The Beer Thrower Is Just Our Scapegoat

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Because of Rob Ford, Toronto’s brand has suffered greatly in recent years – and it is a certainty that the city will continue to bear a negative association with him for decades to come. 

But as we should have realized by now, there is a new villain for the city to contend with:  a good number of Blue Jays fans.  Sorry, but it’s far too convenient to scapegoat the one dufus who threw the beer at the Orioles’ outfielder. 

Yes, determination of his identity was pursued as if he killed Kennedy; self-appointed online sleuths pored over video of the incident with all the lust of Zapruder film fanatics.

But what about the hundreds of people who threw cans and bottles in last year’s playoffs, in the game of the Bautista Bat Flip?  What are we doing to track all of them down?  The answer, of course, is nothing.  Such an outrageous idea never even entered our minds, because the collective denial of the fans, city and indeed considerable swaths of Canada (the Jays are branded as “Canada’s Team,” after all) has so far proven too difficult to even admit, much less do something about.

And what about the fans yelling racial slurs at the Orioles on The Night of the Thrown Beer?  There is at least one trustworthy source, CBC sports reporter Scott Regehr, who says fans were yelling as follows at Wayne Kirby, the Orioles’ first base coach:

“Go get some more fried chicken!”

Regehr reports:  “Ushers witnessed this.  Security witnessed this.  They didn’t do anything, and let them stay in their seats.”

A separate account, by Orioles fan Avi Miller, is that the player targeted by the beer can, Hyun Soo Kim, was also targeted with this:

“Go back to your country Kim!”

Speaking of chicken, the Blue Jays themselves have not even bothered to make an official statement on the issue of the slurs.  Perhaps they and we do not consider the matter to be sufficiently important?  Maybe we think the offenders are a fair reflection of Jays fans, of Torontonians, of Canadians as a whole?

A good long look in the mirror, by anyone in any of these cohorts, would be a fine start toward answering these questions.

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Sonnet Stands Apart

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

The essence of branding is being different.  At first glance, this objective might make branding, as a discipline, seem like a cakewalk – because pretty much every company out there thinks and says they are different from everyone else. 

The truth is that exceedingly few organizations actually do come across as different.  They say essentially the same things and look basically the same way and even have names that sound similar.

But every once in a while, a brand comes along that really, truly stands out.  Right now, that brand is Sonnet.

Sonnet is a new insurance brand, now selling home and auto insurance to Canadian consumers – online.  So that’s the first thing that makes Sonnet very different indeed, considering the pervasive model is still to sell such insurance through salespeople.

Bravo to Sonnet’s parent company, Economical, for having the insight and courage to recognize and act upon the need for a very different offer to have a very different name – if one intends that offer to actually come across as different.  Have a gander at this list of the top 10 Canadian insurance companies in Sonnet’s niche (otherwise known as “property and casualty”):

  1. Intact Financial
  2. Aviva Canada
  3. TD Insurance
  4. Wawanesa Mutual
  5. The Co-operators
  6. Desjardins General
  7. State Farm Fire and Casualty
  8. RSA Canada
  9. AXA Canada
  10. Economical Insurance Group


…As we can see, Sonnet stands out bigtime in the way it looks, sounds, and above all, feels, which is soft, friendly and approachable.  And even poetic, sonnet of course describing a type of poem.

And easy, given Sonnet’s relationship with poetry, and the words poetry and poetic often used to mean wonderfully simple or beautiful to behold.

These meanings are markedly different from those communicated by the much more traditional names of Sonnet’s competition – the majority of which, now that I am arriving at the end of this sentence, I realize do not communicate much at all.  With the exception of Aviva, they communicate solemn promises such as trustworthiness, conservatism, and in the case of brands such as RSA and AXA, zilch.

Sonnet has thus turned this industry’s naming conventions on their head, commensurate with another, highly impressive dimension of how this brand communicates:  by talking about optimism.

Insurance is an industry that focuses on bad things happening.  But Sonnet has flipped the bird to that idea with this key message:

What’s the best that can happen?

sonnet michael j fox

The industry’s overriding message is that bad things are going to happen in life, and it would be a good idea to prepare for them.  The Sonnet message is, in contrast, glass half-full:  great things are going to happen in life, and it would be a great idea to protect them.

Which message sounds more appealing to you?  Decide for yourself by checking out Sonnet’s beautifully executed ads here on YouTube.  You will recognize the narrator, in a spot-on casting choice, as Michael J. Fox – someone we can safely say embodies the optimistic ideal.

