In response to last week’s blog post How To Skin A Horse Of A Different Color, John Calia wrote, “A great modern day parable that explains the power of inductive reasoning. It’s McKinsey-level strategic thinking applied to everyday business and personal challenges.”
Thanks, John. I just thought it was a simple explanation of a complicated concept.
That’s what we do every day — reduce very complicated and not very compelling product explanations into short, simple, easy-to-understand, and profitable brands. Because these strategically simple messages make consumers regard, remember, and respond.
But if you’re thinking about how to reduce your brand message to just one word, I know what you’re thinking. “Sure, Bruce, defining an issue and standing for something makes a lot of sense and I can see how it works for others, but…(big sigh)…I’m different. After all, my business is much more diverse, much more creative, and much more customized to my clients’ specific needs…(bigger sigh)…you see, I do too many different things. There’s just no way I could shoehorn everything I offer into a couple of words.”
Really? Your business is too complicated to brand simply? Well then, consider Volvo.
Volvo is ostensibly in the car business. But that means they are really in a number of different businesses — transportation, manufacturing, research and development, metallurgy, engineering, upholstery, design, import/export, logistics, to name just a few. Plus, they operate retail stores (for both new and used products), and also provide sales, service, and accessories. Volvo operates under the governmental regulations of the hundreds of countries, states, and municipalities they operate in. They work in multiple languages, with multiple consumers, and in multiple currencies. And don’t forget that they don’t just make consumer automobiles. Volvo also manufactures buses and trucks and provides engines and engineering for lots of other companies. And yet despite this incredible complexity, Volvo still describes themselves with their commitment to one word: safety.
Volvo’s brand description isn’t even about what they actually provide. Nowhere in their branding do they talk about transportation or about getting from point A to point B. They talk about safety. And this positioning is so valuable that when Volvo introduced an SUV, arguably the new American suburban family car, their XC70 outsold all foreign SUVs (European and Asian) combined.
But it’s not just Volvo that understands the value of a simple brand position.
New York is “The Big Apple.” Chicago is solidly Midwestern. Los Angeles is movies, Las Vegas is sin. Miami is hip. What are you?
Apple built their brand on the da Vinci line, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and it’s driven their product philosophy ever since, most recently resulting in one single button controlling your iPhone or iPad. Despite the outcry from Blackberry users, Apple’s iPhone does not have a raised keyboard.
Here’s what Mr. Mo’ sang:
“Two cars, three kids, six phones; a whole lot of confusion up here in my home.
500 stations on the TV screen, 500 versions of the same ol’ thing.
Y’all know it’s crazy, and it’s drivin’ me insane.
Well, I don’t wanna be a superman, I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands.
And keep it simple.
I called my doctor on the telephone; the lines were open, but there was nobody home.
Press one, press two, press pound, press three; why can’t somebody just pick up the phone and talk to me?
Well I went down to the local coffee store; the menu went from the ceiling all the way down to the floor.
Decaf, cappuccino, or latte said the cashier; I said gimme a small cup of coffee and let me get the hell up outta here.
Y’all know it’s crazy, and it’s drivin’ me insane.
Well now I don’t wanna be a superman, I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands.
And keep it simple, real simple.”
Thoreau famously wrote, “Simplify, simplify.” But maybe if he had heard Keb’ Mo’s song, he would’ve cut his credo in half to just “Simplify.”
The other day Peter Shankman tweeted, “After 16 hours of travel, I just really need to ask: It’s 2012. Where the hell is my personal jet pack?” That got me thinking, “Yeah! Where the hell IS my personal jet pack?”
We’ve pretty much gotten everything else we were promised: Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio? Got it. It’s called a smartphone. The instant meal machine Rosie used to make dinner for the Jetsons? Got that too. It’s called a microwave oven. Why they’re even cloning bladders, tracheae, and ears in Petri dishes for Pete’s sake. But as far as I can tell, no one’s got my jet pack yet.
