Five Reasons for a Delta/AT&T cobrand

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If you’re a business traveler who spends any appreciable time traveling, you understand the typical challenges: commercial transportation, even in its most streamlined forms, can be a lot of work. Especially if you’ve got a lot of work to do while you travel.

Some commercial carriers now offer wi-fi as a feature of their offerings. In particular, Delta Airlines touts that they proudly offer wi-fi on all flights (with a few restrictions based on the aircraft used on certain legs.)

Unfortunately, the wi-fi offered is painfully slow and doesn’t perform in any manner even remotely resembling acceptable. In some cases, the wi-fi isn’t available at all. This is especially infuriating on longer flights – like New York to Seattle, for instance – when you hope to strike several items from your to-do list, and make those hours productive.

We understand why Delta would offer wi-fi (through a fulfillment partner Gogo Inflight) services. It’s a great way to differentiate from competitors, and it gives the brand another feature to promote to consumers. And not just about targeting business travelers – even today’s average non-business traveler is in need of good wi-fi.

But when Delta can’t deliver on even the most basic version of that promise, they are losing esteem in the minds of their consumers, (this one included,) and thereby damaging their brand in the process.

This is a perfect market condition for a cobranding opportunity. If Delta dumps Gogo and partners with AT&T to deliver on an important and desirable brand feature, everybody wins. Let’s explore how.

Here’s loosely how it works: AT&T wires up all Delta flights with soon-to-be-ubiquitous 5G broadband wireless (serious network capability that’s actually really fast even when everyone is connected,) and now that they own it, AT&T can even deploy their DirecTV service into the flights where there are screens on the seats.  Great way to preview the new network, and better way to innovate (since you’d have to be creative with how to get good-sized beacons into typically tight spaces with the rest of the avionics configuration) on the installation.

What might happen in such an arrangement? The answers are five good reasons Delta and AT&T should cobrand:

  1. Consumers would enjoy a far better, far more productive online experience while flying Delta. If you’ve ever had to deal with slow or spotty wi-fi, you know how frustrating it can be. Smooth and fast connectivity that allows business people to connect to emails or shared docs and enables kids to stream movies would simply make for a stronger overall experience while flying Delta.
  2. Those consumers would form positive brand impressions about both Delta and AT&T. Smooth flights with lots of productive connectivity and streamed entertainment options that are delivered without incident looks good on both brands. This is especially true for AT&T, who is in a near-constant dogfight with Verizon for perceptual wireless network preference.
  3. Delta gets to deliver a category differentiating benefit at no carried or additional operational costs. Without assuming massive operational dollars to implement this arrangement, Delta would leapfrog its competitors with this feature. Sure, JetBlue has in-flight entertainment (ironically delivered by DirecTV,) and sometimes wi-fi, but a fully thought-out super high speed network for everyone to share would help the brand stand apart from its national rivals like United and American in a meaningful – consumers actually desire this feature – and powerful way.
  4. Although AT&T would assume the operational costs of outfitting every Delta jet with their hardware, the brand would receive (basically) free exposure to Delta’s 180 million yearly passengers. Yup I said 180 million. That’s a lot of top-of-the-funnel preference for nearly all of AT&T’s business units built around the network. If they want to beat Verizon’s brains in, getting in front of 180 million passengers and basically making their travel day is a really fine way to start. How about leveraging that exposure with juicy offers to switch to AT&T wireless for your mobile phone service, or similar offers for Sunday Ticket and other DirecTV enticements?  Did I mention 180 million passengers per year?
  5. Both brands would enjoy the benefits of individualized responsibility. Under this arrangement, Delta would only be responsible to its consumers for on-time flight performance and in-cabin service, and NOT the quality or uptime of its wi-fi. When it’s co-branded with a reputable and well-known name, Delta can actually get away with saying the wi-fi is “AT&T’s problem.” With Gogo, (a smaller player with far less brand visibility,) the average passenger assumes it’s Delta’s wi-fi. Conversely, AT&T gets to take all the credit for great wi-fi and entertainment and none of the guff for flight performance or on-time arrivals. A win/win indeed.

While we’re matchmaking, I might also propose that Amtrak and Verizon enter into the same type of arrangement. Have you ever tried to connect using AmtrakConnect? As they say in the business, “oy.”

