MetLife Grounds Snoopy. Curse You, Red Baron!

Here’s what I shared with Sapna Maheshwari at The New York Times:

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-8-30-17-amMetLife is firing Snoopy.

The “Peanuts” character, one of the most recognizable figures in American pop culture, is being retired after more than 30 years of appearing in print ads, TV commercials, marketing materials and on the sides of MetLife’s blimps at sports events.

No more big-nosed beagle in the flight cap and goggles chasing the Red Baron on Metlife’s airship. No more television commercials featuring a smiling Snoopy navigating life’s treacherous waters to sell insurance. Cuddly Snoopy hitting a home run? Out.

MetLife, one of the largest insurance companies with 100 million customers worldwide, said the move is part of an effort to update its corporate emblem for international competition.

The global chief marketing officer for MetLife, Esther Lee, announced the change on Thursday, saying that Snoopy was adopted as a symbol in 1985 to make the company seem “more friendly and approachable during a time when insurance companies were seen as cold and distant.”

“We have great respect for these iconic characters,” Ms. Lee said in the announcement. “However, as we focus on our future, it’s important that we associate our brand directly with the work we do and the partnership we have with our customers.”

The company said it wanted a “clean, modern” design that included the colors blue and green to “represent life, renewal and energy.” They form what it has called “the partnership M.” The broader MetLife palette was expanded to include a range of vibrant secondary colors, reflecting “the diverse lives of its customers,” a company statement said.

New MetLife logo.

There is also a new tagline, “MetLife: Navigating life together,” replacing the old “Get Met. It Pays.”

Dean Crutchfield, an independent brand consultant in New York, said that Snoopy was relevant at the time that it was introduced, but that the change was a smart move that recognized the company’s changing business. “Snoopy was brought in to connect emotionally with consumers,” he said, but was no longer helping as a brand. “It is no longer relevant to its target audience.”

Already, the company’s website shows no sign of the floppy-eared dog whose adventurous daydreams won the hearts of multiple generations of Americans, in the Charles M. Schulz comic strip and its spinoffs.

In the comics, on TV and movies, a hit pop song and even the stage, Snoopy was the loyal pup who loved his “round-headed” human, Charlie Brown, but could never remember the boy’s name. His rich fantasy life included characters like “Joe Cool,” a hipster in dark sunglasses, and the World War I flying ace whose doghouse was transformed into a British biplane.

But now Snoopy and his Sopwith Camel are grounded, at least when it comes to selling life insurance.

The company called the decision the “most significant change” to the brand in decades. Ms. Lee, who joined MetLife last year, conducted research among more than 55,000 customers worldwide and found them “overwhelmed” by the pace of global change. MetLife had to evolve, Ms. Lee said.

“What we did want to figure out, as we started to become this more purpose-built, modern company, is do those characters go beyond being friendly and approachable?” she said.

The answer turned out to be no, MetLife discovered in its research.

Consumers thought the “Peanuts” characters were friendly and approachable, Ms. Lee said, but did not associate them with traits like leadership and responsibility. Nor did the characters affect interest in buying insurance.

The research also asked customers point blank if they would mind if MetLife stopped using Snoopy and the gang. “People are indifferent from us moving away from the characters,” Ms. Lee said, adding that more than 1,000 other brands around the world use Peanuts characters in their marketing. “They basically don’t care.”

The life insurance giant has over the years tried to find a way to make its business, overshadowed by the terms “death benefits” and “beneficiaries,” more approachable, and for years Snoopy and other Peanuts characters provided the warm and fuzzy.

There had already been changes afoot at MetLife in the era of social media. In 2014, the company introduced an online campaign to change perceptions of the life insurance industry, encouraging customers to share the ways they live for their loved ones by using #WhoILiveFor. The campaign’s centerpiece featured a collection of video clips not of the Peanuts characters, but of real people with diverse races, partnerships and backgrounds.

Corporations are viewed as more approachable these days, Ms. Lee said, and consumers are no longer intimidated by them, she added. “So many companies are actually reaching them one-on-one, tweeting back and forth with them.”

