Starbucks sets out to close America’s racial divide. Huh?


This week saw one of the biggest (and most poorly thought through) “fails” in marketing history. Starbucks “Race Together” campaign, where CEO Howard Schultz’s concocted idea of having Starbucks counter personnel, OK “baristas” I guess they’re called, engage customers about their views and awareness of America’s racial issues…whatever Howard thinks they are.

The campaign included writing “Race Together”on cups containing the customer’s Grande Latte, a USA Today insert and, of course, the hashtag  “#RaceTogether” steering victims to a nifty little questionnaire, apparently designed to suggest the degree that the survey taker was racist. CAj_mkqUYAAyDem-576x1024

This campaign was so successful that it lasted … a week…ONE WEEK! Of course the company claims the cup-writing/barista conversing part was only the start of a continuing “conversation,” including forum discussions (whatever the hell those are) and placement of more stores in minority neighborhoods (good luck with that at $5 a cup, unless they’re defining “minority” as affluent Asian Americans).

The company had planned all along to end the cup messages on Sunday and continue the campaign more broadly, Starbucks spokesman Jim Olson said.

The cups were “just the catalyst” for a larger conversation, and Starbucks will still hold forum discussions, co-produce special sections in USA TODAY and put more stores in minority communities as part of the Race Together initiative, according to a company memo from CEO Howard Schultz said.

Bottom line: the campaign bombed.

Think about it. Even though the Starbucks customer base is uber liberal and very upscale, who wants to have a race-America chit chat when they are either 1) just running in to grab a quick cup to go OR 2) stopping by for a quiet coffee respite or social or business meetup?

Although Howie Boy Schultz should’ve stuck to selling coffee, or maybe limited his community outreach to disadvantaged works in the coffee plantations in Columbia, he just couldn’t restrain himself from addressing the assessment of current super-racist US Attorney General (“If it’s white, I’ll investigate or sue it”) Holder that America is a “nation of cowards” in talking about race.

Now, do I think this will harm in a significant way the “Starbucks” brand. Certainly not. Of course, on balance, given their ultra liberal customer base, it probably can’t incrementally help it either. Most people don’t associate a coffee-dispensing station with a sociology class on race relations.

Those that will to any degree really notice and remember this just plain dumb idea are marketing professionals, but they love Starbucks and will see it as a well intentioned effort by a concerned thought leader that just kind of missed the mark.

I, on the other hand, see it as yet another social engineering overreach by an arrogant millionaire elitist who is much smarter, and God knows, more sensitive than the rest of us.

Then again, I’m not a Starbucks fan boy. I like coffee, but can’t quite bring myself to paying $5 + per cup.

For a great piece on Scheltz’s overweening confidence in launching this goofy idea, read John Nolte on Breitbart.

Emotional Branding at Work for Zillow

Zillowlogo_color_notagZillow, the online real estate company, has a new television commercial that weaves just the right amount of emotion into their brand offering. Mom, dad and son checking out the candidate houses, until they come across one with beautiful trees in the backyard and … A TREE HOUSE !

Embedded in the spot are the rational selling points and attributes from a mobile app to what is apparently a wide selection, but the closer is the “perfect house’s” EMOTIONAL connection with a 10 year old boy.

Bingo, bango! Let’s make an offer.

Powerful Emotional Branding Really Melted My Butter


We all know that insurance companies regularly employ emotional messages in their advertising, e.g. fear, love, etc., but a recent long form (3:01) television commercial for Thai Life Insurance Company here in Bangkok does so with true mastery. The net takeaway, in my view, is do something for others that makes YOU feel good … and it will BE good and make a difference for everyone.

The commercial’s only company ID is at the very end, using a simple title slate. Of course, their name is pretty easy for a Thai to remember. Obviously, many other considerations go into one’s considered purchase of life insurance, but a primary determinant is how one feels about the company underwriting it. I believe anyone that watches this commercial feels better, more hopeful about themselves, and in that emotional context pretty good about the company that brought it to them.

Go ahead, watch it again. Aside from selling insurance, there’s something in there we can all use.

Is that actor “live” or is he Memorex?

“Philip Seymour Hoffman may be digitally replicated for unfinished ‘Hunger Games’ scenes.”  This headline from today’s Washington Times, following on the prolific actor’s death, caught my eye. Not so much because of the use of digital technology, but because it cued up a talent branding idea I (and I’m sure others more technically advanced than I) have been thinking about for a while.


But first, a little background. Hoffman was found dead a few days ago, apparently  from a self-induced drug overdose (autopsy results still pending) . The star actor had been scheduled to finish filming some of the scenes his character, Plutarch Heavensbee, was part of in a still-in-production sequel episode, “Mockingjay – Part 2” of the widely acclaimed “The Hunger Games” series.

Well, obviously, a live Hoffman was not going to be available, so the Hollywood tech meisters were called in to help out. Evidently Hoffman was not that prominently featured visibly in the still-to-be-filmed scenes, so by adjusting camera angles and with some distancing, they could make him appear present, but without significant details. Add a couple sound-alike voice overs and, voila! Resurrection.