Now that the business end is settled, all we need is a good tagline. Any ideas?

Pepsi’s Oopsies

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Pepsi is having a bit of a rough week. On Monday, the brand released a full 2:40 second version of an ad featuring Kendall Jenner. It planned to roll out a 60-second version worldwide in TV and several other cuts for digital activations. By mid day Wednesday, the brand pulled the ad and the buys altogether.

How could 36 little hours do so much? Well, let’s look at both sides of this.

Here’s the spot:

Okay. Let’s look at what you could consider as the bright sides of this ad.

  • It’s timely and topical.
    Protests and civic engagement have indeed become a part of our social fabric, here and abroad.
  • It’s multicultural, and gender equal.
    Never a bad thing.
  • It ultimately has a kind of positive aspirational tonality.
    An otherwise peaceful demonstration is rendered even more peaceful (I guess) with music, smiling, and the culminating action when the young woman (and all that the metaphor entails,) hands the police officer a can of Pepsi.
  • It puts the brand at the center of the action.
    That’s always a good idea.
  • It puts the brand in the center of the consumers it targets.
    Y
    outhful people – totally on strategy.
  • It would likely have appealed to many people around the world.
    There are millions of people who wouldn’t look beyond the surface of this, and would likely have seen it as a “nice little movie” that makes Pepsi look “relevant” or even “concerned” about what’s happening in the world.

That’s a lot of upside.

Now, to be fair, let’s look at the many down sides.

First, this is just a terrible piece of advertising. While all of us who practice in this business (and/or teach it,) can agree that it’s important to tell a story in your ads, we should probably mention that it’s important to tell a GOOD story. This ad tells a weird and disjointed set of stories that a.) don’t relate to one another very clearly and 2. ) don’t make a whole lot of sense. It sounds kind of like a bad bar joke: “An Asian cellist, a middle Eastern photographer and a socialite model walk into a protest…”

And, as far as plot, are we to believe that this otherwise unconcerned model on a photo shoot suddenly gets interested in the cause of the protest, (because Asian cellist hipster gives her a head bob,) and then joins it, only to be at the forefront of the central action in a matter of seconds? That’s kinda hard to believe, right?  It’s okay to stretch the truth in advertising – but it should be rooted in something that’s at least mildly feasible.

Second, the ad clearly co-opts the past several years of protest memories and tries to leverage them to its own gain. When Twitter blew up over this ad, most of the reaction was centered around the #blacklivesmatter theme, since that is our most open and infected social wound, and is (sadly) almost constantly in the news along with coverage of ensuing protests.

Pepsi decides to double down on the poorly conceived concept, and in the culminating scene, the star of the spot (Ms. Jenner) hands a police officer a can of Pepsi. Which seems and looks an awful lot like the very real and very terrifying moment when Ieshia Evans was arrested by officers in riot gear on the streets of Baton Rouge last July.

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Third, this ad is derivative on multiple levels. Hundreds of tweets mentioned the similarity of the spot to the first half of this Chemical Brothers video, which uses the protest scene as a vehicle for conveying chaos, passion, violence and yes, cola commercialism. But in that video, the commercialism is sort of mocked and shamed for its essence – a protestor later smashes a TV screen showing the “commercial” being parodied in the video.

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Remember the 1971 groundbreaking commercial, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke?” That, too, was multicultural, gender equal, timely and topical (it was sort of the middle innings of the hippie generation, but extracted a message of peace and “perfect harmony”,) and showed a cola brand at the center of the action. But without the need for the hyperrealism or cheap celebrity. Sure, it was a bit of commercial melodrama, but it was an ambitious and original idea, had a commissioned jingle we can all still sing in tune and – to provide context and even a little cover – it was more than 45 years ago.  Pepsi has had a long time to learn how to do this.

Fourth. The Kardashianification of America continues. Can we get past these people already?

But here’s the odd truth. Despite all the shortfalls of this ad, my guess is that there would have been millions of people who would have reacted positively to it. Because a lot of people don’t want to contemplate the harsh realities of life, and the provenances of the day’s socio-visual references. This ad would have simply gone down as schmaltz liquor for millennials, and half of them would have loved it.

