Weird ad: can’t we all just get along?
Thursday March 12th 2015, 3:11 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,financial services

So the odd ad this week comes from Amalgamated Bank. Never heard of ‘em.

The good people at Amalgamated have clearly heard of branding agencies, though, as their website is downright winsome for a bank and their mission (yes) is to be “the preeminent bank of progressive people, organizations, businesses and labor.” Sooo hard to accomplish this when your 1-year CD rate is 0.40%, etc., but that’s a whole different post. Stephanie-Fierman-Amalgamated

So anyway, back to the ad. “Does your bank care more about limo riders than subway riders?” In an effort to be clever and “of the people,” Amalgamated has taken an off-base swipe at those who sometimes ride in the back of cars and insulted everyone reading its transit ad.  A double! And given the too clever by half approach to the copy, there is zero chance that anyone would pause to ask themselves the somewhat deep question Amalgamated is asking; said subway rider would be too busy trying to figure out WTF the ad is trying to say.

New York is also the wrong city for this ad. Too much of a melting pot.  “Limo” doesn’t have the same universal connotation it might have elsewhere, or at least it no longer does.  The bank’s site refers to helping the same kind of people who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of – hello – 1911. Today, the delineation between (think wealthy) limo riders and (think poor) subway riders isn’t all that clear. Plenty of New Yorkers who use limos for work use the subway on their own time, or when they’re paying. Then there’s the Ubers and Lyfts (limo? car? you decide)… The message just falls flat.

Oh, and one last thing? Why Amalgamated? Where’s the benefit? It’s a cheap shot to promote yourself in a serious category by dissing someone else (and not even someone specific – just “your bank”).

This is a fail, and maybe that’s a shame.  I looked at a bunch of the videos on the bank’s site, and they appear to care about things that are worth caring about. Cool. But as an advertiser? Be sure your voice, the message and the place all work together successfully.  If they don’t, you need to rethink what you’re doing.


Makes Me Wanna Copy Something
Tuesday August 09th 2011, 9:28 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,branding

I want to give a big hat tip to Xerox and its global ad campaign from Y&R.

Launched in the fall of 2010, the campaign explains that Xerox can handle all of a company’s (your company’s) business and document management needs so it can focus on its “real business.”

These ads are so pitch-perfect that I actually stop and watch them whenever they come on the tube.  Pithy without being obnoxious, demonstrating an exxagerated situation that still gets the point across, fantastically cast with actors whose mere head tips communicate everything you need to know…

Well done. Not everyone agrees, but I don’t have a theoretical issue with two brands in an ad if (a) they’re there for a reason and (b) the supporting brand doesn’t eclipse the primary advertiser. I think we’re good here.

Here are my two favorites.

XEROX AND MARRIOTT: “I can’t hear you because I’m also making you a smoothie!”

XEROX AND DUCATI: “Are you busy!?”

Trump Is Just Being Trumpy

Today, I was asked what effect Donald Trump’s supposed presidential run is having on his personal brand.

In my opinion, Trump’s flirtation with the presidency doesn’t impact his brand value one way or the other.  This is because – whether he originally intended it or not – Trump has had a bifurcated brand for years.

Trump has a business side and a farcical side. The farcical or “personality” side is what’s enabled him to create (and – hellopublicize) entertainment properties, because it drives him to behave in an entertaining way.  In his real life, he’s a paunchy, weird-haired real estate guy, so to be entertaining, he needs to be over the top.  Brad Pitt can just stand still and attract attention; Trump cannot. Donald’s got to jump up and down to draw interest.

This means that people expect to see Trump behaving in an outlandish sort of way, so his “presidential bid” isn’t new news: it’s just The Donald being wacky again.

Therefore, his recent jaunt through Kookytown (a) doesn’t impact people who expect it (and that would be everyone by now), and (b) wouldn’t put off anyone who actually wants to do real business with the Trump Organization (those who ignore stunts and would be interested only in the deal they were getting), so… this is Donald Trump status quo.

Let’s clarify: I loathe what’s happening and agree with The New Yorker’s David Remnick regarding the reasons for Trump’s behavior.  But that wasn’t the question and, unfortunately, our pseudo-celebrity culture – in which many don’t think any deeper about a person’s character than what dress she wore to court – will simply bump along the surface before moving on to its next source of amusement.

Luxury Auto Ads On Auto Pilot?
Monday January 17th 2011, 9:55 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,branding,luxury,market research,US economy,wretched excess

Do you think that Cadillac and Audi know they’re running nearly identical ads?  Cadillac describes its positioning as “red blooded luxury,” Audi “progressive luxury…”

I’m afraid it’s a “you say potato…” kinda thing, at best.

I Guess It Depends
Monday January 10th 2011, 8:11 am
Filed under: advertising,branding,market research,retail,stephanie fierman,women

Disclaimer: I am shooting my mouth off here and have seen none of the research that, no doubt, Kimberly-Clark completed and relied upon before launching this product extension.  Please proceed accordingly.

I saw a couple new television ads recently for “Depend Underwear in colors.” We’re talking about the product that provides an “underwear-like experience” for those who maybe need a little more protection for whatever reason.

Fine, no problem.  I’m looking at this product, its attributes, benefits and other market characteristics as I would any other.

My curiosity focuses on this new product line, in particular, and its supporting advertising.

