Friday, April 27, 2012

Why Don't the Cool Kids Wear 'Ed Hardy' Anymore?

It wouldn’t have anything to do with the brand’s essence being applied to a giant plastic lighter, would it?

How is price determined? Is it by quality? Maybe a little – but when it comes to apparel, there’s something far more important. Perception.

Brands are afforded the ability to charge a premium when we say they can.

Not literally, (as clothiers hoping to position themselves as high-end don’t typically enter the market with heavy discounts, waiting on demand to pick up and only then instituted price hikes), but once the perception of value is secured and prestige pricing applied, most brands work tirelessly to maintain their elite status.

They file lawsuits against competitors legit and fraudulent alike – that dare to manufacture product closely resembling their aura.

They execute projects in brand extension – embracing methods that reinforce their perception of quality, all the while increasing their reach down market.  


Vera Wang – High-end designer of women’s wear and famous for couture bridal gowns, Wang now markets “Simply Vera” at mid-market Kohl’s Department Stores. The diffusion line, although priced premium by Kohl’s standards, applies Wang’s signature style to apparel, bedding, and bath lines attainable by fashion-conscious middle-Americans.

Ralph Lauren – From the ultra-exclusivity of his “Purple Label,” to the more standard and iconic “Polo” brand, down to the entry-level, value-conscious “CHAPS” – Ralph Lauren understands the importance of marketing product downstream while maintaining legitimacy and premium pricing at the top.  

So, what did Ed Hardy do wrong?

If ultra-couture brands like Jimmy Choo and Versace can craft lines for H&M and Ralph Lauren beach towels can show up at TJ Maxx, why is Ed Hardy losing mojo with its brand extension projects?

No sub-brand strategyEd Hardy, is Ed Hardy, is Ed Hardy. There was no attempt to devise different naming conventions to other product categories that borrow Ed Hardy’s signature style. Something as minor as “The Bic Everlast Lighter, now stylized by Ed Hardy” would have gone a long way. 

Premium / sub-premium disconnect – An Ed Hardy Zippo would have been better. From couture loungewear to an instrument with open flame – that’s a giant leap. It would felt more natural at least maintained a notion of luxury if Ed Hardy would have partnered with a premier player within the lighter category.

But, maybe they’ve already made their peace?

Perhaps founder Christian Audigier wasn’t looking to win an endurance competition with Ed Hardy? He also launched Von Dutch – remember that blip on the radar?

Maybe his thing is speed – short, fast runs where popularity of edgier, more niche styles rise quickly and fall off just as fast? I suppose if a brand is already on its final descent, there’s no reason it shouldn’t grapple for as many co-branding opportunities as possible.

All I know is my once favorite Ed Hardy briefs, demoted to gym and sleep only, have reached their final post as apartment dust rag.

End of the line...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

KONY 2012 - a Campaign Gone Without a Trace?

It became YouTube’s most-watched video practically overnight.

Perfect in both execution and articulation; ripe for social media proliferation – it drew rapid promises of activism from millions of people. Our nation, spoiled by comparison, gobbled up the do-good message; committing to get involved in local grass-root activities for Invisible Children’s “make Kony famous” campaign.

I mean, it even played up the two-party stagnation plaguing this country!
The date was set – Friday, April 20th.

The assignment was clear – blanket your city with Kony posters, murals and stickers, wear self-devised Kony tshirts and face paint. GET THE WORD OUT at any cost.

While over 3.5 million people had pledged to “cover the night,” the actual turnout—almost everywhere—proved lackluster at best and in some cases non-existent.

Traveling on business, I was afforded the opportunity of seeing fruit of the campaign’s labors in both Chicago and Denver. I use the term “seeing” loosely, as one had to really look hard to notice anything; the occasional poster taped to a bus station or fence post, a spattering of sidewalk chalking, and a few poorly concepted red Anvil t-shirts.

4/21 Denver - Millennium Bridge
So much hype. So much hope.
And yet, the “make Kony famous” campaign lost steam.

What went wrong?

