Monthly Archives: January 2011

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: MTV and The Super Bowl

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  MTV

Loser:  The Super Bowl                     




I want to start by saying that from all that I hear, MTV’s new series Skins sounds like another deplorable step down for our culture and yet another blow against civility.


That said, MTV is simply doing what MTV does best –and their viewers want their MTV.


From the beginning, it was obvious that Skins, a dramatized take on teenage life that has been accused of possibly violating child pornography laws, was a show that would offend, alienate adults and make MTV look like a renegade. 


That might be death for other networks but what is MTV but a network that built its reputation on offending, alienating adults and looking like a renegade?   


Its Target Market, the same demographic depicted in the show, expect this behavior –in fact, to the extent that MTV doesn’t offend and look like a renegade, its brand loses credibility in its audience’s eyes.  Think  Elvis Presley shaking his hips a little too much on the Ed Sullivan show.  Think The Doors going even farther just a decade later.


MTV will lose sponsors you say?  Of course they will (Subway and Schick just dropped out).  But assuming this is contained and doesn’t lead to wholesale legal action and other problems, MTV will find other sponsors more in line with the Target Market for this show –and, don’t be surprised, to see the old sponsors come trotting back if the show succeeds and the outrage dies down.


Again, from what I’ve heard this show might indeed be a sad testament to how low we have sunk as a society, but in strict brand terms, MTV has done exactly what it needed to do. 


You simply don’t get a reputation for going too far unless, occasionally, you go too far.  The same rules that apply to an NBC just don’t apply to an MTV.


There’s another element at work here as well: adpublitizing.  Or shall we say, showpublitizing or networkpublitzing (now that’s a mouthful).  Today, in a fractured media landscape, one way to supplement advertising dollars and gain product/service visibility is by creating a controversy that the media will cover.  Usually, this controversy surrounds an advertisement that gets pulled by jittery networks. 


But in this case, MTV has used a show with many objectionable qualities to get an ongoing cycle of press at the series launch of the kind that promoters can usually only dream.  In the process, they’ve cemented their brand image with their audience.  This is basically a repeat of what they did and still do with Jersey Shore where both onscreen and off-screen scandals generate ongoing attention.


Folks, let the adult world (justifiably) lament this next chapter in the history of our teens, but no one can expect MTV to behave any differently. 


Fact is, if history is any guide, today’s scandalous series is tomorrow’s “groundbreaking,” “risk-taking” television.  Smothers Brothers?   



Folks, here we go again and this year I want to get in there a little early:

Super Bowl advertising is a waste of money!

Last week, Anheuser Busch decided to preview their Super Bowl ads (Fed Ex has already decided to continue their absence from the big event).  Both these facts are evidence that companies are finally beginning to understand that Super Bowl advertising is a monumental waste of money.

Super Bowl ad buys make little sense from a practical advertising point of view because they violate the” law of frequency.”  Countless studies have shown that for advertising to work it must be seen by a viewer at least five times with the optimal frequency being ten.  The Super Bowl’s prohibitive advertising spot costs make this frequency unlikely.

Why do otherwise savvy marketers, who for the other 364 days of the year believe in the “law of frequency,” suddenly abandon it?   There are numerous reasons: the glamour factor, the celebrity factor, the showcasing of the “creatives” at advertising agencies and the hope that a company might just hit some kind of elusive jackpot.  But the jackpot never happens. 

Moreover, the hope of many advertisers to create a memorable or witty spot that gets replayed in perpetuity on the Internet and thus earns back the huge Super Bowl advertising expense is misguided.   Check out the YouTube viewer numbers for some of the most famous and beloved ads and you will see that they are anemic seldom exceeding one million over four years.  Super Bowl ads with an interactive component and contests can offer limited help.   

The main hope for Super Bowl advertisers is the concept of adpublitizing.  As I discussed with MTV, adpublitizing is the creation of an advertisement for the specific purpose of creating controversy or buzz –both of which will ensure greater viewer frequency by the use of free media publicity (e.g., talk shows covering the controversy and inevitably naming the company and the product). 

Fact is, a company’s best bet is to make an ad controversial in a way that doesn’t hurt the company image but causes the ad to be banned.  Then the law of frequency kicks in on the publicity side and the internet re-airing side.  But this is an incredibly risky strategy that can easily see a company over-shooting the mark and ending up on the wrong side of publicity.

