Super Bowl 54 Grins and Groans

Another Super Bowl in the books, and I’m sure all the fine citizens from Kansas* are still floating after the Kansas City Chiefs rallied in the 4th quarter to beat the San Francisco 49ers in a pretty entertaining football game.  Interestingly, the ads had a little late-game heroics, too.  The first half was a little flat, but the ads started getting a bit more entertaining right about at halftime.
(* See the President’s tweet.)

Overall, the ads seemed to come from a different source than in years past.  While we’re used to car, beer, snacks and financial services ads, this year the ads seemed to be coming from various (and some new) directions.  It was balanced, but almost none of the ads will have anyone saying “did you see that (brand) ad?”

Here are the ads that made us grin, and alas, some that made us groan.

First, some honorable mentions:

Amazon/Alexa – some funny and interesting musings about “what people did before Alexa?”

Discover Card – a good use of airtime, sandwiching two spots around another, one for “YES” (we take Discover) and one for “NO” (hidden fees.) Shout out to the media team!

Tide – they’re kind of on a roll with the Super Bowl, this time running several spots around the theme “stains can wait.”  Even crossing over with (the now defunct) Bud Light knight.  Smart smart smart.

Porsche – the “theft” of a new electric Porsche turns out to be a “drill,” and turns out to be a wonderfully crafted ad.

Bud Light Seltzer – no snark here, but who knew Post Malone was such a good actor, and surprisingly effective pitchman?

Sodastream – big budget ad around a low-budget gag, but it was very well done.  Any time I make a huge gaffe (and it happens on the reg,) I’m just going to say “I thought it was Mark’s water.”

Doritos – anytime you can get Sam Elliott to do something funny, (and a mustache dance-off with Lil Nas X is friggin’ funny,) you’re winning.  This ad was cute and wholesome and entertaining, and probably the best branding spot of the night.  A lot of people this morning will remember that it all happened on a “cool ranch,” and that’s a victory.

GRINS:

CHEETOS Popcorn – “Can’t Touch This”
A series of situations made infinitely better because the main character “can’t touch” a stack of paperwork, a screaming baby, a couch when the movers need help, and so on.  Cleverly refrained by MC Hammer, it humorously highlights a happy outcome of eating the treat – cheesy fingers.

HYUNDAI SONATA featuring Smart Park – “Smaht Pahk”
Massachusetts natives Rachel Dratch and Chris Evans look on as Massachusetts native John Krasinski tries to park a Hyundai in a tight spot.  When he reveals that the car does it robotically using a new feature they call “Smaht Pahk,” the New England accent jokes prove a perfect explanation.  The ad, also featuring a cameo from Big Papi (David Ortiz) was indeed wicked smaht.

DASHLANE – “password reminders”
This was almost the ad of the night for me.  So funny, so well-executed, and so in tune with what so many of us struggle with every day on nearly every website where we have a password. A really good reminder that advertising, when done simply and smartly, can be very  effective indeed.

WINNER:

JEEP – “Groundhog Day”
By far, the best ad of the evening was Jeep’s sendup of the classic movie featuring Bill Murray reliving his iconic role.  This time, it’s super fun, because he gets to enjoy a new adventure in his new Jeep Gladiator.  (By the way, that is one badass vehicle.). Yes, it relies heavily on having seen the movie.  Yes, it relies on a series of animal gags.  And yes, it worked to great effect.  That it was aired on Groundhog Day makes it even cooler.

GROANS:
Some ads just make you go, “huh?”  And there were plenty of those this year as well. Wal-Mart’s “famous visitors” could have been a grin, except that they’ve executed on this concept already with last year’s “famous vehicles” ad. Hulu probably relied on Tom Brady too much (while he’s universally recognized, he’s not universally liked.) Some ads just relied too heavily on the celebrity aspect (I’m talking to you Coke, P&G, Hard Rock Hotel,) and some were just old gags executed pretty well (Reese’s Take 5.) And for future reference, let’s not sour Super Sunday with political ads, okay?  Maybe save that for The Oscars, when everyone is going to make a statement that evening anyway.

HINT WATER – “pie eating contest”
This ad was smartly conceived, well executed, and makes perfect sense for the brand.  (It’s water with a hint of fruit.) However, something in it was just un-funny and gross.  And the grossness makes you (okay, makes ME) want to avoid the brand.

OLAY – “space for women”
There were several ads that sought to highlight female empowerment this year.  (Note – God Bless America, the national anthem and the halftime show kind of proved that women rock.) But this ad kind of backfired when it made women look, um, less than brilliant.  “There’s tons of space in space” is not brilliant.  Inelegant, I think this was a miss.