Even the most passive social media user could not escape the viral propagation of “KONY 2012” – it was everywhere. What the same audience might have missed however was founder Jason Russell’s public nudity and incoherent rants, caught on video. But don’t worry - what was finally determined to be a brief reactive psychosis, an acute state brought on by extreme exhaustion, stress, and dehydration – is NOT to blame for the derailing of the “make KONY famous” campaign.

What the Social Media Gods giveth, the Social Media Gods taketh away.

KONY 2012 fell victim to, what we’re coining as, the Triple A’s (AAA) of Social Media Marketing – (yup, you heard it here first, it’s ours) – The Triple A’s (AAA) of Social Media Marketing.

Awareness and Amplification – A 1 and 2, (the upward climb).

KONY 2012 rose to fame on the backs of social media – Facebook, Twitter, even Instagram feeds were clogged with solid, powerful messaging.

You found yourself re-sharing it just to fit in – who cares about requesting a kit or making a donation – you’ll do that later, right? Hop on that bandwagon!

Attention Span (short) – 3, the quick decline into irrelevancy.

Released in early March, KONY 2012’s 4/20 call to action was nearly eight weeks out. MAJOR MISTEP. Social Media trends come and go – faster than news headlines! What’s curious and new one day, becomes annoying and overplayed the next, blocked the third and forgotten history by week’s end.

The KONY 2012 message was great – it invoked action from the darkest of cynics. But you can’t get people all rallied and riled up and ask them to sit and wait 2 months.

What could have helped?
  1. Establish a network of instant-gratification providers first: The KONY campaign should have started by assembling a network of globally dispersed consumer businesses. By arming them with t-shirts, bracelets and other collateral, they would have had a way to provide instant gratification to supporters at the height of their awareness.
  2. A more tangible countdown to 4/20: Everyone loves a larger-than life clock counting down the weeks, days, hours and seconds before a major event – instant hype. An equally iconic thermometer could have been incorporated – rising with the number of pledges and engaged parties. The KONY 2012 campaign could have augmented these with the release of new video snippets, interviews and statistics to keep feeding the masses net-new information leading up to “cover the night.”
Getting a campaign to go viral is hard. It’s about chance; stumbling on what resonates. Assuming your lucky enough to strike a nerve and invoke action, don’t blow it all by with a maligned CTA!
Keep the window tight; the pace of technology has made us impatient. Heck, at this point, instant gratification isn’t fast enough.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wait, you buy your groceries online? What is this, 1999?!

Where did all these online grocery stores come from?

If you’re like most of us, you assumed online grocery shopping got squelched in the bursting of the original dot-com bubble.

Think again; shopping for groceries and other household items via the web is making a HUGE comeback.

What changed in the last 10- to 15-odd years that makes the e-tailing of peanut butter and dryer sheets sustainable?

Time; the natural progression of life.

Shopping for necessities in personal health and hygiene is a less-than-glamorous task – universal to adults everywhere.

While our parents had years of practice doing so in traditional brick and mortar storefronts, we can right our own way.

And, as the first generation to grow up with computers and more specifically, the internet in the classroom, we are all too quick to delegate tasks to the web in the name of efficiency.

Online grocery shopping was always a good idea; it just needed to bide time while tech-savvy consumers entered into the real world.

(Sophistication around intuitive website UI and additional scalability around logistics didn’t hurt either).

Routine can be a powerful barrier to exit, even in online retailing.

While we believe the moniker, “competition is just a click away,” we feel it applies more rigorously to one-time/event-specific purchases. These are unique situations where one has no previous “in-store” experience to compound their store-selection process.

When it comes to shopping for routine groupings of undifferentiated necessities, traditional rules of loyalty via routine apply. Be it physical aisle ways or virtual site navigation, one has a tendency to shop and stay with “store” layouts they are familiar with.

And so, differentiation remains crucial.

Getting a Lay of the Land…

The industry remains spotty and fragmented; regional players in the East and Midwest and a few outfits boasting complete, national coverage. 

For the sake of a simple comparison and light industry overview, we’re narrowing our review to just two key players, one regional and one national.

With its roots in Chicago and the surrounding area, Peapod has recently increased its foot print through partnerships in Philadelphia, Boston, DC, NYC and greater New England.

Their website is simple, but unpolished:

Highlights: Of all the reviewed sites, Peapod offers one of the widest arrays of brand choices and product sizes.

