Faster slather
Monday May 12th 2014, 3:47 pm
Filed under: advertising,market research,women,wretched excess

I’ve written about this seemingly-vexing problem before, but – given that I just spotted an ad for a brand NEW product – I guess Vaseline wasn’t able to handle it.palmers-rapid-spray-stephanie-fierman

Who are these sad, desperately dry people who are held back from living full lives because their moisturizer goes on too slowly? Maybe we should start a support group: PFILM – People For Instantly Luxurious (Likeable? Liquid?) Moisturizer.



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.






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.



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.



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. 

Interesting.

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).



Stephanie Fierman Has Always Found Cash To Be So Pesky
Monday May 24th 2010, 9:00 am
Filed under: wretched excess

If the indoor ski dome, a single apartment building with 57 swimming pools or the largest (entirely man-made) waterfront development in the world don’t make you think that the UAE’s definition of luxury is a little different than most others…

Check out the world’s first ATM that dispenses gold.  You* can get tiny 24K bars, or gold coins with customized designs.  And it monitors the daily world price of gold.  So handy!


The entrepreneur who came up with this brainstorm says it’s only the first step in building his “Gold to Go” brand.
Maybe he should call these guys.

* Well probably not you, exactly, but… someone.  Don’t feel bad.  It’s ok.