Irreverent Names: Big Ass Fans – a POV

Nice wrap by Steve Rifkin, brand adviser and naming expert. In my mind, with the market in a moribund state and accusations traditional marketing is dead, naming becomes even more central to the stand out proposition:

Big Ass Fans is a new national advertiser. They sell the world’s most efficient ceiling fans, in diameters from 5 to 24 feet. The company started life as the High Volume Low Speed Fan Company, before adopting an irreverent new moniker. (The company claims it changed names after repeatedly hearing customers say, “Man, that’s a big-ass fan.”)

Christian Dior went against the grain of romantic, flowery perfume names with its Poison brand.

A Louisiana pharmacist concocted a soothing diaper rash balm that worked so well, local athletes started using it. He called it Butt Paste. Now you can buy it at Wal-Mart.

Redneck Bank, based in Mustang, Oklahoma, is the online banking division of Bank of the Wichitas. (As the first line of their website says, “Yep, we’re a real bank.”)

When you pick an irreverent, outlandish name for your brand, is it a desperate way to call attention to yourself? A clever way to differentiate yourself? A tactic only for a fringe brand?  Or something else?

We went to our panel of experts for their points of view, and they cautioned that this approach is by no means for everyone.

  • JACK TROUT, renowned marketing strategist, best-selling author and founder of a consulting firm with partner offices in 25 countries:

    “We are indeed in an era of crazy names that people are using as a way to attract attention. The reason is that in category after category, more and more names are born as categories divide. (It’s the Immutable Law of Division.) Successful brands such as Google, Smucker’s and Roach Motel have encouraged others to get a little crazy as a way to be more memorable. But beware, your product has to have a good story behind it, not just an attention-getting name. (With Roach Motel, the roaches check in but they don’t check out.)”

  • FRASER SEITEL, public relations expert, consultant, frequent TV talking head and co-author of Rethinking Reputation:

    “Edgy product names are neither for the squeamish nor the solidly entrenched. The reputation of a well-known company is too dear to risk with a name that evokes controversy. But for a little guerrilla marketer mixing it up with the big boys and little to lose, bring it on.”

  • ERIN McKEAN, lexicographer, founder and CEO of the online dictionary Wordnik, formerly the principal editor of The New Oxford American Dictionary:

    “Irreverent names only work if they are authentic, and have a real origin story. Otherwise they can seem out-of-touch and desperate (like Poochie, the cartoon dog ‘with an attitude,’ from the episode of The Simpsons where the producers of ‘Itchy and Scratchy”’ decide the show needs an ‘update’). I think it’s harder for a big multinational to come up with an irreverent name — they work best for mom & pop or small operators who can show a direct involvement with the story of the name.”

  • DEAN CRUTCHFIELD, independent branding guru, former executive for global brand consultancies within WPP and Omnicom, and columnist:

    “In our era of reality TV, there’s plenty of bandwidth for evocative brand name strategies, especially if it literally speaks to a company’s central premise. The best names communicate who, what, why or an attitude. They’re a cornerstone of a brand — so any which way, but stand out! As long as it’s sustainable.”

  • CAROL MOOG, PhD in psychology, and president of Creative Focus, an advertising consulting firm:

    “These are the times for the so-called irreverent product name. Consider the criterion for going viral: being as wild and crazy as humanly possible. Consider the benefit of going viral: priceless. Consider the power of going viral: unstoppable. Nobody wants to admit that they’re not able to handle the in-your-face brand that is willing/wishing to go viral. (Nobody wants to admit to being that old.) Go ahead. Start with and never forget to engage and convey a sense of humor. Then create the best story to rationalize the most outrageous name for your most excellent product. And by all means — by all means — infect your consumers with an unquenchable thirst for your irreverent brand.”


RTRViews – Respect for Public Relations?

Burson Bust
Burson Bust (Photo credit: Bart Heird)

Timely need for a POV like this one from Rick. Reputation, reputation oh….?

I’m sharing some of the items I’ve been reading while wondering if those of us in public relations are ever really going to do the things necessary to get the respect most people in this business deserve.

