• About Tom Dougherty

    Tom Dougherty CEO, Stealing Share

    Tom Dougherty is the President and CEO of Stealing Share, Inc., and has helped national and global brands such as Lexus, IKEA and Tide steal market share over his 25-year career.

    An often-quoted source on business and brands, he has been featured recently by the New York Times and CNN, discussing topics ranging from television to Apple to airlines.

    Tom also regularly speaks at conferences as a keynote and break-out speaker. To find out more on inviting him to your speaking engagement and view a video of him speaking, click here.

    You can also reach him via email attomd@stealingshare.com.

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The Tom Dougherty Blog

Ace Hardware. A case study in political correctness

Ace Hardware has become vanilla.

Ace HardwareLast week, I wrote a blog on how political correctness makes everything difficult. It spoke to how such meaningless sensibilities make most everything we do more difficult and vanilla. It also spoke to how difficult it makes commercials resonate because the price of clarity is the risk of offence. Ace Hardware could learn a few things from it.

Let’s see what we can learn from Ace Hardware. This old school hardware retailer was one of the first hardware store chains to franchise.

Ace hardwareFor most of us around my age, we remember the hardware stores in our towns as independent mom and pop (mostly pop) stores. With a distinct and pleasant smell, the old wood floors creaked and the tools and pipe fittings seemed to be stacked to the ceilings. Then along came Ace Hardware and many of the independents folded. Ace had the power of TV and advertising. As well as a large footprint.

When Home Depot and Lowes came around, the worm turned. Suddenly even the national chains like Ace Hardware were under pressure. Locations closed, revenues dropped and it became a difficult challenge to compete with the big box boys.

So Ace Hardware has been trying to redefine itself. It has tried to expand its traditionally male audience to include female shoppers. The stores have left some of the traditional hardware venues and look more and more like a small general store. The strategy has not worked as well as Ace Hardware might have hoped.

The old Ace Hardware ads

If you remember from a few years back, Ace Hardware had John Madden as its spokesman. The brand invested its jingle. “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man.”

Then a few years later, in trying to expand its base, it maintained the instrumental jingle but eliminated the lyrics. Using many images of females, Ace Hardware declared itself The Helpful Place.

The new politically correct Ace Hardware version.

The newest campaign is a bit jarring. This happens when brands turn their backs on equity markers that they have powerfully invested in over the years. We remember the old jingle and the new one seems somehow wrong. This is where Ace finds itself today.

The new commercials feature the familiar jingle but the lyrics end awkwardly with “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks.” The political correctness is enough to scare away new customers. After all, it feels forced, a little silly and very vanilla. Not exactly what you want your brand to be about when you seek to be an authentic hardware store. Authenticity is never an offshoot of political correctness.


Rent.com Totally Legit not legit

Rent.com has made its first foray into advertising with its “Totally Legit” campaign, which is obviously aimed at millennials as it focuses on J.B. Smoove, who is self-described as the “Legit-a-Master.” He says he is the protector of apartment shoppers everywhere to ensure that they are getting legitimate reviews and information from real residents when they visit rent.com to look for a new apartment.

The problem is that the ads themselves don’t really seem legit.

The tone of the rent.com totally legit campaign feels contrary to the message of the ads. The message is that apartment seekers should take rent.com seriously because they work very hard to make sure its information and reviews are legitimate. But the content of the ad is like a punch line to a joke that everyone should be in on. It’s too silly.

Is apartments.com any less legit?

Furthermore, after visiting rent.com and apartments.com, where Jeff Goldblum plays a similar character as J.B. Smoove, I find rent.com to be no more or less legit than apartments.com. If you think about it, isn’t being legit a table stake in an apartment listing site? Would apartments, who no doubt pay a fee for the lead, and apartment hunters not expect what is presented on the site to be a fair and accurate as possible?

If target audiences believed that other sites were not legit, then rent.com could have a powerful position in the market. However, I don’t sense that apartment seekers think apartments.com, for example, is untrustworthy with its information.

Rent.com will see benefits from this campaign, as most apartment buildings have not advertised before and, up till now, rent.com has had low awareness. It’s new terrain.

But unless rent.com plans on continually advertising on TV, I fear that any gains will be short-lived, as the ads do not adequately provide any real brand building foundation.


The PBR brand today

At Stealing Share, we have worked with several beers over the years and have always found the market fascinating. It is a complex mixture of the big American lagers (Budweiser, Miller and Coors) and the craft beers that are making inroads into the leaders’ market share.

