McDonald’s and Burger King: Brand War or Duopoly?

I grew up with perhaps the most intense brand war of all-time. This was epitomized in the famous taste-tests between Coke and Pepsi. Both colas were nearly 100 years old when the Pepsi Challenge was launched in 1975. Most consumers favoured the flavour of Pepsi. This war has raged since and has not only been fought on product differentiation but through endorsement marketing, global advertising, and sports and entertainment sponsorship. 

Another war was fought between adidas and PUMA. I call adidas the winner in this brawl. It was very much a Cain and Abel story, given the two brands resulted from the split between siblings in the Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Company. Now global brands, when the defining battles took place, this sneaker war was primarily in the European theater. The fight continued until the brother’s passing’s, “even in death the two brothers couldn’t stand each other as they were buried at opposite ends of the cemetery from one another.”[1]

Do you remember the Console Wars? Nintendo, who once controlled almost 90% of the gaming industry, doth did battle with Sega. This was to be a case of Mortal Kombat (all pun intended). The treasure at the end of this big game was a US$60 billion-dollar industry. Each company pumped out new hardware and accessories that supported ever more complex games. Analysts conclude Nintendo won due to Sega’s techy missteps. Market share and revenue certainly bears this out.

Apple has been a battler. It took on Samsung over cellphones. Legal battles on patents and infringements raged. Billions were spent on legal fees and settlements were similarly large. That is no surprise given the market at stake. And, let’s not forget, the famous Apple versus Microsoft computer fisticuffs that was dramatized in a series of ads. Metaphorically, two actors showed the differences between the two brands, one was staid and nerdy and the other relaxed and hip.

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Benetton’s Confusing Legacy of Brand Activism

I grew up preppy. A Canadian kind of preppy. Often Ralph Lauren polos were out of reach both due to cost and supply. This was the 1980’s. When an outlet store of Ralph’s opened in my neighborhood of Tuxedo in Winnipeg, I was a frequent browser. More affordable were Roots and Beaver Canoe brands (you have to be Canadian to fully understand). My friends and I lived in either brand’s sweatpants which were considered preppy. I wore out Ellesse knock-off polos that my father came back with from a trip to Asia.

One very influential brand while growing up was Benetton. Founded in the year of my birth, 1965, it still numbers 5,000 stores worldwide. I say, “still”, because it is amazing it is still relevant given its marketing tone and very real controversies. Benetton was once iconic, gaining huge recognition in the 1980’s and 1990’s but has since struggled. In 2000, it ranked 75th in Interbrand’s ranking of best global brands but by 2002, it had dropped out of the list (I was Chief Marketing Officer at Interbrand at the time).

In 2017, the company posted a loss of €180 million. Luciano Benetton, who was then 83 years old, came out of retirement, returning as Executive Chairman. Revival efforts also included appointing Jean-Charles de Castelbajac as artistic director and re-appointing photographer Oliviero Toscani to regain some of the old glory. But was it glory or gory?

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The Story of Three 1970’s Posters: Tennis Girl; Hang in There, Baby; and Farrah

Why, oh why, should I write about this, you ask? Well, because, they all hung in my family’s summer cottage. So, let’s find out how they came to be and the legacy they leave.

Remember the Tennis Girl Poster? A very cheeky one, indeed. What throws many off is it is British. Most assume American origins. It shows an attractive woman from behind (hint, hint) walking towards a tennis court net. In her right hand is a (wooden) racquet. Her left hand reaches behind for some unknown reason lifting a short, white tennis dress. The movement exposes most of her back side.

The poster became incredibly popular and was shrouded in a bit of, “who was she?”

According to accepted sources, the photograph was taken by then-30-year-old Martin Elliott in September, 1976. The model was 18-year-old Fiona Butler, his girlfriend at the time. The photo was taken at the University of Birmingham’s tennis courts.

The dress was hand-made by Butler’s friend Carol Knotts, from a Simplicity Pattern with added lace trim. Knotts also supplied the tennis racquet, with all of the borrowed items later returned by Butler to Knotts after the shoot with the gift of a box of chocolates.

The image was first published as part of a calendar by Athena for the 1977 Silver Jubilee, the same year Virginia Wade won the Wimbledon ladies’ singles title. Athena negotiated an agreement to distribute the image as a poster. It achieved widespread distribution, selling over 2 million copies at £2 per poster. It remains a popular print to buy on Amazon and Posters.com.

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When You Go To Hire An Agency, Don’t Pick a Dog

Let me make this real quick. Advertising, marketing and creative agencies are horrible at marketing and building their own brand. Cobbler’s shoes and all that (“someone very good at their profession but are completely unable or unwilling to use this ability on themselves”). While head of marketing at Interbrand, I obsessed over our brand. Given Interbrand was the leading global brand consultancy, my many lost sleeps were to be expected.

As Chief Communications Officer at DDB, I felt the weight of legacy while trying to make a Mad Men-era brand relevant. I give thanks that the competition were more laconic and greatly paralyzed in managing their own brand. While at the iconic agency, I tried to point out that PR was not brand-building. Further, award shows and sending out a press release on a new client win is table-stakes. To be more pointed, agencies of any size should redirect award show cash towards thought leadership and staff development (but I partially digress).

