at the intersection of brands, media and culture

Posts Tagged ‘Uncategorized’

Brand Strategy: Whopper Freakout

In advertising, agency, Brands, communications on January 2, 2008 at 10:20 am


I remember participating in a pitch for Burger King early in my career. (At this point, “career” meant copies and coffee– it was a typical CC first job. BCC meant bring bagels or beer depending on the time of day.) This was pre-Crispin Burger King, and pre a couple of other agencies since they were going through about an agency a year at that point.

We spent a lot of time brainstorming about Flame Broiled, Have it Your Way and the delightful meat smell that arose from the franchises. Perhaps it was this utter lack of creative thinking and inability to think big enough or creatively enough about the problem at hand that stuck with me.

Subservient Chicken was a great little viral effort from the folks at Crispin and the web design agency whose name we will never know because Crispin took credit for that too. But I’m even more impressed by their new effort Whopper Freakout. It’s a twist on Goodby’s successful GotMilk strategy and takes deprivation to a new, excruciating level.

Amazingly, they convinced Burger King to take a franchise and do the unthinkable for a couple days: take the Whopper off the menu and videotape customer reactions. The initial disbelief, contempt and requests to see the manager are entertaining enough but the best part comes about halfway through when they begin replacing the Whopper with burgers from competitive chains. It’s amazing visual proof of the strength of the Burger King and Whopper brands to see customers reject competitive offerings that are, arguably, pretty similar products. A hamburger is a hamburger… unless it’s a Whopper.

They could have done a traditional deprivation exercise where they asked customers, “What would you do if the Whopper went away?” and returned with a report about how customers would find alternatives, would choose something different from the BK menu, wouldn’t go out as much. But instead they put consumers in the context of the unthinkable actually happening and put it online for everyone to see. The reactions are crisper, emotions more palpable and the insights are clearer. Congratulations to Burger King for taking a risk and congrats to Crispin for some great thinking and execution.

Political Strategy: the Candidate Formerly Known as Clinton

In Political Strategy on January 2, 2008 at 9:44 am


For the last couple of months I’ve been struggling with Hillary’s campaign for President. Once upon a time she was Clinton For President, now she’s Hillary. “Hillary visited with ‘Meet the Press,’” “Hillary stopped through Le Mars, IA today,” “Hillary’s showing too much cleavage.” I always thought it was an interesting strategic choice to have Hillary run against Obama, Edwards and crew. Sure, I’d heard about Oprah making campaign appearances, but never John or Barack.

This shouldn’t come off as totally shocking, she’s been Mrs. Clinton and Hillary Rodham and Hillary Rodham Clinton in the past. As with most things Clinton, the advent of Hillary wasn’t simply by chance. But what did surprise me is that the mainstream press went along with it.

As a strategist, I think it was an interesting choice for her campaign. Those who liked Bill would transfer some of that equity to Hillary and those who claim that Clintonism brought on the Bush presidency would have a bit of distance from the C word and be allowed to make up their own opinion about Hillary before confronting the imperial idea of a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton lineage.

I was almost getting used to hearing about Hillary’s travails in mainstream media and then this happened: I woke up to see that Clinton is back in the NYT and here at FoxNews although her own website is keeping “Hillary for President” and “Caucus for Hillary.” I think she should embrace a strategic shift to the Clinton-side. Now that we are almost out of Iowa and NH where folksy, retail politics reigns supreme it is time to shift back to the strengths (and weaknesses) of the Clinton brand for the larger states. Ultimately she will win or lose on the whole of the Hillary Clinton brand, which she can’t hide from forever.

Moleskine, an unMarketer that I love

In Brands on December 21, 2007 at 7:54 am


Over the last 5 years or so I’ve seen the reemergence of the Moleskine brand, all of it done without intrusive brand noise. At its heart Molekine is a simple brand, notebooks that transcend paper and pen to become repositories for thoughts, memories, dreams and lists. I’ve carried some version of a Moleskine notebook through at least 7 different countries and numerous research projects to capture stories and ideas and have colleagues who do the same.

But I’m struck by what really sets Moleskine apart from other notebooks (of which there are many): they’ve done an incredible job of capturing the living history of the brand and in doing so, have created a humble but impressive brand culture around their products. There is a good consumer generated history here that builds on the product lore by associating it with many of the great thinkers and artists of the last hundred years.

