The Hip Anomaly: Does Canada Even Have A Culture for Netflix to Kill?

[Cache #173]

Is Canada’s brand a joke?

That was the question I asked last year, in the midst of Canadians like Rob Ford, Justin Bieber and Chip Wilson behaving badly and attracting much mockery from a bevy of late night heavyweights including Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Now that another Fall is upon us, the question has become:  Does Canada even have a brand – a culture, in other words – to protect?

The question has been made seasonal by Netflix, the American disruptor having thumbed its nose at the CRTC’s attempts to impose regulations upon it –  among them the Canadian content rules long endured by traditional broadcasters.  Canadians are watching Netflix in burgeoning droves, yet the company has provided only the tiniest token of Canadian content – being 10 new episodes of Trailer Park Boys – in implicit exchange for doing $300-million a year, and skyrocketing, in this country.

A further sign of change in the air was the start this week of the NHL hockey schedule, launched in Canada with a match between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, before which the Tragically Hip played a televised concert.  This was brand alignment with perfect pitch, for the Hip are unrivalled for their Canadian-ness:  they are the only band that one can fully completely claim is as Canadian as hockey itself.

The fact that they are from Canada is an accident of birth that makes them automatically Canadian, but birth does not automatically make them – or anyone else on the very long list of accomplished and internationally-recognized Canadian entertainers – a Canadian act.

The Hip earned its status long ago as the quintessentially Canadian act by taking the further step of actually singing about this country and the things that matter to its people.  An abbreviated shortlist of songs includes ”Fifty Mission Cap” (about the disappearance and discovery of Leaf great Bill Barilko), “At The Hundredth Meridian” (“where the Great Plains begin”) and “Wheat Kings” (about the wrongfully-imprisoned David Milgaard).

And so the Hip are an anomaly in the constellation of Canadian mega-stars – being the many actors, musicians, comedians, producers and entertainment industry movers and shakers who have achieved vast celebrity in the United States  – whose Canadian identity was only relevant to their careers because it gave them the key elements not enjoyed by the citizens of any other country outside the US itself:

-unsurpassed geographic proximity to the United States
-unsurpassed legal permission to visit and work in that country
-mastery of the American style of English
-the world’s highest awareness of, and adoption of, American culture

We as a people have often asked the self-congratulatory question:  ”Why are Canadians so funny?”  Or “Why are there so many Canadians in Hollywood?”  But the true answer, if one buys the list above, is another question:  ”If you are the most Americanized people in the world, how could you not punch far above your weight in terms of producing the comedians, actors, musicians and behind-the-scenes talent that feed the American system?”

So:  how much bona fide Canadian culture is there for Netflix to kill, or for the CRTC to protect?  We have such a thirst for American content that even the list of supposedly Canadian shows is dominated by renamed versions of American hits:  like The Amazing Race Canada, Canadian Idol, So You Think You Can Dance Canada and Canada’s Got Talent.

And then the most important question of all:  do we even care?

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Toronto The Cheap

[Cache #172]

This summer I was in an elevator in Saskatchewan. Not of the grain kind, those icons largely gone, but of the Best Western kind in the small city of Estevan. Making chit chat between floors, I mentioned to the person next to me that I was visiting from Toronto.

“Oh,” he said. “So you’re from ‘The Centre of the World.’”

Mindful of my place as a visitor and wanting not to perpetuate the impression held outside the 905 area code that Torontonians are rude, I thought it only polite to point out his misconception: “Actually, you mean ‘The Centre of the Universe.’”

Whether The Centre of the Universe, Hogtown, The Big Smoke or decreasingly, Toronto the Good, Toronto has been a city of many names. Mercifully, we are now in our last few weeks as Ford Nation, so named for a mayor and his brother whose creative achievements in the disciplines of profanity, propriety and sobriety make the Trailer Park Boys seem like noble statesmen.

October 27th will launch the era of ToryTown, embodied by the blue-blooded, highly respected, responsible and upstanding John Tory. But there is no reason to believe it will mark the end, or even the beginning of the end, of Toronto’s most pressing problem – that of not being able to move from Point A to Point B by any powered mode of transportation, in anything less than a half-day.