With this promotional spot, front and center - it’s clear they see cultivation of early adopters as crucial in winning at e-tailing groceries.

Bonus features:
Mobile app including browsing, ability to save and reuse lists. “Browse by aisle” familiar functionality.

Shortcomings: Website UI - Product images are small with varying quality. Navigation is a little clunky and feels about 5 years behind the times.

With coverage across the entire United States, is powered by online retail juggernaut, and it shows:

Highlights: Definitely the most beautiful site design of all the major players, boasts bright, hi-res product photos and an intuitive, ultra-simple UI for browsing by product or category. No doubt thanks to momma Amazon’s expertise in logistics and well-established network of distribution centers, lures first-timers in with “free shipping” promos that activate at a lower price point than competing alternatives.

Bonus Features: Intuitive mobile app, list-saving functionality, top navigation gives access to 5 sister sites/departments (Infant, Pets, Toys, and Housewares) all with the convenience of 1 shopping cart.

Shortcomings: Speaking groceries, Soap only offers consumer-packaged goods (CPGs)  - no fresh produce – fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses. Less choices in terms of product size, flavors and access to established brands.

Cart-to-Cart Comparison:

As a down and dirty test of pricing, we selected 4 items at random: 2 grocery, 2 household. Let’s see how they measure up – against each other and alongside brick and mortar alternatives:

Key Takeaways:

Peapod’s pricing is competitive?! We were surprised. Summing all items together, the $2.30 premium over Target is a bit much, but only a dime more than Jewel-Osco?  Impressive; proof Peapod has applied competitive pricing tables to combat local traditional retailers.

Soap is higher priced with less variety. A bit of a surprise as well. We expected the cutting-edge web interface to come at a slight premium, but at $1.16 more than both Peapod and Jewel and a full $2.31 over Target, it’s not a viable candidate for our grocery budget. (And bear in mind, that disparity in cost just covers 3 of the 6 items!) could only compete on half the products – driving home the fact that their selection – brands and size/flavor variety alike – remains quite limited.

While wins for “in-store” experience and market reach, delivers a more complete line of products at a better price.
To establish market dominance, should: 
  • Focus on steady growth via partnership – identify attractive, downtown/urban areas where consumers are tech-enabled and more open to the concept of buying groceries online.

  • Increase Promotional Efforts based on Price – consumers already get the “convenience” side of the equation – time to erode the perception it comes at a HUGE premium. Devise taglines and identify legitimate product price comparisons against traditional stores.
There’s something to be said for shopping in a physical store, meandering aisle after aisle, you are more likely to stumble upon new categories you might not otherwise seek out on your own.

But, in a pinch, it’s good to know online grocers have evolved and stand ready to deliver on the promise of the World Wide Web!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Logo debuts at ONE World Trade Center...and not a floor too soon.

The steel skeleton of 1 WTC reached the 100th floor this week. Having just visited the Big Apple over the Easter holiday, I have to share progress from my vantage point:

With only four floors to go in its climb, the developers must have felt it was time to kick marketing promotions into high gear – it's logo time!

Promotions 101: Changing names half way through confuses your audience.

Mother always warned about making a good first impression…

During the early stages of the redevelopment and build process, the skyscraper was bestowed the deliciously white-trash moniker of “Freedom Tower.” (Look, I’m as patriotic as the next guy, especially in the shadows of 9/11 – but there’s something off-putting about the word “freedom” in product marketing. All I can picture is a garish billboard buried deep in the heart of rural, ultra-conservative America – undoubtedly boasting a shoddy illustration of a bald eagle and the word “GOD” in tall, intimidating letters.)

I’m not sure why the decision was made to change the name to One World Trade Center. Being it the name of the original tower, I’m sure there was heated debate and contention on both sides of the argument.

It’s important to remember that in general terms, buildings designated as “world trade centers” exist all over the world – Wikipedia lists 57 in the U.S. alone.

So fundamentally speaking, the new tower would have picked up the task of “instrument for trade expansion” in Manhattan left vacant with the fall of the Twin Towers – regardless of naming convention.

I’m happy with the change and synonymous nature of “One World Trade Center.”

