Originally posted on 3.18.09

Some people may not see this as a branding decision, but I do…

I’m really irritated Yellow Pages–or “Dex”–continues to send out phone books to everyone possible–sometimes two per household!  I just walked down the street and must have seen 30 or so piled up along the sidewalk…just on one block!

I realize the majority of Americans don’t have access to the internet and do actually use the physical book, but I do have the internet and I don’t need five pounds of paper delivered to me from Yellow Pages every year, or, really, ever again. Honestly, I would imagine there are thousands, maybe millions of others who feel the same way. If I need to know where something is, I Google it, or I use Yelp! or I use the F-ing YELLOW PAGES App on my phone!

I’m no genius, but I would think it would be fairly simple to buy a list from Comcast or AT&T or any other internet provider and basically take those residents OFF the mailing list. Is it more complicated than that, Dex? Would this process really cost more than what you now pay for paper, manufacturing, delivery, etc? I truly doubt it.

Yellow Pages has done very little in terms of brand building or reputation management, but this has to be one of the biggest no-brainers I’ve ever witnessed. They would not only cut down on paper consumption and costs, they would reduce their manufacturing impact and costs, and decrease their delivery impact and costs.  It would be such an easy shift and it would all be so simple to measure and report. There is absolutely zero downside. Does anyone understand the hold up?

UPDATE: A very cool phonebook reuse-design is pointed to by Inhabitat, who mentions, “every year in the United States alone 500 million directories are printed, and the E.P.A. estimates that they account for nearly 5% of total landfill waste.”

Advertisements

Clutter Busters?

March 21, 2009

Originally posted on 3.18.2009

Rob Walker pointed out a interesting AdWeek article today that mentions Wal-Mart’s upcoming in-store video display system which they are claiming will help REDUCE advertisement clutter and offer a more seamless shopping experience…

Stephen Quinn, CMO of Wal-Mart Stores U.S., says that the only clutter-proof medium he’s aware of is the one that the company created itself, the Walmart Smart Network….When it’s fully rolled out next year, it will include some 27,000 in-store video screens in 2,700 stores. The content includes both infomercials and advertisements from Wal-Mart suppliers, and the schedules are customized to individual stores and shopping occasions.

Perhaps I don’t fully understand how Wal-Mart envisions this program working, but it sounds more like a clutter-MULTIPLIER than any sort of simplifier. Do they really think this will enhance their customer’s in-store experience? Customers are already surrounded by thousands of products vying for their attention, and Wal-Mart thinks adding video screens that bark out offers while they stroll down the aisles will reduce clutter?!

As Walker mentions, Wal-Mart is clearly very excited about the ability to eliminate “non-Wal-Mart sactioned” brands, but they are completely neglecting how this will affect the Wal-Mart brand experience. Sure, this may be an attractive opportunity for many of the brands housed inside Wal-Mart, but I suspect, in the long term, everyone’s brand will end up suffering from such a short-sighted strategy.

Originally posted on 3.04.2009

The iPhone’s impact–the way it has completely revolutionized how the world thinks about mobile–can no longer be challenged. If you are still trying to debate this, you’re an idiot. Period. So, with that in mind, this story in the WSJ struck me as a bit nutty…

Basically, a few small interest groups and mobile providers are bummed they weren’t invited to the “Mobile 2.0-Party” and feel like they might never be able to hang out with the cool kids and the movement they’ve created as a result. In order to “promote competition” these smaller companies and interest groups want Apple to lift its exclusive agreement with AT&T so they can have the option of offering the device too. Although the primary target is Apple, the case for banning exclusivity would extend to other major providers who have done the same, such as: Verizon with Blackberry’s “Storm,” T-Mobile with Google’sG1,” and Sprint with Palm’s upcoming “Pre.” Business Week says,

“The Consumers Union, the New America Foundation, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as software provider Mozilla and small wireless carriers MetroPCS (PCS) and Leap Wireless International (LEAP), are lining up in opposition not only to the Apple-AT&T partnership, but to all manner of arrangements whereby mobile phones are tethered exclusively to a single wireless service provider.”

Now, I completely understand how not being one of the “pioneers” shaping Mobile 2.0 would leave you feeling pretty helpless, but, to me, fighting technological exclusivity is contradictory to the shift that the mobile market (phone manufacturers, service providers and consumers) is currently undergoing. The way I see it, AT&T’s brand and the iPhone are synonymous. If you bought-in to the iPhone and Apple’s AppStore platform, you’ve bought-in to the AT&T brand, too. If you’re a Blackberry guy or girl, and have started to sync up to their marketplace, you’ve bought-in to Verizon. G1 users? You’ve bought-in to the Google brand, but you’ve become a T-Mobile follower as well. These unique phones and their corresponding web-based platforms have become an essential element of the service provider’s brand.