I’ve said that I don’t think we need a new definition of what we do, but you should check out what Harold Burson, co-founder of Burson Marstellar had to say a year before the new definition was revealed and just after:

Public Relations Defined – Harold Burson’s Blog 4/20/2011

A “Modern’ Definition of Public Relations? Why? – Harold Burson’s Blog 3/5/2012

I also think that Paul Holmes of the Holmes Report makes quite a bit of sense in this essay.

What Is A Public Relations Consultancy?

One of the big points both Burson and Holmes are making is that we’ve gotten too caught up in our push to publish a story at the expense of being consultants and business advisors to the organizations we work for. Telling the story is only part of what public relations needs to become again.

Jack Martin, global chairman and CEO of Hill+Knowlton Strategies makes that point in his Fifth Seat Philosophy that the Holmes Report quoted in this article:

 “When faced with significant strategic decisions, companies traditionally turn to four advisors: legal counsel, investment bankers, management consultants and forensic accountants,” the firm’s website explained. “Each is trusted to review their area of expertise, but none factor public trust into their final analysis. We fill a Fifth Seat in your boardroom, helping transform your corporate reputation into competitive advantage.”

All of these are making me think about what we should be doing differently. Sure, we’ve got people in this business who don’t live up to high standards, but what profession doesn’t? Step up and throw the first stone if you think you work in one that doesn’t make mistakes… Most of us, however, work very hard at doing the job right. But we need to work on our industry’s reputation.

Before I post more of my ideas, what do you think?

Disney stole Ted Turner’s “Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way” line. Here’s my POV broadcast on Nightly Business Report

Disney (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Was it bird, was it a plane, was it a government body, no, last week’s super hero was Disney’s CEO, Bob Igor, stealing Ted Turner’s line, “Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way” with the announcement that the Disney network will slim down access to brands deemed unhealthy and become the world’s brand champion for healthy kids – along with a “Mickey Mark” that endorses appropriate products.

What more could an investor and a mum share in common than Disney (NYSE:DIS), a game changing brand we all trust, with channels free of unhealthy product advertising, garnishing world applause, increased ratings and a Mickey Mark that provides mum the short-cut to decide if a product is a good choice for her children whether on 4-screens or down the aisle.

Disney’s ability to focus on efficiencies that can create and capture demand make any competition irrelevant from being able to usurp Disney’s lead due to its arsenal of assets for ‘healthy kids’ brand endorsement deals. Creating a new revenue stream for Disney and a new business model by taking an ethical stance whilst being a boon for business – and not just Disney’s – in the $2.5 Trillion combined media and CPG categories.

By cracking the world’s toughest brief: making it easy for mum, Disney has unleashed a game changer, taking a page right out of the book, Blue Ocean Strategy (by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne). Disney has set its sights on creating a giant footprint in a fiercely contested health category. Mum neither knows what to give her children or what to allow them to innocently watch; she is confused by the endless cacophony of messages and icons embedded in a frivolous sea of promotions on screen and down the aisles filled with their gleaming category cues.

Image representing The Walt Disney Company as ...
Image via CrunchBase

Disney’s Big Idea is made more brilliant by the limited impact on their return on capital employed (ROCE) as the bulk of the new investment effort will no doubt be shared with brand partners and from marketing and licensing deals. Alongside the ‘Mickey Mark’ strategy that will eventually offer up its advertisers, the inevitable foray down the grocery aisle with their own Disney portfolios and licensing with those brands Disney endorses as ‘healthy’.

In an industry that thrives on exciting customers with new products, innovation
is key and Disney’s treasure chest represents a gargantuan brand and licensing opportunity for targeted health & wellness programs. Many pundits currently eye greater value in splitting up CPG companies like P&G and PepsiCo. As for media, finding growth past the election and the Olympics is foreseen as tough and networks are in flux. Just last week during Dish Network’s announcement of its new ad-skipping device, CEO, Charlie Ergon, was vocal about the need for better advertising strategies from the networks whilst warning that Internet video threatens the pay-tv ecosystem.

