Friday, December 20, 2013

Sales versus Sentiment in 2013 Holiday Ads

Maybe it’s the seemingly never-ending economic recession, but it appears that the ads this Christmas season in large part have been pretty hard sell.  Gone, it seems, are the days when ads sought to tap that sentimental nerve in all of us that long for seasonal warmth and even a sense of nostalgia around the holidays.  It just seems like fewer and fewer ads are going for the heart.

Rather, regardless of the product, the message seems to be the same. “Time is running out.  Prices are right.  Buy!”


My take is that companies have endured a few too many soft holiday seasons in terms of sales.  In the past, it may have been a good strategy to tie a bow around a brand with the warmth of the holiday season, but this year, there’s no time or patience for that. 

Here are a few  examples from VerizonRadio Shack and Old Navy that focus on product over sentiment:



While ads can take on all sorts of forms and follow a range of strategies, here are the basic choices advertisers have to make around the holidays.

1.    Go for the heart with sentimentality or even humor, hoping that in doing so, the audience will get a good feeling and transfer that good feeling onto the brand.  This creates a favorable impression but not necessarily an immediate motivation to buy.  This often falls within what is called “institutional advertising.”

2.    Then there is the ad that may tap sentiment, but it may also touch on the social value of the product or service being advertised.  An ad that features smart phones being used by local animal shelter volunteers, for instance, plays up the emotional punch of an altruistic cause while also showcasing the societal value of the product.  In many cases, since a product like a cell phone, could be any brand of cell phone, the commercial serves to bolster the image of an entire category of products.  That’s why this is called “category advertising.”

3.    And then, of course, there are the ads that go for the jugular.  They are the ones that leave no doubt what is being advertised, why it’s being advertised, where to get it, and the call to action is – “Buy now!”

Here are a couple of classic institutional ads around the holidays.  One is from  Miller and the other is from local restaurant chain Eat 'n Park in Pittsburgh.



So is sentiment passé in holiday ads in 2013?  Not completely.  If you look, you can find it.  Here is a really nice one from Apple that just might do the trick this year and put you in the holiday spirit.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Branding Is About More than a Logo

By Kelly McKenzie

You’ve likely heard conversations about how your "brand" has a significant impact on business success.

Kelly McKenzie
brand is the essence of a company’s own unique story. This is as true for personal branding as it is for business branding. The key, though, is reaching down and pulling out the authentic unique “you.” Otherwise, the brand is a façade and will fall into the “just another” category.

The common tendency is to think of a logo as the primary component of a brand. While a logo is vitally important to a company’s success, it needs to be supported by a sound strategy that resonates with your target audience. A strong logo visual can instantaneously communicate a brand and what it is about. Some large brands are able to do this by symbol only, without words. This is the Holy Grail that brands dream about. It seems to represent the very essence of communication at its most primitive roots. Few can pull it off. Rather, logos should support the broader brand strategy that supports an even bigger story.

A strong brand approach cohesively integrates logo and visuals, color, message positioning and response to customers. It will differentiate the product or service in the marketplace – and influence consumer-buying decisions. Consistency in the marketing and communications platform conveys that an organization is razor-focused and customer-centric. Additionally, the quality of the product or service should align with the quality of the brand positioning, thus streamlining the process from initial research to a purchasing decision by the customer base. Simply put, quality marketing and brand positioning drive buying decisions.

Many organizations don’t understand the key components of a brand; the value of a compelling marketing and communications plan, a succinct global strategy and the power of a quality offering. A fragmented marketing communications plan has negative impact on a company’s bottom line and reduces equity significantly. A disjointed approach breaks down the pillars that were originally built to serve as the foundation of a company.

In our world today, time is of the essence in every facet of our lives. Each brand is competing for time and attention to break though the message clutter and build a relationship with the target audience(s). Quick buying decisions are commonplace, which means product or service offerings must engage a buyer immediately to increase the probability of a sale. A clear, concise brand strategy is a key ingredient to convince a buyer one product is the best answer to their needs.

This may make a lot of sense but also seem overwhelming. Often, companies may recognize that they need a better branding strategy but don’t have the internal expertise, time and resources to focus on the effort. Investing time researching professional marketing communications resources that can implement this process may be more worthwhile effort.

About the Author

Guest blogger Kelly McKenzie is President of Group 2 Design.  With over 30 years’ experience in the design industry, he has helped clients of all sizes create and build strong brands.  He can be reached at 412.605.0834 or kelly@group2.comon Facebook, or on Twitter @Group2Design.


Monday, December 2, 2013

A Moment with Fred Rogers

Yesterday, I watched a PBS fundraising special that featured the documentary "Mister Rogers & Me."  I didn’t intend to watch it.  I was surfing the television channels and landed on that iconic moment in 1969 where Fred Rogers wins over the hearts and funding support of the U.S. Senate.

In all honesty, I wasn’t a Mister Rogers kid.  I didn’t grow up on his gentle monologues designed to reinforce my self-esteem.  But my kids did.  And I sat with them while they watched.  It seems I saw Mister Rogers for the first time through their eyes.

Needless to say, I have a real appreciation for his contribution to television and families.

One of the things I remember around the time of his death in 2003 was a story from an immigrant, a man who had come to this country as an older child and who did not know the language of his new home at first.  He said he watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and that’s how he learned to speak English. But he added that Mister Rogers also taught him about kindness, compassion and understanding.

What an impact.

That said, watching this television special caused me to reflect on the one time I met Fred Rogers.  The meeting is unforgettable on a number of levels. 

I met him during that period where I was a regular viewer of his program thanks to my young kids.  So meeting him at that moment was not at all nostalgic for me.  It was quite timely.

Further, I met him in a business context.  This is to say that as much as I could have fallen into “fan mode” and with the utmost sincerity carried on over all that he has meant to my family, I was forced to wear my “grown-up” business hat when talking to him.  The better part of valor is discretion, I believe is the saying.

So, we met one-on-one for about 15 minutes.  A meeting like that would normally have occurred in a conference room.  He chose to meet standing up in a quiet corner of a set of offices, more informally.  The purpose of the meeting was for me to brief him on some important communications activities.

So here’s what I remember.  No, here’s what I won’t forget.  His eyes were locked in on me the whole time. He was serious but not intimidating.  His laser-like focus seemed rooted in care for others and nothing else.

For the first few minutes of our conversation, we addressed the important business issues. But for the remainder of the time, he focused on how our work would affect others, not in a self-interest way but rather, he was completely centered on the well-being of people.  Even if for a few minutes, the experience was unexpectedly uplifting.

Fred Rogers made a career out of telling his young audience, “I like you just the way you are.”  He provided a source of positive self-esteem and unbeknownst to them, he introduced the concept of unconditional love.

I had the chance to get a glimpse of this in a business context. The business lesson for me was that Fred Rogers believed that in all of our capacities we can be a force for good.
Here is that classic moment where Mister Rogers wins over the crusty old U.S. Senate: