Three Holes in the Ice Bucket Challenge Critique

Cache #168

“It’s not right that ALS is raking in so much money.”

In reaction to the astonishing fundraising success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, this is essentially the point of view espoused by a small but significant number of people in the media, general public and other fundraising organizations.

Definition of astonishing:  the ALS Association reports its receipt of US $41-million in donations between July 29 and August 21, (more than double the amount for the entire previous year) from 740,000 net new donors.  Almost overnight, ALS has become perhaps the biggest public awareness story of the Internet age.

But Maclean’s Magazine calls it “a horrible way” to raise money.  The Boston Globe calls it a “gimmick” that uses “guilt” and “threats” to raise cash, and that it’s the type of dare that “bring[s] out the worst in people.”

Many other organizations and individuals have weighed in with their critiques.  Here’s why they’re wrong in ways that will hurt every charity and limit the potential of people and companies around the world.

The undoubtedly well-intentioned but ultimately troubling position of Maclean’s guest columnist Scott Gilmore (founder of Building Markets) is instructive.  In “Why The Ice Bucket Challenge is Bad For You,” he maintains that we need to consider these three “tests” – all of which ALS fails, in his opinion – when donating money:

1.Where is the greatest need?
2.Where will my dollars have the greatest influence?
3.What is the most urgent problem?

With respect to #1, Gilmore says that ALS is not “an especially great need,” since it is classified as a rare disease and only 600 Canadians die of it each year, which is “not even close” to the top 20 most fatal diseases in Canada.

Regarding #2, he says ALS is “already extremely well funded,” and “If you want your donation to make the biggest difference, fund the diseases that need the most money.”

On the matter of point #3, he maintains that “ALS is not an urgent need” and that “if you want to help where time is of the essence,” then consider Syria or Ebola, for instance.

Three issues with these criteria:
1.Imagine (or maybe you don’t need to) that you or a loved one has ALS or another disease that doesn’t meet Gilmore’s cut.  Your obligation is clear: don’t give a dime to ALS, but rather, scan the news or the latest statistics and send your money somewhere else.  Your friend/wife/daughter/grandfather, or you yourself, will toast your logic.

2.The criteria make the defeatist assumption that fundraising is a zero-sum game, a proposition that the Ice Bucket Challenge itself has smashed to smithereens.  By finding 740,000 new donors (and counting) from every walk of life, the Challenge has proven that the pool of fundraising dollars is far from finite.

3.Instead of lamenting dollars they’ve “lost” to someone else, charitable organizations should recognize this as the most optimistic moment in the history of fundraising, powered as it is by the branding tool of remark-ability.

For organizations of any type, therein lies the true challenge should they dare to accept it:  how to be word-of-mouth worthy, supercharged by the Internet’s unique power to bask humans in the cheers, support, thanks and approval of others?

How did the Ice Bucket Challenge get started?  Here is the story in the New York Times.


Recent comment in the National Post:  ”Birks and Tiffany & Co: Battle of the Blue Jewelry Boxes.”

Book:  Buy the #1 Globe and Mail bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo or download a free chapter.
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Robin Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Cache #167

Robin Williams is dead. To quote the Monty Python parrot sketch, which he no doubt knew well and could likely recite while playing both parts and inventing a third, a surprise ending and several sequels, “He is no more…he has ceased to be…he is bleedin’ demised.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 6.21.52 PM

So why are people talking to him like he is still alive – thanking him directly for injecting humour and happiness into their lives? If you are someone who believes in the hereafter, then you know that Robin is not in need of your kind words, because he is in a place better than this one. And if you are someone who believes that Robin is not in fact in a better place, but instead simply does not exist anymore, then you know that your kind words will be received only by you and others among the still-alive.

I very humbly submit that the point of addressing Robin directly must be mainly to make ourselves feel better. Someone who made us feel good is gone, and we feel the pain of that loss.

This point of view could at least partly answer the contrarian question my friend Christian McKenna has asked on his Facebook page, which essentially is: Why do we mourn the self-inflicted death of a celebrity like Williams more so than the countless other non-celebrities – people we likewise do not know personally – who die tragically every day?

For Christian, the Kardashians epitomize the way in which we care more about famous people – who in the Kardashians’ case could be argued to be famous only for being famous, rather than for any record of achievement – than for our fellow, non-celebrity man.

