Monthly Archives: February 2011

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Scott Walker and The Oscars

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…


Winner:  Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin

Loser:  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences      


Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin embroiled in a dramatic state house showdown with unions, is our winner of the week.

Those who criticize the intrepid governor might have valid objections to his methods, but no one can say he isn’t being true to his brand. 

This fidelity will translate into gaining powerful support from his Target Market who, after all, are the people who agree that government spending must be reined in and know that to do so will inevitably be painful.

Folks, this is an example of a brand whose time has come.  Walker was elected because he said taking on this kind of spending and the unions was what he was going to do – now he’s doing it.

It was clear to many voters that state and local spending on salaries and benefits has become excessive.  Even some unions have accepted that cuts must be made.  

But now that the game is on, it is Walker who looks resolute and consistent and the unions don’t.  In fact, the unions seem as if they don’t really understand how their salaries and benefits are paid –not out of some endless cash machine but out of a teetering tax system hit hard by our current economic slump.

This kind of conflict is always going to underscore the strength of one brand over another and unless Walker backs down or otherwise dilutes his message, he will only grow stronger here and appear increasingly courageous as the unions’ fury grows.

For their part, unions need to flip their strategy around from speaking about their wants to emphasizing the benefits their service brings to the community.  They also have to show that they really understand how they are paid (i.e., out of taxpayers’ pockets) and don’t need a lesson from their parents about money not growing trees. 

This is the only way for them to take the high road and regain public approval.  Otherwise, they simply look like a fringe group hanging onto benefits that they do not truly deserve.

So, hats off to this week’s successful political brand.


Why is the Academy wasting Oscar on the young?

This year’s decision to run with James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts is awful.  Nothing wrong with changing hosts, but thinking that this kind of change coupled with a few promotional ads is a good idea shows that the Academy is in real trouble. 

The Academy is sitting on a great marketing legacy and product in the Oscars, but they simply don’t seem to recognize this fact. 

Instead, they are succumbing to the promise of a marketing quick fix. 

Making a one-time grab for a younger viewing demographic might not be a brand killer, but a brand that doesn’t know itself, forgets its mission or its Target Market is vulnerable to making more bad decisions.  Cumulatively these bad small decisions can add up to something terminal.

This year’s Oscar move is a huge failure of the Academy’s marketing imagination.

The Oscars is essentially a big corporate video intended to give major industry players a regular pat on the back, promote individual movie brands (i.e., titles), and continue to re-enforce through what I call “Authority Marketing” the importance of Hollywood for our culture – and it does all this while making money from the television advertising dollars the spectacle rakes in.

Bottom line, even in the bad Oscar audience years, the show still attracts a viewership of 35 million plus.  This is not something to worry about.

Fact is, it’s the movies not the event that matter.  The years when big movies like Titanic or Avatar were in contention for the top prize correlated with the largest viewerships.  Small, dark, Indie movies correlated with the smallest viewerships.

Can the Oscars be improved as a show?  Probably.  Do you really have to hear the winner for best left-handed audio dubbing in a two-and-a-half minute short?  But, if they do cut an hour off the show, will it make sense in terms of lost ad revenue?  

The better question is, do the Oscars need to be improved as a show?  The answer: probably not.

So why change hosts like this and target the young?

This is sad to behold, because the Academy and the industry it represents must be one of the foremost marketing forces in the world.  Just think about the origin of The Academy and its flagship awards show. 

First, the full brand name of the organization.  The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.  This mouthful came to define the seriousness of an industry that started at the nickelodeons where light film entertainment could be bought for a nickel a pop. 

This name and the Academy’s “mission” was marketing genius.  Brand re-positioning extraordinaire.  It led to the world making what was formerly a cultural diversion into a cultural centerpiece.  Today, movies are not only serious business; they are a serious part of our culture even when they are diverting and fun.

In fact, if the Academy is going to worry about changing for any audience, it should be for the global market, all those viewers outside the United States who contribute the most to the box office numbers.  Today, even if a movie flops in the U.S., it can make a killing around the world. 

Mainstream Hollywood movies are getting broader to accommodate tastes from Moscow to Seoul –so if the Academy regains its marketing mojo, expect Oscar to follow.

But chasing the young with two new hosts and a few ads?  Fuggedaboutit.

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

Even Great Brands can be destroyed by a series of bad decisions.

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Ursinus College and Super Bowl Ad Critics

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…


John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 

Winner:  Ursinus College

Loser:  Super Bowl Ad Critics                                              



Folks, there is nothing more encouraging than watching a great brand recognize its true identity.

Ursinus College in Philadelphia has recently done just that. 

As most of us know, the college admissions scene is highly competitive and institutions try everything to increase their numbers and rankings (especially in the all important periodicals and admissions guides).

Unfortunately, in recent years this has led to all sorts of numbers distortion that has diluted the applicant pools and even threatened the integrity of many well-respected schools.

Ursinus had gotten caught up in the admissions race, apparently hiring a marketing firm that advised them to drop some their application fee and even their essay writing requirements.  The result was a huge jump in the number of applicants.

But, as it turned out, this lead to more students not accepting the offer admissions, huge amounts of additional man hours for administrators and staff and an overall sense that somehow the college was comprising its mission and standards.

