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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fauxscaling and the Risks of Repositioning Brands in Asia

Pirate handbags sold on the street aren't the only "brand fakes" around these days. There's a whole sector of the global economy dependent on taking a downmarket to middling brand and -- given the breath of a fresh start -- repositioning in new, developing markets. Often, these strategies rely on something we call "fauxscaling," creating a fake brand story/legacy and using tactics to create an image inconsistent with the brand's more downmarket image in its home market.

One could spend all day making a list of the American or European brands that have:

1. Repositioned themselves from downmarket (or middle-market at best) to "upscale" overseas and/or in doing so have

2. Created some dubious back-story and other propaganda for the brand (read: lying).

I have personally seen a GREAT deal of fauxscaling in Asia. With newly emerging, rapidly growing economies there, Western companies have rushed in to make as much money as fast as possible, creating a brand-land-rush to make a market and establish a brand (no matter how crappy the brand is perceived back home) before the competition.

Examples of fauscaling Western brands abound in Asia:

Buick in China is positioned as upscale.

Haagen-Dazs has created upscale-ish shops in Asia and engages in fauxscale tactics like the "legacy myth" in many markets. In Taiwan, nearly all locals believe the faux-story publicized at Haagen-Dazs shops: that the brand is some kind of vaunted European company with an accompanying false creation story. No one I spoke with in Taiwan is aware that Haagen-Dazs (a phony name, to boot) was started by a couple in Brooklyn and the company is part of the General Mills conglomerate.

Pierre Cardin is STILL considered an upscale brand in some parts of Asia, though the last time it was consider such in the U.S. was probably 30 years ago.

Starbucks is growing its reputation as "upscale" in developing markets, such as China and Thailand.

In Taiwan, TGI Friday's is considered an "upscale" date night option for young adults in the major cities (just TRY impressing your date here in the U.S. by taking them there!).

Mary Kay has fauxscaled its way to its current "upscale" position in Asia. The New York Times recently had a story about this in China. When I worked with a marketing/communications consultancy in Asia, my colleagues in Korea were working on the first wave of this, helping to create the fauxscale myth for Mary Kay there.

So, how hard is it to fauxscale a Western brand in Asia? It's REALLY not that difficult, just follow some steps like these:

1. Hire a multinational marketing/communications consultancy. They will be your fauxscale "bridge," bringing together local market sensibilities and a connection to "main office" U.S. brand leadership.

2. Create a lot of fake creation story buzz and endorsements. This is usually accompanied with the promotion of the brand's tenuous connections with "celebrities" back in the U.S. or other home markets. Even better if you can bring the celebrity to the local market to promote. A great example of this is the Lux brand (VERY downmarket) in Asia. They used Liv Tyler as the spokeswoman/endorser in their ads. I don't think the C-lister would sell much product here in the U.S.

3. Bring your fauxscaling brand to the local market to create a new category. Starbucks is a great example of this. They have had no problem convincing the local market (most of whom have never lived overseas) that they are "upscale" as they open "posh" looking coffee bars and introduce coffee culture to markets where this never existed before ("You don't know what upscale American culture is? Well, look here, THIS is what we are telling you it is.")

4. Focus some of your fauxscaling on markets where: A. There is a built in obsession with anything foreign and/or "upscale: (in China ANYTHING with a brand name/logo is worshipped); and, B. The media is corrupt (or at the least, not very ethical or skeptical) and will collude with you in promoting brands.

BUT, with any fauxscaling strategy, there is the danger of SERIOUS missteps.

A couple of years back, there was a HUGE wave of media sensation throughout greater China regarding a Haagen-Dazs scandal. The tabloid press had a field day showing video of bumbling Chinese workers storing ice cream cakes in filthy bathrooms in an illegal factory, etc. (read the story here)

Gawker has a post on the most recent trouble for fauxscaling Haagen-Dazs in India (item here). The brand's new India branch overreaching in trying to market itself as upscale. In doing so, they've been accused of racism, elitism, and just general cultural insensitivity.

These gaffes have certainly hurt the brand but they are by no means the only risks that may come with fauxscaling.

Along with the risk of global brand confusion and inconsistency that is inherent with these strategies, there is the real possibility that these fauxscaling efforts could backfire and negatively impact the brand back in the home market. What if, for example, 20 years from now China is REALLY dominant. Let's say immigration policies have changed, lots of wealthy (not just poor immigrants) Chinese move to the U.S. They will carry with them the idea that Buick is an "upscale" brand. Well, this is inconsistent with the brand's positioning here in the U.S.

