.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;} Making Sense: e-Digest of Brand Thinking

Monday, May 30, 2005

Billboards: Altering the space-time continuum

What do a seedy motel room and billboard space have in common? Both can be rented by the hour--all thanks to the wonders of digital technology. Dynamic digital displays are breathing new life into the outdoor industry, creating new revenue streams for a marketing sector beset by sluggish growth.

New LED (Light Emitting Diode) screens are enabling outdoor companies to change their messages with the push of a button and sell to multiple advertisers on a same day. Kind of like the old hotdog on a chain routine.

Clear Channel Outdoor
has launched a pilot project, placing seven large ProStar(R) full-color light emitting diode displays in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.

"The technology offers the capability for the clients of Clear Channel Outdoor to quickly create and display messages and graphics on the electronic billboards, allowing advertisers to better target their content to the audience at a particular location or certain time of day. Digital billboards also increase the available inventory of advertising space, by allowing multiple advertisers to share time on a single display."

"We're moving from selling space to selling time," says Michael Hudes, executive VP for Corporate Development at Clear Channel Outdoor.

Coca-Cola claims the largest curved LED display in the world. Built by Streetvision, Coke's Flagship display lords over the other digital screens in Piccadilly Circus in London, Great Britain. The installation comprises more than 800 thousand pixels and its specially designed panels achieve a completely smooth curve without color distortion. It changes its message based on external input, such as weather conditions or people waving at it.

The latest technology on the market is digital ink. It can be programmed to change color, yet consumes no energy.

Digital billboards, like their printed or painted counterparts, are not immune to graffiti artists. Or hackers. Someone hacked into the New York subway computer system and switched one of the electronic signs at the W. 4th Street station to read PRETTY GIRLS DON’T RIDE THE SUBWAY.

As you might imagine, power failures are like Kryptonite to digital displays. Click here for Times Square during the 2003 New York City Blackout.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Open season on Wendy's

This is old news, but Wendy's is off the hook chili-wise. They discovered that the severed finger found in their chili was put there by the same women who reported finding it there in the first place. The undeserved bad press from that incident combined with some branding and marketing issues is creating an uphill challenge for Wendy's marketing department.

In an article in today's BRANDWEEK, Wendy's CMO Ian Rowden characterized Wendy's current situation as a "perfect storm" that has descended upon the brand, stressing that "we face some challenging times." (Okay, it's time to stop using a "perfect storm.")

"During a press conference on Thursday, May 19 at ad agency McCann Erickson's New York headquarters, Rowden candidly described the damage the now infamous finger hoax, its competitors' successful turnaround efforts and the lack of a cohesive ad campaign have done to the once-darling of the fast food industry. 'The offerings consumers faced in our world have changed a lot and choices they have changed a lot,' Rowden said. 'Our competitors quite simply got better at what they do, and Wendy's has been in a period of transition, particularly from an advertising perspective. We have been somewhat out of the dialogue over time, and it's time for us to take some fairly decisive action on a number of fronts.'

What he's really talking about here is reconnecting with the customer, something that founder Dave Thomas did very well. Today, Wendy's marketing plan looks like a potpourri of initiatives. They seem to be casting about for the right something that works. Personally, I was never that excited about Wendy's hamburgers -- the grayish color in their cooked hamburger patty made it look boiled.

Overstating the obvious department: Eric Dezenhall, principal with Dezenhall Resources, a marketing firm that advises major corporations on crisis strategy, said in The New York Times, that Wendy's future marketing strategy should one "that does not involve getting more attention for that finger."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Can Ad Agencies Really Change Their Spots?

According to Stuart Elliot in the New York Times, GE wants more from their ad agency than conventional :30 spots. That request hit their ad agency, BBDO, a little below the belt.

Despite the internet and the creative opportunities it presents, most ad agencies still feel comfortable only thinking in 30-second increments. But BBDO was up to the challenge. Its solution was to create an online "seed" that sprouts and can be emailed to others. I'm sorry, but I can't see that getting investors excited.

By the way, to accomplish this great advertising feat, BBDO didn't really change their thinking. They just replaced their most senior creative leader with the guy who created the online BMW Films.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Freakonomics: Taking Economics Where It's Never Gone Before

If you haven't heard the term before, Freakonomics is economics and social science put in a Cuisinart. It's also the title of a best-selling book by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dunbar. Dubbed "rouge" economists, Levitt and Dunbar ask and answer a variety of weighty questions, including "Do Sumo wrestlers cheat? Which is a whiter name for a girl, Molly or Holly? And what do crack gangs and McDonald's restaurants have in common?" Piqued your interest? You can order the book from their site.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Greek Feta -- the genuine brand

When you order a Greek salad, you expect it to be made with genuine Greek Feta cheese. That's what the European Union Commission concluded after surveying 12,800 Europeans. Even so, of the approximately 200,000 tons of Feta cheese produced each year in Europe, only 80,000 comes from Greece. The rest is produced in Denmark, Germany and France So what's the difference? According to traditional Greek recipes, Feta is made from sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep and goats’ milk. That's what gives it its tangy taste and characteristic texture. But in Germany, Denmark and the other EU countries, cows’ milk is used almost exclusively.