Instead, we live in a world where Twitter is judge, jury and ad critic.  The ad never got to see the light of day.  And, in a discussion with my students last evening, another important point came up:  where was the agency of record in all of this?  This ad was created by Creators League Studio, an in-house content development team at Pepsi.  Perhaps they should have collaborated with their agency cohorts for some racial/cultural/how-to-do-an-ad-that-won’t-get-piled-on perspective?  Where was the grownup in the room? Where was the let’s-look-past-Pepsi perspective?

I fully understand and recognize that Pepsi is competing in a crowded marketplace, answering to shareholders, and trying to stay on the crest of every commercial wave. But ultimately, brands have a responsibility to the tens of millions of people who will be exposed to their messages. If you personify a protest as a social event that somehow gets “better” because and when a Kardashian joins it, then you’ve immediately devalued what a protest actually is: an often dangerous and sometimes necessary means of engagement and disruption and communication activation. A protest is a very real, very intense reality. To reduce it to a convenient advertising convention is just asking for trouble.

This is especially true when the protests in recent memory have ended in actual death for so many actual activists. Can you hear the souls of the departed from the Arab Spring crying out, “if only I had a Pepsi?” No. Very much no.

Okay. Off the soapbox. To make this a valuable teaching moment, let me just say this. If a company hands you the keys to their brand and a big fat budget, yes, tell a story. But tell a good one, with good characters, action and development.  And yes, celebrate the brand.  Heck, exaggerate the brand.  You can still do rom-com and sitcom and even cheesy melodrama. But remember who and what you are as a brand, and more importantly, what you are not.  And for fuck’s sake, TEST IT BEFORE YOU DROP IT.

Actually, Twitter won the 2016 Election.

twitter_politicsI know what you’re thinking. How can Twitter win anything, with its paltry 317 million users and its lame sub-$15 stock price? Compared to the giants like Facebook (1.87 billion users,) WhatsApp (1 billion,) and WeChat (846 million,) you could fit Twitter in the garage of their respective CEOs’ second mansions. Heck, even Instagram – the Etch-a-Sketch of social media platforms – has 600 million users. (Source: statista.)

So on what metric, exactly, could Twitter be outperforming all these titans of social chatter?

In a word, politics.

Trump tweets. Pence tweets. Anthony Weiner tweeted his ass off (and other parts.) And the world reads Merkel tweets. And Putin tweets. And May Tweets. And the usually-epic JK Rowling tweets.

Politics has reinvigorated the in-the-moment DNA of Twitter in a way that perhaps no other sector could. And perhaps no other social media platform could so readily respond to the challenge.

Part of it is the “gotcha” nature of American politics in particular. We’re all taken back to hear one party or one candidate say something that’s very damning in nature, and then double-shocked to hear those words come back to bite them on the ass when someone digs out a tweet from six or twelve months ago. Consider this telling headline from Mashable about Mike Pence as a classic case in point: “This old Mike Pence tweet on Hillary Clinton emails is coming back to haunt him.”

In it, we learn that Vice President Mike Pence used his personal email address (yes, still using AOL,) for official business while governor of Indiana.

The facts are what they are, and I have no intention of arguing whether it’s better, worse, or same as when the former Secretary of State did the same thing. But what’s interesting is where the hearings are taking place: not on television. Not in newspapers. Not on Facebook.  But on Twitter.

Pence’s boss is no stranger to the daily-death-by-Twitter phenomenon. Trump’s tweets are so varied and so erratic that CNN has a live website tracking every one of his tweets.

And because he’s President, every tweet becomes part of the official record of his tenure. In case you’re scoring at home, they could become evidence of any number of things in the event of any criminal investigations that may arise. (And, you know, they may arise.)  And based on certain tweets regarding certain former US presidents conducting unauthorized wiretapping, investigations are already en route, and with a motorcade, to be sure.

No other social media platform, no matter how cool, or how many fun filters it offers, could offer such a perfect distribution channel for the gotcha fodder: nasty things said, declarative things said, and all that darn fact-checking.  Why is that?

A few possibilities include the content-capping.  140 characters are just enough to say something really pithy.  Or really dopey.  Also, the in-the-moment-ness of Twitter makes it a “now” social media platform, whereas Facebook or Pinterest, as examples, are excellent “linger with it later” platforms.  And of course, the fact that Tweets.  Stay.  Alive.  Forever.  (Sorry, Snapchat.)

You don’t need to go far to see how the Twitter-back-and-forth-and-back-again is playing out. But pay careful attention to how only one platform is invited into this A-list party, while all the others huddle outside trying to sweet-talk the bouncer with their pleas of “have you seen how many registered users I have?”

Facebook, please.

In marketing terms, Twitter has a highly defensible point of differentiation, and it should seriously consider exploiting it for its own gains. How that manifests is yet to be seen, but if I were the agency of record, I would seriously be trying to strike while the iron is hot and while 45 is tweeting away.

Super Bowl LI Grins and Groans

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Well, this year’s Super Bowl was more super on the field than it was on the airwaves.  History was made on the field: the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history; the first ever to go into overtime, and crowning a 5-time Super Bowl winner (and 4-time MVP) in Tom Brady.  My heart goes out to Falcons nation…that had to be a rough second half to endure.

Speaking of rough to endure, this year’s advertising was not the entertainment bonanza many hoped it might be.  There was a notable lack of verve, and since advertising is often reflective of the voice of American culture, it’s likely that this year’s ad-blah-ness is reflective of the current unease in the nation and the recent geopolitical dance card of current events.  Immigration issues and matters of race and religious and gender tolerance hang over our daily headlines – it’s no surprise these same themes found their way into our ad-vertainment.  Telling.  But kind of a bummer if you’re an ad junkie.

Thankfully, there were some moments that were enjoyable.  Here, my Super Bowl 51 Grins and Groans:

Honorable Mentions

Hyundai – created a commercial in real-time during the beginning of the game with service men and women stationed overseas, and then edited it and aired it before the trophy presentation.  Led by noted film director Peter Berg.  Poignant and kind and an interesting approach.

Febreze – took a frank and funny look at Super Bowl parties (when everyone runs to the bathroom at halftime,) and made a simple point about the truth: “sometimes halftime stinks.” Simple, smart, and most definitely on strategy.

Snickers – made headlines mostly because the spot was carried live, a first in Super Bowl history.  The spot featured actor Adam Driver “messing up” the commercial because he was hungry.  A strong execution – there were prop gags and some good performances, but I don’t think this was the blockbuster they hoped it would be. (A colleague pointed out that most people probably did not KNOW it was live.)

GRINS

Bai Antioxidant Infusion Drinks

This was one of the brands that absolutely stole the show last year with the insanely funny “horse whisperer” ad.  They’re back this year, with less laughs, but enough smarts to put Christopher Walken in their commercial (who killed last year for Kia, by the way.)  In it, he stages a dramatic reading of the N’Sync hit “Bye, Bye, Bye,” which, of course, is a homophone for “Bai, Bai, Bai.”  Camera pulls out wide to reveal Justin Timberlake in a red velvet jacket.  You can almost see the outtakes where they bust out laughing.  Just silly, and light, and funny.  And by the way, if you’re scoring at home, they got the product name in the spot approximately nine times.  (Spoken and sung.)

Budweiser

This spot got a lot of buzz before the game because of its uncanny timeliness with the recent executive order on immigration whose news gripped (and divided) the nation.  However, it’s likely that the spot was in the can for months, and that this was simply a happy timing accident.  However, the commercial is strong:  cinematic, inspirational, and a simple declaration of the humble beginnings of what is now arguably the MOST American brand of all American brands. It shows a young Adolphus Busch risking life and limb to come to America to pursue his dream of making a German-style lager in the new world.  He happens upon Eberhard Anheuser, and the rest, of course, is history.

Mr. Clean

Smart, funny, and well-executed.  Sara, who seems a little bored and uninspired, cooks dinner and spills some sauce on the countertop.  Suddenly a super-buff animated Mr.Clean appears (refreshed for the modern era in a tight white t-shirt and a few more flattering physical features,) and starts to turn Sara on by how well he cleans, and how damn good he looks doing it.  When her frumpy husband snaps her out of her suburban fantasy, she’s super turned on and attacks him with affection.  The theme line wraps it up perfectly:  “You gotta love a man who cleans.”

