Category Archives for "CASE STUDIES"

1 Fake Thrills — Another Automotive Marketing Misfire.

Automotive advertising, as a category, is notoriously bad. And the Toyota Camry is not an exciting car. In fact, some automotive writers contend that Toyota’s building nothing but toasters these days. Despite that, the Camry has been hugely successful and has been the best-selling car in America 15 of the past 16 years. (Camry was No. 1 from 1997 to 2000, lost to the Honda Accord in 2001, and has reigned since then.)

Apparently, there’s a huge segment of the driving population that does not care about horsepower or handling or sexiness. Just reliable, utilitarian, point-A to point-B transportation for this crowd. My father drives one, and he fits the demographic perfectly… white, suburban 80-year old male who only drives a few miles a month. The last thing he’s looking for in a car is a thrill ride.

7165c3f5dc0c28a95fd2723b16f34ec0And yet here comes an ad campaign for the Camry, titled “Thrill Ride.”

I was enamored with the TV commercial at first. What a great idea… a car as a high-speed turbulent thrill ride captured in a reality-TV format. All they have to do is build a super rad roller coaster style track and then race the car up and down the hills, around the high-G turns, and into consumer’s hearts.

Then I realized it’s a Camry commercial.

Classic case of a great advertising idea executed poorly for the wrong brand. Once again, we have an automotive brand trying to be something it’s not.

The whole idea is misaligned with the Camry brand. “Thrill Ride” is not the least bit authentic, nor is it relevant to the people who might really be interested in a Camry. (They might have fond memories of ancient, wooden roller coasters, but they don’t want to ride on one.)

And what’s worse, the spot doesn’t even deliver on its ill-advised promise of being thrilling.

The so-called “thrill course” features one little hill, a banked turn, and a tunnel. There are relatively young, hip people riding shotgun as the Camry inches its way around the course. It’s a reality TV on Geritol.

I can understand why the Brand Managers at Toyota would want to appeal to a younger audience. And I can even go along with the premise of being a little bit more fun. But why do it in a way that’s utterly fake and out of context?

Why leap all the way to “thrilling?” Consumers are too smart for that. As one YouTube viewer wrote, “So you’re basically saying that the only way your Camry will be exciting is to drive it on some mock roller coaster course.”

Why couldn’t they advertise the car’s popularity and reliability and resell value, but in a fun way?

“Among the boring sedans targeting people over 50, the Camry is the MOST FUN!” That, I could buy. But there’s no way Toyota will every convince people that the Camry is thrilling. They could launch one into space and parachute it back to earth, RedBull style, and it’d still be a boring brand.

But in this case, boring is good. People eat it up! Why are they trying to be something else? There are plenty of thrilling cars already on the market that don’t sell nearly as well as the Camry.

Bloomberg News reports that in 2014 the era of Camry dominance could run out. There’s a lot of competition in the midsize sedan segment from Kia, Honda, Huyndai and the Ford Fusion. Perhaps the Camry spot was a knee-jerk reaction to the Fusion, with Toyota execs saying, “we gotta be cooler and appeal to a younger target audience like they have.”

Good luck with that.

Assuming you built a thrill course worth its salt, the spot would work brilliantly for BMW’s Mini brand. The Mini is a car that runs on rails, delivers thrills and is genuinely fun in every way. The analogy works.

With the Camry it falls on deaf ears.

At the end of the commercial one of the actors says, “like maybe I’ll look at a Camry differently.” That sounds like a line stolen right from the creative brief under the header “objective.” I seriously doubt this spot will do it.

Camry commercial

And more importantly, why would Toyota want people to look at the Camry differently??? Seems to me, looking at it as the #1 selling car in the country with outstanding resell value and a super-high reliability rating would be plenty.

So here’s some advise for brand managers and business owners… if you’re lucky enough to have the best-selling brand in your category, don’t pretend to be something else. Don’t lighten your offering in order to appeal to a seemingly broader audience. Stick to your core. Resist the temptation to leverage your brand it into some other line of work.

For example, if you’re Guinness Stout you don’t start advertising an American-style lager.

If you’re Harley Davidson you don’t start advertising a new line of lightweight motocross bikes.

If you have the best selling sedan in the country that happens to be a bit vanilla, don’t try selling yourself as a spicy hot sporty sedan. You’re wasting your breath.

 

6 Truth, Lies, and Advertising Honesty.

I don’t comment on politics. However, the recent political dialog has certainly inspired this week’s speech on brand authenticity, honesty and truth in advertising.

In politics, the standards for lying are lower than they are in business. You can sling mud and hurl half-truths at your opponent and get away with it. He’ll simply sling it back.

In business, it doesn’t work that way. If you say nasty things about your competitors, you’ll probably get sued. It’s actually illegal to blatantly mislead consumers, and if you live in a small town, like I do, disparaging a competitor will almost always come back to bite you in the Karmic ass. Continue reading

7 The corporate head shot vs. good personal branding.

Recently we had a client who didn’t like the photos we had taken for her website. Said they didn’t look “professional enough.”

In other words, she didn’t like that we did something different than the usual, corporate head shot.

The problem is, in this case, “professional” translates to invisible. Everyone has a boring “professional” portrait with no personality. Doing the same thing is the worst thing for your personal branding efforts. Continue reading

Bare breasts mean business at Starbucks.

Notice anything different at your local Starbucks lately? I sure have. The familiar green and white logo on the cups is missing. It’s a travesty to brand-conscious graphic designers everywhere.

At first glance I thought maybe it was just a corporate cost-cutting measure — the result of tremendous Wall Street pressure to improve performance. But once I looked a little closer, I noticed something even more revealing:

Starbuck has bared her breasts! The mermaid that’s been the Starbucks icon from day one, has gone back to her topless, hippy roots.

There are a lot of other changes going on at Starbucks in Seattle — you might even call it a corporate shake-up — but none are as symbolic as the undressing of the logo. I take it as a sure sign that CEO Howard Schultz is serious about stripping away some of the fat and refocusing on the core of the Starbucks brand .

That little nod to the humble heritage of his company says a lot. The green logo has just two words: “Starbucks Coffee.” The retro logo reads “Starbucks Fresh Roasted Coffee.” It’s a reminder to the world that Starbucks has always been obsessively focused on the quality of it’s product.

In his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, Schultz says, “The number one factor in creating a great, enduring brand is having an appealing product. There’s no substitute.”

I know a few coffee snobs who claim that Starbucks isn’t as good as the local guy’s Ethiopian Tega & Tula. And they may be right. But I also know that Starbucks beats the hell out of the mom & pop drive-up operations that have appeared on every corner.

At Starbucks, the product is consistent. The coffee is just as good as ever, but the company has made some operational decisions that have had a subtle effect on our perception of that quality. Shultz seems determined to correct that, and if his track record over the years is any indication, he’ll pull it off.

Ever since I read his book back in ‘99 I’ve used Schultz and his organization as a great example of focused leadership, exceptional execution and textbook branding. He has always been the brand champion in that organization. He was one who introduced the idea of gourmet coffee to a nation of Folgers drinkers, and he has always fought to maintain quality standards even during their hyper-rapid growth.

Shultz is adamant about controlling the brand experience as much as possible, down to the last detail. That’s why the company never sold franchises. At first, Shultz didn’t even want to sell coffee in paper cups at all, lest it detract from the experience and affect the flavor.

So these new “transformational initiatives” of his are no big surprise.

First thing is to recapture that appealing coffee aroma in every store. Believe it or not, that smell of fresh roasted coffee is every bit as important to the brand as the look of the stores or the music they play. It works on a subtle, subconscious level, but the bottom line is, you won’t hang out and enjoy your double half-caf mocha if the place doesn’t smell good. So Starbucks is going back to manual espresso machines and killing the sale of breakfast sandwiches.

The Starbucks business model is based on the idea of the third place… that we all need a relaxing getaway that’s not home and not work. To me, it’s more of a romantic, Vienna coffeehouse experience than a quick, Italian espresso shot. So the roll-out of free wi-fi service is long overdue. Paying for an internet connection at Starbucks was just idiotic to me.

The third and final cornerstone of the Starbucks brand is its own people.

“We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with consumers — the opposite approach from that of the cereal companies,” Shultz said. “Our competitive advantage over the big coffee brands turned out to be our people.”

Starbucks doesn’t just talk about treating people well, the company really does. In the retail food service industry, where getting good help is always a challenge, Starbucks leads the way with its pay scale, benefits packages, training programs and retention rates.

“We believed the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of customers was to hire and train great people. That’s the secret of the power of the Starbucks brand: the personal attachment our partners feel and the connection they make with our customers.”

The company also listens to its front-line employees. The idea for Frappuccino came from the store level. The new website, mystarbucksidea.com, started out as an internal feedback tool for employees. Now anyone can go online and post their own ideas for Starbucks, vote for the best, and see what’s being implemented.

Which brings us back to that idea of reintroducing the old logo, circa 1971.

The change coincides with the introduction of a new house blend, called Pike Street Roast, for people who just want a good, robust cup-o-joe. In that context, and with everything else that’s happening at Starbucks, the branding throwback makes perfect sense.

The mark was originally inspired by a woodcut image of a Norwegian mermaid, fully exposed. Over the years, as Starbucks grew and became “more corporate,” the logo slowly morphed. Eventually the designers gave her long hair, which covered her breasts and made her more palatable to a broad commercial audience.

Now Shultz wants to go back in time. Back to when the company wasn’t really worried about offending anyone on Wall Street. Maybe this little flash of skin is just what the company needs.