But Robin Williams was famous for reasons that go far beyond fame itself. Among his accomplishments is that even the most humourless person alive on this entire planet – say, Vladimir Putin or Stephen Harper – can find something in his performances that will induce spontaneous joy. Regardless of that person’s age, race, culture, socioeconomic status or any other metric you can trot out. Robin Williams’ ability to create happiness in others was universal.

And it will remain universal for quite some time. If the lasting power of say, Charlie Chaplin is any guide, Williams will be making people happy for the next century if not two or more. His accomplishment is one for the ages.

So it should not be a mystery as to why we are more saddened by his passing than by the death of someone we had no connection with, even if our connection with Williams was electronic, even if we by chance happen to be ticked off that he killed himself, and even if the non-celebrity died in tragic circumstances.

Some of us may feel uncomfortable with this imbalance. But it, and Robin Williams, leaves us with this simple, wholesome lesson for branding and for life: try to make people feel good.

“Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, The Marx Brothers. Comedy is a great art when it works. I’ve never seen anything funnier than Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor, that scene at the dinner table. That alone should get an award if you are just talking about sheer funny but they are always talking about ‘well, is it meaningful?’ Well, sure it’s meaningful if you come out and you had a great laugh.”
Robin Williams (from Robin Williams: 50 Great Quotes)

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Yellow Pages Ads Lack That Bieber Punch

[Cache #166]

“Actor Orlando Bloom threw a punch at Justin Bieber last night during an argument at a night club in Spain. Orlando’s hand was pretty sore today – you know, from all the high-fives he got.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the great joke told last week by Jimmy Fallon.  In truth, I have not done an extensive amount of research or reflection on what makes for a great joke.  Yet it seems that Jimmy’s joke is typical of the great joke for a few reasons, all of which revolve around a bit of magic regarded as essential by great joke tellers, writers, actors and presenters of any kind:  timing.

For example, the joke does not become funny until just the right spot:  the last little bit, otherwise known as the punch line.  If you are the kind of person who likes to tell a joke and have everyone stare at you like cattle in response, try telling your next joke by A, not having a punchline, and/or by B, giving away the punch line first.
To see just how deflating bad timing can be, let’s apply B to Jimmy’s joke:

“Actor Orlando Bloom’s hand was pretty sore today – you know, from all the high-fives he got.  Turns out he threw a punch at Justin Bieber last night during an argument at a night club in Spain.”

Even the half-soused crowd at your local comedy club would greet that one with crickets.  More to the point for branders and advertisers, those same customers wouldn’t be able to retell the joke to their friends, not because they were half-blitzed, but because an idea that was highly remark-able when written one way was made deeply unremark-able in another. (See the book excerpt on remark-ability here)

Advertisers somehow fail on this fundamental requirement of timing all the time.  The Yellow Pages is in the midst of just this issue, with the countless ads they have plastered in Toronto’s underground subway system at undoubtedly tremendous expense.

Here’s the copy on one:
“Too bad you only have one stomach.  There’s a lot to eat nearby.”

And another:
“Gents, there are stores that can drape you in dapper close by.”

I have always wanted to use the word “nonplussed” in a sentence, and thanks to copy like this, today is the big day.  These ads are meant to be, if not funny, then at least clever, and they are decidedly not – partly because they lack any sense of timing whatsoever.

Consider this quick patching up of the stomach ad:  ”There are hundreds of restaurants nearby.  Too bad you only have one stomach.”  Now at least, the punch line – weak as it is – is in the right spot.

The other thing that makes this ad campaign so dull and forgettable is that there is absolutely no consistency or common voice from one ad to the next.  The ads are just a bunch of words that some people wrote.  This as opposed to having a common pattern that hooks in customers’ brains, thereby creating a synergy or network effect in which each ad we see is more quickly recognizable, memorable and thus valuable than the next.

As just one example of a simple technique that is used widely but for some reason was ignored by Yellow Pages, check out these clever ads from Starburst candy, all of which employ the same tagline to create consistency and remark-ability:


Your Mission

So, when you are writing or overseeing your next important piece of communication, adopt this standard of quality:  your copy will be so well timed, clever and consistent that it will actually save lives.  That if your ads were in the subway instead of Yellow Pages’ bunch of words, you might get at least one commuter, already and understandably depressed from having to ride the Toronto subway, thinking twice about jumping in front of the next train and making the journey even longer for everyone else.  And so your brilliance will have saved, in addition to a life and a whole lot of time, a whole whack of money on an advertising campaign like Yellow Pages’ – that, in terms of long-term impact, was otherwise destined to be Bieberesque.


Joyce disagrees with my point of view, in her more in-depth piece on the campaign.


New Andris Pone comment in the National Post:  ”Birks and Tiffany & Co: Battle of the Blue Jewelry Boxes.”

Book:  Buy the #1 Globe and Mail bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo or download a free chapter.
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Why People Let Loose in Vegas

[Cache #165]

“What happens here, stays here.”  This is the tagline adopted in 2003 by Las Vegas, but it was hardly an original idea.  It was simply Sin City taking ownership of a line that has been around forever:  ”What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Why do people get so crazy in Vegas?  Upstanding individuals from around the world troll in voracious packs, drinking and gambling copiously and at all hours, engaging in random sex and otherwise doing alot of stuff they wouldn’t be caught dead – and would actually be dead for – doing back home.  And let’s make no mistake: this is not just a guys phenomenon: the women are at it in numbers and enthusiasm every bit equal to the men.

That the place is in the middle of nowhere is central to the power of its brand.  The fact that you have to cross the godforsaken desert to swan dive into its extravagance of water – pools, fountains and alcohol – is metaphoric for our lust to escape the dry life of hard work and obedience to deeply engrained social conventions.

The place must be isolated, a thing unto itself, so we can feel that what happened there does not return home with us, or even for us to act as if the tagline is actually “What happens in Vegas didn’t happen at all.”  Its geographic compartmentalization also helps explain why the same set of men or women going to Las Vegas for the weekend might act quite differently than if they were going to, say, Philadelphia.

To be sure, Vegas may be unmatched for its sin infrastructure, which includes a 24/7 carnival of hooker advertising, ubiquitous booze (including not just hooch but free hooch at the gambling tables), topless pools, strip joints and throbbing nightclubs.

But here’s the ultimate reason that people get crazy in Vegas:  they are simply responding to very clear brand positioning.  As epitomized by the city’s tagline, it is abundantly clear that getting wild is not just ok, and not just encouraged, but actually expected.

Remark-able for its clarity and boldness, the branding of this city has also accomplished something very unexpected.  It has debunked corporations’ greatest branding fear:  that forcefully communicating a single brand position means losing every single customer who isn’t interested in it.  Sure, you will lose some; as we have seen with Spence Diamonds and Abercrombie & Fitch, for example, helping people de-select is an important part of the point.

Yet, for all of the debauchery described above, anyone who has been to Vegas knows that you need not spend a moment or a dime on partying to have a fantastic time at the array of world-class restaurants, one-of-a-kind shows, shopping, golf and sightseeing on the Strip and in the wider area.

For brands that want to let their hair down and live a little, it is proof that one doesn’t necessarily need to look at positioning as going all-in, but instead as deciding which card to lead with.

 

New Andris Pone comment in the National Post:  “Birks and Tiffany & Co: Battle of the Blue Jewelry Boxes.”

Book:  Buy the #1 Globe and Mail bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo or download a free chapter.
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Will Your Customers Give You Their Bodies?

[Cache - #164]

How many of your customers have tattooed your logo on their bodies?

If your company happens be called Anytime Fitness, a chain of more than 2,400 gyms in 19 countries, your answer, according to a BBC News story this week, is 3,000.

anytime fitness logo

Especially interesting is that the Anytime logo is not a well done piece of artwork:  it looks surprisingly amateurish for such a large organization.  Intended to look like a person while running or exercising, it looks more like a sketch of Gumby stumbling to the bathroom.  See how professional and refined the Under Armour and Nike logos, also from the fitness category, look in comparison.

under armour logo

 

200px-Nike swoosh
So it’s not a kickass logo that is compelling Anytime’s customers to make what is a truly remark-able demonstration of bonding with the company.  Instead, it is the way the company helped them feel.

Says Chuck Runyon, the Anytime founder:  ”Instead the answers are always very, very personal.  Many say they got the tattoo to mark the fact they have achieved something they never thought was possible, such as losing a considerable amount of weight, or feeling healthy.”