What about Anheuser Busch’s decision to preview its ads before the game?  I believe that the beer company is probably using an approach that intends to increase frequency by way of adpublitizing.  But the company is also showing that Super Bowl advertising isn’t really about the advertising, in Anheuser Busch’s case it might very well be about throwing a kind of appreciation “party” for their distributors who, after all, are the folks that close the sales week after week by getting the product to the shelves.

Over all, a Super Bowl ad buy is simply a waste of money.  Thus, it is no mistake that companies like Federal Express and General Motors have begun to actively find much more cost-effective alternatives to the big game.

Five Fast Facts Why Super Bowl Advertising is a Waste of Money:

1) The most famous ad in Super Bowl history —Apple’s “1984” ad directed by Ridley Scott of Gladiator fame— became an icon and introduced so-called “event marketing”… But for Apple, it spelled the beginning of the end in its personal computer war with IBM and Windows.  In fact, in the year following the big Super Bowl ad, Apple sold fewer computers than ever.

2) Not everybody watches the Super Bowl.  The same money spent on Super Bowl ads, used instead to reach those watching other television programs on at the same time, could land almost double the viewers in the 18-49 demographic. 

3)  Why does the hype continue?  Because Super Bowl advertising is great publicity for advertising agencies.  (Unfortunately, it’s a poor business decision for their clients).

4) A direct marketing campaign that invested $3 million in advertising and production costs (the rough price tag of a 30-second Super Bowl commercial) would generate a much higher multiple of sales.
5)  The cost for one Super Bowl ad in 2010 (somewhere between 2.4 and 2.7 million for a 30-second spot) could buy up to 600 30-second ads in the NY market or 800 30-second ads in LA.

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

Let’s salute Jack LaLanne who died this past week!  To learn a lot more about brand consistency read The New York Times obituary here.

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Playboy

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 

Winner:  Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse

Loser:  Playboy                                  


As I’ve said many times, a great brand distinguishes itself not by never getting into trouble at all but by responding to trouble with greatness –and that means swiftness, comprehensiveness and the customer-is-always-right high road.

This is exactly what Ruth’s Chris Steak House did last week.

The story is simple and upsetting.  A restaurant manager sent a racist insult about an African American customer to another employee via email.  This offensive email made its way to the customer by accident

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse’s response was excellent.
The company fired the manager, they reached out to the customer who had rescheduled her mother’s 60th birthday dinner at another restaurant after the incident and actively made amends by apparently offering a free meal to the party.

Bottom line, the company did not let the crisis fester and they showed by their definitive and positive response that they, the institution, had no part in the manager’s racism, but acknowledged unhesitatingly that the nasty incident had indeed happened.  No hedging.

Moreover, the company statement, also issued immediately, sounded sincere and believable: [we are] saddened to hear and so very sorry that anyone associated with Ruth’s Chris Steak House would think or make a statement so misaligned with our culture. On behalf of all our employees and franchises I am sorry that this ugly, inappropriate incident happened.

Hear that “so very sorry.”  That’s not public relations corporate speak.  That’s human speak from a corporation and doesn’t it sound great?

My prediction?  Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is already on the mend and, even more important, they’ve probably restored the faith of that one, justifiably injured, customer.  After all, great brands are built one customer at a time.


Playboy, that once great brand, is the loser of the week.


The brand has been declining for years but this formerly seemingly sophisticated “gentleman’s” magazine has most recently suffered from a bout of Hefneritis.

That’s right, Playboy’s aging founder, Hugh Hefner, once an asset to the brand, has become a liability.

First, his recent marriage to a woman 60 years his junior doesn’t play as sophisticated, it plays as grotesque.  More than this, the marriage (or travesty) plays to the wrong Target Market. 

Are any men really going to be impressed by this?  Will this attract new readers or users of the brand’s goods and services.  Will even one more customer fly to its resort in Macau?

I don’t think so. 

Moreover, Hefner’s successful move to buy the remaining 30% of shares in the company that he already didn’t own have made his identification with the Playboy brand complete.  But even his purchase of the shares did damage to the brand by valuing the company –once estimated to be worth one billion dollars— at a mere quarter of that price.

In other words, hope of turning the brand into something that would appeal to today’s young and middle-aged men has gone out the door.  Like so many corporate branding mistakes, it’s the ego of the owner that gets in the way of clear-sighted marketing decisions.

Maybe with the now ready availability of porn, Playboy was already finished (its third quarter loss was even bigger than last year’s).  But the brand had re-invented itself in the past in the face of great competition (Hef’s daughter, I believe, had a lot to do with that success).

Bottom line, I’m afraid the Playboy brand has been permanently marred by too many reality television features, too much bad press and, finally, Hefner himself who has refused to get out of the brand’s way.  A young Hefner, a branding master, would have made sure that everything that an old Hefner did supported the company’s brand –but, folks, young Hefner is simply no longer with us.

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



Great brands respond to customer need and Target Market perceptions (and mis-perceptions) immediately.

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Barack Obama and Starbucks

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:  Starbucks                              





Don’t listen to the pundits: Barack Obama is finally appealing to his base.  No, I’m not speaking about his imagined base of died-in-the-wool Democrats and far left ideologues. 


I’m talking about his real base: the majority of Americans who elected him to serve not as a left-leaning president but as a centrist.


That’s right.  From the very beginning of his presidential ascent, his brand was about appealing to a very broad coalition of Americans.  His first two years ran counter to his brand and the people reacted poorly.


Bottom line, the Americans who elected him are business-friendly and against government-financed solutions to their problems on any permanent basis.  They’ll accept situational help when times are tough (i.e., extension of unemployment benefits) but reject permanent entitlement growth (i.e., universal health care).


But with his shakeup of his administration’s inner sanctum, Obama is revealing a return to his brand’s essentials.

The most striking evidence was last week’s appointment of corporate titan and political insider, William Daley, to the role of Chief of Staff.  This sends a very powerful signal that Obama is recalibrating things so that he is in tune with what the electorate voted for in the first place.


Fact is, President Obama is making these changes from relative strength. Sure he took a beating in November but his job approval rating still briefly hit 50 percent last week.  Moreover, history has shown that presidents can suffer mid-term election setbacks (Reagan and Clinton both did) and then come roaring back…  If they listen to what the voters are saying.


It looks like Brand Obama is doing just that.  Stay tuned.



What could Starbucks possibly be thinking?

The international coffee powerhouse has just served up a worse-than- decaffeinated branding strategy by choosing to eliminate its entire name from its logo. 

The original logo had the word Starbucks on top of a green mermaid image and the word Coffee below.  Both words were in large letters, all capitalized.  Now those words are gone and only a slightly souped-up version of the green mermaid remains.  If they wanted to emphasize a new side to their company, Starbucks could have just gotten rid of the word Coffee.  But get rid of both?

This is one of the stupidest moves I’ve ever seen from an established company.

Remember when Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol (that some later referred to as “Love Symbol #2”)?  That didn’t last long.  I guess we can call Starbucks’ move its Prince-identity crisis.

My guess is that the inmates have taken over the asylum and decided that the company is simply so well known that a graphic treatment can tell the whole story.  And, also, that eliminating the words will permit expansion into new business areas. 

This brand confusion seems to originate at the top, where Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ long-time CEO, seems on the one hand to be talking about a new future for the company as it approaches its 40th anniversary, but simultaneously insists that the company’s aim remains the same: to be the number one purveyor of high-quality coffee in the world.

This much I can guarantee.  The wordless logo won’t provide Starbucks or anyone else with any clarity, it will reduce recognition and the all important repetition of its name in the marketplace and the minds of consumers –it’s a fundamental branding mistake. 

Current and future customers have been totally forgotten in this self-absorbed decision.  If the deluge of angry comments about the logo change is any indication, current customers worry that the company they have come to love has abandoned its roots.  Future customers risk simply being confused about what it is the company does.

Why?  Because it is incredibly hard to build brand name recognition in our competitive world and it is the height of arrogance to ignore the importance of your brand’s name and how your customers perceive you.  After all, we think and say Starbucks… we don’t think green blotch with mermaid symbol.  In the marketplace, it’s the Starbucks’ name that matters. 

Logos have to use our common language.  You can’t foist some private code onto people just because you think it’s cool, clever or memorable.  Logos must re-enforce and support how the customer relates to your brand.  Logos are there to remind present and future customers of the brand and the products associated with that brand.  Simple, straightforward and repeatable is the name of the game.  Moreover, in an important way, logos aren’t really even the company’s property alone –they belong to the customer. 

Federal Express wisely adopted how people referred to them when they shortened their name to FedEx.  Everybody was already saying it anyway.  Kentucky Fried Chicken did the same by abbreviating to KFC.  People encounter a brand name and a logo and they it make their own. 