Over the last few years, I have consulted to over 20 agencies and consultancies on their business and brand strategies. It has been challenging because true sources of differentiation are elusive. All have great people, a smattering of cool clients (often the uncool ones keep the lights on), talk about a unique, cool culture that doesn’t actually exist, blah, blah, blah. Oh, and too many have an office canine featured in the people section of their website (agencies have made a cute pet table-stakes).

Here is more frank, straight-shooting … every agency should be a best practice case in their own marketing. When you are looking to hire an agency, look past the Nascar slide of past client logos. Discount the featured case studies unless they include impressive quantifiable results (97% of agency case studies are wishy-washy fluff). Drill down on process and methodology. See if they hint at their revenue model because that will drive how they behave and serve.

As much as I detest the proliferation of marketing award shows (a cottage industry of vanity), it could be fun to start one that recognizes agency marketing. There would be a lot of participation ribbons with very few standouts. So, when you go to hire an agency, do so based on its marketing. Otherwise, you may be hiring a dog.

Narrative Psychology in Brand Storytelling

Let me tell you a story. It’s a bit about our past, a bit about our future but more importantly, it concerns what is happening right now. It is also a story that nears 2,500 words because our complex world cannot be dumbed downed, reduced to a vague tagline, summed in a tweet, or captured in an oversimplified how-to formula. True learning and understanding requires time and effort so heat the kettle or uncork a bottle and enjoy.

Marketing and advertising agencies claim to be professional storytellers. Agencies deliver a brand story as part of engagements while creative briefs bring the story to life. Agencies pump out papers on the subject and profile case studies where the story is key to client success. Within the industry, marketing conferences make room for storytelling as part of the agenda. Media and publications write on the topic with frequency. Storytelling permeates the profession. Here are three changes taking place in business storytelling:

They Don’t Tell: by its very definition, storytelling is broadcast in nature. We tell a tale. It is ‘one-to-many’ like the Mad Men era of advertising. We know that no longer works. Stories must now invite consumers in and let them be both character and storyteller. It is now about storyparticipation not passive absorption.

They Are Organic: the best brand stories take root organically and get consumers involved. Then they really evolve. This scares traditional marketers. They fear ceding control. Granted it is a bit of a wild ride when consumers help build the story but this is what is taking place with Uber and Airbnb and has taken place with Apple and Red Bull.

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My Tenuous Connection to Spy Magazine

It takes a certain vintage, I am speaking of human age, not a red wine or long-packaged Twinkie, to recall the magazine called, Spy. It was, to use an expression oft-used, fucking awesome. It ran from 1986 to 1998. Those were formative years for me. Actually, every year has been formative for me. I expect future ones to be equally or even more formative.

The publication was founded by Kurt Andersen and E. Graydon Carter, who served as its first editors. Their pedigrees are well-pedigreed. Andersen graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, where he edited the Harvard Lampoon. He has been a writer and columnist for New York, The New Yorker, and Time. What an under-achiever. Carter is Canadian (enough said) who served as the editor of Vanity Fair from 1992 until 2017. Such a light-weight.

Before their real accomplishments, they focused on Spy, which bathed in irreverence and was doused in satire. The content loved to skewer the American media and entertainment industries while mocking “high” society (which in America is vacuous celebrity). To say it was ‘ahead of its time’, is an evaluation they would skewer and mock if still in print.

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Excited to Introduce a New Service!

Who reads books anymore? 

Umm, people. Millions and millions of people. When it comes to business books, you know who reads them? Decision-makers. Most CEOs and executives read 4-5 books per month.

It is not inaccurate to refer to a business book as a thick brochure. One that demonstrates the depth and originality of your thinking, showcases your differentiation and, when done right, drives people to action. The kind of action that grows your awareness and business.

That is why we have introduced a new service that assists leaders and brands get their business book written, published and into the hands of desired readers. Check out more in our brochure.

#WMW 3rd Quarter Newsletter

Read a few excerpts from Why Marketing Works. Pabst Blue Ribbon refuses to market and Lacoste had to get fancy when it broke into America. Plus much more…WMW.

How a Metaphor Can Trip Up Your Life

We use metaphors, quotes, and analogies in writing and books all the time, but what about metaphors, quotes, and analogies about writing and books that apply to life? No surprise, there are tons.

Novelist Brian Faulkner wrote one that has tons of variants but shares the same lesson, “Life is like a book. There are good chapters, and there are bad chapters. But when you get to a bad chapter, you don’t stop reading the book! If you do… then you never get to find out what happens next!”

Colson Whitehead gave us this deep quote about the act of writing and life, “What isn’t said is as important as what is said.” Graphic Novelist Alan Moore provided levity in this writing-as-life metaphor, “My experience of life is that it is not divided up into genres; it’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel. You know, with a bit of pornography if you’re lucky.”

I love metaphors, quotes and analogies. They capture an idea or lesson concisely and with effect. However, they can trip you up. While many are truisms, they are not absolutes. Every situation is different, so to try to apply them over and over is a risk to relevancy or just plain wrong. Many of us, me included, use them as rigid guideposts and that is dangerous.

Another reason I enjoy, employ and have been guided by metaphors, quotes and analogies, is that they are mini-stories. As Umberto Eco says, “To survive, you must tell stories.” I am in marketing and becoming more and more a writer. At my core is storytelling but I am also a hiker, a recreation replete with well-meaning metaphors.

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