Yeah, the Air Force drags an old jet pack out every other Fourth of July and flies it around a football field somewhere in the heartland, but that one costs nearly a million bucks and only goes about 50 feet or so. And I’ve recently seen a water-based pack that sucks lake water into a pipe and forces it back out the bottom, shooting its wearer a few feet up in the air. But that invention requires a big lake and you get all wet and can’t fly it in an immaculate tuxedo like James Bond did anyway.
Think about what jet packs could do for us. Regardless of where you live, I’m pretty sure you’ve bitched about traffic within the last week. But if you had a jet pack, you wouldn’t give two hoots about traffic at all. Got parking woes? Lets face it, a jet pack takes up a whole lot less room than your Cadillac Escalade ESV (or your Toyota Prius, for that matter), and you could stash it anywhere. Gas mileage? While I don’t imagine my jet pack will be hybrid or solar powered, if we figure out the technology to make these things work, I’m sure we can figure out how to make them frugal. And zipping around with our jet packs on, we won’t be wasting gas idling in traffic or at red lights.
Don’t worry. I’m not entirely quixotic about my request. I know my jet pack won’t work when it rains and I know it’ll be ineffective when I’m traveling with my kids. It also won’t work when I have a lot of stuff to carry or when I need to tow the boat. But the rest of the time, I think a personal jet pack is exactly what we all need to get around quickly and easily.
So who can create these for us? Yesterday I needed to look up the gestation cycle of the Byzantine Fruit Fly and Google found the answer for me in less than .00002 seconds. If they can figure that out, I’m sure Larry and Serge have the smarts and the resources to get my jet pack done. I also needed to communicate with my agent who was vacationing in Athens, Greece and did that in real time right from my computer. The guys who figured out how to make that possible could certainly figure out how to make me a jet pack. And today I parked next to a beautiful new Tesla that was created by the same guy who created PayPal and SpaceX. Surely someone like Elon Musk, who could dream up those things while also serving as the model for Robert Downey Jr.’s character in Iron Man could build my pack, don’t you think?
Of course I’d want to brand my jet pack but truth is, I don’t care who makes it a reality. In a perfect world, I’d like Apple to be involved so it’ll look cool and I’d like Porsche to be involved so it’ll be fast. Volvo could help make it safe and Taco Bell could make it affordable. If Starbucks would repair them there’d be a service station on almost every corner and if Swatch helped out they could make sure everyone could get one. And Marriott could make sure jet packs worked the same way no matter where you were in the world. But I don’t really care whose logo is on my jet pack as long as it works, it’s reliable, and I can afford it.
Am I setting my sights too high? In today’s world of CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and manufacturing) it seems like anything that can be imagined can be created. Besides the examples I’ve already mentioned, our lives are chock-full of modern miracles — from the unbelievable capacity of tiny flash drives to contact lenses, to Saran Wrap, which Mel Brooks’ 2000-year old man says is “the greatest thing mankind ever devised.”
Have you seen those guys who jump off mountains with their flying squirrel suits on? They zip around the countryside with nothing more than some fabric stretched tightly between their arms and legs. I’m thinking we could sign a few of those yahoos up as our test pilots to make sure the jet packs work. After all, if those guys are gutsy enough to jump off mountains in skintight Slankets, they certainly won’t be afraid to try out our new jet packs.
If you want one too, maybe we could start a movement. Perhaps if we demonstrate significant market demand, some forward-thinking engineers will get started and build our jet packs already.
Franklin B. Adams wanted “a good five cent nickel,” Huey Lewis wants “a new drug,” and I want a personal jet pack. Is that too much to ask?
In his best seller Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the veracity of the decisions we make quickly, arguing that millions of years of evolution have given us the perceptive skills we need to make instant choices, often without all the facts. One of his examples is a story about a museum that spent an enormous amount of money on a well-tested and professionally authenticated ancient statue only to have an expert question the providence of the piece after one quick glance.