The one beer we often discussed with clients and examined closely was Pabst Blue Ribbon, the hipster beer that didn’t advertise, was cheap and had an unusual brand face (who customers see themselves as being when using the brand): Being cool by drinking a terrible beer that avoided the mainstream.

Who drinks this now?
Who drinks this now?

Of course, beer drinkers say the number one reason why they drink the beer they do is because of taste. But that’s just a rational explanation for the true reason why they drink the beer they do.

Because they see themselves in the brand.

Today, the brand face of Pabst Blue Ribbon is becoming less attractive. PBR is having its worst year since its heyday about six years ago, with sales in deep decline over the past few years and down 2.6% so far this year.

There’s a reason for that: The brand face of PBR was a fad. And fads come and go, especially when the teenagers of the last decade are older now with more sophisticated needs.

How PBR worked and what to do now.

In a way, PBR got lucky. A generational segment that PBR didn’t intend to join picked it accidently. (The Blue Ribbon in its name was designed to say PBR is a winner, after all.) It went with that success but, as with any trend, things were eventually going to change and now the PBR brand finds itself wondering what to do next.

There is still a market for a PBR brand, but now it must communicate to target audiences. In the past, PBR wouldn’t advertise because its customers would think it was selling out. Now that the brand meaning has waned, drinkers have forgotten that meaning or simply don’t care – or those once loyal PBR drinkers now see the brand as juvenile.

One of the major problems facing PBR is that it is buried in the netherworld below the big three and the craft beers. Few are going to switch from another beer to PBR based on taste. There is no beer drinker alive who thinks his/her preferred beer tastes bad. Drinkers don’t switch on taste and they are certainly not going to switch to a beer whose brand face was bad beer.

No, Pabst Blue Ribbon will need to find a new brand face, or at least an updated one, that speaks to target audiences in a way that makes drinkers covet it. To do that, it must overcome the stigma its previous success created and, as much as PBR might think it unworthy, it now needs to advertise.

In today’s world, that’s not selling out. That’s just good business.


Lean Cuisine brand gets a makeover

If you’re like me, you eat lunch at your desk. For many of us (again, including me), that also means heating up a frozen meal in the microwave because it’s easy.

That’s why it was surprising to me to find that sales of frozen foods in general are dropping and that the leading diet brand, Lean Cuisine, is trying a new approach away from dieting.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 10.19.35 AMIn this first spot, a line is spoken by the narrator (a nurse), “I eat the way I want to eat,” that is an important message that signals an independence that can be attractive to target audiences.

It’s a shift for the Lean Cuisine brand because, as Lean Cuisine Brand Manager Chris Flora said, “We recognize that diets are dead and we want to show that we are truly shifting away from diet.”

Diets may be dead, as Flora puts it, and it’s been replaced by fresh. Some many not associate fresh with frozen foods, although a $30 million campaign by many of the frozen food producers are telling us that frozen is “nature’s pause button.”

The Lean Cuisine brand hasn’t gone far enough.

This is an issue for frozen food producers and Lean Cuisine has recognized that it needs a brand shift. The problem is that Lean Cuisine hasn’t gone all the way. Packaging is new for the brand and the foods it makes will have an overhaul.

But the Lean Cuisine brand, which is owned by Nestle, hasn’t answered the question of what it stands for. Who is the Lean Cuisine eater today? The Lean Cuisine eater was once the one wanting to lose weight. Now?

The “eat the way I want to eat” is smart, but it becomes easily forgettable in how it’s used. It’s not prominent enough, which speaks to the problem with most brand advertising.

Instead, the campaign’s headline is “Feed Your Phenomenal,” which sounds like it was written by Madison Avenue and, therefore, is not believed. “Eat the way I want to eat” is in spoken language and taps into a true emotional value. “Feed Your Phenomenal” is just adspeak.

There’s the other issue, of course. The Lean Cuisine name. As much as Lean Cuisine would like to get away from diet, the name suggests as much. If Lean Cuisine really wants to stem its dropping sales (its sales have dropped 20% in the last two years), its name needs to be different.

Lean Cuisine was correct in making changes (I once ate a lot of Lean Cuisine but got tired of its blandness), but it and its advertising agency, Grey, need to go a few steps farther.

To win, Lean Cuisine needs a new brand. And it needs to stop with the trite “Feed Your Phenomenal.”


