May 29, 2009

Many of GM’s Issues Hinge on Branding

Posted in In the news tagged at 10:10 am by R

There’s a lot of chatter out there about whether or not GM will file for bankruptcy come Monday. Today, it seems almost certain that GM will unload (by selling or dismantling) two of it’s brands Saturn & Hummer.

An article on MSNBC this morning discusses the pending departure of these brands and points to them as two tales indicative of the larger GM fate.

I believe it all comes down to branding.


Saturn launched in the early 80’s with a mission of being nimble and a direct U.S. challenger to efficient and innovative cars coming from companies like Toyota and Honda overseas. While early adopters bought into this way of thinking, Saturn struggled to maintain its innovation an lost much of its nimble nature as it gradually wove operations in with other GM brands and Saturn’s offerings began to look more and more and more like its Chevy, Pontiac and Buick cousins.

GM really faltered on the brand promise of Saturn. If your brand is “nimble” everything about you must be genuinely flexible and malleable. If your brand is innovative, the last thing you can do is be like anyone else. In short…epic fail.

It seemed though that all was not lost. Recently Saturn has debuted several models that hearken back to those characteristics, even offering hybrid models. Alas, it seems it’s just too little too late.

Hopefully Saturn can find a buyer who can help the company find itself again. So many people have called for American car companies to be nimble and innovative in this environment that perhaps it’s a golden opportunity for the cast off GM brand.

Hummer on the other hand has an image problem.


If you conjure one image that embodies the idea of “American Excess,” what is it? Probably a Hummer. The gas-guzzling, road-hogging, I’m-bigger-than-you-so-I’m-changing-lanes-and-you’d-better-move-over SUV is loved by those who can afford to drive it, and generally loathed by those who have to share the road with it.

The military vehicle gone civil SUV inherently pours salt in the wounds of an ailing economy. With a high price point and an expensive cost of ownership (gas prices), this behemoth stands for the boom time gone by.

It might even be fair to say that there’s some resentment for this brand, even among those who bought into the “Bigger-is-better” mentality of homes and cars (and gas tanks).

It will be a enormous undertaking and require real creativity on the part of a buyer to repair the image of Hummer. Some serious changes in gas mileage will obviously be the first order of business, not simply because of new (and needed) fuel economy standards, but for the viability of the brand!

In the end, I doubt a brand like Hummer will ever see anywhere near the same cache as it had about five years ago. The elements that made Hummer a popular purchase simply don’t exist anymore.

Whomever buys up these brands — assuming they don’t go away altogether — will have to have a top-notch marketing staff to tap into:

  • The brand value of Saturn and make it adhere to its brand promises
  • Re-brand Hummer in a radically different way

Brand gurus, start your engines.



November 11, 2008

Which Brands Will Survive?

Posted in Measurment tagged at 11:39 am by R

It’s all about the bottom line these days. The last time I bought a brand name at the grocery store was easily months ago. Even if it’s only a savings of a few cents, chances are I (and the rest of America) am going for it.

These buying habits beg the question: what brands will survive?

Obviously many have. Coke, Pepsi, Tide, Wheaties, Kraft, Brawny, Charmin, to name a few grocery brands, have weathered less severe economic storms. But with the onslaught of new products, will we see new favorites disappear off the shelves?

Not if their marketers or agencies are smart. Now is the time to hit home the point of investment. Branding is an investment in the best of times, and a necessary on during downturns. Telling stories about why the brad is worth the consumers’ additional investment positions the brand’s worth…and hopefully keeps the dollars coming in.

Your brand is your nest egg for a rainy day. If you haven’t invested yet, call me and we’ll start building a great brand.


October 24, 2008

X marks the spot?

Posted in In the news tagged at 4:05 pm by R

There’s been a little controversy brewing here in Phoenix.

The downtown area of Phoenix has been known for eight years as “Copper Square.” This branding effort was  marginally successful.

Last year, the Downtown Phoenix Partnership solicited for Public Relations & Branding agencies to help them evaluate the viability of “Copper Square” to either refresh the brand or change it alltogether.  The job went to area firm SHR Perception Management.

After more than a year of research and work, they came up a new, refreshed and completely different brand for Downtown Phoenix…Drumroll please…

Downtown Phoenix…’X’ marks the spot.

Seriously? It tooka year’s worth of research and $160,000 to call Downtown Phoenix, Downtown Phoenix!? Now I don’t know what SHR’s process is for branding and I don’t know what the Downtown Phoenix Partnership’s reaction to any of this was, but for that amount of money  to be invested in a project like this, I’d expect some more creativity.

Try these on for size:

  • Center of the Sun
  • 1 hot spot.
  • Pho-Town or No-Town
  • I don’t know anything…besides the utterly, blatantly obvious!

“‘X’ marks the spot” reminds me of pirates. We live in a desert, therefore we don’t have water, and thus it follows that we have no pirates. It just doesn’t work.

I suppose as a person in the business and as Phoenix resident, I’m just a lot little disappointed. I see so many unique features and characteristcs about my chosen home that I’m insulted no one — especially marketing & branding professionals — could come up with anything better than “Downtown Phoenix.”


July 18, 2008

Insurance and Syrup — A co-branding match made at breakfast

Posted in Who was the advertising genius... tagged at 9:26 am by R

You see this happening all the time, two well known brands with established characteristics and loyal followings join together and go skipping hand-in-hand through the marketplace.

This can be a very successful tactic for a campaign, or a total flop if the brands aren’t appropriately aligned.

Ones that work:

  • Starbucks and iTunes
  • 24 Hour Fitness and the Olympics
  • Project Runway and Elle Magazine

One I discovered this morning that is highly questionable:

  • Geico and Mrs. Butterworth….huh?

Yeah, you read me right. Geico — an insurance company — and Mrs. Butterworth — maple syrup. You know the campaign they have going where the “average insurance customer” just can’t explain their story quite as well as a “celebrity.” Well, evidently, Mrs. Butterworth is a celebrity! Watch it here.

I need someone to tell me how these two brands benefit each other enough to co-brand together in this ad. I’m really struggling to wrap my brain around this one…

  • Do a disproportionate amount of Geico customers report eating an inordinate amount of hot cakes with extra sides of syrup?
  • Are people who buy Mrs. Butterworth simultaneously seeking quality car insurance?

I’m at a loss here. But what’s crazier is that it works! I laughed out loud at the gym when I heard Mrs. Butterworth quip in her maple syrupy sweet voice, “Oh look, someone’s put a logo right over my face.”

Seriously for a person in the advertising/marketing/public relations field, that’s hilarious.

Will this be a partnership that spans beyond this one ad? I doubt it. But it just goes to show that the rules of properly aligned brands can go out the window when you have a quirky brand (Geico) working with something completely unexpected and totally juxtaposed.

It says plenty about the power Geico’s brand has. Mrs. Butterworth, enjoy your time as part of this campaign. I’ll see you at breakfast.