Being a designer, I found that discussion extremely interesting because I often wonder the same thing. Is surface design — and the decisions made because of it — a shallow criteria or is it a true harbinger of much deeper meaning?
Nature seems to side with the second argument. The black/red/yellow pattern of a coral snake, for example, broadcasts the viper’s poisonous abilities, hence the nursery rhyme, “red on yellow, kill a fellow, red on black, friend of Jack.” Thorns, fangs, and claws all look dangerous and remind us to stay away. And evolution has graced some less dangerous creatures, such as the small emperor moth, with features designed to make them look much more formidable than they actually are — in the moth’s case, spots across delicate wings that resemble the eyes of the fiercest owl.
Politics, too, thrives on decisions made based on surface image. The 1960 presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy is an oft-quoted example. While most analysts say that radio listeners thought Nixon won the debate, Kennedy was declared the winner based on TV viewers. JFK’s youthful, vigorous, and handsome visage trumped the old school Nixon who was described as tired, puffy, and unshaven.
Regardless of their political affiliation, every president since Ronald Reagan has been tall and good-looking, including the two candidates for the current presidential race. And almost a century ago, the man widely declared to be one of the worst presidents in history, Warren Harding, was said to have won the race because he “looked presidential.”
Packaging has always been one of the key assets of marketing too, and up until recently the belief was that 80% of the purchase decision was made in-store when the consumer actually saw the product. Today, when more and more purchase decisions are made online, sites that are visually oriented and aesthetically pleasing outscore and outsell sites that are not.
Computerization has also made surface appeal more important. Because of modern design and manufacturing techniques, virtually all products function they way they should. Remember the days when TVs used to break? Picture tubes would blow, the gears inside dials (remember dials?) would strip, remote controls would fail. Today, thanks to computer design and digital signals, TVs work like they’re supposed to and consumers don’t feel the need to replace them very often. In order to stimulate sales, manufacturers had to create new features – flat screens and 3D TV – just to get their customers back into the stores.
Cars from Korea’s Kia used to be considered cheap and tinny transportation. But just as with televisions, computer-aided design and manufacturing changed the abilities and durability of the cars, bringing them into line with other, much more expensive automobiles. Kia telegraphed these changes with cutting-edge design and today their beautiful Sonata, Optima, and Rio are rocketing up the sales charts.
But the question remains. Are visuals reliable indicators of quality or just shallow eyewash? Would Ron Paul be a more successful candidate if he looked more like Mitt Romney instead of a ventriloquist’s dummy? Would Romney and Barack Obama have been as successful as they’ve been without their movie star looks? Would Apple have become the most valuable technology company on the planet without its steadfast commitment to design?
Miami, Milan, and Madrid have all built their businesses based on aesthetics. Audi, Kia, and Infiniti, too. So have Apple, Bose, and Bang & Olufsen. But does that mean their product offerings are better than the rest?
That’s a question deserving of a formidable debate. What I do know is that besides being an enjoyable end in and of itself, good design is a valuable business asset. Companies that invest in aesthetics and produce products and services that look and function better than the rest see the difference on their balance sheets. And consumers, often harried and time-starved, make purchase choices based on the snap decisions that have been honed by millions of years of evolutionary development.
A while back I got into my car, flicked on the radio and realized that there just wasn’t anything for me to listen to. It seems that all of the stations were programming their music for — oh, it pains me to say it — much younger audiences. We Baby Boomers were once defined by radio, but have we become irrelevant to the broadcast industry?
Flash forward — there’s an app for that, a free iPhone app called, appropriately enough, Boomer Radio. It was created by a couple of Boomers who decided that their generation needed a single place to go for the music that we grew up with (oldies and rock & roll), plus the genres we’ve embraced as adults (smooth jazz, acoustic rock, etc.).