When I saw the ads, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, although what I was seeing was certainly derivative.  The ad targeting women looked exactly like a tampon (or “feminine wash” - ick – ad), with gals frolicking and going about their carefree lives, confident that they no longer worry about something going awry.  And the men’s ad looked a lot like a Viagra commercial, with men smiling knowingly at each other on the street, strutting along as if the result of using this product was most certainly going to be an intimate experience.  One of the men actually winks at the camera.  Winks!

My question is this (here comes the “shooting my mouth off” part): assuming the “engineering” in the product is identical to the existing Depend SKUs, how much more market share can K-C expect to gain by creating a Depend line in colors and prints? 
1. It would seem to me to be a product that you buy because you need them (not want them), so how many more units could or would an existing user really buy?
2. Because of the seemingly non-optional nature of the purchase, how many people who would benefit from an adult incontinence underwear product – but who do not currently purchase any – would suddenly be motivated to do so because there’s an option that comes in colors?
3. How much market share is there to be stolen from other manufacturers? K-C claims to be the global leader in the adult incontinence category (a $1.3B category in North America), prices don’t appear to be crazily strewn across the board, and it seems to me that a user of a non-Depend incontinence product isn’t likely to switch just because s/he can now get her protective panties in stripes.  Seems like it could be a high-involvement, potentially scary switch to make.
4. Are you that much more likely to be comfortable taking your clothes off in front of someone else (or your own mirror) because your underwear is blue instead of white?  And how many consumers would view an estimated 50% price hike as being worth it? 
5.  K-C believes that boomers’ product expectations are “much higher than those of past generations.” Good enough, but that doesn’t change the “rational” buying characteristics of the marketplace.
6. An article about the launch says that new packaging provides a more “dignified shopping experience,” but I’m not going there. If that’s the issue, they could have transformed the old packaging.

The company’s VP of North American feminine and adult care brands says that consumers want to stay in their own underwear, so “we want to make our Depend products as much like underwear as possible.”  

That’s nice.  And it’s possible that the “irrational” or emotional elements of the buying process are far stronger than they would appear to be.  There are also reasons that companies develop line extensions that don’t require the new product to be a home run to be successful.  K-C clearly has some reason to believe that its new fashionable line will help it – as the company likes to tell men – “control the room.”

Elegance and Permission
Monday November 15th 2010, 9:13 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,branding,luxury,US economy,women,wretched excess

In a way, true luxury brands have it easy. There may be reasons that your customers don’t buy, but not having the money isn’t one of them.

But what about upscale-but-not-quite-luxury brands that sell goods that truly are a considered purchase for their target audiences?

Such was my thought when I spotted the Ethan Allen store at 60th Street and 3rd Avenue in New York last week.  Ethan Allen makes very nice, albeit expensive furniture. When I was growing up, my mother sometimes insisted on buying Ethan Allen because it would “last forever” and was, therefore, worth the sticker shock.

What caught my eye was the type in the front two windows. The first said, “It’s ok to buy one piece at a time. That’s how we build it,” and the other said, “A great room starts with a great piece.”

Now, I am so glad that I saw this before I saw the Brandweek article on this new campaign, because it let me have a “pure” consumer reaction – and that reaction was relief, mixed with encouragement.

Relief that I don’t have to feel bad if I couldn’t buy a whole room or house worth of furniture right now, and encouragement that – instead of waiting until I can (NB: at which time I might go somewhere else) – I should start with that one nice thing from EA today.

There are so many thoughtful things happening here.  The brand has turned a negative into something positive.  It has actually made me feel good – smart - for starting with that one great object, rather than beating myself up over all the other items I can’t afford right now.  EA made it ok to walk past a room in my home and see one chair in it:  it’s not because I’m broke – it’s because I’m wise.  And the “That’s how we build it” line draws me in even more, as if we were in on it together.  I’m just like you, Ethan, if I think about one piece at a time because you do, too.

The ECD at McCann-Erickson talks about the campaign as being part of the brand’s continued attempt to reach a younger-demographic, to show that EA’s pieces and attitude are more modern than they might expect. 

I’m glad for that, because all that Paul Revere-ish dark furniture my mom bought from EA when I was a kid made me gag (and to her credit, it finally made her gag, too).  But whether it’s deliberate or not, I think the work strikes a more universal tone that performs a little magic, turning a lack of cash into a moment of affirmation and intelligence. 

Nicely done.

Tiffany’s Got A Brand New Bag
Tuesday September 07th 2010, 12:00 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,luxury,retail,US economy,women

by Stephanie Fierman

Tiffany & Co has impressed me over the years.  It’s been able to show some restraint when it comes to mucking with the brand while still responding to shifts in the consumer zeitgeist. 

The company has been particularly wily in its introduction of new non-jewelry items and jewelry pieces at lower price points.  Leather, scarves, fragrance and the like serve multiple purposes: the products expand Tiffany‘s reach among existing customers; they help Tiffany establish earlier brand engagement among the base of young women most likely to become the core Tiffany customer; and I would expect that it’s helped the gift business, as well, particularly as tableware’s centrality in the wedding business wanes.