Let’s face it if you don’t like change, you’ll enjoy irrelevance even less. The last time a business reinvented more than one industry simultaneously was Apple – and they had a big idea also. The ‘shock and awe’ of this audacious move by Disney has mammoth implications for all media players, especially Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, who will have to lead a path or follow suit – Disney has ‘the con’ as they say in the movies.

Growth begets growth and major brand and media owners are going to be forced to be good at what they do and take an holistic view of the customer and create new methods of engagement and seamless experience that can give customers what they want with the products and services they offer. So after a week or two of navel gazing, they need to look to Disney’s initiative and aim to create either new products for licensing, bundled portfolios of existing ‘good for you’ products for Disney endorsement strategies or review what they have in their portfolio that could be modified to satisfy the stringent criteria of Disney (NYSE:DIS): acting as an industry seal of approval.

In risk there is opportunity and Disney has masterfully leapfrogged an entire category to become the voice of health and wellness for kids around the world. By simply staying on brand, this win-win business strategy alone reinvents Disney’s franchise as it broadens its ‘Masterbrand’ role beyond the boundaries of entertainment, products and hospitality services. There will be a progression and it might be sluggish, but done well, it’s hugely likely that publicity and demand will create a successful pull through strategy. Ultimately this is a ‘show me’ industry that survives by exciting customers with new products. Now the magic’s started, it’s show time folks.

FaceBook ads ‘They Yield No Real Value, And No Profits.’

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

Way before pundits took the wheel from GM last week slamming the brakes on advertising with Facebook as an advertising platform, pundits have argued that whereas Google is a search platform that’s psychologically right for the user as they’re open to advertising messages, Facebook is a social platform that’s not due to the user being focused on social interaction.

Apparently those who have advertised on Facebook comment that the giant promotes big returns on ad spending, but many feel like they were burning money and delivered nothing. Worse yet, there’s rumor of a “pattern of generosity” occurring within the pipes of Facebook with some sounding off “ponzi scheme” as if there are odd financial shenanigans going on? Compounding matters further, LinkedIn, Groupon and now Facebook kick started a new trend of investors selling their shares at the IPO. As the WSJ was touting a few days ago, the smart money woke up running, saying that “Goldman Sachs will sell as much as 50%, up from 23% previously. Tiger Global will sell up to 50% of its stake. Previously it planned to sell 7%.”  Clearly it’s like trying to see which side to turn whilst wearing a hoodie.  Oh well, until we know, just kick your agency and blame the advertising, but remember it’s an entirely new territory yet to be tapped. And thus it shall remain until brands, FB and agencies introduce a business model that works in their “Big Idea”  that will get teenagers to pay a monthly fee to host their life stream that is paved with the start-up vanity of bloated relics that promised the holy grail – young loyal spending consumers. The cycle repeats itself.


Knowing How Social Movements Happen To Kickstart Funding

Wikipedia rightly defines social movement as a “type of group action. They are the large informal groupings of individuals or organizations to focus on specific political or social issues. In other words, they carry out, resist or undo a social change.” Totally perceptible, but how?

Any successful ‘movement’ needs a core idea, leadership, talent to support the leadership and the people to create the movement. Recent developments like the phenomenal success of OWS shows that it’s not as clear and as easy as that.

David Graeber, one of the founders of the OWS movement likes to say that he had three goals: learning to drive, promote his book and launch a revolution. The first didn’t happen yet, the second proved challenging, and the third is not looking up. Funding has become a crucial element in the sustainability of the organization i.e., growing pains.

Any new organizations dies a thousand deaths as it leaps and straddles forward, often going through several revisions of strategy and vision. I’ve got sympathy for OWS. They’re afraid for the first time. They brought tablets down from the mountian top, we were all enthralled and fascinated. Now this rising star is facing the grist of the mill, their significance is substantial, but their chances of survival thin as their relevance has slipped backed to core fans, little airplay is being provided (apart from their decline) and they could be forgotten.

