Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Katy Perry and High Speed Rail


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


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

Winner: Katy Perry


Loser:  California’s High Speed Rail



Our winner is no other than Katy Perry.  In many respects, she is the American Dream come true, a talented person who worked hard to get where she is.

But, most of all, this
week’s winner boils down to one critical thing: Perry is committed her
fans.  Her new documentary movie “Part of Me” drives this point home. 
Perry delivers what her fans want and she never forgets this.

Any brand can learn a lot from this (it’s worth learning more about her here).


Folks, California is pursuing a high speed rail link between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  This is terrible marketing because it fails on the first count: what need is this satisfying. Sure, it could cut a 5-hour road trip down to 2, but given both cities are so spread out, is this advantage really going to trump air travel or car?  Probably not.

A little while back I wrote a piece on President Obama’s high speed rail fascination.  I think it is even more applicable now:

This week, President Obama proposed an ambitious “high-speed” rail system for our country. 

From a marketing perspective, this is nothing but “the train to nowhere” and earns our President’s administration Loser of the Week.

I would have expected better from one of the best poli-marketers of our age —the man, who, after all, reached new heights of pull-marketing strategy during his campaign. 

Who was calling for this “high-speed” rail? The voters who put him in the White House? 

I don’t think so. 

No, this idea seems to be the kind of thing minted by some ideological think bubble where no idea is too green and no cost too high when it comes to visions of slick inter-city Euro-style rail service destroying our nation’s love affair with personal independence and the car.

My main problem here is that this isn’t real marketing: it’s classic build-it-and-they-will-come thinking.  

Why address a twenty-first century problem with a nineteenth-century, high-overhead, big-infrastructure technology like railroad? Why not spend the same money on a telecommuting initiative. That would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if that’s what the Administration is really after?

Not only that, there is real doubt about whether it is even possible to build this system and even what exactly it is President Obama is proposing to build. Even The Oregonian, which endorses high-speed rail, doubts that this plan will fly, because what it is calling high-speed rail wouldn’t even qualify as such in other countries.

Thus another sin against real marketing: window-dressing your brand as something it is not. Window dressing almost always comes back to bite you, because your Target Market is not going to be in the dark forever. 

When Obama´s “high-speed” train is creeping past Baltimore because the federal plan didn’t have enough money or vision, voters will know they got stuck with a lemon and will blame the President. 

Apparently, the President’s plan is to bring our rail service up to the level that Asia and Europe upgraded out of years ago. Yes, nothing spells progress like going backward. (And don’t forget: the European model of high-speed rail works in large part because the distances between major cities are so much smaller than in our vast country.)

Moreover, the “high-speed” rail plan could do damage to President Obama’s brand because of the appearance of micro-managing. I’ve written about that danger here, but something about this plan makes me think that the President is about to put on a hard hat and play contractor on-site —threatening to take the “Yes, We Can” of the campaign to absurd Bob-the-Builder heights.

And one more strike against the poli-marketer: Chicago will apparently be the Midwestern hub for the rail plan. This may make a lot of sense, but I can’t help but think this could come back to haunt the President, especially when bidding and big contracts start making news back on his home turf.

But ultimately, I have to return to the idea that there is simply no need for this kind of rail service in the United States. Our first railroads were revolutionary and set loose a torrent of economic activity that propelled the United States to first-world status. 

But these new railroads? 

With Detroit struggling, is it really wise to bankroll a competing mode of transportation? Ditto, the airlines? 

Of course not. 

Eisenhower’s great National Highway Program was government investment that identified and unleashed the nation’s need to have high-quality vehicular commercial and personal transport from coast to coast. It created opportunities for commerce. 

What will this new rail program do for the development of the next generation alternatively-powered cars and trucks? Disincentivize would be the word.

Whether or not the “high-speed” rail system ever actually gets off the ground, the message being transmitted by the Obama brand on this one is clear… and contradictory: We are pushing big government programs that don’t necessarily have any real connection to how things work in this country and that work against other things (like rescuing Detroit) that we are doing with huge government initiatives.

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


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY: The first rule of branding is to deliver what is needed, not just what you think is needed.








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