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


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.






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.








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…

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

What the hell is a “Brand Essence” and why do I need one?

NOTE: This is the second in a series of four posts, outlining my view as to what is involved in developing powerful, branded marketing communications. Post #1(October 17) below provided an overview. This Post #2 will explain the “what” and the “why” of the Brand Essence. It will be followed by two subsequent posts, presenting the Unique Selling Proposition (U.S.P.) and Individual Sales Messages.

Sometimes when I talk to SME marketers and mention “Brand Essence,” they get a strange look on their faces. I can tell they don’t know what I’m talking about, but usually, out of politeness or, not wanting to seem ill-informed, they play along.

Oh, they may have heard of or know (think they do) something about a “U.S.P.” Other marketing communication terms that many times comes flying in from left field are “Positioning,” “Mindmap” and “Brandscape.” And recently in a meeting, an SME marketer sprung “U.B.A.” on me. I had never heard of it, nor had Google or Bing. Seems it’s an acronym for “Unique Buyer Acquisition,” or something along those lines. Of course, as we talked about it, it came out that it really is pretty close to “U.S.P.”, but in this person’s mind it was very different and “U.S.P.” was “old school.” I’ll explain a bit more about “U.S.P.” in a subsequent post, but right now let’s leave it that there is a lot of free-floating terminology out there in Branding World. No wonder some SME marketers are confused.

That’s why I’m going to explain “Brand Essence,” perhaps for the 10,000th time … that’s part of my expertise and my knowledge equity. I like to doing it and it should help some SME marketers reading this blog.


A “Brand Essence,” many times overlooked, is the required foundation for consistent, long term marketing communications with a competitive advantage. It must fully recognize the target audiences’ emotional underpinnings and how those emotional chords are tied to and interact with their more rational perspectives. Too many SME’s neglect doing this required emotional homework and go right to “making ads,”  focusing on their rational offers and rushing right behind that to visuals and type size.


But even before starting actual development a “Brand Essence,”  there needs be rigorous defining of the target audience. Who are these people? What drives their potential connection to our brand? How is it different from that connection to our competitors’ brands?

Once you’ve done your Target Audience work, it’s time for the “Brand Essence.” Remember, it is the foundation of all that will follow an amalgam of the brand’s rational and emotional components. From it will be drawn via the required “U.S.P.”, the selling messages and communication tactics ranging from TV commercials to Facebook pages to customer sales presentation and other materials.


I think the process for generating the “Brand Essence,” is relatively simple, but not easy. Some significant mind-work should be involved, combined with a decent measure of creativity and open minded willingness.

.And this is the point where I and my consultancy, SME Brand Leverage, come in. The process we use draws on my more than 40 years of building brands. We conduct a session that is both collaborative (the clients and I TOGETHER, no sitting on the sidelines, please) and dynamic (we share and interact for anywhere from a half to a full day …yes, there are bathroom breaks). Remember that after all, it is your brand…you have to help build it.

In this session we interrogate the brand, disassembling all its pieces from its rational  features (“28 flavors”, “guaranteed 24 hour delivery”) through how that benefits a customer (“wide variety of choices”, “last minute timing”)  to how that makes them feel (puts me in control,” “less worries about last minute order”). Then we re-assemble them all up into one “Brand Essence”, balancing them as appropriate. It is here that you can either decide ON JUDGMENT which one works best OR should market research be used to evaluate alternatives.

Of course, you still need a U.S.P. and sales messages. Preparing those will be covered in future posts, and will have to wait till next week.

Next week’s post: “The U.S.P. A most powerful business-building tool.”

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).

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…


Kids’ Brains React More Positively to Fast Food Logos Than Those of FedEx or BMW. Well, duh!

Medical Daily  reports a study conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Kansas Medical Center found that logos from fast-fooders are branded into the minds of children at an early age.