OWS is a challenger of the rules, heroic in charting a course that’s different to what’s been done before, with principles (often too many) that’s made their stand unique and created such a massive following of millions, but now it needs to stay ‘fresh’ and sustainable. How to halt the rot is to recognize the three core elements that fuel the fire of a movement: frustration about the status quo, injustice from the 1 percent’s cadre and a hope of change. Communication and messaging need to target these to accelerate the funding program:

Build back rapport: Trust
Create relevance: Message
Instant gratification: Knowledge
Ignite passion: Action

Barry Manilow probably has the best advice, “They might not remember what I sing, but they’ll remember how I make them feel.”

How to save Occupy Wall Street

The ‘return of our capital’ for the 99% might be the greater principle over ‘return on my capital’, but we face a quandary if taken too far: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” Winston Churchill

The success and rapid ascension to the world stage of the Occupy Wall Street movement has forced the enterprise to realize it is a brand that needs investment and funding is paramount; so much so they could no longer be functioning within a month! But is their something more fundamentally wrong with “Occupy Wall Street” that if strategically corrected could boost their sustainable appeal and help provide the movement momentum and much needed funding?

Plato wisely said, “Necessity, is the Mother of invention” therefore, words before “but” are redundant. Skeptics and ehadists belie capitalism has deliberately created a disproportionate deluge and in its wake it punishes, intoxicates and behaves like a despot in the world’s markets, radically debilitating infrastructure and diminishing local economies both to work and provide for themselves and forcing upon all an ever-increasing sense of imperceptible vulnerability.

Capitalism is like a sow with nine teats and 15 babies: crisis is the price of capitalism, that’s the core of the problem. And what created it needs to be fundamentally improved. That we agree. OWS has a role, but it will be a vague memory without cash. Many current interpretations of OWS, (like some of their perceptions of capitalism) are malicious, mischievous, and ill informed. Demonstrably OWS brought people together and out of our frustration, sense of injustice and hope they helped start a world wide movement. That’s OWS: a platform for change. That’s truly great, but getting $50 out of someone is a lot harder.

Without a brand reinvention and clarity of purpose I cannot see OWS playing the role it deserves to play. To build trust, OWS need to reinvent themselves including changing their name. Entrepreneurial lore states that a new ‘brand’ may have 3-4 strategic revisions before it finds it’s rightful place. Occupy Wall Street carries with it an excessive amount of uneasiness if looked at literally by the public. Every inch of media has exposed OWS in a revolutionary light and edged it out on the fray: a brand declines when it’s no longer sublime. To come to the center, OWS need to shift OWS and therefore, OWS need to review their brands architecture that has spawned across cities and countries and seek to find a ‘public facing’ solution that suits the needs of a sustainable fund raising  ‘brand’ i.e., wake up running.

The Email Spring

As the festive Yule tide tasted, we all enjoy abundant salt, sugar, fat and phosphates, fried chicken, ribs, hamburgers, ice cream, pop, pie…and email: they’ve all become embedded into our wastes and our way of life.

Trillions of emails (80% of which are junk or spam) engulf our precious time on and off the job, including after work email alerting us innocent recipients much more thought time ‘off the job’. Business is a daily war and takes one-third weaponry and two-thirds moral: shareholder value is a result of satisfying customers by a business that’s working well due to its people being on top form. In the case of VW in Germany, there was a growing litany of complaints that staff’s work and home lives were becoming blurred, so, Volkswagen agreed to stop routing emails 30 minutes after the end of employees’ shifts, and then start again 30 minutes before they return to work. Henkel implemented a similar strategy for the festivitie period. German innovation aside, are we about to witness an “Email Spring” in 2012?

Smart phones and PCs are endemic in our society and the wiz, bang, wallop world of ecommerce zips through us literally. What’s in a few company emails? Recent studies reveal that over 65% of us open work emails at home and on vacation. Understandably, workers are suffering from the ever-increasing problem of ’email stress’ as they struggle to cope with an unending onslaught of messages they feel ‘invaded’ by. This is causing employees becoming agitated and frustrated after monitoring company messages that keep interrupting them as they try to relax from work: a senior manager can spend over 4 hours per day handling email.

