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My first car and the lesson it taught me about brands and my dad

This was first published by Fox News Jul 12, 2012

How could I ever forget my first car? My father hated it because it was un-American: a 1966 black Volkswagen Fastback. In fact, it was about as un-American as you could get in my dad’s mind.

The year was 1976, I had moved to Long Island to continue my graduate studies. I needed an inexpensive, reliable, gas efficient vehicle that could get me where I needed to go.

At the time, the VW-Volkswagen Fastback communicated a kind of every man quality. To my way of thinking, it was the perfect car for a practical student. The status, and my rebellious personal statement, was in the practicality I guess. For my father, it was a step backward because it wasn’t General Motors.

You see, my first lesson in brand loyalty didn’t come from a textbook, it came from observing how my dad felt about his cars –always GM— and how GM felt about my dad.

Like many of his generation, my dad started with a Chevy, progressed to the Pontiac, moved up to the Oldsmobile and finally arrived at the Buick. He never made it to the Caddy – but, make no mistake, that was his goal.

Back in the day, GM had this idea that they would build a car for each period of your family life cycle. My father bought into that idea and he thought his son would too.

That’s why my decision to switch to the other side didn’t go down very well.

Dad just didn’t understand what my automobile needs were – how practicality and the gas crisis had combined to make a foreign car the best choice. And neither did GM.

My dad did what a lot of people do, they project what they think someone else needs instead of listening to truly understand what these needs are.

That’s where GM –and all the American carmakers at that time— went wrong too. GM didn’t understand that their life-cycle model to car selling just wasn’t going to work anymore. It was the beginning of their decline and the beginning of the rise of their competitors from overseas who were quick to adapt with cars that met the appetite for practical transportation and gas savings.

The lesson here is that marketing cars or anything else is not about selling people what you want to sell them, it’s about selling people what they need. If my father only understood that, perhaps we could have spent more time talking about baseball and less time arguing why I had bought a VW Fastback.

Luckily for this country, though, GM and Ford have gotten the message. They’re selling people the cars they need. Right now, there might just be a graduate student out there buying American.

Coburn Did Right Thing: Apologize

Coburn did the Right Thing: Apologize
Here’s The Interview on ABC’s GMA

It’s easy to criticize those in the arena who fight to win. The personal branding lesson: THINK before you speak and if you make a mistake, be sincere with an apology that comes from the heart. Mr. C did just that and his wife added to touching interview. He is a personal brand to watch! Explore how you can prevent this from happening to u!

Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Apple and Chick-fil-A


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner: Apple


Loser:  Chick-fil-A



Folks, Apple is our winner this week.  With sales of the iPhone 5 going through the roof and talk of a company market value that may soon reach one trillion dollars how could it be any other way.

After all, this is a brand that has triumphed.

But, I’ve got to tell you, Apple is a provisional winner.


Because just like they say it takes a while to slow a big ship down when you turn off the engines, I’m wondering if we just might be seeing evidence of brand decline with Apple.

First, Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s long-time champion criticized the company’s “arrogance” in deciding to require an entirely new cable instead of one that everyone already has.  And what’s more, Kawasaki admitted to having used an android phone for over a year now.  When advocates and taste makers like Kawasaki defect, a brand had better take notice.

Second, Apple CEO Tim Cook’s photos sure reminded me of Steve Jobs.  It was actually a little eerie, as if Cook was working hard to channel his predecessor.

Something similar happened back in the sixties when Walt Disney died.  A pall came over that company.  People asked what would Walt do?  The company drifted. There was the instinct to imitate but ultimately Walt, like Jobs, couldn’t be imitated and a new course needed to be charted.

And that’s where I think Apple is right now.  It has the critical mass to be a continued force in the marketplace, but will it do all the right things needed to remain a dominant brand?  Stay tuned.


Chick-fil-A, the now controversial restaurant chain, has made the mistake of being unclear in the communication of its brand.

Several press releases and then calls for clarification from its CEO have only made its position less clear.  Here is coverage from The Washington Post.

And here is the bottom line: it looks like Chick-fil-A will have to make a big decision, but hasn’t yet.  This is the decision that most regional, highly-targeted brands need to make as they expand nationally and internationally: they must choose to become more generic and basically apolitical.

What I think we’re seeing here is that the company caught in the cross currents, tempted by the prospects of bigger, more lucrative, markets and bothered by what being in those markets means for the roots of the brand.

So what should the Chick-fil-A folks do.  They should take a page from the Dunkin Donuts guy: It’s Time To Make The Donuts.  Focus on the chicken and keep focusing on the chicken and let everyone know that’s what you’re doing.

It doesn’t mean abandoning your company values, but it does mean remembering that you are a chicken restaurant first, not a kind of family values factory. 

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


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY: Always remember what is at the core of your brand.








Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Jolly Green Giant and New York City


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner: Jolly Green Giant


Loser:  New York City



Folks, he made his first appearance back in 1928 and now he’s back!

I’m speaking, of course, about General Mills’ iconic Jolly Green Giant.

Here is the take from AdAge:

The Giant, who debuted in 1928, will return to take a prominent role in a TV ad for the first time in some eight years via a campaign that marks the beginning of a revival for the big fella. In recent years, the giant had been relegated to low-profile appearances, appearing only as a shadow in some spots. Stuck in a standing position for decades, he will transition from a protector of the land to a kid-friendly “wingman” for parents to help make healthy eating fun, said Yumi Clevenger-Lee, marketing manager for the Giant brand. On Facebook and at an augmented-reality event in New York City in October, he will ask kids to take “One Giant Pledge” to eat one more vegetable a day. “We’re bringing the jolly back to the Green Giant and helping him get his mojo back,” she said.

They are also talking about bringing back the Cheerios kid. 

Is this just about nostalgia?  Absolutely not.  This is about long-established, hard-won brand equity.  The Jolly Green Giant was and still is an excellent representative for General Mills because he instantly expresses the values of the brand: health, accessibility, friendliness. 

This is about getting kids to eat their vegetables –and especially these days, we need all the help we can get. The value of a brand in this case is that the brand is a powerful bridge, connecting kids with the things that they should be eating.  Is one brand’s mascot alone going to change woeful eating habits?  No.  But the power of the brand might just be part of the solution.

Ho, ho, ho, green giant!


Last year, Travel & Leisure magazine named New York the rudest city in America.

Now they’ve named it the dirtiest.

Overall, I guess, New York can take it.  After all, it has always been the American city with the edge.

But in recent years it has gotten a lot cleaner so you’ve got to hope that this isn’t a sign that the trend is reversing.

Bottom line, New York has got to take this seriously.  Like any market data/feedback, it needs to be weighed and, if necessary, acted upon.  Things like the MTAs decision to remove trash cans from subway stations have to be looked at…is it working?

So let’s make NY a provisional loser — here’s hoping we don’t go back to the much less tidy past.

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


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY: A brand symbol can endure for decades if it truly expresses the values of the brand.