Monthly Archives: April 2012

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


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner: Coke


Loser:  Oreo



Folks, sometimes a company needs to be the voice of reason when it comes to defending its brand.

This is what happened last week to Coca Cola after a New Zealand woman’s death was laid on its doorstep.

The woman died of a heart attack at 30 and the news story that flew around the world was that drinking Coke killed her.

Not a great headline especially when Coke has been battered through the years by the health brigade, implicating the soft drink in everything from stripping the paint off cars to obesity.

But Coke did the right thing, they defended themselves without sounding defensive.  You might not be able to retract the headline –and my guess is that “Coke killed a woman” is going to percolate down into urban myth– but you can inject some common sense.

Turns out the woman was drinking up to 2.6 gallons of Coke a day (not to mention smoking 30 cigarettes).  Coca Cola pointed out that drinking too much water is fatal and supported the coroner’s findings that that there were other factors too (like the woman not seeking proper medical attention long before the fatal heart attack).

Some brands are lightning rods for certain kinds of media attention.  Coke and McDonald’s will probably always battle health claims.  The key is knowing when to push back.

After all, many devoted Coke drinkers have lived to a ripe old age!


I’ve talked about the cross-border branding problem before, but this week Oreo’s botched breast feeding tie-in has underscored the issue like nothing before.

Basically, a concept for a South Korean ad that had a nursing baby holding an Oreo cookie seems to have gone viral.

Two issues: 1) what works for a brand in one country won’t in another.  In the past this wasn’t such a problem but with the Internet, an image or concept that’s shocking to another market will likely hit that market and the blowback can hurt the brand; 2) is this an Oreo viral campaign gone wrong?

Let’s tackle #1 first.  Folks, this one’s an obvious problem for brands with a complicated solution.  The problem is that multinational brands must play to different tastes to get pickup in different countries but sometimes doing this can really offend other consumers of the brand.  The solution is almost always going to be case-by-case and means brands need to tread even more carefully, knowing that a single mis-fire in one country can stain the brand worldwide.  One rule of thumb is this: stick to the core message of the brand and the key benefits delivered and you probably can’t go too wrong.

#2 is something we don’t know about.  The question is how did this supposeduly preliminary concept get out?  If it was leaked as part of a viral campaign, you have to ask yourself why the lunatics are running the asylum.  After all, in the key market, the US, combining Oreos with breast feeding is obviously totally wrong headed.  Yes, there is such a thing as bad publicity –this is it. 

The lesson, if this is viral, is for Oreo to immediately institute a much tighter approvals process.  It might seem too cautious and boring, but preserving a brand’s value demands keeping the creatives in line!

Startups can shock.  Mature brands need to avoid shock at all costs.

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


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY: Mature brands can’t afford shock.








Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Ford (Lincoln) and Ball Parks


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner: Ford (Lincoln)


Loser:  Ball Parks (Peanuts)



Ford’s our winner this week.  Why?

Their commitment to the Lincoln brand.  Despite declining sales in recent years, the company understands that brands have deep value and if you can find a way of tapping that value, it is always better than throwing a brand away.

So how are they planning on doing this?  By getting fresh blood in the form of a major new designer Max Wolff who seems to understand the Lincoln brand. 

Here’s a bit of the story from The New York Times (and the link):

just 5.5 percent of the luxury car market and an aging customer base
(average age: 65), Lincoln needs to attract buyers from other brands.

“This position is unique,” Mr. Wolff told me when I caught up with him and Ford’s global marketing vice president, Jim Farley, at this week’s New York International Auto Show, where a gleaming “ruby red” Lincoln MKZ was on display a few feet away. “I was hired to reinvent a storied brand,” Mr. Wolff said. “I had a blank canvas. Jim hired me to be a provocateur. A chance like this probably comes along only once in a lifetime.”

Lincoln is indeed storied within design circles. When Ford recently acquired a rare Continental Mark II from 1956, Mr. Wolff had the car moved to the new Lincoln design studio in Dearborn, where it served as inspiration for a new generation of Lincoln designers. In 1956, Lincoln sold the Mark II for a then-exorbitant $10,000, about the same price as a Rolls-Royce and twice that of a Cadillac. Fewer than 3,000 were built. A model once owned by Elvis Presley sold at a charity auction in 1999 for $250,000.

The most iconic Lincoln design may be the 1961 model, considered the masterwork of the legendary designer Elwood Engel, which was seared into the American consciousness as the car in which John F. Kennedy was riding when he was shot in Dallas. It shared with the Mark II an elegant simplicity that was a sharp departure from Detroit’s recent taste for flamboyant tail fins. The 1961 Continental has attracted a cult following and has been featured in numerous films as well as the opening credits of the HBO series “Entourage.”

