Is the world getting dumber?

World_IQ_graph Well, the world IS getting dumber …

suggests an article in London’s Daily Mail newspaper, August 21.

Technology may be getting smarter, but humans are getting dumber, scientists have warned.Evidence suggests that the IQs of people in the UK, Denmark and Australia have declined in the last decade.Opinion is divided as to whether the trend is long-term, but some researchers believe that humans have already reached intellectual peak.”

I know the statistics presented and studies analyzed were only in the countries mentioned above, but from my perspective, I would say the growing dumber problem is not just in those three Western countries. The United States, as a leader in technology’s introduction and use, is probably leading the parade…DOWN.

1408624684843_wps_6_Confused_Student_in_LibraThe most pessimistic explanation as to why humans seem to be becoming less intelligent is that we have effectively reached our intellectual peak. Between the 1930s and 1980s, the average IQ score in the US rose by three points and in post-war Japan and Denmark, test scores also increased significantly.

But I don’t buy that. I believe there are three major influences that are putting downward pressure on young peoples’ potential IQ’s:

1. Excessive availability and use of digital devices, especially among the younger age cohorts.

Now I know that many “progressive” (in more ways than one) parents can’t wait to get their children’s hands around an iPad or other mobile device. They foolishly think that will accelerate their kids’ learning and put them ahead of the Joneses for college admissions or something. In fact just the opposite lurks. A Kaiser Foundation study found that children and youth use 4-5 times the recommended amount of technology, with potential serious and often life threatening consequences (Kaiser Foundation 2010, Active Healthy Kids Canada 2012).

images (2)You think that’s bad?  The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics  recommend infants aged under 2 years should not have any exposure to technology; kids 3-5 years restricted to one hour a day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day! Did you get that mom and dad?

2. Excessive dependence on digital devices for companionship, basic life information and entertainment.

This one stems from the problem set up in #1 above. Young and even middle-age people today depend on their digital devices for way too many things. If you’re feeling lonely, text a friend or connect virtually through their Facebook or Instagram photos. Checking out at retail and not sure how much change you get from a $50.00 bill on a $46.21 purchase? No problem. Your cell phone calculator will tell you. Hell, rather than observe and learn from the rich, stimulating human theater going on around you, why not watch a movie on your device and listen through your ear buds. You may be physically on the subway, but not mentally.Tune out, man!

We shouldn’t be surprised that digital device addiction is growing at an alarming rate.

3. Fewer and fewer people read BOOKS anymore, and that is a bad thing.

The Atlantic has a piece titled The Decline of the American Book Lover. We’re talking here about all books, but the decline in read hard cover tomes is disturbing. From the Atlantic, “Without question, the American bookworm is a rarer species than two or three decades ago, when we didn’t enjoy today’s abundance of highly distracting gadgets. In 1978, Gallup found that 42 percent of adults had read 11 books or more in the past year. Today, Pew finds that just 28 percent hit the 11 mark.”

And for people who don’t read, their vocabulary is just like a muscle, it atrophies without use/exercise. And most educators accept that if vocabulary shrinks it threatens learning, confidence, future job prospects, relationships, and even the ability to understand a joke. And that means you’re DUMBER.

So there you have it. It appears people in the developed countries are losing little bits of their aggregate IQ over time. I would bet it is not as pronounced in Asian countries even with their astronomical rates of digital device use (probably because of the Asians stronger commitment to and parental pressure on education; but give them a generation or two and they may well drift down to more Western levels).

What’s it mean for branding?

Duh … I don’t know.






Falstaff Beer — Gone, but not forgotten.

falstaffThis post doesn’t have a lot to do with “branding” per se, but it’s an opportunity for me to recollect and revisit, however briefly, a brand of cheap beer that I grew up with in Saint Louis, Missouri — Falstaff.

Falstaff was started in 1883 by the Lemp family and closely held by them until it’s sale in 1921 to the Griesedieck Beverage Company. It was one of two major breweries in Saint Louis . (Recollection #1 — I’ll warn you upfront about the sick humor that follows, but you can imagine the juvenile laughs we underage, male beer drinkers found in referring to our purchase and consumption of some “Greasy D–k” beer.)

