which it has come through for me makes it a mainstay in my life.
Great brands become an extension of who you believe you are. I believe I am someone with discerning taste. Rotten Tomatoes is indeed one of those brands for me.
The latest growth opportunity for fast food restaurants is breakfast, which has largely been dominated by those who feature breakfast or a giant like McDonalds.
In recent years, we’ve seen Hardee’s advertise breakfast almost exclusively while Taco Bell has entered the fray. The interesting thing is that those who seem most able to swiftly move into that position are the morning coffee houses, such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.
Starbucks is having a strong year, but Dunkin’ Donuts recently told Wall Street that it won’t be meeting expectations. That’s mostly because it hasn’t increased market share in the breakfast segment even with new menu offerings.
What gives? My sense is that Dunkin’ Donuts is too associated with the fatting food in its name. Donuts. It’s the same reason why Burger King has never been a huge breakfast player, at least compared to McDonalds.
This is about brand permission, the permission that consumers grant you to enter a new market because of what your brand means. In the case of Dunkin’ Donuts, its brand means two things: Donuts and coffee. Donuts is in its name while its theme line is “America Runs on Dunkin’,” which means coffee.
That’s a fine position that has served the chain well, but as it increases its breakfast reach – upping its total number of restaurants by more than 600 worldwide this year and adding menu items like breakfast sandwiches – Dunkin’ Donuts must consider a rebrand.
I’m not suggesting a name change (although it should be on the table if research suggests it is needed), but a new meaning.
If the reach is changing, than what Dunkin’ Donuts means must change as well. In theory, “America runs on Dunkin” could include breakfast sandwiches. Emotionally, however, it still screams coffee, the jolt to start your day.
Having some experience in this category, I think there is still great opportunity in it with the right brand meaning. For Dunkin, the challenge is to carry over any brand equity into an altered (and an increasingly competitive) market.
The chain needs a different approach.
Will adults come back to eating cereal?
Now this is interesting. As some of you might know, we posted an in-depth study of the breakfast cereal market and came away with several conclusions. One of which was that kids, the traditional target audience for these cereals, have better and more convenient choices so the market for those cereals is shrinking.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch, the fifth best-selling cereal in the US, is rolling out marketing to adults, not children, in the next few months. It’s an attempt for a kind of retro approach, complete with more cinnamon in the cereal, ads on adult programming (not the kids’ channels as before) and a social media campaign that includes bloggers for moms.
Now, I said it was interesting, but I’m not sure how effective it will become. General Mills, which owns Cinnamon Toast Crunch, says half of its current audience is made up of adults and it’s hoping those adults remember how much they enjoyed the cereal years ago.
Said Associate Marketing Manager Elizabeth Crocker to Marketing Daily: “Cinnamon Toast Crunch is not only a favorite among families, but also adults who grew in the ‘80s. We are seeing an uptick in interest from both millennial consumers who enjoy the taste and fun, as well as older customers who fondly remember it from their childhood.”
In the study, we said that cereals should promote the brand of cereal instead of touting its individual brands because the category had a serious hurdle to overcome: The belief that cold cereals are simply not healthy. It’s not a strategy we would usually recommend, but the cereal industry has been watching sales fall for a decade now and some plugging of the dike needs to take place.
Adding cinnamon, or rolling out a fruitier flavor for Trix or increasing the chocolate flavor in Cocoa Puffs (all of which General Mills has done) doesn’t seem like the right strategy to stop that flow. It sounds like the cereals will become even less healthy.
Targeting adults with nostalgia will be interesting, but execution will be key. (McCann is doing the upcoming ads.) If the ads look and sound like any other breakfast cereal campaign, it’ll fail miserably. Part of the problem cereals have had is that they all look and sound the same. They just look like a goop of cartoony, sugar-infested food that appeals to few. (Even kids have moved onto the on-the-go foods like Pop Tarts.)
My prediction is that this strategy will provide a brief uptick in sales, but will not work for the long term because it doesn’t address the real issues and may even be counterproductive to alleviating those issues.
But if done in an unapologetic manner (think, in tone, like Hardee’s in the fast food category), it has a chance. We’ll be watching.
Time to ditch your wallet.
It might be time to drop those wallets off at Goodwill.
Yesterday, Apple released a game-changing option to its Passbook application: Apple Pay.
If you are the owner of an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, the 8.1 update (which installed Apple Pay to iPhones) is the invitation to the future of buying goods and services.
The process is pretty easy. All you need to do is add your credit cards to the Apple Pay system. All you need do then is hold your phone near a pay kiosk (it is read by a process called Near Field Communication), confirm payment by way of the touch sensor on your phone and payment is complete.