For Runyon, making customers feel good is a deliberate strategy:  ”The company works hard to make them feel good about themselves, and that they belong to a caring community.”

There is still no excuse for having an unprofessional logo that portrays your brand in a less-than-positive light.  But the real question is:  how do you make your customers feel – good enough to give you their minds, if not their bodies?

Thanks to Robert Gillelan, my Coin colleague in Quebec, for this story idea.


New Andris Pone comment in the National Post:  “Birks and Tiffany & Co: Battle of the Blue Jewelry Boxes.”

Book:  Buy the #1 Globe and Mail bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo or download a free chapter.

brand: it ain't the logo - The #1 Globe and Mail business bestseller - Ted Matthews with Andris Pone -

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National Post comment on Tiffany’s and Birks

A quote from yours truly in the National Post, in an interview related to Birks’ entry to the United States.  Something that did not make print was my view that the awareness Tiffany’s has built in Canada around the “little blue box” has not just eaten Birks’ lunch, but the entire buffet.

IN THE MEDIA:  Andris Pone comment on WestJet, Tim Hortons, Lululemon, Indigo and more.
BOOK:  Buy the #1 Globe and Mail bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo or download a free chapter.

brand: it ain't the logo - The #1 Globe and Mail business bestseller - Ted Matthews with Andris Pone -

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That Spence Diamonds Guy is a Total Moron

[Cache #163]

There are plenty of people who think that Sean Jones, pitchman for Spence Diamonds, is a total moron – and that’s just the way he wants it.  

Spence is an engagement ring retailer with locations in BC, Alberta and Ontario.  They advertise heavily on radio, a medium that puts Jones’ flamboyant, purring voice – which also howls bizarrely – on centre stage.

The ads are intensely irritating.  Jones intends them to be intensely irritating.  Perhaps as a nod to the Facebook page dedicated to getting him off the radio, he says in a current ad:  ”You hate the ads.  You’ll love the stores.”

Or, the ads are charming and funny, depending on your personal taste.  The best evidence that some people find them charming and funny is that the ads just keep on coming, countless times every day, month after month, year after year.  So it is only reasonable to assume that the ads are actually prompting some listeners to visit the stores and buy a ring.

Other listeners wouldn’t be caught dead in a Spence store, for fear of being surrounded by goofball employees – or worse, having to explain to the woman you love, in the seconds following the most serious thing you have ever asked her, that her ring comes from that clown on the radio.

But Jones is no bozo.  Instead, his buffoonery betrays branding brilliance.  His strategy is not unlike that of Abercrombie and Fitch, which has an in-store environment that many people despise:  nightclub-dark, loud music, cologne-soaked air.  The haters, of course, are the people – parents and the otherwise uncool – Abercrombie doesn’t want in the store in the first place.

Branding, as a discipline that is fundamentally about positioning, recognizes that you can’t be all things to all people – so you can’t turn everyone into a customer.  Provocative messaging like that of Spence is an effective way to help the non-believers – the people who aren’t on your wavelength – go away.

So you can concentrate on courting the cohort you can actually get to the altar.

 


New Andris Pone comment in the National Post:  “Birks and Tiffany & Co: Battle of the Blue Jewelry Boxes.”

IN THE MEDIA:  Andris Pone comment on WestJet, Tim Hortons, Lululemon, Indigo and more.

BOOK:  Buy the #1 Globe and Mail bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo or download a free chapter.

brand: it ain't the logo - The #1 Globe and Mail business bestseller - Ted Matthews with Andris Pone -

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Why Fake Football Works

[Cache #162]

There was a moment in the USA-Germany game yesterday when everyone in the audience laughed.  World Cup soccer is not intended to be comedy, but the crowd assembled in the lobby of a downtown office building could not suppress its laughter.

Two American players had simultaneously fallen to the field as if shot by a sideline sniper.  In isolation, this incident would not have elicited a snicker.  But faking injury is as integral to the World Cup game as green grass and a round ball.  Just see this hilarious advice in Maclean’s on fakery fundamentals (“Await the medics.  It is one of soccer’s proud traditions that every Euro-douche who trips over his shoelaces is tended to as though he took a burst of shrapnel while storming an enemy trench.”)