Good branding is alive to actual needs and customer behavior not the product of pie-in-the-sky concepts that might sound great around the corporate conference table or at high-end spitball sessions. 

No one referred to Prince as Love Symbol #2 or the artist formerly known as.  And no one refers to Starbucks with something other than the name Starbucks. 

Coca Cola, which took a wrong marketing turn with New Coke but recovered, has never pulled something as dumb as this –and if anyone could get away with no name, Coke could –after all, its classic red and white colors even shaped our modern image of Santa Claus.

Procter & Gamble was originally a candle maker but that didn’t stop them from branching out into a multitude of products including soap and food without changing their name.  Their key was brands.  To the extent that the P&G name helps one of their products, they use it, but if it doesn’t help, they don’t and the product stands on its own name. 

Bottom line, people buy brands, not companies.  Right now, Starbucks’ main brand territory is its coffee chain and related-coffee products.  Nothing stops them from launching products without their name attached.

Moreover, there’s significant marketing precedent for using a great company name to introduce and support a new product in the marketplace.  Take Kellogg’s.  Kellogg’s makes brand-by-brand decisions on using its name.  Cereals get the Kellogg’s monikers, upscale Carrs crackers don’t.  Kellogg’s is a food portfolio company and their great name usually adds values to their brands. 

Unless Starbucks plans on becoming an anonymous global corporate behemoth owning everything from uranium mines to dentures and occasionally selling coffee, they need to stop this madness now.

Fact is, if your name is recognized favorably don’t change it.  The first rule of branding is: do no harm.  Blackwater Security Starbucks is not.  Starbucks might have gained some short-term publicity with this logo move, but the long-term consequences simply aren’t the worth the current buzz.

After the above piece was posted on Fox, I received some interesting data from Dmitry Dragilev over at  The zurb folks, always eager to dive into the actual numbers, found that 72% of 258 people polled preferred the old logo to the new one.  Here are their findings.

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



If your logo works, why change it?

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: The American People and Chris Christie

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  The American People

Loser:  Governor Chris Christie       




As 2011 begins, I want to salute a great brand: the American people.


The last two plus years have been tough, but the American people have shown their resilience and the strength of the American dream.


Let’s face it, millions of people don’t arrive here to start new lives because of the promise of free health care –they come here to be free.


As I’ve said before, most Americans don’t want permanent government help, they want situational help that will allow them to help themselves.


That’s been the message of the Tea Party and the mid-term elections.  And if the Democrats want to stay in power, they will finally have to absorb this lesson.  I wouldn’t bet on this happening (but keep an eye out for the dynamic Evan Bayh).


Bottom line, never sell the American people brand short.  We may be a motley bunch but we are possibly the most hopeful and optimistic people on the planet and we tend to meet (and exceed) the challenges we face.

So Happy New Year to a great brand!





One brand characteristic of the American people is fairness.


Fact is, Americans can forgive mistakes in their politicians especially if the mistakes are understandable, the politicians are hard working or there are extenuating circumstances… But, folks, woe to those politicos who are perceived as thinking of themselves first and the people second.


Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is our loser of the week because he has done just that by staying in Florida while his state was buried in up to three feet of snow.


Bottom line, if you are the governor of a state experiencing a major blizzard, you move heaven and earth to be with your people.


He did not do this and no amount of excuse-making will help his brand. 


If he wants to heal his brand, what Christie needs to do now is acknowledge this whopping mistake, ask for forgiveness and then show by subsequent action that this was an anomaly. 


Brand image starts with brand integrity.  Christie needs to show through his words and actions that he is not aloof from the guy and gal on the snow-covered street.  Christie is already controversial enough as he does the hard –but necessary—work of facing down unions and getting his state into fiscal shape… he simply cannot afford to be seen as just another politician who holds himself to a different standard than those who elected him.


It doesn’t look good.  Here is a Christie quote on his Disney World trip: “I wouldn’t change the decision even if I could do it right now,” he said. “I had a great five days with my children. I promised that.”

Can you imagine FDR saying something like that during the depths of the Depression?  Or almost any other leader during any major crisis?  The statement sounds arrogant, it sounds entitled and it overlooks the fact that his place was in New Jersey and with New Jerseyians –not in the Florida sun with Mickey Mouse. 


Wow!  This is the kind of mistake that can end a brand. 


Governor Christie, it’s your move.


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



Messaging is worthless if a brand does not walk the talk.