The Tom Dougherty Blog
A once-iconic brand has just thrown in the towel. BlackBerry has released its BlackBerry Classic 2, which is just what the name of the phone suggests: A “modern” BlackBerry with all of the features of the once beloved road warrior carried by millions.
In many ways, it looks like the iconic phone – the built-in keyboard, optical trackpad and its traditional navigational keys. By today’s standards, it does look like a dinosaur in form and design. I feel pretty confident in saying that was the point.
It feels like BlackBerry’s strategy with this phone is to try to bring its once rabid fan base back home by giving those fans something they know instantly just by looking at it.
The problem is that BlackBerry is way too late. Its rabid fan base has moved on to other devices and BlackBerry has fumbled its brand so much I doubt it has the brand power to reengage fans. This is nostalgia – a look back, not a step forward.
Perhaps it is a parting gift, a thank you to the handheld device world it helped create. A gift to the users who never quit BlackBerry. If so, enjoy your new phone BlackBerry users and use it to salute better past days for the brand because I don’t think we will see it again.
I’ve taken a strong interest to the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment — and what looking into the leaked documents says about my personal brand.
In case you’ve missed the storm that has hit Sony, it’s a doozy.
On November 21, Sony received an anonymous email from hackers warning that: “Great Damage by Sony Pictures” and that the company would be “bombarded as a whole” if it doesn’t pay.
A few days later, the hacker group, known as the GOP, said if its demands were not met by a specified time, internal Sony documents would be released. The demands weren’t met and a flood of documents was released. The Sony hack was in full force.
By the start of December, GOP released torrents of unreleased Sony films (“Annie”, “Mr. Turner”, “Still Alice” and “To Write Love on Her Arms”). Moreover, leaked data of internal documents such as salaries of executives, internal passwords, email exchanges, celebrity phone numbers, social security numbers and aliases, and damning personal rendezvous taken by Sony employees.
Here is my dilemma.
Whether or not the GOP is a group of North Korean hackers upset with the upcoming release of the film, “The Interview” (a comedy that portrays the assassination of Kim Jong-Un), a deep part of me feels that it’s wrong downloading film torrents and reading through the internal day-to-day communications of Sony Pictures.
Journalists might say that it is their right to sift through the information and divulge on their findings, based on the First Amendment. But I beg the question: Is it necessary that we know how much James Franco was paid to travel to and from the set of “The Interview”?
No. It’s not. Reading into the juicy gossip inside Sony is on par with TMZ’s nightly coverage of Hollywood; and it’s as damning of your integrity as looking for the leaked naked photos of Jennifer Lawrence.
The story isn’t about the dirt we can find out, but how the dirt was uncovered.
It always amazes me when companies decide the way to increase profits is to cut costs. Like that’s a long-term strategy.
Instead, it’s really a way for company executives to make the next quarter’s reports look better and to appease shareholders. “Look,” the investors say. “The CEO is thinking about us and our dividends.”
That’s what PetSmart has been doing, cutting $200 million out of its budget in an attempt to fight off stale sales.
But there is a bit of sunshine rising over the horizon. PetSmart is about to be bought by private equity firm BC Partners, which will make the company private – therefore, not so beholden to shareholders.
This way, the company and BC Partners can think long term, although we’ll have to see if they follow the right path. You see, the reason why it amazes me that companies think cutting costs is the only way to be relevant again is that it eventually leads to its demise. (Think Circuit City.) You just keep cutting and cutting until there’s nothing left.
What PetSmart should be doing is investing in regaining its preference. In announcing the purchase, BC Partners said, “PetSmart is an iconic brand and the category leader in the growing pet retail industry.”
It’s not so iconic anymore. Sales are flat, there is greater competition (especially from the local shops) and online has eaten into its market share. PetSmart might be the market leader, but its preference among pet owners is shrinking.
BC Partners stated it does foresee a strategic overhaul and it does note that the US pet industry is booming – so it sees the opportunity.
But simply cutting costs will not seize the opportunity. There is a brand problem at PetSmart, which has been overlooked due to its market leadership. In fact, it’s when you are doing well when you should be vigilant in ensuring your brand does what it is supposed to do: Create preference.