Not to wax too congenially over a man’s death and subsequent return to the film production set, but I have long thought about (in fact, shortly after watching Keanu Reeves in the  special effects-laden 1999 “Matrix” movie ) what some day might be possible with all the BIG NAME stars, living and dead. What if the stars themselves, or even their rights-holding estates, could license digital characters of themselves for any movie. Make them Digital Brands, so to speak. Obviously, it’s already been done in a cartoonish way for certain animation projects, but I’m talking about an apparently “real life” reproduction that walks and talks in an actual movie … and never grows old.

What about a whole new series of John Wayne or Humphrey Bogart movies, featuring them in their cinematic primes ( “Casablanca 2,” anyone?). Maybe Richard Dreyfuss could take us along for the sequel to his 1977 “Close Encounters” trip. There’s no limit and, ultimately, production costs and headaches ( talent contracts, stars misbehaving, shooting days, etc.) would drop, while profit margins should skyrocket.

Hollywood, if you haven’t thought about this….give me a call. If you have, get on the stick and let’s have your production and software teams move it forward. I’d sure like to see DiNero and Bogart as a cop team chasing the bad guys.

Oh, and here’s some background for those needing it on this post’s headline, Is that actor “live” or is he Memorex?

It’s from a Memorex TV advertising slogan from the 70’s. It was a cassette tape commercial featuring noted jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald, in which it compared the sound quality of her voice taped on a Memorex cassette with the “real thing” – in this case, her singing “live” in studio. Both her live singing and the recorded version broke a wine glass featured prominently on camera. Both were so real sounding that people (and the commercial) had to ask, “Is it live or is it Memorex?”

Is Apple’s iPhone brand losing its freshness?


Wow! Apple iPhone 5S & 5C a real disappointing, but expected, update …itsy bitsy camera and fingerprint ID…and COLORS for the C skin. Whooopee!

US largest retailer (WalMart) already discounting and stock price dropping. They are hurting their brand! Need an “Apple worthy” big hit e.g. television, wristwatch, to restore the brand versus Samsung, especially in Asia.

No need to panic (yet!) in Cupertino, but better get the guys in the innovations team to start REALLY innovating!

Polaroid just may be resurrecting their brand.

The Polaroid Fotobar Store

The Polaroid Fotobar Store

Cruising through the latest news from the ongoing 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, or CES for you non-geekies, I came upon the Techlicious 2013 Best of CES Awards on their blog. And cruising a bit further I came upon this new retail offering from Polaroid, the Polaroid Fotorbar concept (shown here on the left).

It’s a pretty cool idea, as it fills the void between just sending your digital images around the web (which almost all of us can sort of do) and seriously manipulating them and applying them in applications that are non-digital in nature; think a lampshade…ok, not a lampshade but a giant wall poster or complex art form you just invent, you creative devil you!

Polaroid plans to open ten of these “stores” (I guess that’s what you’d call them) in 2013, with the first in Delray Beach/Palm Beach , Florida, come February.

Polaroid as almost anyone knows, yes “anyone” young or older, was the company that invented instant photography (well, actually it took about 60 seconds). They swept the market, made a ton of money and then went to sleep as digital photography snuck up and mugged them. Then followed bankruptcy….TWICE…and the company and brand almost disappeared.

But now they may become relevant (and successful) again. That’s what makes this new Fotobar retail concept so cool. Talk about leveraging their brand against compelling areas of opportunity. First off, the Fotorbar offering is taking your digital photos BEYOND a screen….putting them on something and having them live on after you press “delete.”

Secondly, this concept may well expand Polaroid’s brand and interest in same among that older audience that may have actually known (and forgot) about them. Sure, the young folk are all digital and some play with these shots now, but the older gang is mostly limited to shooting their pics, showing their friends on their phones and/or downloading to a “Family Reunion” folder on their laptops or tablets. Now, they can be encouraged and get in person help to do lots more with them in a store (or kiosk perhaps) near them…why do you think the first Fotobar is in senior-stocked South Florida?

It’s always hard to predict with certainty new idea market success, but this one’s got the look of a winner. Perhaps, Polaroid as a brand will ride again…after a 40 year hiatus!


Emotion Rears Its Pretty Head, Even on LinkedIn

Fast Company’s got a nice piece by Jonathan Lister on a LinkedIn study that supports the idea that advertisers can more effectively connect with their audiences by marketing, at least in part, to their emotions.

Lister reports that the LinkedIn “Mind Set Divide” study found that “people are driven by a deep well of emotion when using professional networks. Maybe it’s less obvious than what you might see on personal networks, but it’s no less powerful.”

Here’s a link to the article .

And just because I couldn’t resist, here’s a link to my LinkedIn profile .

OK, so what’s the plan for developing effective BRANDED MARKETING communications?

NOTE: This is the first in a series of four posts, outlining my view as to what is involved in developing powerful, branded marketing communications. Post #1 below provides an overview. It will be followed by three subsequent posts presenting the separate components: Brand Essence, Unique Selling Proposition (U.S.P.) and Individual Sales Messages.

