Thursday, August 20, 2009

Innovative Marketing?

I have a teen driver! And actually, thanks to Sears Driving School it's all been a painless experience and she's now finishing up the road portions of the course.

Sears uses Honda Civics for their classes, citing their reliability as a big factor in what must be a brutal life for a car. I could not confirm if they have a formal deal with Honda but even without, what a brilliant marketing move for the manufacturer this is.

The Civic is an extremely pleasant, well engineered ride. The students really enjoy the car and predictably, this is now the vehicle my daughter & her friends want to own themselves.

Honda & the other Japanese brands have fine tuned the "move up" theory of car ownership. They understand that by giving a new driver a great experience in their starter car they will remain faithful to the brand, moving up a model at a time as their earning power increases. In Honda's case, a positive Civic experience sells an Acura RL 20 years later (and hopefully another Civic to the offspring). It's long term planning at it's best. Compare this to the domestic small cars, which in most cases seem designed to turn off a driver for life creating a customer who cannot wait to ditch the car and quite possibly the brand too.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Apple & Nike, It's Not You, It's Me

2 companies drifting apart? The must have accessory for most runners is the Nike+ system. For those unfamiliar, this is a sensor that slips inside a Nike shoe & connects to a receiver attached to your iPod. Run data is recorded to the iPod which can then be synced (Syunc?) to your Nike+ online account. The system works beautifully and at $29 (plus an iPod) is one heck of a deal.

For Nike & Apple it seemed a beautiful match, Apple gets to sell more Nanos & Nike sells high end running shoes (must runners go through 2 pairs a year). But there's a hitch for Nike, thanks to third parties like Marware, the sensor can be attached to any running shoe which leaves Nike splitting $29 whilst Apple gets to sell more $149 Nanos.

Now Nike has released a stand-alone piece of hardware, the Sportband. This $59 wrist device also logs your run data but requires no iPod thereby bypassing Apple. Obviously the runner doesn't get music to go but many of us (myself included) don't actually listen to the iPod anyway. And this time Nike gets to keep all the revenue without relying on shoes sales to make up the difference.

Obviously the new device is not stocked in the Apple Store!

Pubes Get Shut Out

NO Spel Checkr

Monday, August 17, 2009

"The Amiable Psychopath"

"Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

"There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

Reichmarschall Hermann Goering
to Gustave Gilbert during the Nuremburg Trials, April 1946

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Arizona Man Prosecuted For Saving Lives

Buried deep in today's New York Times is the story of Walt Staton who was found guilty of littering and sentenced to 300 hours of trash pickup in Arizona. Federal prosecutors had pushed for a $5,000 fine and he could also have received a year in jail so I guess you could say he got off lightly.

Even so, 300 hours of trash pick up seems a little harsh for a littering charge but this was no ordinary trash. Staton belongs to No More Deaths, an organization committed to saving the lives of migrants attempting to cross the harsh Arizona desert into the US. Volunteers place water jugs along the commonly used routes where well over 100 migrant men, women and children have recently died.

Federal Fish and Game officials oppose the water drops on grounds of littering however, it seems that the prosecutions are more political than environmental. Staton's attorney Bill Walker claims as much "we're appealing because we don't think that Walt committed any crime by putting out fresh, clean jugs of pure water to save human lives on the refuge." Conservatives such as Debbie Schlussel have also used the situation to spit bile on organizations such as Staton's and illegal immigrants in general. And these are the same pundits accusing the proposed health plan of setting up "death panels?"

At what point do we, as a purportedly Christian country, put aside the political differences and realize these are the lives of fellow human beings we are discussing? What would Jesus do? Actually He did have something pretty specific to say on the subject:

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in" (Mathew 25:35)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Biker Lifestyle Severly Diluted

Underneath Ballys Hotel in Las Vegas, situated in a rather dingy corridor, is a Harley Davidson store. Permanently displayed outside is a small sign that reads Sale-Sale-Sale.

Harley were an American success story. Twice resuscitated from near death, by the late-90's they had become the must-have lifestyle accessory for an increasing segment of the population. The highly expensive bikes became scarce as Harley struggled to keep up with demand and dealers were charging $1,000s in premiums on top of the list prices. By the middle of this decade their stock had reached $75 as their strategy of opening new plants & outsourcing began to equalize supply with demand. Then it all started falling apart, sales plummeted and were soon followed by layoffs and plant closures. The stock fell to almost $10 as 2nd Q 2009 profits fell another 35%.

