The Tom Dougherty Blog
I admire the band Radiohead tremendously.
It took me a bit of time to jump on board and call myself a fan. That’s not something I do willingly of music — in fact, I try to find what I dislike about music first and then work from there. Turns out, there isn’t much to dislike that Radiohead does or to be snarky about. These guys are just good.
I first took note of this around the year 2000. My son, whose favorite album ever is Radiohead’s OK Computer, was feverishly anticipating their follow up, Kid A. He’d read any music rag he could put his hands on that would give him a glimpse into what that album was going to sound like. He was a total fanboy.
Around this time, Time magazine put an article out about the band that I shared with my son. There was a bit from the write-up that I never forgot and gave me the utmost respect for Radiohead, which read something like: “They are not afraid to try something completely new and fail at it.”
To a brand guy, words like that screamed at me to “pay attention to this band!”
Radiohead is world class at being a band and using guerrilla marketing.
I could write a book about everything I love about Radiohead’s music, including their latest single, “Burn the Witch.” But that’s not my specialty. My forte is brand.
Turns out, I respect the way Radiohead promotes material just as much as I do the material.
Take when they released the beautiful In Rainbows. It was “pay what you want” for anyone who purchased it digitally (now a trend in the industry). A remarkable leap of faith.
Or its tactic with the release of the newest single, “Burn the Witch.” The band wiped away its internet presence. It sent out mysterious leaflets that read, “Sing the Song of Sixpence that Goes…Burn the Witch… We Know Where You Live” to UK based fans. The images on the leaflet were avant-garde and just curious enough. Then they posted the song on YouTube and Spotify.
One of Stealing Share’s tenants is that once a strategy is established, all visual and verbal touch-points must be aligned with the new brand.
Radiohead excels at this. The band knows just how to communicate to its customers. It does to me, and not with their music alone.
Well, at least that part’s over. Last night, Ted Cruz announced that he was suspending his campaign in the wake of losing Indiana to Donald Trump.
So it looks like Trump can now glide into the Republican convention as the de facto nominee. It remains to be seen if the convention will be contested, but early indications suggest the contested convention saber rattling was just that. Saber rattling.
But what does that now mean for Trump? I am sure there will be enumerable pundits talking about what he has to do to win the general election. I have no doubt they will say that, since he has all but alienated women and minorities, he will have to focus on the white male vote. Yes, I know it’s a voting bloc but talk like that is taking quite a few steps back.
The road ahead for Trump.
Trump is seen by many as a Washington outsider; a successful businessman who could take his business acumen to, as he puts it, “make America great again.” This is one of his (many) problems. Trump’s brand of making America great again, is a winner for a Republican primary. In many ways, it really hits to the core of the hardcore Republican primary voter. But does it really speak to the core of the general election voter? Registered Republicans account for approximately 25% of the electorate (May 6-10 2016 Gallup). In short, Trump has a major brand problem.
While making America great again may be viewed as highly emotive and important for some, for others it is like fixing a problem that does not exist (see North Carolina’s HB2). For the vast majority of Americans, there are a whole host of things that are more immediate and emotive than that – healthcare and the economy, a general dissatisfaction with the government and unemployment. Sure you could draw dotted lines between those issues and the Trump brand. But for many, it’s not about making America great again. It’s about “what are you going to do for me?”
It will be interesting to see how Trump pivots to make his brand more mainstream. I think he has already left such a bad taste in people’s mouths, including many Republicans, that a high number of voters are just going to sit this one out.
Game of Thrones returned to HBO a few weeks back
Like most fans of the series Game of Thrones, I could not wait to watch. I’m a fan of the show but will readily admit that I am not as committed to it as I was with The Sopranos, the Wire or Deadwood.
But, I am a fan and tuned in a couple of Sundays ago to get my fix. Heck, I even watched the last season again to make sure I did not miss anything. I think, as I look back over the last two episodes, that HBO is the one that missed something.
The show has famously killed, maimed, mutilated and devoured favorite characters in the past. That was part of its appeal. It was unpredictable because characters that you thought vital were wrenched from the series with such a regularity that I found myself second guessing who was next to go. (That, of course, was the point of the George R. R. Martin series of books. It upended the themes of traditional fantasy stories.)