Oh, that’s right – the logo.
Here it is:
 30k Feet Weighs In:

By placing stronger emphasis on “ONE,” the logo combats the naming dilemma surrounding the words “World Trade Center” right away.

There’s also something about the word/number “One” that’s innately superior and bold.

First. Premier. Proud. The Best. There’s only ‘One.’

Once erected, the tower’s spire will reach a very symbolic 1776 feet. The logo’s design ties together to that structural element and the perception of “America” and “One” within the letter “O” itself.

Regarding color, the rich blue is almost hallowing – as if in its regality alone the design pays tribute to those lost in the original Twin Towers. The fade reinforces this – it imparts a feeling of a cool, blue horizon – honoring those who were taken too soon from this Earth.

Too gushing of a review?

Fine. If we had to say something bad, it kind of looks like it might be better suited to represent a news network than a building; it feels a little mid-nineties.

But honestly, we love it.
Interested in a closer look at the redevelopment progress at WTC? Follow @WTCProgress on twitter.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An iPad is NOT a Box of Tissues

You know this isn't a thing, right?
A friend shared an interesting article the other day, discussing concern over the Apple iPad becoming the next Band-Aid or JELL-O.

Traditionally, it’s one of the biggest contradiction’s in business – companies do all that they can to establish their brands as household names. But what happens when a brand becomes so engrained in the lexicon of society that it becomes synonymous with the entire product category?

I’m not sure Apple has anything to fear.

I’d say “genericization” is a bigger issue with non-specialized, commodities; product categories with little to no differentiation between competing brands.

I mean, no doubt a portion of the less informed public will refer to all tablet computers as “iPads.”

But that’s not the buyer Apple is trying to attract.

And let’s be honest, even when/if laggards finally decide to buy in the category, they’d only balk at the iPad’s premium price and opt for a cheaper tablet with fewer bells and whistles.

Tablet Computers: it’s NOT Apples-to-Apples

A tablet computer is not something you simply throw at the bottom of the grocery list, next to bread and paper towels; it’s a major buying decision!

The less informed you are as a potential buyer, the more research you’ll conduct prior to purchase.
If that research is online, I promise if you search “iPad,” you’ll arrive at Apple’s website (Google’s animosity aside).

If you’re the type that prefers to compare products in-store, no doubt employees will be on-hand to set you straight on iPad vs. competing alternatives.

And Apple doesn’t hold THAT much of the market

No question, iPad is the tablet for which all other tablets aspire to be. It’s quickly becoming the standard on which all others strive. But at 57%, its market dominance is not at the level of “genericization.” And with stronger players recently arrived (Amazon) and still to come (Google), that dominance will only continue to dilute. Keep market share up - that should be the focus.

Original article sourced in the image above.

And they have iRelateability

iEverything. Apple’s entire suite of products and services roll up under an iron-clad family branding strategy. iTunes, iMac, iPhoto, iCloud, and iPhone - iGet it, they’re all related! It’s what allows less-informed consumers at large to quickly identify all Apple’s products back to a single source.

Weigh in.

Should Apple be concerned?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Facebook and Instagram got together. Why can’t we be happy for them?

If you follow social media/tech news, Facebook buying Instagram was everywhere yesterday.

And really, we shouldn’t be surprised. There were signs of their flirtation. In recent months, share functionality between the two had gotten stronger and more seamless.

So, in a way, we saw it coming.

The acquisition is a big deal for 2 reasons, really.

It exhibits how the (social media) world keeps getting smaller. Instagram is Facebook’s first major acquisition in quite some time. It sets the tone for their impending IPO and begs the question – what more will Facebook seize control over once besieged with unprecedented amounts of cash?

It demonstrates the amazing value of social media. One quote I came across yesterday (and subsequently, re-tweeted) said it best. Today we learned that 551-day-old Instagram is worth $1 billion while 116-year-old New York Times Co. is worth $967 million.

Watch out, another handful of 20-something millionaires were born.

So two things we love got together. Why can’t we just be happy for them?

30k Feet Weighs In:

We like Facebook. We like Instagram. We just don’t like them together. And we can’t really explain it.