Its moves in its core business, jewelry, have borne fruit.  31% of the company’s sales last year coming from its lowest-priced merchandise: sterling silver jewelry at an average price of $200.  The silver, in particular, is a good example of how Tiffany has made and executed on long-term commitments that have helped achieve a higher level of market accessibility. Its Paloma Picasso, Elsa Peretti and Frank Gehry lines of jewelry have built their own bases of loyal fans over the years. The company’s website top navigation makes it easy to find these pieces, and the first entry behind the “Designers & Collections” tab is currently “Elsa Peretti $250 & Under.”

Nice touch.

So what’s another potential category? Handbags.  Although it may strike some as odd, sales of handbags priced at $200 or more have actually grown 15% in the year ending this past June. Many of the leaders are the usual suspects, but – if Tiffany wants a model to study – Coach has shown everyone how it’s done.

Coach’s 2009 successful launch of the more youthful, lower-priced  Poppy line of bags and accessories with the positioning “Are You A Poppy Girl?” – but with bag prices starting at $200 – sparked a lot of wonder.  It’s not that there wasn’t a space in the market, but $200? Hardly the “budget” youth collection, as one fashion blog optimistically coined it.  Andy yet: it’s sellingA lot.  Why?

To a certain extent, the answer comes back to the ill-defined but highly desirable “affordable luxury” moniker that so many brands want to claim.  Two thoughts here: (1) If a woman can get her fix with a $300 bag from a favorite brand (when she might have chosen a $1,200 one in the past), she’s more likely to make that choice, and (2) A woman needs a bag every single day.  No one “needs” non-wedding jewelry. So if I’m going to buy a bag anyway, the thinking goes, it’s penny wise and pound foolish to buy an unremarkable bag when I could just spend another $100 or $200 or even $300 and buy a bag from a brand I truly love – a brand that will “show” well on a daily basis.

Sidebar: I have two core daytime bags: one for fall-winter, the other for spring-summer.  The spring-summer bag was $400, which felt expensive.  Now that I get no less than, say, two compliments on the bag every single week – and the credit card charge is only a hazy memory – I’m sorry I didn’t buy two.

And just to finish it off, notice that these purchases are literally BIG: much larger in size than a bracelet or ring that I might get at the same price.  More status mileage for the dollar.

So into this environment comes Tiffany’s new handbag line, created in partnership with the designers of the Lambertson Truex luxury label (which the jeweler purchased post-bankruptcy last year). The products are priced from $395 for a small suede tote to $17,500 for a large crocodile handbag, and all carry the imprimatur of Tiffany, whether it be in the clasps, the colors or the silver. 

I’m waiting to see how they promote the line.  The evening “Holly” bag has gotten a lot of press, but such a bag has limited use cases and narrows the market; I hope to see some creative promotion and messaging that emphasizes day and weekend bags, as well. 

And not to state the obvious, but I know that Tiffany will be mindful of the fact that women already knew Coach as a handbag maker, so Poppy was an immediate “get” for the consumer.  Poppy is to Coach as Elsa Peretti is to Tiffany: an extension of the core business.  Jeweler Tiffany will need to build some real promotion and personality if it wants to move a lot of product. [Paging Christmahanukwanzaakah, come in Christmahanukwanzaakah…]

Mad Men Won’t Keep You From The Rain
Wednesday September 01st 2010, 9:06 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,luxury,retail,US economy,women,women online

by Stephanie Fierman

If a pop culture phenomenon is white-hot, and you saunter up to it and ask it out to dinner, will you become its best friend?

Check out my second blog, Marketing Mojo, for the answer.

In A Fog
Wednesday September 01st 2010, 8:30 am
Filed under: advertising,branding,licensed content,luxury,retail,US economy,women,women online,wretched excess

by Stephanie Fierman

There’s been a bit of a scramble among brands seeking to leverage AMC’s popular series, Mad Men.  BMW is one of the largest and most frequent sponsors, prompting an auto site to gush, “BMW’s underwriting for Mad Men is mad marvelous.”

Maybe so.  After all, the series is about an advertising agency and the supposed glamour of the post-War period, all glowy and wistful.  It’s an unusual opportunity to create a fresh and fun message… IF it makes sense for the brand.

BMW did two things right. First it aligned itself with the overall  je ne sais quoi of the show: the ambience, the characters, their lifestyles, their appearance, their tastes, the physical environment. That provides a very broad base upon which to construct an association.  BMW is already an upscale, luxury brand, so this association is more of a positive reinforcement than a flat-out creation. 

Second, this attachment is even further strengthened because BMW’s ads run during the episodes themselves.  As the show transitions almost seamlessly from content, to commercial, and back again, the company and its cars place themselves directly alongside the target of their (and your) dreams.  The viewer sees both in the same sitting; the brain experiences both in the same moment. The connection is made in real time. 

London Fog‘s new Mad Men-related ads, on the other hand, miss on both these counts.

Unlike BMW, London Fog’s owner, Iconix, chose to bet all its chips on one single character, Joan Holloway (aka Christina Hendricks).  This demands a plausible or at least believable connection between what the product and the individual represent, which is not present here. 

Today, London Fog is generally utilitarian, functional, male (androgynous?), classic (tired?) and generally unremarkable, while Hendrick’s Joan is nearly the polar opposite: voluptuous, sexy, powerful, womanly, stimulating. She’s brightly-colored cotton candy in a dress.  When you watch the show, her sexual  presence makes her nearly every man’s fantasy at one point or another.  She’s unattainable, like a rare luxury item. 