The study, showed children 60 logos from popular food brands, like Rice Krispies and KFC and 60 logos from popular non-food brands, like BMW and FedEx. The children were aged between 10 and 14. Then, using a functional MRI scanner, which measures blood flow to different areas in the brain, they watched the brains of these children react to the different logos.

When showed images of fast food companies, the parts of the brain that control pleasure and appetite lit up. The brains did not do the same when showed images from companies not associated with food. (Hmmmm, I guess those were brands like FedEx and BMW.)

So far so good, but then the article reports “researchers are concerned that marketers for these companies (the fast fooders) are tapping into the reward portions of the brain long before children develop self-control. In addition, most of the foods marketed to children are high in caloric content, sugars, fat and sodium.

This little segue follows nicely the Medical Daily article’s  two opening paragraphs, referencing rampant growth (pardon my word selection) in child obesity since 1980.

I hope we can all see where this is going.

Strong brands and their communications targeting relevant audiences do a good job of establishing brand awareness among those who actually might buy their products. It is proven by research. It is also proven in the research that brands that are irrelevant to the researched target audience, 10-14 year olds, actually sink below the waves and don’t register or are forgotten.

But don’t let those issues of relevancy get in the way. Fast food is bad for children. Fast brands are remembered and pleasurable to 10-14 year old children (so I would bet are xBox, Apple iPod, Justin Bieber and others). Sooooo, we need to take (legal, governmental, you put a name on it) action to PROTECT them from the brand meanies that get them fat. Cigarettes, motorcycle helmets, etc. …some of those regulations make sense, but until those 10 year olds start driving BMW’s and FedExing a lot, I don’t think this research and where it’s headed is 1) valid (potentially false hypothesis), 2) useful ( no fast food = skinny kids?) and 3) should be actionable (“keep the government’s hands off my fries”).

Read the complete article .


Shangri-La Hotels: Emotional Branding A+ / Execution D-

There is a television commercial for Shangri-La Hotels that supports the grades given above. The crux of the spot is a solo hiker, trudging through heavy snowfall in a remote forest. Cold, hungry, and apparently lost. He’s in a bad way. He’s probably going to freeze to death.

Then, we see a pack of wolves, stalking him. They’re closing in, as he weakens further and collapses in the snow. He’s doomed, right?  Wrong…. according to Shangri-La Hotels advertising. The camera pulls out to an overhead shot of him lying in the snow, surrounded by the wolves lying on him, keeping him warm, helping him survive till morning.

And the tagline, one that wholly captures the emotional side of the Shangri-La brand, paraphrased slightly, “To embrace a stranger as one’s own…It’s in our nature.”

It is a killer of a brand statement, dripping with warmth and welcome. Perfect for a hotelier. And one that earns, from me, an “A+”.

HOWEVER, and there are many times a “however”, the perfect copy line and its communication is ruined by the silliness of the execution’s portrayed situation. Hungry wolves (meat eating predators, remember?) stalking a weakened homo sapiens and they decide to help him survive the night. What for, breakfast? Why not just let him stumble into the little farmhouse in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre?”

Unfortunately, one of three things happened at this commercial’s birth. One, the creative team, seized on a metaphor that they thought captured the objective, but didn’t realize that its utter absurdity offset the majority of the desired impact. Or two, they realized it “didn’t quite work,” but it was so dramatically powerful that it would offset the rational weakness of the emotional payoff. And then maybe, three, they knew it was structurally weak, but kinda liked the “on the way to Grandma’s house,” physical set and thought its “production values’ (which are strong) would save it.

For whatever reason, they made a mistake, and therefore get a D-. I’m not sure just what better “casting” would be best for their all-powerful tagline. I’m sure there are other pairings that could capture the “…embrace a stranger” idea, without causing a discerning viewer to say, “Wait a minute; how’s this make sense?”

Unfortunately, what had the potential to be an A branding communication all around, probably averages out to a “C,” or maybe a bit lower.

I did like the cinematography, though.