Starbucks logo updates

Updated again in 2011

If you want to recapture the magic of your brand, or build a new one from the ground up, give me a call. 541-815-0075

One of the worst words in marketing: “Huh?”

I am not a stupid person. I can connect the dots pretty well when it comes to concepts, ideas and images used in commercials or print ads. In fact, I bet I’m a lot better at it than the typical Superbowl fan.

And yet, as I watch commercials or read print ads, I often find myself scratching my head saying “HUH?” What was the meaning of that?

What were they really trying to say?

What are they thinking?

That doesn’t make sense. Why should I care?

Here’s a good example from Sunday’s superbowl telecast… The Godfather spot for the new Audi R8. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_sshN-URJY]

Normally I wouldn’t waste my breath critiquing the commercials that debut during the game, but this one really got me because it’s a brand I adore. I’ve owned three different Audis now, and I love ‘em. Especially this time of year when the roads are slushy by day and icy by night. audiusa.com

But I digress. We’re talking about advertising that makes you go huh, not sports cars that make you go wow.

Some credit to Venables Bell & Partners of San Francisco for breaking away from the usual automotive cliches. The spot in question is a take-off on the most famous scene from The Godfather, circa 1975. The slow-paced set-up gets your attention right away. And I’ve heard that Godfather fans recognize it immediately… dramatic music with an exterior shot of a gigantic Italian mansion.

Cut to a creepy old guy asleep in bed. He wakes up, pulls the sheets back and reveals, horror of all horrors, the front end of an unrecognizable car. His screaming is really, quite disturbing. Then, finally, they cut to a shot of the R8 zooming out of the driveway.

The tag says, “old luxury just got put on notice.”

HUH?????

I had to watch this spot three more times before I could identify the front end of the car as a Rolls. And the old man is covered in oil instead of blood. Talk about over the top.

In the advertising business that technique is called borrowed interest. Usually it’s reserved for me-too products in categories with low involvement and little inherent interest. Like non-aspirin pain relievers or feminine hygiene products. You have “borrow” interest from something that people will relate to.

But that’s definitely not the case here. Have you seen the R8??? It’s the coolest, meanest looking new car in years. Who needs to borrow an old movie scene to advertise such a great product? Couldn’t the creative team find any inspiration in the R8 itself?

And why, may I ask, is Audi positioning the R8 against an old Rolls Royce? The R8’s a sports car more comparable to a Lamborgini than a Rolls. Not exactly apples-to-apples.

I doubt I’m the only person who’s confused by Audi’s approach. And that’s my point… why sacrifice clarity for an elaborate spin-off that leaves people feeling completely clueless? Nobody’s going to spend time figuring out the message like I did.

Besides, if I worked for Audi I’d want people talking about the car, not the commercial.

It seems like the R8 spot was conceived with no clearly defined message in mind. Like they said, “hey, let’s spend four million dollars and introduce the R8 at the Superbowl this year. Wouldn’t that be cool.”

Nobody took the time to figure out the strategic intent of the spot before the creative team sat down. In other words, Audi didn’t know what they wanted to say besides “introducing the new R8.”

Was it really their intent to scare Rolls Royce and Mercedes? I can’t imagine. Maybe someone thought the car was a little over the top, so they did a commercial to match. Who knows?

Chances are, you don’t have 5 million dollars earmarked for one, single commercial. But if you did, wouldn’t you want to avoid confusing people? Wouldn’t you want the best ROI you could possibly get? If so, then make sure your marketing messages have these three things covered: Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation.

There are thousands of ways you could tell your brand’s story, but the trick is to make your message relevant to the specific group of people you’re targeting at that particular time and place. Is the Godfather really relevant to football fans who’d seriously consider an Audi R8? Will that movie reference resonate more than the car itself?

That’s the trouble with borrowed interest. Super low relevance.

The second thing is credibility. Consumers these days are highly skeptical of any commercial pitch, and a claim that leaves them scratching their head will never pass the credibility test. Confusion’s never credible.

Finally, good old-fashioned differentiation. I have to admit, the four-second shot of the R8 at the end of the Godfather spot is enough to differentiate it from any other car on the road. All the rest of it’s just Superbowl egomarketing nonsense.

Before you place your next ad, be sure to do the “Huh” test. Listen carefully to the feedback and if a lot of people come away saying “Huh, I didn’t get it,” then you need to rethink the ad. There are plenty of great, creative ideas that won’t leave people utterly confused.

But do your ad agency a favor and get that feedback early in the process. Before you film anything and blow the production budget. And trust your instincts… if it feels confusing to you, it’s almost guaranteed to be confusing to people who aren’t as familiar with your product or service.

And while you’re at it, also do the “Duh” test. You don’t want that reaction either. It’s never a good idea to make your target audience feel like idiots.