London Fog is the opposite.  By its own admission, the brand has far-flung distribution and high consumer awareness: it holds little mystery, no magic, no unattainability. Mad Men‘s Joan would not wear a London Fog, and no woman  (consciously or unconsciously) believes that she will be “more Joan”  by wearing the brand.  The effect is double-whammy, given that the clothes (which might look fine on “normal” people) appear boring, dull and awkward draped on Hendrick’s frame.  The two zeitgeists are just too far apart.

Iconix may have thought that Joan’s essence would rub off on the product.  And, prior to Hendricks, Iconix enlisted Eva Longoria and Giselle Bunchen for its ads, presumably with the same objective.  The problem is that consumers cannot make brand connections that aren’t there or – worse – pulling in opposite directions. 

Forcing an otherwise adequate brand into an environment that makes it appear inadequate is sad and unnecessary: an embarrassing kind of brand dissonance that can do the brand more harm than good. 

Lastly, the Joan ads do not have the benefit of being absorbed in the same moment as the story itself. The connection failure is particularly dramatic when experienced in the middle of a fashion magazine, surrounded by circa 2010 fashions, photos and messaging.

Managing a brand – particularly one trying to meld a perhaps very different past with the present – is a fine art. The brand steward must have an unblinking grasp on what the brand is and is not, what it might become, how fast such a change in direction might be made and how to begin.  If that direction is wrong, or the speed too fast, the desired messaging won’t find its target and you may needlessely displace the neutral-to-positive feelings most people have about the brand in favor of all the characteristics the brand does not possess.  It’s work grounded in an almost DNA-level of understanding of brands, consumer desire and human behavior.

Most brands have positive if not wonderful attributes to emphasize.  Show yours in its best light.  Avoid whatever might be hot right this second if it just doesn’t fit, and create an environment in which the product can truly shine.

Stephanie Fierman Gives Her Seat To Darth Vader
Sunday July 25th 2010, 4:07 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,Internet,social media,stephanie fierman,word of mouth

Branding gets a bad rap.  I’ve always thought this was fascinating because – without branding – there would be little else in the world of consumption.  That’s because a “brand” can be defined as what a product, place or person means to you: it’s the place in the mind occupied by our real or anticipated experience with that person or thing.  And it drives many of our decisions. 

Think of it this way.  You get up in the morning.  The soap and toothpaste you use, the cereal you eat, the car you get into or the subway stairs you descend, the maker of your briefcase or backpack or handbag, the coffee shop you favor (or avoid), the newspaper you pick up, the particular vacation spot you research when you get to your desk: your real or perceived experience with each of these things drives your choices.  That’s brand.  You can’t (and don’t) live without it.  It’s all over, all the time.

And man, there’s a lot of competition.  And distraction.  And price pressure.  And etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

So if this is the case, then it’s the job of a brand owner to create positive associations – a positive experience – associated with the person, place or thing in question.  Life is hard: great experiences are priceless and they’re something  you want to share with others.

Thanks to my Twitter compatriots David Ansett (@brandamentalist) and Story Worldwide (@storyworldwide), I came upon this wonderful NY-based company, Improv Everywhere,  which describes itself as an organization that “causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places.”

What does that mean, you ask?  It means that Improv Everywhere creates “missions” that create an attention-getting public event that creates positive buzz – a positive experience – that is very unexpected and equally as impactful.

Here’s one that got a lot of press in NYC: “Star Wars Subway Car” (if  you cannot see the video below, click HERE):

The one that made the biggest impression on me was “High Five Escalator.” The video was shot literally on the escalator/stairs of New York City’s E/V/6 subway stop at 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue.  Now, this stop is a friggin nightmare during the morning commute: you’re squished, it’s hot, it’s unpleasant… just a major potential misery at 8 or 8:30 in the morning.  But on this particular morning, a few Improv Everywhere “undercover agents” got 2,000 people to smile and give a “high five,” and many more just had a great experience on their way to work (if you cannot see the video below, click HERE):

Here’s an interview with Charlie Todd, the founder of 9-year-old “prank collective” Improv Everywhere (if you cannot see the video below, click HERE):

Improv Everywhere says that it takes on commercial clients only here and there, and that this is what allows them to keep doing what they’re doing.  But while Improv Everywhere “works to live,” if you will, hasn’t it cracked the very essence of the brand manager’s job?  What if your brand was associated with such a positive, memorable experience? 

This guy’s on to something.

P.S. I’ve signed up to be an Improv Everywhere undercover agent, so – the next time 200 people freeze in the middle of Grand Central – look around…

Stephanie Fierman Suggests Goldman Sack This Idea

Marketers become accustomed to defending, documenting and demonstrating the value of marketing itself – particularly the beautiful art and science known as branding.  A lot of us are pretty good at it.  When branding comes up, I stand at the ready.

Ready, that is, until I’m not.

And so it was with the news that Goldman Sachs is considering a big, broad, very public effort to polish its brand. “Public” as in advertising, letters to the editor(s), responses to media reports… even an appearance by CEO Lloyd Blankfein on Oprah.

Can you imagine? Oprah. I picture it as a cross between Tom Cruise’s 2005 crazy-eyed appearance and her skewering of James Frey in 2006, and not in a good way.

