Monthly Archives: June 2011

Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Chevy and Hearst



Brand Winner…

And Loser…




Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week


Winner:  Chevy


Loser:  Hearst Corporation



Folks, I’ve never been a longtime critic of Superbowl advertising on the grounds that advertising dollars can go a lot farther elsewhere, but let’s put that aside this week for Chevy.

Why the exception?  Because GM is promoting the Chevy brand, not the company, not some kind of airy corporate, feel-good vision of itself, but the brand.  In fact, promoting its individual car brands has helped drive GM’s remarkable recovery as a company.  Something I argued would happen if they focused on their great brands.

This recovery will continue if Chevy’s recent, brand-focused move is any indication.

Chevy is tapping the global consumer public via a video contest in which the winner will be the one who creates the best Chevy-themed 30-second commercial.  The prize?  $25,000 and the commercial aired during next year’s Superbowl.

Bottom line, this is about tapping Chevy brand consciousness and re-enforcing the brand.  In fact, it might be the best reason for Superbowl advertising spending I’ve ever seen since it amplifies the reach of those thirty seconds into a genuinely interactive and Chevy-centered experience.

Every first year marketing student knows that the best way to get people to notice your product is through contests because of increase in eyeballs and interest.

The contest name?  The Chevrolet Route 66 Initiative.  It builds on the brand’s famous jingle that was revived last year: See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet

It’s also good to see that the contest site refers to both “Chevy” and “Chevrolet”:

Remember, last year GM made the wise decision to backtrack on trying to replace the time-honored, consumer-driven “Chevy” with the more formal “Chevrolet.” 

So hats off to GM and Chevy for being brand-centered and responsive to customer need.



This week’s loser is the Hearst Corporation.

Frankly, I can’t believe the mistake they are making.  It always baffles and disheartens me when I see a big company that should know better squandering its money on corporate, feel-good nonsense.

What’s Hearst doing? 

According to Stuart Elliott and his excellent column “Media Decoder” at The New York Times, who I have to thank for the inspiration for both my loser and my winner this week, Hearst is about to kick off a huge advertising campaign to “burnish its brand image rather than promote individual magazines like Esquire or Good Housekeeping.”

Michael Criton, president for marketing and publishing director at Hearst Magazines, says: “We’re unleashing our brand DNA.”

Unfortunately, folks, he might as well have said, we’re going to polish up the entrance to our corporate headquarters for all the good that this will do their business.

Yes, here we go again, with the wrong kind of marketing, the kind of marketing that assumes that the customer cares about your company the way you care about your company.  He, she, it doesn’t.  End of story.

The Hearst customer cares about individual titles and to the extent those individual titles satisfy the needs of its Target Markets those titles will prosper.

The campaign is based around the “Unbound” theme with the idea that magazines and Hearst will be around and available on many platforms well into the future.  Subtle touches like the “d” being tilted forward in the word “Unbound” are supposed to suggest this future.

That “d” is not only the grade I’d give this promotion if I was being generous but also the heart of the problem.  This kind of advertising campaign isn’t really about convincing the customer of a company’s value but convincing the company itself that it still has value.  Folks, it’s not only a big waste of advertising dollars, it’s also whistling past the graveyard.

The only bright spot here?  There will be promotions that will allow consumers to experience individual brands.

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



TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  If your brand is not at the center of every campaign then nothing is getting done.








Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: and NBC



Brand Winner…

And Loser…




Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week




Loser:  NBC



Until this week, I have never come across a better example of a brand focusing on its Target Market and ignoring conventional Public Relations messaging –to its benefit.

I’m talking about, a dating website for good-looking folks that says it only accepts the very best.

From its start, the website had faced heavy criticism for so-called discrimination as it vigorously rejected many applicants for not meeting its aesthetic standards.  But last week, the brand was really put to the test when a hacker virus allowed 30,000 applicants who normally would be rejected to be accepted.

The company’s reaction was swift and harsh.  Once the hack was discovered, the 30,000 were rejected.

In the face of the media firestorm this rejection caused, managing director, Greg Hodge, stood firm about the brand: “We have to stick to our founding principles of only accepting beautiful people – that’s what our members have paid for.  We can’t just sweep 30,000 ugly people under the carpet.”

This kind of brutal talk might make public relations crisis people nervous, but it is the absolutely right approach.  It shows that knows its Target Market and customers.

In fact, this debacle will only strengthen the brand by assuring its Target Market that the service really is selective.  It also plays to human psychology by making the site more exclusive and, hence, more sought after.

