Category Archives: Brand Champ or Chump

Volkswagen’s Great/Good Campaign: Great, Good, or Less than Good?

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Great. For the price of good. That’s Volkswagen’s new theme line in support of its launch of the 2011 Jetta.

What do you think  of the Great/Good campaign theme? Great? Good? Less than good? That’s my question for this installment of this blog’s Brand Champ or Chump series, the first that I’ve run in quite a while.

I say VW’s got a winner here. Why? Well, I believe the vast majority of car buyers want the best car they can possibly afford. We’ve entered the age of new frugality, says Scott Burgess with The Detroit News. Car buyers are spending more carefully than ever before, even luxury buyers. Everyone wants to think they are making the smartest possible choice.

VW’s Great/Good theme line lends itself very well to this market environment. Plus, VW can pull it off because it counts quality German engineering and high technology as brand attributes.

For VW, putting value in the front seat to support its launch of the 2011 Jetta is a strategy, I believe, that will appeal to car shoppers.

See the execution for yourself.

You can learn more about the Great/Good campaign over at the Yahoo! Advertising Blog, which features an interview with Mike Sheldon, CEO of Deutsch LA.

If you think the Great/Good campaign theme is a winner (champ) or a loser (chump), sound off. I’d love to hear other takes on it.

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Why Ford. Why Now. Brand Champ or Chump?

Ford is running some new ads with the following tag line: “Why Ford. Why now.”

See anything missing? Yep, no question marks.

Deliberately omitted? Definitely.

Why? Well, I think it’s because Ford’s not just asking rhetorical questions. They’re actually asserting that there’s simply no question about it – consumers should be thinking about buying a Ford now. After all, they say, Ford vehicles are among the most fuel-efficient out there. Why wouldn’t we consider Ford? Hmm… I like the show of confidence.

Still, I would have liked to see a bit more substance from Ford here. The auto giant has a great story behind its resurging brand. Could Ford not have presented its case in a more compelling fashion? If you’re going to jab with a why, you really should have a knock out answer with a set of benefits to rhyme off.

Now, that said, I still like the questions without the question marks.

A question is powerful by its very nature.  Like a jolt of electricity, like a jumper cable to the brain, a question demands an answer. When we hear a question, we’re instinctively drawn in. We become involved. We become engaged. That’s good for a brand when it’s trying to build consideration.

The problem with statements is we’re so adept at tuning them out. We hear what’s said, but we’re quick to move on. Questions don’t invite us to move on quite so readily. They stimulate us. They provoke us to think.

So, sure… I would have liked to see a more compelling case from Ford and I don’t believe the theme line here is killer and mind-blowing; however, the approach has potential to provoke thought, to get Ford back on the why and/or why not lists of buyers… and that’s a good thing.

I lean toward champ.

What do you think? Is this approach from Ford:

  1. A brand champ?
  2. A brand chump?
  3. Or somewhere in between?

Thank you for stopping by the On Brands blog.

Oh, just so you know, I may be delayed in posting/approving comments. By the time anyone has read this, I’ll be pitching a tent somewhere in Northern Michigan.

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Starbucks Goes Neighborly: Brand Champ or Chump?

15th-aveStarbucks has opened a new store. Err – nothing new there. But this isn’t just another Starbucks; it’s a coffeehouse known as 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea.

Apparently, it’s the first of three remodeled stores in the Seattle area. Each store will be presented as a community coffeehouse, bearing the name of its neighborhood, rather than the coffee-shop giant to which it belongs.

You won’t find the Starbucks logo at the stores, but you will see the words “inspired by Starbucks” at strategic locations throughout the interior of the cafés.

The new coffeehouses will serve wine and beer, offer pastries, host live music and poetry readings and make espresso without the automated machines.

With a license to serve alcoholic beverages, the stores are positioned to capture a greater share of evening traffic. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Most of Starbucks’ revenue usually comes in during the morning and afternoons. Now, they can go after a greater share of the pie.

Starbucks says they’re experimenting with stores that have a stronger community personality.

Now, let’s be clear. This is just a test right now for Starbucks. They’re going to see how these stores do and then possibly expand to other cities.

And in my mind, it’s a worthwhile experiment and a brand move worthy of CHAMP status.