The process is quick and painless. Most of all, it’s safe. When you enter a credit card number, for example, “Apple replaces that number with a unique token that it stores encrypted in what the company calls its ‘secure element,’” says MacWorld. “Your information is never stored on your device or in the cloud.”
To me, this is huge. The United States alone accounts for nearly half of all of the world’s credit card fraud, and a quarter of credit card use. Apple Pay easily cuts out the concerns we might have (think of the Target fiasco last year, and most recently, one at Home Depot).
To date, more that 220,000 stores have adopted the pay method, including Walgreens, Nike and Whole Foods. You can use your Visa, MasterCard and American Express credit cards.
Not surprisingly, I’ve already added my credit cards to Apple Pay. I wouldn’t be surprised if you do the same soon, too.
The DirecTV ads are close to being great, but there is a fundamental problem.
I’m sure most of you have seen the Rob Lowe DirecTV ads in which there is good Rob Lowe (a DirecTV customer) and bad Rob Lowe (a cable TV customer). In the series, the bad Rob Lowe is the actor playing a creep (who likes to watch swimmers and smell people’s hair), a lowlife (with rotting teeth and a comb over) or a nerd (who is afraid of people).
Meanwhile, the ever-cool Rob Lowe is the DirecTV customer who tells us not to be bad Rob Lowe. Be a DirecTV customer.
The ads are related to the great “I’m a PC” and “I’m a Mac” ads that Apple ran some years ago, among the greatest brand ads ever aired. Do the DirecTV spots stand up to that?
Not really. DirecTV took the basic concept of that but it missed the basic ingredient in those Apple ads and, instead, raised the level of absurdity so its argument isn’t very believable.
The genius of the Apple ads, other than the positioning of who you are when you are a Mac user, was that the personalities of the two fit the personalities of the brands. “I’m a Mac” was relaxed, a believer in simplicity with an easy confidence. “I’m a PC” was likable, but over-complicated and a little too eager. That is, they were believable types (as Apple users saw them) and had an unforced rapport. You could even choose to be the PC, but it just wasn’t preferable.
That was part of the campaign’s allure. You liked PC.
In the DirecTV spots, there’s nothing to suggest that the alternative (cable) is an actual choice. Bad Rob Lowe is simply disgusting, which doesn’t tap into any belief systems about cable TV companies (as much as we may despise them). Bad Rob Lowe becomes a cartoon character, so the promise of being Good Rob Lowe isn’t believable. It’s not persuasive enough and positioned against a ghost.
That’s not to say the campaign is a total wash. The idea behind it is right, and the ads are memorable, but the strategy took the concept too far to be truly effective. DirecTV didn’t make it a fair fight.
A nice try, but not good enough to create true preference.
Oh United, why have your forsaken me?
This is by no means the first or the last time I have written about airlines. It’s just that they seem to be so bad at the most simple promise. Like appreciating our business.
I fly all the time because our client base is all over the globe. There might have been a time when this was something you bragged about. But certainly not any longer.
I remember when I thought traveling for business was a romantic idea. However, I assure you that my travel looks as much like Sean Connery’s 007 travel as I look like a debonair spy. Air travel today is as luxurious and glamorous as a city bus ride, but with much longer waits at the bus terminal.
Despite my complaints, I have a lot of miles under my belt and, as a result, United awarded me Global Services status the last few years. This is its highest level of recognition. According to United, this is only awarded to its most valuable customers. Global Services cannot be earned. It is awarded.
So what has happened to my trusted United Airlines? Well, the roof has collapsed on it. When US Airways left the Star Alliance (the frequent flyer program that includes United, Lufthansa, etc.), I lost most of the connecting flights out of my local North Carolina airport. In the past, I could book a flight on US Airways and United would credit me for flying on a Star Alliance partner.
So, when US Airways joined American Airlines a few months back, I lost a great deal of access. What would you do if you were United? Maybe add some flights to and from Greensboro to make up for that loss? Hardly.
United has three main hubs in the East: Newark, Washington Dulles and Chicago (even if it is technically a mid-western airport). I fly to Europe regularly and my closest United hub is Washington Dulles. I did not enjoy the long layover in DC for my flights to Europe, but I lived with it and appreciated the direct connecting flights with almost every destination in the world from Dulles.
Domestic flights were my only problem with US Air’s departure. I say “were” because suddenly international connections are a problem too. United has decided that I no longer need an early morning arrival in DC and has eliminated all but the late afternoon flights to Dulles. This means I can’t make ANY international connecting flights our of that hub.
I feel abandoned by United. I am going to have to find another airline to abuse me. Here is one Global Services flyer that United has pushed to the curb. I never really thought it appreciated my business. I knew “sit back, relax and enjoy your flights” was just meaningless jargon. Now I know United sneered at me when it said, “We know you have lots of choices and we appreciate your business.”