Political Correctness in Marketing

Political Correctness does not belong in branding

Last weekend, Bill Maher mentioned that he, Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock no longer do standup comedy on college campuses. The reason? Apparently you cannot be a great comic in the shadow of overarching and ponderous political correctness. Bill said that it is the truth in stereotypes that allow us to recognize the irony in the joke. Don’t believe me? Try spending 20 minutes at a party with an insurance salesman.

Companies hire Stealing Share because they are committed to moving the marketing needle. We always tell them that they can expect a few black eyes when we are hired because our first job is to slay the sacred cows. We strive to tell the truth and that often involves an agreement that what is politically incorrect might just be the Holy Grail in a brand strategy. Great brands embrace what is and that may come at the expense of what should be.

The price of clarity is the risk of offense

Pope Francis and Political Correctness
No one can accuse Pope Francis of being mean spirited or uncaring. But you cannot accuse him of political correctness either. Click here to read a blog about the Pope

So know this: The price of clarity is the risk of offense. Don’t waste your advertising or marketing dollars on banal instruments. If you want someone to notice your brand, consider switching and change loyalties, there is just no time for political correctness. You need to be viewed as legitimate, real, important and memorable. These are the exact opposite of political correctness. They are the requisites of clarity.

If clarity in marketing is chocolate then political correctness is vanilla. It is slightly appealing to everyone but no one loses sleep when they can’t get it.

Political CorrectnessWe all recognize political correctness in branding and marketing. The commercials are peopled with just the right ethnic mix to mirror the population. They are gender neutral and avoid any language that can upset the apple cart. The problem is you need to upset the apple cart if you want to steal market share.

At some point, every successful brand needs to recognize that its brand is not for everyone. It is for some, but not all.

Branding is about ownership. The ownership of belief, values, precepts and importance. How do you know what is important? By speaking in clear terms that underscore the faintest of truths. You can’t own vanilla but you can own Cherry Garcia.


The Apple Music advantage

Apple will be launching Apple Music at the end of the month, entering an already crowded market with Google Play Music launching an ad-supported free version yesterday as well.

You likely remember that, about a year ago, Apple paid $3 billion for Beats in a deal that was supposed to be a marriage of music super powers. But some are wondering if Apple is too late to the music streaming party.

The largest advantage of Apple Music.
The largest advantage of Apple Music.

If you have read this blog for anytime, you know that I tend to be somewhat of an Apple fan boy. I try to be objective. From a brand perspective, however, I really have bought into Apple’s brand.

Two tenants of Apple’s brand are innovation and simplicity, and Apple has always innovated by making things simpler. This is where I see Apple Music being able to outpace rivals like Spotify and Google Play Music (and certainly Tidal).

How Apple Music fulfills Apple’s brand promise.

For most Apple users, any music they have purchased either on their computers, iPads or iPhones has been done through iTunes. iTunes already does a pretty good job in combining streaming radio with a user’s local library. Adding a streaming service may blurs that line to some, but a user does not need a separate application (simplicity).

Starting with the original version of iTunes and the iTunes Store, Apple has consistently innovated to make them more integrated, easy to use, and feature rich. Apple’s streaming service marks another innovation to an already solid platform.

Apple has sold more than a billion iOS devices. It has created a market for its music service and offers the unique advantage of a family plan with six devices for $15. Spotify currently gives a discount of 50% per devices so six would cost about $35. Further, Apple will be giving users free three-month trials. Unless there are some real problems with the service, once users see how easy and integrated it is, why would anyone go back to Spotify, or any other streaming service?

So is Apple late to the streaming music party? Absolutely, but it’s not because it couldn’t do it before. It’s because Apple wanted to do it right.


Confederate Battle Flag

A reasonable view of the Confederate Battle Flag

I am a history hound and have a special love and interest in the Civil War. The controversy over the South Carolina use of the Confederate Battle flag is of special interest to me. Born and raised in New Jersey, I had a Great Great Great Grandfather that fought for the Union. Peter S. Dougherty and his brother Pryor joined the Union Army with Company B, 23rd Infantry Regiment New Jersey on 13 September 1862 in Bordentown, NJ. Peter fought at Fredericksburg and his regiment stormed Marye’s Heights against Longstreet’s corps.

fredvalor_in_grayMarye’s Heights was a bloody and hopeless conflict at Fredericksburg. Porter Alexander (later a Brigadier General for the Confederacy) was famous for saying “a chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.” He was right. Longstreet’s corp was nestled behind a stone wall at the top of a gently rising slope. No Union soldier got closer than 50 yards.