Tide

Really well-executed commercial that smashes together some simple product demonstration stuff with some modern social media jargon and wraps it up in the ultimate goofball, Terry Bradshaw.  Made to look like a “real” Super Bowl cutaway, it turns into a goofy aside as we follow Terry outside the stadium to find help for the barbecue sauce stain on his shirt, while he’s “trending” on social media.  He does find help, hilariously, in the person of Jeffrey Tambor. This is a “how our product works” spot wrapped up in a contextualized narrative using a relevant (and believable) character.  Tide’s been on a roll with these spots, and it’s primarily because they’ve kept their strategic focus so hyper-centered on a core element:  removing stains.

BIGGEST GRIN:  T-Mobile

To me, T-Mobile WON the ad bowl, hands down.  They ran four separate executions, and only teased one (the Justin Bieber integrated “unlimited moves” execution,) before the game.  Another execution features the unlikely (and pretty hilarious) pairing of Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, as she provides options for what Snoop might be trying to compare unlimited data to.  He says, “You might say it’s all that and a bag of…” and she launches into a dozen Martha Stewart-isms (“purple cushy throw pillows?” “herb-roasted lamb chops?”)  It’s cute.  And again, hyper-focused on their core proposition:  unlimited data.

But the spots that really stole the night were the pair of “50 Shades of Gray”-inspired sendups featuring killer performances by Kristen Schaal, that feature “naughty” behavior centered around getting “punished” for exceeding data limits. It’s advertising gold, partly because of Schaal’s astounding comedic performances, partly because it absolutely shreds Verizon in the process, and mostly because it (again) hammers home the core strategic focus.

The first spot sets up the spoof with the gigantic super:  “Wireless pain is fine.  If you’re into that sort of thing.”  It’s full of comedic gems, including the jab “wait til you see how confusing the bill is.”

Then, in the follow-up, she takes the action to a Verizon customer service agent.  She mentions that she’s gone  over her monthly data usage, and as the representative tries to pull up her information, she asks, seductively, “what are you gonna do to me?”  He’s confused.  She’s in the moment.  And it’s simply great advertising.

 

AND NOW FOR THE GROANS.

Google Home

A spot that does a nice job of showing the product in action across diverse audiences, but in kind of a weird way.  It’s set to the tune of “Take me Home, Country Roads,” the John Denver classic.  But you’re not quite sure why.  There’s no connective tissue there.  *Unless some of it was filmed in West Virginia?  With a mountain momma?  Sorry, but this was a miss.

84 Lumber

Everyone LOVED this spot.  It was sweeping, and cinematic, and timely, and poignant.  But it was rejected in its entirety, and people had to go online to see the end.  That itself is a bit indulgent, but when the site crashed, it became maddening.  As it turns out (SPOILER ALERT) the mom and the daughter enter through the “great doorway” and “get in.”  What’s wrong with this spot is a.) it was intended as a recruiting effort for 84 Lumber employees and b.) it will make exactly half the people in this country want to shop there and exactly the other half want to boycott it.  I hope for their sake they have stores near where that first half lives.

Turbo Tax

The Humpty-Dumpty-themed spot, which attempts to show how easy it is to get mobile customer service (I guess,) was, well, weird.  He’s all cracked up, he’s bleeding yolk, and it just kept seeming like jokes for jokes’ sake.

SoFi

Here’s a brand that did SO bad last year, I was surprised to see them back at it again this year, (I haven’t done the research, but I’d guess it’s a new agency,) with a low-budget spot focused on student debt.  At first they praise themselves for how much they lent last year, which sounds like a payoff line (because it is,) then they go on to say what the average student debt is, which sounds more like a setup line (because it is.)  Just kind of out of order and unremarkable for the $5,000,000 investment.

BIGGEST GROAN:  ALL the automotive ads (except one.)

Generally, we look to the Super Bowl for great automotive advertising – in just the last few years, we’ve seen some exceptional entries from Audi (remember “Prom” and last year’s “Starman?”) and Chrysler (where they launched the “Imported from Detroit”) and so many others.  Gosh, Christopher Walken for Kia last year was an epic victory.

