Monthly Archives: July 2011

Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week Amy Winehouse and Arnold Schwarzenegger


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner:  Amy Winehouse


Loser:  Arnold Schwarzenegger



First, I have to clarify my take on this week’s winner Amy Winehouse. 

There is no question that on a personal level, for her family and her friends, Ms. Winehouse’s death is utter tragedy.  To see someone so young die is terrible under any circumstances, but to see someone so young and so talented destroy themselves like this… well, there’s nothing else to say.  A truly great loss.

But just as all of us exist on a personal level, we exist on a brand level too.  We are brands that are perceived a certain way by others.  Ms. Winehouse was an entertainment/artistic brand.

And, folks, it is for this reason that her tragic story of self-destruction at a young age makes her a brand winner. 


Simply put, Ms. Winehouse’s brand is that of a soulful, troubled outsider of profound musical talent.  She is a music brand in the mold of Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain.  Greatly talented, sensitive artists in the romantic tradition –all of whom, like Ms. Winehouse, died at 27.  In music history this phenomenon is known as the “27 Club.” 

The Winehouse brand of artist goes way, way back at least to the romantic poets.  Keats and Shelley died young. Sylvia Plath, the young, gifted suicide, is another example.  Bottom line, there’s a long tradition of people connecting a certain type of artistic genius to short, tragic lives as if their short, tragic lives were proof of their genius.

Amy Winehouse will be no exception.  Already companies like Microsoft have gotten in social media hotwater over supposedly trying to take commercial advantage of this tragedy by seeming to promote Winehouse’s music in the wake of her death (I haven’t seen any complaints yet after Apple prominently featured Ms. Winehouse in its ITunes store).

But whatever criticism vendors might get, fact is Amy Winehouse will sell more music because of her early death and her personal brand will become more entrenched in people’s minds as occupying a special place among musical artists. 

And in terms of selling music…  Isn’t that what Winehouse and other artists do in order to get their art to their fans?  What is wrong with selling?  If anything good is to come out of this tragedy it will be that her work will achieve a larger audience and her art will continue to live precisely because it sells.

And folks, one final disclaimer, I’m saying all above about Winehouse and her brand’s future, but to be frank, I’m not a fan of her music.  Of course, that doesn’t matter because I’m not her Target Market.


In the past, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s consistent and dynamic development of his personal brand has earned a lot of praise, including from me.

But recently his formerly strong brand has been badly shaken and not just by the affair he had many years ago.

Bottom line, a personal brand isn’t only judged by the mistakes its makes.  People can forgive mistakes, even big ones.  What they won’t forgive is a personal brand, especially an entertainer like Schwarzenegger, who seems to be arrogantly or callously ducking his responsibilities or taking the low-road.

This is what happened on Friday when it seemed that Schwarzenegger had asked the court for some pretty low-road terms in his divorce filing from his wife Maria Shriver.  The terms included things like having Shriver pay her own court costs and not giving her any child support. 

Fuggedaboutit…talk about a very poor brand move!  Trying to get as much as you can or playing hardball might make sense from a legal strategy perspective, but it is a decided failure for brand management.

Fortunately, it looks like Schwarzenegger has already backed away from these demands, claiming that he had been distracted by his son’s surfing accident and not looked the papers over carefully enough before signing them.

There’s no question that a brand as strong as Schwarzenegger’s can make a comeback, but to do so he must consistently take the high road from here and that means paying attention to details especially where his wife and family are concerned.

Why does this really matter?  Especially if all he’s going to do is go back to the silverscreen?  It matters because he usually plays heroes and not one of those characters would behave like this –and that kind of brand dissonance can be fatal. 

Can you imagine the Kindergarten Cop skimping on his kids after skinflinting his wife? 

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



TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  Every detail matters in brand management.








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


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner:  Steve Buscemi


Loser:  Netflix



Folks, actor Steve Buscemi has just received an Emmy nomination for lead actor.  He plays Nucky Johnson on HBO’s hit show Boardwalk Empire… 

But that’s not the reason he’s our winner this week. 

Buscemi is our winner because he has consistently refused to fix his teeth.