And while people most certainly love Michael, the iconic Canadian has a job that will be the antithesis of easy.  Because Canadians really, truly dislike the insurance industry.  So it is that Sonnet has boldly taken on the great challenge expressed in this passage, the last lines of their inaugural ad:

It made us believe there can be an insurance company Canadians actually like.  Optimistic?  Yes.”

Posted in best brand names, brand copywriting, brand differentiation, brand foundation, brand messaging, brand names, brand positioning, brand promise, key messaging, positioning, taglines | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Branding It To The Edge

It was my pleasure to speak yesterday at the annual Communications Retreat of Employment and Social Development Canada, a 25,000-person strong department of the Government of Canada.  The theme of the two-day retreat was “Taking It To The Edge”, hence the title, above, of my presentation.

In a nutshell, I told them that if they want to be cutting edge in their communications, they should simply abide by the Three Rules and Tools of Branding – because very, very few organizations have the discipline to do so.

Some photos:

Andris Pone, President of Coin Branding, Keynote speaker at Employment and Social Development Canada Conference

Andris Pone President Coin Branding


Andris Pone, President of Coin Branding, Keynote speaker at Employment and Social Development Canada Conference

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Ryan Lochte and The One Stupid Thing You Won’t Do

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Last night was the first this summer that I couldn’t sit in shorts on my balcony.  Because it was too cold.

In the heat of July and August, it is possible to fantasize it is impossible the cold will return.  Even during yesterday’s daytime, there was no hint of a chill in the air.

But in the end it was here today, gone tonight.  Makes me think of Ryan Lochte’s brand – which I avoided commenting on when his story broke, much to the surprise of some readers.  I didn’t think I could possibly add anything of value to a story that had no nuances or conflicting points of view.  Lochte did something unequivocally stupid, and his brand value sank like a stone.  The end.

But the suddenness of the night chill manifested the following angle. 

There are certain things, over which you have no control, which may cause the value of your brand to diminish.  Like the weather or the economy or Donald Trump getting elected, you can wear a sweater or hoard cash or build a bomb shelter, but you ultimately cannot control them.

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Then, in contrast, are the things most definitely inside your ability to control.  Chief among these things are stupid things.  It’s like the so-called Obama Doctrine: “Don’t do stupid sh*t.”

It should be noted that even this seemingly obvious statement could be controversial.  Obama, angered by Hillary Clinton’s argument that “’Don’t do stupid sh*t’ is not an organizing principle,” was said to wonder “Who exactly is in the stupid sh*t caucus?  Who is pro-stupid sh*t?”

Ryan Lochte, apparently.

Fortunately, we don’t have to join him in the pool.  We simply have to contemplate our own weaknesses and draft a list of stupid things – things that would seriously damage our brands – we won’t do.

For simplicity, and because pride and time pressure compels me not to share my complete list of foibles with you, let’s just think of one.  Mine:  Be anything less than fully prepared for a meeting.  Have any of my potential and actual clients ever realized I was in this state?  Probably.  But I may never know, and neither may you.

What’s yours?

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On The National Tonight

I had an enjoyable interview at CBC studios today with Deana Sumanac on the resignation of Q host Shad and his replacement by CBC Radio Two host Tom Power.

Click here to watch the video.

andris pone on the national re shad, q and ghomeshi

What does this say about the strength – or lack thereof – of the Q brand?  Were Ghomeshi’s shoes simply too big to fill?

Watch Deana’s report on The National tonight at:
-10 on the CBC main network
-9 on CBC News Network
-9 on



Andris with Deana Sumanac CBC

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I Give Trump the Gold Medal

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

What’s the biggest brand in the world?  It’s not Apple.  Or Google.  Or Microsoft or Coca-Cola or Facebook or McDonald’s.

Not for me, anyway. 

The above are the brands defined by Forbes as the top five Most Valuable in 2016, calculated through a formula involving EBIT and price-to-earnings multiples.

I think it’s a lot more interesting to work from the definition of brand, being what people think of you.  It’s a definition that begs the question:  which brands stoke within you the most powerful thoughts and feelings, good and bad?  Which are the richest with meaning?

Microsoft?  Give me a break. 

Sure, they have among the highest awareness in the world.  And true, there are many millions of people who love to hate them.  But this is not a brand abundant with meaning.  Ditto for IBM, GE, AT&T, Cisco or Oracle – some of the other brands in Forbes’ tech-heavy top 20.

So let’s broaden our focus in two ways.  First, by assessing brands on what you think/feel about them: what they mean to you.  And second, by throwing off Forbes’ limited interpretation of what qualifies as a brand in the first place.

