Our beloved Brew.

Our beloved Brew.
R.I.P. Big guy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I'll Be Watching HBO's 'The Newsroom' Reruns Instead of the Political Conventions

The presidential election is about two months away and I am very much an uncommitted voter, in the sense of supporting one candidate or the other. That is not to say I am undecided. My mind is made up. My vote will be cast, and in the opinion of many, it will be what is traditionally called, "wasted." And no, I won't be supporting the dreck that is the Tea Party.

Political conventions in America, like the major parties they represent, have degenerated into nothing more than corporately underwritten pep rallies for the faithful and schoolyard attacks on the opposition. It seems the highlight of each convention is when someone delivers an anonymous speech writer's well-crafted zinger toward the leaders and positions of the other party. All the mystery about who will be nominated was taken out of the process years ago through the primaries. The building of a party platform has become a game of smoke, mirrors and vanilla completely lacking in substantive detail.

Pundits and candidates alike will tell you this year's presidential election is a clear cut case of opposite views. I disagree. Determining what it will take to save Social Security, create meaningful jobs, right the economy, educate our young, protect our nation's true interests around the globe, address issues of immigration, health care, energy, the environment and myriad others so vital to America's future are completely bogged down in a broken and corrupt political system. The workings of a healthy Republic have given way to a two-party system that resembles a deformed, two-headed creature joined at the brain, heart and pocketbook.

While watching The Newsroom on HBO this week, I asked myself, "Why is it that real politicians don't stir my soul with compelling arguments in the way Jeff Daniel's character does when he delivers one of his fast-paced, anchor person rants?" Simply put, I believe today's politicians don't traffic in truth or meaningful solutions; they seek to spin every issue with an eye toward re-electability and they avoid true clarity on topics for fear their views will be used against them in some future opponent's ad clip. Their handlers, primarily interested in getting the next election "win" to keep their own business gravy train in motion, long ago lost their concern for anything but getting their propped-up, empty suit across the finish line in first place. I've met many of those handlers and in some cases they treat their candidates as puppets, viewing them as interchangeable, largely uninformed tools, who, left to their own devices, would self destruct without strict muzzles on about what, when and how to speak.

I will not invest one minute in following either political convention. The Democratic and Republican Parties have completely alienated me. Until there is a party that supports a 28th Amendment similar to the one that has been floating around FaceBook for years, a Congressional Convention, strict term limits, and the doing away with lobbyists on Capital Hill, I choose to "waste" my vote. In doing so, I believe I am doing my patriotic duty to contribute to the dismantling of a political system that can no longer be incrementally repaired. As the saying goes, "Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered." In a sense, the political hogs are in charge, and metaphorically speaking, experience tells us their days are numbered. As other disenfranchised Americans make the same choice I have, we temporarily leave the government and political process in the hands of the self serving, which History has proven leads to sometimes lengthy, painful, but much needed, and profound change.

President Obama has been a huge disappointment to me despite my optimism when he was elected. It seemed at the time that regardless of how he performed, the "genie was out of the bottle" and America would no longer limit its choices for the highest office in the land to rich, white men, lawyers.

In practice, his primary goal appears to me to have done as little as possible in his first term that might ruffle feathers, with the exception of health care, while raising obscene sums of money for himself and his reelection.

Romney, the great corporate deal titan, having already generated obscene sums of money for himself, appears to be fixated on a more glamorous acquisition known as the White House.

Yes, it would be nice to think we can fix the mess in Washington by selecting and electing better candidates. That can't happen in a system as dysfunctional as we have. Disagree? Then tell me why the only people who can run for the highest office in the land are multimillionaires and billionaires. Why does it take war chests of billions of dollars to "get a message out" that reeks of the same, old, tired explanations of why "I'm better and he isn't." Why is it the Supreme Court, which itself could stand a new charter, saw fit to give corporations and special interests unlimited spending in political campaigns.

I find laughable that both major parties and the Tea Party are crying "Take Back Our Country!" The most significant decisions facing our country are now in the hands of those with the most currency to spread while the courts and the halls of Congress are signed, sealed and delivered to the highest bidder. Political parties are fueled by huge "investors" on all sides. Everyone is bent on controlling the White House and Congress. As it stands now, we have an Executive Branch and a Legislative Branch that have accomplished very little except to fund wars for the past two decades.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Chevrolet Total Confidence (Lost) Pricing - Part II

Please, Chevrolet, just give up!

