Where have you gone, Joltin’ Joe?

As mentioned in the Labelry “charter” (if you could call it that), this blog is all about the art and science of labeling…including the branding of people. This particular post is about a fantastic new person brand.

Just when I was getting ready to hold funeral services for the lost art of the sports nickname, along comes Denard “Shoelace” Robinson (above), the  exciting  young quarterback at the University of Michigan who has burst onto the national stage this year with his exceptional play. Apparently he answers to “Shoelace” because he prefers shoes without laces– not that it matters, as long as there is some explanation. “Shoelace” is a great nickname that has all the attributes of a great brand name: it is fun, unique, memorable, distinctive, has authentic narrative to it, and even has some nice meter to it… “Shoelace Robinson” sounds like a character of myth and legend.

Ex-pro basketball player Chris “C-Webb” Webber (who by complete coincidence also went to the University of Michigan) unwittingly became the basis for a true scourge in nicknaming, that being the construct of First Initial-First Syllable of Last Name.  As far as naming goes, how incredibly unimaginative, how uninspired, how downright lazy. This model spawned a gazillion copies (perhaps most famously Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez). For example, when the Boston Red Sox acquired Victor Martinez, my first thought was, “please, fans and media – don’t start calling him ‘V-Mart.’” Yet that is exactly what happened. V-Mart? That’s the best you can do?

The Splendid Spinter. Hammerin’ Hank. Nightrain Lane.  Pistol Pete.  The Galloping Ghost. Mr. October.  Iron Mike. Charlie Hustle. I could go on and on about the great nicknames of sports stars past. Let’s hope that Shoelace Robinson inspires more nicknames that take us back to the future. At least he doesn’t go by “D. Rob.”

“It’s getting to be re[expletive]diculous.”

“It’s getting to be re[expletive]diculous.”  – John Wayne, baffled and exasperated

I am really not a Luddite, but this trend of using social media, web-enabled contests, crowd sourcing, and other such things is getting completely out of hand, and it’s disturbing. Actually, a better word is: gross. These tools can have valuable applications– if used properly and if the practitioner is mindful of their limitations– but the article below about yet another example of a brand group completely punting on basic responsibilities under the well intentioned (or just lazy?) aegis of “let consumers decide” put me over the top, and I had to write something.


Have marketers completely lost confidence in their ability to market? Are they unwilling– or unable– to lead?

Memo to brand managers and agency folk: the consumer is not the boss, YOU ARE. Coming up with great products and great communications campaigns is YOUR JOB. The responsibility to lead projects like doing a simple new package design is YOURS, not that of an anonymous group.

I don’t believe that many consumers actually want “conversations” with their mayonnaise. They don’t want an “interactive engagement” with their dish soap. It is brand managers’ job to know their consumers and the marketplace well enough to cough up some products and marketing campaigns that will resonate.

Research and consumer engagement has limits. Talking to consumers is rarely a bad thing, but its role is to provide the marketer with insights and data, not to serve as a decision by default. Marketers have to be the creators. As a practical matter, some of the great innovations in history have actually spectacularly failed in consumer testing.

Overreliance on consumer research has always been problem facing our industry, and it has been made a whole lot worse by technology making it so darned easy. This is a serious issue and I will write more about it later.

Good, Better… BEST

Few things upset me more than bad taglines. Specifically, taglines that are not unique to the brand and end in rhetorical questions. You know the format: “What kind of (insert category frame of reference here) do YOU use?”

Example: the omnipresent Capital One campaign: “What’s in YOUR wallet?”

Reeks of desperation… and I don’t believe that frightening or subtly threatening consumers is a good way to build a brand. It’s just plain rude. Besides, “What’s in YOUR wallet” could just as easily be used by any other brand of bank or credit card, as well as anything else that goes in a wallet for that matter (how about “Trojan: what’s in YOUR wallet?”). Capital One is spending an unfathomable sum on a truly terrible line, which unfortunately is a mere sample of a terrible format for taglines that is adversely affecting brand marketing today generally.

