Category Archives: Branding

Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second. -William James

Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.            -William James

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Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Ashton Kutcher and The IMF

Brand Winner… And Loser…


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

Winner:  Ashton Kutcher

Loser:  The IMF




Ashton Kutcher is the winner of the week and not just because he has landed a plum role on CBS’s hit comedy Two and a Half Men. 

If anything, the decision to select Kutcher to replace Charlie Sheen on the show is the consequence of years of consistently winning brand strategies on the part of the entertainer.

Why pay Kutcher $750,000 an episode (his estimated salary)?   Simple.  He brings one of the most established entertainment brands to the table. 

Fact is, press reports don’t describe Kutcher as just an actor anymore.  No.  He’s known as a social media entrepreneur. 

Kutcher has more than 6.8 million followers on Twitter and has just partnered with Ubermedia to launch a unique Twitter client intended to appeal and support his fan base.   

Talk about a guy who understands that the role of an entertainer is to deliver what the fans want.  Charlie Sheen forgot this.  He mistakenly thought that his concerns and pre-occupations were his fans’.  His tour wasn’t about serving their needs, it was always about serving his own –that’s why it flopped.

But Kutcher is no Sheen.  He was one of the first and is certainly one of the savviest when it comes to using social media to support his traditional media roles in movies and on television.

CBS and the show’s producers know that when they get Kutcher, they’re also getting a one-man marketing machine. 

Sheen did this too, you say?  Sure, but he did it backwards.  It was the success in the traditional media that gave him the initial power to strike out on his own with Twitter –but when there isn’t content behind social media momentum you see what happens: things fizzle like they did for Sheen.

Kutcher’s development of a Twitter following was strategic marketing, it was done over time (albeit a very short period) and reflects genuine fan interest and support; Sheen, on the other hand, followed a promotional and fad-like trajectory.  His ranting drew attention and a quick spike in Twitter followers but these followers simply did not have the “quality” of Kutcher’s.

Kutcher’s smart enough to know that the two, traditional and social media, work best when they work together.  Hats off to a great brander!


The International Monetary Fund is our loser of the week for one very simple reason.  When they had the chance to get rid of a brand liability –Dominique Strauss-Kahn— they didn’t.

The IMF brand crisis didn’t begin last weekend, it began long before that when Strauss-Kahn was barely punished for an affair that in almost any other corporate or government context would have ended his career.

The fact that it didn’t said all you need to know about the IMF. 

Bottom line, the problem is cultural with the organization.  The Strauss-Kahn scandal needs to wake up the organization and all those who support the organization.

What’s needed now is a top to bottom review of the culture inside IMF and an active statement of reform made by the leadership.  Next, action that fixes the problem and the right kind of communication to let everyone know that the problem has been fixed. 

No organization and institution today should be making a mistake like this…  Folks, I’m not talking about public relations here or putting the right spin on a crisis, I’m speaking about the essence of marketing which is having the right structure, or in this case, corporate culture, in place from the start –or else sincerely fixing the problem.  No amount of story-crafting will change the underlying story-rot at the center of IMF’s permissive culture and the same holds true for any institution today –the brand message comes directly from the everyday truth of the brand.   And that truth is partly based on a history of decisions both small and large like the decision to look the other way at executive behavior at IMF.

Brands are destroyed one bad decision at a time, but they can also be rebuilt.

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




Brand success or failure is the result of individual decisions over a period of time.





Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Skype and The Ivy League

Brand Winner… And Loser…


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

Winner:  Skype

Loser:  The Ivy League




Finally, Microsoft has done something really right.  The company’s purchase of Skype for 8.5 billion dollars, its largest acquisition ever, is the kind of bold risk that many condemn at the time under the category “They Overpaid” but later come to see as the staggering, history-making opposite.

Make no mistake, Skype is no MySpace, the high flyer of the social network craze that never paid off as an investment.  Skype might not be making a profit but its brand is deeply established.  When we want to chat by “video” (basically whenever we want to talk via our computers) we use the new verb “Skype.”