That has prompted the European Union to register Feta cheese as Protected Designation of Origin (P.O.D.)
-- associating the Greek character of Feta with Greece alone.
It's a great move for Greece. Not so great for Germany and Denmark. They say Feta should be a designation of type, but not of origin. The EU didn't agree with them.

However, that doesn't stop you from ordering a Greek salad with imitation Danish Feta cheese, if you are so inclined.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Talk about talking to yourself...

On the way to Longhorn Steakhouse last evening we passed by a SunTrust Bank (one of the largest commercial banks in the country). Lo and behold, they had replaced their old sign with one of the ugliest signs I have ever seen on a
bank. This on a street that had Wachovia's and Bank of America's stylish identities in close proximity.

They kept their current SunTrust identity but added a stylized sun above it. Actually, it looks more like a feather bonnet than a sun. A quick trip to SunTrust's Web site straightened me out. According to them, they've introduced an exciting new corporate logo whose "energy and warmth will be reflected on building signs, advertising, and the SunTrust Web site."

Here's where things get comical. Along with the new identity comes a new positioning line: "Seeing beyond money.SM". The rationale here is that SunTrust looks beyond transactions, products, and services to understand what the customer needs. (There's an original thought.) Anyway, "Seeing beyond money.SM" is SunTrust's way of helping customers succeed. A free toaster might be more effective.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

You won't catch Hyundai owners driving naked

This in from CNN/Money: According to online auto news source Inside Line, a surprising number of Hyundai customers said they didn't want Sirius Satellite Radio installed in their vehicles. Why? Because they objected to so called "Shock Jock" Howard Stern, who will begin broadcasting on Sirius in 2006.

Hyundai knows all of this because they surveyed about 400 customers and asked whether they preferred XM or Sirius satellite radio in their cars. Overwhelmingly, they chose XM. And so did Hyundai. The automaker plans to roll out a fall program that offers 90 days of free XM satellite radio programming with its new models, starting with the Santa Fe SUV, and the Sonata and Azera sedans, according to Edmunds.com

Okay, I know what you're thinking. And this excerpt from
The CHUD.COM Message Boards,sums it up nicely:

"They do realize that the radio will come with a channel changer, don't they?I
only ask because it seems that a lot of people don't understand that a large
number of radios and televisions come with channel changers. I mean, as standard
equipment. You don't even have to pay extra for one."

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Polaroid jeans, anyone?

Well, the merger between Peters Group and Polaroid is a done deal. I put in the quote from Thomas Peters below only because it sounds so ridiculously corporate. It almost doesn't make sense. Why do companies talk that way in press releases?

Polaroid Merger

The big deal here is the Polaroid brand. That's what Peters shelled out $426 million for. Look for it to be used on more than just electronics -- why you might be able to buy Polaroid cookware one day. Imagine.

Thomas J. Petters, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Petters Group Worldwide, said, "The Polaroid acquisition marks a significant milestone in the strategic plan for Petters Group Worldwide. Petters and Polaroid together make an extraordinary team that will propel us through our next phase of growth. We are now well prepared to meet the emerging needs of our customers in a converging world of consumer electronics, digital imaging and photography. Our ability to rapidly develop and deploy innovative consumer electronics and digital imaging products coupled with Polaroid's respected brand, promising technology and dedicated employees position us well to meet
the challenges of the future."

As a side note, this merger wiped out the pension plans of Polaroid employees, but top executives made out like bandits. Read about it here:

The Branding of Polaroid, 1957 - 1977

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Branding: a Cynic's View

I wish this article, A Walking Dream by David Thompson, wasn't so damn true. Though I have to admit, I've been caught up in that branding babble myself. From personal experience, I can tell you that nobody babbles better than The Coca-Cola Company. (What a coincidence, they're a soda pop company, too.) Here's an excerpt:

"The archetypal prose of the branding guru manages to be both simplistic and
opaque, is relentlessly optimistic, and littered with tendentious assertions. In
keeping with branding’s preoccupation with facile slogans and imposing surfaces,
intellectual clarity is habitually conflated with portentous incoherence. The
success of this semantic manoeuvre suggests that many corporate clients are
unable to distinguish between the two. Apparently, the more difficult a maxim is
to comprehend, the more meaningful it is deemed to be. (Aquaveta, ‘sub-branded’
as ‘nutrient enhanced water’ was announced thus: ‘A refreshingly new and
innovative functional near-water product for Cadbury Schweppes with the
fashion-conscious female in mind.’)"

Will companies ever stop talking to themselves?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


I finally braved HTML to add some links. Some are funny, some are serious -- sort of like life.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Retail brands evolving?

A story in Adweek.com caught my eye today. It was about retailers looking to build up their brands.

'"Retailers in general are taking a bigger view of
marketing than they have in the past, when they were very merchandising and
merchant-driven," said Steven Feuling, chief marketing officer for Publicis
Groupe's Starcom in Chicago and a former svp of marketing for Kmart. "What
you're seeing is the evolution of the category."'

I don't think so. Retailers will always think like retailers -- it's their nature. Besides, it's up to the consumer to define the shopping experience, not the shop owner. It's the old carriage and horse thing updated for the twenty-first century.

Read the article and see what you think.

Retail Grows Up, Looks to Build Image

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Hey, is that a cocktail you're drinking?

Things aren't looking too rosy for the beer industry.
According to this article in AdAge.com entitled
U.S. Beer Business Continues Decline, beer sales accounted
for 53.2% of the alcohol beverage market in 2004,
down from 56% in 1999. This according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.
The spirits segment, however, grew to $15.1 billion in 2004, or 31.3% of the market, up from 28.2% five years earlier.

So, who will save beer? Some say women will. An article on realbeer.com,
Women boost beer sales, quotes findings from market analyst Datamonitor in London stating that female drinkers, attracted by "light" choices, now account for 30% of the market.

The British pub group has launched a one-million pound beer campaign, called
Beautiful Beer The promotion, aimed at women, includes smaller and more "feminine" glasses.

Going after women drinkers is smart, but I think brewers are missing a big opportunity to do some sensory branding. Every can or bottle of beer sounds the same when you open it. But it doesn't have to be that way. Think what the branding implications would be if Heineken could create a unique sound when their beer was opened. It could even be something musical. I'm not alone on this; check out
Beer Sounds

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The ugly baby blues

This post doesn't have much to do with branding other than demonstrating how visual cues influence behavior.

According to an article in the New York Times, Canadian researchers have made a startling assertion: parents take better care of pretty children than they do ugly ones.

When it came to buckling up, pretty and ugly children were treated in starkly different ways, with seat belt use increasing in direct proportion to attractiveness. When a woman was in charge, 4 percent of the homeliest children were strapped in compared with 13.3 percent of the most attractive children. The difference was even more acute when fathers led the shopping expedition - in those cases, none of the least attractive children were secured with seat belts, while 12.5 percent of the prettiest children were.

Read the compete article at:
The New York Times > Health > Ugly Children May Get Parental Short Shrift

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Sensory Branding -- What's That Smell?

Automobile manufacturers spend millions of dollars developing the sensory side to their brand. That includes an aerosol spray of "new car scent" and doors that have a distinctive sound when closed. I learned this from Brand Sense by Martin Lindstrom, which his publicist recently sent me. The book is based on Millward Brown's 5! Senses Study. http://www.millwardbrown.com/BRANDsense/research/chartSnsInteract.asp/

Lindstrom makes a case for "smashing" your brand and rebuilding it to engage your audience on all five sensory levels. But few companies are that enlightened. I got the sense that some of the examples in the book were of companies that practiced sensory branding, but didn't really know they were.

The book is a fast and interesting read. It does help you see brands from a new point of view. For example, the lodging industry is betting on "touch." Sheraton has introduced exclusive beds and bedclothes and Holiday Inn Express has shower heads that will make you smarter.

For more info on Brand Sense, click here:

Monday, May 02, 2005

FCUK Fashion -- What a difference a name makes

Tired of being just another bottom feeder for the teen apparel market in the U.K., The French Connection took a bold stand. They changed their brand name to
FCUK. The inspiration for that change (so the story goes) was a fax sent from their newly opened French Connection office in Hong Kong that read "From FCHK to FCUK." The rest is branding history. No longer just a jeans maker, today, FCUK has evolved into a successful global lifestyle brand, selling everything from apparel and fragrances to house wares and eyeglass frames.
While we are on the subject, I should mention there's a little town in Austria named FU*KING. They are having a chronic problem with British and American tourists stealing their signs.
Click here to see an uncensored town sign in context

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Well, here goes nothing...

Despite the loftiness of the description above, you'll find Making Sense is pretty down to earth. If I can figure out how to work the image thing, I'll replace it with the official masthead.

Before it was turned into a blog, Making Sense was an e-digest that I wrote and emailed out about once every two months. Each issue was on a specific area of branding, and exposed the good and bad of what was out there. You can read past issues on line at

So why did I switch to Blogger? I was getting creamed out there by spam blockers, virus stoppers and text-only browsers. Opt in - opt out, who could keep up? People were beginning to blame my email for all their woes in life. I figured email newsletters were a dying breed.

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