Character is fungible
I recall how sad I was to see Keith Carradine’s powerful portrayal of Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood end in that series, but Wild Bill was actually killed at a card game in reality. I felt that the writers needed to move on if they were to follow any semblance of historical accuracy.
Game of Thrones is a different story. The entire series resides in the head of George R. R. Martin. There is not natural precedent to follow as to the story line. You have to dive in and accept that this writer knows where he is going.
My son has read all the books and informed me earlier this year that the TV show has now outpaced the novels. It appears that we are looking at a storyline that has become a screenplay rather than a literary work. Does it matter? I think it might.
Game of Thrones. Why am I left wanting more?
She said to me in eager terms that she could watch more than one new episode on Sunday nights if HBO arranged for it. That idea… of needing more than an hour on Sunday has made me think.
Game of Thrones has been reduced to a poorly written soap opera. I say this because I hear my mother-in-law going on an on about The Young and the Restless and all of the storylines that seem to go on and on ad infinitum.
So many characters are in play that each and every character seems to take but a half step ahead on each episode. On those rare occurrences when she is vacationing for a few weeks and misses the show, she can pick right up from where she left it without missing a beat.
The Young and the Restless
This season of Game of Thrones seems the same way to me. It feels a lot like The Young and the Restless. Dozens of story lines all moving forward at a snail’s pace. The reason my daughter-in-law craves more episodes (like binge watching) is because each episode on its own is disappointing. Not enough happens beyond the cliché shock ending.
Brands live and die based upon the self-identification of the audience or target. I am beginning to feel a bit self conscious that I am investing so much in a serial program that feels a bit out of touch with the values I hold dearest. I don’t watch soap operas.
I’d like to think I demand more from my TV attachments. I won’t turn my TV off on Sunday nights and will probably forge on with this season— hoping that it improves. But, if it does not, this is certainly my last season.
I thought the talent lied in the acting and the power of George R. R. Martin’s writing. However, I remember that the Deadwood writers stopped the series in mid-stride to sart a new project and Game of Thrones is beginning to feel a lot like John From Cincinnati.
With nearly 15,000 employees, there’s no glee in the news that Sports Authority is closing all of its stores nationwide as another brick and mortar retailer bites the dust.
We detailed the reasons why retailers were going to meet this kind of end sooner rather than later in a study we did some months ago. I also pointed out that Sports Authority was headed this way a few months ago. What has happened in the retail space is not all that different than what we’ve seen with Circuit City, Blockbuster and BlackBerry.
That is, an inability (or, in some cases, a stubbornness) to look ahead to the future so brands are ahead of any coming technology and can adjust their brands accordingly.
Experts are saying that Sports Authority, once the nation’s leading sports retailer, has been a victim of increased competition. Amazon, as well as the Internet as a whole, has eaten into the retailer’s market share as consumers find it easier (and, sometimes, cheaper) to simply shop online.
That is absolutely true. However, why is it that some retail brands succeed in the same space and others don’t? Why is Dick’s Sporting Goods profiting just as Sports Authority has died?
Sports Authority did not invest in its brand.
The reason is simpler than some retailers think. Dick’s has a brand, becoming a destination for those shopping at the turn of a new season. Yes, Dick’s “Every Season Starts at Dick’s” has helped the retailer establish itself in a timeline of seasonal sports, primarily hunting, fishing and golf.
What about Sports Authority? Yes, it became the name sponsor for the Denver Broncos stadium, but it has been a meaningless brand for some time. It tried to hitch its wagon with college and pro sports teams, but those entities have skipped the middle man (like Sports Authority) and now sell their wares directly to the consumer online.
If you’ve been in one of Sports Authority’s stores, you find yourself in an environment without focus. Like many brands that ultimately fail, it simply sat on its market leadership without investing in its brand. And it has now cost it its life.
In that aforementioned study, we said that, at the very least, retailers need to stand for something in order to survive. While Dick’s, now the market leader, may get overconfident in the wake of this news, at least it stands for something.
Other retailers should heed the story of Sports Authority and realize that, if they do not invest in their brands even when they are market leaders, they will also become irrelevant and gone.
