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Mazda Ad.

I’ve seen a Mazda TV commercial a few times over the last week or so and it offers up some nice imagery. A boy doing ballet in a locker room. A girl punching the weight bag. Footage of a car leaving traffic for a circuitous above-the-fray highway — stuff like that. The attendant voiceover poetically winsome.

At the end of the spot the voiceover echoes “Spread your wings,” a nice accompaniment for a deconstruction of the Mazda logo made to look like wings.  But for the most part there was no real tie to the car – certainly not rational tie. Film making.

The tagline to sum up all the ad: “Feel Alive.”  Talk about setting the bar low.  As opposed to feeling dead???  

I know car ads are tough. But whats the insight here? Old people are bored? Buying a car is as boring as watching TV?  Roy Elvove, a great adman friend of mine taught me to watch commercials and back out the strategies.  Now I watch them and try to back out the insights. Kind of at a loss with this ad.






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There are lots of corporate executives out there who believe brands are the provenance of packaged goods companies. And while they will admit to having a brand name and logo, they don’t see the need for a brand strategy.

Service companies are about selling and sales teams. They are about lead generation, acquisition, sales commission, and turnover. Most service companies have directors of marketing but the dept. is little more than sales support and web. At larger companies marketing manages advertising. Sometimes, these marketing directors don’t even appear on the company website.

Service companies need brand strategy as much if not more than packaged good companies. They need an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. When people are your product — and we all know people are hard to manage, just ask any parent – there is little to direct them. 

When I working at Teq Inc., a reseller of interactive whiteboards to schools, many employees on LinkedIn said they worked in education management.  Others said software and still others said Teq was a hardware company.  (What do you do for a living mommy?)  

If you work at a service company or professional group you can have a competitive advantage – it’s called brand strategy.



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…was yesterday’s headline announcing someone new will be fill the costume of Big Bird on Sesame Street. The new talent will study Big Bird’s mannerisms, body language, physical quirks and more.  Going to game film, as it were.  I’m not sure if the voice will change but my guess is the new Big Bird will step in seamlessly and miss nary a beat.

Why, so seamless?

Because the Big Bird is, effectively, a brand; a brand that has been managed very, very well. Sure a package is a package — and that hasn’t changed in 50 years — but it’s what’s inside the package that counts. Goofy. Lumbering. Thoughtful. Concerned. Open and positive. These are all things associated with Big Bird. These are brand qualities, traits and expectation of Big Bird.   

The new actor who plays Big Bird has big shoes to fill (sorry). One misstep and it will be seen. But Mr. Spinney and the Sesame Street brand managers did such a brilliant job there will be no missteps.



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If I’ve read it once, I’ve read or heard it a thousand times, the four words in the headline referring to good advertising: Cut through the clutter. Talk about setting the bar low! And if you are advertising you are branding. Proponents of this kind of investment need to be taken to the woodshed.

If the main goal of communications to customers and prospects is simply to have them notice us we’re being stupid lazy. And likely ceding too much power to the ad makers.

Shouldn’t our aspiration for communications be to make people “feel something, then do something?” And shouldn’t those feelings and doings be strategic?  Based upon brand values and brand claim?  

If you ever find yourself in a room with makers and hear the words “cut through the clutter,” you are probably about to create the clutter.

Don’t do it. 



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Context Matters.

broadway boogie woogie

Look at the picture above. It is one of the most famous paintings in the world.  To some, however, it is a simplistic primary color pattern of boxes;  childlike in its construction. To art connoisseurs it is rapture. When I saw it in art class in college I fell into the former category. Today, though no connoisseur, I tend to see its virtue. Why?


This paint by Piet Mondrian is titled “Broadway Boogie Woogie.” Now, I am able to get it. Finally, I understand the painting. My years on the planet have allowed me to see the painting with a new familiarity thanks to the title.  The title, for me, makes this painting. Setting my mind afire.

This may not sound like a branding observation; it is. Context matters. Oh does context matter.




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We Americans don’t like to be pushed around. Yet we are a odd, lazy people sometime. If a story appears in the local weekly newspaper about a malnourished child, the porch of the child’s home will be filled with food by nightfall. However, when we read one third of Yemeni children under the age of 5 are undernourished we flip the page.

North Korea has bullied Sony and a number of theater chains into pulling the film The Interview, a film that might normally gross $75M. But this bullying has pissed off Americans to the point where we’re actually primed to do something. But what? Were Sony to release the film over the web and ask for a $2.00 donation for special fund to drop DVDs of the movie over Pyongyang, the movie would likely be the highest grossing film of all time. No matter the quality.

