Social Justice Warriors Have Become a Trendy Demographic for American Advertisers


England’s, Guardian reports that American advertisers are using warm and fuzzy, social-sensitive advertising campaigns to appeal to liberals across the country. It’s no longer adequate to communicate an advertiser’s benefits, but for their younger, liberal target audiences they must say or imply, “We’re like you,” We believe in what you believe,” “Let’s be friends” and yes, “You’ve been treated unfairly.”

One ad celebrating “eco-warriors” comes from a very unusual source, the car company Kia. In the ad, actress Melissa McCarthy is driving in a Kia car when she gets a call to “save the whales,” and other endangered entities. It’s a funny/cute execution, but gives no rational reason why one would actually BUY a Kia automobile.

In a commercial for Airbnb, the home rental outfit, a message flashes across the screen: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong.” This is apparently appealing to those liberals who reject President Trump’s proposed travel ban, although I assume that that acceptance does not extend to terrorists, sex traffickers or just downright low-life’s who might trash a homeowner’s offered lodging.

Despite all appearances, these advertisements are not public-service campaigns. The companies using them are virtue signaling through their messaging what they think appeals to more liberal audiences.The increasingly progressive messages in marketing campaigns are clearly a mercenary attempt to entice Millennials, and those in general that are susceptible to emotional appeals versus rational ones.


According to Rob Baiocco, a creative executive at the BAM Connection who has worked on campaigns for Pringles and Starburst, all of these “issue” ads may warm the hearts of millennials, as they are intended to. But to his mind, they are also “highly suspect”. He highlighted the fakery of their woke-ness: “Companies are avidly and aggressively trying to get involved in a socially responsible space, and they are doing it horribly – they are grabbing at straws.

“They are entering a complex conversation they have no right to be in, yet they are forcing their way in,” Baiocco says. “These creatives are trying to make their toilet paper save the world.

“Sometimes,” he adds, “a Pringle is just a Pringle.”

I’m with Rob on this. Sure, I’m a strong proponent of advertising having an EMOTIONAL tie to the audience (that’s what a “Brand Essence” is, silly). However, I think the audience segments that choose a Kia or stay with AirBnB only because their commercials “melt their butter,” are pretty small.

At some point advertisers need to decide: Are we making a commercial message OR a public service commercial. After all …

… sometimes a Pringle is just a Pringle.











Airbnb launches new brand name in China. Maybe needed more, or “more effective,” research.

Airbnb, the very successful, worldwide, U.S.-based online marketplace and hospitality online service provider, just launched the brand name it will use for marketing in China. It is a three-character name 爱彼迎 (ài bǐ yíng). Individually, the three characters mean ‘love’, ‘mutual’ and ‘welcome’—strategically on-target for Airbnb,  if you consider them in isolation

According to an Airbnb spokesperson, the name represents “the value and mission of our brand, with the love of the world’s tens of millions of neighborhood communities converging in the different corners of the earth”.

Except, there ‘s a little problem. Chinese consumers’ response to the name has been mixed and in some cases quite critical.

While an important step in localization for Chinese consumers and for establishing a clear differentiation from domestic competitors, the brand’s “love”-laden Chinese name may prove to be a liability.

The name has gotten more than just chuckles from Chinese netizens on the brand’s Weibo account and other social media, where comments have ranged from “ugly-sounding”, “sounds like a ‘filthy love hotel’ “and that the brand “might as well stick to having no Chinese name at all”.

Some marketing professionals have criticized the choice, because with the letters it joins together, it is not easy to pronounce. Also, the first character “爱 ài” is a widely used Chinese word expressing the idea of love. “Nothing wrong for a brand to be associated with love, but the issue is too many brands use it for exactly this reason,” says Jerry Clode, head of digital and social insight at Resonance. He feels the character is used excessively in the advertising of other industries and product categories in China. “There is too much ‘love’ in Chinese marketing; it seems difficult for Airbnb to own this emotion for themselves in a differentiated way.”

Well, we’ll see how this turns out. It seems to me that Airbnb will stick with its choice, until significant negatives develop.

However, it does seem strange that a company as knowledgeable in marketing as Airbnb did not either adequately or effectively use market research to evaluate all aspects of a completely new name in a market as widely diverse as China.

For the complete article from Campaign Asia go here:

Victoria’s Secret catalog goes online only. Adolescent males in mourning.