Now, Buscemi doesn’t have what you’d exactly call leading man good looks.  But Buscemi is fine with that and he’s smart enough to know that when your brand has hit its stride you don’t tinker.  As his fame has grown, many dentists have approached him with the offer to fix his teeth for free.  Great publicity for them, of course, and you’re knee jerk reaction might be that it’s a win for Buscemi too.

But Buscemi has always said no.  His answer has been simple: “I won’t work again if you fix my teeth.”

That’s called knowing your brand.

Some other very successful actors and singers understand this.  Kirsten Dunst, Anna Paquin, Jewel and Miley Cyrus all have less than perfect teeth.  And all of them have refused to fix them. 

Talk about brand wisdom.


In the past, I’ve praised Netflix for being a brand visionary.  After all, long before anyone else, the company positioned itself to prosper in the streaming video and movie market.

But last week the company did something inexplicable and, quite frankly, bad for their brand.  They raised their prices by a whopping 60%.

Not only that, but they did so for no clear reason.  New York Times tech guru, David Pogue, confessed that he had read Netflix’s explanation for the price rise over five times and still didn’t understand why.

But he concluded that even though there didn’t seem to be a why other than they wanted to make more money, Netflix still offers the best deal among all its competitors in video rental and streaming online content –it just isn’t as good a deal as it used to be.

Still, this move is enough of a reason to place them in the loser column from a brand perspective.

Sure, they might make a lot more money in the short-term, but, fact is, they are going to alienate an awfully large number of their customers (within hours Netflix’s Facebook page clocked 44,000 outraged messages).

Price rises are a delicate branding calculation.  You must always put your customers’ experience in the foreground and make them a genuine partner in deciding if and how to raise prices. 

Again, in the short run Netflix might do fine, but in the long run as competitors continue to emerge, the company’s customer base will be much more willing to defect…and in the subscription business that can be fatal for a brand.

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



TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  Pricing is part of your brand’s contract with your Target Market.  Tread carefully.








Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: McDain’s Restaurant and The Soap Opera


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner:  McDain’s Restaurant


Loser:  The Soap Opera



Folks, this week our winner is a Pennsylvania restaurant that made a courageous decision to honor it’s Target Market.

Mike Vuick, the owner of McDain’s Restaurant and Golf Center, decided that his customers deserved a peaceful, child-free environment.  After July 16th, children six and under won’t be welcome.

Many people have reacted to Vuick’s decision with outrage, but, fact is, he made the right decision for his restaurant’s brand.  After all, he isn’t running a family restaurant and understands that his patrons are people who are coming there for this reason.  Making this a policy strengthens the McDain’s brand.

Vuick isn’t anti-kid, he is pro-brand and pro-civility.  As he says about kids, “[they] might be the center of their parent’s universe, as it should be, [but] they’re not the center of everyone else’s universe.”

Bottom line, Vuick should take heart.  Olde Salty’s, a restaurant that made news a few years ago for it’s “No Screaming Kids” sign, has prospered.  996 customers have walked through its doors because of it took a stand.

As the great Bill Cosby said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”



ABC’s announcement that two more soap operas, All My Children and One Life To Live, are going off the air confirms the end of the line for a venerable brand: the soap opera.

A production company has come on board to keep the shows going on the web.  Sure, they may have a life online, but it’s hard to see online paying the way that broadcast television once did.  There are still devoted fans but probably not enough of them.

Fact is, the brand model itself is probably beyond fixing. 

To understand why, let’s take a look at the history of soap operas.  Soap operas were invented to reach a specific Target Market: stay-at-home moms during the depression. 

The shows were designed as an innovative entertainment platform that could help Procter & Gamble sell soap and other products –that’s where the soap in soap opera came from.  Initially soaps appeared on radio, but eventually they made the leap onto television. 

And for a very long time, things went very, very well.

But times have changed.  Viewer numbers have steadily fallen in the last twenty years.  Not only is the Target Market for soap operas hard to pin down now, but many of the benefits that daytime soaps offered, like continuing story-lines and relationship focus, have been picked up by prime time drama.