Brand Trump V. Brand Hillary

Today image is everything – from LeBron James to Apple. Image is what it takes to stand out and win. When you’re talking about someone’s image you’re talking about the brand called You: the impression in the public’s mind of Donald and Hillary’s total personality – their real and imaginary qualities including their shortcomings –because people tend not to forgive people but they forgive brands all the time. Just look at the outrageous things Trump has said.

Trump and Clinton’s brand image is the publics view of them. They’re every bit
as much a brand as Nike, Coke or Subway. Because of the Trump brand in this election it makes the case for brand image more directly than any packaged good or consumer product ever could.

Teflon Don has been a brand for years and Hillary needs to behave more like one
to conquer that ultimate question why should I care about you? She needs to communicate what makes her remarkable, measurable, distinguished with unique value? It’s a cliché: don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle. He’s selling the sizzle, the one-liners. He doesn’t have the detail, we all know he hasn’t really communicated well anything about domestic and foreign policy. screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-9-40-38-amShe has all the detail, but lacks the sizzle.

Hillary has spent her entire life doing public service.
She’s spent her whole adult life under the microscope
and yet she continues to want to make change, to better the lives of each and every American. And yet she still comes under doubt, scrutiny and distrust. People at the RNC Convention shouting, “lock her up” was unprecedented. There is a poster going around that says, “Hillary, for Prison 2016”. Emotions run so deep and the way Trump has run his campaign
has only made those divisions deeper. Hillary doesn’t fight like that, it’s the antithesis of who she
is as a person yet her rallying cry does not resonate in the same way.

Brand image is not marketing it’s about who you are. It’s about personality and it goes well beyond politics. Brands are about connecting with people emotionally; to get that emotional connection you need to have trust and respect. Trump has earned it from his followers. Hillary can’t seem to gain that traction. She needs to build her brand power because one of the things that attract us to brands is the power they project. Power is largely a matter of perception so what’s Hillary’s power of “influence” and her “reputational“ power? She needs to break out from being the famous person you don’t know.

The shock and awe of Trump’s statements early in his campaign justified the frothing fulmination of the media, but the initial shock and awe has dissipated and Brand Trump has proven to be a credible Presidential candidate so he’s bigger than ever
and as much as his remarks outrage, they don’t seem to faze his audience. screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-9-45-45-amscreen-shot-2016-09-18-at-9-46-20-amTrump’s like a Chrysler 300, big and powerful while Hillary is more like a Lincoln MKZ with more style and quality.

Trump can keep banging the drum and be consistent on what made his campaign successful just like an ad campaign with
a core, consistent message repeated over and over again. He’s got a rallying cry. What’s Hillary’s, what’s her stump pitch?

Hillary has a no nonsense approach and is talking about the nuts and bolts of getting America off its rear end and helping Americans live a better life, but it’s not clear. Since being ill she’s said that she has had time to reflect and now she needs to hone her campaign with more energy and act more like a challenger brand that can flank Trump head on. Her idea of moving America forward needs to be framed more than just Obama redux. We don’t want to move we want to accelerate. And yet Obama had
a stump pitch, he had a rallying cry, he had the campaign of Hope and lots of America loved it, twice.

This is a clash of the titans and one of the many challenges faced by Trump and Clinton is effectively defining their true vision and values for the public. This is not
a quick or easy process because they’re not just defined by the Commander in Chief job title nor the job description. There are four things they’ve got to measure themselves against. First, they’ve got to have strong beliefs, which they do. Second, they’ve got to be an exceptional expert in matters that are important to America and they both are. Third, they’ve got to be a visionary — a true leader and they are. Fourth, they’ve got to be obsessed with pragmatic outcomes and that’s where Hillary’s has
it in spades.

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-10-06-23-amHillary needs to take the 15-words-or-less stump pitch challenge. Hillary is constantly comparing herself to Trump and how different they are. Rather than focus on Trump, she should be just speaking about who she is at her core and what she will do. Hillary’s brand needs to be a promise of the value we’ll receive.

