The Tom Dougherty Blog
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.
The brand face of any public entity, whether a company or a personality, is immensely powerful when it has resonated with your target audience.
It can also hinder you in future endeavors.
Take the case of Stephen Colbert, who left Comedy Central and The Colbert Report last year to replace David Letterman in CBS’s late time talk show slot. At the time, the concern among many (including me) was whether Colbert could shed the persona he played on the Comedy Central show and become less of a caricature for CBS.
Now that we’re several months into it, it looks like Colbert’s brand face of old is keeping him from attaining the same kind of popularity he had at Comedy Central.
CBS, in an unusual move, announced that Chris Licht, an executive producer on CBS This Morning, will take over The Late Show with Stephen Colbert as showrunner.
The reason for the switch is obvious. Jimmy Fallon is dominating late night over at NBC with The Tonight Show, while Colbert is either in second or third place (behind or ahead of Jimmy Kimmel), depending on the week.
Why Stephen Colbert doesn’t quite work – yet.
I was very interested in what the Colbert persona – the real one – would look like when Late Show debuted last fall. Could he transform himself from the cartoon on Colbert Report, where he played a clueless right-wing commentator, into someone who could connect with audiences on a personal level?
You can make fun of Fallon all you want for his over-laughing at guest’s jokes and kowtowing to celebrities, but at least he’s fun and, dare I say, human. It’s easy to emotionally connect with Fallon because he seems easy and loose in front of the camera.
A brand face is what a brand looks like to target audiences. For Colbert, his brand face is contrived and doesn’t fit into the easy-going nature of late night talk. You see him playing a character. His eyes even seem a little dead, which is why he can come off as a little unnerving. (That’s what made The Colbert Report work.)
That’s not to say late night television shouldn’t be shaken up. Chelsea Handler will soon have her own late night show on Netflix and it promises to be something completely different.
But Colbert is facing a whole new difficulty, trying to insert an odd personality into a tired format. He and CBS are hoping Licht can perform personality miracles.
Verizon Wireless has launched a new campaign with Ricky Gervais called A Better Network.
I initially saw these ads a few weeks ago and remember thinking that television advertising can’t have fallen this far. So I wanted to mull them over a bit and see the two ads a couple more times. I was hoping my initial take was wrong or that it would confirm Verizon has completely lost its mind.
Sadly to say, it is the latter.
First off, I like Ricky Gervais as a comedian. But, in these terribly written ads, he comes off quite the opposite. There is no humor. So why hire him? Secondly, the ads criticize other provider’s claims (mainly Sprint) saying, “Some of them stretch the truth” when the ad itself does the same thing when discussing the services from Verizon Wireless. Rather than say fastest, it claims “consistently fast” across the US. What does that even mean?
Is Verizon the same speed in LA as it is in Spokane? Consistently fast is subjective and mirrors what the competition has said. I certainly like a brand calling out BS on a competitor. But not when its claims are the same.
The bottom line with Verizon Wireless.
Verizon Wireless is talking out of both sides of its mouth, truly believing that it is somehow offering wireless customers a reason to choose that is different than the competition. Yet, it is saying the EXACT same thing that its competitors are. Maybe it is being shady to protect its market share.
Like many other industries, the brands in the wireless business are trying anything to differentiate themselves from one another. They truly do not get that, to be meaningful, they must be a reflection of their customers and those they wish to influence. From these ads, it just looks like Verizon Wireless is trying to be a reflection of itself and its competitors.
Back when my now thirty-six year-old son was 13, his favorite band was Pearl Jam. In his world, no other band came close to this group. He idolized Eddie Vedder, wrote a research paper about them, and even dressed in grungy attire. (Well, he was a middle schooler then, so maybe he was just dirty and not grungy. Who am I to say?)
As is my way, I was cynical about the band. One of my famous proclamations — which my oldest still reminds me about — was when I told him Pearl Jam would be history in six months. What did I know? I was an aging flower child anyhow and the hard rock sound of Eddie & Co., Nirvana and Soundgarden just didn’t flame my taste buds.
Here’s the thing. Back then, I didn’t get Pearl Jam. For that matter, my son didn’t either. He just dug the music. What I didn’t realize about the band was its depth of soul. And I didn’t finally appreciate that depth until yesterday.
Durable brands have unwavering principles. And Pearl Jam is no exception.
By now, Pearl Jam has joined the pantheon of historic rock bands. And next year, having been around for 25 years, its members will likely be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Those are some amazing feats.
Sure, other bands and businesses have done the same, but Pearl Jam’s cancellation strikes home with me because my wife, son and daughter all had tickets to see them perform. And my son, most of all, was giddy as can be to see his childhood heroes.
Here’s what the rockers had to say about canceling the show:
It is with deep consideration and much regret that we must cancel the Raleigh show in North Carolina on April 20th.
This will be upsetting to those who have tickets and you can be assured that we are equally frustrated by the situation.
The HB2 law that was recently passed is a despicable piece of legislation that encourages discrimination against an entire group of American citizens. The practical implications are expansive and its negative impact upon basic human rights is profound. We want America to be a place where no one can be turned away from a business because of who they love or fired from their job for who they are.
It is for this reason that we must take a stand against prejudice, along with other artists and businesses, and join those in North Carolina who are working to oppose HB2 and repair what is currently unacceptable.
We have communicated with local groups and will be providing them with funds to help facilitate progress on this issue.
In the meantime we will be watching with hope and waiting in line for a time when we can return.
Perhaps even celebrate.
With immense gratitude for your understanding,
So while songs like “Even Flow,” “Jeremy,” and “Better Man” never hit home with me, a commitment to human rights, love and acceptance does.
For those reasons, I can now stand with my son in saying Pearl Jam is one of my favorite bands, too. And maybe next time the band comes around (if HB2 is struck down), I’ll get a ticket as well.