PEPSI ZERO – “paint it black”
Another ad featuring two recognizable women (hip-hop/R&B stars H.E.R. and Missy Elliott,) pitching soda for Pepsi Zero.  I guess they used this song because a.) the cans are black and/or b.) the Rolling Stones let them?  Otherwise, what?

AUDI – “let it go”
For years, Audi was ruling the Super Bowl, until 2017’s female empowerment spot grossly missed the mark.  Here again, the ad uses a song that has no context, and seems to be aimed at teenage girls (-ish.)  A real head-scratcher this.

GENESIS – “young luxury”
Can we all just admit that the Chrissy Teigen experiment should be over now? I really like the concept that there’s a “new kind of luxury” that Genesis offers.  That, in itself, is a wonderful encapsulation of the brand’s strategic position.  But the devil is in the details, and Chrissy pointing out partygoers who have had plastic surgery and are hangers-on was probably not the best way to articulate that.  John Legend was kind of an afterthought here. Bummer, too, because the SUV itself looks like a gorgeous vehicle.

So…what did YOU think?

Until next year!

 

 

 

20 for ’20

20_for_20Okay, it’s a new year. Some say it’s a new decade (we’ll argue that later, since it’s technically the last year of the 2010’s, but we can all agree it’s the start of the 2020’s.) And while the “resolutions” ship has already sailed, we do want to get the year off to a strong start.

With that in mind, here are 20 ideas, both strategic and tactical, that you can use to kickstart your brand into the new year. Whether you’re a consumer brand, a consultancy, a business-to-business brand, or a non-profit, just giving these a good think should help you improve your marketing efficiency, clarify your plans, and get you in motion.

1. Give your SEO a refresh.
While we all know the value of SEO, a lot of brands tend to “set it and forget it.” And unfortunately, that can actually hurt your long-term chances for optimization. Search engines like to see activity on your site, and this is a great time to reevaluate your keyword plan, write some new (and rewrite some old) content, and add or update both internal and outbound links.

2. Get more interested in data.
Especially your website analytics. Find out who’s visiting, when they’re visiting, and from where they visit. It may give you some good new promotional ideas, or better yet, it may help you reconnect with some customers you haven’t heard from in a while.

3. Reconnect with prospects – even the ones that seem “cool.”
Got a form on your website? Use a call center?  Send something interesting to every person who called or filled out a form last year. They may just be waiting to hear from you again!

4. Get more social.
Sure, everyone says this every year. But for good reason. And it doesn’t have to be agonizing to create relevant posts or content strategies. Try advertising on social, too. The targeting parameters keep getting better, and Your. Prospects. Are. There. All. The. Time.

5. Advertise!
It’s time to stop sitting on the sidelines, or waiting for some magic “perfect moment” to come around for when you’re going to run that “magical” campaign. The truth is, prospects tend to remember the brands who tend to advertise. Start by evaluating your core positioning, and then articulating it simply in a series of adverts.

6. Serve your community in some way.
We all live somewhere, even those of us who are remote service providers. Is there a way you can serve your local community this week, or this month? Perhaps a way you can devote a little of what you do this entire year to a worthy cause? It doesn’t have to be monetary donations. Volunteer your time, or your talents, or organize a board who can tackle an issue. It’s what all the cool kids are doing now.

7. Try a strategic partnership.
Of course, this depends on your brand and what it does. But think about partnering with another (non-competitive) brand. How can your COMBINED offering serve your consumers in a way that you can’t now? And look for a partner who can benefit from what your brand does, too. Hint: think across categories for the really cool partnership opportunities.

8. Do a customer survey.
Do you know what your current customers/consumers think of your brand right now? Ever wonder what they would ask for if they could just get in front of the CEO? Just ask them. It may help you recognize some holes in your offering, and it may help your consumers form a stronger opinion of your brand, too.

9. Refresh your packaging.
Even if you’re not a “packaged good,” your brand is packaged in some way. What you call it, how you dress it, and how it gets delivered – all of these are “saying” something about your brand to the world. And if you haven’t done a refresh in at least five years, definitely give this some thought. It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic, like a full identity refresh, but maybe something simple that speaks to the times, like a typography refresh, or the addition of an icon. Maybe add some color.

10. Add or develop a new product or service, and then market it.
You already know a lot about marketing. But sometimes, things just are the way they are with your current brand, for various reasons. Why not launch something new? Even if it’s a spinoff, or a subsidiary, or a new variety, or a specialization of what you already do. Think about it as a brand, position it carefully, give it a great name, package the snot out of it, and then promote it. You get the added bonus of measuring your success from a zero baseline. It might even get you excited enough to try new products beyond that.

11. Hire a professional to review your marketing.
This is a tough one for a lot of companies. It’s like going to the dentist when everything is fine with your teeth. But if things aren’t going great, and they’re not going terribly, it may mean you’re just standing still. And eventually, that’s going to turn sour. It could be any kind of professional – a branding expert, a media pro, a designer. Just have someone tell you what they see from an objective point of view. Bonus: you don’t have to act on their advice if you don’t approve.