But this year, the auto ads were flat at worst and over-reaching at best.  Kia was closest with their Melissa McCarthy spot, because it was light, and funny, and at least tried to feature the car’s core benefit as an “eco-warrior.”

Alfa Romeo purchased three separate spots to the tune of $20 million, and hardly distinguished themselves at all in the process.  The “Riding Dragons” spot reads more like a brand film to be used internally to motivate salespeople.  Listen to all the “we, we, we,” and “us, us, us.” The others were a bit better, but equally befuddling.

Honda went long with celebrities in their “yearbook” spot, but over-reached on the “dreaming” theme.  Buick got close with the “Cam Newton” spot, because it was cute, and it reinforced their “hey, is that a Buick?” theme, but it didn’t do much for the brand overall, in my opinion.  Audi’s female-focused spot was beautiful, and a wonderful sentiment, but oddly out of place as a Super Bowl spot.  Lexus was also kind of a weird spot:  just some beauty shots of the car and some freestyle dancer dude dancing sideways on the wall and the car.  Which would be super cool if Apple hadn’t just done it last month for their Air Pods.

Super Bowl advertising is – by definition – supposed to be big and brash and even bawdy.  We expect lots of laughs, maybe a little lewdness and a heavy dose of celebrities.  But sadly, we got issues and platforms and statements.  Funny how suddenly, we’re wishing for busty blondes in bikinis and talking babies, eh?  Until next year!

 

 

How to get control of your brand. Now.

It’s tough for brands these days. All the competition. All the change. And all that damn marketing! And perhaps most difficult is getting consumers to know you, then like you, and finally, to trust you.

Brands – and I’m talking about brands of all sizes, really – invest a lot of money in so many areas – it might be research and development, or operations, offices, showrooms or retail stores, or even the “perfect” ingredients for their recipes. These are all things that are relatively controllable for the brand.

But once they’re born, brands are basically out of control. Because, ultimately, consumers decide if the brand is good or bad, cool or “over,” worth the money or not. And in the age of social media, the lack of control can really get scary.

Consider the recent tweet by the then-President-elect Donald Trump:

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On the surface, it sounds like another one of the Donald’s weirdly-supportive and overly generalized ramblings. But there’s something really telling about this. The account of @realDonaldTrump has about 22 million followers. That’s a really lot. All of whom now have this “advice” about supporting and patronizing L.L. Bean.

We’ll stay out of the politics of this exchange, and whether or not it’s ethical for a candidate to receive a donation from an individual, and then use his massive influence to issue a sales pitch for her company after winning. Because eeeewww.

But what happens if that brand DOESN’T WANT that endorsement?

After the tweet, a group called Grab Your Wallet added L.L. Bean to a boycott list of any companies associated with Donald Trump. What if thousands, or even millions of L.L. Bean consumers got wind of that and decided to protest the man by dropping the brand? That has real consequences for the brand – especially if it’s publicly traded.  L.L. Bean quickly issued a statement on their Facebook page (that reaches just slightly over 750,000 followers – see the disparity there?) distancing themselves from alignment with any candidate and asking Grab Your Wallet to reconsider their position. [They haven’t.]

And if you’re a brand that’s invested time, and money, and millions of dollars and hired people all over the country and have supply chains in place and employees who count on your continued success for their livelihoods, it’s a little disconcerting to know that equity can all disappear – or at least be seriously compromised – with 140 characters or less. In this hyper-polarized age, it’s certainly possible that bonds are being formed and broken in more and more capricious circumstances.

So what’s a brand to do?

Well, it’s simple. Advertise.

While there are many ways to develop and grow a brand, advertising remains the most direct route to establishing your own position, and forwarding your point of view.

So, if you’re an apparel company, and someone does or says something terrible while wearing your clothing, advertise. If you’re a food brand that gets protested by a fringe group who claims you’re not environmentally responsible enough, advertise. If you’re a retailer and you’re losing share because some influencer tells millions of followers that she overpaid for your wares, advertise.

At the very least, you’ll have had your say. You’ll have run commercials and ads and said to the world: “this is what we stand for.” “This is who we stand for.” “This is who we are.” Otherwise, you might get hijacked by someone’s wayward ramblings…even if they may have had good intentions in the process.