It is not only companies and products that can be brands.  A brand is anyone or anything that anyone has ever thought about.  These things and people can, depending on your point of view, be good or bad or even evil things.  Most prominently, this list includes any human being, your pet, political parties and organizations, countries and regions, educational and religious institutions, terrorist groups, musicians and entertainers and that coffee shop or dry cleaner you love or hate down the street.

Based upon these criteria, and given that the Olympics are on, which brands in your world get the gold, silver and bronze – and why?

In reverse order, my personal podium looks like this:

Bronze: ISIS.  Does this mean I like these clowns?  Negative.  But they provoke profound fear and loathing and constant headlines around the world.  Related, note that I used the ISIS acronym as opposed to the other names this organization is known by, such as Daesh or IS or Islamic State.  Proving that some names have more power than others, ISIS as a moniker has the highest ranking in the public consciousness because it is the easiest to say.

Silver:  Harvard.  Harvard has always been fascinating to me because I can imagine no single word in any language that commands such deep respect – instantaneously ­– year after year, decade after decade.  All you have to do is say “so and so went to Harvard” and the conversation is over – except for the one other word very likely to be uttered in response:  “wow.”­

And obviously you can tell I didn’t go to Yale.

donald trump

Gold:  Donald Trump.  Does this mean I like this clown?  Personally, no.  But there is presently no match for the level of apoplexy he provokes.

One of the beauties of this exercise is that you cannot possibly be wrong.  Because there is no “wrong.”  Your thoughts are yours, so whatever you think is 100% correct.  Even better, you can change your mind:  because of the fleeting nature of what occupies our thoughts, the way your list looks next month or next year could be very different than today.

So:  what does your podium look like?

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Will Ferrell’s Joke About Life (Insurance)

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Summer is the time of fun and laughter, and in that vein I found myself this week watching a 2011 YouTube video of Will Ferrell’s acceptance speech for the most esteemed honour in American humour, the Mark Twain Prize.

Insofar as an award for comedy can be a serious matter, to be bestowed the Twain Prize is as heavyweight as it gets: past winners include Carol Burnett, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, George Carlin and Tina Fey.

Ferrell’s speech was of course a comedy routine, delivered to the most discriminating audience conceivable: 2,000 of his comedic peers at the Kennedy Center in New York.

To gales of shocked laughter, Ferrell began by fumbling the physical manifestation of the award, a Twain bust, smashing it to smithereens on the stage.

But what really caught my attention was what happened at 4:50.

That was the moment at which Ferrell confided what he had truly wanted to do with his life.

“You have to understand that as a kid growing up in Irvine, California, where I would sit in my room and listen to records of Steve Martin, and the original Saturday Night Live cast, or stay up late and watch Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show to see what comedians he would have on, I had one dream. One singular focus, even at the earliest age. I can remember wanting to do one thing, and one thing only. Sell insurance.”

Will Ferrell acceptance speech Mark Twain Prize

Imagine: one of the most brilliant comedic minds of his generation, when preparing his speech for the highest honour he may ever receive, pondered which career was diametrically opposed to fun, to happiness, to fulfillment and to a meaningful contribution to society. And he came up with insurance sales.

The audience in attendance found it very funny, but to me it is ultimately sad. Because I have helped many elite advisors in the life insurance business uncover why they do what they do. And what unique value they want to, and do, offer the world.

And without exception, their motivations are pure and their positive impact is real. In essence, they want to live a good life, one that is dependent upon helping others and their loved ones do the same.

Why, then, did Ferrell’s joke elicit such a belly laugh? Because, as with all great humour, there was an element of truth to it. Because a brand is what people think of you, and the life insurance industry has a very serious brand problem: there is a pervasive belief that someone selling life insurance is unprofessional, self-serving and pushy, that the insurance companies don’t pay out, and that the product itself is unnecessary.

Oh yeah, and it forces people to think about their own death.

Because of these perceptions – which again have kernels of truth but are not the main story – the public’s rate of life insurance literacy is low. As is adoption: only 70% of Canadians and 62% of Americans have life insurance.

Care to guess what percentage of these people is going to die?

The life insurance industry is in profound need of a rebrand. This categorically does not mean running some persuasive TV ads and leaving it at that. A brand, along with being defined as what people think of you, is culture. Thus the only way to change the outward perception of the industry is to first change that culture.

That can only begin with a brutally honest assessment and acknowledgement of the aforementioned kernels of truth, followed by programs and expectations that bring all advisors, not just the elite, up to the highest standards of professionalism. Then these advisors, led by the firms they work for, must do the painstaking work of changing clients’ perceptions, one at a time.

