Monthly Archives: December 2010

John Tantillo’s Top Brand Winners and Losers of 2010

John Tantillo’s

Top Brand Winners and Losers of 2010

This year, the winners and losers all come down to two things: the importance of Target Market and the importance of brand.

Bottom line, no company and no individual will ever be all things to all people.  What matters is that the company or individual is the right things to the right people. 


Tiger Woods – Late last year everyone seemed to be predicting the demise of this legendary golfer.  I didn’t.  Not because I have psychic powers but because looking through the marketing lens it was obvious that two things will probably keep Tiger Woods from oblivion.  One, as an athlete he is a performance brand.  This means that as long as he continues to perform on the golf course, he will receive media attention.  Two, his Target Market (i.e., golfing fans), admire him as a golfer first and foremost not as a role model.  It is these people who will support his brand over the long haul.  Tiger may not have blitzed the links in 2010 but he held the line in an incredibly difficult game.  With at least 10 to 15 more professional playing years left in him and that amazing athleticism, concentration and patience behind him, he may well be on the way to a full brand comeback   

Apple – 2010 saw Apple become the most valued technology company on the planet.  The company did this by consistently delivering products consumers want.  There have been a few mis-steps: the reluctance to support Flash video on the IPad and the clumsy initial response to the antenna problems.  But Apple, unlike Microsoft, seems to understand that constantly adapting to satisfy consumer needs is what great marketing is all about.  Build-it-and-they-will come never works, listen-to-what-they-want and then build that, always does.

Julian Assange – Hero or terrorist?  Courageous journalist or reckless traitor?  Assange seems to be radically different things to different people.  At the end of 2009, Assange was a name that few people knew, but by the end of 2010 it is as close to a household name as you can get these days in our splintered-media world.  With his super villain shock of white hair and euro-Australian accent, Assange has made himself much more than the frontman forWikiLeaks.  He represents something that many people find admirable or at the very least interesting and he has consistently represented WikiLeaks’ mission and philosophy.  Bottom line, in a cynical world with little belief in media truth-telling and widespread suspicion of “spin”, Assange has become the go-to brand for unadulterated news.  In no way am I condoning what I think is actually very destructive behavior on Assange’s part, but from a brand perspective, what he has managed to do by becoming such a central figure in news and politics is simply extraordinary.  

General Motors – With a third quarter net profit of $2 billion and a massive 54 percent rise in year to date sales, GM is on the road to restoring its position as the world’s leading automaker.  Two years ago, with bankruptcy and a government bailout looming this hardly seemed possible.  How did they do it?  The company re-dedicated itself to its brands.  People don’t buy a GM vehicle, they buy a Chevy, a Buick, a Cadillac.  By remembering this and focusing its marketing to convey the strength of its brands, GM was bound to make this comeback.

Sarah Palin – Folks, she may not be your cup of tea but that’s only because you’re not in her Target Market.  2010 has been the former governor of Alaska’s year.  She has established herself as a national brand and weathered criticism that would have sunk most others.  Her reality program on TLC earned the highest-ever ratings for that network and her daughter went far on Dancing With The Stars because of a grass-roots call-in campaign that reflects just how many people like this woman.  Does this mean she’s a shoe-in for President in 2012?  No.  But what it does mean is that, you can’t count her out just because she’s not someone who pleases Eastern political pundits.  Her Target Market forgives the gaffes, the lack of knowledge, leaving the governor’s office early.  Fact is, they like her… a lot.  And in politics, this counts more than pundits want to acknowledge.  Is she our Andrew Jackson?  Stay tuned.


The Democrats – The Democrats have managed to forget that they are here to do what the people want.  Once again, they’ve made the classic mistake of thinking that they got the messaging wrong not the policies.  Bottom line, until the Democrats understand that the majority of Americans do not believe that government is the permanent answer to their problems, the Democrat brand is going to weaken.  Keep an out for Evan Bayh and other Democrats who understand that the party’s future is about listening to the people. 

BP – After the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the gulf, and the company’s ham-handed response, BP has a lot of brand damage to undo.  Fact is, I’m not sure this is even possible.  Years of advertising and millions of dollars of PR were squandered when their platform burned and created a worldwide story that lasted for months and made the oil company look reckless and arrogant.  A name change and a top to bottom brandover is probably needed here.

Warren Buffett – Warren Buffett was the Daddy Warbucks of 2008 and 2009.  A benevolent, capitalistic champion, he helped come to the rescue of the global economy and offered humble and sage advice from Omaha.  His brand was built over years by never seeking the spotlight and operating consistently with sound investing principles.  But 2010 has not been good for Mr. Buffett.  Buffett’s brand strength is his perceived sincerity.  This took a big hit a few months ago when he wrote an op-ed in The New York Times that overlooked just how much he personally benefited from the government handouts to Wall Street that the American people are now really beginning to question.  The problem here is that Buffett is vulnerable.  Once people start doubting his sincerity and start seeing him as an operator out for his own gain, his brand might quickly fall into disrepute.  My advice?  Switch into silent mode in 2011.     

Mark Zuckerberg – He’s one of the youngest, self-made billionaires in the world and his service is used by hundreds of millions –I love Facebook, but the Mark Zuckerberg brand needs help.  The box-office winning The Social Network skewered him and his attempts to cast himself in a good light –i.e., especially promising to give the Newark school system a billion dollars on Oprah— looked phony and cynical.   And what could have been a great brand redeemer, the Leslie Stahl 60 Minutes interview, fell flat. Moreover, the success of Julian Assange and his release of all those sensitive government documents means Zuckerberg’s almost religious push against personal privacy might further tarnish this brand in 2011 if people begin to rebel against the idea that all information should be shared.    

LeBron James – A lot of people are going to say I’m crazy for saying that a man who may very well be the best basketball player of all time was a brand loser in 2010… but here’s why.  Like Tiger Woods, James is a performance brand.  As long as he performs well on the court, his brand will stay strong.  However, there’s a caveat.  Let’s call it the Barry Bonds factor.  Tiger Woods was never directly bad to his fans.  Bonds, however, was seen as aloof.  The fiasco over whether James was going to stay in Cleveland made James look like he didn’t care about his fans.  James’ 2011 New Year’s Resolution should be simple: remember that without the fans, he wouldn’t have a job no matter how good he is.

And remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.  


Never, ever, forget your Target Market.

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Mark Twain and Fat Santa

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  Mark Twain

Loser:  Fat Santa                               




Folks, I’ve been reading a terrific book: Mark Twain’s just released auto-



The book is a great read and it’s a national bestseller.  Not bad for an author dead over one hundred years.


But Mark Twain isn’t just any author.  He is a literary powerhouse and iconic American brand who carefully cultivated this brand over his lifetime.


The success of the book is a testament to the success of this effort.


Twain was a man who always remained aware of how he affected his audience.  Reviewing the book, Garrison Keillor recounted how Twain used to dress in his classic white suit to parade up Fifth Avenue as churches were letting out and delight in being recognized by his many fans.


Even the decision to release his autobiography decades after his death is a brand statement.  First, he protected the many people who he writes about (thus being true to his brand as an incisive but basically amiable man) and, second, he created an outstanding marketing event –talk about suspense!


Hats off to this American institution!  As the man himself joked of his mistakenly printed obituary, reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated.   





Folks, here’s a sobering “statistic”: If Santa eats just one cookie for every child in the U.S.A., he’ll gain 3.7 million pounds in one night!  And he’s fat enough already.

Why does Santa’s weight problem matter? 


Because approximately 16 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are now considered obese in the United States.  First Lady Michelle Obama is campaigning to end childhood obesity.  Our military is worried about finding recruits fit enough to fight.  And recent studies show that a high percentage of obese children have the same thickened arteries as a 45-year-old.