In a post last week, I trashed Chevy for it's smarmy ad campaign titled "Total Confidence Pricing." In particular, I was offended by the ad where a couple agrees to a whopping $350 discount from the MSRP of $18,500.

Earlier tonight, I saw the same ad but this version replaced the original placard with the pricing the couple present to the salesman, with a placard that has the campaign title on it. In other words, the visual doesn't even match the dialogue. Now when the male customer says "We're going to slide you a price" there isn't one on the placard he slides across the desk.

That's right, Chevy, viewers don't pay close enough attention to your ads that they would notice the switch. No doubt, the company has a rock solid explanation for the change. Like one of their cars, I'm not buying it.

Rather than abandon a pathetically misguided campaign and move on, Chevy has modified the ad and made itself look even more ridiculous.

So sad.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chobani: A First-hand Lesson In Brand Culture

Social media is a beautiful thing. It gives lunks like me a platform to express our views, even if we are not fully informed. Another beautiful aspect is it allows entities to monitor comments and references about their company or organization in real time and respond.

In my last two blog posts I cited what I believed to be good and bad ads during the Olympics. Nike was praised, Chevrolet and Chobani got brick bats. To my complete amazement, someone other than the usual small circle of my friends, clients and associates read the post. To my greater amazement, Amy Keefe, Community Coordinator for Chobani took the time to write me a very nice note inviting me to chat with her, provided her cell number, and most importantly, shared a link: http://chobani.com/community/blog/2012/08/a-cholympic-celebration/ to demonstrate that the company did indeed host an outdoor community viewing party similar to the one depicted in the ad I criticized as inauthentic. In the spirit of fairness, I felt it was important to post a new blog correcting an injustice before I have a chance to speak with Ms. Keefe, which I look forward to doing soon.

For the record, I still think the ad was off the mark relative to how I interpret the brand positioning, but my purpose here is not to rehash or defend my point of view. The most important thing here is to apologize. Chobani, please accept my most sincere public apology for attacking your authenticity.

In the original post I tried to make it clear I am a huge fan of Chobani Greek-style Yogurt. Equal to my passion for branding is my passion for food. What I put in my mouth matters. My disappointment in the messaging, when on such an enormous stage, seemed like such a tremendous lost opportunity and got the better of me. In hindsight, what I perceive as one misguided ad does not define a brand.  See, I was one of those guys who only bought yogurt when my local market offered volume discounts like "20 for $10!" The first time I tasted Chobani peach flavored yogurt I was hooked and decided I had to see if other flavors were as good. I have no idea what price I pay for a container. That's the point of branding! Loyalty that exists in the face of lower priced options while not the only measure, is certainly the first hurdle of true brand loyalty.

After receiving Ms. Keefe's email, my admiration for the company grew exponentially. The speed, manner and tone in which the company responded shows not only that it protects it's brand but that the people involved truly understand what it means to be a brand. Trolling the Internet for mentions of your brand and reviews of Olympic advertising shows a real commitment to listening to the marketplace and a brand savvy not to be denied.

Anyone who reads my blog, visits my web site or has ever sat in on a workshop or speech of mine has heard me say, "A brand exists only in the mind of the audience. It is their property. No company owns a brand; it can only hope to influence the impression the audience holds." I've also stated repeatedly that branding is more about actions and behaviors than image management. Through Ms. Keefe's actions and behaviors, Chobani reinforced my positive impressions of the brand and helped erase both the misconceptions and disappointment I held about the brand. This experience is exactly the type that makes a brand great.

I said I would maintain a self-imposed boycott on Chobani products until I got over my disappointment. The ban is officially lifted! Tomorrow I will stop at my neighborhood market and grab a few containers of my favorite flavors. If you see me there, please try to understand the sheepish expression on my face. Yes, I'm passionate about what I put in my mouth, but I am also equally concerned about what comes out of it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Nike Gets Olympic Ad Right While Chobani Has Cultural Stumble

Nike's contention that if you have a body, you're an athlete is at the heart of its brand and the longstanding "Just Do It." slogan. Those who study such things would tell you that the Nike vision statement is based on a concept along the lines of unleashing the athlete within each person. In that context, the newest ad featuring 12 year-old Nathan Sorrell is very consistent. Nathan is 5'-3" and weighs 200 pounds, which makes him something other than the ideal image of a great athlete.

The ad, "Find Your Greatness,"  opens with a shot down a long, boring, desolate highway with Nathan jogging in the distance, toward the camera. The Internet has been abuzz with comments since the ad first ran during the Olympics. Some people have expressed being inspired by the ad, others consider it demeaning and exploitative, while still others complain it tries to shame heavy kids into exercising.