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 10.06.30 AM

Because underlying this pressing problem is the fact that Torontonians are incredibly cheap. Not when it comes to driving the very finest European automobiles or sipping lattes or doing both while crawling to yoga class on roads that look like vast luxury car dealerships, but when it comes to paying for anything whatsoever that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of those roads or the public transportation system with which our highways and byways are locked in a grim symbiosis.

This deep-seated cheapness explains why in Toronto, you can be a drunk, crack-addicted, woman-hating, physically abusive homophobic racist (note: list abbreviated due to space limitations), and still be mayor – as long as you are also cheap.

As long as you promise to build subways without raising taxes, a policy of great appeal to people who drive Porsches, Audis, Mercedes, Beemers and Range Rovers and whose monthly parking bill will get you rent in Winnipeg, yet who are convinced that roads must remain free of any user fee.

To the point that in this bastion of Canadian capitalism, neither John Tory nor Olivia Chow is talking about road tolls of even $1 a day to drive in the downtown, or along the 400-series highways that encircle and carve into the city.

They are not talking about it because they are afraid to talk about it, because they wouldn’t get elected if they did talk about it, because people in Toronto are cheap.

One dollar per highway trip in to and out of Toronto. A measly loonie. One hundred of the things so small, even the federal government doesn’t count them anymore.

And $10 or $20 per day to drive in the Financial District. The key point to remember is that people in Toronto are cheap, and that they will react to the cost by driving less at the most congested times and overall.

Multiply this pittance by the hundreds of thousands of car trips made every day to Toronto, and you have a multi-hundred-million-dollar windfall each year to fund round-the-clock roadwork that will make our roads and public transit more efficient and save some of the $6-billion in economic output lost every year due to gridlock we were already losing in 2006.

And most importantly, you have relief of the very real stress that congestion and delay puts on people as they struggle to do something we can all agree is priceless: spending time with families and loved ones.

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NFL Announces Name Change to NFeLon

[Cache #171]

NEW YORK – League Commissioner Roger Goodell, defending America’s dominant professional sport against accusations it is not yet 100% comprised of wife beaters and child abusers, today strongly signalled this intention by renaming the league from NFL to NFeLon.

“Our league isn’t just about violence on the field anymore.  It’s about criminality off of it,” said Goodell, addressing the media at NFeLon headquarters in New York.

“Led by role models like Ray Rice, Jonathan Dwyer and Adrian Peterson, our players are in record numbers punching their fiancées unconscioushead-butting their wives and hiding in the bathroom when the cops come and then punching her in the face the next day and threatening to kill their son; and whipping their defenseless toddlers on the scrotum with tree branches.


“Branding is all about authenticity, and our name change to NFeLon reflects the essence of who we are now, and of our vision for the future.  On that note, it gives me great pride to today announce that vision: to be a 100% convict league by 2020.”

“Yes, there will be elements of the media, fan base, ownership and our sponsors who find this vision objectionable.  But I will remind them that fully 32 of our players have been arrested in calendar year 2014 alone, bringing our total to 500 in the past 10 years.  And that we have an entire quarter to build on our 2014 total.  And I can assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that as football purists we will push hard until the very last second on the clock.”

“Sure, naysayers in the media have pointed out that this rate of arrest is actually lower than that of the public as a whole.  But let me remind you that every single one of our players has received a university education, most often free, many at some of the most prominent schools in the world, and are now the most entitled members of our society – making an average of $1.9-million per year and having their every conceivable whim taken care of by an adoring army of league lackeys, hangers-on, wannabes and knuckle-draggers.

“Ladies and gentlemen, 500 arrests despite these obstacles is a remarkable testament to the character of our players and more than makes the case for renaming our league to NFeLon.”

Giving Fans What They Deserve
Analysts believe that key to the success of Goodell’s NFeLon vision will be a set of enhancements for fans that will truly integrate them into the NFeLon experience.

“Through a wide variety of programs, our league has always been focused on getting fans integrated with the game,” said the Commissioner.  ”But these programs have been limited by the fact that our fans do not have the necessary athleticism, or moral compass, to actually suit up in an NFeLon game.