It turns out that while the Americans were arguably embellishing, they had actually hit each other hard enough to warrant a collapse to the field.  The audience simply assumed, with good reason, that they were faking.

Fakery is interesting from a branding point of view because it is widely believed that phoniness is no way to build a brand.  In contrast, it is believed that customers respond very strongly to – and are capable of bonding long-term with – fraud’s opposite number:  authenticity.

While the beer business, for example, sometimes uses frivolous and bikini-driven advertising to promote its products, it also relies heavily on heritage.  Stella Artois talks about its formation in 1366, Sleeman talks about its bootlegging past, and the craft brewers more recently on the scene (Steam Whistle, for example) talk about small batches, craftsmanship and old-time values.  And we know that people seriously identify with, and are loyal to, their beer.

Authenticity at the World Cup is irrelevant as a branding tool, because of the higher imperative that rules the tournament:  winning for your country.  What is important is not to win or lose with honour, but purely to win at any cost.  Any behaviour, biting included, is justified and at least tacitly encouraged by fans whose sense of national identity is threatened by losing and validated by victory.

The lesson is hopefully not that cheating is good brand strategy – but that if you can make people feel good about themselves, you will win.



IN THE MEDIA:  Andris Pone comment on WestJet, Tim Hortons, Lululemon, Indigo and more.
BOOK:  Buy the #1 Globe and Mail bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo or download a free chapter.

brand: it ain't the logo - The #1 Globe and Mail business bestseller - Ted Matthews with Andris Pone -

 

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Great, and Not So Great, Moments in Brand Naming History

Great, and Not So Great, Moments in Brand Naming History

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Branding For Women

[Cache #161]

American Apparel CEO Dov Charney, just removed by his board, is renowned for removing his pants before a stroll around the factory floor.  Or for just wearing a sock where one would expect his underpants to be, and for many other sexually-charged workplace antics.  As a (presumably) heterosexual man with several sexual harassment complaints against him, this kind of behaviour from Dov is obviously not targeted at the males in his employ, but at the females.

Dov, a (presumably) proud Canadian, has blown off his behaviour as just “salty.”  This is a sad, rather unusual, but ultimately not extreme example of the BS women must regularly tolerate in the course of trying to do their jobs.  I’m not offering up any statistics, but if you ask the women around you, an unacceptably high proportion of them have experienced unwelcome behaviour from their male superiors, clients, co-workers and vendor partners along a continuum from suggestive text messages to creepy touching to physical grabbing and beyond.

How is a woman supposed to deal with these situations in a way that preserves her reputation – her brand, in other words?  The answer is surprisingly not obvious.  Some women are afraid that a swift verbal response, or even a measured physical one (a face-slap in answer to a grabbed body part, for example), might result in the woman being branded as “difficult” or as a “feminist.”

To these women, the deck appears to be stacked such that the person who needs to worry about reputational fallout from an ass-grabbing situation is, oddly, not the (male) grabber but the (female) grabbee.

Beyond the issue of harassment are a range of branding concerns for working women, including what constitutes appropriate business attire (or is there such a thing as inappropriate?), how to be feminine without being sexy (or is it OK, and even useful, to be sexy?) and how to act with confidence without being perceived as “a bitch.”

There has been alot of attention on the issue of female confidence recently, as epitomized by the bestselling book by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Confidence Code – The Science and Art of Self-Assurance.  The book’s central arguments are that female achievement is held back by their intrinsic lack of confidence compared to men, and that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence.

I believe that confidence is a very powerful point of leverage for women, or any other cohort, who want to get ahead in the world and feel good about it.  It seems there is a connection between confidence and knowing how to address the above questions and many other related issues.  In my quest for a unified definition of branding, I have offered up these two key variations, which together or separately could frame a discussion on branding for women:

Confidently shaping what people think of you in order to charge more money for your organization, product or service than you would otherwise be able to. (Cache  #106)

The act of helping people achieve a deep understanding of the unique value you offer the world, validating your worth and helping you reach your highest emotional, intellectual, spiritual and financial potential. (Cache #111)

What do you think?


IN THE MEDIA:  Andris Pone comment on WestJet, Tim Hortons, Lululemon, Indigo and more.

BOOK:  Buy the #1 Globe and Mail bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo or download a free chapter.

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