Of course it's easy to explain away Harley's business demise, recession forces bit deep into what is an expensive lifestyle product. But I propose that a lot more factors came into play and perhaps the most influential was that of Brand Dilution.

Brand Dilution is the over leveraging of a brand's influence and companies that rely on high margins based on brand positioning are particularly influenced by this factor. Harley Davidson had franchised more and more dealers, licensed their name to an ever increasing number of merchants and even opened a chain of boutique stores selling everything but motorcycles in such locations as airports and sad malls underneath casinos. The tchotchkes had replaced the core product.

Harley are far from being the only guilty party. Caught up in the stock fervor of the past few years, companies from all sectors leveraged their names and products for short term gain with increasingly predictable long term results. Starbucks' entry into hotel coffee service and kiosks, Tommy Hilfilger's name on everything from beach towels to deodorant, Hummer's H2 and H3 and the Mercedes C-Class sedans, all served to drag the parent brand down. High fashion designers and retailers who've played into the outlet mall market aren't surely wondering why their traditional high end customers are reluctant to purchase a label seen stacked high and cheap at some out of town strip mall?

But what of companies who've carefully preserved their brands? Apple is a great example. Although pressured by analysts to respond to the netbook trend Cuppertino has shown no interest in participating in a low cost/low quality race to the bottom (if I'm a marketer at Apple I'm surely loving the new Microsoft "Macs are expensive" ads where apparently the competition is paying to position my brand). The smallest BMW 1-Series is small but hardly a cheap car, offering the full "driving machine" experience at a premium. The German brand understands that it's passionate buyers would not appreciate a diluted machine built to do nothing but garner market share. Well positioned brands don't have to be up market either, Vans shoes are still revered amongst hard core skaters and their sponsorship of the Warped Tour does nothing but add a halo to their offerings.

So what have we learned from all this? Like the McFamily who supersized their lives and are now struggling to pay off their debts these over reaching brands have mortgaged their wealth and are now facing an almost impossible uphill struggle to regain the customer's trust.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Breakfast & Electronic Unnovation

Unnovation is a fantastic term coined by Harvard Business writer Umair Haaque. It is described as the process of innovation that fails to create authentic, meaningful value.

I believed Starbuck's idea to introduce healthy, hot breakfast pairings to be somewhat innovative. I travel extensively and always have difficulty finding a lighter breakfast, a combination of coffee and a small sandwich at the corner Starbucks seems like a great idea. And for Starbucks, it also helps them compete with the lower cost McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts offerings. So, a win all around. Except when you can't actually buy it!

Here's where the unnovation comes in. Because of Starbuck's franchisee agreements the highly marketed breakfasts are not available in all stores, in fact, they're not available in most stores! Why? Well low cost breakfasts would compete with the certain franchisee's existing food businesses, to whit the customer cares not one iota. So, after schellping to a Starbucks a few times and finding that the items are not available the customer (in this case me) gives up on the concept and returns to the competition. And Innovation becomes Unnovation. Corporate policies undermine the very products the company is introducing to stave off the demise of it's tradiitonal business.

Next up for unnovation is Radio Shack. "We're contemporizing the way we want people to think about our brand" was a quote from Lee Applbaum, Chief Marketing Officer. The contemporizing? Changing the name to "The Shack" Not introducing innovative new products or ideas, not implementing new processes, nothing, just a name change. In fact the change doesn't even go that deep, the URL is still and apart from a cringely awful online marketing campaign (beware if you click it really is that bad) that's where it begins and ends.

Now that is Unnovation.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Then There Were Three

Today, Harry Patch was laid to rest at Wells Cathedral in Somerset. The BBC have some excellent coverage of the man and his life and views as the last British survivor of the First World War. I remember as a child, watching the annual parade of veterans on "poppy day" and noticing, as I grew older, that the WWI group grew smaller each year. Next year it will no longer exist at all.

There are now only three living Great War veterans. Australian navy volunteer Claude Choules, Canadian Jack Babcock (who claims he isn't as worthy of commendation because he never got to fight) and American Frank Buckles. Choules and Buckles are 108, Babcock is 109.