The Boomer Radio folks believe that other media outlets don’t appreciate that there are more than 80 million of us Baby Boomers and that we control more than three-quarters of all wealth in the U.S. And what Boomer Radio also knows, but no other media outlet seems to understand, is that over the next 10 years, Baby Boomers will inherit more than 8.4 trillion dollars, the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the world.
That breaks down to $300,000 each for 70% of all Boomers, 10% of who will inherit more than a million and a half dollars. And when you consider that this is an audience that has the lowest savings rates in history, it begs the obvious questions: Will Boomers see their windfall as a second chance and squirrel the money away? Will they use the cash to pay off their debts and start clean? Or will they see the new income as an unexpected gift and continue with their profligate ways? Only time will tell.
But with all due respect to the economists and legislators who are spending a lot of time sussing this out, I believe it truly doesn’t matter. Because regardless of what Boomers decide to do with their money as a cohort, there’s going to be an awful lot of cash flying around. And than means opportunities.
Boomer Radio is busy figuring out how to be the go-to media source for these newly flush Boomers looking for the music they grew up with. Chris Crowley and the Younger Next Year book series folks are working hard to be the go-to information and inspiration source for Boomers who aren’t willing to go gently into the good night. Olay is creating skin care products and messaging for Boomers who are not willing to “age gracefully.”
Apple has added a setting to their iPhone to increase text size for Boomer’s failing eyes (Interested? You can find it at Setting > General > Accessibility > Large Text. You’re welcome). Ford has designed a new Taurus with SUV-like seat heights for Boomers who have trouble fitting themselves into low-slung cars but don’t want to buy trucks. And hearing aid manufacturers are designing devices that look like Bluetooth earpieces for hard-of-hearing Boomers who are too vain to accept traditional looking equipment.
BRP has created the three-wheeled Can-Am Spyder Roadster for consumers who want their open air motorcycling served up with a little more stability. Porsche has created the Cayenne SUV and Panamera sedan for drivers who want their performance with a side order of comfort. And even Ferrari has thrown their Borsalino hat into the Boomer-accommodation ring, releasing their first-ever station wagon, the FF (no, really!).
The Baby Boom is really going to explode as the largest, most narcissistic population ever finds itself suddenly flush with cash and continues on its self-centered journey for self-expression and hedonistic experiences. And companies all over the world, from real estate developers to restaurants to cruise lines to banks and investment houses are going to trip all over themselves trying to service this free-spending audience.
For best practices tomorrow, they should upload the Boomer Radio app today. Besides listening to some of the greatest music ever created, they can keep an eye on how the media company is positioning themselves because Boomer Radio has seen the future and it is us.
Eddie and Bill were sitting at an outdoor table at Scotty’s Landing having lunch last Friday. I had run over to the bayside shack right after my downtown lunch meeting to chat with a potential client and then needed to zip out to check on a video production in Coral Gables. But I had a couple of minutes before I had to be at the edit suite so I finished my meeting and walked over to say hi to my friends.
Bill was in shorts and sporting two days of stubble. Ed was in khakis and sneakers. Ed had a beer. Bill was drinking wine. Neither one was looking at their smartphones. And did I mention that it was 1:30 p.m. on a workday?
“Look at the two of you – happy as pigs in mangos, enjoying a beautiful day with nowhere to go, I said. “Man, I want to be you when I grow up.”
I told them about Starbucks envy.
You know about Starbucks envy. That’s when you go to Starbucks and see those people just sitting there in the sun. Usually they have a bike leaning against their table or they’re there with their dog. They’re reading something on their iPad or thumbing through The New York Times. Not a care in the world and clearly nowhere to rush off to — just enjoying being there. They remind me of Satchel Paige’s old quote, “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.”
When I go to Starbucks, it’s usually to meet someone on the run — I’m meeting Marcos at the Starbucks in the Grove at 9 a.m. or Kim at the Starbucks on 69th Street at two in the afternoon. We’ll grab a cup of coffee or tea, share pleasantries for a moment or two, and then get down to work — exchanging ideas and layouts, strategizing next steps — and then run off to our next meeting. Of course, while we’re meeting we’re fielding text messages and calls, mostly about where we’re going next, who we’re going to meet, and what time we’ll be getting together.