Lloyd Blankfein

Look, I may condemn the investment banking scoundrels for their wrongdoing when I’m out having a drink somewhere, but – behind closed doors with the Goldman team – this would be my position:

Goldman executives may indeed be shocked – even hurt – by the way they’ve been treated by Congress or by the all-out vitriolic point of view on Main Street, but the fact of the matter is that these are not the audiences that really matter at Goldman… and this is the price to be paid for what they do for a living.

It’s a pretty small price, in my opinion.

Goldman isn’t nor was it ever in the business of being loved. It’s in business to be 100% rational, not emotional, and to make money for itself and its clients. That mission defines a fairly narrow set of individuals and companies that really need to know what Goldman is doing. For these people, a big initiative is (a) likely to be a grossly inefficient way of communicating, and (b) even more likely to be seen by those in the know as a silly distraction that pulls Goldman away from (make me money) what it’s supposed (make me money) to be doing (make me money).

Strike One and Two.

Then there’s John Q. Public, who may not understand a lot of Goldman’s business activities but knows the firm was at the epicenter of a series of events that were highly disruptive and that made a very small number of already rich people even richer. For most, these beliefs are almost purely emotional, and no company can promote itself out of negative sentiment. If you lay low – particularly when a bunch of abstract business concepts are involved – the public’s anger will dissipate, and soon another target will present itself.  Sad but true.  To communicate now would only inflame an audience that Goldman doesn’t need and create added stress for one the firm does need – it’s own employees.

Strike Three.

Branding, PR, advertising… none of these tools can be used to uproot deep-seated negative opinion while an issue is still hot. It’s tempting to buy full page ads in the Wall Street Journal that say you’ll make things right (paging British Petroleum) but you can’t win doing this and, frankly, it’s a bit immature and disrespectful. It’s like saying “Hey, I punched you in the eye, hard, and I can’t take it back or make it any better, but I still want you to like me.” In Goldman’s case, the firm plays hardball, it’s going to bruise some people and it’s going to make billions of dollars for its inner circle of stakeholders. Everyone knows that’s the deal, and – when the spotlight turns toward them – those involved need to be able to put up with not being “liked” in exchange for their success.

Goldman’s communications advisors would do well to make sure that its client is staying focused on what’s important to its core business and true constituencies.  I disagree with those who say that Goldman must vigorously present “its vision of the ‘right thing to do’ in the financial services industry going forward.”  To what end?  To “clarify” its point of view, or contribute to the national dialogue? Through a branding campaign? On Oprah? Please.

Take care of your own employees, talk with clients, prospects and key constituencies around the world as you normally would, and wait.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to simply live with a situation, keep going and accept that there are moments when the right kind of marketing may be no marketing at all.

Sometimes Stephanie Fierman Uses A Black Marker

I have to say that I was struck by LVMH’s new ad campaign portraying artisans lovingly creating Louis Vuitton products by hand.  I’ve seen three: one of a (from the ad copy) “young woman and the tiny folds” of wallet leather, another of a “’seamstress with linen thread” hand-stitching  the handle of a handbag and the last – the one that particularly struck me – showing a man painting the bottom of a shoe by hand.

The sole-painting made me pause. I did not feel compelled to run out the door for LV shoes, though… it was more a gentle “Really? They hand-paint the bottoms of all their shoes?” 

Now I know how much Vuitton products cost.  They’re expensive – but probably not as expensive as they’d need to be for LVMH to clear a hefty profit after painting the soles of every pair of new Vuitton shoes.

So I took note when the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority banned the wallet and handbag ads, claiming they could “mislead” consumers into believing that Louis Vuitton products are handmade, when in fact machines are involved in the manufacturing process.  From the agency’s ruling: “We considered that consumers would interpret the image of a woman using a needle and thread to stitch the handle of a bag … to mean that Louis Vuitton bags were hand stitched.”  O&M Paris must pull the two offending print ads immediately. The ad of the man painting the shoe bottom did not draw objections. 


I guess part of my question is, Which consumers?  I’m curious, for example, whether a “reasonable person” in such an instance would be absolutely anyone seeing the ad in a doctor’s waiting room, or whether it would need to be someone for whom the ad would alter beliefs in a way that could misguidedly motivate a purchase.  Would the latter be more likely to be knowledgeable and savvy (and less gullible), or does it not matter?  Vuitton has never been secretive about the fact that it has factories in the U.S., France and elsewhere that some believe are the very representation of modern luxury good production, but I guess the ASA has made its call.

There are a number of fashion/culture tongues wagging online about the fact that the ASA had nothing to say about LVMH photoshopping Madonna until she looked like a 17-year-old.  Perhaps, but it’s probably a good bet that there were no ruling bodies that thought anyone might buy a piece of luggage thinking it would make her look like Madonna (at any age).

You Know How Stephanie Fierman Feels About TMI
Saturday May 08th 2010, 12:34 pm
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,branding,cmo,facebook,Internet,social media,Twitter

Pringles has a new funny online campaign that skewers folks who “overshare” on Twitter and Facebook.

A key feature of the campaign’s website – – has a “Best of” Twitter feed that streams some classics: “My arm is itchy,” “Cleaning the kitchen,” and “New shower gel – hooray!”

