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…

Another Logo from the Zzzzzzz…List

I noticed a big advertisement today in the Wall Street Journal for Covidien, the medical device company recently spun off from its former Tyco Healthcare identity.

I think it was good to separate Covidien from Tyco (which had a number of unrelated businesses under its umbrella), and the name Covidien, if not all that inspired and memorable, is at least acceptable. After all, it is a difficult challenge these days coming up with new names.

But the logo and tagline left me frowning with disappointment.

covidien.jpgI believe there is a virtue in simplicity, when it comes to logo design. But this treatment is tired. Yet another uninspired takeoff on the medical Red Cross look. Yawwwwwnnn. A company in the pharmaceutical training space that I know quite well, MedSN, did something similar a while back. At least they used a few colors. The Covidien treatment, with a few variations of blue, looks like it never got beyond a Powerpoint storyboard.

And the tagline, Positive Results for Life, is yet another retread from the pharma/healthcare/biotech bargain bin. Some of the most uninspired and insipid taglines have been adopted by these companies, all vaguely promising health/life/goodness in a way that is utterly non-differentiating. I’m reminded of a phrase from A Christmas Carol, where young Ebenezer Scrooge gives a response that is “terribly safe.” That’s what these taglines are. With an emphasis on both words.

I don’t yet know who came up with this logo. Maybe, after I finish this post, I’ll look it up. But let’s take a flight of fancy here, and imagine we’re in the boardroom, as the agency gives its explanation/rationalization for this look:

“The background field of blue represents the universal desire for long life and health, tapping into the singular global aspirations that a healthcare provider such as Covidien will be a premier provider of positive results toward that end. Since the earth is mostly water, and water represents life, we encased the logo in the uplifting presence of a sea of calming ocean blue. Of course, the medical cross symbol is recognized across the universe as a positive and aspirational symbol of well-being, and now it is softened and yet heightened by being re-stylized in enriching shades of health-inducing blue, leading the thoughts and feelings of the onlooking world to pleasant deliberations of the intersection of medical devices and ongoing health. The merging of life-giving blue, the subtly blatant medical undercurrent, and modern encapsulations of individual aspirations will create the inevitable conclusion that Covidien creates positive results for life.”

And now, rewind a day into the design studio as the logo and tagline are being feverishly finished off for the next day’s presentation:

“Did you whip that thing up in Powerpoint?”

“Yeah…took me about an hour and a half. I billed 45 days of creative time for the team, however.”

“Looks like a couple of colorized Band-Aids to me.”

“Ain’t life grand? I came up with that this morning while fixing a shaving nick.”

“And did you pump something out of that funky ObviousTaglines.com website?”

“Oh, yeah – it was great! I just told it ‘healthcare’, selected a couple standard keywords, and out came Positive Results for Life. It’s a beautiful thing. And, I now have 10 others we can use for our next client.”

All right, I made all that up. I’m sure a bit more effort went into this. But I wonder…how much did this branding cost? And why is it so…undistinguished?

The Value(?) of “Bad” Brands

We talk a lot about good branding. But some individuals and groups deliberately set out to create a “bad” brand. They position themselves in the market as occupying the “bad” end of the spectrum of human behavior.

Why? Because “bad” gets attention.

Little children learn this rapidly. Bad behavior, at the very least, gets attention. And certain individuals maintain this brand identity as they grow up.

Paris Hilton is a “bad” girl. She cultivates it, with her pictures and videos and tantrums. And Brand Paris gets a ton of attention for it, as did Anna Nicole Smith and other “bad” girls before them.

Tort lawyers have managed to acquire a brand identity as sharks and greedy opportunists, and they get attention by suing for outrageous amounts and keeping large percentages of the haul. The lawyer/judge who sued for $54 million over a lost pair of pants is only the latest in a string of never-ending examples of “bad” behaviors by this brand.

John McEnroe was a very good tennis player. But why did he get so much ink? He was a “bad” boy on the court. Brand McEnroe was yelling, pouting, and losing control – as well as good shotmaking. He differentiated himself – and gained market attention – not by being wholesome, or nice, or fitting in with those that respected the “rules.” People came to see him because he was a bad boy.

wreck.jpgWe all decry the slowdown on the highway as an accident is passed. But we find it hard to resist the urge to slow down and look ourselves. Because there is something in us that is drawn to looking at disaster. And, seeing “bad” behavior and the disasters that ensue, we find ourselves clucking our tongues at outrageousness, and condemning bad-ness (while somewhere deep inside, feeling just a twinge of envy, and longing to be a bit “bad” ourselves).