Of course, just because a company name is part of the language doesn’t mean the brand is bullet proof (e.g., Johnson & Johnson still sell Band-Aids but so can anyone), but no brand is ever bullet proof.  Skype is much more than its name, Skype is its functionality and almost universal presence.   People are wowed by Facebook’s 500 million registered users (of which maybe half are active?).  Skype has over 600 million registered and at any given time, twenty-four hours a day, you can hop online and see that tens of millions of them are active. 

When we analyze Skype what matters the most is three inter-related things: 1) the wide-range of its users and 2) the ease and simplicity of using it and 3) the need it supplies.

Bottom line, its users don’t just comprise a certain demo- or psycho-graphic, they represent everyone from teens to grandmothers.  Why?  That’s where #2 and #3 come together.  Not everyone wants to be a social networker or sees the point in either a MySpace or Facebook page, but almost everyone has someone to communicate with somewhere in the world and if given the choice they want to be able to do this for as cheap as possible as long as it isn’t too complicated.  Skype delivers on both counts. 

Fact is, Skype is the telephone service of the Internet age, arguably the first Internet service that is really for the mass market in the way the telephone was.

Sure there are competitors, Google Voice and Apple’s FaceTime, but Skype has an enormous lead and Skype already has two established features that should be the envy of any Internet company: 1) they have a platform that could readily be used for advertising and promotion and 2) they already have a system in place to charge people (i.e., Skype Credit and Skype subscription services) that enable them to make money by charging people some of the lowest prices anywhere for dialing land and mobile phones.

Hats off to Microsoft.  My only advice to the company: keep Skype separate and remember what has made it a success in the first place.  Too much change to the service, especially pricing and how the Skype interface works, could be fatal.


In branding you really cannot have your cake and eat it too.

(A branding aside, Ferrari announced a family car this past week.  Wow.  What a mistake.  Sure, family driving is a nice, rich market, but family driving is not what Ferrari is all about.  Brand extensions that contradict your core characteristics dilute the brand.  This is known as the trading-down strategy and it’s inherently risky because your traditional target market can be quickly alienated.  End of story.)

The Ivy League is our loser of the week for precisely this reason. 

These select schools have built their reputations over literally hundreds of years by being just that: select.

They can rightly be accused of being elitist, but it is being elitist that supports their enduring appeal.

Recently, though, some of the schools in the Ivy League seem to have been practicing some below-the-belt marketing aimed at broadening their audience and making the schools –as if this were even necessary— look even more exclusive.  How?  By reaching out with promotional materials and invitations to apply to students who didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting accepted.  This plumps the numbers so that an even smaller percentage of people actually get accepted (this year, for example, a record 6.2 percent of applicants were accepted at Harvard).

Folks, this is really the worst kind of marketing.  Not only does it leave a terrible taste in the mouth of thousands who find themselves rightfully disillusioned at a very sensitive time of their lives, but it also sends a message that these highly esteemed institutions have stooped to cynical and predatory marketing gimmicks –the kind of stunts that give marketing a bad name.

Fact is, this isn’t marketing at all because it violates one of the cornerstone rules of marketing: don’t raise false expectations in your Target Market.  Don’t pretend to be able to deliver something that you cannot.  Promotions that do this are doomed to fail.  They might not seem to fail right away (e.g., Harvard and others get significant spikes in the number of applicants), but they corrode brand equity.  Like Ferrari you can’t be exclusive and simultaneously not-exclusive.

But the Ivy League isn’t just some luxury or status brand, it is an institutional brand that is meant to express high academic and, dare-I-say-it?, ethical and cultural values.  Tactics like this are even more damaging for institutional brands.

The good news for the Ivy League is this: if they abandon these cheap tactics soon, the damage shouldn’t be permanent.  After all, it takes generations to build up profound institutional brands like these and they won’t be diminished overnight.  The only question is: will these tactics stop?  When distinguished college admissions counselors are calling Harvard’s tactics “not honorable” and “misleading,” they better.