TRUMP: the brand that never was

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In her recent article in the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin writes an impassioned article about how, in the “Irony of Ironies,” Trump has destroyed his own brand right in the middle of perhaps the most popular and most saturated stretch of his career. She’s kind of pissed.

I agree with this article on only one point: that Donald Trump likely entered the presidential race as a publicity stunt, something I’ve been crowing about for more than a year. My guess is that he thought he had no shot at winning, but would gain widespread popularity during the primaries – and leverage that popularity to launch a newer, bigger, huger reality show about something or other.

However, that’s about all we agree on, and likely because Ms. Rubin and I have very different ideas of what “brand” actually means.

Donald Trump built – literally and figuratively – his name on real estate development. That was his bread and butter, and (aside from a little head start from his father,) how he made, and lost, and made, his enormous fortunes. He put the Trump name name on every building, every hotel and every DBA he launched.

He then (pretty successfully) associated that name “TRUMP” with wealth and opulence. The gold finishing on all the buildings. The gawdy furnishings in the hotels. The “you-can’t-afford-it” pricing. And the brand actually stood on something fairly cohesive in its earliest form. This was a real estate/building/developing/fancy-finished kind of brand. Even when TRUMP extended the line into other types of properties, like resorts, and casinos, and golf courses, and a skating rink, it kinda sorta held together. (After all, those are all developed and built on property.)

Pretty straightforward. And for those who wanted to associate with that big-money, big-ego promise, the brand was there for the hefty asking price. And it commanded a limited, but interestingly dedicated, audience.

But then TRUMP derailed. It made the classic hubris mistake of any brand that thinks it’s soooo good at one thing, that it can be equally good at lots of other things.

He extended the brand.

And from there, the TRUMP brand got hazy, and extended into a weird and wide array of categories. Through the years, the TRUMP name has appeared on a host of enterprises:

A winery.
A beauty pageant.
A mortgage company (okay, that might be sort of adjacent.)
The oft-vilified university.
Clothing.
Fragrances.

(Should I keep going?)

Okay.

An airline.
A vodka.
A model management company.
A steakhouse – later extended to online steak delivery.
A catering company.
(And I’m leaving out a bunch.)

As it turns out, almost all of those ventures have failed, some more magnificently than others. And the reason was, in almost all cases where the concern was dependent upon consumer interaction, the price point (always set at the ultra premium level) did not consistently match what was delivered.

Which, itself, is the rub. The “promise,” the central pillar of the TRUMP brand was that you’d PAY a lot to interact with it. But time and time again, with greater frequency than we might care to agree on, the quality and commitment to excellence delivered to the consumer was not commensurate with the price commanded.

Which proves that the TRUMP “brand” is only a brand in that those five capital letters are emblazoned on just about everything the organization has ever produced. But not a delivery against his core promise.  (We assume, as consumers, to GET a lot when we PAY a lot.)  Instead, the sum of all the experiences in all the categories over all the years is this: the TRUMP brand is extremely shiny and impressive on the surface, and anywhere from meh to virtually invisible right after your platinum credit card transaction goes through.

Which means, and I say this quite politely to Ms. Rubin, that Mr. Trump’s behavior in recent months hasn’t done anything to “damage” the TRUMP brand. Because the brand is a disembodied disaster in pure marketing terms. (Let’s not confuse the TRUMP brand with Donald’s celebrity persona…if his celebrity persona is the brand, then he’s trending like mad and gaining in popularity.)

The TRUMP brand’s only verifiable track record has been to over promise and under deliver on matters of substance in all the categories outside of real estate properties. It has done that quite consistently for decades. And in light of its founder’s recent press, it’s continuing magnificently. Terrific. Huge. Tremendous.

Pokemon GO reveals 5 important marketing truths you can’t underestimate

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Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the last several weeks, you’ve no doubt heard of the Pokemon GO craze that’s sweeping the globe. 50+ million downloads later, and people are still out walking the streets, through parks and even into closed spaces like stores and stations to throw a virtual PokeBall at virtual fictitious creatures.

It’s a powerful shift in the gaming world, and integrates many tech categories, including mobile, AR, GPS, and more.

But beyond the tech itself, what’s most interesting are the marketing implications. (What would a good fad be without in-app purchases, right?) And the Pokemon GO craze reveals some deep-seated marketing truths that should not be underestimated.