12. Hire an intern.
Even if you don’t need one. There’s a student out there who is desperate for some real-world experience, and they might just get it at your place of business. You get the added bonus of helping/mentoring someone, if that’s your thing. And if it’s not, you may be challenged just to explain your business, and how and why you do things, to someone who has never heard of you. (Hint: that can be very good for your brand in the long run, too.)

13. Expand your geography into a new/specific area.
If you’ve been saying to yourself, “boy we could kill in Topeka,” well, maybe it’s time to take a first step. Explore the competitive set, and see if your brand/service/organization could thrive in a new area, or with a new location. Besides, rents are great in Topeka.

14. Create some new (and valuable) content.
You can always use new, up-to-date content. Even if it’s something simple, like your instruction manual, or your how-to video. Technology is always changing, and techniques are always evolving. If your video is outdated, think about re-shooting for a 2020 look and feel. Take that intern you hired, and have him or her try to put together a valuable infographic that represents your business in some way. Then use your new content to help in your SEO refresh strategy. (Item #1 in this list.)

15. Do something face-to-face.
Put on an event. Run a seminar. Not sure how to serve your community (item #6 in this list?) Organize a charity golf outing, or a run, or a motorcycle ride to raise money for those in need. Find a way to contextualize your brand in a personalized way. Invite everyone – even your competitors.

16. Review your policies.
If you’ve got any kind of policy (payment structures, privacy statements, rules, etc.,) give it a refresh. These are the kinds of things that often get overlooked, because we think no one pays attention to them. But remember – everything about your brand is contributing to what people think of you. Every. Thing. Also, this is a great job for an intern!

17. Get rid of something that’s holding you back.
Maybe it’s that outdated policy. Or an old piece of equipment that you keep delaying to update. Maybe it’s your office space. Heck, maybe it’s your partner(s.) But it’s a new year, and you’re determined to take control of your marketing. So find the thing that keeps “getting in the way,” of your success, and get rid of it. Even if it means doing things in a new way, or changing some core componentry of your business. It might be “the thing” that pushes you forward this year.

18. Add a dash of technology to your business.
What could you automate, or integrate, in some way, to streamline your operations? Do you have an app? Could you increase productivity by moving software to the cloud? Could you use software to predict future needs or expenses to help you account more efficiently? Even if it’s as simple using software to schedule your social posts, adding technology into your day-to-day goings on can help your brand move forward.

19. Decentralize.
If you’ve ever said to yourself, “boy we could sure use more talent in this office,” you might be a candidate for decentralizing. While we all love the idea of personal interaction, the truth is that you can find amazing talent just about anywhere. Why wait for the perfect bookkeeper to move into your ZIP code, when he or she might be looking for work in Topeka? And since you’ve already decided to add technology to your business in some way, setting up your business to enable remote workers is a great way to start.

20. Review (or actually create) your marketing budget.
We love to talk about marketing, but we often hit the brakes right at the starting line, because “that’ll cost too much.”  Too many brands fail to budget for marketing in their strategic planning, and so every marketing opportunity seems like an “expense.” It’s not an expense.  It’s part of doing business.  Decide now that you’ll invest (a minimum of) 5% of your gross revenues to marketing.  You’ll be amazed at what you can buy with that.

Here’s wishing you a great, well-positioned, clearly articulated, successful year in 2020!

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.

Super Bowl 53 Grins and Groans

Super Bowl LIII Logo

If you watched the national yawn that was last night’s Super Bowl, you already know there’s not much to talk about. Following an NFL season that set all kinds of records for offensive output, the game was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history. So yawn. The Maroon 5 halftime show, despite the lead singer removing his drapery-patterned tank top to reveal his monotone-tattooed midriff, was a nice opening act for a medium-sized dance club. Even the guest rappers didn’t elevate the performance. So yawn. Oh, and that team from New England, who apparently bought 90% of the seats in the house, won. Again. Yawn.

But perhaps the biggest yawns came at virtually every commercial break. For the third year in a row, the advertising at the Super Bowl was almost entirely unremarkable. With a few exceptions, the ads were mostly safe, predictable, and worse, platitudinous.

So here are your grins and groans.

A couple of themes emerged throughout the evening, and some of them are troubling. First, we absolutely have to stop equating Martin Luther King, Jr. with anything related to NFL football while the league (and the nation) wrestles with its own ability to formulate a realistic response to the racial inequality that Colin Kaepernick and others have tried so earnestly and intelligently to highlight. (Remember that Ram trucks tried it and failed miserably last year.)