It’s going to be a long haul.  But it’s the only way the industry can get past being a punch line.

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You Deserve Better

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

In the season of the summer read, perhaps the most important story you could consider is your own.  What is it, exactly?  And how well or poorly are you telling it?

If we are honest with ourselves, there is almost always a gap between what we want our brand story to be, and the way it’s actually being communicated.  The antidote to this brand gap, as straightforward as it is difficult, is superior talent and execution.

Just ask Ontario.  If you’ve seen the new video ads run by the province’s tourism commission, I don’t need to tell you how stunningly remarkable they are.

How so?


The product hasn’t changed:  Ontario is still Ontario.   But wait:  these ads actually have the audacity to not show the CN Tower.  To not show Parliament.  To not show Niagara Falls or the Blue Jays.  These ads show none of that – at least not in a way that is instantly identifiable.   And so the campaign’s tagline:  Where am I?

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These ads, executed with a goosebumpingly-high level of expertise, make Ontario look like a place you’ve never been before.  Ontario’s slogan, Yours to Discover, has adorned its license plates since 1982.  But this is the first time in those 34 years that the province’s promotions have really knocked that core promise out of the park.

This is the first time the brand story has been masterfully well told.

Don’t wait that long.

Posted in brand advertising, brand positioning, brand promise, brand stories, country branding, key messaging, positioning, remark-able, taglines | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Brand Suicide of Black Lives Matter

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

The Canadian arm of Black Lives Matter has just declared Toronto mayor John Tory a non-person.  It is an absurdly ironic move for an organization that, in its American iteration at least, is doing the painstaking work of waking the white community up – from a slumber several hundred years long – to the fact that the lives of US blacks are indeed worth less than their Caucasian counterparts.

Tory’s crime was to write a letter supporting future participation by the Toronto Police in the Pride parade, against the backdrop of BLM’s demand that police floats be banned.  In response, BLM told Tory to “stay in his lane” and that “we are not interested in his sound bites…we are not interested in his vapid interests in the community.”

And also:  “We want to make it very clear to Mayor Tory … that this is an issue between the LGBT community, the black community, Pride and the community at large.”

There is an obvious logical contradiction in a statement that the mayor of Toronto is the only person in Toronto without a right to speak on an issue that affects Toronto.  But that wasn’t the meaning intended by BLM anyway.  The intended meaning was that any prominent person who disagrees with BLM is a non-person.  One who should shut his or her mouth.  And that should concern us all.

A brand is what people think of you, and last week the Canadian arm of BLM proved itself highly effective at creating brand awareness, despite what one may think of its tactics.  This week, however, they have quite likely committed brand suicide by ridiculously denigrating the integrity of the first non-black recipient of a Harry Jerome award, the premier recognition bestowed by the African-Canadian community.

John Tory also happens to be universally recognized as one of the most decent, thoughtful, honest and caring civic leaders anywhere.  That’s his brand, and it’s solid as rock.  And it is transcendent:  it matters not whether a given Torontonian voted for him, because people everywhere in this city will speak out to defend not just his right but his obligation to speak on behalf of everyone who lives here.

How can the Canadian division of Black Lives Matter save itself?  By cashing in its brand awareness.  It has obviously got our attention.  Just as obviously, it cannot continue to alienate the key players from whom it seeks action and change.  Cashing in its awareness means compromising on its positions, as in withdrawing its demand for no future police floats – something that costs BLM nothing because there is absolutely no way that Pride and the city are going to abide by that demand anyway.  And it means a real apology to John Tory, not one of those weasel-worded “if you were offended” numbers.

Why should we care if BLM saves itself?  Because, especially set against the horrifying events in the United States, we should be very carefully examining the scope of racism, in our police forces and in the broader public, here.  BLM may have valid points to make.  If only it could let us see them, by getting out of its own way.

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Brexit Bloody Well On-Brand

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

What the Brits have done is simply live up to their brand:  scrappy and strong, fiercely independent, confident beyond compare and utterly unique.

And let’s face it:  they didn’t leave Europe, they never joined it.  Their national mindset has always been one of apartness and singularity, their separation from the continent just as much a state of mind as the very real and cold physicality of the English Channel.

It is not trite but true:  they are an island unto themselves.  Perhaps they are naifs in our fundamentally evermore connected world – as rollercoastering financial markets, all around the globe, proved overnight and continue to demonstrate today.

But perhaps not.

Either way – because they’re perhaps the clearest, most consistent country brand in the world – we bloody well should have known.

Posted in brand authenticity, brand character, brand differentiation, country branding, positioning | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments