Posts Tagged 'Branding'

Fuck The Recession

Morgans Hotel Group just launched a rallying cry for the hip and cool: “Fuck the Recession!”

It definitely isn’t your typical campaign. After all, how many high-end brands would have the guts to launch a guerrilla campaign that has a big bold FUCK at its center, especially amidst what economists are calling the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, when everyone is afraid to bet on anything but the safest communication’s strategies?

Not many, to be sure. So let’s right now salute the Morgans’ marketing team and The Ito Partnership for the big pair of balls they’ve just shown. But have they also shown sound judgement?

By shouting out loud what everybody’s saying privately, Morgans is bound to generate a lot of approval from the public. You really don’t have to do much market research to get the point that people are fed up with crisis-talk, and want a break from it. So “fuck the recession” is a tagline guaranteed to get enthusiastic cheers everywhere, from Wall Street boardrooms to construction sites.

However, “fuck the recession” is not all that Morgans is saying. After that enraged cry, comes the invitation to forget that your carefully crafted stock portfolio is now worthless, or that you left your workplace last week holding a card box, and just dive head first into a extravaganza of hedonistic excess.

In Morgans dimension, there is no crisis. Just like Twilight Zone, Morgans presents an alternate reality, where everything looks exactly like in the real world, except when you see a guy with an eye on his forehead passing by. In here, there’s no place for such a distasteful thing as a “crisis”, and even the dreaded word “recession” assumes a whole new meaning, being transformed into “recessison”, as in recess-is-on. Bottom line? It’s not time to complain, it’s time to play.

Of course playing doesn’t come free. If you’re planning a weekend in New York, and want to stay at the Morgans Hotel in Madison Avenue, be prepared to fork out around $800 for your two-day stay. And that’s for the cheapest room. So that’s the kind of ticket price we’re talking about for Morgans’ glamorous recess, where the crisis becomes a distant memory.

Aware that, at a time when auto execs are being publicly lambasted for having the audacity to travel to a Congressional hearing on their private jets, such displays of guiltless splurging might generate a strong backlash, Morgans tried to address the issue by getting so-called “ordinary people” to approve the “fuck the recession” message. Which, of course, didn’t prove to be hard.

However, this “average Joe” endorsement doesn’t add any value to the brand story. On the contrary, it adds a dissonant element that makes it look dangerously inauthentic. What, after all, are these people doing in that plot? Can you fit them in the hedonistic atmosphere that Morgans is inviting you to experience? No, of course you can’t.

The average Joe may be saying “fuck the recession” like the Wall Street executive, but he sure isn’t able to forget about it on Morgans’ recess. No, he’ll be too concerned with the mortgage for that. And he is bound to resent those who can just leave those worries at the cloakroom with their jackets. So it would be better for Morgans to have left it out of the picture altogether.

After all, Morgans isn’t exactly catering for the average Joe, is it? So the real question is if this 80’s-oh-so-80’s rallying cry of “Fuck the crisis, we want to party” will work when we’re already verging on the second decade of the 21st century.

Shouldn’t we all be more socially responsible and environmentally aware by now? Shouldn’t we be now behaving more like grown-ups that face problems head-on, and less like eternal teenagers that obliterate them in blaze of self-indulging hedonism?

Yes, maybe we should. But are we? I mean, really?


How Not To Fall In Love With Warsaw

Warsaw uses a Salsa dancer to promote itself as a city full of Latin American charm. Is Warsaw derailing its brand image irreversibly?

If you owned an Italian restaurant, would you give out pamphlets saying that you make great Indian food? Imagine the following example: “Come to La Gondola: where you can enjoy the best Chicken Tikka Masala in town”. Seems somewhat… lunatic, does it not?

It doesn’t take much thought to understand why this is a bad bet. If you were looking for a place to eat, you’d go to an Italian restaurant if you were craving for some good pasta, or to an Indian restaurant if you were in the mood for something more spicy. But why on Earth would you go to an Italian restaurant to eat Indian food, when the real thing is just around the corner?

Obvious as this may seem, we’re baffled to find out that this isn’t plain to all. There’s people that seem to think that it’s much better to masquerade yourself as something else, rather than relying on your true strengths. Authenticity be damned, bring out the Carnival!