“I look at the 1961 Continental and I see beautiful proportions, great details, elegant restraint, with just the right amount of chrome,” Mr. Wolff said. “In that sense, there are some similarities. If you look at the MKZ, you’ll see some of the same craftsmanship and detail, but it’s very simple. There’s not a bit of added surface language. It’s refined and elegant. But we’re not reimagining the past. It’s not a retro look. We wanted to break the mold. It’s provocative for Lincoln, and we believe it will change people’s perceptions.”

Well done, Ford!  My fingers are crossed for the future of this great brand.


Many baseball ball parks are banning chewing (or smokeless) tobacco –probably not such a big leap (after all, remember those old-fashioned “No expectorating” signs meant to stop the spitting-inclined?).

But peanuts?  Can this actually be happening in America?

Apparently it is. 

I’m the last person to make light of serious medical conditions, but the recent trend to ban peanuts at baseball parks because of people with peanut allergies has forced me to ask the question: “Are the inmates running the asylum?”

Not yet.  So far, the move has been restricted to peanut-free seating, but Fenway banned peanuts for an entire 226-person section and the effort is growing to institute a complete ban.

The argument by the anti-peanut people is that even the smell of peanuts can drive allergic reactions –wafting aromas of roasting peanuts are forbidden. 

My sense is that this is lawyer-driven thinking on the part of ball parks –trying to stave off the inevitable law suit– rather than comprehensive and commonsense marketing that remembers the old take me out to the ball game spirit of baseball and insists on the rights and experience of the majority.

Sure, peanut allergies have doubled in a decade in the US.  But we’re not talking about a school where people with peanut allergies have to attend.  We’re talking about a voluntary activity and the fact that being overly cautious for a very small number of voluntary attendees deprives baseball and the vast majority of fans of an integral part of the experience.


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


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY: Brands need to take into account all opinions and feedback but ultimately must be governed by the majority –not the minority.








Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Mega Millions and Pink Slime


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner: Mega Millions


Loser:  Pink Slime



The winner this week offers a simple lesson in branding: when you sell something that people want, you don’t need to do much to promote it –they will come to you.

That’s what Mega Millions teaches us.

Fact is, that’s what the lines waiting to buy a chance at half a billion dollars told any marketer last week.

Despite the outrageous odds against winning, human beings are drawn to the lottery.  The bigger the jackpot, the more people come out of the woodwork to buy their chance.

From a marketing perspective, the promoter of Mega Millions must simply get out of the way.  In other words, the branding must be straightforward (what can be more straightforward than naming your product exactly what it is –a chance to win mega millions?).

Next, the distribution must be there and almost nothing is as efficiently and widely distributed as these lottery tickets.

Bottom line: it’s something people really want, has an attractive price point, clear branding and universal distribution with no supply chain problems.


Pink slime has been in the news but anyone with an ear to the ground, a finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist, should have seen this one coming a long time ago.

After all, people like Jamie Oliver and others (what about Fast Food Nation or Supersize Me?) have been drawing attention to processed meats for years.

Now the slime really has hit the fan and there’s brand fallout.

One of the makers of pink slime, AFA Foods Inc., of King of Prussia, Pa., has filed for bankruptcy protection and directly blamed the pink slime controversy for it.

According to Matthew Enis, an editor at Supermarket News, “Almost every major supermarket chain has ordered their suppliers to
stop using the ingredient in ground meat products sold to their stores”

Enis went on to say:“Unlike most other major meat suppliers, AFA wasn’t very
diversified—no pork or chicken or steaks. Ground beef is pretty much all
they do, so this was especially difficult for them.”

I want to stop right there.  “Ground beef is pretty much all they do…” 

That’s poor branding.  Why?  Because a crisis like the outcry over pink slime doesn’t just come out the blue.  It might seem to, but there is almost always a warning, in fact, lots of warnings that smart brands heed and adapt to before things really go wrong.

First of all, as far as I can tell the pink slime industry or as they would call themselves the “lean finely textured beef” industry never took action to protect themselves or explain wy what they produced wasn’t as bad as everyone said it was.  They couldn’t, you say, because it really is bad. 

But fact is, if you take a closer look at almost any meat preparation, you’re sure to turn a lot of stomachs.  The entire industry is premised on people not taking that closer look –as are many finished product industries (at some point in the production process, processed dairy whips are said to be blue).

The lesson here is that the writing was on the wall for pink slime a long time ago and some action needed to be taken before the firestorm.  It’s possible that nothing would have helped, but from a company and brand perspective, it’s better to take action and if necessary diversify out of the problem business before it’s too late.

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


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAYDo you have a “pink slime” issue lurking in your business?