“Bad” brands know this. And they get outsized attention. Because “bad” sells itself. It seems to be the cheap and easy way to gain notoriety, though it usually ends up with the same results experienced by the reckless and daring driver – a wreck on the side of the road. “Bad” brands try to shortcut their way to fame, sometimes succeeding dramatically – but generally, leaving a lot of wreckage in their wake.

What are some of the “bad” corporate and personal brands that you have seen?

(Image credit)

Give Me a Break, Sheikh

There it was, on the back page of the first section of this morning’s Wall Street Journal.

A very colorful, visually “grabby” full-page ad from a sheikh announcing his new foundation. Now I don’t know how much it cost to put a full-page ad in the WSJ, but I do know that if the goal was to actually communicate valuable information, then every dollar was wasted.

Here is what the ad says:

10 Billion Dollars

Contributing to the Development of Knowledge and Culture

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the establishment of his foundation with an endowment of 10 billion dollars, focusing on human development in the region. The foundation will facilitate and promote knowledge creation and dissemination, and will nurture future leaders, providing them with equal opportunities with the aim of building a knowledge-based society.

MOMAMMED BIN RASHID AL MAKTOUM FOUNDATION

http://www.mbrfoundation.ae

Based on the “information” contained in this boast self-aggrandizing commercial full-page ad, I now have no answers, but I do have an awful lot of questions. To wit:

1. “human development” – what does that mean?

2. “the region” – what region?

3. “knowledge creation and dissemination” – that could mean one hundred things, not all of them good. What is it?

4. “future leaders” – of what sort?

5. “equal opportunities” – for whom?

6. “knowledge-based society” – such as? Which knowledge?

7. “culture” – not all cultures are to be applauded. What culture is to be developed here?

Not to be crass or cynical, but this foundation could be doing anything from establishing classical schooling opportunities for underprivileged females throughout the Middle East, to training and knowledge-equipping terrorist leaders in Afghanistan. Or anything in between. I’d really like to know what “knowledge” and “development” is being envisioned in whatever “region” this is. And this full-page ad miserably fails to communicate that.

Let’s face it – post 9/11, Arab leaders have a tough audience here in the U.S. It’s a real branding/marketing problem. This kind of nebulous language won’t score any P.R. points. If this foundation were to forthrightly speak of combating terrorist brainwashing and anti-everyone-but-us hate education with some very concrete initiatives to create a more civilized society, I’d be all ears. Particularly if it was followed with action. As it is, all I see is a clumsy marketing effort for the sheikh to promote himself with his (I assume) oil riches, and dodge any specifics. Sorry – that’s a non-starter.

I went to the URL specified to see if more light was to be gained. Nope – more high-sounding generalities.sheikh_web.jpg

You know, sometimes I just don’t get it. Why would anyone spend such money to say…nothing?

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Names: Bad, Bad, Bad

From the fine folks over at NameWire, a great post on bad brand names (The Bad Hair Days of Product Naming).

Zzzzzz…Oh, was that a Tagline?

The Wall Street Journal ran an article on Thursday about Lenovo’s new campaign to sell the Thinkpad laptop (Lenovo purchased the PC business from IBM a while back).

The thrust of the campaign is to show that the Thinkpad is tough and durable. OK, that’s a workable angle, I guess – although I wonder if that particular issue tops the list of concerns and aspirations for the majority of laptop buyers. But be that as it may…

Here’s the campaign tagline: “From the world’s best engineers come the world’s best engineered PCs” Zzzzzzzz….

Do people really want to own a PC because of engineering abstractions? Or because of how it looks, feels, runs applications, and makes me look when I use it?

That tagline is too long, too cold, and too narrow. For a certain small sub-group, it will have some appeal, but it’s DOA as far as aspiration and memorability (by the way, I should note that I’ve always loved Thinkpads. I don’t have one currently, but I’ve used a number of models in the past, and found them to be superb machines!)

What would I do differently? I’d use a simpler concept that can be applied broadly across many themes. For instance:

More

One word, but it says it all regarding Thinkpads. More features. More durability. More value for your money. And, yes, it prepares the buyer for the idea that you’ll pay more also. If I’m going to want a computer, I want…more. Not engineers.