More and more, individuals are choosing their mobile device based on the phone’s interface and the “marketplace” or platform it is tethered to. Every “platform” has its own unique features and functions (the technical pluses and minus), but they also have their own unique personality that the consumer associates with. This is a good thing and will eventually be the basis for competition.

If you are one of the smaller service providers that “wants in,” why don’t you start by creating your own? Don’t fight it, embrace it. Carve out your own niche in the already established, increasingly solidified, Mobile 2.0 market. Tech companies all over the world are developing their own “iPhone” or “G1” and are finding ways of tethering them to proprietary, web-based platforms. Find one of ’em! Choose a device and platform you want to represent your brand and start competing.

AT&T, who is obviously in the most fortunate position of the bunch, says…

“Exclusive arrangements are an important form of competition…The popularity of the iPhone and its innovative features and applications have provoked a strong competitive response, accelerating not only handset innovation but also the pace of wireless broadband investment and applications development.”

I couldn’t agree more. Get on board. Stop whining about not being invited to their party, create your own and invite your own friends.

The Verizon “Hub”

March 21, 2009

Originally posted on 12.26.09

Last night, I saw a pretty intriguing spot for the new Verizon Hub

Engadget describes:

The system boasts a 7-inch touchscreen display, and will work with Verizon wireless subscribers handset(s) to eliminate the need for a landline (people still have those!?) The idea here is that the hub can sync to your calendar, contacts, maps, traffic and weather reports via broadband. It can also send and receive text messages, and do all kinds of cute little tasks like send driving directions to your phone. Subscribers have to live in an E911-capable area, and will be able to bring any phone number with them if they want to sign up for new service. The hardware’s going to cost $200 (after a $50 mail-in rebate) with a subscription fee of $35 per month — which comes with unlimited minutes and texts to and from the device. It’ll be available starting February 1st. Get ready.

I think this is a perfect way for Verizon to extend the brand and solidify its own unique platform within the broadband/telecommunications world: I don’t know what Verizon is calling it, but I’m going to say “Life Operations Management.” The Verizon brand has become so strongly tied to the image of Blackberry that they needed to figure out a way of tethering the technology/ability to a more complete system for life management.

I’m assuming the Hub is primarily targeted towards the homemaker, or “manager” of a family’s overall needs and activities, and I think this could potentially become a very effective differentiator, influencing entire families to become more complete and loyal Verizon users. Essentially, everything the “Verizon family” does could be connected and accessible to the varioous members, and I think many families will find that concept to be an extremely appealing possibility.

The problem, or potential issue I continue to see with Verizon and RIM’s Blackberry, however, is the nascence of their marketplace-platform. With iTunes continuing to expand and become more comprehensive (with thousands of new apps created every day!), and Google, basically just being Google, with a massive amount of “liquidity” created through an ever growing line of products, it is hard to believe Verizon and Blackberry will be able to avoid having to partner with Google, who will end up being the only option they will have. Apple will undoubtedly come up with their own version of the Hub, which would scare the absolute hell out of me if I were Verizon.

It will be interesting to watch.

Anyone seen this new Hyundai commercial for their new Gensis Coupe?

What struck me about the ad actually had little to do with the Hyundai brand strategy, because, for one, I don’t think Hyundai has anywhere to go but up in terms of image, and two, I think the spot actually does a pretty decent job of communicating the “fast and the furious” mentality that the sporty little race car is going for. What did bug me was the Smashing Pumpkins’ presence in it.

Is this really the association they want the public to have of their music and the people who listen to it? It’s hard for me to believe they really thought this one through, because, as a long time fan, this really turned me off.

I’ve listened to the Smashing Pumpkins, on and off, for well over ten years now, and I have never thought of them as a group that supported the reckless, street racing culture. In fact, I don’t know that I had ever put a specific label on their audience or the culture that I was a part of. And, I think that was the point…

Why, as a band (brand), would you broadcast to millions of people (by the way this was intended to be a Super Bowl spot), a VERY specific, cultural association? The strategy that I think many bands (brands) benefit from is being relatively undefined. They allow current and prospective fans and followers to cast their own feelings and experiences into the brand. Rob Walker illustrates this strategy really well in his book, Buying In. Think, Red Bull or Nike…Sure these brands have distinct personalities and associations–that is the essence of a brand, but they stay broad enough that they leave the door open for anyone to participate, or at least feel like they have the option.