Amazing: “hurray” is just the utterance I was planning – too bad P&G got to it first.pringles-stephanie-fierman1.jpg

So anyway, the website offers tips for recovering oversharers, a plug-in that allows you to “shame a friend with just one click” (very popular, I’m sure) and even an interactive video into which you can drop some of your favorite inane comments.  And you can buy a t-shirt with a dopey tweet on it.  Of your choice.

The site is accompanied by a utility on Facebook that Pringles’ 3 million fans (and anyone else who feels like it) can download and use to label boring Facebook updates.

To me, the campaign feels a wee bit derivative of Burger King’s 2009 “Whopper Sacrifice Challenge,” which offered a free Whopper to anyone willing to unfriend 10 people on Facebook. That campaign was semi-criticized for being an “anti-social” social campaign – a page that Pringles appears to have torn out of the fast fooder’s playbook. And there have been a number of other brands – like Nestle and Skittles – that have leveraged the riskiness and “nowness” of featuring a live Twitter feed in their promotions.

social_media_overload-stephanie-fierman.jpgBut so far, this has been a conversation focused on techniques and tools – a plug-in, a feed, interactive videos and custom t-shirts.  I love tools just as much as the next marketer, but… what does the Oversharers campaign have to do with Pringles’ persona and the ultimate goal of selling more product? 

If there’s a second phase of this campaign that ties the downside of oversharing online to oversharing your Pringles (because you want to eat them all yourself?), P&G better get moving. It seems like that’d make sense… but I’m guessing and this connection isn’t made at the moment.

So from a business point of view, I don’t get it.  You’re the Pringles brand manager: what consumer insight led to this campaign? What are you trying to communicate? What differentiation would motivate trial, or make an existing Pringles eater feel good about the brand?

Don’t “overshare” social media tools because they’re cool.  It’s tempting – and I recommend social media experimentation all the time – but all of the standard rules of branding, communications and marketing (and revenue and market share and shelf space) apply.

Dear Posers: There’s Only One Stephanie Fierman. Move Along
Tuesday March 30th 2010, 2:28 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,Google,Internet,luxury,retail,web 2.0

There’s a real reputation-meets-revenue battle happening between online.

Today, any advertiser with a Google AdWords account can buy virtually any keyword to advertise its own goods, regardless of whether said advertiser has the rights to use the word.  This is particularly troublesome for brands that have spent decades burnishing a brand and consider the associated brand names to be reputational assets of great value.  If you go to Google right now and type in “LVMH” (the owner of numerous brands including Louis Vuitton and Hennessy), one of the sponsored ads shouts “Designer Handbags 70% off,” with a URL that includes the Louis Vuitton name. That has LVMH steamed and the company sued Google in Europe for trademark infringement.

Well the ruling is in… and it’s a split decision, advantage: Google. Upon Google’s appeal of earlier rulings (that didn’t go its way) the highest court in the EU has determined that – on its face – the mere fact that an LVMH-protected word is available for sale by Google does not mean that Google is in violation of LVMH’s trademark protection. stephanie-fierman-louis-vuitton1.jpg

Specifically, the court has said that the search company is not violating trademarks if (a) its automatic ad system is judged to be “merely technical, automatic and passive” in its operation, and if (b) the company is not aware and cannot be expected to fully police all the words that advertisers purchase.

Since computers are programmed by humans – and those folks at Google are pretty darn smart – this is fishy to me, but ok.  It was not a flat-out win for Google, however, as the court also ruled that Google must remove said ads if the brand owner formally complains about an advertiser infringing on its marks.  If Google fails to do this, the court says it won’t be so helpful in protecting Google’s revenue stream the next time around.

The court also reinforced that Google could be held liable for selling keywords that openly encourage or facilitate counterfeiting, which – in luxury categories – is a win (or at least a booster shot) for the brand owners.  And lastly, the court also clarified the responsibilities of advertisers who mustn’t be found “using such keywords arrange for Google to display ads which do not allow Internet users to easily establish from which undertaking the goods or services covered by the ad in question originate.”

stephanie-fierman-brand1.jpgI don’t know about you, but if I’m an advertiser that gets into hot water for legally buying a word that Google sold to me – and I’m not trying to sell knock-offs – I’m naming Google in my legal response.

LVMH has been on the attack re. this issue for a long time, which is understandable. eBay has also been in the conglomerate’s in the past. This is a worldwide, high-stakes game such a company must play in all sales channels: right here in New York, LVMH was front and center in the effective elimination of a thriving Louis Vuitton counterfeit trade on Canal Street. The company will flood Google “Don’t Be Evil” Inc. with complaints until the search company will at least have to question what (and how much) it is defending by taking on massive legal expense (and bad PR) in order to make money from advertisers leeching off others’ trademarks.

And speaking of buying Louis Vuitton knock-offs on the street, a LVMH board member point of view has been (quote) “Under trademark law anywhere in the world, brand owners have the right to stop third parties from using their names. “Why make an exception for the digital world?”

 As the division between online and offline “worlds” continue to disappear, why indeed?

Stephanie Fierman Played It In Business School
Sunday January 24th 2010, 4:53 pm
Filed under: branding,cmo

It’s not a secret that Marketing is one of the most misunderstood, harangued and tortured career selections around.

The average tenure of a Chief Marketing Officer is less than 3 years.  I have long said that a key reason for this is because companies think Marketing is magic – that branding is magic (!!) – and when everyone discovers that the CMO is no sorcerer… Well, let’s just say that CMOs have something in common with PCs these days: it’s just easier to throw out the old one and buy a new one. 

And if the budget has to be cut? Take it from Marketing – no one knows what they do anyway.  In an average corporation, I’d be willing to bet that, as a functional expertise, marketing departments house a higher percentage of people entirely untrained in marketing than – well, it’s got to be pretty high on the list.buzzword-bingo-stephanie-fierman.jpg

So the last thing a marketer wants to do is sound like what others think marketers sound like.  I cringe when I hear someone say something that only a Buzzword Bingo player could love.

Here’s a recent quote from the CEO of one of the biggest advertisers in the world:

“I would argue social networks and digital media are scale at play.  One of the things that came out of Cannes for [us] was the scale impact of social media.  The Cannes idea is a bit outdated… The way I see it, the awards now should all be Titaniums – you start with the idea now before you ever think about a medium and you take the idea, which is rooted in consumer insight, and only then do you figure out how to use the media, and you use every medium.  And then what the marketer needs to be able to is to be about to let go… Another was the ubiquity of social media and how an idea can take off and you don’t have to pay for it. What I worry about is that it democratizes scale.  It allows the little guy to get scale almost instantaneously. And we’ve got to make sure we don’t give up that opportunity.  That’s why we’re talking about transforming the company through digitization, visualization, virtualization.”

WTF? Or perhaps I should say, BINGO!

People, people, people: speak English.  Remember to use language that everyone (i.e. your boss and the finance guy) can understand. And – for Pete’s sake – unless you make video games, please try to avoid using the words digitization, visualization and virtualization in one sentence.

Normal people everywhere will thank you.


Check out my other blog, Marketing Mojo, at

Stephanie Fierman Can’t Replace The Personal Touch
Saturday January 16th 2010, 2:28 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,customer service,Internet,loyalty marketing,US economy

brand-love-stephanie-fierman.jpgThere was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Firms Hold Fast to Snail Mail Marketing.”  It seemed to be about small businesses who gave up their direct mail efforts in favor of email to either save money and/or because it seemed like the hip thing to do.

The particular companies profiled in this article told personal stories about how email didn’t generate the same positive results. In some cases, the owners actually heard from long-time customers asking what had happened to the letters/reminders/postcards they had received in the past.

This is because email is beside the point.  Establishing a connection with a prospect or customer is and always has been what’s most important.  Think first about your history and what type of communications have worked in the past. What kind of outreach prospects or clients appreciate. What makes them feel special. What generates orders, referrals and repeat business.  One of the owners profiled in the article discontinued his art-based postcard mailings, only to discover the cards permanently displayed in his clients’ offices.  His customers started calling him asking whether they’d been taken off the company’s mailing list.

What we have right there, friends, is some serious brand love.

Testing is fine.  It would be foolish not to test new technologies, which are usually cheaper and more easily wielded than the old ones.  And compromises must sometimes be made in order to preserve cash.  But – putting dollars aside – the beginning of the value chain is the relationship with the customer, and at the distant far end is the tactics you choose to reinforce and grow that relationship.  Too many executives (particularly those in small companies, who either can’t afford good marketing help or get less-than-great advice) are putting social media at the forefront of their thinking because they’re reading about whatever the heck it is everywhere they go. 

I tell these folks that they were right the first time when their gut was to do something special – something that showed they cared.  If you can replicate this more cheaply, by all means do it:  but don’t let any new whiz-bang communications vehicle get in the way.  

Stephanie Fierman Is Not Offended By The Loofah! Loofah!

I am sensitive to dumb and/or insensitive imagery and statements in advertising and the media – I thought that the “How I Met Your Mother” Frosty the Snowman spoof was a little over the top, for example – but this is pushing it.scrubbing-bubble-stephanie-fierman.jpg

A new commercial for the all-natural line of cleaning products, Method, has already been pulled – and that’s a pity.

Droga5’s “SHINY SUDS” is a silly send-up of Dow’s Scrubbing Bubbles commercials.  Method created the video to support the Household Products Labeling Act, which would require full disclosure of harmful chemicals in cleaning products. Here’s the ad (if you cannot see the ad below, click HERE):

Right after the video was posted online, women began to react negatively – and harshly.  A blogger accused the company of “humiliating women” and effectively saying that – if you don’t know exactly what’s in the products you use – “you deserve to be sexually harassed” in your own home.  A reader of the same blog post called Method to tell them that she was “curious of [sic] their perpetuation of rape culture.”

Rape culture? Sexual harassment? The “pornification” of a dull House act about cleaning chemicals? What am I missing here?

Apparently a lot, as the company received hundreds of calls and emails from outraged women before declaring itself a “values-based company” and pulling the spot.

Of course, there are other interested parties who struck back, most notably (a) the advertising community (which asks when brands are going to – ahem – “grow a pair” and tell zealot “idiots” to bug off) and (b) both men and women who say that this “overreaction” is just another example of why many believe that feminism has become a joke.

I’m not going to lean that hard in either direction… but I didn’t see the danger in this video.  What do you think?

