The Tom Dougherty Blog
After coming out of the recession, it’s nice to see that the automobile industry has rebounded, both in terms of volume and profitability. Lower gas prices have refueled America’s interest in SUVs and trucks, and cheap money has enabled people to buy that automobile they were putting off purchasing.
If history is any guide, what typically happens when an industry does well is that its players take a deep breath and ride on the wave of growth. Players typically don’t truly think ahead because they don’t feel the need to do it. The urgency isn’t there.
The urgency has just arrived. They may not upset the apple cart, but Apple may.
I have been reading how many auto executives are growing more and more concerned with what is going on with Google and Apple. On the one hand, all the manufacturers want to partner with either or both of them to ensure compatibility with their mobile devices and seamlessly integrate the device with the automobile.
They want to use Apple’s and Google’s OS to run their navigations and other features. In short, they need Apple and Google because their customers demand it. The mobile phone is as ubiquitous in cars today as the seat belt.
On the other hand, Apple and Google are working on manufacturing and selling their own cars.
Google has been working on a self-driving car for years and Apple has its Project Titan. You might be thinking, “So what? How are two tech companies with no automotive experience between them going to hurt an industry so important that the US government bailed them out when they get into trouble?”
The answer is simple, they are going to hurt automakers the same way they have hurt any other competitor that has stood between them and success – they are going to hurt them with their brands.
Apple and Google stand for something. They have rabid, passionate, almost fanatical consumer bases. They may not always be the “best” with a particular device, app, computer or service. But they both represent something so tangible that people will inconvenience themselves in order to have it.
People covet their Androids and iPhones. The Google and Apple brands protect them from missteps and amplify their successes. Simply put, there are few, if any automobile brands that share that same widespread brand affinity with their consumers.
Sure, there are pockets of people here and there who will go to the grave in a Chevy or Ford but that pales in comparison to number of people who stand out in the cold, snow and rain to gobble up the next iPhone or who so willingly give up some of their privacy to use Gmail.
The automobile industry is prime fodder for Apple and Google because there is not a single manufacturer that has spent even a quarter of the time, money and energy that Apple and Google have on their brands. Branding in the automobile industry is a barren wasteland of discarded advertising and slogans that proved to be meaningless to the market, campaign after campaign, year after year.
Watch this year’s Super Bowl ads. How many of us really remember which brand did which ad. Didn’t they all look the same?
The way I figure it, automotive manufacturers have less than five years to do something proactive about creating some real brand meaning before Apple and Google come in and show them what true brand power is all about.
As extreme as it sounds, it would be really sad 10 years from now to read about how similar the demise of BlackBerry is to the demise of Ford, Chevrolet or any other car company today. We all know the power of Apple and Google. So I ask you, automakers, what are you going to do about it? Can you afford not to?
It’s time we talked about Kickstarter.
Let me be frank. When I first learned about the site years ago, my cynicism went wild. At the time, I was irked by already successful film directors seeking funds for projects or an already professional band looking for $30,000 to record a new album. It all felt a tad bogus to me and not supporting those that Kickstarter was intended to back.
Then something changed.
I visited the site again a few years later and took the time to read up on a whole bunch of projects. My intrigue grew.
For those unaware of what Kickstarter is, it’s a website that accepts and promotes crowd-funded projects. Participants wishing to have their projects funded select a certain time frame to promote, choose an amount of money they wish to raise, and do a little bit of self-promotion (advertisements, project details, etc.). Should enough sponsors back a project in that pre-selected time period, the participant gets the funds. Once funded, particular obligations must be fulfilled for sponsors.
Dollars speak loudly on Kickstarter, as they represent the interest of the community. For example, about a month back, I wrote on the Pebble watch, which initially launched on Kickstarter. Just last week, the folks at Pebble announced its new watch, the Pebble Time (a colorized smartwatch that functions on a timeline-centric operating system), on Kickstarter. Since the proposal, Pebble has garnered $11 million. And there is still 25 days to go in the campaign. So far, this is the most backed project ever on the site.
I also wrote on the Neil Young-crafted Pono high-definition music player. This device also earned millions during the fundraising campaign – far exceeding expectations.
