Thursday, December 31, 2009

Three Branding Lessons From Microsoft in 2009

Following is an article from Fast Company, one of my absolute favorite sources of business insight. Thanks to David Brier for such a thoughtful — and heretical — post. From one heretic to another: Good job!

Three Lessons Microsoft Taught Us About Branding in 2009

For years now, Apple with its "I'm a Mac. I'm a PC." campaign has essentially established Microsoft's marketing position in the minds of consumers. In actual fact, Apple has "positioned" the entire PC world, but Microsoft, being synonymous with PCs, has become the greatest victim in that campaign's wake.

Most everyone seems to enjoy Apple's ads. The casting is brilliant, the ads are entertaining and the messages hit any sore points about Windows from Vista to tech support, and Indeed, these ads have become culturally iconic.

The Wrong Thing To Do

So what has Microsoft done over the years? From a branding standpoint, pretty much nothing. (At least, nothing effective.)

They hired the super-hot agency Crispin Porter for a reputed $300-million+ ad campaign. The first ad used Jerry Seinfeld with Bill Gates in what appeared to be an attempt at humanizing Gates and Microsoft. Ad critics grimaced. This ad was launched with the tag line, "Life Without Walls" which became a punch line for Mac enthusiasts and beyond. Mac-loyalist blogs commented, "In a life without walls, who needs Windows?" Ouch.

The Wronger Thing To Do

Then, Microsoft delivered a series of ads where the position they were trying to dislodge made up about 90% of its commercial copy lines. The "I'm a PC" campaign was created with very loose, amateur-styled video techniques, again to humanize. The obvious goal was "How do we become cool and relevant?"

Only problem is that it directly played into Apple's campaign. It's impossible to see one of those ads and not think of Apple. I could understand their thinking, but they were bringing nothing new to the table. It was all defense, with no strategic offense.

Even now, the Microsoft stores are being compared to the Apple stores.

What Have We Learned?

So, if the deep-pocketed Microsoft machine can make these missteps, is there anything we can learn from this so we can spend (waste) less marketing dollars in the marketplace to promote our brands and our own businesses?

Yes. In three simple steps.

1. Don't try to be something you're not. Pick your sweet spot and embrace it. Don't try to simply follow the lead of others because (even if you're Microsoft) if you're following, you're not leading. Just look at Zune (and its lackluster market share) as a case study.

What to do: Don't fake it. Elaine on Seinfeld once told Jerry that she'd "faked it". Totally shocked, Jerry asked, how many times? Her response was, "every time." Jerry compared Elaine to Meryl Streep for her incredible acting skills. When it comes your brand, be real. Don't try to fake it. Find something you can get passionate about and something your brand can do remarkably well.

2. To do nothing is branding death. Saying and doing nothing or too little leaves your customers to seek elsewhere to get the facts (or any ideas if facts don't exist). They'll take whatever information there is unless better, smarter, more thought-provoking information comes along to supplant it.

If you don't like your fate being dictated at random, you had better speak up. Then improve what you say. Then increase how many people hear it. As the business guru Peter Drucker said, "You can't shrink your way to greatness."

What to do: Something. Anything. Provide a regular stream of information that's informative, educational, interesting, engaging, and preferably, new.

3. If your branding is defensive, you're promoting the war, not your personal brand. Branding has often been compared to war on the battlefield. I like this analogy better: A brand is like a person. A person can engage someone or bore them. So can your brand. You can be genuinely interesting or you can try to be interesting (just like a brand). You can be passionate or monotonous. Inventive or ho-hum. In each case, your brand can embody those qualities as well.

Here's a good acid test: If your brand were a person, would you want to go out and hang out with her/him in your time off? If the answer is no, then the odds are others will have a similar response, leaving your brand as something one buys when it's needed versus being something that is passionately sought out.

Learn from Microsoft's Mistakes

With Microsoft's deep pockets, we can learn one thing: It's not the size of the pocket but what you do with it that counts.

As always, thanks for participating.

Jan Thomas
The Communication Heretic

Monday, December 21, 2009

Are Advertisers and Ad Agencies Targeting the Wrong Generation?

Thanks to a new resource — BoomerOpinion — for this great post ...

In a recent blog by Scott McKain titled, "Trapped in Traditional Thought...", McKain points out that a thirty second spot on the number one television show, "NCIS" costs $133,304 while a thirty second spot on "Grey's Anatomy" costs $240,462. Given the fact that "NCIS" has four million more viewers than "Grey's Anatomy", why would the ads cost less for "NCIS"?