No one can ever criticize automobile brands for not spending enough money on advertising. For any media buyer, an automotive manufacturer is a plumb. But that has never stopped these companies from confusing activity with accomplishment. (We have been critical of the auto industry before. Read more here.)
In advertising execution, the enemy of great advertising is not bad advertising. The enemy of great advertising is good advertising. Anyone can spot a bad commercial but, all too often, brands get lured in to a creative (according the agency) commercial that sacrifices all of its equity in a desire to entertain or just be different.
Here is a case in point. If you are like me you have seen a recent commercial where a young couple find a lost finch— his flock, according to the screenplay (and it is a screenplay not a commercial script). And the young couple takes off with the exhausted bird in a cross-country trek to find the flock.
This commercial is filled with pseudo-emotional shots where the couple and the little bird in a shoebox cross stateliness looking for the flock and asking everyone they pass if they have seen the migrating flock.
At the end of the commercial, the exhausted couple sees a singular finch on a fence and they release their chauffeured bird into the wild. In what passes for the emotional crescendo, the entire flock rises and swirls around our hero couple and takes flight.
I’m sure you’ve seen this piece of art. Here is the commercial for those of you that missed it.
By the way, I had to Google the commercial to remember what brand was being advertised. It turns out to be the Nissan Altima. That is the problem of course. The brand message is quite secondary to the story being told. And the story tries to pull at our emotions and pretends to be sensitive and inspiring through a story line that is so absurd that we feel abused to have bothered to watch it.
The brand suffers here because none of it is believable, which by the way, is not a co-requisite in great advertising. Take the Coke- Mean Joe Green Commercial from years ago. It wasn’t just manipulative. This commercial is. Now, after a few viewings, I literally groan when it pops up on the air. Nissan is lucky that the brand is not deeply associated or remembered in this spot. If it were, it would not only be a waste of money but destructive too.
Compare this with the emotional and yet compelling campaign by Dodge. This commercial is running with a few variations on a theme. All are emotional, aspirational and build REAL brand value. It is believable, important and memorable. So is the brand that sponsors it.
Amazon is rolling out a new feature in which shoppers can make offers on a selected set of products sold through its site. Called “Make an Offer,” at first shoppers will mostly only be able to make offers on collectables and art. At face value, that seems like a good idea. It is not uncommon for shoppers to haggle with shop owners on the value of items in a store, so why not try to duplicate it online? After all, this online haggling will be done privately via email.
To be fair, this is a pretty good idea – for this small group of goods. However, what happens if shoppers start demanding it open this up to more categories? Does Amazon try this in clothing, electronics or toys?
Does this become a slippery slope of sorts in which Amazon becomes half eBay and half online marketplace? Further, do commercial retailers who sell on on the site want this to happen? Or does Amazon think that it doesn’t matter. Does it think that it is so much of a retailing behemoth that retailers have to sell on Amazon regardless of how much margin is squeezed? Walmart has succeeded with this approach, but its target customer is quite different than Amazon’s.
Regardless of how big Amazon thinks it is, it is still beholden to two customers, the retailer and the shopper. In today’s marketplace, shopping online is easy and there are always other outlets from both the retailer and shopper’s perspective. It must be careful how it utilizes this feature in order to give customers what they want (a deal) and what retailers need (margin).
I did a double take when I heard this: Pizza Hut is offering pizza with a Doritos crust.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Somewhere between a menu that can read customer’s thoughts by the motion of your eyes as read by a tableted menu, and this insane new tortilla crust concept, Pizza Hut has completely derailed.
I apologize for my cynicism.
You know what. I take that back. I believe businesses have an obligation to their customers to be sensible.
This all reminds me of a scene from the Werner Herzog documentary, Grizzly Man. In the film, Timothy Tredwell both explored and lived with Alaskan grizzlies. Tredwell would return to the habitat every year, until he broke his traditional staying pattern, and was eaten alive by an emaciated and hungry Grizzly. At one point in the film, Herzog narrated that the grizzlies had left Tredwell alone because they assumed he was mentally damaged. The grizzlies cognitively understood that a sane animal would not act in the way Tredwell was (attempting to live among a massive and carnivorous animal), and so they left him alone.
