Monthly Archives: November 2010

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of the week: Barack Obama and WikiLeaks

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  Barack Obama

Loser:  WikiLeaks                              




Brand Obama has come back from the mid-term elections fighting. 


His announcement of a pay freeze on government workers, his decision to send an aircraft carrier into the Yellow Sea to confront the North Koreans and, yes, even some of the WikiLeaks revelations that show that some of his behind the scenes diplomacy was tougher and a lot less naïve than many thought have served to bolster his beleaguered brand.


Has our incredibly disappearing president made a comeback?  


No, Obama is not out of the woods yet.  And he might never be.  But in terms of taking the first steps, he’s definitely doing it and this could be a Bill Clinton moment.


The pay freeze is a major brand statement.  Why?  It shows that he can be tough on issues that count to his opposition even against the instincts of his political base.  After all, this pay freeze was basically John Boehner’s idea a few weeks ago.


The move sends a message to the Republicans that will be hard for them to counter.  John Boehner wisely supported the president’s announcement but there’s a built-in limit to how far the Republican opposition can go along with the White House –especially since the GOP brand is still seen as the party of “no” to Obama’s big government image. 


The announcement also shows that Obama can play hardball.  Christmas is coming so the toughness is even more underscored.  It also made him sound a little chastened (a little, not a lot, he’s still got some room to grow in the humility department).  Still, he actually said he had learned a lesson from the latest election.  His actions to freeze spending, praise small business and argue for the value of future American economic dominance in the world re-enforced this.


He also handled the fat lip from basketball pretty well –the fact that it didn’t spiral into a Jimmy Carter killer rabbit moment should tell Republicans something (this presidential brand isn’t at the terminal Carter point of weakness yet).  By the way, my opinion is that our president should probably stay off the basketball court (but if he doesn’t and he gets visibly injured again, he better pull a Ronald Reagan and stay away from the cameras).


Bottom line, we might be seeing the start of a turnaround here in Brand Obama.  Stay tuned.




WikiLeaks is our loser for the week and let’s be honest so are some of its journalistic allies in big media like The New York Times.


Previous leaks might have been justified, but dumping tens of thousands of diplomatic cables on the world just because you can isn’t journalism, it’s vandalism.


WikiLeaks has had many enthusiastic supporters –especially among the left-leaning intellectual global “elite”— but my guess is that the organization might have gone too far this time.


Fact is, there’s a reason why diplomacy and governments don’t make everything public.  It’s the same reason that ordinary human beings don’t…  A lot of the things we need to say to one another are simply not intended for a general audience.


The revelations of these cables are entertaining.  They might even be valuable.  But most adults will recognize what WikiLeaks recklessly and immaturely has not: there’s a good reason that some things need to be kept secret. 


In not recognizing what is obvious to adults, WikiLeaks has revealed both malice and naiveté that many in its Target Market (i.e., people who will actually plunk down donation dollars to support the operation) will find unappealing.  In the end, WikiLeaks might have been best dismissed by Hillary Clinton who said there was nothing “laudable” in the leak and reported that a diplomatic counterpart joked: “Well, don’t worry about it.  You should see what we say about you.”


My guess is that the WikiLeaks brand has just sprung a leak that it will find impossible to plug.


And, remember, things are always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.



Brands must strive to make clear and definite impressions.

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Harry Potter and the TSA

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  Harry Potter

Loser:  TSA                                                                           




With $330 million in global ticket sales for its opening weekend, the latest Harry Potter movie and the franchise is the clear brand winner.


Harry Potter is an example of what happens when you get a brand right from the beginning and then nurture that brand –always making certain you stay true and consistent to the brand and its Target Market.


A large part of the credit belongs to J.K. Rowling who held the movie makers’ feet to the fire.  Sure the movies aren’t 100% true to the books –no movie can be— but they’re more true than most movies are to their source material and, more important, decisions like keeping the characters British and trusting that the audience would support this proved critical. 


Technically, the movies are brand extensions of the books.  And what mattered was that the movie decisions basically supplemented the appeal of the books and didn’t alienate the readers.  Even in the case where readers might have been disappointed in the movies, the readers were never disappointed so much that they shunned the big screen.


Great brands are built one confident step at a time.


The lesson for all of us here beyond just the brand lesson is that even in our fractured multi-media age, great content can build the kind of loyalty that can create a shared experience across many diverse Target Markets and media platforms.  The key is the content.


Hats off to the boy wizard!




The TSA is the loser of this past week… 


because of their intrusive screening methods, but because they haven’t convinced the American people that TSA is the right brand for the job of keeping us safe.


Fact is, TSA was a brand created on the run.  Unlike products designed to fit a market need and generate consumer support, TSA was –like most wartime efforts— forced on the American public one painful bit at a time


The result was a brand that has always been seen as playing catchup with terrorist reality.  A shoe-bomber is discovered and suddenly people have to take off their shoes when they go through security.  A terrorist has a bomb in his underwear and now it’s full-body scans and pat downs.


With most brands there’s a product life-cycle.  It’s introduction, growth, maturity and then decline.  TSA was introduced badly, its growth has been seen as out-of-control and somewhat random, and, everyone basically knows, that it can’t decline (i.e., go out of business).  Basically, TSA or some version of it is here to stay.  Gone are the days when there is no security to go through to get on a plane.


Bottom line, TSA needs to take more control not less.  In other words, it needs to make clear what its brand is all about: stopping terrorists from either taking over planes or blowing them up.


TSA needs to aggressively market one message: “We’re Here To Keep You Safe.” 


This is not about politically-correct profiling.  TSA should profile passengers, but they should also treat everyone as if they are a potential threat… because terrorists have the potential to turn almost anyone into a threat.


In other words, critics of TSA make the argument that its ridiculous to treat granny like a terrorist but ignore the guy with the long beard and kufi.  But if the terrorists know that the only person TSA is looking for is the guy wearing the kufi, they’re going to find a granny (or impersonate one) to get their evil work done.

Let’s a take a page from the Israelis who have decades of experience thwarting terrorism.  They’re basically tough on everyone who flies or comes across their borders. 


What TSA is doing wrong is not getting the message of their mission out there.  The problem isn’t the full-body scans or the pat downs.  It’s that we, the American people, don’t have faith in their brand.


And, remember, things are always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.



Many brand crises that seem to come “out of the blue” don’t and, in fact, can (and must) be planned and prepared for.

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: GM and Carnival Cruise Line

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  General Motors


Loser:  Carnival Cruise Line             


Every so often you need to toot your own horn.  This week please forgive me for doing exactly that with respect to my prediction for General Motors.

Almost a year and a half ago now, I argued that the naysaying pundits were wrong about GM and that the grand old company would make a comeback because of its great brands –which it was clearly focusing on once again.

The post appeared headlined under “What Will They Say When GM Makes a Profit For Taxpayers?” (read it here). 

Well, not only is GM profitable –they’ve earned 4.77 billion in the past nine months— but they’re stock IPO has generated unprecedented demand.  In fact, just today, GM’s underwriters lifted the initial price per share into the $30 to $33 range.

There’s a good reason for all this excitement –GM’s future looks very, very bright indeed.

How did this happen? 

Sure bankruptcy and government aid helped a lot, but what really helped and will help even more is GM’s fundamental strength which is the strength of individual car brands. 

Remember, people buy brands not companies!

Consumers don’t by a GM car, they buy a Cadillac or a Buick or a Chevy.  And on the backs of these brands, GM has come roaring back as a company.

I’m not recommending stock here by the way, but if GM keeps focusing on its brands then the company should be with us for a very long time.


Sometimes brand crises come out of the blue and the brand isn’t really responsible for not seeing the problem coming. 

The Tylenol poisonings of the early 80s are a good example of this. 

In the case of a “bolt out of the blue” branding crisis, you can’t blame brand managers for the initial problem but you can hold them responsible for what happens next.  How do they respond?  How do they fix the damage?  In Tylenol’s case, the answer to both questions was “brilliantly”?  So brilliantly that Tylenol actually gained market share.

Now some may argue that Carnival Cruise Lines is in a similar situation with the heavily reported “cruise from hell” on board their ship Splendor.

Fact is, they’re not.


