Monthly Archives: January 2012

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


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner:  CareerBuilder


Loser:  Starbucks



Folks, public relations often suggests that it must be apologies all around when controversy comes to a company.  But sometimes standing firm in the face of controversy is exactly what a brand needs to do.

That’s why CareerBuilder is our winner of the week.

The company is getting heat from animal rights activists who say its use of monkeys in its upcoming Super Bowl ad is wrong (the image above is a screen shot from a similar ad a few years ago).

Despite the fact that these ads are apparently very funny –or perhaps because of this fact– conservationists including zoo keepers and even Anjelica Huston are rallying against the insensitivity of making fun of the primate and also argue that to their detriment, performing chimps have been taken away from their mothers at a young age.

But this issue really goes down to what is considered reasonable.  And a brand’s reasonable conduct.  Let’s face it, CareerBuilder’s audience is wide, mainly professional and looking for work.  They probably need a laugh and these commercials might provide that (whether they’ll get viewers to the CareerBuilder door –well, look to my general criticism of Super Bowl ads for the answer to that question).

Even more, CareerBuilders is in a strong position even in response to these critics.  Here’s their statement:

“We hired top trainers known to provide the highest standard of care for
their animals.  We also had a member of animal rights group, the
American Humane Association, on set during the entire filming to ensure
the chimpanzees were treated with respect. This was very important to

Bottom line, by conventional standards CareerBuilders is doing nothing wrong and the company is clearly thinking about their target market instead of the vocal minority who object.


Folks, what is Starbucks doing?

In an apparent response to customer demand in the Northwest, some stores will be adding beer and wine to the menu in the evenings.

It’s good that they’re rolling this out locally so that it need not become a nationwide debacle.  Overall, though, this is a pretty bad idea.

First, while the move is apparently in response to customer demand for “more options”, is alcohol really consistent with the Starbucks’ brand? 

I have serious doubts and also suspect that there is a silent majority who don’t think that alcohol belong in Starbucks.  Let’s face it, once you start serving alcohol, you change the atmosphere, the clientele and maybe just in subtle ways begin to color the brand image. 

So I’d vote no to this Starbucks move (though, again, if it works locally, it can stay local without hurting the wider brand –like McDonald’s sells beer in Germany).

One last point, what kind of wine are they going to serve.  It had better be quality on level with the perceived quality of their coffee –and take it from this wine aficianado, that won’t be easy!

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


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAYSometimes the best response to brand criticism is simply to ignore it.








Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Uncle Ben’s and Superbowl Advertising


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner:  Uncle Ben’s


Loser:  Super Bowl Advertising



Folks, who says advertising and marketing can’t be good and do good at the same time?

Of course, it can’t be phoney and whatever the campaign –if there’s going to be a public as well as a business benefit—has to be in step with the brand itself.

That’s why Uncle Ben’s is our winner this week.  Stuart Elliott, the advertising and marketing columnist at The New York Times, delivers a good synopsis of what the rice company is doing:

The Uncle Ben’s line of rice products is extending a campaign that carries the theme “Begin With Ben” to a group of consumers who, the brand hopes, are just beginning to cook.

The extension comes in the form of a competition called the Ben’s Beginners Cooking Contest. The contest, which gets under way at noon E.S.T. on Tuesday, encourages parents to cook with their children as a way to get children interested in learning about preparing meals and healthier ways of eating.

The competition is composed of traditional and contemporary elements. The tried-and-true aspects include a cash prize ($20,000) and celebrities (Angie Harmon and Rachael Ray).

One modern element is that contest entries are to be submitted in the form of video clips, which consumers will be directed to upload to a microsite, or special Web site.

And consumers will be able to vote for their favorite videos through social media, on the Uncle Ben’s Facebook fan page at

A campaign to promote the contest will start this week. It includes digital ads, a video, events and a public relations initiative.

Also this:

In the video clip meant to generate contest entries, a voice-over announcer explains that “beginning with Ben is about more than just beginning with rice.”

“It’s about inspiring kids and families everywhere to make healthier choices,” the announcer says, adding: “Let’s bring excitement back into the kitchen and take kids to places they’ve never tasted before. Let’s start a movement, one that changes the way the world eats, one led by moms, dads and kids, all having fun cooking together.”

Here’s the point, this campaign makes sense for Uncle Ben’s because since it’s beginnings in the forties, this company has been the white rice with added nutrients food. 

It now makes sense in the face of America’s obesity epidemic to position the brand at the center of a healthy response.  But Uncle Ben’s takes it further by engaging the target market on multiple levels, getting them involved with cooking and contests.  The activity that they provoke fits with the message of active healthy families eating well –while it builds good will, it also builds strong interactive identification with this great brand.

One last mention, Paula Deen.  Deen, the celebrity chef who loves butter and all things deep fried, recently announced that she has diabetes.  Serious brand damage looked to follow since apparently she had kept quiet about it long after she knew…  But now I believe she’s on the right track, embracing healthy cooking and using the crisis to start publicising the problem.  Stay tuned!


Folks, here we go again:

Super Bowl advertising is a 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

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 views 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. 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 overshooting the mark and ending up on the wrong
side of publicity.

What about advertisers previewing their ads before the game? I believe they are hoping to increase frequency. But the companies are also showing that Super Bowl advertising
isn’t really about the advertising.  When Anheuser-Busch did this in years past, it might very well
have been about throwing a kind of appreciation “party” for its distributors who,
after all, are the folks that close the sales week after week by getting the
product to the shelves.

I love the ads as much as the next guy, but if I had $3 million dollars to spend, I think I’d spend it somewhere else..

SuperBowl Facts:

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 New York
City market or 800 30-second ads in L.A.

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


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY— Think before advertising.  Will advertising merely make you feel good or will it do your brand good?








Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Kodak


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner:  Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta


Loser:  Kodak



Recently Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in Georgia has been getting alot of criticism for an ad campaign intended to fight childhood obesity.

The campaign is called Strong4Life and features black-and-white photos of fat children with provocative taglines like: “It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not” and “Why am I fat?”

Predictably, the self-esteem brigade and childhood psychology experts have come out and said that this kind of approach will only make things worse, but Children’s Healthcare has fought back and refused to pull the ads. 

The organization’s hope is to shock people into recognizing that we have a real epidemic on our hands and the sad fact that fat kids turn into fat adults and fat adults stay fat.  The more we know about the physiology of weight loss, the more we know that the overweight really have the decks stacked against them when it comes to losing that weight. 

Basically, obese people are set up by their bodies to fail (for a really sobering take, read Tara Parker Pope’s article in The New York Times.  It’s called “The Fat Trap”).

Against this backdrop of reality and the fact that close to 1 million children are obese in Georgia, Strong4Life makes alot of sense.

many others think so too: the ads have received an 85% positive
reaction –my guess, the target market knows better than the so-called
experts that something really needs to be done for our kids and it needs
to be done now. 

By the way, children aren’t the target market here.  The target market is the parents and it will be the parents who will be shaping their children’s health and future.

Bottom line, this is branding at its best: memorable, not afraid of ruffling some feathers and ultimately aiming to drive real action.  My Fat Santa argument made me realize how hard it is to have people change habits and perceptions when it comes to food –it also made me realize how important it is to try.

Well done Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta!


Folks, what in the world has happened to Kodak?  How can we possibly be witnessing bankruptcy for this venerable brand, this one-time photographic pioneer and powerhouse?

What can I say: it’s complacency.

No brand, no matter how venerable or how big is too big or too venerable to fail.  The decline of Kodak has not been overnight –no great brand fails instantly– but it came down to whether the company was meeting needs with its products in the face of the tidal shift to digital photography.  Sadly, the answer looks like it was no.

End of story.

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


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  Brands cannot stand still.  They must be adaptable.








Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winners and Losers of 2011




Amy Winehouse

There is no question that on a personal level, for her family and her friends, Ms. Winehouse’s death was utter tragedy. But just as all of us exist on a personal level, we also exist on a brand level. We are brands that are perceived a certain way by others. Ms. Winehouse was an entertainment and artistic brand.  Winehouse’s tragic story of self-destruction at a young age makes her a brand winner. Why?