It’s no shock to say that we live in a world in which our attention spans have been reduced to seconds rather than minutes or hours. This has become a particular problem for advertisers when online advertising is so easy to skip after just a few seconds. Who really watches a full ad anymore?
Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, then you might as well join ‘em. Pepsi is doing just that with a new round of ads, primarily online, that are five seconds long and feature their bottles with emojis, thinking that those emojis will get across the right emotion in a very brief time.
As an old ad guy, I would normally bemoan this sort of approach because a five-second ad doesn’t allow for any kind of storytelling. For example, the pace of the wordless Matthew McConaughey spots for Lincoln is so perfect because the ads casually tell a story of luxury and coolness powerfully.
The Pepsi ads will make agencies think harder.
However, going with the shorter ads will make advertising agencies think harder about the message they are trying to send. So much of advertising is simply time and money wasted. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is that few of them have a point. Even if they do, the point is usually not important.
Also, the idea of advertising – that you are getting the consumer to covet your product or service – gets lost in the mixture of what usually turns out to be a 30-second skit. In most ads, you don’t even know who the campaign is for. The logo appears at the end, but it’s easily ignored because the humor of the previous 29 seconds has obliterated it. The ad simply doesn’t fulfill its purpose.
Pepsi’s five-second spots aren’t anything groundbreaking in that the messaging is mundane. It does feed into Pepsi’s brand of fun, but it’s a little childish and I don’t know if people would actually want a bottle of Pepsi with a smiley face on it. (It’s not that different than Coke putting names on its bottles, which didn’t turn into much preference.)
But the promise of these five-second spots is that they are the future, and advertisers would be wise to really dig deep into what message they want to get across.
What is wrong with Apple (AAPL)?
It still turned a huge profit (one that most brands would tout as a great quarter) but most investors are worried that the Apple magic is gone as AAPL was down 7% in after-hour trading. iPhone sales did not grow for the first time ever and Apple’s sales declined for the first time since 2003.
Pundits talk about Apple’s lack of innovation in its product portfolio. Nothing has REALLY been new since the Apple Watch if you discount brand extensions of different sized iPhones and iPads.
Even music sales have moved beyond Apple’s iTunes store as more and more music consumers subscribe to streaming services and no longer buy music. What was at one time a disruptive technology, iTunes now seems like yesterday’s news.
But the REAL problem is an emotional issue. It is a brand problem.
Apple. The world’s most powerful brand (Ticker symbol AAPL) does not look so indomitable as it once did. It looks, well, vulnerable.
What is missing? Magic masqueraded as vision. Steve Jobs is missing.
I own AAPL and virtually every Apple product
As an Apple guy since I bought my first Mac in 1984, I have never owned a PC. My first smartphone was an iPhone and my first tablet was an iPad. I have upgraded all of my purchases along the way and own an iPad Air, iPad Pro, iPhone 6, MacBook Air, Apple TV (new generation) and AirPort routers. Even our office server is a Mac.
If you look at my stock portfolio, I own a nice chunk of AAPL. I bought most of my AAPL stock before the iPhone launch and have enjoyed both growth and more recently dividends from the company. But my personal identification has suffered. I don’t have the personal connection with the Apple brand I once knew. I even occasionally miss the Keynote announcements that were once marked in my weekly planner.
I used to think
of Apple in personal terms. I thought of Apple in terms of Steve, the mad genius behind the curtain. I waited with baited breath for the next insanely great product that all came in rapid succession since the introduction of the first iMacs.
I like Tim Cook. I think he is an amazingly competent CEO. I admire Jonathan Ive, who is more than just a gifted designer. I still love the products. But it is harder to have that deep of an emotional connection to the company.
Like most of you, I felt I had a relationship with Steve. I recognize that it was a complete fabrication of intimacy, but those of us who buy emotionally into brand loyalty rarely self examine the core reasons why we care so deeply. We care and that is enough in itself.
Apple could come out with a reinvention of the automobile. It could reinvent the television. It could reinvent the kitchen for that matter and it would not replace the loss of connection I felt with the brand itself.
Apple will continue to be a powerful brand and will continue to innovate and make money. AAPL will rebound from its current drop and take its place in the world of Blue Chip stocks. But, make no mistake, the BRAND (as an emotional religion) is in decline.
