Verizon Wireless not that different

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.

Food Lion had it, then lost it

There’s no further proof that Walmart has spooked the supermarket category with its own grocery than the increased advertising presence of Food Lion.

In many areas of the country, including my own here in North Carolina, Food Lion was the low-cost provider among supermarkets. It was low down, even a little bit country. It was the place you shopped for cheap prices.

Then Walmart moved in. Along the busiest street near me, Walmart established its grocery store just a few blocks down from a once-thriving Food Lion. In nothing time flat, that store closed.

A few years ago, the grocery chain shot back with a campaign built around a brand equity marker, the Lion. At first, it was a talking lion that told shoppers that buying at Food Lion was just good sense.

It didn’t really work because it was just telling potential customers to shop for price, a battle Walmart is sure to win.

The topsy-turvy advertising of Food Lion.

But a few months ago, Food Lion went the emotional route. It kept the lion but imbued it with a sense of protection, being a guardian angel of sorts for a child. It was emotional and I thought the grocer had hit a nice, sweet spot.

Food Lion, however, was impatient. Just a few weeks later, it was back to promoting price. In its new spot, the grocer announced that it will always have fresh produce, which is a table stake. You must have fresh produce to even be considered in the first place.

Then, the ad explains that the produce is “100% fresh, or double your money back.”

I understand the instinct here. Food Lion is attempting to overcome its old reputation from a few years ago where some of its produce was not fresh. And it’s fine that it has the guarantee.

But those are not reasons to choose. As I’ve said many times before, preference is based on emotion, not product benefits. That’s the reason why we buy so many things, only to rationalize the emotional reason to choose with rational ones.

Food Lion had done something few supermarkets have attempted in the past when it went the emotional route. Now, going back to product benefits means Walmart and others will be back to closing its competitor’s stores.

Whole Foods is no longer unique

Whole Foods is in trouble and, even worse, its complacency for its brand has caused it.

Since the end of 2013, Whole Foods stock has lost about half of its value. Once the darling of Wall Street, hipsters and the ever-increasing health conscious shopper, the organic foods chain’s brand is based on the simple promise of being America’s Healthiest Grocery Store. But in recent years, it has become complacent with its brand and failed to adapt to a changing market.

Whole Foods
Whole Foods is no longer unique.

Whole Foods brought natural foods to the masses. It was (and still is) dedicated to bringing the most natural, organic and sustainable foods to its loyal customer base. As the desire for organic foods continued to rise, it grew at an exponential rate. Rising out of humble beginnings in Austin Texas in 1980, it now has 434 stores in the US, Canada and the UK.

The uniqueness of Whole Foods has disappeared.

For a long time, Whole Foods was nearly the only supermarket that sold organic and natural foods. When a direct competitor would pop up, it would simply acquire it.

Being the only chain that offered quality organic and natural foods, its was able to charge a premium for its products. So much so that its nickname is Whole Paycheck because of its prices. But even that did not deter consumers.

The problem is that Whole Foods failed to understand that its model could be duplicated. Naturally, as the desire for organic and natural foods continued to grow, supermarkets latched on to the trend and started to offer the same kinds of organic and natural products.

Very few people can afford to do all of their grocery shopping at Whole Foods. So, as they trickle into their local grocery store to pick up laundry detergent or toilet paper, they gradually began to see more and more organic and natural foods on the shelves and in the produce section.

And guess what? It was less expensive and, low and behold, tasted pretty much the same as what they were getting at Whole Foods. This trend has risen to the point where it is not the largest seller of organic foods anymore. Costco is.

What Whole Foods continues to not understand is that it is not in the organic food business. It is in the supermarket business. I say this because in today’s retail food market, in order to be a supermarket you HAVE to carry organic and natural foods. The public demands it and having organic foods is a table stake. Even Walmart is selling organic foods in its grocery departments.

Whole Foods believes it still can get a premium price for its organic and natural foods that can be purchased at any supermarket now, simply because Whole Foods is selling it. In essence, it thinks that consumers will pay more for its brand. While that might have been true a few years ago, its recent sales and stock performance demonstrate that it is not the case any longer.

Whole Foods has failed to give consumers a reason to continue to use it in a market in which competitors are selling like products at lower prices.

I am sure Whole Foods would say that its organic and natural products are better than those you can by at your local supermarket or Costco. But experience with its own customers is proving otherwise.

In order for Whole Foods to survive, it will have to modify its model and bring its pricing more in line with the rest of the market – and even that may not be enough.

Whole Foods must utilize what little brand clout it has left and find a way to reconnect with its once loyal customer base and also reach out to new customers. And this can only be done with its brand.