Apple has responsibility to innovate

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-9-17-04-amJoined CNBCs Power Lunch for Apple’s annual conference. I didn’t think it was that “big”. We discussed why Apple has an obligation to innovate and needs the next big thing to stay relevant. Why, because it’s Apple. That’s their brand. They have a responsibly to be that and to do that. So this raises the question is Apple still sexy, where’s the wow and is the right man at the helm? Steve Jobs was a genius who had a very strong vision while Tim Cook is an operations man and I think at the moment it’s a little unclear.” Here’s the segment:

Ikea in record 29m furniture recall in US after 3 deaths

Ikea’s very successful cabinet kills 3 kids in the US. Should Ikea recall the product just in the US or across the world? Here’s what I shared with Lindsay Whipp at the Financial Times:

Ikea has issued a recall of 29m chests of drawers in the US after three children died as a result of its furniture toppling on to them over the past two years.

The recall, which excludes 6.6m in Canada, of its Malm drawers and other designs comes amid a push by the US Consumer Protection Safety Commission to reduce the number of children being killed due to furniture and television tip-over accidents in the country, which now reaches one every two weeks.

Last year, Ikea offered free wall anchoring kits with many of its chests and dressers, after reports of two deaths. However, subsequently a 22-month-old child died in February this year after an Ikea chest fell on to him and crushed him. The chest had not been secured to the wall.

“We have no information of any tip-over incidents with a properly anchored chest of drawer,” Ikea said. “This is why we are committed to raise awareness among consumers of the tip-over risks and how to prevent them.”

Ikea added that there will be a financial impact, including the “significant investment” it is making in its campaign to educate consumers about preventing tip-overs, but not a lasting one.

The CPSC said that in addition to the deaths, there have been reports of 41 incidents of Ikea Malm chests tipping over resulting in 17 injuries, all children aged between 19 months and 10 years old. In addition, there have been reports of 41 incidents of other Ikea chests toppling over since 1989, with 19 injuries and three deaths, according to the CPSC.

Experts were divided about whether the recall — the biggest furniture recall in the US — could prove damaging to Ikea in North America, an important market for the company. The Swedish group has 3.8 per cent of the furniture retailing market, trailing Bed, Bath and Beyond, in an extremely fragmented market, according to Euromonitor data.

Neil Saunders, a retail analyst at Conlumino, said he did not expect long-term reputational damage as the issue had been going on for some time. He said that while the products could be made safer the company had indicated it had been trying to solve the problem and had not been negligent.

But Dean Crutchfield, an independent branding expert, said that while the deaths occurred in North America, the company should also recall the chests elsewhere in the world. He added that it was not enough that the manual in the UK, for example, advised customers to secure the chest against a wall.

“[What has happened is] an utter outrage for a brand that is about inclusion, warmth and is so widely recognised,” Mr Crutchfield said. “It can destroy a reputation. It says something about the management of Ikea that reflects on its brand.”

Elliot Kaye, chairman of the CPSC, said that Ikea had co-operated with the organisation and pledged to sell only dressers that comply with the most recent performance standards. He warned that other retailers should take heed.

“[Any company] failing to do so should pay close attention to the details of this recall, as they should expect to be hearing from us,” he said. “CPSC will seek recalls of other brands that pose an unreasonable tip-over risk to innocent children.”

Ikea had repeated a safety warning earlier this year about the accidents involving its Malm chests.

PepsiCo Weighs Another Fix to Diet Pepsi

Diet Pepsi’s declining sales outpace other diet sodas despite move to different sweetener. What do you do when you’ve upset your core customer? Here’s what I shared with Mike Esterl at The Wall Street Journal.Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 8.26.13 PM

PepsiCo Inc. may be on the verge of another big move to bail out Diet Pepsi.

Last August, the snack and soft drink giant introduced aspartame-free Diet Pepsi, removing one artificial sweetener and substituting another, sucralose, in an attempt to stanch sliding sales.