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




Marketing without an understanding of the brand behind the campaign is just a tactic at a fire sale. 





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

Brand Winner… And Loser…


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

Winner:  Marvel

Loser:  Chrysler




Thor thundered away at the box office this past weekend earning almost $66 million domestically.  It’s done $240 million worldwide, beating the first releases of high performing movie franchises like X-Men and The Fantastic Four.

Marvel’s success with yet another movie adaptation of a character from its deep bench is a vivid illustration of what brand equity means.

I’ve written a lot about the mistaken notion that a brand is somehow just a name.  When Gourmet magazine was shut down but remained a name, the folks who did the closing up shop (getting rid of editorial and all that stood behind the name) incorrectly believed that they were somehow still retaining value in the name.

But for a brand’s name to have value, there must be value behind the name.  That value is built over time; that value is consistently maintained; that value is expanded when it can be expanded.

The Marvel model brilliantly shows us how.  First, Marvel has for decades created new characters in its comic universe then had those characters appear month after month in new scenarios.  The whole process of having to appeal so regularly to a changing audience is like operating in a brand furnace where concepts can be perfected.  That’s why a Marvel character like Thor or Ironman has such power –they have been audience tested for years.

More than a decade ago, Marvel didn’t quite seem to understand the power of its brand and its many individual character “brands”.  That was before the long run of movies reminded the company and the world of this equity.

All of us can learn from Marvel.  A brand starts with a concept that a Target Market finds appealing.  Then that concept is field tested.  The field testing helps to refine the brand and also confirms that the concept is strong.   Then, as is the case with Marvel, the brand is consistently sold to the Target Market and that brand that survives by way of striking a balance between adaptation and staying true to its core becomes incredibly strong –so strong that no one can come along and simply create the same kind of success out of thin air.

That’s why, despite all the creative folks out there trying to get the next big thing in superheroes, a company like Marvel keeps delivering.  It’s not that Thor or Ironman are simply tried and true that gives them brand equity; it’s how they became tried and true that matters.

Marvel is reaping the dividends from the brand building it has been doing since the early 1960s.  End of story. 


Chrysler could do with a lesson on brands from General Motors.

Whereas, General Motors has re-committed itself to the idea that people buy brands not companies and has put itself firmly back on the path to global dominance by building each of its great brands; Chrysler looks like it’s doing the opposite.

I’m talking about Chrysler’s focus on itself as a company and not on its individual automobile brands.

Recently the company announced its first profitable quarter since its government rescue.  Chrysler made a big deal about it, but it wasn’t much.  Only one percent of its first quarter sales.

Arguably, unlike GM, the Chrysler “brand” has always carried more weight when it came to the individual car brands.  When Lee Iaccoca oversaw Chrysler’s turnaround decades ago giving the company brand a breath of life was part of the strategy and it worked.

But too much emphasis on the company brand over the individual  car brands is a mistake.  Unfortunately, here is was Olivier Francois, the new head of the combined Fiat-Chrysler company recently said:

In Europe, we always considered Chrysler the best American brand. But it became a brand that was discontented and it had low brand loyalty. It’s as if you looked at your kid and said he was a low achiever and then started cutting costs – you don’t pay for the best clothes or the most expensive school and so on. If you have low expectations, then that’s what you get.

Chrysler always had a very good image in Europe. It was considered very innovative and, actually less American. It was seen as exotic. It had stylistic cars. But you needed to put money and investment in the materials, and quality, and in its people. What matters most to buyers is not whether it’s a Dodge or Jeep or Ram Truck. The perceived quality of the cars was unsatisfactory.

I put that last part in bold: What matters most to buyers in not whether it’s a Dodge or Jeep or Ram Truck.

He couldn’t be more wrong.