Perhaps my change of heart happened because I’ve become a fan of the TV show Shark Tank. On the show, five investors, or “the Sharks” as they’re called, listen to inventors and consider whether or not to assist in the funding of the project. The show is addictive. I’ve become quite fond of start-ups and observe the genesis of brands and the plethora of exceptional ideas around us.
Kickstarter allows for that as well. Now, I’m no longer a skeptic, but rather a backer of multiple projects that I believe in. I’m a mini-shark, and I love that.
When Apple first introduced the iPad, it had a brilliant line in unveiling it: “You already know how to use it.”
It was marvelous because it exemplified Apple’s brand promise of simplicity, and it also was true. The iPhone had already shot to the top of the list of smartphones, so most of us did know how to use the iPad even if we weren’t aware of it yet.
That approach has taken a similar shape with the new campaign from Kraft Mac & Cheese. As adults, we know the mixture (usually just macaroni, butter and that ghastly cheese dust) isn’t exactly the healthiest food we could eat. Kids might love it, but we know better.
Or do we?
Kraft’s ads end with the line: “You know you love it.” And, damn, if that doesn’t hit right at home. We, as adults, have convinced ourselves that Kraft Mac & Cheese is disgusting. But there is a secret part of us – maybe remembering when we were kids – that would like to eat a spoonful of it if it was recently made. Secretly, without admitting it openly, we do love it.
That’s the skill of that tagline. It feeds on a shared belief and does it in a way that says that Kraft knows it’s a secret.
The ads target adults, which may seem like a losing strategy. I’m not sure most adults would buy Kraft Mac & Cheese for themselves. What the ads do accomplish, however, is that, because “you know you love it,” you have permission to get it for the ones who openly love it: Kids.
I’m not sure if the one spot with Estelle Harris (of Seinfeld fame) has the right tone. (It seems a little mean.) But the spot with the mother doing the airplane trick with the baby hits the right feel.
Like most big brands, Kraft will probably only run the spots for a relatively short time. “You know you love it” is used as an advertising tagline rather than a real brand theme. So any increased sales are likely to be temporary.
But it’s always heartening for me to see a brand that will actually build its marketing based on a belief.
On this snowy and cold North Carolina Friday, I wanted to point out a story in Bloomberg Business about the rise and fall of Kellogg, the top cereal-producing company in the U.S.
As we’ve noted in our own study of the cereal market, the industry has bottomed out as consumers have, ironically, found healthier and more convenient ways to eat breakfast.
I say ironic because when W.K. Kellogg first founded his company, it was to give consumers a healthier and more convenient alternative to the leftover meats they were eating in the early 1900s. Now, with Kellogg’s top-selling cereal being Frosted Flakes, the cereals are less healthy and convenient than simply grabbing a yogurt or breakfast bar on the way out the door.
What is interesting about the Bloomberg article, which tells the inside story of Kellogg cereals, is how much Kellogg has lost its way as a brand. You see, brands aren’t just marketing endeavors. They are also the compasses that direct everything you do, from product development to marketing to what you stand for (and who your customer represents).
In Kellogg’s case, it went so far into the unhealthy, sugar cereals that it got on the wrong side of history. It didn’t help that it tried to enter the health market by buying Kashi – then transforming the brand into Kashi Chocolate Almond Butter cookies and even Kashi frozen pizzas.
Talk about not understanding the brand.
But the problems of the cereal companies are larger than how to handle its individual brands. What Kellogg and its competitors (such as General Mills, which has had tremendous success with its Cheerios brand) need to consider is what they should own.
Right now, they own that spot where dying brands like Radio Shack, Blockbuster and others were several years ago. They look archaic and completely out of step.
What they should own is breakfast. We’ve seen a few attempts at it, as referenced in our study. But with each passing day, fast food restaurants and other outlets are owning that daypart and no cereal company is going to out-product its way out of the dilemma.
If one of those cereal companies wants to know how to turn around its fortunes, call me.
I have a confession to make. I like to collect things and I’ll go through obsessive stages where it’s either collecting ties with elephants on them or socks with unusual designs. (eBay is my best friend.)
Over the last year or so, I’ve also been collecting old pocket watches that go as far back as the 1800s. I find them fascinating and feel they are a piece of history.
They are also a style. A fashion, if you will. It’s from that perspective that the first marketing for the Apple Watch is taking the right approach. It’s not about functionality. It’s about fashion.
