• 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.

The Tom Dougherty Blog

The brand problem of the NFL

We’re only into week 2 of the NFL season and the NFL is reeling from a series of events that it either failed to acknowledge in the first place, was incompetent to investigate, or simply did not think mattered enough to properly act upon. But the reality of the situation is that this is nothing new. Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson are just the latest players in trouble in a league with a history of looking the other way.

The third case on the radar concerns Carolina’s Greg Hardy, which exemplifies the league looking the other way. Hardy was convicted on domestic assault chargers by a judge earlier this year but the NFL is not imposing any sanctions until his jury appeal later this year.

Does the "shield" need protecting?
Is the “shield” crumbling?

We can go back to 2000 when Ray Lewis was charged with murder, later plea-bargained to obstruction of justice and was fined $250,000, the largest fine ever imposed for a non-substance abuse infraction, but pocket change to a player like Lewis. He was never suspended.

The NFL may think it has an image or PR problem but I don’t think many thought it had a brand problem – at least until late yesterday.

Anheuser-Bush sent a letter to the NFL stating its displeasure with the way the NFL has handled these most recent events. It reads:

“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.”

Anheuser-Bush spends more than $200 million a year with the NFL. McDonalds and Campbell’s Soup have also voiced their concerns, and Nike announced today it is suspending Peterson from endorsing its products.

The NFL has a serious problem.

A brand is certainly about what a company represents and stands for all in the context of those who use it, but more importantly it should be a reflection of those who consume the brand. The public outrage by itself demonstrates that the NFL brand (or “the Shield,” as commissioner Roger Goodell tells it) is failing.

Anheuser-Bush, McDonalds, Campbell’s and the rest know that when they advertise, their brands are always seen in the context of the medium it is presented in. That is, the NFL.

They now see the potential for their brands to be negatively affected by the NFL’s brand and are proactively addressing them by hitting the NFL where it hurts the worst, its wallet and the threat to pull out altogether.

The NFL’s brand seems to be more about protecting revenues than doing the right thing, which is why we have all the uproar, the NFL is being far too reactive in dealing with the issues.

And yet again, the NFL will react to Anheuser-Bush, not because it is the right thing to do, but it is the right move financially. The brand of the NFL needs to do better than that.


Urban Outfitters deserves the criticism

I’m a little taken back by Urban Outfitters desperate cries for attention.

In case you missed the story this week, the retail chain has apologized for a tastelessly designed sweatshirt that it had recently offered online. The shirt, which featured a vintage Kent State University logo splattered in faux blood stains and gunshot wounds (a deplorable reference to the Kent State massacre of 1970), has been hotly criticized — as it should be.

Now, who thought this was a good idea?
Now, who thought this was a good idea?

Come now, the folks at Urban Outfitters didn’t realize the shirt was in poor taste when it offered it? Give me a break.

Rightly so, the design has drawn the ire of the National Guard, as well as survivors of the shooting, and Kent State officials, who stated: “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.” I couldn’t agree more.

I’ve always been skeptical of the notion that any press is good press. The example here is simply classless and crosses an ethical line, and only paints Urban Outfitters as being careless.

What’s more, the selling of said shirt indicates that Urban Outfitters believes its target audience is both out of touch and self-absorbed. Oh, the irony that exists in that.

Just consider how wrong this sweatshirt is.

It’s just as bad as a blood stained Columbine High school shirt.

It’s just as horrible as one with a Sandy Hook Elementary logo.

In fact, anything like this is simply unacceptable. I’d be ashamed if I were you Urban Outfitters.


The demise of RadioShack is a lesson for all retailers

Adapting to change is the precursor to success, an adage that many retailers fail to understand. When we took a look at the retail industry, we found that many lost retailers that were hanging on to old business models and advertising with excepted messaging. There was little new and fresh happening.

That’s why the news of RadioShack filing bankruptcy is no surprise, nor is its attempt to raise cash to close more stores (it costs money on the front end to close stores). Basically, RadioShack is going the way of Borders, Circuit City, Coldwater Creek and so many other retailers that die a confused, painful death.

Because they did not adapt to change.

We’ve talked about Radio Shack before and our basic thrust about its failure wasn’t just in the tiny offerings the retailer offered or even about it failing to identify what it was. (Lately, it’s been in the business of selling cheap phones.) It failed to adjust on a brand level to change.

"The Shack" was a failure because it was a refusal to change
“The Shack” was a failure because it was a refusal to change

As you might remember, Radio Shack at one point attempted to be known as the “The Shack.” Well, it flopped, of course, because it was the retailer only being half-pregnant with its rebranding effort. It was trying hang on to what it mistakenly thought was a brand equity while attempting to be cool and hip for a new generation. After all, it thought, if the term “radio” was holding it back, let’s just get rid of it.

Instead, RadioShack should have gone all in and completely transformed itself, knowing the landscape had completely changed. It could have tried to understand what the electronics buyer (like me) wanted and aspired to be. Instead, it stood in its tracks, with only a tentative step forward. That was exactly the same strategy Circuit City and Borders took.

They are gone now.

So, retailers, even those in clothing, you are living in a changing climate where you can become irrelevant in a matter of months. Abercrombie & Fitch, one of the “hip” brands of yesteryear, is struggling and going with gimmicks (like its “no logo” approach). The discount stores are consolidating and the big box retailers are all failing at the knee of Walmart.

It’s not that difficult. You need to accept that change is happening and make the honest and brave decisions to change as well.


Ray Rice is out as a Raven – but questions remain

The NFL and the Baltimore Ravens got things right yesterday – but it sure took long enough and there are still enough questions left unanswered to prevent you from holding both up as pillars of the moral code.

If you’re a fan at all of professional football, you probably knew about Ray Rice’s suspension.

But if you’re not aware of the news, here’s the gist:

iRay Rice, a running back for the Ravens, earned a paltry two-game suspension at the start of the NFL season for assaulting his then fiancee, Janay Palmer. Most were up in arms about Rice’s seemingly short punishment, and even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell admitted later that he blew it with the short suspension. A few weeks after handing down that punishment, the NFL increased the suspensions for domestic abuse.

Then came Monday. TMZ Sports released footage of the abusive incident that occurred in an Atlantic City hotel elevator. The film, which was recorded on a security camera inside the elevator, shows Rice punching his Palmer with such severity that she went airborne, hit her head on the handrail, and was knocked cold for several minutes.

Here’s the footage.

Following the release of the footage, the Ravens cut Rice from the team and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.

Those were the right moves, but did the NFL and the Ravens see the footage earlier? Both claimed they hadn’t until the rest of us saw it, but I’m doubtful. Some reports have suggested that both parties had seen the tape when the original two-game suspension was handed down.

Even so, what did they think went on in the elevator? A game of patty cake? We didn’t even need the elevator tape when the outside security camera caught Rice dragging his fiancee through the elevator doors.

We’ve given too much rope to professional athletes. Like teachers, an athlete’s job is to perform, but to also recognize their inspirational hold on others. It’s why we can’t allow incidents like this with Rice to go unpunished or be brushed aside. Our world needs better.

For the NFL and the Ravens, I think this was a case of both wanting the story to be swept away and got caught with the broom in their hands. So the next time either claims to have high, moral standards, I’m going to be skeptical.


It’s not all sunshine for for-profit universities

The fact that a few of the leading for-profit universities are seeing their stock prices rise may seem like good news, but a deeper look demonstrates that most are heading down the wrong, well-worn path.

For example, Strayer’s shares have risen 75% over the last year, the first bounce it’s seen in five years. In that span, the price had dropped 70%.

For-profit universities are cutting costs and lowering tuition
For-profit universities are cutting costs and lowering tuition

But the reason investors are interested again is because those online universities are cutting costs and lowering tuition. This is basically the equivalent of a business like, oh, Circuit City laying off workers, putting everything on sale and, soon enough, closing its brick-and-mortar stores.

This has been the basic problem with for-profit universities for years. In fact, a few years ago, we published a study on universities as a whole, including examining the for-profit ones, and came to that same conclusion.

As we noted then, “For-profits seek to strike a cord with low-income potential students looking for degrees to change their life’s circumstance.” That’s gotten them into trouble in the past with investors and government regulators alike. As CNN reported today, “Critics of for-profit colleges argue that they prey on the poor by over promising and under delivering on career prospects after graduation.”

So, basically, the rise in shares for for-profit universities (DeVry’s shares have risen 20% while Capella has jumped 13% in the past three months) is because of the same exact reasons why they were in trouble in the first place: Lack of depth among degrees (cutting costs) and preying on lower income students (cutting tuition).

It’s a route heading into disappointing returns again for the for-profits. It’s just being done a little more drastically. The for-profit universities need a different approach or their reputations – and bottom lines – will take a hit again.


Miller Lite goes retro, but it will only last so long

It looks like Miller Lite lucked into a branding success as its retro look, originally unveiled for a limited time when Anchorman 2 was released, has taken hold.

The three-month promotion has given way to a more permanent stance as Miller announced it will keep the original white design of bygone years and divest itself (at least for now) of the blue cans. It even has a new advertising campaign to spotlight its retro vision.

Miller LiteThe reason why Miller Lite is recapturing its past is that the Anchorman 2 promotion worked. Its sales increased after losing more than 1 percent market share over the last decade, slipping to the No. 4 spot among the best selling beers in the U.S.

Miller Lite “lucked” into this because it didn’t plan it this way. The white, retro label was just a marketing ploy, but only turned into something more when sales were suddenly not dropping.

Drinkers saw the new/old brand and recalled the days of Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith making of fun of their macho images in the ads of the late 70s and early 80s. In today’s beer market, in which usage is shrinking (and moving to wine and spirits), anything different stands out.

The real problem rests in the current Miller Lite brand. The reason for the bump is that the retro brand at least meant something, which the current brand does not.

This means the bump will be temporary. Eventually, Miller Lite will need to figure out what makes its brand different and better than the competition. (Which is why Miller Lite started a creative agency review last month.) Once sales inevitably drop again, Miller Lite cannot go back to looking like everybody else and there’s only so many retro looks available.


Don’t Recline your Airline Seats

OK, I think I have had enough. I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal with the headline “Airline Seat Battles: Be Kind, Don’t Recline?” It was about the minuscule space afforded airline passengers in economy cabin seats and how we should not recline our airline seats.

Airline seats are hard and uncomfortable
If you want comfort it is your responsibility

I fly constantly and because of that, I sometimes get upgraded to First Class where a snack box comes with every rock-hard seat and free alcoholic drinks are offered to the business teetotalers because of impending meetings. Still, I spend more time than the average flyer in economy and economy plus.

It really makes me mad that the responsibility for the comfort of the person behind me now resides with me. Don’t get me wrong, it almost makes me sick when the person in front of me reclines their seat and, not only is there not enough room to work on my computer but I get a bird’s eye view of my fellow passenger’s scalp diseases. Why is this my responsibility? Why don’t air passengers hold the airlines responsible for the basics of comfort?

It has gotten to the point where I travel with a memory foam cushion for my butt and a back support cushion for the small of my back. This is simply to ensure that I can get off the plane without limping up the jet way.

The airlines, last I looked, are making money again. The flights I seem to fly, while rarely on time, a full to capacity with a dozen or so stand-by passengers waiting in line for the claustrophobic privilege of smelling one another’s scalps.

I guess we get what we deserve and I guess we deserve nothing. In the meantime, let’s “Keep Climbing” with DELTA or “Flying the Friendly (albeit cramped and uncomfortable) Skies” with United. Maybe the “New American” Airlines will treat passengers better? Oh wait a minute, now I remember; the merger of US Airways and American Airlines was for the airline’s benefit and not the flying public’s. My bad.


Tobacco Ban. Shouldn’t CVS Get Completely Pregnant?

I read a story today about a follow up plan from CVS banning tobacco sales in its stores. “To bolster its image as a health care company, CVS will announce a corporate name change to CVS Health. Retail stores will still be called CVS/Pharmacy.”

CVS banning tobacco. CVS needs a name change
The acronym CVS just means pharmacy

This is a prime example of a brand not taking advantage of its leadership.

I think I mentioned in the past that I took this same idea to Rite Aid over a decade ago. (Rite Aid was under different management then and it was like a meeting with The Sopranos.) Needless to say, they were not very interested in doing so.

So kudos to CVS for running with the new position. But, shame on you for not leveraging the move in a way that would steal market share.

You ABSOLUTELY need a name change and not simply a change of the company’s legal name. The pharmacy itself needs to rebrand.

I believe that your current customers will appreciate the move and that loyalty will increase based upon the new tobacco ban. But the goal should be to attract the competitor’s customers and they — not your customers – need to SEE the change and understand it. Right now, you are simply a meaningless three-letter acronym that means pharmacy.

Come on guys. CVS banning of tobacco sales is a BIG move. Don’t blow this.