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, Jimi 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 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. 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’s wrong with selling?  Winehouse’s art will continue to live precisely because it sells.

General Motors

General Motors is a back-to-back winner (2010 and now again in 2011).  In fact, the company has continued to be a winner ever since the spring of 2008 and the Federal bailout –despite all predictions to the contrary.

I don’t want to blow my own horn here and frankly I can’t because my 2008 call that GM would recover has been based on one simple and universal rule: people buy brands not companies.

Investors buy companies, but people are in a relationship with brands and General Motors is a brand company.  You are a Chevy buyer, a Cadillac buyer, etc.

The $7.1 billion dollars that GM has posted in profit so far this year is the direct result of the company’s focus on its brands.  That’s right, $7.1 billion dollars and the company’s also wrested the global sales lead back from Toyota.  This after having lost $82 billion prior to 2008.  GM is back and better than ever.  End of story.

Steve Jobs 

We lost the man who more than anyone shaped the technological landscape in 2011.  Jobs was simply a superb man. A brand for the ages.  The word genius will be thrown around a lot about him, but that word genius misses the point.  Many people have genius, but few geniuses have the kind of flexibility, endurance and ability to admit wrong turns, face them and correct them. That trait, which Jobs had in spades, translated directly to Apple’s success and Pixar’s –the kind of success that required meeting not only consumers’ needs again and again but even anticipating their dreams. Jobs and Apple practiced almost a kind of symbiotic marketing –perceiving what consumers need almost before they knew and then delivering and then refining according to their consumers’ experience and input. Whether it was at Pixar or at Apple, Jobs managed to add a touch of the poet into the laser-sharp dynamism of a great marketer and innovator. That approach was a deep part of Jobs himself and the experiences that shaped him. As human beings we can learn a lot from the words that Jobs delivered as part of his commencement address to Stanford’s graduating class in 2005.  Here’s the complete text.

The Royal Family

What a difference twenty years can make. Not too long ago, it was simply assumed that the British monarchy was on its way out. Prince Charles and his treatment of Diana made his potential kingship unwanted. Besides, the world seemed to be moving on and the idea of a monarchy in a modern democracy was almost embarrassing. 

All that changed in 2011 with the royal wedding.  The wedding was one of those seminal moments when both doubters and fans alike realized they were witnessing the re-emergence of a powerful brand. This event will be remembered as the moment the idea of British monarchy shifted from being something that people passively accepted to something that people actively embraced. 

Strictly from a marketing perspective, the message couldn’t have been clearer. With the monarchy receiving a whopping 80 percent approval rating from the British people and a fundamentally enthusiastic response from the rest of the world, the House of Windsor isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

More than this, it is almost impossible to quantify the value of this several-hour long infomercial for Britain and the royal family. If thirty-seconds of the Super Bowl is worth upwards of three million dollars for advertisers and that game “only” attracts 100 million pairs of eyes –what’s the value of thirty seconds of something that grabs thirty times that audience? Excuse the math but that’s $180 million dollars a minute times 180 minutes equals almost thirty-two and a half billion dollars of unforgettable promotional material. 

But let’s face it; the royal wedding is about much more than money. It is about people recognizing that they have preserved something of real value in a world where so many things just get thrown away. 

McDain’s Restaurant

In July, Mike Vuick, the owner of  McDain’s Restaurant and Golf Center in Monroeville Pennsylvania, decided that his customers deserved a peaceful, child-free environment.  Children under six were no longer allowed.

Many people 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 nursery and understands that his patrons are people who are coming there to be infant-free. Making this a policy strengthened the McDain’s brand.  Vuick isn’t anti-kid, he is pro-brand and pro-civility. As he said this 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.”

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

Honorable Brand Mentions:

Taylor Swift (general brand excellence)

McDonald’s (best mature brand maintenance)

Katie Couric (best brand revival)

JetBlue (best brand responsiveness)

Tiger Woods (best continuing brand comeback)

2011 LOSERS: 

Standard & Poor’s

As you probably know, 2011 was the year that Standard & Poor’s, the ratings agency, downgraded U.S. debt, stripping it of its Triple A status.  This had never happened before in our country’s history.  It was a huge blow during these already tough times.