That’s exactly what matters to buyers.  Sure the Chrysler name will help to ensure that there’s quality behind things, but ultimately a happy Ram truck owner will be talking up his Ram truck to other potential buyers and will become a repeat buyer himself.  That is what brand loyalty is about.  The only thing that matters to the Ram Truck owner is that the Chrysler quality is obvious in his truck.  Unless he’s a financier, the Ram Truck owner really won’t care what his truck says about the quality of Chrysler, the company, or its other vehicles.

Bottom line, Chrysler needs to remember that it has great individual car brands and then it is has to bring back the quality in each one.

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






For a brand’s name to have value, there must be value behind the name.





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

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

Brand Winner… And Loser…



Winner:  General Motors

Loser:  Katie Couric




Almost two years ago, I went out on what looked like a pretty creaky limb to ask this question:  What Will They Say When GM Makes A Profit For Taxpayers?

For me the answer was clear: General Motors was going to come roaring back.  That position seemed like a long shot to many people.  After all, GM was on the ropes, having just declared bankruptcy.  The company was being kept afloat by taxpayer money and being criticized as bloated, incompetent and out-classed by a legion of competitors both foreign and domestic.

But it wasn’t a long shot if you looked at the company’s prospects through the marketing lens.  Here’s some of my argument at the time:

I really can’t believe it…Everywhere you look, General Motors is being put into an early grave.

How wrong can you be?

Consumers love their Caddies, Chevies and Chevy trucks. Yes, folks, they love these brands and it doesn’t matter how much doom and gloom comes over the airwaves and the Internet.

Forget about GM. People don’t buy a company; they buy a car.

And GM has some of the strongest car brands in the world and it’s these brands that will lead GM to profitability over the next five years. Just watch.

Less than two years have passed and:   April sales are up an incredible twenty six percent and the company is considering re-opening shuttered plants. 

Bottom line, GM is set to once again be the global car sales leader.  The brand-focused marketing was telling this story all along and as long as this focus continues, count on more great things.


Katie Couric has a big problem.  When she made the jump to Evening News, she had substantial brand equity and momentum.  After all, she was one of America’s media darlings and even the doubters –I was one— had to admit that the decision to do news seemed exciting.

But today with that choice having damaged her badly and slowed her momentum, she is in a very difficult position.

Others have straddled morning and evening successfully.

Diane Sawyer did well in both worlds –but Sawyer was different.  Sawyer started in news, cut her teeth and shaped her brand as a serious newswoman, and when she migrated to morning, she brought this gravitas with her and then displayed another, warmer, quality to her brand.

Tom Brokaw did the same.  White House correspondent and serious journalist first, then Today Show host for a spell.

Couric, though, went the other direction.   She emerged as a personality brand, not a news brand with a personality.

Not only that, but she spent years cementing this personality perception in her audience’s mind. 

The result of this was that when she made the switch to Evening News it was obvious from a marketing perspective that the experiment would fail. 

This is what I wrote at the time:

On the Today Show, Katie’s warmth, perkiness, friendliness and intelligence—(Her Brand) was consumed most positively by her loyal viewers, (mostly females) every morning as they started their day.

The secret to success in whatever you pursue is knowing your brand and keeping in mind your target market. Katie’s brand, popular among women (25-49) should have targeted an audience with a show similar to the Today’s Show Brand that was accepted in the marketplace. A talk show targeted to her demographic; the CBS Morning Show or Good Morning America would have been better choices….

This conclusion is truer than ever now. 

Will Couric become the next Oprah? 

Absolutely not. 

Oprah is Oprah and Couric is Couric.  Oprah has been consistent from the very start and arguably is the first social networker among mass media figures.  Year after year, Oprah built a network of individual fans and supporters.  Just the number of ordinary Americans who have made appearances as guests and audience members over the years must be in the many tens of thousands.  We’re talking about people who were directly invested in Oprah by her interacting with them or just being in their physical presence.  Talk about word of mouth!   This fact established a powerful bond between Oprah and so many individuals.  It was brand equity built laboriously and carefully over time.  Add to that the high octane fuel of a show on which Oprah appeared daily across the nation (named after her) and personally controlled and you have a power with which Couric cannot possibly compete no matter how likeable she is or what she does from here.