This contradiction points to the traditional agency approach and thinking when it comes to what population segments to target. The demographics for "Grey's Anatomy" are younger and the agencies believe that younger viewers will be more easily influenced and become brand loyal over time. McKain points to the fact that his brand choices during his younger years have indeed changed over time. In his younger years, he drove a Chevy and now he drives a BMW, he drank Pepsi and now drinks Diet Coke, he listened to a Sony Walkman and now listens to an iPod, etc.

Matt Thornhill, in his book, Boomer Consumer, states that Baby Boomers are no where near done consuming. They will be buying things marketed to them for the next 20 years. And they represent a very large segment of the population. He also points out that with age comes wisdom and that Boomers are not particularly brand loyal. They are ripe for conversion, if a product appeals to their needs.

So why should the advertisers and ad agencies focus more on Boomers than the younger generations? Let's start with the fact that Baby Boomers spend $2 trillion a year on consumer products and services. That is $400 billion more annually than their younger generation counterparts. Baby Boomers represent one of every three adults in America. Almost 80 million Americans are Boomers!

Boomers like to travel, they buy lots of tech gadgets, they are still buying cars and homes, they are into fitness, and they eat out regularly. Given that a large portion of the Boomers are empty nesters with disposable income, they should be the prime targets of the marketers and advertisers in this country. And even the Boomers who aren't empty nesters, keep their kids clothed, fed and supplied with plenty of music and electronics.

Baby Boomers control 70% of the wealth in America. So why don't the advertisers and ad agencies target them more? It is beyond comprehension. And as a Boomer, believe me when I say, we would really prefer fewer advertisements about erectile dysfunction and bladder issues. Keep in mind, Baby Boomers on average feel like they are 14 years younger than their actual age. Treat them as seniors or older Americans and you won't sell them anything.

Use words like mature or senior in your ad and the Baby Boomers will tune you out in a New York minute. So if you expect to capture their attention, don't try to take them back to the sixties or seventies or use age related content. Most Boomers still believe that they are young and vital. Treat them as such and you will be more successful. Don't over do it, though. If you treat them like twenty or thirty year olds, then you will miss the boat and waste your ad dollars

The characters portraying Boomers in advertisements should be cool, hip, and youthful, not grandpa or grandma. Baby Boomers remain idealistic, eager to embrace change, and believe in self empowerment. Don't expect them to march in lockstep or be influenced or persuaded by traditional approaches. If an ad agency expects keep its clients, it had better begin targeting this segment of the population and use non-traditional, innovative approaches when designing the campaigns.

Finally, when creating the ads, the agency should understand that Boomers are more receptive to the ads that tell a story. Boomers expect the ad to appeal to their generation, so make sure you personalize the pitch to them. When using personalities in an ad, ensure that the Boomers can identify and relate to the personalities. Be sure to include a "what's in it for me" connection. Follow these simple rules, create a compelling ad and you should be able to capture this lucrative market segment.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Are you targeting Baby Boomers and if so, how successful have you been? If not, why aren't you going after this market?

If you are a Baby Boomer and haven't joined our community,, please consider it. It is free and only takes a minute to sign up. You can share your viewpoint and voice your opinion on the critical issues facing America. And once enough of you weigh in, we can begin shaping policy in Washington, as well as at the state and local levels.

As always, thanks for participating.

Jan Thomas
The Communication Heretic

Boomer Opinion — the Boomers' Voice in America: Are Advertisers and Ad Agencies Targeting the Wrong Generation?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rich Robinson: Top Ten PR Blunders of 2009

Rich Robinson: Top Ten PR Blunders of 2009 — this speaks for itself!
(from the Huffington Post, December 15)

For some this was, as Queen Elizabeth might say, "annus horribilis" - a horrible year. For the rest of us, it was another lesson in public relations crisis management. Here are the Top 10 PR blunders of 2009:

10. Fox News Caught Using Fake Footage. To make it seem like a protest over health care reform was larger than it actually was; the lying liars over at FNC used footage from a previous protest on the National Mall. Jon Stewart played clips from both events, clearly showing that the network used archived footage from a better-attended rally on Sept. 12 (with green trees, cloudy skies) to show thousands of protesters taking to the streets in Washington, DC, which took place in November that had fall trees and sunny skies.