It’s this innovative view that produced this ad, where we meet Cris De La Pena, a Latin dance choreographer, that has danced “from Chile to New York” until finally arriving in Warsaw. Amid plenty of Salsa footage, Cris tells us that what he loves living in Warsaw, where he found “amazing opportunities, like, people”. In the end, a voice-over informs us that “Latin America and Poland have more in common than you think.”

The video closes with a Miró-like drawing (reminiscent of the one used in Spanish Tourism campaigns) with the tag “fall in love with Warsaw”. But how exactly could we “fall in love with Warsaw” if we’re being introduced not to the Polish city, but rather to a sort of Cuban resort in Eastern Europe? Even the logo points to Spain.

This video presents us not with reasons to travel to Eastern Europe, but rather to the Caribbean. From this ad, the only thing that would make us want to go to Warsaw rather than to Havana is that, from Europe – the campaign is aimed at the European market – it’s much closer, and cheaper. But is this really how Warsaw wants to position itself, as a sort of discount version of a Caribbean resort?

Las Vegas, for instance, relies on this positioning, offering Venetian canals and several mock European monuments to Americans unable or unwilling to go for the real thing. In Authenticity – What Consumers Really Want, the authors tell the story of an American woman who, upon the Grand Canal in Venice – that’s Venice, Italy -, found herself extremely disappointed, as she though the one in The Venetian hotel – in Las Vegas – was much better than the real thing.

But the thing is that Las Vegas is not so much a city, but rather a sort of livable amusement park for adults, at least since Bugsy Siegel built the Flamingo 60 years ago. So it’s OK for Vegas to position itself in this sort of Fake-Real way.

Warsaw, by contrast, has been evolving for more than 700 years. Ever since Napoleon invaded Russia (and even before), every major European conflict for the past 200 years has left its mark here. It was the home of Chopin. And, more recently, it played a crucial part in Cold War era politics. Does it really need a Salsa dancer to talk about it’s “passion”?
The good news for Warsaw is that this unfortunate campaign just ended two days ago. The bad news is that the people behind it may very well think it has proven a success, and come back for more of this terribly misguided positioning.

Veni, Vidi, Vici – The Success Of Brand Obama


Branding and decision-making laws played a decisive part in Obama’s historic victory. Obama’s powerful and coherent narrative vanquished McCain’s flimsy and shaky one, paving the way for the ongoing Liberal Revolution.

In 1961, Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy predicted that in 40 years a black man could become President of the United States. It took a little longer, but RFK prediction just came true. Barack Obama is the new President of the United States.

So, how did he do it? How did he manage to, in just two years, go from virtually unknown junior Senator from Illinois to President-elect at the helm of a new Liberal Revolution, backed by strong majorities both in the House and in the Senate?

First of all, he had momentum going for him. After two mandates of George W. Bush, a lot of resentment had been generated, and that boiled to a point where a strong dynamic for change was created. Obama was the right man at the right time to ride that wave to the Oval Office.

But he didn’t just stood there like the anointed one, waiting for the inevitable to happen. Obama built a strong narrative that was crucial to stir passions and keep that wave rolling and growing. As Seth Godin points out on his latest post, “the story is what people respond to”. And Obama’s had one of the finest in living political memory.

Obama seems to have learned from Kerry’s mistakes in 2004 and understood that having strong arguments isn’t enough. Either you use them as building blocks to assemble a powerful narrative, or you can just forget it. Of course that stronger bricks build stronger houses – but, in the end, is the house that people buy, not the materials.

Obama’s story worked wonderfully because it was built upon a clear-cut positioning. In everyone’s minds, Obama was the candidate for change. Those who supported him believed this change would be for the better, while those who were against him feared that he would change things for the worse. But no one disputed that Obama stood for “change”.

Owning the “change” category in a time that begged for it proved an insurmountable advantage, one that managed to deflate potential shortcomings like inexperience and, yes, race.

One of the strongest sub-plots of Obama’s narrative was that he managed to assert himself as a post-racial candidate. Rather than being seen as a “black candidate”, he was perceived as a “candidate that was black”. It may seem like a tiny nuance, but it makes a world of difference.