Bottom line, Couric would probably have to spend the next fifteen to twenty years following Oprah’s path and even then the outcome wouldn’t be clear.  Her foray into news has confused her brand and even on The Today Show she wasn’t the boss, even though she was an important player.

Fact is, Couric has a lot to offer but she will need to find a venue that will enable her to rebuild and expand her brand.  She might not like to hear this, but Couric probably has to go back to an established morning show to rebuild before going out on her own.

Next stop Good Morning America?

Stay tuned.

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






Your brand must always move in harmony with its core identity.





Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Charlie Sheen and CBS

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…



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

Winner:  Charlie Sheen

Loser:  CBS




Folks, Charlie Sheen really is “winning.”

He won a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest to surpass the million-follower mark on Twitter.

He has won round-the-clock attention from the media for more than a week.

He has won admiration from people who are tired of media spin and found his direct answers to interview questions refreshing.

He is liked by many twenty-somethings –really liked, because he is perceived as standing up to the suits and authority.

His success has revealed that the public has a powerful taste for the unscripted in an age when celebrities and notables of all stripes are supposed to be slaves to the publicist-controlled gerbil wheel of brand-damage control.

Most of all, Sheen came across as funny.  Very funny.  The media came across like scolds trying to pull down a force of nature.  Sheen really did seem like he had tiger blood in him.

All of this has translated into huge interest in the Sheen brand, the kind of interest that stars, television shows and movies are hard-pressed to generate, especially in this ever-more fractured media environment.                                                                                         

The predictions of doom for the Sheen brand can be traced to two basic mistakes.

The first mistake is this.  Many people are confusing the Person with the Personality. 

In terms of brands, the person is who Charlie Sheen really is, but the personality is the image that he has crafted over the years.  The personality is the excellent actor and the career bad boy who people love to see on both big and small screen. 

This part of the Sheen package is possibly stronger than ever.  His behavior, despicable though it may be, has re-enforced the brand in people’s minds. 

What this guy does from a personal perspective might be terrible, but what matters here from a personality brand perspective is that he is perceived as a rogue. 

He was not cast in Two-And-A-Half Men because he had a reputation as a choir boy.  The perception of Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise going off the deep end hurt those personality brands, but there is no reason to think the same holds true for Sheen who never inspired the same expectations that Gibson and Cruise did.

The second mistake is confusing a momentary interruption in the distribution chain (i.e., he has been kicked off his show) for a permanent one. 

Sure, if you’ve got a winning product that you can’t get onto the shelves then eventually this is going to hurt the product’s popularity.

But as long as you can find a way around the distribution problem, then the brand can still thrive by finding a way to the people who like the brand.

Sheen has this kind of short-term problem – not a long-term one, and definitely not a career-killing one.

The issue then is ensuring that the personality reaches the Target Market that loves him.  These are the people who thought he was great in Two-And-A-Half Men and the even bigger audience who have admired his recent nose-thumbing at the status quo.

My sense is that the right producer and the right network can solve the Sheen distribution problem in a heartbeat and go on to make a killing from a brand new show packaged for this market that millions will devour.

The only downside here is that Sheen’s spike in popularity shares a lot of the characteristics with the trajectory of a fad. 

Initially, the public can’t get enough of a fad.  Then, usually because of poor brand management, they’ve had enough and you can’t give away what you used to be able to sell.

Corporate brands are usually smart enough to either ride the fad profitably and then let it die or control it so that the brand stays around for a while.  Fad Brand control is all about pacing, you don’t want to completely feed the appetite or be too available. 

Many fads –think Frisbee— were able to ride the initial wave of “I can’t get enough of this thing” to become mature brands.