Way to go, Billy Corgan, you’ve shut the door on me…your music has officially been associated with street racing punks. I never saw it coming.

Originally posted on 2.10.2009

This is more of a general observation, but, at this point, why haven’t more brands created their own app for the iPhone?

This really seems like a no-brainer to me. It’s just the most game-changing, culturally significant, increasingly ubiquitous device/interface available today…what’s the hold up? The iPhone app basically serves up the most targeted, customizable vehicle for your brand to become further infused into the lives of your consumers. Why are you not there yet? Whether you are a service company or a consumer product, you should be fully embracing this technology. You’ve had almost a full year to figure it out…where are you?

Miller High Life…as much as I loved your 5, 1-second spot strategy for the Super Bowl, you have still failed to create your own app. You know that beer drinking app? That should have been yours! Regardless of how long your Super Bowl time slot(s) were, I will guarantee that a Miller High Life app would have gained a hell of lot more attention and brand-LOVE, while costing you a fraction of the price.

Hey, Charles Schwab…I have to say, I’ve been banking with you for only a year, but almost every interaction I’ve had has reinforced your brand message of making things easy and doing things that make sense. But, where is your banking app? That would certainly be something that made sense right now. Did you know Chase has one out already? We are all waiting….

UPDATE: Here is a nice slideshow from Viximo Studios on the branded iPhone app.

One of my favorite shows on TV right now is Top Chef. Part of my love for the show, I must admit, stems from my love for host Padma Lakshmi, but, primarily, Top Chef is great for anyone who loves and appreciates food and is completely fascinated by culinary expertise.

Now in its fifth season, Top Chef, takes a select number of America’s “up-and-coming” food-smithes (usually around 20, I believe) through a series of culinary challenges to test their knowledge, creativity, speed, execution and overall stamina. This yearly competition has not only gained the respect and admiration of the entire culinary community, but, from what I can tell, has become THE premier vehicle for promoting food brands, too.

From Swanson’s Broth to Diet Dr. Pepper, brands are cleverly inserted into “challenges,” in hopes of becoming the key ingredient in each contestant’s dish. It’s actually quite brilliant…

Take for example, last weeks episode, in which, Quaker Oats, sponsored the “Quick Fire Challenge.” Chefs were given 30 minutes to prepare a unique dish, using their assigned ingredient (i.e. poultry, beef, fish, fruit, veggies) and, of course, Quaker Oats. As I watched, it was amazing to me how many things could be derived from basic oats (which Padma smartly refers to as the “wonder-grain,” prior to starting the challenge). When I think of oats, I think of oatmeal, granola, or, cookies, not using it as (a much healthier version of) the “breading” on my fried chicken. Earth Time, quotes former contestant, Spike Mendelsohn, who agreed:

“As viewers saw on last night’s show, Quaker Oats are nutritious, affordable, and one of the most versatile foods you’ll find,” said Chef Spike Mendelsohn, Top Chef Chicago chef’testant and owner of Washington, D.C. hotspot, Good Stuff Eatery. ” From an oat-based pie crust to a spicy oat-crusted chicken, Quaker Oats can be enjoyed throughout the day, extending a recipe and your wallet beyond the breakfast table. The Quaker Oats Viewer Quickfire Challenge is a really unique way for people to showcase their culinary talents with great-tasting Quaker Oats.”

Quaker adds…

As a trusted source of nutrition for more than 130 years, Quaker Oats are an easy and delicious way to add whole grains to your diet that gives you both value and nutrition. In fact, oats are one of the most studied foods for their heart health benefits. Quaker has more than 25 years of clinical proof that the soluble fiber from oats can help lower cholesterol as part of a heart healthy diet. At only about 40 cents per serving, Quaker Oats also provide essential nutrients, including thiamin, iron and fiber, which are lacking in most Americans’ diets.

Broadcast on a national stage with a (very) rough estimate of 2.5 million viewers per episode, Quaker Oats, was able to raise awareness of the overall health benefits of oats, as well as extend the grain’s perceived use and relevance in the mind of the health conscious consumer. And, who else but the market-dominator, stands to benefit from an increase in oat use? Yeah, brilliant…

There is no doubt, this episode will encourage me to look for more ways to insert oats in my life. And, that’s what it’s all about, right?