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.

The Ad Agency Is Dead. Long Live The Ad Agency.
Monday March 21st 2011, 8:37 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,cmo,Internet,social media,Twitter,web 2.0

One of the new business friends I’ve made on Twitter is an agency in Pittsburgh called Fitting Group, run by Andrea Fitting. Check them out at We found each other based on our mutual interest in and work with challenger brands, or big category-leading companies who need to change and can learn from challengers.

Anyway…  Andrea wrote a blog post referring to a January 2011 Fast Company article, “Mayhem on Madison Avenue.” In “Mayhem” (and numerous articles just like it) the author essentially explains how and why digital marketing – particularly social media – will precipitate the extinction of advertising agencies.  And while she did spend four years at an ad agency (during which time I’m sure she saw plenty of function and dysfunction), the writer has never been a client, let alone a CMO.

Andrea called her blog post “Calling All Chief Marketing Officers (or Those Who Play Them on TV)” and asked several CMOs to read the magazine article and offer our points of view. Here’s mine (as posted on the Fitting Group site).


Personally, I think the hype about social media being different, experiential, never finished, “perpetual beta…” is hooey. Or rather, the process of smart learning for a CMO is – at a high level – unchanged.

Every channel, every communication vehicle, every media outlet and interaction capability… each has its own ways and rules. TV had its own ways and rules we CMOs had to learn. Email. Radio. Whatever. Now it’s today’s version of social media – it is a living channel with its own characteristics, feedback loop, expectations, organizational demands – all new to the channel, but not a new way of approach to assessment and action for the good CMO. For the great CMO, everything we do lives in a state of constant learning and improvement – it’s how we work with our CEOs, CFOs and teams every day.

And as with all things new, a CMO will always seek real experts and advisors who understand the organization in which s/he operates, can help build a case for new initiatives, can help shorten the organization’s learning timeframe and get sustainable initiatives up and running. Oh, and help the CMO look and feel smart and confident.

The problem is NOT that ad agencies SHOULD be moving toward extinction. It’s quite the opposite: CMOs need and welcome the help. The issue IMO is that too many analysts and agencies are stalled in the shiny object phase, where social media is new and exciting and OOH! look at that Facebook page, and see how smart I am, etc. etc. – as opposed to truly understanding the client’s brand, objectives, operating environment, organizational/budget limitations, the various stakeholders whose concerns must be addressed… all the factors that make an agency a true partner vs. a hit and run “guru” who has no real interest in the less flashy parts of the world in which the CMO operates.

Agencies that can do that will be in business forever – whether the topic is social media or the next big thing or the next one after that.

Beyaz Creepy As Possible
Monday February 28th 2011, 8:59 am
Filed under: advertising,stephanie fierman,women

Birth control ads are strange. Exhibit A: the Nuvaring ad (see HERE) where the gals take off their clothes and climb into a hot tub with their yellow bathing suits on. Each woman has a… each has a number… one has a bathing cap… and then the hot tub spins like a ride at Disneyland… and there’s, like, a song that makes me hear Satan’s voice urging me to kill (Mommy!).

I don’t know what’s going on, other than understanding that I better use Nuvaring because remembering to take a pill every day is just too much for me. At least I think that’s what is says. 

So in a land of weird, one must rise extra high to be noticed – and I think Beyaz overshot by a mile.  Check out the ad (see below or HERE):

The “it’s good to have choices” is fine, but to put women in a shopping setting, where they can simply choose the men, educations, homes and discretionary incomes of their dreams off a shelf at any time – with as much thought and planning as picking a box of cereal – is offensive.  And what was the general idea here: that because women understand shopping the best, we can make birth control a section of a department store to help the message hit home?

Then there are choices themselves. The home the female shopper chooses is a sweet little purple house, with a car out front that looks to be from the 50s. Is that where women belong, or when women were “best”– in the 50s? Have we already failed if we don’t want the picket fence?