Patch became an outspoken critic of warfare, often wrestling with the painful memories his views recalled.

If I should die, think only this of me: That there's some corner of a foreign field That is forever England. There shall be In that rich earth a richer dust concealed; A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam, A body of England's, breathing English air, Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home. - Robert Brooke

OMG - It's Like Totally All Faked!

As long-time judge Paula Abdul quits American Idol she is lashing out at the show's producers and format, claiming, along with other previous winners and employees, that the contestants are manipulated and the show is sham.

I'm at all not surprised by these claims, what actually does surprise me is that anyone actually thinks that AI or any other TV reality show portrays a fair and balanced view of the events? Sunday's New York Times also included a piece outlining the "harsh realities" of reality TV.

In case anyone was still unaware, Reality TV is the puppy mill of production. Low paid video crews shoot thousands of hours on low cost digital cameras. These countless takes are then sifted through by little more than interns before delivering a rough product to the "real" editors for finishing. The networks love it because the costs are low and the ratings (used to be) high. But don't confuse the shows for anything more than they are, a nasty, dirty breeding operation turning out sickly puppies to be foisted onto a gullible public.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

D&D - Follow Up

Less than 24 hours after hitting the PETA blog (& LfD), the power of social media and the interwebs is ably demonstrated by a press release from Petland announcing the closing of the bunny killing store (and the filing of charges against Liz). The story being picked up by Cleveland's News 19 probably didn't hurt either. Actually, although I am very suspicious of pet stores that sell animals, I must commend Petland for a speedy and smart approach to the issue. Avoiding the boiler plate "we take this very seriously" line they acted firmly with no ambiguity.

I don't think this is going to go away for some time but Petland gave themselves a head start on the critics which should be a lesson to other companies who find themselves in similar circumstances.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Dumb & Dumber, oh and Sadistic Too

The photo (doctored for family viewing) purportedly shows a lady by the name of Elizabeth Carlisle, an employee of Petland in Akron, Ohio. According to the PETA blog today, Ms. Carlisle and her manager decided to have a little fun at some bunnies' expense. You can read the actual posting for the full details, but let's just say that even Mr. Cheney might blanch at their methods. To celebrate their exploits Carlisle then posted a vivid description and accompanying picture to her Facebook profile.

I would have thought that after the Dominos' dirty employee YouTube media blitz people would have wised up to posting their sickest doings on social networks. Although I presume the same mental defect that would lead somone to believe torturing animals was acceptable might also blind them to the concept that advertising it might be another really bad idea?

Watch this story get major legs in the next few days.

Yousuf Karsh

It was December 1941, 2 weeks after Pearl Harbor and Winston Churchill was addressing the Canadian House of Commons. Intercepted by a photographer immediately after the proceedings, Churchill was not impressed, particularly when this photographer physically pulled the iconic cigar from Churchill's mouth.

The angry scowl has become one of the most famous photographs ever taken. But look deeper into Churchill's face and you can see a man single-handedly carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Even as the famous morale booster, Winston knew that the allies' situation was desperate, he was worried, tired and alone. The simple portrait is true to all these emotions.

Yousef Karsh was the photographer. Armenian born but Canadian by naturalization he went on to take so many of the iconic portraits through which we have come to know the subjects. From Queen Elizabeth to Bogart, Ernest Hemmingway to Audrey Hepburn, Karsh's intricate lighting and plate camera became our permanent window into these characters.

His momory and images are captured in this tribute website. As interesting as the images themselves, are the short writings by Karsh about his experiences with his subjects. Amusing, poignent and sometimes downright funny, the pages with accompanying pictures make for great reading.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


LfD has been laying low for some months now as it's creator experimented with various forms of social media. He was interested to see if these various web 2.0 initiatives could replace the now venerable blog. After 6 months the experiment has run it's course and the answer is a tepid no.

In the end Twitter emerged as the only truly useful & interesting tool. Commonly derided as 140 characters of navel contemplation, the reality of Twitter can be much different provided you keep a tight rein on your follows and followers.

That being said, the editorial department at LfD have decided that even Tweets cannot replace the traditional blog as a place to get your verbal on. the general disinterest of most around us, LfD is crawling back out of the internet cache and onto your screen.

Enjoy, and while you're here, follow me at and #LfD.