Personally, as an overweight person, I was inspired not so much to lose weight but to do brand strategy at the standard this Nike ad achieves. My first words to my daughter, who was viewing the ad with me for the first time was, "Wow. Nike really understands how to execute to its brand position."

One aspect of the ad that I appreciated most is not only is Nathan moving, but so is the camera. In other words, the goal keeps moving as one progresses and achieves. Nathan's greatness is still ahead of him and not a single destination. Brilliant.

On the other hand, Chobani Greek-style yogurt ads were way off the mark for me. Let me start by saying I love the product and hate the ad. "Naturally powering the U.S. Olympic Team" is about as meaningless a slogan as might be created. Are we to believe the U.S. team is gaining some significant power from yogurt? To make matters worse, it presents its "naturally proud" to be a sponsor by suggesting that Chobani is somehow capable of cornering the use of the word "natural." They go further down this sappy road by suggesting they are a humble little company based in some rural, tight knit town where everyone turns out to watch the Olympics on an over sized, community, hand-built screen in a public setting. Hokey to the point it makes me want to gag.

It's not authentic, and it's not relevant, Chobani. What is it about your authentic brand position that the agency didn't feel was appropriate for the Olympics? Why spend all the money you did to run and ad that pretends to be acknowledging a hometown athlete when it was such a thinly disguised act of chest beating?

For what it's worth, I will be buying another brand of Greek-style yogurt for the foreseeable future until I can get over your self-serving, misguided and weak attempt to tug at America's heartstrings. I can just hear the creative people at the agency considering the ad. "As long as we work 'natural' in somewhere, the client will get it." Your agency got to spend a lot of money on an ad that was well below the standards of the product you produce and completely off strategy for the brand. But because you spent big bucks to run it so extensively, it created lots of name awareness and most importantly from the agency perspective, it will trigger lots of recall during the showing of their new business reel.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chevrolet Pricing Not for Everyone

In yet one more shabby  attempt by the automotive industry to convince the American public that there's no need to negotiate price at a dealership and accept "No Hassle" pricing, Chevrolet has introduced its latest ad campaign titled "Chevy Total Confidence Pricing." Excuse me if I find this message laughable.

Two TV ads are particularly offensive to me as a consumer and baffling to me as a brand strategist. The first ad features a couple who inform a salesperson they are "comfortable" paying the price written on a window placard. The salesman is thrilled to tell them that's the price everyone pays - a whopping $350 under the manufacturer's suggested retail price. With their offer accepted, the woman can't help but show her admiration for her partner's negotiating prowess with a "Nice job, baby!" Really? $350 on an $18,500 car is beyond pathetic as a discount percentage.

I believe Chevy is diminishing its own brand by breaking the first rule of branding: Be authentic. This lack of authenticity is even more evident in a second commercial where a customer is told there is no need to haggle and questions the Chevy person by asking, "Don't you have to check with your manager?" To which the reply is, "I am the manager." Again, I ask, really? How likely is it that a sales manager is working on the showroom floor taking customers away from sales people who are almost all on commission? It's not only unlikely, it lacks authenticity. Why portray situations that won't match a customer's true experience?

The second rule of branding is: be relevant. Trying to convince people that a $350 savings off sticker price is a bargain when the model year end is rapidly approaching lacks relevance. You could walk into a dealership today and get many hundreds and perhaps thousands off with just a little haggling. Wait a month and they'll be discounting the same car by even more. Wouldn't a genuine sale that encourages customers to get an early-bird offer, a better selection and significant savings ahead of next month's crowd be more relevant?

The third rule of branding is: Be consistent. I've seen no less than three different core messages from Chevy during the Olympics. It seems they took out every commercial they have in the closet to air in this rotation. Another angle Chevrolet  is playing is the claim of confidence it has in its product by stating in a commercial that good companies stand behind their products. "If you're unhappy with your new Chevy for any reason, you can return it." Notice they emphasize new Chevy. For all the pride they have in their workmanship, they offer one of the worst warranties in the industry. Try to take back a Chevy product that is a few months old that is not performing up to your expectations and see how well they stand behind their quality.

Coincidentally, my family is in the market for a new car. Guess which manufacturer we won't be considering. Simply put, I don't have confidence in Chevy products based on their shallow commericals. To paraphrase another popular Chevrolet tag line, "Chevy (B.S.) runs deep."