Neighborhood Loyalty
The first thing I thought of when I heard of this concept is Chicago, a town I always enjoy visiting. I like Chicago as a whole, but I especially appreciate that it’s a city of neighborhoods, each one with a distinct character.

One of my work colleagues happened to move to Chicago and he confirmed what I had already heard and come to know: locals know where to go in their neighborhood… for drinks, coffee, socializing, whatever… And not only do they know where to go, but they also hold a strong sense of brand loyalty to those establishments.

I believe Starbucks has the chance to foster a whole new set of brand loyalties with its neighborhood coffeehouse concept. They can continue to deliver consistency and quality, but with much more flexibility to deliver the compelling, distinctive environments and experiences consumers increasingly thirst. You can’t do that as a chain. You just can’t.

Unbranding?
Some say Starbucks is actually working to un-brand itself, but I don’t see it that way.

Why would Starbucks want to do that? The brand equity in the Starbucks name is too great. We’re not talking about a brand in tremendous trouble here. Profits may not be what they once were, but the Starbucks logo isn’t in any danger of going away and traditional Starbucks stores aren’t either.

I see a coffee powerhouse that’s recognized the value in going beyond a single brand. With its neighborhood coffeehouses, Starbucks can offer consumers something more. No longer confined to the cookie cutter model, new stores can be creative and offer an exceptional distinctiveness, all the while enjoying the full backing of the Starbucks brand.

I also don’t see this move as a departure from the brand’s essence. Sure, Starbucks is recognized today as a coffee chain. But serving as the neighborhood coffeehouse was one of the core ideas upon which the Starbucks brand was founded. Seen in that light, we might say Starbucks is returning to its roots.

So, I like Starbucks’ direction on this one. Do you? Is the neighborhood coffeehouse concept a champ or chump move? Share your thoughts.

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Microsoft’s Positioning vs. Apple: Brand Champ or Chump?

Some of you may already be aware of the latest mini drama between rivals Apple and Microsoft.

The controversy stems from Microsoft’s “Laptop Hunters” ads, which seek to drive home a single idea: that a PC is cheaper than a Mac.

A PC Costs Less… Duh!
I already knew that… I think most of us knew that!

The “laptop hunters” campaign is one in which Microsoft gives consumers $1,000 to buy a laptop. With Macs starting at well over $1,000, the result is predictable: they buy a PC every time and even have some cash left over.

Ads Get Under Apple’s Skin?
Microsoft believes the ads are having an impact. So much so, in fact, that the company’s chief operating officer seemed to wet his pants with joy upon learning that Apple’s legal eagles had asked Microsoft to stop running the spots. He was so happy about the development that he shared it publicly as evidence the campaign is working.

Oh no, COO!
But there’s more to the story. Seems as if Apple simply asked Microsoft to stop running spots that had not been changed to reflect accurate pricing on Mac Books.

To me, Apple’s request is fair and reasonable. The wrong information is misleading and Microsoft should amend the spots before running them. Apple, from what I can decipher, did not ask its rival to terminate the overall campaign.

Sounds like over exuberance on the part of Microsoft’s COO. Certainly divulging Apple’s request without a full understanding of the facts is a chump move.

Microsoft’s Best-Price Rut
That Microsoft’s COO would embrace this story speaks to the depth of the company’s troubled position vs. Apple.

I can’t say it any better than John Dvorak in his piece in The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch: “Microsoft is stuck in the best-price rut.” See his full commentary.

As he rightly points out, Microsoft’s only focus is the low price of Windows-based computers over Mac Books. Price is the only benefit, the only differentiator. Microsoft doesn’t highlight any of the Mac Books’ limitations or downsides.

Meanwhile, Dvorak notes: “Apple has no qualms about blasting the vulnerability of the PC to viruses and other weaknesses.”

His advice to Microsoft: “… add some real personality and stick it to Apple with some genuine commentary about the flaws nobody talks about. The public can see the ‘best price’ part of the equation for themselves.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Dvorak. Microsoft’s best-price emphasis is largely ineffective in competing with Apple.

That’s because consumers who would be in the market for a Mac Book aren’t focused on price; they’re focused on value and quality. And that’s exactly what Apple addresses in its “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” spots.

Anyone who is only interested in the lowest cost will never buy a Mac Book. Most of us understand that quality costs more. In a battle of the brands, I’d rather be in the quality/value spot, each and every time.