But just to sit there and take in the scene, with nothing pressing to run off to… wow. My desires might be simple but that kind of takes my breath away.
So anyway, I told Bill and Ed about my fantasy — my Starbucks envy. Ed laughed and told me a story:
“I was walking through Coconut Grove one night and there were a couple of guys playing music on the street corner. They had a guitar case out in front of them and a few people gathered around and they were having a great time. I thought, ‘I want to do that, too.’ So that weekend I went out and bought a guitar and have been taking weekly guitar lessons ever since. I’m not so good yet but I’m giving myself 10 years because I want to be just like Turkel.” ( -PAUSE- Hey wait a minute, that’s me.)
Here’s the funny part. Until Ed mentioned that it was me and my buddy he stumbled upon playing music on that street corner in the Grove, I was listening to his story thinking, “I want to do that, too.” It wasn’t until he mentioned who he saw playing that evening that it dawned on me that I already do that.
It’s more than the old paradigm to “be careful what you wish for because you might get it.” In this case, it’s about realizing what you’ve already got, what the perception is of what you’ve got, and what your perception is of what else is out there. The grass is always greener, indeed.
And it’s not just a good thing to think about when you’re evaluating your life. It’s also a good exercise to do when you’re thinking about your brand. After all, a brand is not what you think of your company, it’s what the employees and your customers — and your potential customers — think about it, and what they feel about it. And it’s very possible that those two viewpoints are not in sync.
Kodak thought it stood for the finest in photography until its customers cared only about digital photography and Kodak found itself in bankruptcy. It might not have happened quite that quickly, but it did happen.
And Blackberry, who thought its brand was de rigueur for portable communication in the corporate boardroom, is quickly discovering that its customers no longer agree.
Even powerhouse Google, which preemptively purchased YouTube to maintain their superiority in search technology, is now concerned that Facebook and the voice-recognition company Nuance, will take their place in both search and ad sales.
So whether you’re dashing to a meeting, playing music on a street corner or piloting the marketing activities of some of the world’s most important companies, remember that when it comes to your brand, perception IS reality. Even at Starbucks.
Man, do I sit around a lot of conference tables. Between client meetings, new business presentations, community boards, strategic retreats, and non-profit groups, it feels like the corporate conference table is becoming my natural environment.
Every table — and every meeting — is unique. But there are some similarities between the different groups regardless of their intent or purpose. Take clothes, for example. In almost every board meeting I sit in on, the men are in gray or navy suits, white or blue shirts, and mostly conservative ties. The women are either dressed in head-to-toe black or wear black skirts or pants with brightly colored short, fitted blazers. Red, teal, and fuchsia seem to be the hues of this season.
Another similarity is the lunches served. Just a few years ago, the conference tables used to be set with roast beef and tuna sandwiches on baguettes. Now, turkey on wheat, veggie sandwiches with mozzarella, and Caesar salads seem to be the norm. And yes, most of the men push the croutons to the sides of their plates but happily eat the sandwich bread. Go figure.
Technology, too, has changed. Years ago, most attendees took notes by hand in complicated binders, using systems such as Filofax to capture pertinent information. A few years ago, laptops made an appearance and after a few years the laptops and netbooks had caught up with the leather bound folders and notebooks. And then, two years ago or so, iPads started to show up in front of more and more board members and now seem to be replacing the laptops. Needless to say, anyone who read my post “You Must Be Present To Win,” already knows that people furtively thumb-typing onto smartphones are ubiquitous at every meeting. Whether or not they’re taking notes is a different question.
But because I’m a communications guy, the thing that interests me the most is to pay attention to the words the people around the table use. More specifically, I’m curious to know what terms — brands, personalities, and subjects — have entered the public lexicon. That is, what ideas are timely and fascinating enough that people talk about them wherever I go. And because I travel so much and sit at conference tables around the country and around the world, I’m also curious to see if the subjects discussed are consistent across different locations. (News flash: they are).