In light of the above and as one of children’s most prominent role models, Santa has got to think about the message he is sending by constantly giving in to the whims of his stomach and Mrs. Claus’ perilous overfeeding.

I’m not calling for Santa to develop an eating disorder or to start working on a six-pack, but, yes, Virginia, Santa needs tough love and he needs it now.  Unlike the Wall Street Journal’s recent humor piece on upgrading Santa, my plea to shrink the jolly gift giver’s waistline is serious. 


Some of you are probably protesting: “but Santa has to be fat…”


Wrong.  While Santa can be plump and huggable, he shouldn’t be a walking heart attack. 


Besides, being fat isn’t an essential Santa characteristic.  Being caring and generous are.  But what’s caring or generous about leading kids down the fast track to diabetes?  You can do better, Santa. 

Besides, Santa is not Santa because he is fat.  His fatness is an exterior quality that comes from its old-time association with generosity and abundance.  That’s right: a hundred years or more ago people could be “fat and happy,” because being thin was associated with negative realities: poverty, starvation and illness.

But today when food is cheap and abundant, fat simply doesn’t have these connotations.  We know that obesity leads to negative medical consequences.

Moreover, Santa’s exterior is the result of artistic and advertising decisions made long ago. 

The rotund image of Santa Claus that we know today had its beginning in the 19th century when the famous cartoonist, Thomas Nast, modeled his Santa on the robber barons of his time.  Wealthy men in those days were overweight because they could afford to eat as much as they wanted. 


Nast sought to change St. Nicholas and created the image of an obese gift giver who would bestow gifts on children in need.  Later, in an effort to increase winter drinking of its product, Coca Cola managed to standardize Santa’s red and white outfit to match its own brand’s colors while keeping him fat.

Advocating a thinner Santa is not about being a scrooge.  Santa remains an iconic figure to our children and needs to step up to the healthy plate for their benefit.  If parents have to egg him on this year to lose a few pounds, so be it.  Christmas future will be happier and healthier for everyone.

And remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.



Your brand is always more than just a name.

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Netflix and NY Jets

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  Netflix

Loser:  The New York Jets                                                     




The big media conglomerates haven’t been too happy with the rise of Netflix for a long time and now they’re letting everyone know.


The CEO of Time Warner, Jeffrey L. Bewkes, called Netflix a small time operation with bad economics and scoffed at the idea that the company was poised to take over the online video world.


But with a stock price that has gone up 400% in recent months and a rapidly growing share of the media pie, you’ve got to wonder… especially when the big boys are worried.


Fact is, Netflix is a company that knew its brand long before there was even a market for it.  After all, the company is now an internet-streaming, content delivering company –that’s the bulk of its business— but this wasn’t the case when it started.  When it started, the bulk of its business was through the mail. 


Sure the company always used the Internet as its storefront and order completion but it’s only now that the name “Netflix” really reflects what it does.  This isn’t an accident.  From the very start, Netflix has been powering ahead with a single vision: to deliver movies and TV shows to its customers online for a very competitive price.


It may be true that Netflix’s deal with Starz allowed it to get a mother lode of prime video content for very little money ($25 million) and that when this contract is up next year, the company might struggle, but my sense is that the most important fact is brand consistency. 


Netflix has carefully built a brand that has become the go-to place for consumers looking to dump the cable companies and watch their movies and TV shows online. 


Netflix and its CEO perceived the way the media world was going: content was going to get cheaper because the ability to deliver content to the consumer was going to get cheaper.  Netflix had the wisdom to establish its brand as the gateway to this new world and the patience to wait for this new world to arrive (as long as ten years ago they were experimenting with web-delivered video).   


Bottom line, it might be that Netflix won’t be the dominant player, but my guess is that they’re well on their way because while the cable and media companies have been niggling over price, Netflix has been consistently building a brand that consumers in the new marketplace are flocking to.


Stay tuned.




Brand integrity always shows: from upper management all the way down to the guy who sweeps the floors in an organization.