“And so, while we cannot help fans feel exactly like an NFeLon player, we can indeed help them feel like one of their defenseless family members.  And so we introduce our new fan experience program, DeFansless, in which players will mete out the same violence to their supporters as they do to their girlfriends, wives and babies,” Goodell continued.

“Say that despite seeing the elevator video of Ray Rice punching his fiancée full in the face, knocking her out cold and then dragging her limp body by the collar into a hotel lobby, you still show up at a game wearing a Ray Rice jersey.  We want to reward you for that level of commitment.

“So Ray Rice himself will choose one lucky fan per game to attack with the full, fearsome force of a physique that can bench press an astonishing 400 pounds. I mean, that guy is in shape.

“Or, even though you’re aware of the bloody welts Adrian Peterson administered to the tiny body of his four-year-old son, let’s say you attend an NFeLon game wearing a Peterson jersey.  Well, you might just be the lucky fan chosen by Adrian to be whipped with a tree branch until you bleed.

“Or, you can call an audible, if you will, and elect on the spot to receive the same kind of ‘whoopin’ Peterson gave his son while the helpless little boy was strapped in his carseat.

“Or if you’re a Dwyer fan, just show it by wearing his jersey to the next Arizona Cardinals game.  He will headbutt you and then email you pictures of a knife and threaten to kill himself and your children.  He will kill you first, of course, but let’s be clear:  only if you really deserve it.”

Name Created in Rather Quiet Alumni Sessions
Having not been seen in public for the several days preceding today’s announcements, Goodell this morning insisted he was not hiding like one of his multi-millionaire player-felons, but rather working on the league’s new name.

“It took somewhat longer than expected, because we enlisted the help of NFL alumni, the trailblazers who built our brand’s foundation by committing the lesser crimes of decades past.  As we at the NFeLon have acknowledged, the hits to the head sustained by our players on the field give them Alzheimer’s and other dementias at a rate as much as 3,500% greater than that of the general public.

“And let’s face it:  how can our alumni be expected to come up with a creative new name for a six-billion-dollar organization when they can’t even remember their own?” 

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If You Want People To Care

[Cache #170]

The skinny guy with the grey hair walked on stage to a chorus of Happy Birthday.  He leaned into the microphone with a mock scowl, and emphasized his curse:  ”I knew somebody would have to point out that I’m seventy-f____ing-one years old.”

roger waters at toronto film festival the wall

The man was Roger Waters, former frontman of Pink Floyd, the band in a league with only Led Zeppelin and The Who as the widely- and deeply-revered heavyweight champions of the classic rock era.

The place was the world premiere, at the Toronto International Film Festival, of Waters’ “rib-rattling, sonically stupendous” documentary:  Roger Waters The Wall.  The documentary follows Waters as he drives through the countryside to visit the gravesites of his grandfather and father.

Roger never knew either man.  His grandfather was killed in World War I.  His father, whose final resting place Roger had never before seen, was killed in World War II – by the Nazis, when Roger was just six months old.

Hence The Wall, the prodigiously heavy and emotional 1979 Pink Floyd album that was Waters’ cri de coeur against the madness of war, the greed and idiocy of its political and corporate masters, and the human loss inflicted by those conspirators on a global scale.

And hence this documentary – which follows Waters on his personal journey, but is comprised mostly of breathtaking concert footage from his resurrection of The Wall as an enormous and spectacular live show that toured the world from 2010 to 2013.


And hence there were tears.

On Roger’s face as he visited his long-departed progenitors, played a sombre trumpet at their memorial sites and read from the letter written to his mother by the major who informed her of her husband’s death in combat.

On the faces of audience members at the premiere, as witnesses to Roger’s pain.

And on the faces of the 80,000-plus fans attending the live shows, filmed mainly in Quebec City and Buenos Aires – except they were crying for a different reason.

They were crying not in sadness, but in joy.

the wall live tour

They were there to watch and listen to a live rock show, not an anti-war, anti-capitalist polemic.  Songs like Comfortably Numb, one of the most melodic, soaring and beautiful pieces of music and lyrics ever written, had fans in the front rows singing to burst their lungs, heads back and tears flooding down their faces.

