Tag Archives for " ADVERTISING "

6

Comparison ads – From Cola Wars to Computer Wars

BNBranding logoA client recently asked me if he should run some comparison ads. It’s a good question, and the answer depends on a variety of factors.

There are many examples of successful comparison ads. Back in the 70’s and 80’s the most talked-about battle of the brands was between Coke & Pepsi. The Cola war was a popular topic of college marketing classes and business books. It even hit prime time TV on All In The Family and Saturday Night Live.

“No Coke. Pepsi!” John Belushi famously said.

Today the battlefield has shifted from soft drinks to smart phones and software. Taco Bell’s trying to compare its breakfast to a McMuffins and nerds all over the world are claiming “I’m a PC.”

It’s the war between Microsoft and Apple. A war that should never have been fought.

software wars on the brand insight blog BNBrandingEvery since 1984, when Steve Jobs launched the Macintosh with one of the most famous superbowl commercials of all time, the folks up in Redmond have been paranoid about Apple. So paranoid, in fact, they’ve ignored one of the most basic tenets of marketing…

Never respond to an attack by a smaller competitor.

This is marketing 101 folks. If you control 90% of the market, like Microsoft once did, don’t give a puny little competitor like Apple the time of day. Don’t get suckered into a fight, and don’t design an ad campaign that directly mimics the competitor’s campaign.

Apple started it all with the help of TBWA/Chiat Day’s brilliantly simple “I’m a Mac” campaign.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfv6Ah_MVJU Those spots work on so many different levels, it’s ridiculous… probably the most brilliant “talking head” advertising of all time.

comparison ads on the brand insight blog - BNBranding

If the Microsoft execs were smart they wouldn’t touch the subject with a ten-foot pole.

Duck and cover! Just let it go, and come up with something memorable of your own.

You’re the market leader, remember!

But noooo. They played right into the enemy’s hands and produced a knock-off version of the Apple spots. They hired an actor who looks like the guy in the original Apple spots, and gave him this opening line: “Hello, I’m a PC, and I’ve been made into a stereotype.”

All that did was shine the spotlight back on Jobs & company.

Microsoft’s copycat spots gave the Apple campaign a whole new life. Every time one ran, the audience was reminded of the original Apple spots. Not only that, the media coverage of the comparison ads gave Apple free airtime on the evening news, effectively extending the smaller competitor’s media budget.

I’m not sure if Apple was purposely trying to get a rise out of Microsoft, but they sure did. And every time Microsoft responds in kind, they dig themselves a deeper hole.

Next, Microsoft upped the ante in their ad war against Apple.They send out “real people” to shop for the best laptop they could find for under $1000. A cute, wholesome-looking actress pretends to visit an Apple store and says “I guess I’m just not cool enough for a Mac.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQOzNDZzZzk   

It’s a nice, authentic feeling spot. Probably the best spot ever produced for Microsoft. From an execution standpoint, it’s very well done. Unfortunately, it’s based on a no-win strategy. The Microsoft ad actually reinforces Apple’s position in the marketplace…

It’s the computer for cool people. The phone of the hippest. The brand of creativity.

Apple has always been a premium brand that’s not for everyone. That’s not news. So why does Microsoft continue to run ads that help cement that message?

In the “Laptop Hunter” spot they’re basically admitting that a Mac is what everyone aspires to. If you can’t afford one you settle for a second-best PC. The spot flat-out encourages people to compare Windows-based laptops to Apple laptops, and the more that happens, the more market share Apple will steal.

Fox News did a nine-minute segment about the misguided Microsoft comparison ads, and Apple’s laughing all the way to the bank.

How to differentiate your company - BNBrandingSure, there is some low-hanging fruit right now in low-end laptops. But that’s just a short-term message that hinges more on the economic climate than any genuine brand strategy. Not the type of message a #1 player should even consider.

Tit for tat works for Apple. Not for Microsoft.

The market leader should lead, not follow, in its advertising. Besides, you can’t take pot shots at a perceived underdog, it just doesn’t look good.

The fact is, Microsoft’s never had a decent ad campaign before landing at Crispin Porter. On the other hand, Apple has a long history of groundbreaking advertising, from “Think Different” to the iconic iPod spots and “I’m a PC.”

Apple inspires great advertising because it makes great products. They can do comparison ads because the facts back-up the hype. They have superior products, in so many ways.

Microsoft… not so much.

