Gillette doubles down. And wins big.

A little over four months ago, I wrote a post about the “toxic masculinity” commercial released by Gillette. You can see that post here.

Now, Gillette is back with another ad, and all I have to say is BRAVO.

Bravo for deciding to CONTINUE to engage in an important national conversation about masculinity, and now about gender issues, and now about inclusivity.

Bravo for focusing on a narrow audience, and demonstrating that there’s room for all kinds of conversations around seemingly simple daily routines.

And bravo for – especially for – not abandoning the position the brand assumed in January. To do so would have been cowering, and cowardly. This takes guts at the highest levels of the brand, and it may very well alienate more people…but it’s an important statement at an important time.

In my previous post, I wrote that the “toxic masculinity” commercial was good, but that it stopped short of being great for various reasons, including:

“I wish this spot also involved gender and sexuality issues – toxic masculinity is especially reprehensible towards non-heterosexual males and the LGBTQ universe in general.”

And

“The real test now for Gillette is where they go from here. If they continue to embody this refreshed perspective, and if all their forthcoming ads are aspirational (where we show men aspiring to be better men, especially with and around their female counterparts,) and they continue to use their brand to inspire action and help shift attitudes, then we can look back and say, “See? This was the moment they became aware of who they were as a brand, and the responsibility they bare as a consequence.”

But if they don’t?

Then the market can have at them – and Gillette will deserve every criticism they will likely suffer, not to mention probably losing market share to a host of upstart razor companies ready to eat their lunch.

No pressure, Gillette. But the world is now watching. And you invited us all to the party.”

You can see the new ad here:

 

What some might be missing here is that this ad is NOT about a transgender’s journey, the “transition” as he calls it. (Although most detractors are focused on this singular point.) In fact, if you didn’t know the back story, you might miss it altogether.  The editing and the dialogue shroud this point just enough that it’s not jumping up and down and calling for attention.

This ad is really about teaching old dogs new tricks. And showing how those old dogs teach their offspring their old tricks. This ad is (quietly) a lot more about Dads than it is about their transgender children.

A man teaching his son to shave is an incredibly important milestone in the father-son relationship. (Irrespective of how that son identifies his own gender.) It signals so much about the passage of time, and ushers in an opportunity for the passing on of experience. [And yes, it’s also the perfect contextualized moment to introduce emotion into a discussion around promoting a specific shaving blade.]

One of the core tenets of advertising is “Show. Don’t tell.” In other words, don’t tell people how to use products. Show them how it works when you do. And similarly, don’t tell people how to be an accepting father. Show them what it might look like if you were.

Is it Gillette’s job to poke their noses into national behavior and tell men to accept their transgender children? No, of course not. But it is always a good policy to show how it can be done. Even in an idealized way. And this ad does that very well indeed.

There is a lot of divisive discourse in America today. As the lyric goes, we seem to be “stuck in a moment, and we can’t get out of it.” But it will pass, and it may even get a scant bit better. And maybe, just maybe, ads like this will be part of that transition. (See what I did there?)

Again, Gillette has us talking about these issues, and more importantly, talking about Gillette. That’s a win.

Bravo.

Is THIS the best an ad can get?

A lot has been made of the new Gillette short film entitled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be.” The spot, which challenges men to take a look at tired masculine clichés, like “boys will be boys,” and mentions #metoo within the first five seconds, depicts several scenes wherein some certain male behaviors have been tolerated almost hypnotically for quite some time.

A group of teens sit on a couch and flip through scenes of female marginalization in situation comedies and reality shows. An executive inappropriately (because he’s pandering,) puts his hand on a woman’s shoulder and starts a phrase, “What I actually think she’s trying to say is…” And so on.

Then, a new narrative starts to form in the video, where men intervene positively in several oft-tolerated situations, including cat-calling, fighting, and bullying. Underneath it all, the voiceover insists that “some is not enough.” And “Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”

On its surface, this is an incredibly powerful social statement. And Gillette should be congratulated for boldly making it.

But as a piece of advertising, it may be overreaching at best, and carelessly ineffective at worst. While I can appreciate what it’s trying to do, the ad loses focus in its earnest to say something share-worthy on social media. (Although, in its defense, it has succeeded in doing at least that.)

The modern American consumer does not always make the loftiest cerebral decisions when trying to discern which brands to buy. Instead, they make simple, often one-word phrase mnemonic connections (that brands typically provide for them,) and choose based on how that singular experience makes them feel.

And for the past 30 years or so, Gillette has “won” consumers on a simple concept: the best a man can get. Strong tagline. A simple and understandable position for consumers. Advertising to support it. Not surprisingly, strong sales followed.

But now, Gillette has waded – rather, they’ve taken a rocket-powered speedboat – into dangerous waters that even their historically strong positioning may not be able to weather.

Here’s why.

It’s too little. And it’s too late. And so it looks like a desperate attempt to re-imagine the “appropriate” response. If there was a Gillette spot genie, these would be my three wishes:

  • I wish this spot was made a year ago, when #metoo was really a national discussion being had by, for, and with women. That it comes out now seems suspect.
  • I wish this spot also involved gender and sexuality issues – toxic masculinity is especially reprehensible towards non-heterosexual males and the LGBTQ universe in general.
  • I wish this spot took on the real issue, which is not just how young boys’ behavior gets formed, but more importantly, how that behavior is reinforced when it gets pardoned at nearly every important juncture of their lives.

In all the reaction I’ve seen, no one has mentioned that other brands, including other P&G brands, have tried this approach before, and to great reception. A zillion accolades (and ad industry awards) were showered on the #likeagirl campaign from Always. And the #realbeauty campaign from Dove was equally lauded.

Why is Gillette getting pounded by the social mediasphere? Probably because it’s disempowering. Probably because it’s by males for males, and about males and male grooming products. And that’s kinda not the point.

Probably because, as a brand, Gillette makes products for men that are purchased as much or more by women on behalf of men, and nowhere in this spot does Gillette equate toxic masculinity to domestic abuse towards women. Swing and a miss.

Now let’s be fair.  Gillette attempted to have an important conversation with American consumers, and they handled it awkwardly.  But that is STILL better than avoiding that conversation at all. And if you can imagine this, things are about to get harder for Gillette from here.

When a brand takes on a position, embodied by a bold tagline, then you have to own it – and that can come at quite a cost. The real test now for Gillette is where they go from here. If they continue to embody this refreshed perspective, and if all their forthcoming ads are aspirational (where we show men aspiring to be better men, especially with and around their female counterparts,) and they continue to use their brand to inspire action and help shift attitudes, then we can look back and say, “See? This was the moment they became aware of who they were as a brand, and the responsibility they bare as a consequence.”

But if they don’t?

Then the market can have at them – and Gillette will deserve every criticism they will likely suffer, not to mention probably losing market share to a host of upstart razor companies ready to eat their lunch.

No pressure, Gillette. But the world is now watching. And you invited us all to the party.

A big-bet Juul in Altria’s crown

Big news in the world of big brands: Altria has taken a 35% stake in Juul, the privately-owned California startup that has taken the e-cigarette world by storm with its signature sleek-black vape pen, and a tidy 70% market share in the process.

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The deal, reportedly worth $12.8 Billion, unofficially gives Juul a $38 Billion valuation, more than twice the valuation it received just six months earlier after a $650 million infusion of cash valued the brand at roughly $15 Billion. The new valuation makes Juul more valuable on paper than Ford, Target, SpaceX and Lyft. This in just over three years, when it was introduced by Pax Labs. (Juul spun off as an independent company in July of 2017.)

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In and of itself, this is just moderately-sized investment news by big-brand standards. And naturally, the question has arisen: why would Altria (the owner of Philip Morris, who manufactures and markets the leading cigarette brands in the US,) take a major stake in a company whose goal, according to Founder James Monsees, centers “around the idea of making cigarettes obsolete?”

It’s kind of simple, really. While Philip Morris has been trying to invent its own cigarette alternatives – it owns iQOS, a heat-not-burn concept sold outside of the US and has reportedly invested more than $4.5 Billion in it over the last 10 years – it found a company that has out tech-ed them and outsold them in just three years. Kind of a no-brainer: if you can’t build it, buy it.

From a marketing perspective, this is a pure (and big) horizontal line extension. Philip Morris is not going to stop selling cigarettes anytime soon – not when their Marlboro brand is the category leader in a roughly $100 Billion US tobacco market. But they are girding against their slow and steady demise by diversifying their tobacco portfolio.

Current Juul advertising features testimonials of former smokers talking about how Juul has helped them to quit smoking actual cigarettes.  And their off-the-line marketing campaign, focused almost solely on social media, featured celebrities (like Dave Chappelle and Katy Perry,) as proud Juul-ers.

This investment may just be a pre-IPO valuation manipulation. If Altria is looking to capitalize on any opportunities it can find, it may just be pumping up Juul’s value so that it can drive eventual profits right to the bottom line, whether it cannibalizes their cigarette business or not.

And it may not be that nefarious at all.  Altria has a duty to its shareholders to seek out opportunities, and one way to do that is to segment the market and give their target audiences what they (both) want. Cigarettes for some, e-cigs for the rest.  If you’ve got the resources, why not own the leader in both categories?