What if all those folks who believe Haagen Dazs to be this upscale European brand with lots of history find out that that is COMPLETELY untrue? Wouldn't there be some backlash against the brand and erosion of brand "trust" and value?

You should multiply all the risks by 1000 due to the tremendous growth of social media and its ability to destroy a brand overnight (Dominos, anyone?).

It is clear that fauxscaling will no doubt continue unabated, but so will the pitfalls experienced as brands try for a second life overseas. The smart companies out there will be successful and stay out of trouble if they have the right counsel and teams in place as they embark on these global ventures.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Slate's 'Ads we Hate' is Great!

Just a quick blurb that Seth Stevenson over at Slate did a great piece (here) on the ads we hated the most in 2009. I was familiar and hated all of these. I also hated a couple that were not mentioned, but that's what the Slate Fray is for. Comment away on your own hated ads!

Ahh, it felt so antidepressing to get that off my chest. But now I'll pass my bottle of pharmaceutical-grade hate to Ad Report Card readers. Tip it back, pop a few hate caplets down your gullet, and join in:

I nominate the recent and most disgusting entry in Charmin's series featuring animated bears doing you-know-what in the forest. Used Charmin still clinging to the buttocks of a not-very-tidy bear?—Kirsten H.

Have a great and hate-free advertising 2010!

Thanks for reading.

Charmin Tries to Clean up a Marketing Turd!


From the A.P. Daybook [a daily digest from the Associated Press sent to media to alert them to "news events," which half the time are just LAME PR stunts]

-------------- NEW YORK CITY ---------

10:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.

Five Broadway performers, including Christopher Sieber of "Shrek the Musical," five Charmin employees and the company's bear mascots perform show tunes and pop music with revised lyrics promoting the toilet paper brand during "Bathrooms over Broadway," an event to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS; Charmin Restrooms, 1540 Broadway, between 45th and 46th streets.

--Note: Must RSVP and arrive at 10 a.m.

Contact: -----(at), 914-843-XXXX or 212-468-XXXX.

We have spent a lot of time in our short time together talking about bad marketing, turd marketing, etc. Here's a GREAT example, hot off the wires, of literal TURD marketing.

When marketers run out of ideas, they resort to gimmicks. Double down on that if you are promoting a product/service that is a COMPLETE turd. Toilet paper fits in the "turd category" because:

1. It is a product that sees benefit from "PR" that is marginal at best (98%+ of category sales are driven by ATL and traditional marketing);

2. There is REALLY nothing to talk about with this product unless there was some breakthrough innovation like toilet tissue made out of Shamwow! (i "smell" a great cross promo here);

3. Clearly the PR folks or whoever at MS&L have simply GIVEN UP. They are no longer trying to be innovative, add value or even pretend to the client that they still give a shit (pun intended). This is JUST LAME. EVERY lazy marketer in NYC, says "let's do an event in Times Square." This unoriginal, hackneyed kind of idea is sold to the client with promises of "huge buzz" and "media coverage."

The only result the client gets is confused tourists from Germany and China walking around dazed wondering why a giant roll of toilet paper guy is dancing around Times Square like an asshole trying to sing in frigid weather. Oh, that's REAL great for your brand, Mr. Whipple.

It turns out Charmin and/or it's marketing or PR counsel have a history of attempting LAME PR stunts that provide absolutely no benefit (see Boston Herald).

EVEN more lame to do this outside, in NYC, when it's 6 degrees with 40+ mph winds.

Thanks for reading.

The 2010 Marketing REsolutions are Here!

Our friends at Mashable have a good piece on the "five guide your SMB’s social media and online strategies for 2010." It is great to see anyone promoting the use of social media for business (not as if there is a dearth of that online these days) and Mashable is always a go to source. But, this article made me come back to the original sin of "new media" (for lack of a better term) marketing: we STILL have not yet created the compelling, 15-seconds or less, easy sell, comprehensive marketing/communications social media solutions package for business. Making some headway on THAT should be our 2010 Marketing RESOLUTION.

Of course, that's a bit of a funny: there is never going to be a silver bullet catch-all solution for anything ever again. BUT, I am serious about how poorly 1. the power of tools (twitter, Facebook, et al) is sold as part of marketing solutions; 2. how badly marketers/consultants package and sell-in their social media toolkit; 3. the weakness of most business leaders' grasp of social media, and so on.