This satire was an important movie. It has the ability to disrupt how films are distributed. If Sony chooses to crowd source funding for the movie it may lead us down a new path. One sparked by a bully. And this is how change happens sometime. “For good people to do something.” Peace.

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LinkedIn sent me a survey yesterday which I gladly filled out. LinkedIn is one of the coolest tools on the web. Reid Hoffman, Jeff Weiner and team have uncovered a gem of a portal. No, they engineered a gem of a portal. I said gladly filled out the survey because as much as I like LinkedIn, it’s not perfect. Who is? I get more spam from LinkedIn than any other web provider. Even after turning off lots of things in preferences. The whole endorsements feature is a sham. They should have bulked up recoomendations.  People endorse like errant laps dogs. It’s a glorified like button.

linkedin grab

The newish content creation scheme is also annoying. Articles from so-called opinion leaders and influencers appear above the fold, crowding out the people I know and want to keep tabs on. I understand what motives the influencer articles and the endorsement features; they are engagement builders. That’s said, portals with a finely tuned idea who overdo it, who search for extra ad dollars by adding functionality beyond their mission are on a slick slope.

I believe LinkedIn is aware of this and now taking stock. Unless, of course, they’re researching ideas that will lead them further down the feature-creep path. Hopefully it’s the former. My heart and business sense tell me so.


 R.I.P. Fergus O’Daly. A lion.

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I love the Metropolitan Diary column, Mondays in The New York Times.  It provides wonderful stories and insights about the NYC experience and beyond.  Today it also shared a brand planning lesson. With all this marko-babble about “the conversion” in marketing today, here is a real slice of life that takes unlikes and  near-likes and starts a real conversation. Are these people selling? In a sense, yes. Peace!

Dear Diary:

About six weeks ago, I was on a very crowded subway coming home from my school, where I am in ninth grade. I was standing next to a woman wearing a head scarf and a tall man wearing a taqiyah (a Muslim skullcap).

He turned toward her, said, “Salaam alaikum,” and asked where she was from. “Iran,” she replied.

The man said he was from Palestine. Just then, another woman turned around and said, “I’m from Egypt.”

“Wow!” the man said. “We’ve got the whole family here.” They started talking about their jobs and what had brought them to the States.

The man said that he worked for an antidiscrimination organization intended to prevent prejudice against Muslims. He handed the two women leaflets about how to prevent discrimination, and I guess he noticed me watching and listening because he offered me one as well.

“Thank you very much,” I said, “but I’m Jewish.”

“Doesn’t matter,” he responded. “You have the same civil rights as we do.”

I took the leaflet just as the train got to my stop. With a “shalom” and a “salaam alaikum,” we bid each other goodbye.

Sam Mellins                                

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Bullets vs. Tweets.

Which is more powerful the bullet or the Tweet?  I’m not likely to keep my ass down if someone is firing off a Tweet at me, but one can safely say the Arab Spring and its Gandhi-esque approach to changing the world is way more a function of Tweets than bullets. That’s power.

As we get nearer to UN Resolution 194 on a Palestinian State I’m very nervous about bullets.  Very.  The Arab Spring uprisings have, for the most part, been internecine struggles.  But the Palestinians and the Israelis are anything but.  Leading up to the U.N. vote on the Sept 23rd, the world will be watching.   And this is no platitude or verisimilitude, the world will be watching.  Thanks to Twitter and Twitpics and YouTube. 

If there is bloodshed over the resolution it will be front page news and winners and losers. And certainly lots of spin.  If there is no bloodshed, just civil disobedience and true debate, there will only be winners.  It will provide new steps toward real compromise. 

Gandhi didn’t need Twitter…but had he a smarty and some agile thumbs, independence in India may have taken months. Peace!

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Which comes first?  It’s not a trick question.  And I won’t go all “sort of” on you.  The answer is product design.  A good brand planner will take the product design, understand it and package it.  A great brand planner, while packaging the product will “inform” it — change, evolve, aspire it and help create its future.

Brand planners know when you see a friend’s baby for the first time there’s a difference between “What a beautiful baby” and “Ooh, what an amazing rosebud mouth.”  It’s the different between talking an observing. Most marketing today is talk. When you talk to a product designer and really see what they have created, you connect.  Just like when you really see someone’s baby.

In today’s commodities world (see yesterday’s post on banks and healthcare), it is imperative for planners to find the difference.  It may only be a DNA-like strand, but it’s there. And once found that difference can give form to the brand idea.  Not a tagline, not a campaign, but a brand idea: The world’s information in one click. Refreshment.  Different.  The people who tell you brand design comes first are probably art directors. Or peddlers of marko-babble.  Peace be with you and with Lara Logan and her family.

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