That, however, was only made possible because the top-of-mind category was already occupied with “change”, pushing “black” to the lower echelons. America’s racial issues didn’t disappear overnight, they were just bypassed by a shrewd use of decision-making laws. People didn’t elect a black candidate – they were just too busy looking the other way to pay much attention to the fact that the candidate they were electing was black.

Of course that Obama’s stately figure, with his low-tone commanding voice and perfectly-pitched speech, helped a great deal. But had it not been for his flawless positioning, and all those arresting qualities may have not sufficed.

Having laid the terrain for his story to grow, Obama took great care to trim it cautiously, never loosing sight of the master plan. The result was a rock solid narrative, from which all the inconsistencies had been carefully extirpated. Obama wasn’t denouncing the big sharks on Main Street just to be seen gleefully swimming with them on Wall Street. His speech was the same everywhere, his manners equally stately and respectful, among white and blue-collar workers alike. It suffices to see his response to the soon-to-be-forgotten Joe the Plumber to see what I’m talking about.

Again, the reactions to his speeches were opposite – those who supported him saw them as inspiring, while those who were against him decried them as nothing but a rhetorical void. But everyone basically agreed that  – hopeful or empty as you may see it – his narrative was pretty much the same everywhere.

One could point out that only a fresh player like Obama could reach for this degree of message consistency. Well, it’s true that seasoned political players like Hillary or McCain have a harder time maintaining consistency, if only because of the amount of speeches they’ve been letting out over the years. But it wasn’t inconsistencies regarding their positions 5 or 10 years ago that sank their narratives. No, their record over the campaign trail proved more than enough for that.

Although impressive, Obama’s consistency wasn’t totally foolproof. In September, I wrote here about the dangers that the passage of the off-shore drilling bill posed in terms of puncturing the consistency in the Democratic message. Has I pointed out then, more than the substance of back-tracking (which was little) it was the appearance of back-tracking (which was huge) that should have scared the Democratic leadership into not doing it at the time.

This, however, was poorly explored by the opposite camp – after all, it’s hard to punch holes in the other’s boat when we’re hard at work making them on our own – and the economic crisis soon eclipsed the issue altogether.

Obama held another trump to help him overcome this glitches, and that was his authenticity.

Not only was he saying that he was the candidate for change, he was also perceived to be authentic in this claim. This was key in coating Obama with that rock-star glow that made hundreds of thousands flock to see him. He was different, and he was the real thing. Bono knew what he was talking about when he made that song.

Finally, there was another powerful quality to Obama’s narrative, and that was that it was hopeful. No matter what the issue or how grim the assessment that Obama made of it, he always managed to offer a glimmer of hope, to somehow make people feel they could, and would, turn things around.

That was crucial in involving the audience in his narrative. People need to feel that things are not going well for them to want to change, but they also need to feel that the situation isn’t hopeless, or else they’ll turn apathetic.

Obama managed to strike that elusive balance perfectly. While the “change” tagline addressed the need for renewal, the “Yes we can” slogan provided the much-needed call to action, at the same time encapsulating beautifully the mythic American “can-do attitude”. Maybe he could have done even better in strategic terms. But I really can’t see how.

In the end, the man with the best story won. Given its tremendous qualities, it’s no wonder.

Obama, Bond in a BMW. McCain, Jack Bauer in a Ford.

If Obama was a car brand, what would it be? According to a just released survey, he would be a posh BMW. John McCain, on the other hand, would have to conform with the more blue-collar – but extremely “real American” – Ford.

No wonder, then, that Obama would be driving that BMW as the übercool James Bond, while McCain would be thrusting away in a Ford pick-up as the red-blooded Jack Bauer. Well, at least that’s what respondents to the just released 2008 Presidential ImagePower survey say.

With voters striving to survive the barrage of polls and surveys thrown at them 24/7 by every media outlet, branding guru Landor and market research firm Penn, Schoen & Berland found a clever way to still get some of that ever-shortening attention span.

Forget all those dull questions like “who do you see as more trustful” or “which candidate do you regard as more reliable on the economy”. Right, like any of that really mattered. At the end of the day, people will vote for the candidate they like the most, and they choose it based on the narrative he has attached. The rest is just pointless babble.

In this consumerism-plagued world, what better way would there be to gauge the narrative attached to each candidate than to find out what brands people identify them with? So, in a repeat of the exercise premiered in 2004, the Presidential ImagePower survey now pitched Obama, McCain, Palin and Biden against a set of brands, in 15 categories, to see how people perceive them.