And the stork: the only “selection” that tries to literally follow the woman once it is rejected (a stalking stork, if you will).  All the women in this ad are still in their 20s: are young women supposed to have babies… or else?  Note there are no “and” equations in this ad.  It’s all “or,” as in grad school or a baby. None of the shoppers leave with more than one item.

For me, though, the most disappointing episodes take place over in the Significant Other section of the store.  First of all, the store only carries men in inventory. Being gay is not a choice in this retail establishment.  But my favorite part has to be a woman standing in front of a man, only to have another female come along with a smirk on her face and snatch the man off the shelf.  


The site does a great job breaking down the ad, scene by scene, object by object.  Take a look if you get the chance.

Even in the fantasy world of flying snacks, sodas that never make you fat and perfect hair – this ad is over the top in its disdain for women.

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.”

Now With More Groupon! Gets Your Whites Whiter!
Wednesday December 29th 2010, 10:45 am
Filed under: customer service,loyalty marketing,market research,publishing,retail,social media

Is social buying practicing its shark jump already??  Such was my thought (and mild sense of alarm) when I opened this month’s new Harvard Business Review and found a serious-looking article on the phenomenon titled, “Why Employees Can Wreck Promotional Offers.”

The piece is written by an associate professor of marketing at a reasonably prestigious U.S. university, and it profiles his research into the administration of group buying offers from the likes of Groupon, BuyWithMe and LivingSocial

The article first caught my eye because of its anti-worker title, frankly… and then I read it.  The key insight to be gleaned from this academic research is that employees – not just offers – can have a huge impact on the creation of a “positive customer experience.”  Employees’ behavior, the professor says, can even cause the offer to “backfire” if managers fail to prepare employees properly or there is some other reason (e.g. a diner does not tip on a Groupon restaurant offer) that workers may cause a consumer’s initial interaction to be a poor one.

“In fact,” he says, “preparing employees for upcoming promotions and obtaining their buy-in is the most important factor influencing a Groupon promotion’s success”… “or any promotion[‘s], for that matter.”

Are we at the point in the shiny-object lifecycle where critical thinking is to be set aside and any piece of content with the word “Groupon” in it can (a) pass as “research,” and (b) make it into legitimate academic journals?

I hope so.  I say that because if, instead, it’s a revelation in our universities’ classrooms that customer service and positive employee engagement are the keys to marketing success, we’ve got a much bigger problem on our hands.

I suspect it is the former, so this too shall pass.

Santa Is The Dude
Monday December 13th 2010, 8:42 am
Filed under: advertising

Read my new holiday-friendly post, Is Santa The Greatest Marketer Of All Time?
on my other blog, Marketing Mojo.  And thanks.

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.

Let Men Be Men
Monday October 18th 2010, 10:23 am
Filed under: advertising

A new television commercial popped up recently for a product called M-Drive, a supplement “designed specifically for men looking to increase strength, stamina and overall vitality.” 

51-year-old Gary Kehoe, inventor of this “powerful extract blend,” stars in his own ad.  It’s the pounding music that got me to look up from the newspaper to see Gary cycling, climbing, working out and just generally leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

We’re talking manly, manly things that newly-strengthened Gary is doing.

So this includes, of course, the beautiful, bosomy blond in the passenger seat during what will clearly be the time of her life with a man who has more “sexual energy” from taking M-Drive.

The ad is pretty over the top. Clearly Gary’s gift to the world, long after Gary is gone.

I just think that… the product might have more credibility if the inventor didn’t have a horrible, full-head toupee on during the ad.  That IMO pulls the ad off its game.

I guess hair is the one thing that, sadly, M-Drive cannot produce.

Making A Weird Situation Worse At McDonald’s
Monday September 20th 2010, 9:48 am
Filed under: customer service,Reputation Managment,retail,stephanie fierman,US economy

by Stephanie Fierman

I like McDonald’s.  I do.  Always have.

Recently, though, I’ve noticed something annoying on my receipts: either an “eat in” tax (if you eat at the restaurant) or an “eat out” tax (if you take your order to go).

