Monthly Archives: December 2011

Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Ford and RIM (Blackberry)


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner:  Ford


Loser:  RIM (Blackberry)



Folks, a few weeks ago our winner was General Motors.  Now, it’s Ford.

Once again a powerful principle has been vindicated: People buy brands not companies.

Ford’s U.S. retail sales rose 20% in November.  Part of the reason is that Ford predicted and was able to meet a big uptick in demand for fuel efficient cars.

But another part of the picture is that Ford has become brand savvy.

Look what they just announced.  Ford, aiming to bring it’s Lincoln brand back to life, has launched an ad agency specifically focused on the Lincoln brand.

The goal will be to underscore the luxury component of the Lincoln brand.  The agency will have 45 people devoted to this brand mission.

Ford clearly gets it.  Just like it’s decision to end it’s small truck brand the Ranger probably makes brand sense.  With increasing fuel-efficiency, it’s larger F-150 trucks are now very competitive for the kinds of people once drawn to Rangers.

Again, the takeaway is clear: focus on the brand and things will usually work; focus on the company image . . . and fuggedaboutit.


Folks, Research In Motion, the maker of Blackberry, is in trouble.  In fact it has the look of a company that’s on its last legs being brought down by products that are not yet brands and a brand, the BlackBerry, that has lost its target market.

Here’s the story.

As everyone knows Apple has been eating RIM’s lunch for well over two years.  RIM’s share of the smartphone dropped to 9.2% in the third quarter from 24% last year.

In the end, RIM just couldn’t compete with the speed and other advantages of the iPhone and Android devices.  Not only that, its attempt to compete by launching a tablet the Playbook (a product not quite a brand) and, more important, new radically re-designed phones has been hampered by serious delays.

And that’s the takeaway.  Almost all brands will be faced with significant competition at some point.  Sometimes this competition will prove life-threatening to the brand.  But what will ultimately kill a brand isn’t competition but the inability to respond to the competition by delivering real solutions to the target market’s needs.

Timeliness to market with these solutions is critical –a solution is worthless if it doesn’t reach those who need to be reached when they need to be reached.

It’s sad to see a once great brand die, but it’s even sadder when you consider that failing wasn’t inevitable — for a good illustration of what happened to RIM, take a look at Herb Greenberg’s post on his one-time love affair with Blackberry and why it went sour.

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


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  Once again, people really do buy brands, not companies.








Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Alec Baldwin and Penn State


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner:  Alec Baldwin


Loser:  Penn State



Folks, Alec Baldwin gets a lot of heat just for being Alec Baldwin.

Someone else might have gotten angry on a plane or left an ugly message on a message machine and the world would have moved on…

Of course, the world would never have heard of it.  Alec Baldwin knows that the world is watching and the logic goes that Alec has a responsibility to be on his very best behavior at all times, because. . .

Here’s the part where the logic falls down.  In fact, it makes zero sense from a branding perspective. 

Why should Alec Baldwin care?  He is an artist –whether you want to scoff at that word or not. 

Not only is he an artist, but Baldwin is an artist with a long history of not being warm and fuzzy.  He’s known to be tempermental in part because he’s also known to be a pretty bright fellow, one of the sharpest tools in Hollwood’s shed.

He doesn’t suffer fools and his temperement gets the better of him.  So what?  Since when did we stop being able to give certain people a wide berth or cut creatives some slack?

Unfortunately, since a long time.  At least since the 24/7 news cycle has made everyone an arbiter of human behavior and a fierce judge of character.

Bottom line, Baldwin shouldn’t care.  His brand is the brand that we saw in the American Airlines incident, but it’s also the brand we’ve seen talking intelligently about a range of issues and generally caring about our society in far deeper ways than most celebrities.

And, most of all, the Baldwin brand can take care of itself.  His brilliant spoof of the American Airlines debacle on Saturday Night Live showed the airline up and should have reminded everyone that like it or not the goody two shoes expectations just don’t and shouldn’t ever apply to Mister Alec Baldwin.

That’s what’s meant by being true to your brand.  Alec Baldwin isn’t for everyone and to be successful he shouldn’t try to be –luckily, he doesn’t.


Sometimes a good brand suffers so much damage or does itself so much damage that radical action is necessary.

That’s the case with Penn State, folks.

In short, with the arrest of Jerry Sandusky and the still unfolding scandal being inflicted on the school, the university must do something revolutionary.

Bottom line?  Penn State needs to change its name.

Plenty of great universities have.  Princeton used to be the College of New Jersey. The University of Pennsylvania used to be the College of Pennsylvania. 

Penn State already has a good option: PSU. 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is almost always shortened to MIT.  It’s time that Penn State did the same and actively began the effort to refer to itself and have the public refer to it as PSU.

This isn’t just superficial.  It will mark the beginning of a new era in the school’s history, especially if the school commits to a new way of doing business that will prevent  the kinds of wrongs that have occurred from happening again.

In other words, the name change will mark a point where there is a distinct before and after and it will represent deep cultural change, not just image adjustment.

Such a move will help the school embrace its future.  It won’t provide a clean slate, but it will at least give the university a place to start from.

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


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY – Not all brands work for all people and that’s a good thing.








Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Amazon Kindle Fire and The New York Times


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner:  Amazon Kindle Fire


Loser:  The New York Times



Folks, almost twenty-five years ago, Apple made a mistake that led them into the wilderness for almost fifteen years.  The mistake was to maintain strict control over their product lines and reject licensing of their technology.

The result was the rise of the PC and Microsoft as the vast majority of  consumers –the ones who weren’t the earlier adopters— went for the lower price point.  Software developers focused their attention on the PC and the rest was history: the incredible expansion of desktop computing around the world and the increasingly narrow market for Apple devices.

Now I’m not saying that the same thing is happening to Apple today.  After all, the company is much more powerful than it was back then and it has also likely learned a lot from that first experience.

But, that said, you can’t underestimate the fact that while Apple evokes fierce devotion to its products, bottom line, it’s a competitive  world and many people are going to be drawn to other devices, especially if the price is right.

That’s why Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet is our winner of the week.

Amazon announced that it’s sales of Kindle Fire quadrupled year-over-year on Black Friday.

Amazon has never announced actual unit sales numbers, but it’s likely that Amazon will have sold somewhere between 3 and 5 million by the time 2011 closes out. 

Apple is still clearly a leader.  The company has sold over 39 million tablets since the iPad was launched in 2010, but they better be watching the rise of Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

Sure, there are other tablets out there, but the brand lesson with this kind of technology is that at a certain point the majority of consumers –the one’s who haven’t gotten on board yet— enter the market and these are the people who balance the perceived value of a brand with the sticker price.

That’s where companies like Dell took off during the PC boom.  They were able to compete on price but also offer clear brand equity.  That mixture is unbeatable. 

Amazon is in a similar position.  They’re not just producing a generic tablet, they’re producing a branded tablet at prices much closer to a generic tablet.

That’s the trick and my guess is that we’re going to see a lot more growth for Amazon in this area and shrinkage for Apple unless they decide to begin to compete head-to-head (something they didn’t do long ago and haven’t really done lately).


I’ve written about the problems newspapers have been facing for a long time.  Here’s a sample with some links.

Bottom line, newspapers have been struggling for a long time.  Margins have been shrinking, readership declining and staff facing layoffs.  Many newspapers have stopped printing physical copies and gone completely online, while others have simply gone out of business.

The biggest problem has been that digital dimes don’t replace paper dollars –in other words, the advertising rates online simply aren’t able to replace the printed advertising revenue.  In other words, the old business model is in a lot of trouble.

To counter this, the biggest newspapers have worked hard to create online experiences that can generate subscription revenue and advertising revenue through huge online traffic.

The New York Times has a paywall and has also been working hard on creating a social media “community” of readers.  To say I’m uncertain about how “community” will work to save newspapers is to really understate things.

Fact is, while it’s popular to jump on the social media bandwagon and believe that somehow social media will save the day moneywise, it goes against the basic purpose, history and even business model of almost all newspaper brands.

Newspapers weren’t meeting places, they were information sources and gateways to high-end analysis and entertainment.  In other words, their value came from distilling information and thought into something that was special and had authority.  Because this service could predictably generate a large readership (all looking at the same space everyday), advertisers could be assured that they had a specific audience they could deliver their messages to.

Here’s the point: social media is much more like the community bulletin board than it is a professionally shaped (and most important) finite location.  In other words, how do you stand out in social media if everyone else is trying to stand out and trying to communicate. 

Newspapers, traditionally, were a one-way street with the writers writing and the readers reading (was letters to the editor ever anything more than half a page or a page?). 

So already, I wasn’t so sure that the move by The New York Times and other media over the past few years to have comments on stories makes all that much sense (doesn’t that undermine this writer to reader relationship?).

But now The Times has decided to do something I know is a mistake.  They’re tying themselves into Facebook.

Basically, right now all of the readers’ comments on The Times are moderated.  But soon the paper is going to give certain readers preferred or “trusted” status so they will be able to post without being moderated.

But there’s a catch.  Those preferred readers have to have Facebook accounts or else they will be excluded.

Wow.  What a bad idea!  Nothing like exclusion to alienate your customers.

Recently, I wrote about Facebook and how its attitude toward privacy has begun to turn off users.  No surprise that the reaction from many Times’ readers to the paper’s move has been one of outrage. Readers also said that labeling some readers “trusted” implies that other readers are not “trusted.”  A built-in insult.

If they’re smart the paper will backpedal and figure out another way.  If they’re even smarter, they might even reconsider this idea of social media when it comes to their content.  After all, isn’t content really king?  Do hundreds of comments that are often of poor quality add or dilute the newspaper experience online?  Also, should journalists and editors, already hard-pressed for time, be forced to interact more with readers in these forums?

These are uncertain times for newspapers and, folks, I don’t pretend to have any answers.  But I do know that brands live and die on being consistently true to themselves and their business models –in other words, they live by providing a benefit to their customers. 

The New York Times and others should pause here.  Before they fit into social media, they really need to consider whether social media fits into them.

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


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY – One of the worst things a brand can do is make the mistake of doing something new and different simply because it is a trend.  The key is to ask how the trend fits your business.  A trend is a tool.