I mention this because, despite my Yankee heritage, I have always had Confederate leanings. As a small child, my heroes were Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. This was well before I had any understanding of the reasons behind the war.

Today, I am certainly glad the Union won that war.

I am glad the war was won by the Union army and that the fight was against slavery. Lincoln elevated the raison d’être for the war on January 1 1863. We are well to remember that, up until that date, Lincoln was willing to ensure the institution of slavery for unification after his election.

Confederate Battle FlagEven to this day, I admire General Lee for his integrity, leadership, demeanor and savvy. Those that know me can easily understand my affinity for the underdog. My business at Stealing Share is all about helping underdogs in a market steal share from the market leader.

So how do I feel about the Confederate Battle Flag that flies in South Carolina? Take it down and put it away in a museum or an historical reenactment. For me, it takes away from the historical battle flag as a historical symbol of a culture long gone. By trying to contemporize the symbol into something that reeks of racism. We can thank the Southern segregationists and the KKK for the rancor. In the 50s and 60s there is no defense of the racism that the flag now represents. It’s just wrong to fly it today.

However, the Confederate Battle Flag belongs in museums and it belongs in the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University because in those places it is about history. (I wrote a blog chastising the University for removing the Battle Flags from the Lee Chapel. You can read it here)

Confederate Battle FlagNo one should be offended by their state. A pickup truck riding down the road with a Confederate battle flag bumper sticker is not telling the world that they are history buffs. We all know what it means (a redneck racist) and it is offensive to my sensibilities and our national precepts.

There is a time and place for everything and states that cling to the Confederate Battle flag are out of time and in the wrong place.

I will still tingle with historical excitement when I see the battle flag proudly displayed at Civil War Reenactments. At these events, the historic flag is about the lost cause and the men that fought and died for something they believed in. They believed in their home states.


Confederate Flag at Washington and Lee

Was the Confederate Flag(s) that adorned the Lee Chapel as offensive as the South Carolina Flag?

Confederate FlagWith all the turmoil over the Confederate Flag in South Carolina (which I make an argument for its removal) I think it is important to look at what happened recently at Washington and Lee University. Here political correctness stripped the General’s Memorial of his Army’s flags in the banal service of political correctness.

What is the brand of Washington and Lee University? Does it have anything to do with the Confederate Flag?

Lee Chapel and the Confederate FlagThis is a tough call. Is it history or racism? I do not know how a University that is named after General Robert E Lee can walk away from his battle flag. I realize that symbols carry great power and can excite great emotions. To my thinking, the lee Chapel is a museum of sorts. A place where the General’s remains lie so it should come to no one’s surprise that a few of the battle flags surround his memorial.

Here we were faced with a choice — Should the university try to downplay the history of its roots or the deep feelings of its current students? I believe that there are two valid sides to this argument, but history has been written.

The University was misguided

If the University needs to distance themselves from Robert. E Lee then they should consider removing his name from the school itself and not just the Confederate Flag. His name was, after all, added after the Confederate General’s death to what was then Washington College. It is a slippery slope here. George Washington held slaves too.

Lee recumbent in the battle field surrounded by the Confederate FlagSadly, from my point of view the University bowed to the pressure of its politically correct students and decided to remove the Confederate flag. This is a tragedy in my mind. Not just for historians but for the University itself. Washington and Lee has no idea what its brand is all about.

If you are interested in what the fuss was all about, take a look. What you see in the Lee Chapel is a statue of Lee recalling in the battlefield (no it is not a statue of Lee after death) designed by Edward Valentine. On each side you will see a few of the Confederate Battle Flags.

Lee Chapel and the Confederate FlagDirectly below this recumbent statue, in a crypt, General lee is buried along with his wife Mary Anna Randolph Custis (great-granddaughter of Martha Washington) and his father Light Horse Harry Lee, his mother and Lee’s seven children. Traveler, his famous horse was reentered and buried outside the entrance to the General’s office.

It is not as if the Chapel was festooned with flags or sat atop a seat of government (like the South Carolina Capitol). This is a solemn place and a memorial to an American (lee was granted his citizenship by President Gerald Ford in 1975. It is worth a read here to understand the circumstances of his amnesty.