I guess we had come to appreciate Instagram as a bit of a social media refuge. As each Facebook redesign boasted more and more ways to share every aspect of one’s life, Instagram continued to fly below radar. Random, quirky, sometimes thought-provoking snapshots made beautiful through a variety of filters. It was the breath of fresh air that kept things simple.

Well, they’re together now – for better or worse. In that case, here’s…

…what we DO want to see:
Regular instagrammers can agree, while the mobile app is super-simple and easy to use, a more robust desktop experience would be nice. Click on an Instagram link shared via Facebook or Twitter and you’re taken to a single, isolated landing page:
Sample website UI. My profile. April 2012.
With Instagram’s current website, there is:
  • No profile view
  • No way to search through a follower’s image gallery – (much less your own) 
  • No way to comment or ‘like’ photos
Surely Facebook could lend its profile/web photo browsing capabilities to Instagram. Doing so would not only increase user engagement on traditional, non-mobile web platforms but make browsing more fluid and engaging on mobile.

…what we DON’T want to see:

Total integration. Every time you go to upload a picture/group of pictures to Facebook, you’re presented with the opportunity to add legacy Instagram filters. As we touched on in Deconstructing Social (again), photos of the seemingly ordinary (and, dare we say it, stupid) do NOT need artistic/vintage washes on them. Opening these features up to any Joe-Blow Facebook novice will only lead true instagrammers to hate and abandon the service.

Ads. We forgot to mention that when Facebook paid $1B for Instagram, they paid $1B for a business with NO profit model. Zero. Although it speaks volumes on Facebook’s perception of Instagram’s audience engagement, that won’t be enough longer-term. Look, we’ll deal with a few ads so long as they keep cool new features and benefits coming. Just don’t get too crazy (or creepy).

Facetagram? Instabook?

The jury is still out on whether or not Facebook and Instagram will prove a match made in heaven.

Initial reports from both camps say the intent is to keep the two products separate. We have no doubt additional cross-functionality will be devised, but remain optimistic that it proves slight.

Friends with both, it’s easy to feel entitled to some vested interest; we don’t want our relationship with either to change. But it’s really selfish for us not to wish them well. So let’s “like” their relationship update, cross our fingers, and hope for the best.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fries: Who Slings 'em Better?

I got to thinking about positioning the other day.

Perhaps the most vital (and fun) part of the marketing process, positioning is when you stop thinking about your product as if it existed in a vacuum and begin to frame up how it fits in the grand scheme of (competing) things.

Suddenly you're faced with selecting words and deploying phrases that best communicate how your widget differs from – no, is BETTER than – all the rest.

In that same spirit, we introduce you to a new segment we like to call:

“Who Wore it Better?”

Cute. Now, what is it again?

Think about the taglines embraced by two leading luxury car manufacturers here in the US:

Mercedes-Benz: The Best or Nothing
Lexus: Pursuit of Perfection

Both are “wearing” the position of “luxury automobile.”

But who “wears” it best?

Whose aura resonates most with its intended audience?

We could go on for hours interpreting the intent behind these taglines, dissecting their interplay. We could look beyond words, and pick apart creative and channel.

Instead, we’ve elected to stick with something we know (better than we care to admit).
The French Fry
When you think about traditional fast food, what comes to mind?

A burger and fries. That’s right; the “burger” comes before the “fries.”

Not always the case with advertising.

More recently, both McDonald’s and Burger King have been touting the hamburger’s gilded sidekick. And why not? While burgers are one choice of many sandwiches and come with limitless variations all their own, the fry is an industry staple and key point of comparison among all brands.

Do we want fries with that? Of course!
Take a look at two more recent fry-slinging ads.

Who wears it better?

If you ask us, it's hard to say. Both companies make French fries work; wearing it in a way that accentuates each brand’s best features. 
  • McDonald’s is the responsible, mature (yet equally clever) older brother; well-established and refined. Their ad touts “best fries on the planet” in a bold yet respectful, marquee way.
  • Burger King plays the ever-subordinate and neglected, attention-seeking little brother. Finding it impossible to escape Ronald’s shadow, BK enlists shock value to ensure its message gets heard. Their ad (quite literally) sticks it to the man.
Both campaigns stay true to their brand and most definitely resonate with the target markets each are looking to attract.

Whose message resonates with you most?