As one government commentator observed, the S&P move was a “facts-be-damned” decision.  The other ratings agencies didn’t follow suit.

I would argue that this decision came directly out of S&P thinking about its own brand and deciding to use this moment in history to bolster its brand position after missing the 2008 financial debacle.  Unfortunately, for the U.S. and for S&P this is terrible brand management because rash moves –even moves that seem in keeping with your brand— do damage.

Let’s ask a basic question.  Why has U.S. debt never been downgraded before?  There’s a reason and it goes far beyond our current deficit and difficulties: we’ve always paid our debts.  I’m not an economist so I won’t go too far down the road of actually assessing U.S. debt, but after World War II our debt was more than 100% of annual GDP and we still kept our Triple A.

Basically, S&P has gone out on a limb and is trying to look bold, courageous and truthful.  But they will probably end up looking reckless and opportunistic and very bad at math.

Charlie Sheen

At first it looked like Charlie Sheen might just be “winning.”  The actor took his outspoken person into the Twitter-verse and across the country, publicly airing his dispute with CBS and almost everything else about himself.  But he forgot something critical: no man –no matter how good an entertainer— is an island.  Without a script Sheen fizzled on stage and his Internet video rants were simply embarrassing.  Like a sports star without a team to play on, Sheen having lost Two and a Half Men had no platform from which to have his brand shine.  2012 might be different for the actor, but only if Sheen remembers that the whole world is not in love with him and only if the right producing and network mix comes along to support him –before there is no momentum left and not much brand left to salvage.

The Soap Opera

2011 will likely be remembered as the year the Soap Opera finally died.  ABC took the venerable All My Children and One Life to Live off air.  Some people argue that soap operas will have a new life to live online, but I doubt that online life will ever rival the power soaps once had.

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 storylines and relationship focus, have been picked up by prime time drama.
The problem is that even if the Target Market still exists, can you still reach them profitably?

Penn State

With legendary former football coach Joe Paterno’s grand jury admission on December 16 that he knew of Jerry Sandusky’s “inappropriate” behavior with a minor as far back as 2002, it is clear that the rot goes deep at Penn State.  Radical measures are needed to restore this once great institution. They must be taken now.  Bottom line? Penn State needs to change its name.

A name change is rooted in the science of the brain. We know this from tests like those done at the human neuro-imaging lab at Baylor University. In the lab’s Coke-Pepsi tests, subjects were given both drinks, but those who saw the Coke logo while drinking Coke declared a preference for Coke over Pepsi (three out of four) and their brains showed a complex set of reactions that went well beyond the actual taste of what they were drinking, especially stimulating the memory areas of the brain.  What this shows is that people’s reactions to a brand name are tied to complex responses related to the brand and themselves. As a result, at a certain point “Penn State” will have — if it hasn’t already—become toxic, meaning that people will automatically, and involuntarily, experience a negative reaction whenever they encounter it.  Whether the school will be a loser in 2012 depends on what they do now.  Will they be bold or bury their head?


In July, this otherwise successful mail and online video rental company alienated many customers by abruptly raising its prices.  Since that time Netflix has lost hundreds of thousands of customers and received a lot of bad press.  Then they announced a split of their DVD mail service and their streaming video service into two separate companies only to reverse that decision almost immediately.

After this, the company warned that the decline in subscribers is going to continue into next year.  The stock lost 15 percent in one session.

Bottom line, Netflix needs to regroup and focus on their brand. Raising prices might have meant accounting sense but the way they did it made zero brand sense.  Worst of all for the Netflix brand is the impression that they have forgotten their customers.  The next move?  Do nothing other than remember your customers and stop making any hare-brained moves.


(Dis)honorable Brand Mentions:

The Republicans (brand in most self-inflicted trouble)

Miley Cyrus (worst brand meltdown)

Bank of America (brand taking customers most for granted)

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