The old days for marketing were (basically) simple: Build some buzz with PR. Take out some TV, print and outdoor ads. Maybe some DM or DR TV depending on your product. Do promotions and product trials. Rinse and repeat.

Anyone older than 15 (which includes most business owners) now feels lost in the wilderness. Our forever fluxing media landscape means the reassurance of the old model is gone. I don't mean to sound all in defense of the "crotchety" but WE ALL need to appreciate how confusing this would be for a "traditional" marketer.

So for the last 10 years or so, they've been hearing "it's all over, it's all changed" and they've seen the Web become huge, email take off, instant messaging, cell phones, iPods, social networks, blogs, twitter, and so on.

To them, it will seem every 5 minutes there some new "game changing" media they are supposed to now pay attention to.

For the OLDSTERS, this is very distressing. So, let's all take a moment from our busy lives to acknowledge their plight.

SO, now, you with-it, skinny jeans wearing hipster marketer, OUR JOB is to help them. HELP everybody figure out how to use social/new media as part of the complete marketing picture.

WE ARE NOT doing a very good job of it.

1st STOP distracting everyone by saying "this is the new ---KILLER, the NEW game changer" every 5 minutes. Hold on and let your followers catch up.

We need to be patient. As a wise marketer once said "stop the insanity!"

It is clear that SOME iteration of what now exists with communications, messaging and social networks is here to stay. It is also obvious that we can use the current forms of these tools to great effect in marketing. SPEND some time really 1. working out the BEST use of these tools that is actually sensible for your clients/colleagues and 2. figure out the BEST way to actually sell it to them and include it in your work.

IF YOU DON'T DO THIS, we will continue to hear from the oldsters: "I think I need one of those facey-pages to announce this sale on sansabelt pants." IF WE understand technology, it's best applications and how to talk about it, it is OUR JOB to communicate and evangelize among those less fortunate. What kind of marketers are we if we can't sell our expertise properly to others?

It is really important that we act quickly, brainstorm together and really come up with some strategic packages of products and services to sell for marketing. In the biz, we have been selling our expertise with social media as part of our services for a while. AS WE ALL KNOW, much of these "services" has been telling clients we will create and maintain their presence on critical social networks (or some blather like that). What we know this means is "I'll do something with Facebook, Flickr, Twitter." Of course, it's only a matter of time before the clients figure out that it's not really all that hard to send out a few tweets. I mean, look at the current DEMOS on FB, Twitter audiences. These ain't mostly Billyburg hipsters on there, they are your mom and dad.

We are all gonna look pretty dumb if all we're selling is that we happen to know about how to use some existing tools. Marketers, consultants, etc. are made of what they sell as their VALUE ADD. We need to really start thinking about ADDING SOME VALUE.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Polishing Turds: Your Personal Shame for 2009

The year end is a good time to reflect on what we've "accomplished." Also ideal to prepare for what lies ahead. I'm sure during 2009 you spent some time promoting, publicizing, marketing, selling a product/service/person that was "less than special." We're talking about turds, about dogs, about whatever moniker you want to use. These work projects are the ones that make you hate yourself when you look in the mirror in the morning (that's if you can even drag yourself out of bed), cause you to loathe your job and cause you unending personal shame.

What were your "2009 Turds?" Do you have outstanding "Turds of the Decade?"

Throughout my marketing life, I've been asked to belly up to the table and massage a great number of steaming, stinking turds. Back in the way early days, I regularly enjoyed massive turd helpings when I was an intern/entry level AE at a communications firm.

The turds (clients) I was handed were some of the following:

A snack treat for dogs
A kitchen cleaner
A paper manufacturer

Why do I call these "turds" and not "wonderful, fulfilling, exciting client experiences?" Because they weren't, but also, MAINLY because in the marketing arts, a "turd" that needs to be polished is a "crappy, uninteresting client/product service with no USP to speak of."

As marketers, we always PRAY that the clients/colleagues of the world will recognize not only our genius, but the tremendous power of marketing and bring us in at the VERY BEGINNING of the product development process. This personal sacred wish of marketers has us envision being brought into the boardroom to consult and weigh in on the creation of the product/service and help to inform and guide the development of a HIGHLY MARKETABLE product. Of course, this is mere fantasy and it is only rumored to happen at very evolved corporations. We know that progressive companies do often have the marketing people involved FAIRLY early. Apple, for example, does this very well.