Concurrently, Juul is undertaking several clinical studies to drive evidence-based claims ahead of their required submission to the FDA in August of 2022. Imagine what their value will be with any kind of favorable decision (and some accompanying language that sniffs of a “safer than cigarettes” authorization,) then?

And remember that Juul is hardly standing still. This is a brand still very much on the rise. They’re currently developing a product (for introduction into global markets outside the US) that will be a “connected device,” essentially keeping users informed of their day-to-day usage. It’s no wonder they’ve been called “the iPhone of e-cigarettes.”

Smoking has gone high-tech, and at least one dinosaur is girding against its extinction with a healthy investment in a vaping future. So let’s start the countdown: a Marlboro Light-flavored Juul pod in 5-4-3-2…

Dunkin’ Is Nuts

The news has officially come down, (although it’s been in the works for almost a year,) that Dunkin’ Donuts, the international (yes, they have stores in 36 countries,) brand that was established nearly 70 years ago, is changing its name.25_Dunkin_Before_After_c4885e75-fe56-4add-aab3-a51120689229-prv

They will no longer be Dunkin’ Donuts, but will officially change their name to simply Dunkin’ as of January, 2019. According to the company’s official press release, the plan behind this switch is to transform the company into a “beverage-led, on-the-go” brand.

To cut to the chase, this is a bad idea. A really bad idea.

Let’s start at the beginning. Dunkin’ Donuts dominates in the donut category, leading Krispy Kreme and Mister Donut by a long way, and by a wide margin in terms of number of stores.

The brand also competes in the coffee category, and meets a strong and persistent consumer need in that area. And for decades, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee has established itself as unique, based on flavor profile (and, some would argue, sheer temperature.)

As the quick-serve coffee category has expanded in the last 20-30 years, and has come to be dominated by Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts has pivoted to offer more varieties and flavors of coffee and espresso drinks, and has achieved a strong challenger position. According to Statista, Starbucks has almost double the market share volume over Dunkin’ Donuts in this category, and slightly more than all others combined (not including Dunkin’ Donuts.)

So if you’re a challenger brand in any category (and this has turned into a classic leader/challenger category like Coke/Pepsi or McDonald’s/Burger King,) your goal as a brand should never be to appear MORE like the leader. The goal is to establish difference.

And DONUTS is what makes this brand special.
DONUTS is what makes this brand DIFFERENT.

Now, the Dunkin’ brand will still carry donuts.  But when you don’t tell people that it’s what makes you different, (say, by including “donuts” in your brand name,) who’s to say that consumers will inherently know? Especially young, entering-the-market consumers who may not be familiar with the brand’s history?  What will Dunkin’ mean 10 or 20 years from now without context?

The idea of changing the name to Dunkin’ at all seems wholly misdirected.  When the press release states that you want to be a more “beverage-led” brand, the slang word “Dunkin'” doesn’t say “beverages” at all.  What’s more insulting is that the name referred to the verb of actually. dunking. donuts. in. coffee.

So let’s review:  Dunkin’ Donuts is perceptually and verbally moving AWAY from the category they dominate, and CLOSER to a category where they challenge a leader who owns nearly twice the market share, and where their only competitive advantage is average price.  Sounds like a frozen-double-mocha mistake in judgment to me.

Dunkin’ (as they will be called in a few months,) should stick to what they’re good at – good coffee and family-friendly offerings served in modest stores at moderate pricing. AND LOTS AND LOTS OF DONUTS.

 

 

 

 

WhyHOP?

Remember the old expression, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity?” Well, you can retire that along with any hope for IHOP, who, in a pre-planned coordinated marketing/branding/PR effort, decided to change its name to IHOB.

At first, the brand teased the new name, and for a couple of weeks the Interwebs buzzed about the possibilities, roundly agreeing that the “B” would be for “breakfast.”

But noooooo. The we’re-smarter-than-you-are team at IHOP/B then dropped the real bomb: that the “B” would be for “burgers.”

I can hear you saying “but WHY? Why would a fast-casual restaurant chain with a 60-year history of serving (and dominating in) breakfast try to suddenly pivot to a burger chain? Especially in light of the fact that there are SO MANY bigger, richer, more entrenched burger chains across the category?

So first, let’s be clear: IHOP is NOT actually changing its name to IHOB. We’ve been trolled. We’ve been duped. We’ve been fake news-ed. And while it may seem fitting in the United States of Trump to push out fake stories in service of ulterior motives, this one’s not getting elected to anything soon.

Instead, the other restaurant chains are actually enjoying the halo effect of all of IHOP/B’s spent money and effort as they throw shade from every corner of the flat-top:

When a Twitter user asked Wendy’s if they were worried about the new competition, Wendy’s sharply replied: “Not really afraid of the burgers from a place that decided pancakes were too hard.” Ouch.

