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.

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?”

True Visions/ASN Amateur Hour in Thailand Super Bowl Telecast

20090610124436!TrueVisions_2009LogoThailand’s leading cable satellite television operator, True Visions, carrying the ASN Super Bowl  telecast, really came off as almost amateurish today.

ASN_logoThe ASN side of actually PRODUCING and BROADCASTING the game itself was almost flawless. However, while the True Visions PRESENTING of the game content over their cable system was good, the commercial TRAFFICKING throughout was bizarre and extremely distracting (and followed a pattern True Visions/ASN have                                                      used in all of the telecasts of the U.S. professional football                                                    games this year).

You see, True Vision and, apparently ASN at least in SE Asia, have been co-opted by the “greenie” advocacy group,  Asia-Pacific Media Alliance for Social Awareness Ltd  and convinced to help spread their “green” and “sustainable” gospel far and wide.

Ok, I get it…an effort truly worthy of Al Gore. I’ll throw my trash in approved containers.

HOWEVER, the way  True Vision/ASN chose to support their partnership was by trafficking some “REDRAWTHELINE.ORG” commercials throughout their approximately three hour game telecast. Excuse me, did I say “some”? No, make that 22 :30 commercials, and I ran for the exits with two minutes left to play.

Now maybe if the green advocates had more than one commercial to run this wouldn’t have been so stultifying, but they evidently don’t, so over and over and over again I saw their warning message about “climate change” (a supposed phenomenon that, contrary to Leftist media and politicians around the world, does not command a scientific consensus).

Wow! Fourteen times in the game’s first half, and yes….there were several for Paribas and one for Ford, but that was small relief from the warning of climate threat coming to end all our lives.

But don’t worry. In case I forgot the warning message and was willing to drive too fast (wasting petrol) or not use the right kind of light bulbs (just generally wasting energy) or engage in any other contra-sustainable behaviors, the boys and girls at Asia-Pacific Media Alliance for Social Awareness Ltd were ready for me in the second half with True Visions and ASN help. At least eight more commercials were coming in the last 30 minutes of the game, getting us to a total of 22 before the 2:00 warning (remember, I surrendered and accepted defeat without watching the last 120 seconds). MAKE IT STOP, LORD!

However, you slice it…while the actual Super Bowl was at least OK in this fan’s eyes, the one-sided commercial tsunami was truly amateur hour and in some small way distracted from what is supposed to be a global media event. Oh well, maybe next year there will be “real” advertisers in the Thailand telecast of the BIG GAME, running a manageable number and/or mix of commercials.