(for my take on “engineer” advertising, in particular relating to cars, here is a previous post).

What do you think? Is engineering a good angle? How would you market Thinkpads?
(image credit)

Hilton should go to Prison

Hilton Hotels, that is. Crime: introducing a new campaign with a tagline that says nothing.

Travel should take you places

Hmmm…never quite thought of it that way!

I hate this kind of meaninglessness in marketing (does that make it a “hate crime”?) What does a statement like that have to do with distinguishing Hilton from say, Priceline? Or Hertz? Or Paris Hilton, for that matter?

Here are a few other highly descriptive taglines I’d suggest for other companies wanting to be so creative:

“Bathing should make you clean” (soap company)

“Picture-taking should create images” (camera company)

“Houses should be lived in” (real estate company)

Can you imagine some poor soul on eHarmony.com, marketing him or herself to a prospective love interest with the line, “Dating should make you happy”? How does this kind of phrase distinguish anyone?

I’ll probably never be able to forget Motel 6′s tagline, “We’ll leave the light on for you.” It’s a shame that a higher-end hotel can’t come up with a more sticky campaign than its downmarket rival!

Euro-Engineered Car Advertising

Today, the Wall Street Journal has an article about Audi, seeking to get beyond its relative brand anonymity in the U.S. by introducing a new tagline.

“Truth in Engineering”

Clunk. This reminds me of a similar effort, now underway by Saab – “Born from Jets”

Clunk.

Maybe I’m missing something here. Do you really hope to get my blood pumping about engineering, or about the fact that a car company was started by a bunch of guys that made jets? Does that draw me closer to the brand?

Not at all. I’ve worked with European companies in the past (particularly Nordic and Germanic), and there seems to be a cultural tendency to glorify the colder, more cerebral attributes of precision, accuracy, engineering design, etc. But those things should be subordinate to a theme that grabs my heart, and makes me want to have the brand experience.

Of course, it’s a great thing to have precision engineering. BMW certainly does – but they market their car as the “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Ah – they’ve tapped into two important things – the aspirational desire to have the “ultimate,” and the desire to experience the main point of this technological package – driving!

I don’t care if you’re born from jets, from rocket ships, or from barges (well, maybe I would care about the barge pedigree). The point it, why should I WANT to drive your car?

Image credit: Flickr

Customers Rot!

Becky Carroll has a very enjoyable blog entitled Customers Rock!, in which she holds forth the perspective that we really should treat our customers as incredibly valuable.

But some people/companies still seem to hold to a Customers Rot! attitude.

Recently, we’ve been seeking to get some plumbing work done. A sink replaced, a couple faucets, a few other smaller things (full disclosure: I’d classify myself as only “half-handy,” and better at outdoor work than indoor stuff!) So we made a call, first of all to a very nice plumber who quickly helped us with a belly-up water heater a couple months back. He’d come to us recommended by a friend. Surely he’d want to maintain a customer relationship!

No response. No return call, even after a couple of messages.

We tried with another referred name.

Same result.

Another. Finally, a call back – this fellow does these type of small jobs “on the side,” but apparently he is more willing to gain a customer doing evening work, than others for whom it is a day job.

Now, I understand if the other fellows were too busy – particularly since our work on this occasion was pretty small scale. But too busy to return a call, and simply explain that you don’t have the time right now – and maybe provide a recommendation? Too busy to value a customer – and what that customer may say (positive or negative) to others who ask their opinion? Too busy for common courtesy?

Another example of a Customers Rot! attitude – not neglect, but downright hostility – came to the surface this week when I was speaking with another consultant. She started a role with a software/services company, and mentioned that on the very first day, an employee put a customer on hold and started letting loose a stream of demeaning and negative comments about this client (probably one of their largest sources of revenue). Displaying, right in front of this person just starting out, why that particular company was not going to be worthy of a long-term engagement. She quickly moved on.

A company’s brand goes far deeper than a logo and a tagline. It is profoundly shaped by attitudes. The employees embody the brand, for better or for worse (here’s a positive example). One of the best “branding” moves a company can make is hiring people who truly seek to serve, and who do not stew in negativity! If you end up with “hostiles,” don’t be surprised when you get the business equivalent of red cards!

Brand New Jersey

I live in New Jersey, and have for 23 years.

So, when someone asks, “Where are you from?”, why is it that I generally answer, “I live in New Jersey”? Why, after 23 years, am I unable to say that I am “from” New Jersey?