While a seemingly complex analogy, the connection here is simple: when one is clear minded, you seek to avoid those with damaged thought processes.
And so, with decisions like a bevy of Doritos acting as crust – and an idiotic soothsayer menu – Pizza Hut is looking more and more damaged by the day. I know I’ll be staying away. Just like those bears.
Can a publication that’s been around for 47 years be permanently harmed by one article? Can a movement be doubted because of the mistakes from that article?
Those are the questions I’m asking in light of Rolling Stone’s admission that its scathing article about a gang rape on the University of Virginia campus was, shall we say, incomplete. The article itself, published Nov. 19, was so shocking that it prompted the university to shut down operations among all the fraternities on campus, local police began an investigation and the article started a national discussion on sexual abuse on campuses.
The story was that troublesome and statistics have shown that there is a sexual abuse problem on our nation’s campuses. What Rolling Stone failed to do was to attempt to talk with those on the other side of the equation (the accused), which The Washington Post did – only to find out that many of the facts were questionable at best.
For Rolling Stone, I believe its brand (outside of its music reporting, it has been known for not being afraid of publishing hard-edged journalistic pieces that go all the way back to Hunter S. Thompson and up to the recent article on Gen. Stanley McChrystal) will keep it relevant even as many will be wary of its true intentions. It’s true that Rolling Stone is not what it used to be in terms of having an important place in our collective culture, but its brand is strong enough to overcome this mistake long term.
For the raised awareness of sexual abuse on campuses, I have greater worries. This is a serious issue that should be discussed despite Rolling Stone’s misstep. Reports of sexual abuse on campuses are rising up to 50% from earlier this decade with a handful of our largest universities posting shocking numbers.
Now, there is fodder for defendants that those numbers are overblown and that there is no epidemic on our campuses. Of course, who is guilty or not should be proven at court, not by public opinion. But the movement itself has taken the far greater hit from Rolling Stone backing away from the story than Rolling Stone itself.
It will take some time for it to regain traction, and I agree with the UVA student newspaper that said this issue should not be ignored no matter what was true or not true about the Rolling Stone article.
But the hardest work the movement faces has now arrived.
Cell phone carriers are going the way of the pizza. OK, just follow me here.
As we’ve noted numerous times, the major pizza outlets have left brand behind to simply play on price. They have taught consumers that, when they call for a delivery, the first question to ask is: “What’s today’s deal?”
The same could be said for the cell phone carriers, who have dwindled their brands down to simply what kind of deal I can get today. It’s not a perfect analogy (they never are), but Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s dominate the pizza market, while AT&T, Verizon and Sprint are basically the only cell phone carriers left. (T-Mobile is still around but rumors persist that it will merge with Sprint soon.)
To lure in new customers, Sprint is now offering Verizon and AT&T users to cut their rate plans in half if they come over the Sprint side. It turns out the deal isn’t as great as it sounds (more on that later), but to the consumer it looks like it’s another daily deal. If it wasn’t for the contracts (although Sprint will pay up to $350 per line in your termination fees), consumers could just do what we do when ordering pizza does. Just call and ask, “What’s today’s deal?”
The problem with this approach (basically buying market share) is that it is so temporary and it doesn’t create preference. You just have a bunch of bargain shoppers who leave you just as quickly as they came to you in the first place.
Sprint isn’t the only one. AT&T is offering a $150 bill credit when you sign up. Verizon is doing exactly the same thing. Some smart app developer could just produce an app that tells you who has the best deal this month and you could change back & forth, saving money and even keeping the same phone number.
This is craziness, only made worse by the fact the deals aren’t all they are cracked up to be. In the Sprint deal, if you are part of a family plan, then the entire family has to sign up and you must still buy a new phone from Sprint.
There is a better way, of course. Verizon, AT&T and Sprint should focus on the emotional drivers for cell phone users that will enable them to keep customers (and attract new ones) without having to discount everything. (Think of what Apple has done with the iPhone.)
Pretty soon, we’re just gonna order up a new plan each weekend like ordering a pepperoni pizza.