Thursday, October 29, 2009

“Where is it?” Chevy Advertises Volt but It’s (Still) Not Ready for Prime Time.

It’s been coming for at least two years. It was “formally” announced in a Chevrolet commercial aired during the 2008 Olympics. It became the butt of jokes during the Detroit meltdown – and so did General Motors.

It’s the Chevy Volt. Maybe it’ll get 230 miles-per-gallon-equivalent. Maybe it’ll never see the light of day, although the pre-production test cars have been completed. Maybe I’m being unfair. But you know, a car isn’t a software package – people who want to buy won’t wait on Volt vaporware (remember that term?). American consumers will buy Toyota hybrids and Hondas.

Commenting on Autoblog, “Owlafaye” noted:

The Volt is being designed according to General Motors’ old way of doing business. By the time it gets to market it will be an obvious anachronism. The advanced automotive technology from a myriad of other manufacturers, and due to debut at the time of (and before) the Volt, will bury this foolishness and relegate it to Edsel status.

I normally defend good marketing but it seems like Chevrolet has confused teasing the public with unfulfilled promises, again. Are you a believer? Too bad.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Betting McDonald’s Brand is Recession-Proof despite The Wall Street Journal.

On Thursday, McDonald’s got zinged by Julie Jargon writing in The Wall Street Journal. While admitting that “The recession helped McDonald’s Corp. more than other restaurant chains as consumers traded down to fast food,” the reporter also noted:

Lately, though, the company's same-store sales growth has begun to slow, leading some to wonder whether investment opportunity is shifting to the casual-dining sector…. If US unemployment continues to rise – as it did last month, to 9.8% – it could hamper any broader industry recovery and hurt McDonald’s results in the US, where the company gets most of its profit.

Now I have to say, first, that Jargon’s report is much more balanced than the excerpt implies. But second, the article knocks the company in front of a particular group of McDonald’s stakeholders that may have little interest in the brand but lots in the share price. Jargon raises a question where none really has existed.

I am not a shareholder. I’m not following the charts and the graphs. But I do think that the McDonald’s brand is extraordinarily strong. Unlike the US manufacturers of cars, consumers still love this brand and keep buying its products: It is America.

With McDonald’s, I believe that unique personality that no competitor can claim is the reputation of America’s Restaurant. How do we capitalize on that reputation? By relating McDonald’s to our lifestyle – our own human experience.

Jack Smith, who would retire as Group President and Deputy Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnett, McDonald’s long-time ad agency, said those words in April, 1986, to the company’s franchisees. He said in the same speech:

Reputation advertising is the kind that works very hard on the…long-term sales and top of mind. You (McDonald’s) are America’s Restaurant and nobody’s going to take that away from you.

Over this past quarter-century or so, McDonald’s has, like the rest of us, suffered many slings and arrows, although I can’t recall personally suing the company for clumsily spilling apparently hot coffee over myself. It’s been criticized repeatedly for being too large. Too unresponsive. Too exploitive (of beef, grass lands, workers, plastics, paper products) and too liberal and too conservative. It has been accused, all by itself, of causing Americans to be fat.

Through all this, McDonald’s has hardly ever lost sight of the fact that it is, de facto, America’s Restaurant. That’s how the company behaves. That’s how the company responds to economic crises. That’s how its corporate behavior appears in radio and TV commercials, billboard, print ads, websites, promotions – well, you name it.

Leo Burnett’s Smith spoke 23 years ago about TV commercials that now appear to be old-fashioned. Yet McDonald’s keeps to the same vivid brand theme. And if it’s the World’s Restaurant now, instead of just America’s, I’m lovin’ it. It’s a fine long-term brand ROI.

Thanks to Rob Schoenbeck for the timely sharing of Jack Smith’s 1986 speech.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Borrow an Ad Memory or Two about Armstrong and BBDO.

Such a charming reminiscence came out of The New York Times this week. Ad columnist Stuart Elliot offered a response from an older reader about the “proper” pronunciation of his agency’s name:

When I worked at BBDO, from June 1951 to March 1954, nobody in the agency called it anything other than “BBDO.” The switchboard operators who answered phone calls always answered in a very stylized, “This ... izz ... BBDO!” Outside the agency it was usually called, I guess, “BBD and O.”

One account I worked on was Armstrong Cork. I used to take the Pennsy to Lancaster at least twice a month. Everybody at Armstrong called the agency “Batten’s,” because Armstrong had been a client of the Batten Company for many years before Batten’s merger with Durstine, Osborn & Barton in 1928, which then morphed into Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn.

Elliott thanks the reader and answered:

Although “the Pennsy” – the Pennsylvania Railroad – is no longer chugging, Armstrong, now Armstrong World Industries, is a client of BBDO’s to this day.