PepsiCo could announce more changes as early as this week. Executives notified some bottlers in recent days that they plan to discuss with them on Thursday an action plan to stabilize diet cola, according to a person familiar with the matter.

PepsiCo didn’t immediately comment Wednesday.

Since PepsiCo tried to fix the brand last August, Diet Pepsi’s plight has gotten worse. U.S. sales fell 12% in the 12 weeks ended May 21, compared with 6.7% for all diet sodas, according to estimates by Wells Fargo Securities, based on Nielsen store-scanner data.

In the year before the debut of aspartame-free Diet Pepsi, sales had fallen 8.5%, according to the estimates. In the past 52 weeks, they’ve fallen 9.3%.

Diet soda sales industrywide declined a more modest 5.4% in the most recent 52-week period, as rival Coca-Cola Co. and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. brands won market share. Diet Pepsi is still the No. 2-selling diet soda after Diet Coke.

At the time, PepsiCo said it changed Diet Pepsi’s recipe because consumer surveys showed aspartame—long the soda industry’s primary zero-calorie sweetener—was the No. 1 reason Americans were dropping diet cola. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration vouches for aspartame’s safety, some studies have flagged health concerns and internet reports tie the controversial sweetener to everything from cancer to autism.

But many Diet Pepsi loyalists don’t like how the new, sucralose-sweetened version tastes. And new Diet Pepsi drinkers haven’t materialized because Americans increasingly are rejecting all artificial sweeteners, not just aspartame, over health concerns.

PepsiCo defended its new recipe for Diet Pepsi, which also includes another zero-calorie sweetener, acesulfame potassium, commonly known as Ace K.

“Diet cola consumers in the U.S. asked for a great-tasting cola without aspartame, and we delivered,” the company told The Wall Street Journal in a written statement last week, responding to a request for comment.

At the same time, the company reiterated last week that it was exploring ways to make the aspartame version available to consumers. Chief Executive Indra Nooyi suggested last year that the old version would be sold online.

Dean Crutchfield, an independent brand consultant, said PepsiCo should make a mea culpa and bring back the old Diet Pepsi—much like Coke did in 1985 when it rolled out New Coke but quickly reversed itself after longtime fans rebelled.

“The last thing you want to do is alienate your existing customers because they’re your ambassadors,” said Mr. Crutchfield, who has advised PepsiCo and Coke in the past.

Chase Thomas, a 42-year-old nurse practitioner, used to treat himself to a Diet Pepsi every afternoon but stopped because the new version tastes “awful” and “flat.” He also doesn’t like Diet Coke or Coca-Cola Zero, instead keeping an unopened bottle of aspartame-sweetened Diet Pepsi in his fridge as a keepsake.

“It’s my Holy Grail,” said Mr. Thomas, who lives in Anniston, Ala.

Veteran beverage-industry consultant Tom Pirko said PepsiCo would have to take more dramatic steps, including possibly changing the brand name, to reverse plunging sales as consumers also are turning their backs on all carbonated beverages labeled “diet.”

Diet Pepsi’s “now aspartame free” label hasn’t attracted enough new drinkers. While 42% of Americans avoided aspartame in a March survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation, 35% avoided sucralose, up from 25% last year. Those who avoided Ace K jumped to 28% from 13%.

Not helping matters, the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest cut its sucralose rating to “avoid” from “caution” in February after an Italian study linked the additive to leukemia in mice. That followed a 2014 study by different researchers suggesting the zero-calorie sweeteners saccharin, sucralose and aspartame raised blood glucose levels, a risk factor for diabetes.

Coke is far more exposed to soda than PepsiCo, which derives more of its sales from noncarbonated drinks and snacks. Still, Diet Coke’s U.S. sales fell just 4.7% in the 52 weeks ended May 21, half as much as Diet Pepsi, according to Wells Fargo.

Negative tweets about Diet Pepsi outnumbered positive ones by a two-to-one ratio between October and May, according to social media tracker Sysomos. Tweets mentioning Diet Coke were slightly positive over the same period.