Bottom line, Ursinus made the brave decision to get back to brand basics and make their admissions process more challenging and more consistent with their academic mission. 

The result was an immediate reduction in the number of people applying and a maybe a short-term blow to their ranking, but the benefits should be an increased selectivity in the long-run and an uptick in their reputation.

Sure it’s a risk to not do what everyone else seems to be doing, but the benefits of being true to your brand will almost always outweigh this.  Something I believe Ursinus will soon find out and other colleges will likely follow.


Super Bowl ad critics are at the top of my list this week for brand losers.



Because in all the commotion, controversy and commentary surrounding the stratospherically expensive Super Bowl ads, one thing is missing: the first rule of advertising.  Does it sell the product?


This might sound fundamental, but I’ll say it anyway.  Ads exist to sell, if they fail to do this then they fail.  Period.  Forget whether they are beautiful or clever, that’s not what they have been created for. 


Unfortunately, Super Bowl ad critics –and I won’t name names here but I’m speaking about folks in the media who ought to know better— seem to relegate selling effectiveness way down the list of important criteria when evaluating these ads. 


To buttress their arguments, they cite academic studies (such as Northwestern’s polling regarding Groupon’s “politically incorrect” ads).  The problem is that the studies support the wrong criteria and are usually unconnected to the Target Market (arguably the socially-minded Northwestern graduate students polled about Groupon are not that company’s only target market or even primary target market).


In other words, the ads have been evaluated as a kind of cultural and even artistic phenomenon for so long that people have forgotten that first rule of advertising. 


Bottom line, expect to continue to hear the highly creative/clever ads crowned kings and the genuinely sales and marketing-minded spots declared hopelessly unoriginal, offensive or pointless… 


But does it really matter?  In the end, the smart money is going to continue to deliver the smart advertising and the clever folks will receive awards while their clients wonder where the sales went.

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



The first rule of advertising: does the spot sell the product?

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: The Super Bowl Ads and The Audi Super Bowl Ad

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  The Super Bowl Ads

Loser:  The Audi Super Bowl Ad                                



Folks, my position on Super Bowl advertising is no mystery: it is without a doubt a waste of money since the basic premise violates the law of frequency –not to mention an almost complete disregard for target markets on the part of the advertiser. 

That said, and assuming that for this reason all of our Super Bowl advertisers “lost,” there is still a winner to be found among our losers.

The winner isn’t about the most clever spot or the most artistically done –it’s about the spot or spots that actually do some of the heavy lifting of marketing a product or service.

We had a few that actually tried this year.

Overall, my criteria for a winner are twofold: the good or service has to be an event/offer for a general audience that’s coming soon (a movie is a good example) or the advertiser can be a web-based service (targeted at a broad audience) that can actually convert a significant portion of web visits in sales.

For this reason, despite their ads sexist nature, wins.  The company’s spots used a cliff hanger scenario (with the cliff hanger answerable on the website) to drive traffic to the website.  Who was the new girl?  And they also offered a few spots building suspense and helping aid the frequency requirement (but still falling short of the necessary 10 impressions).

Groupon was a close second.  Again, for similar reasons.  Their Target Market is broad just like the Super Bowl’s and their ads –funny and controversial— explained the benefits of Groupon clearly and as a result stood a pretty good chance of netting web traffic –especially if the controversy takes hold and they get repeated over and over by the media.  A business like Groupon only works when a huge number of people use it –Groupon negotiates discounts with businesses for its users— and that economy of scale need matches the viewing audience.   

Still, am I convinced that these two companies absolutely needed the Super Bowl… no.  I’m just picking the best of a troubled bunch.  My guess is that the same money spent elsewhere would have netted a bigger payday at the cash register.                                                    


Audi has to be the loser for an ad that made a point so tenuous that I’m still not sure what it was.  

If there is one rule of advertising it should be never showcase twits and/or criminals using your products.   And rule number 1 should be followed up with this: never show your competition’s products in a positive light or be so obscure that your products might be shown in a negative light.  Audi completely failed to observe these rules.

It isn’t a coincidence that the stand out advertising loser was also arguably the one advertisement where it looked like the creatives had kicked the corporates out of the board room and told them never to come back.  There was simply no sales thinking involved and very little concern for the well-being of the brand. 


Audi sells high performance luxury cars with a substantial status quotient.  These are cars that one aspires to own and drive.  Nothing about this commercial is likely to make a viewer aspire to do anything but buy something other than an Audi. 

Bottom line, the ads this year were vanilla and once again reminded me that the Super Bowl ad business is about one agency trying to outsmart another agency.  It’s all about a parade of cleverness not an attempt to serve a client’s needs.  Marketing?  Fuggedaboutit.


If the Super Bowl was a great platform for selling things where are the toothpaste ads?  The greatest marketing company in the world, Procter and Gamble, doesn’t bother with the big game for a very good reason.  They can get much more friendly CPCs elsewhere and they don’t have a corporate ego to soothe.

Still, why not enjoy the ad tradition?  They might not sell goods or services very well, but at least you’re not the one footing the bill.

Don’t agree or have something to add?  Please let me know and give me your ad choice.  For a refresher, check out the ads at

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


If the Super Bowl was a great platform for selling things where are the toothpaste ads?