Bottom line, while is covering its PR bases by offering counseling to those who were accepted and then rejected, it’s been smart to not give away the farm to those worried about alienating the general public.  After all, as with any brand, what the general public thinks is a lot less important than what beautifulpeople’s customers think.’s Hodge seems to know just how important this is.  Even his apology promotes the exclusivity of the brand.  According to the UK’s Guardian: Hodge said he felt “very sorry” for the “unfortunate people who were wrongly admitted to the site and believed, albeit for a short time, that they were beautiful”.

That might rub most of us the wrong way and not make Hodge look like a very nice guy, but the general public just isn’t the Target Market.

And on that score, the website couldn’t have sent a better message for its brand.



NBC’s our loser of the week for its Pledge of Allegiance gaffe during the U.S. Open.

Basically, an otherwise patriotic and moving video montage went off the rails when the producers edited out some key words from the Pledge.

NBC was bombarded with criticism and apologized so fast that they were actually able to get their sorrys in during the same broadcast.

Bottom line, despite the apologies, the damage was done.

What damage?  Let’s put it this way, the mainstream media has been under scrutiny for many years now for perceived cultural and political bias.  Gone are the days of Walter Cronkite, folks, when people of most political stripes looked up to the man in the anchor seat and the networks in general as purveyors of truth and good judgment.

Even if the words “under God” haven’t always been in the Pledge (they were added in 1954), deciding to edit them out is a huge oversight in the current environment.

Unlike a, NBC is a brand that must worry about conventional PR concerns.  NBC’s Target Market is the general public. 

That’s why making a mistake like this is so bad and can’t be fixed by an apology.  For those viewers who are anti-NBC, this just confirms their position and strengthens the other media brands (NBC’s competitors) that they have turned to; and for those viewers on the fence, this will push them away.

Fact is, it raises a lot of questions about the professionalism and competency at NBC today and in a fractured media environment, where viewers have more choices than ever, this isn’t a mistake that a brand of this standing can afford to make.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a brand-killing mistake.  With NBC it’s always going to be about the programming in the end.  But a mis-step like this could further hurt the news division where editorial bias is a big viewer concern.

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




TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  The only brand messages that count are those that connect with your Target Market.








Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Tracy Morgan and Delta



Brand Winner…

And Loser…




Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week


Winner:  Tracy Morgan


Loser:  Delta




Damage control isn’t a one-size fits all response.  

Folks, just as every brand must be assessed on its own merits and in its own context, a brand’s response to a serious crisis has to be seen the same way.

That’s why this week my “Winner” and “Loser” are two well-known brands that got themselves into hot water and, on the surface at least, look like they’ve gotten out of it –but what’s important is what’s beneath the surface.

I’m talking about the comedian, Tracy Morgan, who scandalized and offended fans with an anti-gay rant during a live performance, and the airline, Delta, that angered customers and the general public with a punitive bag charge for soldiers returning from combat.

Bottom line, both Morgan and Delta responded quickly and affirmatively to the firestorm that they created.  So far so good.  Acknowledging a problem, apologizing for it and then taking strong, corrective action is all part of what a brand must do. 

Delta immediately apologized and reversed the bad policy.  Morgan is still on a very public campaign to apologize and make things right. 

The comedian called GLAAD (The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and the transcript of that call was broadcast by CNN.  It shows Morgan really opening up about his own life and bullying.  He’s also agreed to record a public service announcement for the group and is planning on returning to the comedy club where the audience was offended.

Bottom line, he’s showing that he’s working hard to make amends. 

So why is Morgan the winner this week and Delta the loser?

It’s the nature of the respective brands, folks, and the kind of damage.  Morgan is a comedian and a comedian’s line of work, his job description if you will, is to push the boundaries of what is acceptable.  Those boundaries are rarely clear with comedy, especially Morgan’s style of comedy.  Obviously, it’s usually hard to tell whether the comic is being serious or not about the offensive things coming out of his mouth.  

Morgan was offensive on that stage in Nashville, but it was still part of his act.  This isn’t like the Michael Richards’ incident in 2006 when the former Seinfeld actor attacked audience members with racial epithets.  In that case, that attack clashed with the image Richards presented and it wasn’t material being tested as part of his comic routine.

More than almost any comedian today, Morgan has been paid a lot of money to be offensive.  He is a loose cannon, a force of nature –saying what he said onstage isn’t really too far off considering his brand.