For the Jets this means that when a strength and conditioning coach blatantly trips an opposing player on the sidelines during a game, you’ve got a brand problem that goes way beyond public relations damage control.


Obviously from a brand crisis point of view, the New York Jets now need to immediately take action against this coach in a very public way to show that the organization will simply not tolerate this kind of unsportsmanlike behavior.


But the brand damage goes deeper, because my guess is that this coach’s behavior was only possible because of a general brand attitude.  We’ll have to wait for all the facts to come out, but my guess is that this brand attitude probably involves the whole organization.


The best thing the Jets can do now is to make the brand recovery process as open and as thorough as possible.  Don’t stop with this one coach, let the public know that the Jets as an organization won’t let this kind of thing happen again.


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



Brand integrity involves every level of an organization.

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Tiger Woods and NASA

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  Tiger Woods

Loser:  NASA                                                    




Tiger might not have won on Sunday at the Chevron World Challenge, but make no mistake the world’s greatest golfer is back.


He only lost by one stroke and the close competition was genuinely exciting. 


More than that, you need to remember what Woods has gone through in the past year.  Twelve months ago many people were predicting that he wouldn’t have even set foot on a golf course by this time.   Instead, he’s been battling to hold ground against the odds and has come very close to actually doing it.

Given the game of golf’s basic difficulty and profound challenge to any consistency of play, Tiger has shown that his ultimate comeback is secure. 


A few months ago, I argued that while I’m certainly not anti-marriage or anti-morals, the fact was that since Tiger was what we call a performance brand, his sexual exploits and divorce, were only distractions from his golfing destiny.  Performance brands stay in the spotlight by winning on the field of play.  As long as they keep winning, their brands basically stay strong.


Bottom line, as long as Tiger continues to improve and perform at or near the best on the golf course, he will only get stronger.  2011 should be all Tiger’s.


Stay tuned.




Folks, NASA just isn’t using its noggin.


The once great agency that inspired generations to dream has resorted to the worst kind of public relations tactics to generate interest in its programs and remind the American people of its relevance.


This past week, we were treated to an announcement announcing a big announcement coming two days later.  This big announcement was supposed to have to do with extra-terrestrial life.


The press speculated that perhaps NASA had found definitive proof of life off of Earth.

No such case.  Instead when the announcement came, we learned that it concerned the discovery that a micro-organism could survive when one of the five key essential ingredients of life as we have known them was replaced with arsenic.


What in the name of Neil Armstrong is going on here?


Sure, this is a very big deal for astro biologists, those scientists who specialize in life off earth, but it was classic public relations bait and switch.  The people who made the release knew –or should have known— that the people were waiting for big news –probably the discovery of off-world life. 


Frankly, as important as the actual news was, it couldn’t help but be disappointing.  And, as it turns out, the “discovery” doesn’t even prove that life could evolve this way –only that it could be altered to survive this way.


Bottom line, NASA seems to be playing the same kind of game that many museums and distinguished scientific and medical organizations have begun to play lately: in the effort to capture the public’s imagination, they have resorted to making claims and ginning up stories in very unscientific ways.


There’s a boy who cried wolf dynamic here.  If you keep shouting about big discoveries without actually making them, sooner or later people will stop paying attention when you shout. 


Not only that, but if you’re a scientific institution like NASA you’ll begin to lose credibility.  And in science, credibility is arguably the most important thing you’ve got, especially where the public purse strings are concerned.


Some may argue that PR is exactly what NASA did back in the Apollo golden age.  But that PR was different.  Why?  Because NASA was actually doing something monumental that deserved all the hype.  We wanted to hear every little detail about the astronauts because they really were leaping into the beyond, pushing mankind forward and taking incredible risks far from home.


My advice for NASA is stay true to your scientific mission and remember Apollo.  If you do this, you’ll never have to worry about finding an audience –they’ll find you.  A human mission to Mars –now we’ve got a press release!

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



Public Relations works best for Brands that actually have something to offer.