OK, now they’ve really done it! It was bad enough when Playboy magazine swore off running NUDE photos in their publication, but now Victoria’s Secret is discontinuing mailing out its iconic catalog, and will only direct market its compelling lingerie merchandise online . Oh sure, even though the company’s sales are good, the maneuver is touted as an expense saving tactic, and one that aligns more closely with today’s shopping behaviors.Elsa-Hosk-Victorias-Secret-Swim-2016-Cover-Catalog

Maybe that’s true for the great majority of their older, sorta “adult” customers who actually buy this stuff, but what about the young pubescent adolescents only beginning to form their own  brand recognition, and appreciation of the female form and lingerie draping of it?

No Cisco, I realize that 350 million hard copy catalogs and postage for 22 mailings a year can get a little pricey, BUT ….aside from what might be a negative impact on the Victoria’s Secret brand among their actual paying/shopping customers (see below):

In a research note entitled, “Every Guy’s Worst Nightmare,” Citi retail analysts estimated the company would save about $100 million by eliminating the catalogs, but worried the move would hurt sales “as the brand may be less top of mind with male and female customers long-term.”

What about the the little teenage and below boys that use the hard copy piece (excuse the unintentional play on words) for relief and practice behind closed doors in their rooms or bathrooms? You all know what I’m referring to.

imagesEveryone learns how to ride a bike somewhere, and sometimes it’s good to have training wheels.

Philip Roth’s 1969 novel, “Portnoy’s Complaint”, pulled the metaphorical shower curtain back on what little boys were doing in the bathroom or elsewhere with mom’s Sears catalog or dad’s stash of True Detective magazines or National Geographic’s latest coverage of topless Borneo natives. I’ll never forget the perfectly descriptive “bent over my flying fist” imagery from the book.

Well, with the arrival on the scene of Victoria’s Secret catalog in the 90’s, the “bent over” operation was ratcheted up several levels. Now, young males had breathtakingly beautiful women attired in stunning and dramatic costumes, posed in alluring (to say the least) poses. What was not to like?

The short answer was/is nothing. Nothing not to like. And something to mentally (and physically) “use.” But that’s all gone now. A mobile phone or tablet device is just not the same, and cannot be comfortably held on one’s lap while other procedures are being performed.

So I’m predicting that very young males love affair with Victoria’s Secret is going to suffer a bit. And, ultimately, along with less active connection to their lingerie offering, brand interest and connection may lessen.

So I hope VS’s management put that into their long term brand allegiance model. Yes, the world is going digital and mobile, but some things for some audiences were perhaps better served by nice glossy printed pages. We’ll see.neuman

“Heil” the Food Nazis … Free Brand Choice & Personal Responsibility Defeated

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the Dr Pepper Snapple soft drink makers have buckled to the Food Nazis and “promised” to lower their drinks’ calories by 20% over the next decade. alfred army

“War on Obesity” in Full Swing Now

The three largest U.S. soft drink marketers have committed to lower their drinks’ calories by 20% over the next decade. Cast as an unprecedented effort by the beverage industry to fight obesity in the U.S., the commitment was announced yesterday at the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative in New York and lauded by ex-President Clinton (who, being married to Hillary, is probably worried about her weight trajectory anyway).

Now that we have full buy-in for the War on Obesity, I guess things will change dramatically. We will go from a nation of “little piggies”:ATT00011

To, perhaps, a country of wonderful physical specimens, perhaps something along the lines of this “Nazi family” propaganda poster of 1938:

new people of Germany

1-2-3 Let’s Change What “Thirsts” Soda Quenches

We now are going to have an industry-wide tinkering with the raison d’être of the soft drink category and brands. For what is “soda”, actually, outside of being a sometimes cloyingly sweetened beverage. Well, it IS a beverage, but why do people drink it, surely not because they NEED it and not to become obese. The emotional payoffs for soda consumption are really connected at some level with emotional experiences, way beyond, even if unconsciously, quenching one’s thirst. A reward, a distraction from a painful experience/event, a childhood memory, a connected reminiscence of someone or something … the reasons are many and varied.

But not so fast Tonto. Your emotional payoff-delivery-system, i.e. your soda, is going to have its ingredients modified, its portions downsized and who know what else.

And gee, that didn’t take long…seems like just a couple weeks ago in my September 5 Coca Cola Life post I wrote:sadface

“Over time in our increasingly regulated societies, sweetened beverages will come under increasing pressures on all sides, much as cigarettes today….sad, but that’s the way it will likely play out…”

Don’t Worry, You Aren’t Responsible & It Will Be Good For You

But don’t worry.The soft drink makers, in close coordination with their government intimidators, issued a statement concerning the category reshape that is breathtakingly Orwellian doublespeak in its nonsense.