They weren’t crying for Roger, or for his father, who was mentioned only in the documentary film, not in the live concert setting.  Without the additional emotional context that we in the theatre had, the fans we were watching onscreen were purely having a raw reaction to the music and to the staggering animation projected onto the real-life wall – 500 feet long at some shows – built in front of them as the concert progressed.

To be sure, Waters’ core message was conveyed with extreme intensity:  imagine a slow-motion animated sequence in which an endless row of aerial bombers pours an infinite number of blood-red crosses from their cargo bays.  Then imagine these blood-red crosses are followed out the cargo bays by an infinite number of blood-red corporate logos and national symbols, most prominently those of Mercedes, Shell and the State of Israel.

Nonetheless:  If Waters had decided to spread his message not through an overwhelming sound and light show but through a lecture tour, roughly 78,000 of his audience would have stayed home.

If the music wasn’t so bloody good, able to transcend the eons between the grizzled senior citizen on stage and the fans young enough to be his great-grandchildren, no one would identify with, or hate – or otherwise give a damn about – Waters’ political views.

So what’s your message?  It is an important one, to be sure.  And as Roger makes clear, it is the medium – i.e. the branding – and not the message that will ultimately make it rock…or not.

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

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Porter’s Brand Is In A Nosedive

[Cache #169]

My mentor Ted Matthews created the most meaningful and elegant definition in the world of branding:  A brand is what people think of you.

There is a second part of his definition that is not quite as well known, but equally powerful and crisp:  Brand is culture.

These definitions are such significant contributions to people and organizations everywhere because they debunk the still widely-believed myth that a brand consists of graphic design elements like logos, colours, websites, business cards and other marketing collateral.

Brand = what people think of you
Brand = culture

And so it is that the brand of Porter Airlines is diving steeply – even though their logo, colours, racoon mascot and other marketing materials continue to look exceptionally good.  It is the culture at Porter that has been on a downward path for at least a few years and is now showing signs of acceleration toward a messy ending on the ground.

porter flying refined

I have written glowingly about Porter seven times in this space since 2009, including a piece that year in which a reader poll named them one of the Best Brands of the Decade along with Apple.  I was an early adopter of the airline, flying them in the early months and years of their existence, when the planes were almost empty.  So it is with considerable personal disappointment, after two flights this week, that I point out that Porter’s promise of Flying refined is breaking apart under the stress of bad employee attitudes – of a culture of uncaring.

It used to be that Porter employees were smiling, pleasant, proud people who were such a breath of fresh air compared to Air Canada in particular.  Now, from the check-in counter to the gate to high in the skies, they are stoned-faced, indifferent and even hostile to a degree that would make our national carrier proud.

In the Porter lounge at Ottawa’s airport this week, the front desk was at first unattended, a possible explanation for the array of tables garnished with crumbs, the dirty coffee machine and the cookies on the floor.  A later trip to the lounge, in which the desk attendant barely looked up from the book she was reading and did not bother acknowledging my entry, crashed that theory.  In fact the dirt, still very much in place, was due to pure lack of caring.

Next to the gate, where Melanie stood out from her peers by proactively loaning me her smartphone charger.  This was over the loud objections of her supervisor, whose mantra was a simple “No.  No.  NO.” after which she shook her head in disgust at Melanie’s initiative and stomped away, completely ignoring my presence.

Then to the plane, where the seats are dirt-stained, the delicious sandwiches are just a memory from the good old days and the flight attendants still have their jaunty hats, but their faces are flatlined and their hearts are largely checked out.

That was this week.  A year ago, the rot was already evident when the agent in the Toronto ferry terminal looked at my boarding pass and decided not to tell me my flight was cancelled, and the Ottawa counter agent took pleasure in berating me for cutting close my check in time.

This is not Flying refined.  This is not something that can be fixed with an updated logo or a fresh ad campaign.  This is deep down rot.

That can only be fixed, if it’s not too late already, by difficult application of a simple formula:  brand = culture.

Led by a CEO willing to self-appoint as CBO, Chief Brand Officer:  the only person with the view from 30,000 feet.

Click here for the blog that nominated Porter as one of the Top 10 Best Brands of the Decade.

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

Posted in brand culture, brand experience, brand identity, Chief Brand Officer, customer service, logos, taglines, what is a brand? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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