What’s striking is that over the years there hasn’t really been a discernible change in the product. An unruled notebook here, a watercolor version there, a city styled guide, some size variations to make it comfortable to carry in a shirt pocket for easy access. Brand building and marketing have been relatively quiet with the greatest change coming in the form of distribution which seems to have exploded, leading to increased availability and awareness. It’s a great case study in how you can generate momentum without radical change or ‘innovative’ new line extensions. Sometimes the product and brand don’t need to be meddled with—here, all the brand really needed was to adjust its sales strategy.

Here is the brand story from the Moleskine site:


This trusty, pocket-size travel companion held sketches,
notes, stories and ideas before they were turned into
famous images or pages of beloved books.

Originally produced by small French bookbinders who
supplied the Parisian stationery shops frequented by the
international avant-garde, by the end of the twentieth
century the Moleskine notebook was no longer available.
In 1986, the last manufacturer of Moleskine, a family
operation in Tours, closed its shutters forever.

“Le vrai Moleskine n’est plus” were the lapidary words
of the owner of the stationery shop in Rue de l’Ancienne
Comédie where Chatwin stocked up on the notebooks.
The English writer had ordered a hundred of them before
leaving for Australia: he bought up all the Moleskine
that he could find, but they were not enough.

In 1998, a small Milanese publisher brought Moleskine
back again. As the self-effacing keeper of an extraordinary
tradition, Moleskine once again began to travel the globe.
To capture reality on the move, pin down details, impress
upon paper unique aspects of experience: Moleskine
is a reservoir of ideas and feelings, a battery that stores
discoveries and perceptions, and whose energy can be
tapped over time.

The legendary black notebook is once again being passed
from one pocket to the next; with its various different page
styles it accompanies the creative professions and the
imagination of our time. The adventure of Moleskine
continues, and its still-blank pages will tell the rest.

A.P.C., an unMarketer that I love

In apc, Brands, denim, jeans, trends, Uncategorized, UnMarketers on November 27, 2007 at 8:41 pm

Marketers get a bad rap. I think it probably has something to do with selling people things that they don’t need and generally distracting the public from things that are important in life, like blogs. One way marketers stimulate desire for said unneeded objects is through conspicuous, megaphone-style communications. See Gap RED’s “We care about Africa and you should buy a sweatshirt!” “You can save a lot of money on your car insurance by switching to [insert any brand here].” The joke that’s never lost on my girlfriend: “You have a friend in the diamond business!”

That’s part of why I think it’s important to highlight the unmarketers of the marketing world. Marketers who aren’t desperate for me to remember their tag, jingle or corporate mission; who speak in a normal tone of voice without yelling, cajoling or otherwise force-feeding me their message. And yes, despite being a marketing consultant I still keep to this maxim.

Which is why I love A.P.C. even though the jeans don’t fit quite right…yet. I’ve long read about A.P.C. through their placements in fashion editorial and advertisements. Some kind of understated, chic European brand… I didn’t really get it. After seeing their name enough times and being in NYC this past week I sought out the store in Soho. My encounter went something like this…

I walk into the store. It’s the clean, airy, masculine, minimalist aesthetic that I’m accustomed to with high-end retailers. This being A.P.C. and Mercer Street, the staff is somewhat affected but otherwise friendly. I find a pair of jeans on the denim bar and am encouraged to buy them two sizes too small by a staff member lounging on the couch reading a magazine. First of all, I love the soft sell. And two sizes too small? Awesome. But wait a minute, I can’t quite breathe in these, and I don’t know what’s going to happen when I try to sit down. “Perfect” is the staff member’s response that’s just about right.

A bit of cognitive dissonance ensues as I stutter step to the counter to buy the jeans. I’m equal parts excited and anxious as I hand over my credit card. It’s here that I’m asked if I know how to care for said jeans. “Uh…what do you recommend?” The sales associate informs me that only after I wear them for (at least) 6 months should I attempt to clean them. And by “clean” he means “dry clean.” He hands me an instructions card that suggests some other care techniques including:

#4. seawater recipe

let your jeans get dirty for as long as possible, go swimming in the ocean wearing your jeans, rub your jeans with dry sand, and repeat several times. rinse in fresh (not salt) water and let dry in the sun.

Like contemporary branders such as Seth Godin, I love brands and products with stories. Stories that are weird, funny, fussy, human, strange- anything so long as it gives the product life and enhances it in a sea of sameness. You can’t wash your jeans in a sea of sameness and that’s why I love A.P.C.

A Lesson About Marketing in the YouTube Age

In advertising, Brands, communications, Consumers, pr, Uncategorized, unilever, youtube on November 26, 2007 at 1:03 pm

Unilever has successfully created two strong health and beauty brands in Dove and Axe. Both have strong points of view and viscerally connect to their audiences. Dove does it through “Real Beauty,” asking its audience to reject superficial stereotypes of gender and beauty; Axe through promoting superficial stereotypes of gender and beauty by using promiscuous sex as a vehicle. The brands are two of the best communicated in the industry, leveraging different sides of the same issue. Both score highly on shock value, both have extremely devoted consumer followings and both are, of course, owned by Unilever, which some now see as a big fat (not that there’s anything wrong with that) hypocrite.

But is it hypocrisy or is it just marketing? Independently, both brands are compelling but Dove has chosen a manifesto as its campaign as if on a crusade against traditional beauty brands. It asks its audience to vote with the brand’s mission by buying its product. A valiant effort, but it turns out it’s difficult for the King to lead a rebellion. Especially in the age of increased marketing transparency.

Trends in Facebook Applications

In research, social networking, trends on November 23, 2007 at 11:16 am

Facebook Applications Trends Report #1

from nomansblog

“Last Friday I stumbled upon this fantastic facebook analytics site – Adonomics (previously Appaholic), which provides figures on all 8648 facebook applications. It’s similar to what you can view on facebook (i.e. most popular, % of daily activity) but with additional data such as estimate of the net value of each application as well as new and returning users.

The data immediately felt like a goldmine and prompted my curiosity to dig into the chart and to carry out a systematic analysis of the 100 most popular applications – those that have at least 1million users – in an attempt to get a better grasp on favoured activities that take place in this global playground. In a sense it is similar to my Youtube trends reports, only here instead of analysing what people are watching, I want to take a a look at what people are doing.”

Layer Tennis by Coudal Partners

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2007 at 11:29 am

03.jpgI’m a design appreciator, not a designer. That said, it’s amazing to see what great designers can come up with with the right tools and collaboration. More from this series and others at Layer Tennis

Yahoo! and Google, the new, old social network

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2007 at 12:09 am

Ignore Orkut, OpenSocial, Yahoo Mash and Yahoo 360. Google and Yahoo have come up with new and very similar plans to respond to the challenge from MySpace and Facebook: They hope to turn their e-mail systems and personalized home page services (iGoogle and MyYahoo) into social networks.

Web-based e-mail systems already contain much of what Facebook calls the social graph — the connections between people. That’s why the social networks offer to import the e-mail address books of new users to jump-start their list of friends. Yahoo and Google realize that they have this information and can use it to build their own services that connect people to their contacts.

I suppose this news could be filed in the ‘obvious’ folder but it is surprising how long it has taken Yahoo! and Google to catch on in this regard. With social networks on the rise in terms of page views and time spent on-site, they are emerging as the big competitors to the traditional communications providers. And the other truism from mail-centric communication brands is that they are incredibly sticky once users have established an identity and address book of contacts. Users are loathe to leave, even if the service level dips or new competitors enter the scene. This is why you can still find otherwise intelligent people with the email address ‘’

Why writers should be paid for Internet content

In Uncategorized on November 14, 2007 at 11:32 pm

Nice Daily Show clip demonstrating the power that the Internet has to broadcast content. You know, the way the broadcast networks used to.

Television killed the video star

In Uncategorized on November 14, 2007 at 7:54 pm

Annuals – Carry Around

It is well documented that MTV lost its way awhile back. They made a strategic shift away from being a Music Television Network to being a network that embraced the thoughts and minds of youth. As a strategy, this would appear to offer almost unlimited potential to expand and grow.

In reality, the execution of the strategy becomes difficult when you recognize that the youth market is both increasingly factioned and in constant flux as consumers enter in and age out daily. And as we say, the devil is in the details.

This same dynamic is part of what makes so interesting. MySpace created a social networking phenomenon based around music, bands and the people that love them. Now they have launched an Internet television network to bring music videos back to the fans.

Even through growth and acquisition they have managed to stand for and facilitate youth culture while keeping true to the musical heart of the brand.