Now perhaps it is lazy of me to make a post out of an existing story line, especially one featured in Elliott’s column. Armstrong has been a BBDO client for at least 58 years. I couldn’t track down the exact number (although I bet someone in New York knows it). I couldn’t honestly tell you that Armstrong doesn’t use other agencies of all sizes and shapes, either.

It is always fashionable to feature the medium-of-the-moment and fawn over the edgiest boutique. That is the nature of the new. But I point out that really long-time account retention is not only possible but continuously rewarding for all parts of the client-agency relationship. Frankly, it’s heartening right now to observe this kind of thing. I’m an alumnus of BBDO (though more recently than the early ’50s); I hope it’s true that great shops never die.

Whoever said “nostalgia isn’t what it used to be?”

Thank you for the 1952 Armstrong Flooring ad from Retro Renovation, which notes that the “neutral grey works just fine with the orange and chartreuse paint.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Making the “Winter Hawaiian” Shirt? Start with a Cilla Ramnek Fabric.

I’d give you the shirt off my back but first I want to blog about it. Then, after giving plenty of credit where it’s due, I’d like to wear it at least through the upcoming Houston version of winter. That’s because this is a sort of cold weather-weight Hawaiian shirt. I call it “Stockholm Syndrome.”

I had this made for me – really, I asked Barbara Nytes-Baron to make it for me because she can sew and I cannot. To start with, I’d wanted to get away from run-of-the-mill tropical prints. It’s a good thing I found this interesting fabric at Ikea…reminded me of lava lamps.

The not so good thing: It’s an upholstery fabric, which means it is quite a bit heavier than shirting. Still, Barbara had the sewing pattern and the patience – that’s how we came to invent this shout-it-out cold-weather camp shirt.

The fabric was created by a Swedish fabric designer, Cilla Ramnek. She’s said she doesn’t see any conflict between design, craft and art; but then, maybe she hasn’t found out yet what one of her fabrics has been turned into…not my own line of tropical wearables per se but an adventurous addition to the celebrated Baron collection of bold, bright tropical shirts. (I’m ready for my close-up, Mr DeMille.)

No brands were hurt during the production of this winter/tropical camp shirt. Eat your hearts out, Mad Gringo and Hilo Hattie.

And if designer Ramnek throws up her hands and swears off fabric art forever, well, I’m heartily sorry. This shirt IMO makes a statement and it is not “Attention – this guy needs taste replacement surgery stat!” Be sure to look for us on the runway in NYC next Fashion Week…La Guardia 31.

Shirt: “Stockholm Syndrome.” Fabric: Saralisa Collection. Designer: Cilla Ramnek. Pattern: Simplicity #3852. Crafter: Barbara Nytes-Baron.

Friday, October 09, 2009

If a Better Boeing Brand Bombs, It’s Not So World-Ending.

Big is back. That’s the word from The Economist. The August 29, 2009 number even has a whale on the cover to emphasize its story, “The return of the corporate giant.” Big’s beautiful again even if for some of us the beauty part never went away. And The Economist mentions Boeing in the same sentence as Yahoo (in terms of 1998 capitalization, the nod went to Yahoo).

Coincidentally, in the 9/15/09 Marketing News, Elisabeth Sullivan wrote a three-pager about Boeing’s recent brand developments – her “Building a Better Brand” case study is available here. As a survey piece it’s not so bad but it leaves a couple of questions hanging around.

The how-it-came-to-be article trumpets a cohesive brand identity story, carefully quoting Boeing’s Fritz Johnson and Jim Newcomb; Boeing’s ad agency Draftfcb; corporate design firm Methodologie Inc; and (wait for it) an aerospace and defense industry think tank exec, Teal Group VP Richard Aboulafia.

The narrative gravely mentions “brand DNA” and “triple helix” and “design roadmap.” All good things, all quite contemporary. “Everyone should be managing the brand,” Newcomb says, adding that every employee now is interested in Boeing’s branding process.

For public consumption, though, it seems like the Boeing brand is constantly being reinvented. Whatever happened to the Horizons Global Advertising Campaign that Draftfcb launched for the company at the very end of 2001?

Was that the same introduction as the much-touted $50-million “Boeing: Forever New Frontiers” global television and print advertising campaign? Boeing’s brand management VP Anne C Toulouse said at the time (January 2002):

This campaign captures the spirit of Boeing, celebrating the power of human imagination and technological achievements…the Boeing brand is one of our most valuable intangible assets. Our investments in the brand help strengthen the company's long-term business position.

Now the company’s apparently gone back to the drawing board. It’s possible that the spirit of the big company changed in the eight or so years since “Forever New Frontiers” went public. Eight years is a long time in major corporations these days. (It’s also like the sign I once saw in a 3M conference room, “We’re going to keep having meetings until we find out why there’s no work getting done around here.”)