Never underestimate the power of brand bonds.
While Pokemon GO is a 2016 phenomenon, its roots go back more than 20 years, to the Pokemon game developed for the original GameBoy console by Nintendo. This collecting game centered around fictional creatures called Pokemon, and was a huge hit, eventually spinning off six generations of gaming updates and more than 700 “species” of Pokemon.

The original games captured the attention of young children and tweens prior to 2000 – the group we now fondly call millennials – and those children lived and breathed the games, the anime series and feature films. There’s a complete mythology that children became immersed in, memorized, and fantasized about as a result of all the media pushed out around the brand (not unlike some other franchises you may have heard of, like Star Wars or Harry Potter.) It’s no surprise, then, that when the brand resurfaces decades later with a new iteration, that the barriers to entry are virtually non-existent, and the familiar faces (who can resist a Pikachu?) bring back deeply embedded fond memories and feelings of a bygone youth.

Never underestimate the power of new technology
The tech involved with bringing Pokemon GO to market is pretty hefty, especially in its integration of several complex technologies into one robust platform. There’s a gaming component, of course – objectives, scoring, playing against others, battles in PokeGyms and reloads at PokeStops. There’s full mobile integration (iOS and Android compatible,) with GPS into a hyper-animated GoogleMaps application. And central to its appeal is the AR (augmented reality) built into the experience, that “hides” Pokemon into your normal environment when viewed through your device’s camera. Oh, and a wearable device for playing the game (line extension anyone?) is set to be released in September of 2016.

It should be noted that tech is at the heart of this whole thing, and that Niantic, the company who developed Pokemon GO, was at one time an internal Google startup that spun off (with $30 million in pledged investments) back in October of 2015, right around the time Google restructured as Alphabet.

Never underestimate the power of fads
It’s hard to resist the appeal of seeing scads of young people laughing, working together, laughing, running around the streets, laughing and having tons of fun. Did I mention laughing? Fads capture attention, typically of a specific group, and gain popularity due to their exciting or enticing nature. That is happening here on a grand – indeed a global – scale, and a great many participants have the Pokemon history to fall back on. To be noted, the Pokemon universe is rolling up new fans as a result of Pokemon GO’s popularity as well. Also of note is that fads typically don’t last – some turn into trends, and I suspect that we’ll see that in this case, because of the copycat phenomenon…see below.

Never underestimate the copycat syndrome
How many brands right now do you think are huddled in their war rooms, feverishly discussing the Pokemon GO craze and asking the inevitable question “how can OUR BRAND do something like this?” Naturally, when a craze sweeps the nation (and in this case, the developed world,) competitors and non-competitors alike recognize the opportunities and rush to develop their own versions to grab attention and attempt to capitalize on the appeal.

Once it becomes viable that there’s a WILLINGNESS on the part of millions of people to participate in a specific type of activity or behavior, brands rush in with their own versions. Expect to see at least a dozen new AR-oriented applications, games, and extensions within 6-18 months. Some may find traction (if they can bring their own appeal to the engagement,) but most will typically fail – either because the appeal will fall on deaf ears, or because the offering won’t be actually cool, or because it will become too overtly commercialized.

Never underestimate the power of community
One of the most critical elements of the Pokemon GO craze (and it was likely unintended,) is that it brings people together. You see groups of 2, 3, 4 or more people walking around with their phones and working together to find new Pokemon. They’re young, they’re laughing, and it looks like they’re having a great time. (Seriously, who wouldn’t want to be involved with that?)

This part of the phenomenon speaks to a deeper truth about consumers and brand adoption behaviors – we’re far more likely to adopt a brand if we think we can be affirmed or liked in some way as a result – especially by our peers. Pokemon GO has done that in a unique way: with the backdrop of a well-established brand familiarity, with the integration of emerging technologies and through the power and comfort of a large peer community.

So…if you’re one of those brands who are considering launching your own version of Pokemon GO, don’t underestimate these important elements. And more importantly, don’t OVERestimate the appeal of your brand to extend into this realm. If you’re gonna do it, do it right, and do it in context with what your consumers really want. After all, you gotta catch ‘em all!