But personal brands –think celebrities— usually fail when it comes to managing the fad trajectory.  Betty White handled her popular resurgence well, understanding how to ride the fad wave to more work and a new generation of admirers.  But she’s a professional who understands fever-pitched popularity never lasts.  William Shatner is the same.  Both simply keep working no matter what and accept that there will be a time when their public is just not as interested in them as it used to be.


Sheen has been in show business a long time too, but he’s definitely taking a risk with recent, over-exposing moves.

His Sheen’s Corner, the live-streaming video he did over the weekend is an example of the risk of a celebrity believing in himself too much… thinking that everything he touches will inevitably turn to gold.   The problem is that even his so-called rants were edited in short interviews with the media so that his best and funniest lines jumped out.  There’s nothing like unedited video footage to make anyone look like a hostage-taker or a cult leader.  And Charlie Sheen is no exception.

Bottom line, Sheen needs to pull back from the public eye right now. 

If he “goes silent,” just watch as his brand comes back stronger than ever.


I’ll keep this short.

For all the reasons above, CBS has made a terrible mistake.

They are letting a great brand slip away.

You can almost hear the old Hollywood-mogul, cigar-chomping bravado: Sheen will never work in this town again.

The only problem is that it’s a much bigger, much harder to control media landscape today.  Chances are Sheen will work again and CBS will be left scrambling to find a show that fills this valuable lost time slot.

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

A great brand must have the right distribution to succeed.

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of the Week: Knicks and James Franco

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…


John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  Knicks

Loser:  James Franco




Folks, I’ve written extensively about what I call performance brands. 

Performance brands are typically found in sports where performance in the arena of play provides a powerful driver for brand recognition and redemption whenever brand image redemption is needed –these days it seems to be needed quite a bit.

The New York Knicks are the winner of the week because of their decision to hire Carmelo Anthony.

This decision is paying huge dividends.  The Knicks’ victory over the Heat and Lebron James was stunning and already you can feel the re-emergence of a great sports club, an updating of the brand.  It’s amazing what winning can do.

More than that winning fits the New York Target Market, the Knick’s primary fans.

If you understand the performance brand dynamic, you can make some very accurate predictions on brand outcomes that will have some conventional thinkers scratching their heads trying to figure out how you did it.

I had this experience with Tiger Woods when he was widely thought to be washed up after last year’s scandal.  I argued that his brand would ultimately sail through. 

My point then was that as a performance brand, Woods would continue to retain his incredible media platform if he continued to play well.  If he kept that platform, well, bottom line, his brand would have powerful visibility and he would have the chance to build his public persona brand back. 

Not only that, but performance brands are resilient because they are all about their Target Markets.  Lots of people in the general public might have had big problems with Tiger Woods and that was what most of the media cared about, but at the end of the day, the general public isn’t Tiger’s Target Market –golf fans are.  Those fans care more about his winning than they do about his poor life choices.

The New York Yankees have understood the performance brand dynamic for generations.  If you continue to win on the field, your brand will continue to prosper, you will cruise through scandals, you will build global good will and great marketing opportunities. 

Sure, there are teams that people love in spite of a record of losing –but those are strictly local brands.  To be a world-class franchise, a sports brand needs to win. 


By all accounts, James Franco turned in a pretty flat performance with his Oscar co-hosting gig on Sunday.


But that’s not the only problem with the James Franco brand. 

The problem with the James Franco brand is that he still doesn’t really know what he is.  As a result, we don’t either.


Fact is, Franco is first and foremost a very talented actor.  He’s not a performer in a traditional, show-biz sense.  He’s no Billy Crystal, Hugh Jackman or Steve Martin.  He can’t pull off the glitz.  He doesn’t do stand-up.  He doesn’t do song and dance.


Bottom line, he shouldn’t even try.  At heart, he is shy and intellectual –he’s studying for a PhD!—  and when shy, intellectuals are put in the spotlight…  Fuggedaboutit.  It’s always foot in mouth.