POST # 1 … Notice in the above headline it is BRANDED MARKETING communications; not “branded communications”, not “marketing communications”. The logic for that is that just a “branded” effort may well communicate a sense of the brand, but without the critical underpinnings of “marketing,” whatever it is you’re selling….you probably won’t. The other side of the same coin, just “marketing communications,” ties back to what this whole blog is all about and what I believe is missing in most SME communications efforts today…the branding connection (especially to some of the emotional components). I guess, arguably, a price list is a marketing communication, BUT … you get the picture.

So let’s explore what a SME needs to do to develop its effective branded marketing communications campaign.


Define your brand, its essence or soul if you will. This is a statement, reflecting an amalgam of rational and emotional aspects that will attract customers, make them comfortable with the brand and support their continued closeness to it. It is NOT a tagline, advertising claim, whatever. It is a statement that attempts to capture exactly what the brand is “all about.” It will be used as almost a template to insure that future derived communications are consonant (that’s the same as “in tune,” for those that had a problem with 9th grade English) with what the brand stands for. This statement or template is called the “Brand Essence”.


The U.S.P. is the most borrowed, incorrectly used and just plain abused advertising term ever developed. It was posited by Ted Bates agency Chairman Rosser Reeves in 1961. I’ll explain much more about it in forthcoming Post #3. Suffice it to say it is an encapsulation of the optimum selling idea; one that can differentiate the brand and attract people to it. It can be used as an advertising tagline or claim, but usually not. Its better use is to serve as a standard or if you will, a benchmark, against which all advertising executions, copy and even individual selling messages are reviewed to insure they are working as hard as possible and having maximum impact.

Distill Individual SALES MESSAGES

Now we’re down to the fun part and one where everyone from Marketing to Sales to Government Affairs can play. Depending on the objectives that branded marketing communications are meant to achieve (or, let’s admit it, even just influence), potentially hundreds of valid individual sales messages can be generated and used, when and where appropriate in the course of business. Most of these should be pretty much in line with the U.S.P. and Brand Essence, but there can be outliers that serve short term tactical needs. Look for more on this … how to generate them, how to prioritize them and more in coming Post #4.

Ok, so there you have it, just how you can generate powerful BRANDED MARKETING communications (remember now, that’s both “Branded” and “Marketing”). Stay tuned and I’ll explain more in detail for each of the three key areas. Who knows? Maybe someday I can help you in person. Just let me know…


Campbell’s Soup Creates Limited-Edition Andy Warhol Cans

How ultra cool A truly iconic brand and this (only the second time) departure from their long running brand continuum just goes to show how comfortable the Campbell folk are in their own skins. Way to go Campbell…and thanks Toni !


Well it sure is no surprise that I’m a sucker for some good old vintage packaging & perhaps top of the list? Campbell’s Soup.

Fifty years after Andy Warhol first displayed his 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans, Campbell is celebrating the artist with a set of four limited-edition “Warhol-inspired” cans. & well, they look pretty great.

The cans will be sold exclusively at Target stores, USA, for 75 cents each. Which is pretty dam gutting for us Brits so best get starting up that Ebay account, quick!


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What is the “emotional” component of a Brand and why is it important?

SME’s know and understand the “rational” part of their brands. The physical features and attributes of the products and services provided. For B2C’s it could be how many stores, product choices, number of colors or flavors, ease of ordering and fast delivery and more. For B2B’s their personnel expertise, service response, bandwith, upgrades, memory, etc. These are all important considerations; considerations business owner/managers are very comfortable with and ones of interest to and easily understood by customers.

However, they are all rational considerations and primarily operate with potential buyers on that level. By definition connections made on the rationale level are at best only half of the branding equation and at worst the weaker half. Psychologists will tell you that relationships based on only rational considerations, while many times strong, are vulnerable to competing rational input or arguments. Think of it this way… girlfriend likes boyfriend only on a rational basis, e.g. money, good looks, nice care…you get the drift. Along comes wealthier, better looking guy with super nice car and….she’s outta here!  Same thing can happen when a business competitor offers a bigger, better basket of goodies (or maybe just one) customer attracted only on a rational basis. LOST CUSTOMER.

On the other hand, if a business has a competitive (not necessarily better) mix of rational offerings and the, wraps it in a compelling and attractive “emotional” wrapper, the customers that attracts are more likely to stay longer and be more resistant to the “rational” siren songs of the competitors. Staying with the probably over-extended girlfriend/boyfriend metaphor above: how many of you have thought about an unlikely couple pairing,”Gee, I don’t know what she (he) sees in him (her). Well, it probably is something well past the hard to discern rational reasons, but probably something quite a bit more. “He makes me laugh.” “He cares for others.” I feel good when I’m around him.” So it is in branding for business. A good mix of rational reasons to buy is important, but if you can’t establish that emotional connection with a prospect…they either won’t buy OR will always be open to a competitor’s offer.