Griesedieck/Falstaff was always overshadowed by the Anheuser Busch brewery which continually fought Schlitz Brewing (in Milwaukee) for #1 beer brand in the United States. However, Falstaff did have its moment in the sun in the mid-1960’s when it was the third largest brewery in America. (Recollection #2 — In the 1940’s there was a humorous joke going around describing Saint Louis as being “First in shoes, first in booze and last in the American League.” With two of the top three breweries in the United States located in Saint Louis, and the industry-leading Brown Shoe Company founded in 1875 also there, all that was needed to complete the joke was a lousy  American League professional baseball team. The Saint Louis Browns met that requirement easily, having only 11 winning seasons over 51 seasons played).

Ultimately Falstaff was the victim of beer industry consolidation throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, but held on grudgingly and usually as a “low price” brand, not discontinuing production until 2005. (Recollection #3 — Falstaff’s “price brand” days were in full swing when I was coming out of high school and taking a razor blade and glue to my paper drivers license to masquerade as of legal drinking age 21, when I was in fact only 18. I remember one weekend when Falstaff was on special at the local liquor store for $2.49 per 24 can case. That works out to about a dime a can of beer, and even in 1963 that was a deal).

“Those were the days my friends. We thought they’d never end.” Mary Hopkin 1968





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.






Another venerable gasoline brand bites the dust…but its toy trucks keep rolling.

A few days ago, a friend called the news below to my attention. Kinda made my eyes water, as I thought about the old “Seven Sisters” and the many gasoline brands (Gulf, Marathon, Texaco, Conoco Phillips, etc.) they used to market (not including Hess, as it wasn’t one of world’s seven largest oil companies).

hessstationHess Corporation announced it was divesting itself of its retail gasoline stores. The move will affect 1,350 gas stations—many owned by Hess itself—that operate in 18 states on the Eastern Seaboard. The gas stations serve as many as 1.3 million customers a day.”

Hess was never a large NATIONAL gasoline retailer in the United States, but in the 50’s it probably had nearly 5,000 stations in New England and Eastern Seaboard states. This at a time, when the nation’s largest nationwide retailer, Texaco, had 15,000 stations in what were then 48 states. Although marketing in a smaller geography, Hess as a regional marketer, had a sizable brand franchise, especially when one considers the population then was skewed in many ways to the North East and Middle Atlantic.

Well, anyway…that was then…this is now and Hess stations will be no more. OK, so you won’t be able to buy “Hess” gasoline anymore, but you can still get the brand’s toy trucks for the holidays.





The “little toy trucks” for Hess and other gasoline retailers live on as collectibles and brand mementos. Texaco may have originated this particular marketing tactic sometime in the 50’s or earlier, but many of the gasoline players adopted it. I never bought one; maybe I was just not into “toy” vehicles, preferring instead to burn ants with my magnifying glass, or later throw firecrackers at the minnows we attracted to our chumming with crackers at Winter’s Pond.

OK, so I was a strange lad, but if you want a Hess toy truck, aside from the obvious eBay or Amazon, there’s actually a Hess Toy Store where you can shop online .

Not sure they sell magnifying glasses, though.



GAP Gets It….Burger King Doesn’t

Image: GapBurger King Announces Safety Move in Play Areas






Couple of interesting pieces of “brand” news yesterday caught my eye. One was for the GAP retailer and reported not so much a change in branding, but actually a testament to brand continuity (although with continual appropriate contemporary updating). The other was about fast-fooder Burger King, changing to a new advertising slogan, one that is intended to make “a connection with a person’s greater lifestyle”. Here’s my take on both.

GAP stays close to its iconic history.

GAP understands it’s always had a connection with its customers. Since 1969, the brand has rallied around fun, joyfulness, optimism and inclusivity. And now the nearly 50 year old brand has set its sights on keeping itself relevant to its original franchise customers who are obviously much older now, as well as the continually new prospects teen age and younger.

But while working hard to build on its iconic history with younger customers, using very modern tactics like social media and emotion-generating music, GAP didn’t find a need to dramatically reinvent the brand.

Your long-term purpose and the tone of your brand and your belief system should never change, but the way you express it can change time and time again,” says GAP Chief Marketing Officer, Seth Farbman.

Burger King shifts dramatically to “lifestyle.

After 40-years of the advertising slogan “Have It Your Way,” Burger King is scrapping it in favor of the more personal “Be Your Way.” The company says the new slogan is intended to remind people that “they can and should live how they want anytime. It’s ok to not be perfect … Self-expression is most important and it’s our differences that make us individuals instead of robots.”

Whoa, whoa whoa Trigger! Now I’m as much into keeping things fresh, updated and relevant to the branding environment one markets within, but let’s not forget….we’re selling burgers here, not dispensing or enabling pop self-psychiatric therapy.

