Playing in tune

Brands cross-promote all the time, but the emergence of these two bedfellows– BMW and Steinway– is truly fascinating.  I actually like it.  A lot. And I’m not sure which brand benefits more, which is why it is probably a good deal for each party. BMW benefits from the elegance and sophistication of Steinway, a classic figuratively and literally. Steinway benefits from the modernity, engineering halo, and sexiness of BMW. Steinway is an older brand and frankly a little juice might help keep it relevant. Great stuff- proving once again that some of the best ideas out there are way out on the perimeter. A car-piano partnership, in the abstract, is not intuitive. But this one works.

What’s next, a deal between Harley and the Gibson guitar company? Wait a minute, that might actually work…


Often times, marketers will slightly doctor the spelling of a common word to give their brand some distinctiveness and additional meaning. Doing so can also help (or even be required) to gain an enforceable trademark, as trademark law does not allow for terms that are simply descriptive.

This one is sort of silly, however. It’s a restaurant called “Eatt” (sic) that recently opened around the corner from my office. It’s actually a great place. Or should that be “greatt”? Too bad the naming and branding regime sort of stinks. I hope it doesn’t hurt the fundamental business proposition, but it might. This stuff matters.

Back to the future

This is good stuff. MillerCoors allegedly/purportedly found an old pre-prohibition recipe deep in the Coors archives somewhere in Colorado, and they just announced they’re bringing it back as a modern microbrew in select markets.

It’s a compelling story and I think it’s great. It’s innovating forward by reimagining and redeveloping intellectual property assets that are already there. This is a great example of (1) weaving and/or retelling credible and interesting narratives, which is what brand building is all about, and (2) responsibly making full use of the wide range of assets that are at marketers’ disposal, most of which are sitting around idle, collecting dust.

Batch 19 shows  a very productive and indeed very creative approach. I’ve been trying for years to get more companies to think this way, with some success at my old gig River West Brands.  Unfortunately, however, most big marketers seem hell-bent on the “just extend the core brand” strategy to new product introduction… which usually leads to tepid and unimaginative line extensions in most cases, and outright abominations (such as “Dove for Men”; see post below) in the extreme.

By the way, I’m assuming that the aforementioned “we found this formula in the archives” lore is more or less true, and has some legitimate authenticity to it. Or, at least supported by some fact, somewhere. I’m sure they are very very (did I say very?) liberally interpreting the back story and indeed the formula itself…  and indeed this whole thing may very well have been cooked up by someone in marketing or at an agency first, who then said “hey, this would be cool, go find an old formula to support the concept.” But they would have to be completely insane to take Batch 19 to market without at least some defensible, fact-based explanation for what is really going on here. Can’t be total B.S… and if it is, shame on them and they deserve every bit of horrible PR and market backlash that will certainly ensue if they get busted.

Anyway, unless we’re being completely duped, here is an enthusiastic “cheers” to the MillerCoors folks behind this rather bold new product idea, and I am rooting for its success. Finally, someone is demonstrating a sophisticated approach to leveraging IP, and is demonstrating that narratives— new and old alike- can be bridges to innovation in the future.

– PE

Will it fly?

I have to say that it is very wise that the powers that be behind the United/Continental merger announced today decided to retain the “United” name, and not go with some sort of awful hybridized or hyphenated name, or even worse some new name of dubious meaning… but that is one @*#& hideous looking airplane right there.

Looks like the United name stays, but so does the Continental design identity. They should have just picked one whole branding regime and gone with it!

I’m perplexed. Does the above illustration mean that a United pilot will retain control of the wings, fuselage, and engines, but a Continental guy maneuvers the tail?

It is historically risky business to play mix-and-match with brands and design elements when a number of entities come together… or generally, for that matter. By definition there is no design integrity, and it can lead to confusion. The merger between JP Morgan and Chase provides another example, although that time, they apparently decided, “aw screw it, let’s just mash everything together.” In the logo below, the circular rotating thingy is derived from Chase, and I think the typeface is derived from JP Morgan.

I think it’s sort of lame, actually. It reflects the inability to make a real decision.

Of course, there is one particularly famous example of doing a Frankenstein combo job on a number of different design elements, and having it work beautifully (I guess I should specify, have the new design work beautifully… some cynics might say the jury is still out on the rest!)

It’s the Union Jack… a very clever combination of the flags of England, Scotland, and St. Patrick’s cross (an older Irish symbol) to signify the United Kingdom.

Unfortunately for design enthusiasts, if that preliminary airplane rendering above is any indication, this new United/Continental merger is no Union Jack. Let’s see if my spell checker picks up “fugly” (yep)


Don’t worry, be happy

Sometimes branding and marketing game can bring ya down. Never mind the innerworkings and other machinations behind the scenes that consumers never see, but mainly because there is some really really really horrendous strategic and creative work out there, polluting our airwaves and grocery store shelves. But just when the fervent believers like yours truly might start to lose faith, you discover something like this. That’s why I love this business

What a tremendous brand concept. Great design- no words on the front label, not even necessary! I don’t know much about “Project Happiness” winery, but the design alone was enough to cause a purchase. And yes, make me smile.

Haven’t tried the wine yet, but that is secondary anyway. The power of packaging. We all know that the label is super important and all powerful, but it is a very rare breed whose label alone can supersede all other considerations and make you buy something.

By the way- the front label can be peeled off easily and reattached to other things. Viral. Cool.


Here’s an idea. Let’s target this at women.

Observe this lovely recliner with the gaudy colors and professional football team signage (and if you were wondering, the answer is yes: you can accessorize this thing with beer can holders on the sides, if you want). I think millions of women would love to have this item grace their homes, and it would be really smart to spend a lot of money going after that opportunity… let’s advertise on Oprah and The View, see if we can get this into Bed Bath & Beyond, and even link it to some bridal registry websites.