In most categories, the brands selected for each candidate reflect the common perceptions about both men. When asked to name some attributes for the candidates, people characterized the Democratic nominee as charming, approachable, compassionate, intelligent and unifying, while his GOP opponent was seen as strong, reliable and respected.

So, while Obama is a Google, McCain is a AOL. Where McCain is a Wall-Mart, Obama is a Target. There are also some similarities, with both candidates being identified with the game-changing Ipod, as well as with Starbucks and MySpace. Each of this brands is seen as transformative, and this is how both Obama and McCain are perceived. One being the eternal Republican maverick and the other the first black candidate to the presidency, there’s no great jolts there.

There are, however, some startling surprises. In almost half of the categories (7 out of 15), respondents attributed the same brands to Obama and… Sarah Palin! They are, for instance, both identified with Google and People Magazine. Will Palin be shocked to find herself in such, uh, “un-American” company?

The similarities are even more pronounced between McCain and the Democratic candidate to the vice-presidency, Joe Biden. They share brands in 12 of the 15 categories.

In a presidential race that is all about change, both tickets have strived to stake a claim to the concept. As Scott Siff, exec VP at Penn, Schoen & Berland explains, “this similarity in the candidates’ brand strategies also indicates that whichever candidate best achieves the positioning they are both trying to claim may well be the winner on November 4”.

According to branding laws, this should spell victory for Obama. The Democratic candidate, having been the first to position himself over the “change” axis, shall have the top-of-mind advantage – something very hard to beat.

However, before we start chanting “President Obama”, it must be pointed out that the 2008 results mirror the 2004 survey in identifying the Republican candidate with mass-market brands, whilst the Democrat is identified with premium ones. And we all know how that election turned out.

So, what to make of this? Will the top-of-mind rule award victory to the Democratic well-constructed narrative of change? Or will Palin’s “real America” come out on top at the end, and again push the red-blooded, down-to-earth guy all the way to the White House?

Israel Tries To Rebrand Itself

When you think of Israel, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? War? Terrorism? Bombs? Unless you just returned from a seminar at Tel Aviv University, I guess you wouldn’t say things like “science development” or “buzzing cultural life”.

But that’s precisely the kind of things that the Israeli government wants you to think about. So they recently engaged the services of Acanchi, a British firm specializing in nation branding, to conduct a major overhaul of brand Israel.

The rebranding passes for an effort to steer people away from all the negative perceptions associated with the Arab-Israeli conflict and getting them to develop a more positive image of the country, associated with its cultural heritage and scientific achievements.

This will be a truly titanic task. In 2006, the Anholt Brand Index found Israel ranking last across all categories. OK, the inquiry for the report was conducted right after the Lebanon War, which saw Israel’s image sink like a ton of lead all over the world. But the latest available data shows a consistently low image of the country among the general population, even in friendly countries like the US.

The Israeli government conducted its own research, and came to similar findings. Ido Aharoni, Israel’s assistant foreign minister responsible for the brand management unit inside the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, recently told Haaretz that “Israel’s brand is essentially the conflict”, with people seeing it as a “supplier of bad news”. As a result, even people (like most Americans) who are firmly on the Israeli side of the fence are not attracted to the country.

These findings dawned on the Israeli officials that a change of tactics was urgently needed. For years, a debate had been raging inside the Israeli Foreign Office over the best way to tackle negative perceptions of the country, tied with the Arab-Israeli conflict, and especially Palestine.

There were two main options: a) argue Israel’s point of view, portraying it as being “right”; and b) divert public opinion away from the conflict and into other more palatable areas, thus portraying it as “attractive”. Ido Aharoni came to the conclusion that “it is more important for Israel to be attractive than to be right.”

So, off with the old talk about “palestinian terrorists” and “justifiable military action” that peppered every official statement and press-release and, unwittingly or not, became the cornerstone of Israel’s brand image; on with softer talk of science and culture that, if all goes according to plan, will displace war scenes as the top-of-mind images whenever Israel is mentioned.

Having reached 60, Israel is preparing to shed its rhetorical body armor, replacing it with more appealing garments. Whether this will conflict with Israel’s internal image is what remains to be seen.