That’s where the embarrassing and brand-smashing Vanity Fair answer about what he does in his spare time came from.  He has the making of today’s suave leading man, but his candor made him seem immature and not too appealing.


In terms of brands, an actor’s actor is what Franco most likely should model himself on going forward. 


Think Robert DeNiro.  We know that DeNiro’s thing isn’t playing host or opening up all that much. He’s a pretty private man who people respect because he turns in great performances on the screen.   DeNiro knows what his brand can do and what it can’t do.  If he was every asked to host the Oscars, my guess is he would say no, immediately if not sooner.


Marketers can learn a lot from brands that struggle to define themselves like Franco.  The most important takeaway is this: a brand has got to know its limitations.

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


If you don’t discover your brand’s limitations, they are doomed to limit your brand.

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Scott Walker and The Oscars

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…


Winner:  Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin

Loser:  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences      


Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin embroiled in a dramatic state house showdown with unions, is our winner of the week.

Those who criticize the intrepid governor might have valid objections to his methods, but no one can say he isn’t being true to his brand. 

This fidelity will translate into gaining powerful support from his Target Market who, after all, are the people who agree that government spending must be reined in and know that to do so will inevitably be painful.

Folks, this is an example of a brand whose time has come.  Walker was elected because he said taking on this kind of spending and the unions was what he was going to do – now he’s doing it.

It was clear to many voters that state and local spending on salaries and benefits has become excessive.  Even some unions have accepted that cuts must be made.  

But now that the game is on, it is Walker who looks resolute and consistent and the unions don’t.  In fact, the unions seem as if they don’t really understand how their salaries and benefits are paid –not out of some endless cash machine but out of a teetering tax system hit hard by our current economic slump.

This kind of conflict is always going to underscore the strength of one brand over another and unless Walker backs down or otherwise dilutes his message, he will only grow stronger here and appear increasingly courageous as the unions’ fury grows.

For their part, unions need to flip their strategy around from speaking about their wants to emphasizing the benefits their service brings to the community.  They also have to show that they really understand how they are paid (i.e., out of taxpayers’ pockets) and don’t need a lesson from their parents about money not growing trees. 

This is the only way for them to take the high road and regain public approval.  Otherwise, they simply look like a fringe group hanging onto benefits that they do not truly deserve.

So, hats off to this week’s successful political brand.


Why is the Academy wasting Oscar on the young?

This year’s decision to run with James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts is awful.  Nothing wrong with changing hosts, but thinking that this kind of change coupled with a few promotional ads is a good idea shows that the Academy is in real trouble. 

The Academy is sitting on a great marketing legacy and product in the Oscars, but they simply don’t seem to recognize this fact. 

Instead, they are succumbing to the promise of a marketing quick fix. 

Making a one-time grab for a younger viewing demographic might not be a brand killer, but a brand that doesn’t know itself, forgets its mission or its Target Market is vulnerable to making more bad decisions.  Cumulatively these bad small decisions can add up to something terminal.

This year’s Oscar move is a huge failure of the Academy’s marketing imagination.

The Oscars is essentially a big corporate video intended to give major industry players a regular pat on the back, promote individual movie brands (i.e., titles), and continue to re-enforce through what I call “Authority Marketing” the importance of Hollywood for our culture – and it does all this while making money from the television advertising dollars the spectacle rakes in.

Bottom line, even in the bad Oscar audience years, the show still attracts a viewership of 35 million plus.  This is not something to worry about.

Fact is, it’s the movies not the event that matter.  The years when big movies like Titanic or Avatar were in contention for the top prize correlated with the largest viewerships.  Small, dark, Indie movies correlated with the smallest viewerships.

Can the Oscars be improved as a show?  Probably.  Do you really have to hear the winner for best left-handed audio dubbing in a two-and-a-half minute short?  But, if they do cut an hour off the show, will it make sense in terms of lost ad revenue?  

The better question is, do the Oscars need to be improved as a show?  The answer: probably not.