The problem is that even if the Target Market still exists, the TM can’t be counted on to be in one place at one time.  And that’s not even taking into account Tivoers who will watch without the commercials.

Still, as with every great brand in history, soap operas have left a lasting legacy, and, maybe, just maybe, there really will be life for them online.  Though I wouldn’t bet on it.

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



TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  Brands succeed when they honor their Target Market.








Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Nathan’s Famous and Google



Brand Winner…

And Loser…




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


Winner:  Nathan’s Famous


Loser:  Google



Folks, this week Nathan’s hotdogs is our winner.

Why?  Their world-famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest at Coney Island.

The event is so important for Nathan’s that it consumes most of their annual marketing budget.  Never was money so well spent.

This year, the event was watched by a crowd of 40,000 and broadcast by ESPN to an estimated two million viewers.  There was even a blimp and wise Target Market expansion: females competed for a different contest title sponsored by another smart marketer Pepto Bismal.

Nathan’s Chief Marketing Officer calls the contest, “One of the greatest marketing stunts ever.”

He’s right, even though I don’t like the word stunt because, really, there’s no stunt involved.

A stunt is a television station dropping turkeys out of a helicopter on Thanksgiving Day.  A stunt is about trying to get attention without thinking about the essentials of your brand and how your promotion relates or re-enforces those essentials in your customers’ minds.

Why Nathan’s contest works so well is that in the end it’s all about the brand.

Center stage and cast in a very positive light is their product: the Nathan’s hot dog.  That’s what contestants must consume to win.  Next comes the setting: Coney Island.  The setting re-enforces the brand.  Nathan’s is the Coney Island hot dog.  The company was started there 95 years ago and still carries that something-out-of-the-ordinary image with it wherever its stores operate.

Nathan’s doesn’t air TV commercials.  It doesn’t have to.  Nor is this contest just a once-a-year buzz.  Sure, July 4th is the big day, but there are qualifying events and plenty of buzz spread across many different venues to keep Nathan’s in the spotlight. 

Fact is, when you get the marketing right, things just fall into place.  And you only get the marketing right if you know what your brand stands for and honor that.  Everything starts there. 

By the way, this year’s Nathan’s winner is Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, retaining the coveted Mustard Belt for the 5th straight year in a row with 62 hot dogs consumed.  The women’s champion, Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas, downed an astounding 40.


Over an amazing decade, Google has grown into one of the world’s most profitable and powerful companies.  It has earned its place by providing people the world over with a service and innovation that has truly changed the way we live and do business.

But no brand is beyond reproach.  That’s why Google is this week’s loser.

It looks like the technology giant could about to be hit with the largest fine in American history for profiting from questionable advertising.

Folks, the problem seems to center on poorly regulated online pharmacies and the sale of over the counter drugs.  Apparently, regulators and watchdog groups have been warning Google and other search engines about the risks of these online pharmacies for years.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Google curtailed advertising from these sites or turned down the likely millions of dollars in revenue.

According to Joseph Califano, Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse head, he warned Google about this in 2008.  Califano had found “prominent displays of ads for rogue internet pharmacies in a Google search for controlled drugs.”

Bottom line, even without the fine, this kind of thing is bad for Google.  A company that has brought so much benefit to society usually gets a free pass, but only for a certain amount of time.  The honeymoon really might be over.

The problem here is that if Google starts looking like just another cynical corporation and not something new like it’s informal motto “Don’t Be Evil” suggests, who knows what other brand shoes may drop.  Other kinds of unsavory ad money or practices might get scrutinized now, if the good will that has buoyed up this brand starts to vanish.

Fact is, brands don’t usually diminish with one big mis-step.  It’s usually a case of a series of mis-steps.  Last week also saw a federal judge refuse to dismiss several lawsuits against the company regarding using people’s open Wi-Fi networks to illegally collect private information.  That’s on top of another invasion-of-privacy kerfuffle caused by the photos the company was taking for its Street View application a few years back.

Things like that add up for a brand and Google will need to start taking some very affirmative and very public corrective action soon to turn around potential brand damage.

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



TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  Brands fall apart one mistake at a time.