For the moment, the marketing is subtle. Model Candice Swanepoel is on the cover of Self magazine next month wearing an Apple Watch. There will also be a 12-page spread in an upcoming issue of Vogue.
Why is this the right approach? Because, let’s face it, the reason any of us (including grey-haired men with pocket watches) wear a watch is because of how it looks. We live in an era in which finding the correct time or any other piece of information is right on our phone. I have children who don’t wear a watch because they check the time on their phone. Even if you do wear a watch, you most likely chose it because of how it looks on you.
The Apple Watch is a cool device, like many other Apple devices. But to make the Apple Watch a success, Apple had to understand the reasons why people buy the watches they do.
That’s where fashion comes in. Right now, the approach is feminine but I can imagine Apple expanding that reach through a fashion reflection of other types of customers. The runner. The cool male. (Think Matthew McConaughey in the Lincoln ads.)
It’s the right way to go. Be an aspirational reflection of the customer and understand what drives the market.
If only other brands understood that approach, there would be more brands that were actually stealing share.
Target just announced that it is going to offer free shipping on all orders over $25. Target’s free shipping offer does nothing more than make Target look like everyone else.
I tend to buy things off eBay and compare costs to items with free shipping. Around the big shopping holidays, retailers offer free shipping on nearly everything.
But Amazon Prime still beats them all. Even at $99 a year, it is a deal and you get free shipping on as many orders as you care to make in a year and you get it in two days. Besides, what can I not get at Amazon that I can’t at Target?
I get that Target is trying to cast a wider net, but it’s actually a desperate move in the face of the competition. The reality is that the US customer, in particular, has been conditioned to free shipping. I think that it is already a table stake in the retail category any more. Retailers like Amazon have taught us that.
This isn’t news. It’s catch up. And this is precisely more of the same from a brand that once stood up to Walmart by offering something different and better. Now Target is just the same and the same.
I always find it interesting how the patterns of our life evolve into new patterns.
My job, as a brand guy, is to take notice of those patterns and ask why they exist in the first place.
And so, I have noticed a change in myself and habitual patterns, even when it comes to writing this blog. In the past, I would begin the day by scouring over a host of news websites: Huffington Post, Yahoo!, USA Today and the New York Times, to name a few. I read up on business happenings and connect myself to an idea within a relevant story to my business.
But now, things are different. My process matured into something new.
What happens when I find that story and need a little more info to tell it? That’s when I turn to the most reliable, self-curated news app I am aware of: Flipboard.
The app is an elegant, create-your-own news magazine. I can search any topic and a litany of articles from around the web are presented in a well-crafted “flipbook” about that topic.
This doesn’t leave me without the headlines. I can always check out the sites, “Daily Edition” or choose “news” as a topic choice.
Why did my blogging pattern change?
It’s simple. I wanted the ability to choose the news I wanted to help me tell the stories I wanted, and not have that process dictated for me.
Flipboard gave me that control.
I’m sensing a trend when it comes to the Academy Awards, which gave its Best Picture award to Birdman last night. The Michael Keaton-starrer was about a former superhero actor who wants to be important, so he stages a play.
Two years ago, the winner was Argo, Ben Affleck’s opus about how a fake movie got a handful of Canadians out of Iran. And the year before, the winner was The Artist, a look at the silent movie era.
We can debate the merits of those three films, but one thing is clear. Like the rest of us, the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences like to see an aspirational version of themselves.
That sentiment, of course, is the first rule of having any winning brand. Your must be an aspirational, emotional reflection of the target audience that you are trying to reach.
Three times in the last four years, the Oscars chose to honor a film that is the best representation of themselves: An actor looking to redeem himself. A federal agent posing as a producer in a fake movie to save lives. An actor and actress standing on the cusp of a new art form.
These are what we call brand faces, what the reflection looks like when the target audiences looks at your brand.
There are certainly other reasons why some movies win and others don’t. Some are just better. Some promote a message the academy wants to promote. Some are seen as representative of the year.
But if recent history is any example, the academy members have been more sensitive to their relevancy in the world. It’s foolish to speculate why that emotion may run high (without quantitative research) and it may just because there have been three good (but not great) movies on the subject.
The lesson here, however, that winning brands are that emotional brand face. That’s why the Oscars celebrated Birdman.