BUT, for most of us most of the time with most assignments, we are brought in to share our EXALTED wisdom way after everything has been said and done. The product has launched, the designs are finished, the building has been completed, the deed is done.

The unfortunate PR people are sometimes not even brought in until the original marketing plans have failed or there is some other problem.

What does this all mean and how does it create TURDS?

Well, honestly some TURDS that need to be polished will simply always be turds, no matter when marketing people are involved and/or if they have any input whatsoever. The dog snacks and kitchen cleaner were NEVER going to be interesting, fun accounts. And, honestly, the % of people who make purchase decisions for these products based on ANYTHING besides traditional above the line is woefully small.

A TURD has no redeeming marketing value and therefore no organic raison d'etre. Nothing special to say. It is not the "biggest," "first," "cheapest," "trendiest" or launched by a special company like Apple, or designed by Frank Gehry.

So there is nothing inherent to the product that lends itself to a story, to buzz, to press coverage, to ANYTHING.

So you try to attach said product to trends: "this is an example of what companies in X sector or doing to try to succeed in a recession," "this is the pioneer in a new neighborhood," "this is part of trend X." Most of these TREND/feature lines of talk are completely invented, just look at the criticism the NY Times gets when its reporters invent trend stories.

ALL that invented trending only lasts so long. But you STILL have this TURD laying there in front of you, it needs to be polished, it's still your project. So, next up are the gimmicks: "the grand opening had people on pogo sticks," "we will give free apartments for a week at Christmas to people named Jesus," etc.

The problem is that these gimmicks are disconnected from the ACTUAL product. They do nothing to promote the true brand elements and tell the public nothing about a USP (because there really is none to speak of). ALL THESE DO is get a bit of buzz in the 'nets and the media and keep the product's name out there for a bit longer until the TURD gets flushed with all the others flowing along in a sewer-pipe of global unconsciousness. It's all there in the background, all these undifferentiated products and services.

There is no magic polish for TURDS. As mentioned, bringing marketing people in early, especially in the case of completely generic products, will maybe help the process of MAKING products more marketable. The WHOLE POINT of creating something for sale is so you can sell it, how about allowing some experts in to help you create a product that WILL SELL MORE? For product development people who work with marketers, I propose the following New Year's Resolution: Make something interesting together in 2010, not just more turds.

So, as we look forward to 2010 I hope you will help lead the fight to have marketing play a greater role in all levels and forms of product development and promotion, no matter how discouraged you may already be.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Still talking about Starbucks Via?! Oh, dios!

Believe it or not, some people out there are still debating the business strategy and prospects of Via, Starbucks' instant coffee. Over at this Harvard Business Review blog, for example, there is a raging debate going on. Some say it was a smart idea, some say a bad one. A lot of back and forth about whether Via - at $1 a cup - is a "low end" entry into the premium coffee space or a "high end" entry into the instant coffee space.

Also, folks seem to be spending LOTS of time debating whether Via is any good. This, unfortunately I think, has little to do with the marketing question and if Via is a smart business move for Starbucks. EVERYTHING involving taste is subjective and debatable. Many (myself included) will say that ALL of Starbucks' coffee offerings are awful. Many will say they just love Tasters' Choice. It goes on and on.

The major issue isn't whether this is a good product or not. Obviously it is enough of a taste gray area that - just like Starbucks itself - though many may not like it, a huge number of the public will like/love it. We must remember, Starbucks is a MAINSTREAM brand in the USA. What do mainstream brands sell? Mainstream products that hit the wide middle spot. Neither too great nor too lousy. Satisfying most, disappointing and dazzling few.

A good brand analogy is the Gap. Until a few years ago at least, the Gap was unparalleled in their ability to serve the closets of the great yawning middle. Want some shapeless khaki pants that will make you blend in facelessly on casual Friday? We got 'em. I could never find pants there for me. Why? I'm pretty slim and I am a little more avant and "risky" in my wardrobe. But, lord oh lord, 10 years ago if you went to any mall, any tech company, any office on casual Friday in FLYOVERLAND, what would you see? Paunchy guys in their 20s-40s wearing shapeless khakis and polo shirts. Not unattractive, not attractive; not drawing attention, not hiding in the corner; just...THERE.