“This initiative will help transform the beverage landscape in America,” said Susan K. Neely, president of the American Beverage Association in a statement. “It takes our efforts to provide consumers with more choices, smaller portions and fewer calories to an ambitious new level.”

The next thing they’ll be telling us, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Ooops, that one’s already taken. Maybe it could be, ‘It takes a village to stay slim.”

Please Check Your Personal Responsibility at the Door

OK, got it! Consumers did not ask for this “transformation,” but they sure as hell are going to get it. So much for customer choice and personal responsibility.This wonderful “transformation” will take all the pressure off the “fatties” out there and they will strictly adhere to a “government-pressured” diet plan (much like Michelle Obama’s oh so popular school lunch program). The War on Obesity is virtually won!

Oh, one quick question: Does anyone really think that fewer calories in a bottle or smaller bottles in a carton will actually keep fat people from figuring out a way to get their “soda fixes” (how about drinking more bottles) and becoming obese?

You know the answer … but because of the smart peoples’ “solution” for the “problem,” you and I will no longer have the soft drink choices WE want.


And I bet you, there will still be people like this …

McDonalds starts the 18 month branding “road back.”

Md'sMcDonald’s business these last six months has been rather disappointing. It results from a combination of increased, more attractive competitors and a menu that is at odds with a growing segment of fast food consumers who want to eat fast and inexpensively, but somewhat nutritionally sensibly, as well.

To address this business problem AND opportunity, the chain is setting aside the next 18 months as a period not only to develop the normal lineup of new menu items but also to rebrand itself. McDonald’s knows it needs to be an appealing place to eat, not just a cheap one.

McDonald’s says their repositioning won’t necessarily involve the typical hallmarks of a rebrand, such as a new logo or total design overhaul, but will instead focus on reworking the basics: better value, service, marketing, and menu.

And of course, from our perspective here at SME Brand Leverage, they will need to pay close attention to the brand’s current emotional strengths, as well as making sure they fit against the altered consumer marketing environment they are facing.

The goal is to become a “more trusted and respected brand,” said Don Thompson, McDonald’s chief executive. The McDonald’s brand has taken some hits over the recent years:nutritional concerns, lack of blockbuster product launches, and employee issues, mainly concerning wage issues. Informally, it seems to have gone a little “stale,” and not the most attractive option for consumers when picking a fast food destination. According to Infegy, a company that analyzes social media, 38 percent of online conversations about McDonald’s over the past year have been negative.

To create a dining experience “customers will feel good about,” as Thompson puts it, may be a lengthy and somewhat challenging process, but if any brand can return itself to the top of the competitive heap, it’s the team from Oak Brook, Illinois (McD’s corporate headquarters).

Let’s see where they stand in January, 2016.



As a branding component, Australian tourism advertising misses a great opportunity.


“There’s nothing like Australia” is Tourism Australia’s global consumer marketing campaign highlighting some of the the country’s very best attractions and experiences on offer. Apparently the campaign has been judged effective, since after three years the Australia Office of Tourism is developing new advertising creative, using the same tagline.

Now don’t get me (or the headline to this post) wrong. I like Australia, have been there only once , but was impressed with the range of tourism opportunities. In other words, I like the country and its people.

HOWEVER, (and you knew this was coming didn’t you?) in crafting the campaign’s one universal phrase, tagline, slogan, whatever you choose to call it … the element that appears in every piece of marketing material, the Aussie branding team seemed to take the easy way out.

I can appreciate that “There’s nothing like Australia” was designed to be long-lasting and flexible, something which could be updated as necessary to stay relevant and be used in a myriad of partner associations and geographies. The trap the marketing team either fell into or just didn’t try to avoid was that by creating something that had “one size to fit all”, their end-result was something that didn’t necessarily  fit me or tell me why I should go to Australia instead of Thailand.

After all, with just four words, I can accept “There’s nothing like Sri Lanka,” and of course, “There’s nothing like Poland,” nothing like Iceland,Tahiti, etc. either. My point is the line doesn’t do anything to really make Australia different or special.

Now I realize those four words will almost always travel with visuals and copy expanding on the premise, but why not make the line work even harder by allying it with an emotional connection that can go further in rationally differentiating Australia AND emotionally appealing to consumers.