9. Michael Steele, Human Gaffe Machine. The chairman of the GOP discovered a comfortable place for his foot all year long: his mouth. From his attempt to "urbanize" the Republican Party to his "strategic" use of the uttered gaffe, he has personified a political party that is lost far, far out in the woods.

8. Serena Williams' Outburst. After losing to Kim Clijsters at the US Open Semi-finals in September on a foot-fault call, the tennis powerhouse walked over to the diminutive judge and began berating her. "I swear to God, I'm [bleeping] taking this ball and I'm shoving it down your [bleeping] throat," Williams said. She was fined $10,000 for the outburst.

7. Tom Daschle's Tax Lax. Nominated as Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services, Daschle was looked upon as a key player in the looming fight over health care reform. But in February, he withdrew his nomination in embarrassment, due to his neglect over paying taxes on the use of a chauffeur service. In 1999 Daschle stated that "tax cheaters cheat us all, and that the IRS should enforce our laws to the letter," only underlining the irony of his blunder.

6. Kanye West Interrupts. During the MTV Video Music Awards, Taylor Swift unexpectedly won for Best Female Video. As she was making her acceptance speech, West leaped up on stage, grabbed the mic from her and said, "Yo Taylor, I'm really happy for you, I'll let you finish, but Beyoncé has one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!" He ruined Swift's moment and was quickly and roundly condemned by performers of all stripes, via the Twitter-verse. During an interview, the topic arose and President Obama commented that Swift seemed like perfectly nice person. "Why would he do that?" asked CNBC's John Harwood. "Because he's a jackass," Obama replied, to many laughs in the room. Nice call, Mr. President.

5. Balloon Boy Hoax. Richard Heene claimed his son had floated away in a home-made balloon. After a flight that lasted hours and was covered live on television, it landed about 12 miles from the Denver Airport. Once on the ground, the boy was not inside, so authorities began a manhunt of the area, raising fears that he had fallen from the balloon. Later that afternoon the he was reported to have been hiding at his house the entire time. Suspicions arose that the incident was a hoax following the Heene's interview on CNN. Responding to a question about why he was hiding, the boy said "You guys said that, um, we did this for the show." The Larimer County Sheriff announced the incident was indeed a hoax, and the parents would likely face several felony charges. Heene pleaded guilty to the charge of "attempting to influence a public servant."

4. Bobby Jindal Flops. It was supposed to be the governor of Louisiana's national coming out party: he was selected to give the GOP response to President Obama's first State of the Union speech. And little Bobby fell flat on his face. His reviews were harsh: "amateurish," "laughable" and, "a missed opportunity." On PBS, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks said, "to come up at this moment in history with a stale 'government is the problem,' 'we can't trust the federal government' - it's just a disaster for the Republican Party."

3. Gov. Mark Sanford's Hike Through the Appalachian Trail. Hey, you can't blame a guy for falling in love. It even happens to guys that are already married, and that much is none of our business. But when said guy is the governor of a state who leaves his duties behind (without telling his staff how he can be reached) to travel to South America to be with his lover, a few questions might come up. Mark Sanford (R-South Carolina), disappeared to Argentina several times to be with the woman he calls his "soul mate." Touching, but perhaps not to his wife, who recently filed for divorce. The funniest aspect of this is Sanford told his senior staff that he was going to be away and out of touch, "hiking on the Appalachian Trail" - which has now become code for "off boinking my mistress."

2. Rod Blagojevich Attempts to "Sell" Obama's Senate Seat. Illinois Democrat and Tammany Hall wannabe Blagojevich is caught trying to get cash for his appointment to fill Barack Obama's seat in the United States Senate. In possession of recorded phone conversations, the FBI will have none of it. "Blago" loses his job and still faces federal corruption charges. Meanwhile, Roland Burris is named to the seat, but that's an entirely different PR blunder from the get-go.

1. Tiger Woods' Fall From Grace. Few public figures have assumed such a carefully constructed persona only to have the bottom fall out so harshly. Woods' bevy of infidelities has caused huge damage to his reputation and will take time to fix. The good news is all he will have to do is win golf tournaments. The bad news is it takes a great deal of concentration to win at golf ... so for the moment, he is not in a good place. Walking away from the game is a smart move. Now he needs to shut up, make amends with his wife and stop with the waitresses and porn stars.