Sad to say, I’ve never been sold on the brand that is New Jersey.

Not that the state doesn’t have a lot to offer. It does. We like our town and our surroundings, and there are many good destinations within a short drive of north Jersey. There’s a lot of professional opportunity here. Lots of good people. So….why?

The reason is well illustrated by the lack of integrity demonstrated by our government officials. And this is not a “political statement.” Totally apart from any party politics, it’s just a sad statement of fact.

Our newest governor, whose entree into office was significantly aided by loads of cash, just got himself seriously injured by flouting the laws he is supposed to uphold – speeding in a government vehicle, and traveling without a seat belt fastened. The prior governor stepped down in a well-documented scandal. Our latest senatorial election had all sorts of ethical questions surrounding it. And on it goes. There is so much scandal in New Jersey politics that it all seems like “business as usual.”

It’s one thing to pay taxes – some of the highest in the nation. It’s another when the return on investment is embarrassment.

Our “leaders” don’t seem to account for the fact that this level of seediness erodes all civic pride among citizens. And so, you see, I’m not from New Jersey.

Perhaps I’d like to be. Perhaps I’d like to proudly say that I’m a resident of this state. In fact, I would enjoy the privilege of pointing out elected officials to my sons, and saying, “Emulate that person.” Instead of causing us to always look to the future, wondering what other shores might be better for our later years, perhaps some political leaders in NJ could stand up, strive for a new business as usual, and make this state a place of pride.

So, sell me. I don’t need another cheap NJ tourist slogan. I’ve been watching for 23 years, and you who lead this state have blown the New Jersey brand so far. Because a brand is more than a slogan – it’s all about value. Is there anyone around who can make me want to be from New Jersey??

How to create a difficult “user interface”

How not to write a press release

I saw this company news release/overview in the most recent edition of PharmaVoice (a publication which I like, by the way), and almost gagged. Clearly, this was written in Modern Geek, and the wording used is solely intended to confuse, obfuscate, and impress with indecipherable buzzwords.

I’m not impressed. And no matter how many times I read this missive, I’ll never understand what in the world Blue Spoon Consulting is trying to offer here.

Here, if you can navigate through it while retaining synaptic sanity, is the wording:

—————

Blue Spoon Consulting has released a marketing ecosystem-based solution for pharmaceutical sales effectiveness. The new design links the context, content, and process of the virtual and physical domains of pharmaceutical sales into a dynamic business system with a dense configuration of activities and knowledge.

Available for download through the Blue Spoon Consulting website, the ecosystem platform for pharmaceutical sales tightens the fit between sampling management, longitudinal prescribing data, publication planning, publicity, salesforce automation, patient advocacy groups, on-demand and service-oriented software, medical science liaisons, health information technology, care management initiatives, outcomes studies, and branded content flows around a customer.

Linking the output and feedback from these previously unrelated or underused elements into a new pattern of organization offers a new scenario for value creation. The center of gravity resides in a living business system that absorbs complexity and one that competitors are unable to replicate. Its economic value is based on measuring increasing returns over time.

Delivery and acquisition of marketing communications and information technology services are judged on their positional value within the ecosystem and their ability to conduct and contribute to system performance. “High degrees of contextual change in the external environment — information becoming liquid, existing everywhere in real time, a whole world of specialized assets and knowledge that make possible any operational vision — is opening a new arena for creativity and strategic logic,” says John G. Singer, principal at Blue Spoon Consulting.

———-

Un-believable. “Positional value within the ecosystem” “information becoming liquid” “The center of gravity resides in a living business system that absorbs complexity” “dense configuration of activities and knowledge”  Only one person in the world can even remotely hope to understand this “ecosystem-based solution”, and that is John G. Singer himself. Maybe this system has value after all, but the value proposition, if it exists, will need to be translated from Geek to English!

How not to succeed in a call to action

I was working out on an elliptical machine a few days back, and saw an ad the defied comprehension. DirecTV was advertising for new employees – they showed clips of lots of happy DirectTVites in their various roles, and then had a call for action to go to their website to apply for jobs.

OK, so far so good. Then the announcer, voicing over an array of screen shots, was explaining the 4-step series of menus on the website in order to find the spot where you apply! HELLLLOOOO! You’re running this 60-second ad, and then walking through a series of very particular mouse clicks to show people how to act?? Are you kidding me – someone is supposed to REMEMBER all that?