Microsoft Earns Brand Chump Title
To me, Microsoft has earned the brand chump designation. Their “Laptop Hunters” campaign is flawed, and their excitement over Apple’s request that inaccurate ads be pulled is misguided.

Agree or Disagree? Sound Off
Do you agree? Should Microsoft wear the Brand Chump hat or do you see something I don’t?

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Palm Goes with the Flow: Brand Champ or Chump?

PalmPrePhoneWho dares take on the iPhone from Apple in the mobile space?

Palm with its Pre, that’s who.

You’ll remember Palm as the T-Rex brand of handheld PDAs (personal digital assistants). The Palm Pilot was the biggest thing out there.

But this device, quickly it seemed, went the way of the dinosaur with the advent of Blackberrys and the Apple iPhone.

But Palm isn’t going away quietly into the history books. Instead, it’s trying to revive its brand image with the Pre smartphone.

“The Palm brand had waned,” acknowledged Brodie Keast, Palm’s senior vice president of marketing. “It has been perceived as a legacy brand. … We want to reintroduce the brand to those who may have known us in the past and to a giant new audience.”

Smart. Very smart. Sure, the Apple iPhone is clearly at the top of the food chain. But as Palm points out, Apple has only 10 percent of the smartphone market. The remaining 90 percent is still up for grabs.

The challenge is to stand out and bring Palm back in consumers’ minds and introduce itself in a whole new way to a whole new segment of buyers.

Enter Palm’s first shot at winning consumers over: the Flow commercial. You can view the commercial and a short behind-the-scenes film on the Palm Pre Facebook page.

I have mixed feelings about this creative effort, but I am strongly leaning toward Brand Champ.

My first impression of this spot: Wow! I was riveted by the circles of dancers, the choreography and synchronicity and the overall message around ease of use. I found myself thinking: If only I could manage my life so beautifully and effortlessly.

Apple’s ads are quite different in that they focus more on the phone’s capabilities. Palm doesn’t go there and for good reason, I believe. The Pre lags well behind the iPhone, based on reviews I’ve come across (which highlight the Pre’s smaller number of applications and low battery life).

Still, the Flow commercial, in my view, is a winner. This spot is eye-stopping, thought provoking and inspiring. Sure, it’s not going to convert iPhone users. But it’s got the juice to generate interest in the untapped market… and that’s the market Palm’s largely going after.

What are your views? Is the Flow spot:

  1. A brand champ?
  2. A brand chump?
  3. Somewhere in between?

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Brand Champ or Chump: Can Microsoft’s Opening Ads Help Bing Become King?

bingLogoThis week’s Brand Champ or Chump considers Microsoft’s ad campaign for its new search engine, Bing.

In these spots, Microsoft suggests we’re all suffering from a serious affliction, Search Overload Syndrome… and get this: we don’t even know it.

Our problem, says Microsoft: overload from irrelevant Web search results. We’re simply too overwhelmed with data from useless search results.

The ads strive to drive the point home by personifying search as if it were a person. When looking for something as simple as a new place to do breakfast, search (the person) almost robotically starts issuing senseless factoids that one might typically run into on a search results page.

After highlighting the syndrome, the spots close with the following: “Find the cure at Bing.com. It’s not just a search engine; it’s the first-ever decision engine, from Microsoft.”

Put differently, Bing will help you cut through the clutter and get the information you need to make smarter, more informed decisions.

I have to admit. I didn’t realize I was suffering from any search engine affliction. Google is just a part of my life. It’s a daily habit. But, I found myself asking, what if I my searches could in fact be easier, faster and better?

And with that in mind, I’m going to run against the grain of criticism that I’ve seen on the Bing ads and call them a Brand Champ.

When you’re going up against the category leader, the undisputed leader with almost 65 percent market share, the one that’s part of people’s daily habits, you’ve got to get people thinking. You’ve got to get them questioning.

The Bing ads, at least this first wave, do not dig into the new search engine’s features. And that’s by design, I think. Microsoft just wants to plant a simple idea: that a better way to search just might be out there.

The spots aren’t blow-your-mind sensational, but they do just enough to plant a seed of curiosity. And that’s what Microsoft is going for at this stage. The spots do the job.

The tough part will be translating the curiosity and consideration into converts. Promising to make Web searches better… well, that’s a big promise. If Bing can’t deliver… if it can’t differentiate, habits will stay the same.

