Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Google-Zagat and The 92nd Street Y


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner:  Google-Zagat


Loser:  The 92nd Street Y (a/k/a 92Y)



A little over a week ago, Google bought Zagat, probably one of the most esteemed restaurant review services around.

What a move!

Zagat is an essential tool for the serious restaurant goer, but in recent years the company has been fighting increasing competition and digital trends.  Their iconic burgundy guidebook still sells robustly, but newer sites like Yelp and Open Table have been grabbing market share as consumers increasingly use locally-driven online services to navigate the restaurant terrain.

But with this unification of two brands, I think we’re going to see the excellence that is Zagat gain the great next-generation advantage that is Google. 

Apparently, Google was working hard to gain a foothold in the local advertising market and was targeting services like Yelp –which the company tried unsuccessfully to buy a few years ago.  Of course, Zagat provides a way into that market through their very relevant local content.

The benefit for Zagat is that they get to come out from the web paywall that the service has been hidden behind (literally, because search engines rank such sites lower).  The brand will get the kind of hyper-visibility that only Google can deliver.

But from a brand perspective what’s important here is that the brand essentials of both companies are being put to work perfectly.  Google’s powerful capacity to unite searchers with what they need is being linked to Zagat’s legendary credibility and quality in terms of review content. 

Bottom line, Google has always been about supplying the most relevant result and Zagat has always been about supplying the best (read relevant) information to the restaurant searcher.  In many ways, the two companies have always been in the same business –what Google does here is add reach while Zagat adds depth.

One other thing is really worth noting.  Tim and Nina Zagat who have been the founders and mainstays of their company since the beginning worked hard to make this happen.  Not surprising, these are the same folks who turned booklets based on ratings from friends more than thirty years ago into a powerful business.

You see, Tim and Nina had tried to sell the company before but had no luck when they couldn’t find a buyer to meet their price.  But with Google, they identified a brand that could really benefit from this union and they pursued it.

According to The New York Times DealBook, Tim and Nina made sure to get noticed by the decision-maker at Google who could make this happen. 

Apparently after earlier deals had gone nowhere, they had asked Goldman Sachs and others whether Google might be interested in their company only to be told fuggedaboutit.

But they saw the sense in joining forces with Google and persisted.  In 2008, they sat in the front-row at a presentation by Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president for local maps and other content.  They gave her their business cards.  Not long after, the Zagats were sitting in the front row of another Mayer presentation.  This time they brought her brochures for their wine club.

Mayer decided to arrange a meeting and the Google-Zagat pairing eventually resulted.

The lesson is this: no one will work harder for your brand than you –not even professionals (like Goldman) are going to have an advantage in that department.  The Zagat’s knew what their company had to offer Google and they made it happen.

For now Zagat’s headquarters is staying put at Columbus Circle.  Mr. Zagat said he believes the area has better restaurants than Chelsea where Google is located.


Here we go again, folks.

Name changes that forget the brand underneath.

Not too long ago I talked about the mistake the YMCA was making in changing its name to “the Y.”  Here’s that link (it’s under the loser section by the way).

Now it’s the 92nd Street Y, that esteemed Jewish community and cultural organization in New York (no relation to the YMCA) that has decided to update. 

They will be calling themselves 92Y.

This is an even worse move that YMCA’s because at least YMCA has been called “the Y” for years.  As far as I know, 92Y is an invention pretty much out of thin air and the kind of marketing hocus pocus that gives marketing a bad name.

Bottom line, does the target market for the 92nd Street Y actually think of the organization in these terms?  I doubt it.

Sure, the 92nd Street Y is probably tempted to shorten because a) it sounds hipper and b) they now have another location so the idea of using the full name (92nd Street Y in Tribeca) might sound a little silly.

But, fact is, brands shouldn’t tamper like this with their names.  The 92nd Street Y stands for over a 125 years of activity and, according to Wikipedia, serves over 400,000 people annually.

My hope for them is that they rethink this.  From what I can tell they seem to be straddling the name change with their collateral material offering both versions.  Maybe they’re only trying it out –still a bad idea from a brand clarity point of view—but at least they can walk away more easily if it doesn’t catch on.

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



TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  No one can fight for your brand like you can.








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