So why change hosts like this and target the young?

This is sad to behold, because the Academy and the industry it represents must be one of the foremost marketing forces in the world.  Just think about the origin of The Academy and its flagship awards show. 

First, the full brand name of the organization.  The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.  This mouthful came to define the seriousness of an industry that started at the nickelodeons where light film entertainment could be bought for a nickel a pop. 

This name and the Academy’s “mission” was marketing genius.  Brand re-positioning extraordinaire.  It led to the world making what was formerly a cultural diversion into a cultural centerpiece.  Today, movies are not only serious business; they are a serious part of our culture even when they are diverting and fun.

In fact, if the Academy is going to worry about changing for any audience, it should be for the global market, all those viewers outside the United States who contribute the most to the box office numbers.  Today, even if a movie flops in the U.S., it can make a killing around the world. 

Mainstream Hollywood movies are getting broader to accommodate tastes from Moscow to Seoul –so if the Academy regains its marketing mojo, expect Oscar to follow.

But chasing the young with two new hosts and a few ads?  Fuggedaboutit.

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

Even Great Brands can be destroyed by a series of bad decisions.

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Ursinus College and Super Bowl Ad Critics

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…


John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 

Winner:  Ursinus College

Loser:  Super Bowl Ad Critics                                              



Folks, there is nothing more encouraging than watching a great brand recognize its true identity.

Ursinus College in Philadelphia has recently done just that. 

As most of us know, the college admissions scene is highly competitive and institutions try everything to increase their numbers and rankings (especially in the all important periodicals and admissions guides).

Unfortunately, in recent years this has led to all sorts of numbers distortion that has diluted the applicant pools and even threatened the integrity of many well-respected schools.

Ursinus had gotten caught up in the admissions race, apparently hiring a marketing firm that advised them to drop some their application fee and even their essay writing requirements.  The result was a huge jump in the number of applicants.

But, as it turned out, this lead to more students not accepting the offer admissions, huge amounts of additional man hours for administrators and staff and an overall sense that somehow the college was comprising its mission and standards.

Bottom line, Ursinus made the brave decision to get back to brand basics and make their admissions process more challenging and more consistent with their academic mission. 

The result was an immediate reduction in the number of people applying and a maybe a short-term blow to their ranking, but the benefits should be an increased selectivity in the long-run and an uptick in their reputation.

Sure it’s a risk to not do what everyone else seems to be doing, but the benefits of being true to your brand will almost always outweigh this.  Something I believe Ursinus will soon find out and other colleges will likely follow.


Super Bowl ad critics are at the top of my list this week for brand losers.



Because in all the commotion, controversy and commentary surrounding the stratospherically expensive Super Bowl ads, one thing is missing: the first rule of advertising.  Does it sell the product?


This might sound fundamental, but I’ll say it anyway.  Ads exist to sell, if they fail to do this then they fail.  Period.  Forget whether they are beautiful or clever, that’s not what they have been created for. 


Unfortunately, Super Bowl ad critics –and I won’t name names here but I’m speaking about folks in the media who ought to know better— seem to relegate selling effectiveness way down the list of important criteria when evaluating these ads. 


To buttress their arguments, they cite academic studies (such as Northwestern’s polling regarding Groupon’s “politically incorrect” ads).  The problem is that the studies support the wrong criteria and are usually unconnected to the Target Market (arguably the socially-minded Northwestern graduate students polled about Groupon are not that company’s only target market or even primary target market).


In other words, the ads have been evaluated as a kind of cultural and even artistic phenomenon for so long that people have forgotten that first rule of advertising. 


Bottom line, expect to continue to hear the highly creative/clever ads crowned kings and the genuinely sales and marketing-minded spots declared hopelessly unoriginal, offensive or pointless… 


But does it really matter?  In the end, the smart money is going to continue to deliver the smart advertising and the clever folks will receive awards while their clients wonder where the sales went.

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



The first rule of advertising: does the spot sell the product?