If you’re going to drive people to a website through some kind of promotional campaign, put a link directly on the home page! “We-re hiring! – did you see our ad on TV? Apply HERE!”

Perhaps the company should be renamed InDirectTV!

The three-cent bill

We all know not to expect to see a legitimate three-dollar bill. Last week, however, I was amused and amazed to receive a three-cent bill.

My former long-distance provider, recently replaced by a more comprehensive phone plan from a local provider, decided, as a final act of goodwill and corporate wisdom, to send along an afterthought last bill for…3 cents. That’s $0.03. And that’s really cheesy. Just call it “brand stupid”.

This bill, likely to have a major impact on quarterly earnings reports for Wall Street, was for one day’s worth of “Interstate Services Fee”, apparently incurred during the window of time of my cancellation. Now, I know they have to charge these fees. But can’t someone with just a touch of common sense develop an algorithm that says, essentially, that any charge like this of under (let’s say) $10.00 really costs more to bill and collect than the amount itself? Let alone the lost good will?

For years, I had no problem with this provider. I was happy with the service and the billing. But what will be my final memory of them? That’s right – a 3 cent bill. All brand equity lost, for 3 cents. Who knows what it cost them internally to generate and process this invoice – AND, I’m also being asked to spend 13 times the amount of the bill for the postage to send it in!

So, in response, I am sending along 3 pennies taped to a 3×5 card. And if I somehow fail to remember to put postage on the envelope, so that it arrives postage due, that would certainly be poetic justice.

That’s my 3 cents worth…

Seattle: Another DOA Slogan

Seattle recently unveiled its most recent lame attempt at a slogan to promote itself.

It spent 16 months and 200K to come up with this theme. Some of us could have done better with 2 hours and a free venti latte from Starbucks.

The slogan that resulted from this misplaced investment? METRONATURAL.

Huhhh???

Yes, Seattle is a city. And, yes, it is in an attractive wilderness/outdoorsy area. But METRONATURAL? Sounds like a biofuel-powered subway system. Or an urban commune for hippies. A winning entry that’s a 5-syallable nonsense term sounding like an already-discarded trendy term for unmanly males? Get real.

Seattle is a great city. But if I were a resident, I would not buy and wear a “METRONATURAL” hat with pride. There are other brands whose mugs/shirts/hats I gladly use – a key indicator of branding that hits the mark. I have a sneaking suspicion that sales of Mariners and Seahawks “stuff” will far surpass anything with this DOA term on it.

An effective slogan or tagline should, in most cases, be both descriptive and aspirational. Simple yet timeless. There should be, if possible, a self-evident connection to the thing being branded. It should not provoke the “Huh???” response of this and the previous failed efforts at branding Seattle. Article from SeattlePI.com

What are the visual cues that sum up Seattle as a city in the midst of natural beauty? Very simple. The Space Needle, and Mt. Ranier. Both of which have a peak. I can visualize a simplified line drawing of Mt. Ranier in the background, with the peak of the Needle in the foreground, and a tagline such as “Peak City” or “At the Peak“. That cost me all of 15 minutes thought and a half cup of my own brewed coffee. With 16 months and 200K, it would undoubtedly be do-able to come up with plenty of other possibilities! At 200K per city, and about a year and a half per, it would only take 5 cities and a less than a decade to be a millionaire.

Let’s see if we can come up with slogans just as effective as “METRONATURAL” in, oh, say, 10 minutes:

Miami: SunKitsch

Houston: PetroCasual

Cleveland: Not as Bad as You Think

Charlotte: We’re Nice and We Have Banks

Trenton, NJ: Corruption Happens

Some locales (Virginia, New York, etc.) came up with campaigns that were appealing and long-lived. I fully expect “METRONATURAL” to be consigned to the dustbin of the rapidly forgotten – the sooner, the better.

Impactiviti scale:

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Impactiviti provides strategic consulting services to increase brand impact.

Why I will not apply for this credit card

Sure looks great…almost an offer you couldn’t refuse.

Lurking below the surface, however, are sharks circling in the fine print.

It’s an Advanta credit card offer. I got one of these a few weeks back, shared it (in near disbelief) with my wife, then threw it away. A move I regretted, since that was before launching this blog, but not to fear…they came through again today!

The bait:
Enticing fixed APR for balance transfers. 6% cash back. No annual fee. Zero fraud liability. Et cetera, et cetera.