Wait, you mean that is one of the dumbest ideas you have ever heard in your entire life?

Well, then you’ll love this one. And it’s actually real.

Really???? Dove has to be one of the most feminine brands in all of mainstream retail. The brand is so feminine, it has even transcended the beauty care business and is starting to become a torch bearer for women’s issues generally.

And now Unilever is trying to persuade guys to switch to “Dove Men Care”? Would any guy buy anything with a dove on it, never mind the brand Dove? Why, for the love of the Ford Edsel, would they not develop a new brand from scratch, go acquire a relevant trademark, repurpose an existing one with the right equity, or pursue any other number of options to take an otherwise good product to market with a branding scheme that makes more sense?

Axe… in many ways, the anti-Dove… is also owned by Unilever. It is phenomenally successful, so clearly Unilever knows the space, and one would think they know what they are doing. Maybe they are trying to appeal to guys who are not as guy-like as Axe guys. Or maybe older guys. Who knows.

I would be stunned if this actually worked, however. It’s overcooked- they thought too hard. What’s more, they risk compromising the core Dove brand for women. If you consider the same maneuver in the inverse, what could core Axe dudes think about their brand if one day they saw “Axe for Her” on the shelf, in a hot pink bottle, and the stuff smelled like lilacs?

Someone cue the 80s Prince song, “When Doves Cry.” My goodness.


Powerful symbolism

This post is technically off-topic.  Or is it?

Walking into the office this morning, I paused to observe and ponder these green shoots just starting to emerge after a long cold winter. Fantastic. A consummate symbol of springtime. And springtime means longer days… warmer temperatures… renewal… hope. It’s a most gripping narrative.

Here’s the linkage between botany, season change, and this blog: branding, in my opinion, is all about the narrative. Often times, narratives are best conveyed with images, not words. What’s that saying… a picture is worth what? I’d actually argue that some pictures are worth far more than 1,000 words.

There are a handful of timeless and powerful themes like the one above- themes that far transcend consumer product marketing, and have to do with the way human beings see the world and connect with each other. The great marketers, by design or just by instinct, tend to make one or several of these themes central to development of branding concepts.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the great artists also tend to do this. Marketing, after all, requires much more art than science. But that’s a topic for a different post.

“Here comes the sun…”


How Would ‘Sears Clock Tower’ Go Over?

Here’s an idea. Let’s get a group of Yankee wheeler-dealer business people together, buy London’s landmark “Big Ben” clock, and effectively tell the local Londoners to go to hell by renaming it after an American corporation. I think they respond by referring to us as “bloody wankers,” and that’s the PG version.

Yet, that’s basically what happened when a British bank swooped in, bought Chicago’s Sears Tower, and promptly renamed it “Willis Tower.” Whatcha talkin’ about, Willis? It’s not the Willis Tower. It’s the Sears Tower. Just like Big Ben is Big Ben.

The arrogance and hubris with which foreigners typically approach the naming of properties in lands other than their own never ceases to boggle the mind.

There is another interesting case developing in the golf resort world, where Donald Trump is about to break ground on a spectacular plot of land near Aberdeen, Scotland. I am praying he doesn’t name the course “Trump International,” true to his tendency to name everything from airplanes to hotdogs to hotels after himself. But it looks like that is exactly what he is going to do.

Beyond being inconsiderate and rude, this “here it is and I don’t care if you like it or not” bulldozer approach to naming by an outsider is just stupid. That’s because it fails to take into consideration that a great brand name must have AUTHENTICITY.

Trump should name the course “Balmedie,” after the quaint and quiet seaside community that is the closest village. Would that name not have more charm and legitimacy? Where is the grace in it all? Of the famous courses in the UK and Ireland that attract golf nuts on pilgrimages from around the world, how many are named after magnanimous American real estate developers? “Trump International” just doesn’t fit with “St. Andrews,” or “Carnoustie,” or “Ballybunion,” or “Turnberry,” or “Lahinch,” or “Gleneagles,” or any of them. Dumb! That something doesn’t fit with the others in and of itself is not always bad. But choosing to be the onion in the petunia patch is stupid in this case, where reverence for the land, an appreciation of history, and the authenticity of experience are such important elements of any journey to the aulde links.


Worth More Than A Hill Of Beans

Some really deep pocketed coffee companies are currently engaged in a very public and occasionally nasty bidding war to acquire Diedrich Coffee. If you are an owner of Diedrich, you likey. (Disclosure: I am in no way involved in this stock shootout, nor are any of my clients or partners, as far as I know)

Now, Diedrich by all accounts has some pretty cool products, including an innovative technology in pods, which seems to have been identified as the new “it” segment by the big guys. A unique technology can certainly be a value driver, for sure. I have to think, however, that absolutely tremendous graphic design for which Diedrich has made its name is a factor too. I have always felt that great creative arts can work in very irrational ways, particularly in design. Take a wicket, wrap it in an incredible design, and it’s more interesting, more proprietary, and ultimately more valuable.

I am sure the Diedrich owners would agree. So would Starbucks, by the way. Those are the guys who figured out how to sell a cup of coffee for four bucks… previously a laughable concept.


Mama Said Knock You Out

I’m a fan of the name and the branding approach being taken to market by this relatively new Chicago-area food company I stumbled across. They make pie crust, for goodness sake. It’s pretty bland, figuratively and literally. The clever name (pun and all) and nice graphic design give some character to the enterprise. Their product is very good, as far as pie crusts go I suppose, but more notable to me is that this is a terrific example of how branding can help de-commoditize a commodity.