I don’t have the magic bullet suggestion or answer, but I think that tagline could be energized by adding an emotional payoff or connection that prospective visitors might get. Australia has so many amazing attributes and offerings that call to and stimulate people to consider traveling there.

I’ve ventured out on this shaky limb, so here are a couple of off-the-top-of my-head thought starters, and remember, I’m  not auditioning for for an agency job in Sydney.

“There’s nothing like Australia, and that makes it special for you.”

“There’s nothing like Australia for someone just like you.”

“For life’s adventures, there’s nothing like Australia.”

OK, you get the idea. I can hear the brickbats crashing against this blog’s web address, but you can’t say I didn’t at least try to demonstrate where I think things could’ve been better. Sure, Sri Lanka, Poland and others could also say the things I’ve offered above, but remember, this was only a five minute exercise.

My intent is to suggest that even a branding signature line that necessarily needs to be very flexible could try harder for an EMOTIONAL connection, and not just stop with what is really (by itself) just a literal undifferentiated statement.






Is Colorado’s Brand Becoming the “Stoner State”?


And, if so, is that a bad thing?

Colorado has completely legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults. Although Washington state has  done the same thing, Colorado seems to be getting all the national media attention. Coverage , on balance, looks to be positioning the state as the pathfinder  for what many believe will ultimately be marijuana legalization in almost all 50 states (nationally, 55% of US adults are said to favor legalization).

We’ll  see.

One of the attendant issues, and I believe one of the more interesting ones, is will Colorado’s action significantly alter perceptions of the “state brand” in the near and long term (or at least until a greater number of other states legalize). Said another way, what will be the effect on perceptions  by two distinct groups: 1)current state residents and officials and  2)those outside the state who may at some point relocate into it or interact with it in some way (e.g. governmental, law enforcement, financial, etc.). CONSIDERATION OF LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES GOES HERE.

First off, people who already live in Colorado, let’s call them the “Internals”, probably split relatively evenly between those for and against.Those FOR it probably see legalization as evidence of a favorable and progressive development, while those AGAINST see it as having a number of potential downsides, with some seeing it as just the first step to perdition. My sense of it is that this divide will pretty much wash out over time … so no harm, no foul.

The more perplexing state brand audience are those I’ll call “Externals”. These are people who might have (or can in the future have) varying connections to Colorado for business, recreation, relocation, etc., but they don’t live there. This audience will to a degree rely on their perceptions and what they’ve heard about the state, rather than a large base of empiric learning or research. These folk have recently been bombarded by media newscasts, late night comedian riffs, internet blogs, even advertising promotions for airlinesrestaurants, who knows what. My view is that national awareness of Colorado’s legalization action, while probably not over 30-35%, is surprisingly high (no intentional play on that word; forgive me).

Although myriad things can go into a state’s brand perception, Colorado’s has probably historically had one including, fresh air, mountains, ski resorts, and western independence.  Now, a new plank has been added to the platform upon which the Colorado brand rests….and that is something we could label the “the Liberal/Progressive choom gang”.

Once again, advocates for legalization may see this development as being what they think is representative of the state getting even better and leading the way in social progressivism.  On the other side will be those that see legalization as a huge step downward and one that makes the it less attractive to their company, its employees, their families and children.

Where the balance point comes out will not be known for a number of years, but it will be interesting, that’s for sure. Would love to do some baseline Awareness & Attitude research on this and then follow up three to four years later; but I’m not so we’ll just have to wait and ultimately … deduce…

Top 100 Most Loved Brands …Why Are They “Loved”?



APCO Insight, the global opinion research consultancy at APCO Worldwide, has published its list of the 100 Most Loved Companies. The Walt Disney Company topped the list followed by Yahoo!, Google and Sony respectively. Technology companies were the largest industry represented in the top 10 with Apple coming in at ninth on the list.

The rankings are the result of a decade-long research project including a global survey of more than 600 of the world’s largest corporate brands among more than 70,000 individuals in 15 key markets around the world.

The survey evaluated brands by measuring consumers’ emotional attachment on eight dimensions: Understanding, Approachability, Relevance, Admiration, Curiosity, Identification, Empowerment and Pride. And from that Bryan Dumont, President, APCO Insight, drew the (excuse me) obvious insight, “The best brands are those that build a strong, enduring emotional attachment with consumers.”

