Discard this ACE

I saw a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal this week. The prominent logo provoked a feeling that was so contradictory to the company purpose and message that I was flabbergasted.

logo_aceOne glance at the logo make me immediately think of two things:

1. Disorder; and

2. Toys R Us

Unfortunately, the ad is for a global insurance company. And in these days of financial instability, I don’t think that a financial services/insurance company should give the impression that it is not serious. Yet that is what ACE Insurance does with this awful logo.

Surely these folks make enough money to project an image that connotes stability, seriousness, heft. This thing looks like it was whipped up in Powerpoint in 10 minutes by a Muppets designer. Please.

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“We’re Yahoo – May We Gouge You?”

I’ve been using Yahoo’s web services pretty heavily since starting my business a couple years ago. I have a premium small business account for their e-mail service, and I’ve reserved a number of web domains through Yahoo (a number being actively used, others held in reserve), because at $9.95/year/domain, I couldn’t afford not to.

However, Yahoo sent out notice earlier this year that the cost of domain name renewal was going up to $12.95/year, starting in March 2008. Oooookay, I guess that’s not too big a leap, even though I seriously doubt that their costs for administering those domains has jumped by 25%, but I’m not going to quibble.

All of a sudden, now, another renewal notice comes that, starting in July 2008, the cost has gone up to $34.95/domain/year! Why? Or should I say, Y?

That, my friends, is gouging. Other companies are offering domain registration for way less, and at last check, digital storage of domain names wasn’t on the short list of inflationary pressures. Yahoo is obviously counting on the relative pain of changing providers as a strategy for extracting maximum dollars from current users.

Way to alienate your customer base, folks. I’ll be looking elsewhere…

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A Trip-up at Vanity Fair

I have no girls, and so the whole Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus phenomenon has, up to now, passed me by. However, just last week, I read through a magazine article expressing appreciation for how this young lady has managed to keep a relatively pure image, and avoid the scandals of other tween/teen starlets.

Unfortunately, with fame and attention come a thousand opportunities to stumble.

One ill-advised photo session for Vanity Fair has managed to taint the wholesome image of this budding star and tweener role model. Of course, Vanity Fair and the photographer got what they wanted by smoothing the way for her to push the limits – knowing that in a time when few images or words remain private, she’d pay the price while they sell the scandal.

Frankly, I’m glad I don’t have the pressures that come from the thousand-watt spotlights of stardom. I don’t know how some of these young folks make it unscathed – and, it seems, relatively few do make it with their reputations intact. There is very often the smell of scandal, moral collapse, or bad judgment trailing in their wakes. It’s tough enough just being a teenager, let alone being in the public eye 24/7.

This morning, I picked up one of our cats, who was sprayed MONTHS ago by a friendly neighborhood skunk. Amazingly, I can still catch the faint whiff of the scent, which has never quite left his fur. One moment of bad judgment (getting too close to a purveyor of stench) left him – and us – with many months of repercussions.

A solid brand can recover from a stumble. I hope, in the case of Miley Cyrus, that it is indeed an isolated incident, and that she does not pursue the self-destructive path of some that have come before her. Unfortunately, the odor of even one episode of bad judgment will follow her for a while. For the sake of our own brands, we can all take warning to keep our eyes wide open, and avoid entanglements with any cute-looking creatures with the telltale white stripe…

Off-Target Blogging

off-target.jpgAmy Jussel of Shaping Youth took aim at a Target promotion that, in her opinion, was promoting a promiscuous approach.

Target’s reply to this blogger was quite enlightening:

“We are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest.”

Ahhh, so now we in the blogging community – the non-traditional media outlet types – are unworthy of attention. Somehow, Target must have obtained some inside information that NO-ONE WHO WRITES OR READS BLOGS shops at Target.

What a dis. And since the story was then picked up by the NY Times (and others), how short-sighted. My guess is that Target will soon pay a lot more attention to “non-traditional media outlets.”

More here, from CNet.

A Turkey of a Newspaper Ad

Reading the Wall Street Journal this morning, I caught a glimpse of an ad that caused me to do a serious double-take -ms-turkey.JPG well nigh unto whiplash (OK, a bit of a dramatization there…)

I could not believe the juxtaposition that I saw:

Only upon careful reading could one figure out that the division of Microsoft located in the country of Turkey was boasting about the corporate investment in that land.

I guess it got my attention, but by and large, I would not advise companies to associate a word like “turkey” with their image or their offerings.

Note to McDonald’s – if you make a big investment in Greece…

It Stinks Around Here

As I drove down our street this morning, to drop my son off at school, my nostrils were assaulted by the evidence that one of God’s creatures was compelled – by imminent threat or by rapidly-revolving Goodyears – to let loose a malodorous expression of its displeasure.

skunk.jpgEven now, as I sit in my home office typing, the air quality has one overriding, pungent aspect to it…

It stinks around here.

No matter how many other pleasant scents, sounds, and scenes are outside, all are temporarily obscured by an overpowering odor that none can ignore.

And that appropriately describes the nightmare scenario for any brand.

A company, industry, individual, or other entity that can broadly be described as a “brand” can so violate the black and white rules of good behavior or great marketing that it officially stinks. This is not a good thing.

A couple weeks ago, my wife admiringly commented on a vehicle we were passing in a parking lot. In fact, it actually did look pretty nice on the surface. Then I noticed that it was a VW Touareg. Now, I have absolutely nothing against Volkswagen cars. But I so violently despised this particular naming choice, that I simply cannot get past the stench of it. Is it petty that I actually would not consider owning a vehicle because I hate the name? I freely admit it. But why would a company choose to brand a car with a name that stinks?

Most of my consulting work is with the pharmaceutical industry. And in the past 10 years, the reputation of this industry has gone south in a big way. The sales rep arms race. Spending-for-influence among doctors. Biased study results. Questionable DTC practices. Patenting incremental changes. The list could go on and on, but here’s the point: it stinks around here. Medicines introduced by pharmaceutical companies have done untold good in millions of lives, and multiplied thousands of good, dedicated people work in the industry, but Brand Pharma right now is surrounded by an unpleasant odor that obscures all the positives.

O.J. Simpson had it all. And, in spectacular fashion, he self-destructed, to the point where his very name and person is anathema to the vast majority who have followed the downward spiral of his post-gridiron life. Brand O.J. officially stinks, and his latest scrape with the law only wafts the scent higher.

Brands should aspire to leave a sweet aroma in the memory of all those touched by them. We should hope that our customers will want to, so to speak, throw open the window and breathe deeply. But certainly, at the very least, we should also hold to the simple avoidance aspiration encapsulated in Google’s corporate philosophy; “Don’t be evil.” Because once you stink, it’s awfully hard to shed the aroma.

Come to think of it, I’ve got to go close the window now…

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