According to researcher, Karen Renaud of Glasgow University, “Email is an amazing tool, but it’s got out of hand. Email harries you. You want to know what’s in there, especially if it’s from a family member or friends, or your boss, so you break off what you are doing to read the email. The problem is that when you go back to what you were doing, you’ve lost your chain of thought and, of course, you are less productive. People’s brains get tired from breaking off from something every few minutes to check emails (e.g., people working on a computer can check 40–60 times an hour). The more distracted you are by distractions, including email, then you are going to be more tired and less productive.”

The NIOSH report cites that 75% believe that workers have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago. No one said life was going to be easy, but people are the long-term asset value to a business. To achieve an intellectual profitable capital management program there’s a little known fact that if you can impact 10% efficiency in any aspect of your business development process you can experience up to 20% margin increase. Seizing the moment, Thierry Breton, chief executive of the French information technology services giant, Atos has recently stated that workers at his firm were “wasting hours of their lives on internal messages both at home and at work.” He is embarking on a ‘more’ radical strategy of banning internal email altogether from 2014. Less is more, but more is not less.

Brands are frightened they’re losing touch with consumers.

An established cone shaped customer journey model has been shattered and diffused into a myriad of touch and reference points, where it’s hard to stand out and word of mouth is through the roof as the number one purchasing motivation. Additionally, brands have become too internally focused by screen type and mapping ROI, churning out extensions that has created diffused brand strategies and identities existing across multiple channels and customers are pushing back on campaign style messaging. Or are they? Perhaps we have all become brand sophisticates, similar to digital natives, aware of the brands, the times and the veils we’ve witnessed these last few years as the thin blue line of the law wrestles with the youth of tomorrow’s working generation.

A movement requires fear, a sense of injustice and hope. 2012 might not be the chaos the Mayans predicted, but there will be a movement against companies who purport to be brands and have been found wanting. It’s already beginning to look like a scrap heap out there – a mixture of has been, hopefuls and could have been. Here’s to preparation meeting opportunity and customer experience becoming a delightful reality.

Penn State: Crisis Begs a Bold Response

In this disconsolate period, Penn State needs to respond boldly and with precision. Marshaling a crisis team and a response plan are critical, including weighing the need for autonomy over the preferred unified leadership approach because “the manual” is not going to help the Dean and his cabal. The web crawlers are in frenzy over this story that has T1 pipes rattling with all the feeds. Therefore, decentralized decision-making is best for the voracious appetite of the media blogosphere. The problem isn’t resources; it’s about managing the crisis with a can-do culture and strong values of trust and no lengthy procedures that unified leadership can inflict.

When you need to be impactful, strong and rapid to entice massive support from the public, hide nothing and tell all is the key lesson. “It’s not about the why it’s about the moment and what you do in that moment” Gandalf (played by Sir Ian Mckellan) wisely imbued on Frodo Baggins who was panicking over the looming catastrophe, and his role in “Lord of The Rings” where the key lesson of leadership is about holding other people’s fears. Joe Paterno had shepherded those fears for over 40 years. Now his reputation is shattered, US media is rabid, Penn State’s in tatters, the state’s in rage, communities are split, families bicker and 18 children have been abused. And the unconscionable public displays and statements of defiance and reluctance we’re witnessing from the likes of Sandusky belie what must be an invidious reminder of a widening sense of despair and desperation.

Decontaminating the Penn State brand from a situation that’s base, low, ominous, nasty, and pernicious – what can mitigate the circumstances and reinvent Penn State’s brand? So pervasively huge is the scandal that reinvention is the only path for Penn State and the firing of President Graham Spanier was a wise beginning, but the deference must be bold.

Brands decline when they’re no longer sublime. Therefore, in a crisis that deracinates your heritage, it’s essential to know what makes you special, wrap up the past and blast in to the present: People often don’t know what they want until you show it to them. To be important, the response from Penn State should not aim to change the world. Many pundits are tethered to an old regime (if it bleeds if leads) and can’t innovate rapidly onto an associated story that’s positive– Penn State is unique and no one should be able to take away what they have achieved and, more important, what they can achieve.

The Penn State brand has relied on its authenticity. Now that’s been scuttled there’s a need for a flash incarceration of publicly shown material, references and photographs of Sandusky and his cadre. Call it synaptic pruning to make the blast radius less encircling on campus. The successful legacy of the team makes that extremely difficult. However, people are more likely to change behavior in response to swift and certain actions rather than waiting for severe ones that likely won’t be peremptory.

In Penn State’s advantage, brands who immediately admit they’re not invincible tend to fall lighter or not lose their reputation so dramatically. Therefore, the Penn State brand is compelled to distance itself from Paterno and begin to reinvent itself by boldly stating it’s doing so. This does mean killing a powerful part of the story of Penn State’s heritage and what has made the brand so special, but it must happen now (at great expense if need be). The momentum of the initiative, helped by the campus, will aim to help people feel more on top of a worsening situation of morality.

A glorious past of winning has enabled Penn State to have successfully created an authentic community that has played an anchor role in Penn State’s recognition nationwide. Now they must celebrate the team, the individuals, the students and the fans. Penn State needs to reinvent that legacy and the ties that are entwined. The need for distance should spur many organizational management decisions and brand strategies that will aim to transition the “Paterno” affair away from the Penn State brand. This is relatively easy if applied ruthlessly, and rest assured, brands can change their approach, leaders, workers, and products and perform better as long as the core idea of who the brand is remains relevant.

Dragged into a war Penn State did not create, its history needs an injection of tomorrow and that needs to happen today to ratify who they are and what they believe longer term. The sense of integrity that encircled Joe Paterno must be cut away and kept alive with added depth, credibility and magic in the Penn State halo. This is a sinister moment for Penn State to be ambitious, a moment where we will see what they’re made of; leadership is not about making friends, besides nothing but cold contempt is required for those involved in this horror story.

To stay alive it is hard for established brands to reinvent while they remain true to their vision. Look at the past and see the future. Victory conditions do not need to be unachievable. Penn State needs to turn the hard into the possible with an ambitious, audacious “public” program to find the compass for bold new growth and reinvention with the help from as many as he can muster. Hopefully he has instructed already set up a special crisis group that has no ties or involvement with the case and it’s “no comment” rules, i.e., their focus is solely on the publicized efforts of Penn State’s reinvention symbolized by an entirely revitalized brand identity and communications system that catapults the new Penn State movement for every part of the journey, including the team shirts.

It’s not all vituperative; Penn State needs a “hail Mary pass” to find their True North that will grow new, bold and exciting ways to entice the people back into a “Penn State” way without all the morass of information and chatter. It’s easy to lose sight of strategy: Joe Paterno must be jettisoned and Penn State needs to choose a lane: recalcitrance or reinvention. Let’s play ball.


Meg Whitman does not have the luxury of 100-days

I recall Lou Gerstner making us laugh when we asked him about the 100-days he’s so supposedly famous for at IBM and he retorted “What 100-days? Where do you think I was in that time when the business was on fire, upstairs with my feet up saying my isn’t this is nice and toasty warm?”

Focus, commitment and energy are apparently the essential ingredients for a CEO about to work a turnaround because they’ve been hired to turn the hard into the possible. The fire already burning at HP is useful cleansing for Meg; people tend not to complain so much when there’s a cause and this one is for survival.

Meg has four immediate components to outline: what is the business to do, how is the brand to support it, what communications and
initiatives are required inside and outside the businesses and how to implement the program in a timely manner.

This is going to be like open-heart surgery – a program that will cost millions to achieve and Meg surely knows that. I’d recommend after she’s carried out a few more bodies she gather her remaining top 50 lieutenants together, get them briefed and out there in the market talking to employee groups, key customers and partners – not selling, but learning and reporting back within 8 weeks with a succinct download. This will generate an abundance of actionable insights that could move the needle and get senior management focused.

There’s also my recent Forbes blog on how a leader can learn from the kitchen table for the boardroom table:

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