More telling to me is the hesitation Marketing News attributed to Aboulafia, the defense industry think-tanker. He’s wary of endorsing any external manifestations of the Boeing “One brand, One company” strategy discussed in the Marketing News article. Maybe he suspects that a new mega-branding effort on the company’s part will have little if any impact on its military and civilian customers and prospects.

Boeing isn’t just a mighty big company, with more than 158,000 employees in the US and 70 countries. It’s a mighty big brand, too. It’s been the world’s premier manufacturer of commercial jets for 40 years and arguably the most influential producer of warplanes for, like, forever. Despite the company’s participation in a wide array of other industries, from finance to software, it is principally viewed as an ironmonger.

So it probably doesn’t matter if the corporate people are tinkering with the cohesiveness of the company image. Boeing’s products…fly. That’s a great brand.

PS: I spent a large part of my military service time with aircraft produced by McDonnell-Douglas, now a key part of Boeing: A-3s and A-4s, and the propeller-driven C-47s, C-54s, C-117s. I’m a long-ago member of Mach Nix, which may explain why I’m slow on the uptake: Why didn’t I write this blog post back in May, when Boeing per-share price was $29? Photo: USAF.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Darden in BrandWeek: “No discounting.” But if the menu’s big bucks...

It is the convergence of events that’s arresting, rather than the events themselves. As with the feature article by Elaine Wong in BrandWeek yesterday, combined with today’s arrival of The Capital Grille promotion from American Express that you see above.

BrandWeek is interviewing Drew Madsen, Darden Restaurants’ president and COO; the piece is titled “Why ‘Deep Discounting’ Is Not Always the Winning Recipe.” In the second paragraph, Darden goes on at length:

We’re also seeing a [bit] more pressure on our higher price, higher check [restaurant dining] concepts, so brands like The Capital Grille—a fine dining steakhouse that’s priced at $90 or so a person—have seen a bigger impact than Olive Garden, which is [around] $15 a person, and we’re seeing a little bit of a decline in the overall check…a big part of the check erosion is due to all of the deep discounting that’s going on with competitors trying to get more people [eating at restaurants]. That discounting is essentially sacrificed per person per check. That’s not the case at Darden.

There you go: No deep discounting at Darden Restaurants. It’s holding the line, maintaining “the integrity of our brands and the strength of our business model long-term.” Unless the menu’s so expensive that half a C-note doesn't count as...deep.

This is a company with great brands, but Darden [NYSE: DRI] is only performing “fair” in the current economy. The company’s seen negative EPS growth this past year; it’s just reported a decline in same-store sales in five brands in the quarter that ended August 30, 2009.

Maybe there was a timing gap between the actual interview and its publication. Maybe it’s just an oversight; or the difficulty of knowing about single little promotion. I really did have to laugh, though, since the AMEX $50-off postcard arrived in the mail just 15 minutes after I read what Madsen had to say.

Give the interview a look. Madsen talks a good brand-value game. But he concludes his interview this way: Everyone can talk about having value and do what’s right or wrong when times are growing, but when things are tough, that’s when your values are put to the test.

I won’t be testing The Capital Grille’s values even with my “$50 gift certificate” promo – the menu’s still too pricey. Barbara has coupons for Red Lobster instead.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

“Jesus is the Sticker on the Bumper of My Soul” Gets Real Lyrics.*

When your engine’s barely pulling
And the ride is kinda rough,
When your life is really feeling
Like it might be getting tough.

There’s a fine hands-on solution
Sure to ease the way you go:
Let the Lord be your mechanic!
He’s your all-time maintenance pro.

Well now Jesus is the sticker on the bumper of my soul.
He’s my whole trip’s ambition, the sum total of my goal.
And I’m getting better mileage from every tank of fuel
‘Cause my chassis’s free of evil and I know that I’m no fool.

Your lower tailgate panel
Could be dragging in the dirt.
You might find that some corrosion’s
Eaten out the engine skirt.

And that fender’s gotten dented
From your sinning, straying ways.
It is time you drove your spirit
To the good Lord’s service bays.

Well now Jesus is the sticker on the bumper of my soul.
He’s my whole trip’s ambition, the sum total of my goal.
And I’m getting better mileage from every tank of fuel
‘Cause my chassis’s free of evil and I know that I’m no fool.

Oh yes Jesus is the sticker on the bumper of my soul.
His Gospel is my owner’s guide, his Book my holy scroll.
He has polished out the wrinkles so it’s mighty clear to see
That I’m driving straight to glory, that my trip is heavenly.

*The song title was one of several created by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett for their novel Good Omens, published originally in 1990 and later updated. So the title is their property. However, these lyrics are ©2009, Richard Laurence Baron.

**Of the hundreds of related bumper stickers on the Web, I picked the
one above because I’m tickled by the two-sentiment combo. Don’t get excited – it’s just a blog illustration.