Second, we have to get some context with the celebrities.  It’s great to have big names in your spots, but it really helps if they were relevant in the last, I don’t know, decade or so.  Li’l Jon for Pepsi, Bo Jackson for Sprint, Sarah Michelle Gellar for Olay doing her old horror movie stuff.  It just seemed like I was watching Super Bowl 43 by accident.

And what’s with the robots?  TurboTax, Sprint, and Michelob Ultra all featured robot characters, while Pringles gave a hat tip to Alexa-style AI and Mercedes-Benz touted its new AI in its new A Class.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Honorable mention to Bumble for their inspired and dead-on messaging with Serena Williams. “The world tells you to wait. That waiting is polite. But if I waited to be invited in, I never would have stood out. “ Perfect synopsis of Serena Williams and her meteoric career. And for a platform that is based on women making the first move, this is perfect copywriting.

HULU – Handmaid’s Tale season 3. The ad starts off with the familiar refrain of “It’s morning again in america,” the magical phrase written and narrated by advertising legend Hal Riney, which is an absolute dog whistle for any ad geek. It turned out to be a trick (and a good one) to get you to pay attention for the upcoming season of Handmaid’s Tale.

Stella Artois uses celebrities Sarah Jessica Parker and Jeff Bridges in their iconic roles as Carrie Bradshaw and Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski. They are both known for their particular choices in cocktails, and the ad shows that “changing can do a little good.” The reason I’ve added this in is that the ad also featured a previously-unreleased cameo from another famous beer drinker, “the world’s most interesting man.”

GRINS

Mint Mobile uses their basic positioning (wireless service for $20 a month,) and the typical consumer reaction of “that’s not right” to highlight something that is REALLY not right: “chunky milk.” The ad cuts to a commercial parody of a family enjoying chunky milk, which is gross, and funny, and camp enough to make the point. This is exactly what Super Bowl advertising should be: funny, weird, and super memorable. While I’m not sure about the nerdy fox mascot, I am sure that this spot got my attention.

Bubly is a new flavored sparkling water drink that comes in a variety of flavors. It’s bubbly, and the name is Bubly. And so who better to get to promote it than a guy named Bublé? Perfect. It’s funny. It’s simple.  And it’s smart.  A great deadpan performance by Michael Bublé feigning offense. And the best part? The name of the brand (if you include the Bublé mispronunciation,) is mentioned 11 times, along with several close-ups of the product. It’s Advertising 101 done to the highest order, and is probably the best all-around ad of the night.

My favorite spots of the night, however, came from T-Mobile. They went low-budget (not counting the $20 million+ media buy, of course,) with simple text messaging interchanges. The first spot features an exchange with Cathy. The texter (not sure if it’s a male or female,) simply asks “hey what’s up?” Cathy responds with a miles-long response about her life, and how she’s searching for meaning. If you read it through, it’s an absolutely hysterical rant in a very comedic and non-threatening way. And something we can all relate to.

T-Mobile followed it up with three more spots, including an exchange between a dad and his daughter, where the dad is texting the daughter, but is using his mobile phone like a search engine. Daughter responds “Dad, this isn’t Google!” (My guess is they underwrote some portion of this spot.)

Another features an exchange between a couple trying to figure out what’s for dinner THAT TURNS INTO A CO-PROMOTION WITH TACO BELL. And another between Mike and someone else that turns into a hysterical miscommunication THAT TURNS INTO A CO-PROMOTION WITH LYFT.

Again, this is simple, and funny, and entertaining enough to hold your attention throughout. And since the other wireless carriers were gallivanting off into honoraria of first responders and dredging up Bo Jackson, T-Mobile wins share of mind this year. A huge bounce-back from their letdown of last year.

GROANS

Weather Tech seems to have lost its focus. After coming on the scene a few years back, and making a simple statement about American-made quality, they made the mistake this year of trying to cram two ads into one with their new Pet Comfort products. Just bizarre, and unfocused, and not great advertising.

Bud Light seems to have lost focus also. For some strange reason, several of their ads chose to center on this notion of not including corn syrup in their beer. Which is fine, I guess. Except that several other beers don’t have corn syrup either. (And if you’re on Twitter, you found out in near real time.) And did they really do a Game of Thrones final season tie-in? Just weird. Especially for a brand that always seems to get it right, especially during the Super Bowl.

Speaking of weird beer commercials, Michelob Ultra Pure Gold missed the mark with their attempt to please .0002 percent of the population with an ASMR-inspired spot. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridien Response, and gives some people a tingly feeling in their scalp and down the back of their necks when they hear certain sounds, like whispering.  So yes. They did a whole spot of whispering. During the Super Bowl. For the 42 people who have ASMR.

This is the third year in a row of wondering where the big spots were going to be. As the other 31 teams in the NFL say, “there’s always next year.”

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.

juul_ecig_image

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.)

yahoo_chart_juul

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.