It just keeps getting better. Fernando Machado, Burger King’s senior vice president of global brand management (who just joined the company in March), noted in an interview that “Have It Your Way” focuses on only the transaction — the ability to customize a burger. By contrast, he said “Be Your Way” is about making a connection with a person’s greater lifestyle. Hmmmm. “We want to evolve from just being the functional side of things to having a much stronger emotional appeal,” Machado said.,

Well, we’ll see about that Fernando. Seems to this observer (who has certainly downed triple digit numbers of BK burgers) that it’s all about my food purchase choices and the taste, quantity and consuming environment. Together they should generate some sort of emotional end-benefit, sure; but  connecting with my “greater lifestyle” ? Like I said: we’ll see.








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.

Entrpreneurism is alive and well in Bangkok

LM2_productsLuukmayLogoEntrepreneurism is everywhere here in Thailand. Thais are some of the most business-focused people I’ve come across, with seemingly everyone wanting to have their own business. Doesn’t matter if it’s a small food shop streetside or ambitions for an international conglomerate, they all want to have “a business.”

In just the last couple weeks my 18 year old stepdaughter, Chalisa, started her own handmade fashion accessories business, selling online via her Facebook page and strong WOM (that’s Word of Mouth” for you marketing old school players!) on her VERY active online LINE chat platforms. She quickly expanded her customer base beyond her teenage friends, and with strategic referrals from “Mom,” now is beginning to get orders from “adults” who seem to appreciate not only the unique workmanship and styling, but also what is very reasonable pricing for these casual fashion accessories.

The company name is “LM2” (logo above). It is her nickname, “LuukMay,” abbreviated. Right now Chalisa is concentrating on bracelets and necklaces. Her prices are extremely affordable: bracelets for 50 baht (about $1.60 USD) and 80 baht for the necklaces ( $2.35 USD). Almost all are delivered by in-country post which is very reasonable in Thailand and paid for by the buyer.

Chalisa will be going to University later this summer, so don’t know where this venture may go, but it’s a nice example of Thai (and her) initiative and that ever-burning desire among Thais to have their own business.

Now if she’ll only get a slogan or U.S.P. for her brand …ooops, forgive me. That’s just this branding-centric blogger talking.

J.Walter Thompson decides it’s not “JWT;” It’s “J. Walter Thompson”… AGAIN

jwt OWL

This week I noted with some interest that the international ad agency, “JWT,” was changing its name BACK to “J. Walter Thompson“, which had been its name since 1878, when James Walter Thompson bought and renamed the original shop, Carlton and Smith (which had been founded in 1865). So depending on your view, the agency this year is either 150 years old (which is the birthday their management will celebrate in December, or for purists … only 137 years old). Either way it has been around a long time and historically is one of the largest and most successful advertising agencies on the planet.

But back to this changing the name BACK business.

J. Walter Thompson adopted the “JWT” name in 2005, 18 years after it was acquired by WPP, currently the world’s largest agency holding group (notice WPP relies only on initials; that’s because it originally stood for “Wire and Plastic Products Plc”, a UK public company that the ultimate CEO of WPP, Martin Sorrell, acquired to be the corporate platform on which he would build his worldwide marketing services company).

That the agency’s senior managers are interested in reclaiming the name is not entirely surprising — as you can see, the logo above  being used to celebrate the 150th anniversary, features the J. Walter Thompson Company name along with other agency legacy elements. You can read the full coverage article from the NY Times here.

My take on this this is that although it was somewhat ill advised to change to the soon-to-be jettisoned “JWT” moniker in the first place, it probably is better to fix something done wrong 9 years ago than to let it continue on interminably. I consider the advertising , agency business to be a “people” business, dealing with customers, employees, competitors, etc. I think a firm that does that should have a strong persona, a human one if you will. JWT is clean, succinct and, who knows, oh so catchy, but it doesn’t sound like a person, one I as a client would like to work with or as an employee, for. Think about that for a minute. Do EXXON, IBM , even the wildly successful BBDO agency seem to have actual human personalities?

In my mind advertising agencies, if they can logically claim so, should fly their founders’ flags. Sure Ogilvy (Ogilvy & Mather) and McCann (McCann Erickson) have shortened up a bit; but Leo Burnett, Wieden + Kennedy and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners retain their original names. Makes me think that initials are best left for monograms or indicated agreements or modifications on contracts.


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.