Anyway, leave it to your tastebuds whether Via is any good or not. To me, this whole thing looks like a slightly desperate move on Starbucks' part. I think the world is turning and they are going to have to change a lot. Expect more growth on the low end for the company, with other products/lines introduced. I wouldn't be surprised if within 10 years, most Starbucks resemble McDonalds outlets. As we know, a lot of McDs now resemble Starbucks so it's not too hard to imagine.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Marketer, review thyself!

A blog by some PR company had an interesting idea: consumer product companies should host reviews of their products on their own websites. It is a fun concept and clearly the PR people think this will give a client good PR for being all "transparent" and "honest" in building relationships with stakeholders, bla bla bla.

If this happens it is still under the radar. AND, if it ever REALLY happens to some significant degree, there should be a lot of controversy. I cannot imagine that even the most "transparent" company out there will allow totally unfiltered criticism (oh, i mean "review") of its products on its own website. Just think of how incredibly risky this would be.

It is a really interesting idea and we'll see where this goes. I have only seen Apple having reviews of products on their online store. But, as we all know Apple is a "special case" and is a brand like no other. They have such a fan base and well of support out there that it seems to be no problem for them. BUT, does it benefit apple?

Thanks for reading.

Men are fat, but don't tell them

One of our favorite blogs, Stokefire, has a post on Weight Watchers for Men and suggests it is off the mark. The traditionally femme-focused company is trying to get men to purge the pounds with its programs. The Stoke-folks feel themes and tags such as “Real Men Don’t Diet” and “Eat like a man, not like a rabbit" are uninspired and even emasculating. As a commenter mentions, Weight Watchers should stick to its core market, women and give these tactics a rest. I do believe this line of attack will be a big FAIL for Weight Watchers.

There is a little-known school of thought in marketing that goes like this: Company X is a big, successful company, surely even a tone-deaf-sounding ad campaign must be informed by lots of intelligence from their marketing team. They are such a strong brand, they must know what they are doing, etc.

The public can sometimes think this way. And, marketers who are not on the inside with Company X can leave well-enough alone and think "it's not my problem, they must know what they are doing." Who knows, this could work, but I think not.

Thanks for reading.

Teenagers realize 'it's all the same'

Good, though redundant, story in the NY Times about teenagers realizing that since the economy is dreadful they shouldn't be asking for much from their parents. They've "lost interest" in expensive stuff and seem to now find Aeropostale a reasonable alternative to Abercrombie & Fitch as "it’s kind of the same thing." The Times did have stories a while back how stores such as Aeropostale that offer "value" were doing better. In the last year they also had pieces about how the bloom is off the rose for luxury in Japan, a market that is traditionally a huge percentage of luxury retailers' market. Young people in Japan have to some extent gotten over the whole "must have a Louis Vuitton bag" thing and are being more reasonable and practical as well.

The article notes that youngsters are gravitating more toward the Gap (which has been struggling to make a comeback) and even - God forbid - TJ Maxx.

The kids are also seeking quality. One would think this would spell an opening for a brand such as Uniqlo, which is a serious HIT here in NYC for folks wanting quality, stylish fashions at Gap-comparable prices. With H&M (a similarly positioned, though more stylish brand) expanding all over the damned place, it may be Uniqlo's time to get large nationwide.

Thanks for reading,

What we are doing here

I am a lifelong marketer. What this means is that I have eat and slept (if that's possible) marketing since I can remember. I am ALWAYS interested in new marketing, good marketing, bad marketing, poo marketing. Whatever.

I've worked in PR/marketing/communications/branding for 15 years or so. I have done this mostly in a consulting capacity, advising companies on how to better communicate their messages, sell their products, achieve their goals, etc.

A large part of my career has been outside of the U.S. This means I am interested in some things going on beyond the borders of our United States. I hope you are too.

Now, I live back in my native New York City. I work as a consultant and also have a gig doing social marketing. So I have some free time to scour the web, give my opinions, and bore you.

I'll be writing about advertising, marketing, communications, branding, PR, consumer behavior, sales techniques and tactics. It goes without saying that I'll be especially interested in "new" stuff in the realm of digital communications, social media, etc.

While in Asia, I was a also blogger for a couple of years for CNET, where I commented on technology and media marketing issues and news. You can find my old blog posts archived here: CNET.

I hope you'll enjoy our time together. Please make any comments on posts, send me suggestions, link to this blog and tell your friends.

Jonathan Gardner