Either way, there’s a “tax.” 

A tax??  McDonalds is taxing us, literally coming and going? 

This makes no sense.  Corporations can’t just invent their own taxes.  What is this?
Turns out it’s just plain old state tax.  In Connecticut, where I dined recently, the tax is 6%.  6% in, 6% out, 6% if you take your fries and you shake ‘em all about…

The 8.5% “eat in” (aka state) tax in San Fran at the time of this purchase

6%. Period.  [Note: State sales tax laws on prepared food are notoriously kooky, but whatever they are in the state in which you’re ordering is what you’ll end up paying]

So why would a marketing icon like McDonald’s turn a charge that it is forced to apply into a fee that looks like an assessment from the company? I am flummoxed by this.

A Google search of “McDonald’s eat in tax” and “McDonald’s “eat out tax” yields lots of other folks with their “britches in a bunch” over this (like HERE and HERE and HERE).  A couple of them actually posted the “tax” to sites like

Now, this fellow claims that it’s because some states (e.g. California) actually have a take-out tax, so an establishment doing business in that state must be able to discriminate a meal served at the restaurant vs. one taken elsewhere.  His supposition is that it would be cost prohibitive for a company to use software that could apply the tax rules state by state, and that it would be hard to administer.  

I would be surprised if it’s a matter of cost.  McDonald’s had $6.8 billion in U.S. operating income in 2009: how much could such a system cost?  And how does that cost shape up against the reputation cost of such bad publicity?

Is there something else going on here?  Anyone?

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.

Weird Ads Following Me Around
Friday July 30th 2010, 4:57 pm
Filed under: advertising

These ads are – odd. I do finding myself thinking about them… but not in a good way. Would they compel you to buy the advertised product or service?

If you need to move gigantic people and/or suspend something very big and heavy over a bridge, we’re your guys. If you were afraid of puppets as a child, however, you may want to look away. (If you cannot see ad, click HERE)

I like to think about my internal organs in a very public way and would like to share them with you. I have a weird ability to paint very fast. (If you cannot see ad, click HERE)

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).

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.

Stephanie Fierman Has No Pores. And If You Believe That…
Saturday May 15th 2010, 7:08 pm
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,retail,women,women online

Why does this still happen?stephanie-fierman-glamour-june10-cover.jpg

Take a look at the June cover of Glamour Magazine at right (if you cannot see image, click HERE):

The photo of three attractive models on the cover is accompanied by the headline, “Curvy? Skinny? It’s All Good!” But… which one is the curvy one?  Is it the one on the far right?  The far left?  It’s the one on the left.  Yes, I said the one on the left.  I’ve added a couple other images of said model to this post (HERE and HERE), and let me tell you: any woman whose thighs (or other body parts) do not aggressively touch when at steady state is not “curvy” in my book.

crystal-renn-stephanie-fierman.jpgI truly don’t understand this particular one, because no woman who is overweight believes she is also a thin model.  The average American woman wears a size 14 – and knows it.  She does not think that Crystal Renn is her spitting image.  Hair, cellulite, make-up, the size of one’s pores: the savvy woman generally knows that all of these can be drastically manipulated ad – sadly – some women still aspire to these things.  But chubby and frolicking in one’s bikini in a magazine? No.crsytal-renn2-stephanie-fierman.jpg

Then why the fixation on imaginary weight claims?  Is it advertisers? And if so, go all out so an advertiser targeting a real plus-size girl might actually be able to see a real one.  There is no real-life party that is served well by this kind of activity.

I suppose I should just be thankful that Glamour didn’t pull a Ralph Lauren and get all drunk and stupid on Photoshop: see the related blog post I wrote and lovingly titled, “Can Someone Get That Turkey A Sandwich (you’ll have to read it to know why).   Do you think the average person knows that even photographs of food are fake?

No wonder people still don’t trust advertising.  Sometimes – a lot of the time – we lie.

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.