I don’t think Bing is going to erode Google’s market share overnight. Habits are hard to break and Google simply is search right now.

That said, Microsoft appears ready to make a fight out of it and put their money where their mouth is… and they just might make a meaningful dent as time goes on.

You can see the Bing ads here.

Take a look and then let me know if you think these spots for the new Bing search engine are:

  1. A brand champ?
  2. A brand chump?
  3. Somewhere in between?

You decide.

Oh, and I have to mention Microsoft’s use of the word Bing as a verb: Bing & decide

Brandverbing at its finest, isn’t it? (see my post on brandverbing). Of course, with Google part of our daily lexicon, you can be sure Microsoft weighed name candidates with similar potential.

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GM on the “New GM”: Brand Champ or Chump?

The automotive industry is back in the spotlight this week on Brand Champ or Chump.

gmAnd how could it not be after today’s historic announcement of GM filing for bankruptcy?

We saw this coming. In fact, we’ve been hearing about the impending bankruptcy for many months now. And GM has had time to prepare for this day.

So, I was curious. How would GM handle the announcement? What would the beleaguered auto giant say? And, almost more importantly, how would they say it?

I went to gm.com to see for myself.

I saw nothing about the big news on the home page, so I went to the News area of the site and saw the GM news release on the filing and a statement from the GM board of directors. I also stumbled across a video on “reinvention” and a link to the GM restructuring site.

I skimmed, scanned, read carefully and listened. Did GM say some of the right things? Sure. I can agree, reinvention is good, and so is leaner, greener, faster and smarter. No arguments here.

However, I had to ask myself: “What’s missing? Why don’t I feel any better about GM’s future or a future in which I might actually find myself behind the wheel of a GM vehicle, beyond the obvious, that is?”

Two words: No passion.

I feel GM said a lot of the right things. But I didn’t like how they said them. To me, the message came across too matter-of-factly.

I was looking for something else to come through: some emotion in what clearly is an emotional event. I wanted to see some passion behind GM’s words, some indication that we mean what we say and we care about what we mean to say!

I like GM’s emphasis on reinvention. As they say, “reinvention is the only way we can fix this, and fix it we will.” I also like GM’s reflection that this is “not about going out of business, it’s about getting down to business.”

That’s the kind of determination that wins me over. But hearing these messages in a video from a professional voice over talent is one thing; hearing it from top GM leadership or GM people at any level for that matter is quite another.

I don’t like kicking anyone when they’re down. I want GM to succeed. But I feel the automaker missed an opportunity today.

Was today just too tough? Perhaps GM gave its best given the nature of the announcement?

Or, perhaps, GM could have exerted its messages more forcefully and passionately and sent stronger brand signals of hope and inspiration to those they care about, to those they need to win over.

It’s usually not what you say; it’s how you say it. And for this, I have to call GM’s announcement today a Brand Chump.

Do you agree or disagree? Are GM’s brand communications around its bankruptcy filing and the “new GM”:

  1. A brand champ?
  2. A brand chump?
  3. Somewhere in between?

You decide.

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The New Coke Creatures: Cute (Brand Champ) or Creepy (Brand Chump)?

Over the last two weeks in Brand Champ or Chump, we’ve considered environmental spots from Honda and Toyota. Each was crowned as a Brand Champ.

coke-creaturesThis week, we’re changing it up and featuring the new Coke Creatures campaign.

In this spot, we see a mysterious man push a large box up to the top of a hill. He opens the box, which turns out to be an organ with little creatures inside.

The man then begins playing the keyboard. With each hit of a key, a drop of Coke falls into the creature’s mouths. They begin to sing “Yeah Yeah Yeah” and “La La La” (a track written and produced by electro superstar Calvin Harris). The fun tune soon attracts a crowd of young people. All of the dancing sprouts Coke bottles from the grass.

I’m not sure what to make of this spot, which is part of Coke’s new Open Happiness platform.

I have to admit: the track grew on me after listening to it several times. In fact, it’s in my head right now. It’s annoyingly happy and upbeat.

The creatures aren’t particularly cute to me. I’m reminded of a strange combination between Ewoks and Gremlins. One of them reminds me of the legendary Wookiee Chewbacca from Star Wars.