And, so there you have it folks. The most powerful, successful brands ALL have strong EMOTIONAL connections to their customers. Not the lowest prices, not the longest list of features or services, not the highest marketing spend, not ….well, you get the idea.

All successful brands establish and maintain an emotional connection to their customers. It’s true for both B2C and B2B brands, and large and small companies.

Sadly, many, if not most SME’s and especially those in the B2B space neglect this. That’s why they’re constantly swimming in that nameless, undifferentiated sea of brands that are paddling as hard as they can, but unfortunately, not really going anywhere.

Listen up marketers! Get yourselves an emotional component for your brand and use and build it. Things will be easier. I can help you. Contact me.



Talk about leveraging your brand…in a good way!


We all know what “cause-related” marketing is and we’ve seen marketers who, maybe not so subtly, associate themselves with a widely respected or revered entity to ethically gain a bit of positive rub-off.

Well, Ping Golf, a family owned and run business in Phoenix, Arizona, and one of the market leaders in all things golf from clubs to bags to everything else, avoids all the ethical traps in that. They have just a wonderful program (I certainly don’t describe it as “marketing”) that they don’t promote, in fact they keep it almost secret, and that powers the Ping brand to levels any company would covet.

You see, Ping gives EVERY wounded U.S. military veteran upon discharge from their hospital a free full set of golf clubs, a bag and golf lessons to help get them physically active and participating (in life) again. Oh, forgot to mention, Ping does this FREE…no charge, just the company’s heartfelt thanks and recognition for the vets who have given a lot more than a gammier putt.

Now this program is not just a one timer or an urban legend rumor. It’s verified by Snopes, so check it out. Ping doesn’t promote the program on their website, although they do promote highly discounted “military” rebate offers there. I guess that’s because they correctly see those as “marketing” actions targeting a certain target audience.

Not so for the free clubs, bag and lessons to those wounded vets. I hazard a guess a guess that this is the first time you’ve heard of this Ping effort. No press release, no ads, no website or Facebook posts. They just do it! And that’s what makes it soooo powerful. For those of us who unintentionally become aware of it, we shout it from the rooftops (well maybe from my blog top, but certainly via word of mouth too).

Today I write this post, have tweeted it twice and told some of my friends verbally. That’s not much, but I’ve got on my mental hard drive now and it can’t be erased. Multiply me by the literally thousands who “accidently” find out about it every year, then add the widespread and constantly growing circles of the wounded vet recipients themselves , and you can see how under the radar viral this thing is.

I’m sure Ping realizes their brand benefits from this program, even though it is not promoted. But what I’m equally sure about is they don’t really care about that part of it at all. What they care about is the fact they’re making a positive difference in wounded vets interrupted lives.


Karsten Solheim

New survey confirms power of “emotional” in brand loyalty … SME’s, YOU BETTER BE PAYING ATTENTION!

Brand Keys, a New York company that specializes in brand and customer-loyalty consulting, just released its 2012 edition of its top 100 “Loyalty Leaders” list.  The composition and rankings of this year’s list leaders reflects the continuous effects of the rapid pace of technological change and customer response to it.

“There are 21 brands in the top 100 for 2012 that did not appear in 2011,” said Robert Passikoff, Founder and President of Brand Keys, “including four of the brands in the top 10.” A copy of the report, which is the 16th from Brand Keys that ranks brands on customer loyalty, can be downloaded here.

Now, on a list of highest brand loyalty leaders, the composition and rankings can change, based on a variety of internal and external factors. However, one thing that remains constant is just what got them here (that is, on the list), and that is (drum roll please) the EMOTIONAL component of their brands. Or as Passikoff puts it, “Brand loyalty has always been primarily driven by emotional engagement … that connection is everything.”

 Now, Robert is a guy who ought to know, since he’s been conducting this particular brand loyalty measure for over 16 years, and of course doing a lot more a lot longer than just that. In fact, I was an associate of his at a major New York agency, more years ago than I’m sure either one of us would like to admit. I’m familiar with his work. As they say about a famous NBA basketball player, “He’s the real deal.”

Which brings me to what this means for all you SME’s out there. You have GOT to leverage the emotional sides of your brands to drive loyalty among your customers/audience. The EMOTIONAL component of your brands is critical, whether they are B2B or B2C, high or low tech, services or products, anything. It is what will get you brand loyalty, and that will get you:

  1. Repeat business.
  2. Pricing leverage.
  3. Favorable word of mouth.
  4. Forgiveness for your screw ups (sometimes).