In other words, yes, what Morgan did was offensive, but it was still within the scope of his bad boy brand.  His quick response to crossing this line and even showing another side of himself in making amends will probably strengthen his brand over time, not weaken it.  Certainly most of his Target Market already accept him for getting dangerously close to that line over the years –that’s why they pay to see him.

Now let’s look at Delta.  Delta was also quick to change course and make amends, but the difference with Delta is that charging soldiers for their bags underscored a larger problem of perception not only with Delta but with many airlines: a culture of niggling charges and fees that make the consumer experience less pleasant while putting a lot of extra revenue in airlines’ pockets.

The story that Delta was actually charging soldiers coming home from the front just confirmed what disillusioned flyers were already feeling.  It resonated with their already low estimation of the airline industry and confirmed the suspicion that airlines have been making a killing in baggage fees, over $3.4 billion in 2010 alone according to the Associated Press. For this reason, Delta’s policy toward soldiers quickly made Delta look particularly bad among a bad bunch.

For Delta, waiving the fee is a first step, but the response still resembles the actions of a habitual over-charger getting caught, rather than a brand really looking out for its customers. 

Delta has to go further, much further, and begin to address the bigger gripes that people have with flying today.  Delta needs to show why they are not like other airlines (ideas: start bringing back amenities, more frequent upgrades for frequent flyers, lowering and/or eliminating baggage fees).  Only by standing apart from the pack by addressing genuine customer needs will this brand be able to turn a crisis into a brand-building opportunity.

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




TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  Every response to a brand crisis must be custom-made.








Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: American Idol and Goldman Sachs



Brand Winner…

And Loser…




Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week


Winner:  American Idol


Loser:  Goldman Sachs




The prophets of doom have been proven wrong: American Idol has not simply fallen apart after the exit of its long-time judges.

Many understandably predicted that the ratings wonder and cultural phenomenon would fold after the cast shake-up, but instead it has prospered.

Not only was American Idol once again the show with the best ratings for the 2010-2011 season, but Fox reported a 21 percent viewer surge for the show’s finale which included the first time in five years that it grew its 18-49 year old audience numbers.

Fact is, while some of the uptick in ratings is definitely due to new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, the real winner here is the show itself. 

When a format is as durable and likeable as American Idol’s, that’s the brand, not Simon Cowell or anyone one else who sits in the judge’s box.  Speaking about great brands, Cowell is one and understands that ego has to be put to the side when it comes to an entertainment brand’s success.  This is Cowell speaking about his departure for Idol long before it happened:

There has to come a point when I will step down from being on camera and remain behind the scenes because you can’t keep doing this forever…I think by [the end of my contract] that the public will be sick to death of me anyway and it will be time to go.

And that’s the thing about great brands, they know what is essential to success and then keep doing it.



Goldman Sachs had a bad week.

The unflattering media coverage of the investment bank continued with HBO’s To Big To Fail.  More serious, according to The New York Times, the authorities look they are about to pile on the company.  The Manhattan District Attorney has served Goldman Sachs with a “broad subpoena…for documents about its mortgage-related transactions.”  The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation based on a Senate subcommittee report.  Others look to follow — possibly “every major law enforcement authority in the country.”

Bottom line, even though the legendary bank has managed to soldier through a lot of bad publicity, this time the brand damage looks like it might be critical. 

Fact is, while people might joke about the “crooks on Wall Street” or think the stock market is like a casino, actually treating a major investment bank like a criminal conspiracy changes everything.

The Goldman Sachs brand isn’t for the guy and gal on the street (even if it did pretend to be a commercial bank for a while during the financial crisis).  But this kind of negative attention won’t only affect a general perception, it could alienate the company’s Target Market: corporate clients, wealthy private clients and other banks and trading partners. 

Bottom line, for an investment bank to function, it needs to be seen as credible and above board.

Maybe nothing will come of the subpoena, but if anything does, then folks, Goldman Sachs will have a lot of work to do to refurbish its brand. 

As of this writing, it looks like Goldman is going on the offensive against the government and its damning report on the bank’s housing bets.  That’s a start, but it’s more a legal move than a brand move.  Simply put, the bank has also got to be seen as contrite and ready to accept responsibility if that’s what’s needed. 

The last two years have seen Goldman behave like business was usual when it was anything but –and that, and its general attitude of being above everyone and everything, can never be good for a brand.

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



TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  No brand is untouchable.