Coke’s gone out of its way to breathe life into these creatures. You can find them on Facebook, Flickr, and of course they have their very own site: www.cokecreatures.com.

When young people start running up the hill to join in on the fun, I was reminded of Coke’s much-loved “Hilltop” commercial, which most of you will remember for the song I’d like to Buy the World a Coke.

The goal is the same: make people happy. But while the classic piece is gloriously inspirational, the new Coke Creatures bit is just plain silly. Or is it gloriously silly?

Do you think this piece can help Coke build positive feelings around the brand?

Watch it for yourself and let me know what you think we have here:

  1. A brand champ?
  2. A brand chump?
  3. Somewhere in between?

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Toyota’s New Prius Harmony Animation – a Joy Ride (Brand Champ) or a Ho-Hum (Brand Chump)?

The reaction to Honda’s animation, featured in last week’s Brand Champ or Chump, was overwhelmingly positive. The vast majority felt Honda hit the sweet spot with an inspirational piece that connected to consumers’ demands for greater environmental accountability.

So, the verdict from last week: Brand Champ.

This week, I want to know how you feel about Toyota’s new animation, which seems a fitting follow up to last week’s spotlight on Honda.

I leaned toward Brand Champ for Honda, and I’m taking the same position this week for Toyota. This time, I’m leaning strongly toward Champ.

This spot is a 30 second commercial promoting the third-generation Prius. Set to a familiar happy-go-lucky and eco-friendly tune, we see a Prius moving through a clean and beautiful environment.

But this environment is… well… unusual. The landscape is made up entirely of people. That is, the sun, clouds, flowers and blades of grass are depicted as people.

The point: Toyota’s third-generation Prius strikes a balance between the needs of man and nature. You can get everything you want in a car – extra power, more space and fuel efficiency… and the best part is you also make a difference by driving a car with fewer smog-forming emissions. So, a simple message: We get more of what we want in a car, but less of what we don’t want.

For me, this piece was eye-stopping to the point that I really wanted to see it again. The animation has a unique feel to it. Like some of Toyota’s earlier Harmony spots, this one feels organic and artistic… though much more uplifting. The flow of the piece suggests progress and change—for the better. I immediately connected with the message.

Toyota has its hands full with Honda. The latter is launching the competitive Insight hybrid and seems poised to take share away from Toyota, which has seen Prius sales drop quite sharply. This piece, as part of a larger campaign, may just help Toyota defend some of its ground.

Overall, I think this piece is a winner. I felt like I was on a joy ride. Do you agree? Or was it ho-hum for you? Watch it for yourself (see below) and let me know what you think we have here:

  1. A brand champ?
  2. A brand chump?
  3. Somewhere in between?

If the video does not appear below, please see the animation here.


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Honda’s Doer Film: Brand Champ or Chump?

This week in Brand Champ or Chump, I turn the spotlight to Honda’s Doer film, a two minute ten second animation highlighting the company’s environmental commitment.

This piece goes beyond what Honda’s doing and speaks to the company’s view that everyone can help reduce impact on the environment. Honda says good things come from “doers,” people who do “things to move us forward, to make stuff better.”

As part of this, Honda offers tips on how drivers can make simple, small changes to their behavior to make a difference to the world around them.

So, is this campaign a brand champ, chump or somewhere in between?

I don’t feel right going with champ or chump. To me, the piece wasn’t mind blowing or awe inspiring. I have to go with somewhere in between, leaning to champ.

I like the simplicity of the little red car and the use of toys in the animation (the artistic quality is fantastic).

But mostly, I like how Honda takes what can be a big and complicated message and makes it easy to grasp. Certainly this piece does a good job speaking to Honda’s green credentials and reinforces to consumers that the environment is one of the company’s brand pillars.

Honda’s reputation has largely been built upon quality and good fuel economy. Toyota, mostly because of its Prius, has nurtured, by far, the strongest image for environmental friendliness. However, thanks to work like the Doer, Honda is closing the gap.

Not awe inspiring, but very good. 

Watch it for yourself and let me know what you think? Is Honda’s Doer film:

  1. A brand champ?
  2. A brand chump?
  3. Somewhere in between?

If the video does not appear below, please see the animation here.

Be sure to explain the reasoning behind your choice. And yes, you can cheat like me and say whether you’re leaning champ or chump.

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