I’m not going to say that poor brand management is behind the fire that caused the ship to become literally powerless in the water (but, folks, if cost-cutting somehow contributed then this instantly does become a brand management issue under the Doctor’s marketing concerns everything about running a business rule).

But poor brand management is behind the inability for Carnival to respond more rapidly and independently than they did.

Where was the contingency planning?  Why did the ship, its passengers and crew need to be rescued by two Mexican tug boats and a United States aircraft carrier? 

Basically, brand damage has been done here because questions that the general cruise-taking public never had in their heads about safety and what happens if there is a fire are there now and won’t  be going away anytime soon. 

Bottom line, because Carnival didn’t have the kind of contingency plan to take immediate and independent action like, for example, a way of getting passengers off the ship or improving their lives on board, non-stop media reporting of a ship helpless at sea with a corporate management helpless to do anything about it are what people will remember –some of the reports and images even reminiscent of the ordeal in New Orleans.

Carnival Cruise is starting to do the right thing now by extending generous compensation to the rescued Splendor passengers, but my guess is that they ought to do more.

They need to address the contingency plan question  by explicitly putting into place and publicizing fall back measures to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.

The Carnival brand has always been about escape in a good way (and part of this means safety and security on the high seas)…  They’ve got their work cut out for them now.  Full speed ahead.

And, remember, things are always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.



Many brand crises that seem to come “out of the
blue” don’t and, in fact, can (and must) be planned and prepared for

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Keith Olbermann and MSNBC

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  Keith Olbermann

Loser:  MSNBC                                   




Let me put it this way:  I’m not exactly Keith Olbermann’s demographic.  That said, my business is evaluating the strength of brands and Olbermann is one strong brand.


You may not agree with him –and I don’t on most things— but he does what strong brands do (what Beck and Hannity do on the other side): he knows his Target Audience and he consistently delivers.


Fact is, it’s this consistent delivery of opinion, invective and, finally, dinero –putting his money where his mouth is— that got him into trouble last week for violating MSNBC’s policy on anchors not donating money to political parties. 


But what better way of saying brand commitment than by getting into trouble by doing what your Target Audience will invariably see as the right thing to do?


That’s why Olbermann wins this week.  When a brand –specifically a commentator brand like Olbermann— is seen to risk itself for its core values (read “core characteristics”, died-hard marketers) it wins.  Plain and simple. 


Hats off to Olbermann, also, for coming out of the bomb shelter today and thanking his fans and taking aim at MSNBC for an “inconsistently enforced” rule that caused this mess.  Staking out his ground like this can only help his brand by cementing his connection with his fans and diminishing his dependence on his network.




When a major media player doesn’t know its own brand… well, that’s sad.


But this is exactly what happened last week with MSNBC in the Obermann flap.


As I’ve said, with the exception of crisis situations that genuinely come out of left field, marketing should never be about what happens after things go wrong.  Why  Because marketing is about planning so things don’t go wrong.


In the case of MSNBC this meant making sure that they never ran into a problem where their internal rules regarding the ethics of their key broadcasters would cause external problems.

Fortunately, MSNBC has reversed its decision to suspend Olbermann, but, frankly, the brand damage has been done.  And they deserve all of it.


A few years ago, the network made the decision to move away from a stricter broadcast news format into the kind of opinion generating political commentary that really generates viewership numbers.  They also took sides by employing left-leaners like Olbermann and Maddow.

Nothing wrong with that from a brand perspective, but if you take that leap as a network, you had better acknowledge where the journalism ends and the commentary begins.  Fox does this.  No one would call Glenn Beck a journalist.  Similarly, no one should call Olbermann or Maddow journalists.   Or Colbert.  Or Stewart.


Fact is, I don’t think MSNBC really has its brand act together.  For example, there are reports that since MSNBC supposedly has “apolitical” in its DNA because it was a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC, a corporate memo has circulated internally advocating changing the website and name to get away from the left-leaning associations.


Bad idea.  It’s the left-leaning associations that have built the brand in recent years.   Moreover, you simply don’t walk away from a heavily-trafficked URL like that.  MSNBC might as well get out of the business altogether, if they aren’t prepared to embrace the brand that they have cultivated so far.


Stay tuned.


And, remember, things are always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.



Marketing needs to happen from the start so that a brand crisis never does.