So that’s the first criteria for comparison ads… if you truly, clearly have a product that’s factually better than the competition’s product, by all means, run comparison ads. Truth rules!

But if the product or service is just the same, or even just subjectively different, don’t do it. You’ll get sued.

Every ad, every social media post, every point of purchase display Apple ever creates is a comparison ad of sorts. Not overt, but a subtle comparison nonetheless. Because as consumers, we immediately categorize things.

ipod branding on the brand insight blog

 

When these ads for the iPod came out, we immediately thought “Wow… that’s cool. Microsoft sure doesn’t have anything like that.”

In fact, there were a number of functional MP3 players on the market at the time, but they weren’t cool looking. They weren’t branded. And they weren’t as well designed as the iPod.

These print ads summed it all up in one, simple graphic solution. They didn’t have to beat people over the heads with product features and mind numbing facts. They just showed the product in its jamming simplicity.

So here’s another criteria for comparison ads… You can do them when public perception is on your side.  Before Apple ever launched the “I’m a PC”  campaign, the whole world knew the score. The TV spots just confirmed what everyone was already thinking.

And finally, when it’s a David and Goliath situation, only David can throw out comparison ads successfully. Like when the little start-up burger chain called Wendy’s took on McDonald’s.

comparison ads BNBranding's Brand Insight BlogOne brilliant comparative ad — three words — solidified that brand and cemented Wendy’s success.

“Where’s The Beef?”

It was a brilliant, humorous twist on comparison advertising. Their hamburger patties really were thicker and juicier than McDonald’s, and the old lady just said it, flat out.

Watch it here. 

Notice that the word “McDonald’s” is nowhere to be found in that script. Doesn’t have to be… everyone knew that they were referring to the market leader. In that case, there’s no denying the success of that comparison advertising.

Unlike Microsoft, McDonald’s was smart enough to NOT respond to the humorous jab.

For more on advertising strategy, try this post. 

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2 Travel industry advertising – Wales misses the fairway by a mile.

Humor me for a minute. I seldom use the Brand Insight Blog to critique ads. It’s just too easy to just snipe about details like an idiotic headline or the lazy use of stock photography. But I recently ran across an ad for Wales that’s simply too bad to pass up.

It’s a perfect example of what’s missing from most brand messages and a relevant case study of what NOT to do in travel industry advertising.

First, a little background on golfers and golf travel. Golfers spend a lot of money supporting their habit. We buy $400 drivers and travel great distances to play exceptional golf courses. But we’re not stupid. We shop around just like anyone else and make darn sure we’re getting the best experience possible when booking a trip.

travel industry advertising agency

Wales definitely has some pretty pictures.

For Americans, a trip to Wales is a tough sell. Let’s face it… Scotland, the Holy Land of golf, is right next door and Ireland is just a ferry ride away. Wales isn’t even on our radar.

Here’s another important fact the Welch tourism office didn’t consider: Golfers have a phobic aversion to certain numbers. We hate 6s and 7s! An 8 on the scorecard is known as a snowman, and is more dreaded than an STD. Nines and 10’s aren’t even spoken of, much less, featured prominently in the headline of an ad.

Every industry has its advertising conventions — required elements, if you will. In golf advertising it’s the pretty picture. Just show the beauty shot of the course with sunlight streaming across the fairway. It’s the price of admission in the category… if you don’t have good photography, don’t even play.

So it’s not surprising that all golf travel ads look alike. The “creative” part of the assignment usually goes like this: “Just figure out where we should run this pretty picture of our golf course.” There’s no story telling. No relevant message that’ll connect with anyone on an emotional level. And there’s very little differentiation.

Same goes for travel industry advertising in general. It’s almost always just a pretty picture and a few throw-away words.

how to create a great golf adWhich brings us to the ad in question. It was a full page in Golf Digest, retail value; $88,000. There’s a mediocre aerial photo of a costal golf course on a dramatic spit of land, with a big headline that reads:

6,7,5,6,7,7,9,7,5,6,6,7,8,6,7,8,5, but happy.

Huh???? That’s the most blatantly false headline I’ve ever seen in travel industry marketing. There’s no way a traveling golfer is going to be happy with a scorecard like that. And the cliché-ridden body copy does little to relive my discomfort with the whole idea:

“We all get those days. Where you seriously consider packing it all in and taking up darts or something. But even a bad round here has its positives. Stunning championship courses. Reasonable green fees. No pretentious nonsense. A good walk through our beautiful countryside. And best of all, in Wales tomorrow’s always another day.”

Tomorrow’s also a fine day to fire your copywriter.

Apparently, the message is: Travel all the way to Wales and magically, somehow, you’ll feel good about all those 7s and 8s and 9s on the scorecard. Talk about a disconnect! 7s 8s and 9s are even more depressing at a seaside course in Wales than they are back home. It’s every golfer’s worst nightmare… travel 6,000 miles to an epic destination and then stink up the place.

Been there, done that. (Okay not that bad, but bad enough to leave a scar.)

how to avoid bad advertising in the golf industrySo here you have an ad that doesn’t just lie flat on the page, unnoticed and ineffective. It screams bad experience! It conjures up memories that are emotionally scarring to me, and now I associate Wales with that negative experience.

Ouch.

You won’t convince golfers that a terrible round will be more palatable in Wales, and you shouldn’t even try. It’s an unbelievable, irrelevant message that misses the target audience by a mile. (People who shoot 118 don’t travel to obscure oversees destinations to play golf. They ride busses from one tourist trap to the next.)

But let’s be fair. The Wales Tourism Board isn’t the only organization that misses the mark when it comes to strategic message development. Most companies have at least of half-dozen messages they could use for their advertising. The problem is, they’ve never spent the time to figure out which of the six will really resonate.

If you’re faced with that message development problem, here are some guidelines that’ll help:

1. Assess each possible message on a credibility scale. Turn the BS meter to full volume and honestly decide which statements are believable and which ones sound like marketing hype?

2. Identify the hottest pain point for your best customers, and work from there. Big numbers are definitely a pain point for golfers. Unfortunately, Wales can’t promise to solve that problem.

3. Identify the messages that are in line with your core brand concept and move those to the top of the list. Don’t deviate.

golf industry marketing and advertising4. Beware of plagiarism. If your message sounds a lot like your competitor’s message, throw it out. In that Golf Digest Ad, Wales uses the tagline “Golf as it should be.”  A blatant rip-off of the phrase coined by Bandon Dunes Golf Resort: “Golf as it was meant to be.”

5. Get some professional help. You’re too close to it to make sound judgment on what will resonate, and what won’t.  Time after time, our market research proves this point. Travel industry advertising has the potential to be truly great. Don’t waste that opportunity by running mediocre ads.

6. Know your market and subject. Do the research. It’s pretty obvious that whoever did the ad for Wales had no experience with, or knowledge of, golf industry advertising.

Would you like to learn more about how to develop a message that will really resonate with your target audience? Read this post.

Want to see some of travel industry advertising I’ve done? Click here.

2 retail marketing strategy

Retail Marketing Strategy — Super Sales vs. Super Brands.

BNBranding logoIt’s discount days in the retail world right now. Everywhere you turn there’s a super sale, an inventory reduction, a seasonal clearance event or some other equally banal form of discounting.

retail marketing strategySign of the times, I suppose. With all that pressure from online retailers, brick and mortar store owners are desperate to get people in the door, even if it causes long-term damage to their brand.

But does discounting really hurt your brand?

That’s a question that often leads to heated debates between ad agency folks and their clients. The creatives are quick to condemn anything that involves a price point. But clients want to “move the needle” and “get an immediate ROI” on every advertising dollar. They often claim that any sort of “image” advertising is a waste of time.

Then there’s the agency Account Executive, trying desperately to bring the two sides together in a sort of middle-east peace accord that will save the account for another year. Not a good scenario for a lasting client-agency relationship.

But I digress.

The question is, where does discounting fit into your retail marketing strategy? Does it hurt a brand to run a half-off sale? It depends on the brand and the strategy behind the sale.

So before you hire that sign painter to emblazon your front window with “Everything Must Go!”  ask yourself two questions:

  1. Does the sale or promotion complement your brand promise or contradict it?
  2. Who would the sale appeal to? Are you luring only your best customers, or is a sale a good way to introduce new folks to your brand. And will you ever see those people again?

retail marketing strategyNordstrom has the right answer to both those questions.

When it comes to brand integrity, Nordstrom is the bellwether for the retail industry. It’s a chain known for high prices and bend-over-backward customer service.

Bargains are NOT part of the Nordstrom brand ethos. So yes, frequent discounting would definitely hurt that brand.

If Nordstrom had a Super Bowl sale and a Valentines Day sale and an Easter sale and a Mother’s Day sale and a Father’s Day sale like most department stores, consumers would slowly but surely begin to question the entire premise of the business. They’d begin to doubt Nordstrom’s stature as the industry’s service leader and wonder if the chain compromised the quality of the merchandise.

Might as well go to Macy’s.

So here’s how Nordstrom handles discounting without compromising their brand promise: They only have one store-wide sale a year: The Anniversary sale. (Plus an annual Men’s Sale and an Annual Women’s Sale.)

retail marketing strategyTo manage the inevitable department store inventory challenges and discounting pressure, they opened The Nordstrom Rack. If you like Nordstrom’s outstanding merchandise, but don’t want to pay standard Nordstrom prices for the service, go to the Rack. It’s like a sale all the time. Same stuff, but a totally different shopping experience.

So here’s the final answer: If you have a retail brand that emphasizes customer service and outstanding quality, use discounts very sparingly. Because every sale will send mixed messages to an already skeptical audience.

Contrast that with Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart shoppers aren’t going to Nordstrom for the annual men’s sale. They’re going to Wal-Mart every Saturday where a constant barrage of markdowns is always expected, and perfectly “on brand.”

Wal-Mart’s corporate culture takes frugality to an entirely new level, and it shows up on every isle in every store. Wal-Mart’s brand promise demands big, loud sales, or at least the perception of sale prices all the time. That’s why they have spend more than $800 million a year on advertising… it’s a constant state of “Sale.”

For both Wal-Mart and Nordstrom, the retail marketing strategy delivers on the brand promise. Their sales appeal to core customers as well as those who are looking for a bargain. And there’s a good chance they’ll come back again after the sale.

Unfortunately, most business owners can’t answer the question, “is this sale consistent with your brand promise?” Because they don’t know what their brand promise is. When pressed, they can’t pinpoint what their business is really all about, beyond making their quarterly numbers.

They’ve never thought about it. They’ve never articulated it. And they certainly haven’t communicated it to the public in a clear, compelling, consistent manner. They’re too busy advertising “value.”

The Gallup Organization has done extensive research regarding brand promises and have found that the vast majority are poorly defined and poorly communicated.

retail marketing strategy

Sometimes it takes nerve to resist the “big sale” temptation.

“Rather than attempting to convince a skeptical audience that their brand offers something truly meaningful and distinct, some companies have found it easier just to bribe their prospects (with sales) … Repeat purchases that are driven solely by brand bribery, however, are not the same thing as a brand relationship.”

In other words, sales might increase short-term transactions, but they don’t improve your brand loyalty.

Successful brands like Nordstrom have lasting, loving relationships with their customers, not one-night stands. And the more Amazon pushes its automated, efficient-but-impersonal approach to retail, the more valuable Nordstrom-like service becomes.

So think twice about your retail promotional strategy. If your brand’s promise is to consistently deliver the cheapest goods and services in your category, then go ahead. Run sales every month.

But if your brand promise is to deliver value or service or anything else beyond low price, then find another way to drive traffic.

Your brand will be better for it.

For more on brand strategy, try this post. 

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For more on how to differentiate your store without resorting to bribery, try this post. 

Or call us! 541-815-0075

7 Marketing lessons from GM — Will a $30 billion bailout buy them some focus?

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The top guns of the American auto industry parked their private jets, piled into their big, luxury hybreds, and headed back to Washington last week. The goal: 50 billion dollars in loans, credit and other forms of bailout money. The second installment of what one reporter called, “a long term payment plan in $35 billion installments.”

There’s no doubt GM’s failure would a terrible economic blow. Those jobs would be sorely missed, but would anyone miss the mediocre brands that GM’s been consistently producing for the last 35 years?

I don’t think so. Other than some loyal Chevy truck fans, consumers won’t miss a beat.

GM’s business problems are far reaching and complex. The Wall Street Journal says “it’s a bloated organization with too many dealers and too many factories producing too many cars for the marketplace.” (GM has 7000 dealers in the U.S. Toyota outsells them with just 1500.) The company is burning through cash faster than a Suburban sucks gas — $75 million a day, according to one account. Turning that land yacht around is is going to be much harder than anyone’s predicting. As one consultant said… “Even with a generous series of government loans, GM is likely to go bankrupt within the next two years.”