Taking it to a whole other level, Burger King has changed its Twitter handle to Pancake King to gloat.

Waffle House, a brand that can hardly get its shit in one bag as a brand, had this to say:
“Even though we serve delicious burgers… we know our roots.”

White Castle:
“We are excited to announce that we will be switching our name to Pancake Castle.”

Even Netflix – yes, Netflix…not even remotely in or near the category – got in on the action with this savage tweet:
“brb changing my name to Netflib”

This recent publicity stunt of “re-branding” of IHOP to IHOB is not only a temporary hoax, it’s also a strategic misstep. They were (likely) doing it to get some top of mind awareness around their new line of burgers, which they’re promoting hard over the summer to stave off sagging sales in the afternoon and evening periods.

But for brand managers and CMOs who have influence over things like this, top of mind is not the point in and of itself. Preference is the point. Difference is the point. You use top of mind tactics to cement your differences and create preference around them. Scams and gimmicks are for used car salesmen and some carpetbagger politicians, but not for supposedly mature brands.

When you’re good at something – indeed when you own an attribute that larger, more mature brands can’t touch you on – your job is to build on that advantage. Make the gap wider, and make it harder and harder for ANY brand to encroach on your position. Instead, what IHOP/B has done has created doubt in the mind of consumers.

The average consumer will think “why would they try to do burgers? They’re a breakfast place.” And that little bit of doubt about the brand’s judgment will leak into little bits of doubt about their ability to even win at breakfast anymore.

I’m sure the brand has girded themselves for this.  The last board meeting was probably filled with aphorisms like “it’s gonna look bad for a while, and we may even take some heat, but we’ll dominate the trades for a month.”

Last time I checked, nobody ever walked into an IHOP because they were dominating the trades. Come to think of it, nobody ever walked into an IHOP for a burger either.

Delta is WINNING in the Georgia Tax Tussle

delta_georgiaLast week, the Georgia legislature rescinded a tax break proposal that would have meant approximately a $50 million savings on jet fuel taxes for Delta Air Lines, the state’s largest private employer. This came in direct response to Delta’s announcement from February 24th, which read in part:

“…the airline will end its contract for discounted fares for travel to the (NRA) association’s 2018 annual meeting… Out of respect for our customers and employees on both sides, Delta has taken this action to refrain from entering this debate and focus on its business. Delta continues to support the 2nd Amendment.”

To be clear, Delta did not end its relationship with the NRA, or NRA members. It simply removed a special discount as a perk, and stated its rationale in fairly certain terms. NRA members are free to fly Delta any time they like.

Delta, like any brand, made this move and released this statement partly due to its convictions, and partly for the timely optics.

And several brands, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, Hertz, MetLife and United Airlines, have also taken steps – some far more significant than Delta’s – to either enter or remove themselves from the fray surrounding this percolating national conversation.

In response to Delta’s statement, Georgia Lt. Gov Casey Cagle tweeted:

“I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with the @NRA. Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back.”

The Georgia senate followed through, and sitting Governor Nathan Deal signed the bill on March 1st.

This is also an optics play for Georgia, the brand.

Mr. Cagle, the man who authored the tweet and led this movement into law, is seen as the frontrunner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, as Georgia enters an election year with primaries in May and a general election in November.

Some rash-thinking practitioners might suggest that Delta leave the state, and the 33,000+ residents it employs, to make a bold(er) statement. That would be an arduous task, complicated by the fact that Delta just renewed their lease on Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest, for a 20-year term. And while it might be a windfall for any other city, (what’s up, Nashville?) it might be seen as a petty slight against tens of thousands of workers, based on politics. (Not a great brand play.)

Financially, the new taxes, while significant, probably won’t hurt the company as much as one might think. Delta has laid out a long-term plan to spend between $2 billion and $3 billion per year on aircraft replacement and other capital upgrades. The $50 million in fuel taxes will likely be factored in to that budget.

From a marketing and brand sensibility, Delta doesn’t have to leave Georgia just to make a wildly expensive point. The brand “won” the optics game by sticking to its guns (reverse puns intended) on this polarizing issue, and then getting punished for it.  Those who are watching brands at this time will have taken notice, and will be impressed by its fortitude to stick to its promise as a service provider.

And now that they’re paying for that decision, both literally and figuratively, their marketing job has gotten quite clear: stand by our principles, continue to conduct business to the best of our abilities, and enjoy (and selectively promote) the wave of earned media this whole issue has garnered.

Delta can now leverage the opportunity to create a new bond with their Georgia employees with a “we’re sticking with you, no matter what it costs us” message. That’s also a strong brand move.  Think of the wave of pride and support that will generate internally.

My guess is that CEO Edward Bastian is filming that message any day now…

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?