Acanchi believes that a nation’s brand “is always rooted in the reality and essence of the place”; Fiona Gilmore, Acanchi’s founder and director, argues that “if a brand is changed or built only on the surface and it’s not supported by deeper changes and values within a country, city or region, it will not engage people.”

So, the real question now is: has the Arab-Israeli conflict become an indelible part of Israel’s identity? Acanchi prepares to find out.

Top 100 Global Brands Hemorrhage $67B in Value – Advertising Age – News

NEW YORK — The flailing economy has drained $67 billion in value from the top 100 global brands — even before the investment-bank crisis last week.

So says Brand Finance, a London-based brand-valuation consultancy. The company released its Brand Finance Global 500 in March but was compelled to update it in late summer due to an economy roiled by consumer uncertainty, rising commodity prices, a credit crunch, rising unemployment and a shaky stock market.

David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, said a number of brands have shifted as consumer priorities readjust. Discounter Wal-Mart edged Coca-Cola out of the top slot as the highest-valued brand, and Vodafone replaced financial marketer Citi in the top 10. Oil and gas brands, as well as health-care brands, saw increases in brand value, while financial-services brands generally saw decreases. In total, brand value for the top 100 brands has declined 4.2%, or $67 billion, between January and September.

Top 100 Global Brands Hemorrhage $67B in Value – Advertising Age – News

Microsoft surrenders to Apple

After a mere two weeks, and under a barrage of jocose abuse on the blogosphere, Microsoft decided it was time to give viewers a rest and pulled the plug on its Seinfeld “about nothing” ads.

The communication blitz, however, hasn’t ended. To replace the dreadful “Bill&Jerry” ads, Microsoft just put forward two new “I’m a PC” ads.

The ads build heavily on the famous “I’m a Mac” campaign from Apple, with Microsoft going as far as actually recruiting a John Hodgman look-alike.

We are told that the guy is one of Microsoft engineers. What remains unknown is if he was already like that in real life, or if Gates installed a codec to turn him into a caricature of a PC user. Or maybe he just got a bug from his Vista upgrade.

David Webster, general manager for brand marketing at Microsoft, candidly admitted to the New York Times that Apple had succeeded in making “a caricature out of the PC”.

After playing dead for the past months, Microsoft now decided it was time to counter-attack and “take back the narrative”.

It’s baffling, to say the least, that Microsoft chooses to repossess its own story by mimicking (and therefore paying tribute to) Apple’s communication.

This, however, doesn’t seem to concern Microsoft managers, with Mr. Webster describing the glaring references to Apple’s communication as a “smart way of changing the dialogue without taking them through the mud”.

He’s absolutely right in that respect. This ads don’t take Apple through the mud. They’re already too busy dragging Microsoft.

In the Bill&Jerry ads, Microsoft made a mockery out of itself by either presenting itself as a discount or a dislocated brand – not exactly the most prized slots in the consumer’s mind.

Now, in a truly perplexing move, it chooses to acknowledge the success of Apple’s communication in pushing Microsoft into the “uncool” corner – it even has one of the characters in the ad saying “I’m a PC and I’m not what you call hip” to underscore the feeling.

Instead of making and upholding its own claim, it chooses to deviate resources and, most important, consumer’s attention into countering Apple’s, thus waging war in a place chosen by the enemy, and where he is already well entrenched – a poor choice by all accounts.

This kind of guerrilla tactic has its value if you are, well, a guerrilla – small and mobile, and looking to sting rather than to crush.

That is not, however, the case of Microsoft, a true behemoth and the third most valuable brand in the world, according to the just released Interbrand index.

Microsoft is a giant, which means that it’s easier for it to fall on it’s own accord than for others to make it fall. It should acknowledge that and not try to move like a dwarf.

In Kagesmusha, a film by Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa, Lord Shingen Takeda emphatically warns its heirs that they should never move the full force of the army out of their domains, for it would leave it exposed. “The mountain does not move”, he kept repeating.

It’s warnings, however, fall in deaf ears. His successor, longing for battle, mobilizes the entire army to attack a smaller neighbor, which in the end brings about the demise of the entire clan.

Now Microsoft just moved the mountain. Will it fall?

July 2019
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