Brand America

27 10 2008





The Economist is hosting a debate with the proposition “Brand American will regain its shine.”  The question at hand is whether brand perceptions of America, at an historical low according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, can and will be buoyed with the inauguration of a new president.  The debate is being held this Sunday, November 2nd in New York City.

This should make for a fascinating debate with at least two major topics to be addressed:

1)  Is it even appropriate to measure and take corrective action toward perceived brand favorability?  Is this akin to putting America the country in a popularity contest?

2)  Which of the two leading presidential candidates has the greatest likelihood of improving America’s brand image.  What, if anything, should they do to improve that image?

The notion of America as a brand implies we have a product and/or service to sell.  Could it be the promise of America that we are selling?


Microsoft’s New Brand Character is…a middle-aged white guy?

22 08 2008

Yesterday, Microsoft announced a $300 million dollar Windows advertising campaign intended to boost the brand perception of its beleaguered Vista operating system.  This is surely counterprogramming to Apple’s highly successful Mac vs. PC ads which feature John Hodgman as the frumpy, stuffy, middle-aged personification of PC (i.e. Microsoft and Windows).

Their new brand ambassador in this campaign?  Jerry Seinfeld.  For a cool $10 million.  The choice to employ a married, middle-aged comedian whose last great cultural impact occurred in the 90’s met with immediate skepticism.  But hold on here.  Apparently, Michel Gondry, the director that brought us Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is directing the ad.  That’s certainly puts a twist on things IF Jerry Seinfeld is either a) not doing the same old shtick or b) Gondry comes up with a fun, inventive way to tweak Seinfeld’s persona.  That’s a big “if.”

Seinfeld’s delivery and character have been the same since he was doing stand-up in the 80’s.   Microsoft is taking a risk in associating their newest OS with a personality that has remained unchanged for 25 years. And it’s a huge risk since part of their image problem is that they are old, staid and broken.  Microsoft and Gondry do have a few good options for storylines, though:

  • turn our notions of “old” vs. “young” on its head
  • tweak our nostalgia for the 90’s in a way that still has us looking forward (the equivalent of a “were you better off last decade than this decade?”)
  • embrace the target market personified by Seinfeld and mock the young, upstart persona that Apple has embraced (and, therefore, painted themselves into a very specific corner)

If, instead, Microsoft is pinning their hopes on very expensive star power to obscure the ill will toward Vista, well…I guess I actually won’t be too surprised.  

Surprise us Gates/Gondry/Seinfeld.  For your own sakes.

Brand, Know Thyself!

28 05 2008

After the fourth circuit, like sitting in a chair, I pulled up in front of Phineas.

    “You’re not even winded,” he said.

    “I know.”  

    “You found your rhythm, didn’t you, that third time around.  Just as you came into that straight part there.”

    “Yes, right there.”

    “You’ve been pretty lazy all along, haven’t you?”

    “Yes, I guess I have been.” 

    “You didn’t even know anything about yourself.”

    “I don’t guess I did, in a way.

That’s a quote from my favorite book, John Knowles’ A Separate Peace.

There are plenty of brands that don’t know much about themselves.  Like most people, many brands try to be who they think they should be or who their customers want them to be.  But is that really who they are?  They struggle with their messaging and change their ads, their logos, their taglines ad nauseam, all in an effort to find just the right words and pictures that will connect with consumers.  But the answer to that question lies right before them.

Consumers are smart and they will ultimately sniff out the authentic from the inauthentic.  There’s a disconnect when one matches up an oil company’s gorgeous “we’re so green” TV spots, with their energy portfolio.  And though they may be winning over minds in the short-term, they put themselves at terrible risk if news leaks out contrary to this overly rosy image because their words won’t match their actions.  If one of the big oil companies wants to be the leader in the renewable energy sector, they should do just that.  Lead with aggressive programs that put their $ where their mouth is.  Then they don’t have to manufacture the image or the press.  They don’t have to try so hard.

If your company wants to present a positive image, be prepared to do the work to back up that claim.  But before you can even start to paint the picture of who you want your brand to be, it’s important to do an audit.  Who is your brand now?  Is it likable?  Is it relevant?  Is it interesting?  If not, is your company willing to make the real changes that will help the marketing department develop an authentic portrayal and brand story?