Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week
Winner: Hewlett Packard
Loser: Abercrombie & Fitch
Last week, Hewlett Packard, the technology giant, made a big announcement: it is getting out of the PC business. One immediate decision was to cancel its tablet computer. H-P says it is going to focus on business technology.
On one level this move could be taken as an admission of defeat. After all, their big purchase of Compaq a few years back has clearly not paid off.
But the real takeaway here is this: HP is behaving dynamically and courageously.
It isn’t easy to make big changes if you are an individual, but when you are a corporation with tens of thousands of employees, partners, affiliates and others depending on you…fuggedaboutit!
H-P has seen the future and knows that the personal computer is going to be less and less a part of it. Rather than drag its heels like so many big corporations when faced with a sea change in its market, H-P is changing course. And like any course changes, once the facts are in and the strategic direction decided upon, the best way to make the change is quickly and in one go.
It might seem like a dramatic change –and it will certainly upset many people— but by staking its ground, H-P is sending out a brand message that the market can organize itself around.
This not only provides the basis for the next phase of H-P’s growth, but a takeaway for all of us when we make big strategic shifts in our own lives, businesses or work: think them through first, but then implement them decisively.
Following up on our loser for last week, it looks like Abercrombie & Fitch has gotten itself into a bind with what might be some witless guerrilla marketing.
That’s right. Abercrombie and Fitch, the same bunch who brought the world thongs for 10-year olds and padded bikini tops for the age 7 crowd, have now tried out a new promotional tactic.
Here’s the story. A&F sent out a press release saying it had offered money to Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino of Jersey Shore fame to stop wearing its clothes. The release is worth quoting since this is presumably an honest statement being issued by an established (since 1892), publicly-traded company:
We are deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino’s association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image. We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans
We have therefore offered a substantial payment to Michael ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino and the producers of MTV’s The Jersey Shore to have the character wear an alternate brand. We have also extended this offer to other members of the cast, and are urgently waiting a response.
Folks, the issue here is this “official” corporate statement was probably just a stunt –why did A&F not keep these “negotiations” back channel.
MTV, the network behind Jersey Shore, tellingly seems to believe it’s a stunt also. And Sorrentino predictably pushed back thus raising the media coverage.
A&F has always attracted controversy, but this is different because it looks like the company was lying or, at the very least, twisting the truth in an official media release.
Fact is, there should never be a press statement from an established company or person that lies or is even tongue-in-cheek. That’s the big problem here. A&F is saying something that they probably don’t mean in order to get momentary attention.
Some people have speculated, perhaps rightly, that this stunt was pulled to distract from A&F’s announcement of poor earnings. Others have claimed that it was a brilliant move by A&F to assure its global market that the boorish Jersey Shore antics don’t represent its high-end brand. But the key here is no matter what A&F’s ultimate objective or reasons, the company crossed the line.
I know that the advertising and promotion landscape is tougher to crack than ever, but tactics like this can only hurt a brand –no matter how edgy or controversial that brand already is.
Mitt Romney recently got a lot of flack for his statement that corporations are people. No matter what you might think of Romney, it was a brave statement that attempted to counter the cynical assumption that corporations are only soulless entities out to fleece us.
Corporations really are people. And like people they can behave either very well or very badly. And also like people they will be judged by this behavior.
The problem with A&F’s stunt is that it is a cynical and manipulative attack on people’s trust. It is an example of behavior that companies should not follow.
People like to excuse behavior by saying things like, “Well, it’s only human.” But, good behavior is also human and rather than follow the offenders down the endless spiral to the gutter, corporations need to remember that just like people they will be held accountable when they take their customers’ goodwill for granted. True corporate branding powerhouses like Procter & Gamble never forget this rule. They build trust and brands over the long haul.
Let’s face it, guerrilla marketing is essentially just a new word for publicity stunt, but it goes really bad when lying and deception become part of the game.
What about the lawsuit against Urban Outfitters on Friday by the parents of an underage model claiming that the company used inappropriate images of her? Is that a publicity stunt, too? Maybe intended to promote just how edgy Urban Outfitters is? We may never know.
So what if A&F did get one thing right? Sorrentino, his crew, the show itself and the effect on their brand really does seem to go against their more preppy Target Market at home and their global aspirations. But, again, though they might have gotten this important element right, the way they went about it totally undercut any gains. The 8% drop in A&F’s stock price might have been one immediate consequence.
The bottom line is this: corporations need to think twice before engaging in behavior of this sort. Not only will the tactic come back to bite them like it did with A&F, but in the end it will hurt us all.
And, remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.
TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY – Corporations are people and people must never take trust for granted.