And that’s why I love this one: “Good. Better. Behr” for Behr paints. It’s unique to the brand… “Good. Better. Sherwin Williams” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Plus, it is smart and strategic in implying that Behr is the best, riffing off the “good, better, best” hierarchy. And the line portrays a marketer confident enough to not feel like it has to threaten its consumers (“what kind of paint do YOU paint with?”)

Bravo to the Behr marketers and their agency. It is refreshing to see that the art of the tagline is not lost altogether.

Backup name: Delilah

I never cease to be amazed when otherwise intelligent, enlightened business people dismiss the importance of names to companies and products. As long as things need to be labeled, names matter.

What is more compelling to the consumer, a suitcase bearing the label of “Shwayder Trunk Manufacturing Company,” or its successor brand, “Samsonite”? Uh…

Samsonite is also a great example of a brand telling a story. You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to know that Samson was pretty strong. Perfect fit for a brand of suitcases positioned on their ability to endure.

In this space I have been critical of contrived corproate and brand name changes, but this one in particular was a great idea… and worked beautifully.

When Imitation Isn’t So Flattering

If the track on this new Weber Grill commercial  sounds vaguely familiar, it is because it is a shameless and flagrant attempt to replicate the style, songwriting, and energy of the Black Eyed Peas without actually having to pay them. Think of it as sort of a store brand generic of the real thing. Horrible!!!! (For those of you scoring at home, the track is called “You Light Me Up,” by some band called “Open Sky”). What is Weber’s goal here- to dupe consumers? Save a few bucks by hiring a cheaper studio band? That’s pretty cynical, and it’s a pretty bad business practice. First, I doubt they are really fooling anyone. Second, we know the Black Eyed Peas are very commercially savvy, have put a lot into building their brand and reputation, and this has “copyright infringement lawsuit” written all over it. I would guess that their lawyers have sent a few nastygrams to Weber already.

As an aside, the whole “look at these fat people dancing, isn’t that funny” thing has also been done a million times, another sign that the Weber team was more intent on ripping off other people’s ideas than creating new ones. They make great grills though- I am a happy and enthusiastic owner of one. It’s another reason this bums me out.

Anyway, loving a good pan as I do, I am still laughing at this reaction to the new commercial posted on a message board by a consumer: “Two thumbs down, and middle finger up to the marketing team that came up with this.” Well put!

If you think honesty doesn’t sell, by the way, check out the eye popping business results for the new Domino’s campaign from Crispin Porter + Bogusky, which admirably (and brilliantly) recognized the giant elephant in the room and basically said “okay, we know you think our pizza sucks, so we made it better.”  How refreshing- and how effective.

The integrity issue aside, let’s hope that more clients and agencies turn to forthrightness simply because they want to build better brands. We would all benefit from it.

Garbage time

I am not always a fan of overly clever product concepts, but I like this one. Interesting name, and of course note that the container is itself a trash can. Terrific.

In any event, I would bet this concept would do better than a generic container that simply said “pretzels and stuff.”


A box by any other design…

One of my hobbies is rose growing (even as a resident of downtown Chicago- my wife and I are fortunate to have a roof deck that is just big enough to satisfy my interest and curiosity as a green thumber). ‘Tis the season for planting. I had already purchased the 2010 editions from the preeminent nursery David Austin Co., so technically they could have shipped the roses in a banged-up Charmin toilet paper case and it wouldn’t have made a difference in what ultimately went into the containers. But you know what? They shipped in custom-designed boxes, and they looked really nice. And sophisticated.

Just a little touch that added to the excitement of my experience… and a little touch that would make me hesitant to defect from David Austin next year, even subliminally. You don’t see graphic design applied to shipping boxes like this very often.  I’m sure these custom boxes add to Austin’s cost, and I’d bet you a rose bush that they have often considered trading down to generic boxes… but here is at least one customer who is glad they haven’t. Good design is almost always good business, even in—or especially in—places where you don’t expect it.


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.