Stephanie Fierman Is Pondering Holiday Gifts
Sunday November 08th 2009, 7:24 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,loyalty marketing,market research,US economy

I knew it.

I knew it, I knew it, I knew it.

reindeer-sweater-stephanie-fierman.gifThere was a bona fide reason that I used to react badly to – well – bad gifts.  Despite my mother’s it’s-the-thought-that-counts coaching, and the annual “You don’t have to actually wear it” rationale, I was powerless to resist the disappointment. 

The whole thing’s a set-up.

Since 1993, Wharton economist Joel Waldfogel has been studying the value created (or not created) by holiday spending, and how we may react badly to gifts because we see the opportunity cost of not buying ourselves something we actually wanted. In his new book, Scroogenomics, Waldfogel tells us that, although warm and fuzzy U.S. folk gave $66 billion worth of holiday gifts in 2007, the value of recipients’ satisfaction is much lower: so low, in fact, that it actually created an “annual deadweight loss of $12 billion.”

Waldfogel estimates such “lost value” from student surveys he’s conducted at Princeton over many years.  When a student is asked to (a) guess the value of a gift and (b) guess the same for items she purchased herself, she will almost stephanie-fierman-scroogenomics-cover.pnginevitably underestimate the price the gift giver paid and overestimate the value of products she buys herself by 18%.


I completely understand the psychology of overestimating the value of something I might buy for myself because doing so helps reinforce my purchase decision. What cracks me up is how low our expectations of others are – and how accurate.  The least “efficient” gifts, says Waldfogel tend to be from relatives who haven’t seen you in a long time (and so do not know your preferences).

So suck on that when the niece you haven’t seen for 11 years tells you she hates the color pink – while she’s holding the pink sweater you just gave her.  Your goth niece just can’t help it: her reaction to your lame gift is bigger than both of you.

The only smart things to do are give gift cards (less tacky than cash) or overcome your embarrassment about not knowing her and email your niece to ask what she’d really want.  She won’t assign as much value to the black nail polish, eyeshadow and lipstick as she would have had she bought them herself… but it’s a start.

New Balance Balances Oldest And Newest

stephanie-fierman-newbalance-574s.jpgNew Balance has created an online/social media campaign and (offline) line of shoes that marries both worlds in the most elegant way.

The 574 men’s and women’s collection is made entirely of left-over scraps of cloth in the company’s Lawrence, MA factory and, as a result, each pair is just a bit different each has its own personality, you might say.  A very special, limited line deserves equally powerful promotion, and the company’s ad agency, Mother, knew it.

When you buy a 574 pair from one of ten boutiques in the U.S., there’s a special Polaroid photograph in the box.  The owner can then go to, and match the Polaroid to a special mini-film about the shoe.  Once the film has played, the happy shoe wearer can add his/her name at the end of the film.  The film for 106Red appears to show a man dipping a carrot into the shoe (for dip, or course), while 115Green has a lovable furry muppet (with green nose to match) admiring a pair of shoes.  Each is very short and fun check out one or two for yourself, and see if it doesn’t make you want to buy the shoes. also features links to Facebook, MySpace, and Tumblr, so buyers of these unique shoes can tell (and show) all their friends.  The campaign is also tied to sneaker culture blogs like High Snobiety and Nice Kicks.

Anyone who watches Entourage (Episode 3, Season 6) knows how culturally important “sneakerheads” are the (mostly) men who must have the hottest, most limited sneaker available tend to be heavy influencers and leading indicators of pop culture trends and information.  It’s a valuable and in their own milieu sophisticated crowd, and Mother has delivered an equally sophisticated communications plan.  The blending of manufacturing, blogs, web, community, video and product is exceptional.

And now I must sign off – I’m on my way to Reed Space: the only shop in NYC to carry the $75 shoes with the special Polaroid inside…

Stephanie Fierman’s Choices Stay Close to Home

Yet another result of the flailing economy:  truly new brand launches are faltering while brand extensions are succeeding. 

In 2008, less than 10% of new products were “net new brands,” even though the pace of product introduction was about on par with the last five years. Take a look at the top food and non-food brand launches of last year:


If you remove the pharma/DTC products (which are in a psychic/regulatory/financial class all their own), all the products on these lists are extensions or reformulations.

In the best of times, launching a truly new product is extremely difficult and expensive.  Manufacturing, distribution, marketing – starting from scratch is daunting.  In a recession, success is even more difficult to achieve.

Then there’s the consumer psyche to consider: what are the monetary and non-monetary risks of trying something truly new?  Who hasn’t been curious enough about a new launch – let’s say something perishable that cannot be returned – to try it out?  But when money is scarce, the news is full of stories of imprudent spending and people are making trade-offs among the smallest of purchases, the price of “wasting” money suddenly becomes very high. I will feel foolish if I buy this and don’t like it when there are existing substitutes that I know are good enough.

The other thing that’s noticeable about these lists and others is that the “closest in” extensions win: an existing brand holds a space in the consumer’s mind, a range of functionality and messaging in which that brand has credibility.  Hershey’s can launch new candies, Porsche can introduce a “wireless racing wheel” for gaming, Mr. Clean can (sort of) try out the car washing business.

But a $1,200 Disney Sleeping Beauty fountain pen or Kellogg’s hip-hop streetwear? Not so much.