Let’s face it. GM has been losing ground slowly but surely since muscle cars were killed by the oil embargo of the 1970’s. If congress looks at the situation from a marketing standpoint, they wouldn’t cough up a dime.

According to Automobile magazine, “it’s been 50 years since GM built a car that was the standard of the industry in any category.” Overall, GM products have been poor in all respects, from design and driveability to safety and fuel efficiency.

I believe that GM’s quality issues and their current financial crisis is a direct reflection Alfred P. Sloan’s famous, flawed strategy of “a car for every purse and purpose.” Sorry, but quantity over quality just doesn’t work in the modern automotive industry.

GM’s business model for the past 30 years has been built around the assumption that they can keep making money off products that are unremarkable, at best. But even when you’re as big as GM, you can’t be all things to all people. Over time, that lack of focus is going to kill you.

Look at GM’s track record in the small-car market. First they had the Chevette and the notorious Vega, a car reknown for being the first aluminum block engine ever produced… (not exactly the type of innovation that propels a company into a new era.)

While Honda, Toyota and Nissan were dominating that market in the 80’s, GM introduced The X-cars… the Citation, Omega, Phoenix and Skylark. Yikes! Those weren’t economy cars, they were just awful, underpowered sedans.

GM fumbled around for 20 years trying to build a small car under the wrong brand: Cadillac. Remember the Cimmeron? It’s on Time Magazine’s list of the worst cars ever built. And the Catera, “the caddy that zigs.” The advertising was unbelievable and the product, unbelievably bad. For consumers, a small, sporty Cadillac just doesn’t compute.

Then there was Saturn, GM’s great hope of 1990. Nothing in the history of GM could match the enormity of this brand’s launch. They built a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Springhill Tennessee. They opened a new dealer network and adopted innovative new marketing and customer service programs, including a policy of “no haggle pricing.” To their credit, they did everything differently in order to compete with the Japanese.

Despite the plastic body panels, Saturn succeeded for a while. The cars were affordable, and they even won some industry accolades in the subcompact category. Unfortunately, GM starved that division of cash, kept them from launching new products for 10 years, and now is contemplating a shutdown of that brand.

So they can’t compete in the small car market. But what about GM’s bread and butter categories, like vanilla-flavored sedans? Unfortunately, they’ve even been losing on that front as well. The Ford Taurus was the best-selling car in the country for years, followed by the domestically produced Toyota Camry. In the meantime, The Oldsmobile brand limped along for years before GM execs finally pulled the plug in 1999. They tried all sorts of marketing ploys to save it, including more than a dozen different slogans for the brand over a 15 year period. They did everything BUT build a car that appealed to anyone.

GM missed the boat entirely on the minivan craze, and they were slow to market with their SUVs. (But no one will deny the success of the Suburban.) GM actually had the lead in green technology in the late 90’s with the EV1 electric car, but they pulled the plug on that for short-term financial reasons. Now, while the Toyota Prius flies out of showrooms, GM’s playing catch-up yet again with the Chevy Volt. The volt is not a hybred. It’s actually an electric car, leaps ahead of Toyota in the green car game. It plugs in and it looks racy too, but it might be too late to the starting line.

Clearly, GM has been all over the place strategically. Now it looks like the bailout will force them to focus their efforts a bit. There’s already talk of paring the product line-up, and in the recent Senate hearings GM execs said their new strategy is “to focus available resources and growth strategies on the companies profitable operations.”

I guess that means four core brands… Chevy, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. And potentially four more marketing failures: Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and the king of them all, Hummer. (Don’t even get me started on that.)

Even with the forced focus on just four brands, GM will have a difficult time turning a profit. According to Automobile Magazine, the Cadillac CTS is actually one of GM’s small glimmers of hope for something better down the road. “It’s not relevant at $60k, but it’s a reminder that GM knows how to build a very special automobile. It’s the pride of Lansing Michigan and proof positive that GM has a lively pulse.”

Hmmmm. How can a car be “not relevant” in the market, but hopeful? And why does the mainstream press assume that GM will suddenly “start building fuel efficient cars that people want to buy” as soon as this bailout comes through? They haven’t done it yet. And no marketing blitz or government bailout can turn a lousy product into a branding success.

There’s an old saying in advertising circles… “great advertising just kills a bad product faster.” Sadly, GM’s history is littered with products that died fast, deserving deaths.