I may appreciate BMW and IBM but I do not LOVE them. That died with Steve Jobs. I held onto the scraps of that affection for a long time. But I no longer think it blasphemy to buy a competitor’s product. Suddenly, I am looking at product benefits and attributes and the blind affection that arose from the elevation of the brand to mythical proportions is sadly gone.
The Cruz-Kasich alliance is a bold move.
Let me start by saying that this blog isn’t about taking a political stance. I am a brand guy through and through and my aim is to talk about the motivation behind recent choices being made by the possible GOP candidates. I have no dog in the Cruz-Kasich fight.
That said, in case you missed the news, a Survivor-like alliance has been made by GOP hopefuls, Ted Cruz and John Kasich . The idea behind the collective Cruz-Kasich huddle is to do whatever it takes to keep Donald Trump from securing the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination prior to the convention in July.
The plan is for each to focus on the states that each is polling better in. For instance, Cruz has a more favorable chance to earn delegates in the Indiana primary and consequently Kasich will focus his energy in Oregon and New Mexico, where he is polling better.
The move by the Texas senator and Ohio governor is being called by many as a Cruz-Katich “Hail Mary” pass to force the GOP to make a selection rather than it being made for them (i.e., Trump earning enough delegates). While the two claim the move isn’t a last second hurl to the end-zone, it certainly feels that way to me.
An alliance belittles Cruz-Kasich’s brand.
As I said, my intention is to talk brand and not politics.
While I get the strategy behind the Cruz-Kasich partnership, it feel it hurts their respective brands as this move reeks of fear if anything.
What’s more, this is just amplifying Trump’s swagger. Which is just what he wants.
Those are powerful words that Trump supporters are hearing clearly and hanging onto.
Choosing a candidate is like choosing a branding company.
Branding companies promise to completely understand what your brand means. It’s easy to take that same idea and apply it to politics.
When picking a potential nominee, voters are choosing the candidate that they feel has an understanding os what they are feeling and who promises to do something about those desires.
What then what have Cruz-Kasich done to their base by throwing this strategic wrench into the equation? Or is this checkmate for Trump?
We’ll see how it plays out later tonight.
The news that Gannett, owners of USA Today, is offering to buy Tribune Publishing should not come off as a surprise. Tribune, which owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune among other assets, had been clinging to life in the new digital world.
You don’t need me to tell you how difficult newspapers have found it staying relevant when instant news comes over our social media apps and fewer people actually have a subscription to a newspaper.
Newsrooms nationwide are smaller, with half the news staff or smaller than they had years ago. Reporters are generally younger because they are cheaper. We’ve seen newspapers shut down, consolidate with another media group or become online only. A newspaper that a colleague of mine once wrote for downsized so much that it rented out most of its building and moved the newsroom into the cafeteria. True story.
It’s the way of today’s world.
Gannett has survived while others have not.
Gannett has been one of the few that have survived, primarily on the back of USA Today. It has firmly established itself a position, as the newspaper that gives you national headlines (just like social media does) that targets those who are away from home. You can’t go to any hotel in America and not find a USA Today.
Tribune, meanwhile, has seen half of its value decline in the last nine months, while Gannett has gained 16% in value over that same time. (It also owns newspapers in Phoenix, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, among many others.) It has also been one of the few media giants to understand how to have a strong online presence. It has a brand.
What makes this offer so compelling is that Tribune stated it has no interest in discussing the offer. I can understand the reluctance. Before the newspaper crash hit, those who worked in the industry thought of Gannett as superficial in terms of reporting news. If it bought your paper, it meant that investigative reporting was a thing of the past. Editors and reporters scoffed at the Gannett model.
Sadly, that’s where we are when it comes to the media today, as I’ve stated before. There are very few places that truly dig into issues, and they tend to come from the e-magazine side or from a giant like The New York Times.
It’s a good and honorable battle Tribune is fighting but Gannett is counting on Tribune making the realization that it can only survive and be relevant if it adopts some of the Gannett strategies and tactics.
As disappointing as it may be to those old ink-stained reporters, Gannett is probably right.