Now, the switch. Talk about audacity – you can’t make this stuff up. I quote exactly:

All of the terms of your account (including rates) are subject to change by us. This means that your account rates, including any introductory or promotional rates offered, are not guaranteed; all account rates may be increased, fixed rates may change to variable rates, and variable rates may change to fixed rates. We may change your account terms (including rates) at any time for any reason.

Hmmm, let’s see – by applying for this card, I give you the right to do whatever you want, whenever you want, for whatever reason you want. Whatever you’re saying is offered, you don’t necessarily mean, and I can’t actually have any idea what I may be agreeing to, as it can be changed arbitrarily at any time.

Tough decision . . . but I think I’ll pass on this one!

Can you imagine this approach being taken in other important situations?

“This 30-year mortgage at a fixed rate of 7.5% may become a 20 (or 50) year mortgage at any rate we may choose at the moment, and you can’t do anything about it.”

“Yes, we will hire you at $80,000/year, with full benefits, except you may actually end up having to pay your own benefits at some undefined point, and your salary may fluctuate month to month depending on undetermined variables that will be disclosed, or not, at our sole discretion.”

“…to have and to hold from this day forward, with the proviso that I may change my mind at any time, and this covenant may become a temporary agreement, for any reason or whim…” (hmmm – that may be getting too close to the truth in some cases).

Effective branding is about providing value. It’s about promises. It’s about trust. Because of regulatory requirements, these Advanta folks at least spelled it out plainly. And plainly, their brand value goes to zero.

Impactiviti scale: 

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Impactiviti provides strategic consulting services to increase brand impact.

“Because the sky is blue”

Today, I was out on an appointment when I went past the HQ for Sanofi-Aventis, a client I’ve worked with in the pharma part of my work. When Sanofi bought Aventis a couple years back, they had a great opportunity for re-branding. And what tagline was rolled out? “Because Health Matters”

Sheeesh.

That’s a self-evident statement of fact, not a promise! Nothing unique, nothing aspirational, nothing to imply personal connection. No value proposition.

What if United Airlines promoted themselves with, “Because travel matters”? Or McDonald’s came out with, “Because eating matters”? Mere statements of the obvious don’t position a company. “Because the sky is blue” does not give me a reason to feel attached to a parachute manufacturer.

How about something along the lines of, “Advancing Your Health“? That would contain the health angle, make the personal connection, and, of course, every company and every potential user wants to be connected with the concept of advancement.

I shudder to think of what it cost to come up this kind of ineffective tagline. Because, after all, branding matters!

Impactiviti scale:

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Impactiviti provides strategic consulting services to increase brand impact.

How to waste 100,000 billboards

I will start with a confession – I don’t actually know how many trucks UPS has in its fleet (let me know if you have some hard data!). But it’s a lot, and IMHO, it’s a disgracefully wasted branding and marketing resource.

How many times in a given week do you see one of the famous brown UPS trucks? Plenty, I’d imagine. But now, ask yourself this: When you see the phrase “Worldwide Services” attached to that logo, what does that mean to you? How non-specific can a company be?

Yes, I know that UPS wants to be seen as more than a package delivery company. They provide other “services.” But then, plastered on the side of all of those thousands of trucks, passing millions of regular people each day, is this additional mind-numbing phrase: “Synchronizing the world of commerce.”

OK, I’m sufficiently immersed in the business world, and have learned enough about the UPS strategy to know that a key growth area of their business is providing a growing number of services to the entire supply chain. But shouldn’t that rather esoteric phraseology be saved for business publications and direct marketing pieces to Chief Operating Officers, instead of wasting all that moving billboard space flashing less-than-meaningful phrases to 99.5% of those who see them? For the average person, this branding is distant and meaningless. If I see just two of these trucks per weekday, that’s over 500 lost opportunities to speak a meaningful and memorable message to me per year.

If I went past a UPS truck and saw something like, “The World at Your Doorstep” I’d be able to immediately relate to it as a regular citizen (note: FexEx’s phrase, “The World on Time”, is brilliant). Or, embedded within an approachable tagline like “We’re Everywhere You Need Us” would be the global angle and the supply chain message – without wasting billboard space on “Synchronizing…Commerce” or undefined “Services.”

What can Brown do for us? A lot better than this, I think.

Impactiviti scale: (for presentation – their value and service, of course, are excellent)

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Impactiviti provides strategic consulting services to increase brand impact.

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