So what have I heard lately? Well, at the time of this writing, the NCAA championships were getting closer and closer so “North Carolina” popped up a lot, replacing Jeremy Lin puns such as “Linsanity,” and “Linsomnia.” Now I’m not much of a sports fan, but even I know what they’re talking about.
Another term that’s been popping up lately is “KONY” and “KONY 2012.” For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Joseph Kony is the Ugandan war criminal who is becoming more and more well-known thanks to the YouTube video (with 85 million views) that seeks to make Kony popular enough that the US government will help pursue and arrest him.
“Apple” is a word I hear in every meeting I attend. All marketing departments want to market like Apple. All designers want to design like Apple. All companies want to earn profits like Apple. And all presenters want to present like Apple. Forget that they’re not willing to commit and invest in excellence like Apple, that’s beyond the point. Everyone wants to be Apple. Apple — ‘nuff said.
“Mobile” is another buzzword people around conference tables like to talk about. Everyone knows that as we enter the “post-PC” era the future is in mobile. But nobody knows what to do about it.
Of course, “social media” is another term that everyone bandies about and wants to get involved with. But it’s a lot like the old line explaining irony: Those who get it, get it anyway. Those who don’t, never will.
The TV shows people talk most about are Modern Family and The Voice. The news story is The New York Times editorial from Greg Smith, the guy who quit Goldman Sachs and wrote about it (although no one remembers his name). The diet is paleo. The political sentiment is “stop paying.”
Granted, these are non-scientific survey results I compiled based on what I overhear at the meetings I attend. There is no control group and the metrics are probably compromised by my own pro or con biases. According to my friend Randy Gage, these are self-hating “mind viruses” created to control the drooling masses and keep them happily (or unhappily) spending their money with stores, companies, and religions.
But from a branding point of view, the obvious question is how do these words and terms get so popular? How do they get enough people talking about them that they achieve what Malcolm Gladwell called The Tipping Point?
Whether you believe these concepts have been injected into our consciousness through strategic and Machiavellian means or that these buzz words are just coincidentally on everyone’s tongues, the key point is that they are out there. And because one of the key branding tenets is awareness, being talked about is one of the first steps to success.
So what are you talking about?
According to his website, LightSquared “will deploy an open wireless broadband network using a technology called Long Term Evolution (LTE), the most widely adopted 4G standard in the world. The LTE network will be combined with one of the largest commercial satellites ever launched, to provide coverage of the entire United States. The network is designed to support present-day and emerging wireless devices without restrictions.”
Do you understand what they’re doing? I do too, kinda, sorta.
I get it that LightSquared is developing a satellite-based wireless network and will somehow make mobile applications better. But I don’t know why they’re doing it nor what’s in it for me as a consumer.
Unfortunately for Falcone, AT&T, Verizon and others have figured it out. And those telecommunication giants are so concerned with LightSquared’s business model that they’re trying to keep it from succeeding.
Their advocacy group, the Coalition to Save Our GPS, is trying to block LightSquared from providing a 4G wireless network in rural areas.
On the coalition’s website, it claims LightSquared “plans to transmit ground-based radio signals that would be one billion or more times more powerful as received on earth than GPS’s low-powered satellite-based signals, potentially causing severe interference impacting millions of GPS receivers—including those used by the federal agencies, state and local governments, first responders, airlines, mariners, civil engineering, construction and surveying, agriculture, and everyday consumers in their cars and on handheld devices.”
Pretty scary, huh?
What the coalition doesn’t say is that if today’s GPS receivers had been designed and constructed differently in the first place, there would be no problem. But even though the manufacturers of older GPS receivers were put on notice by the government for interfering with LightSquared’s legally licensed spectrum, they did nothing. Instead they are now using political channels and fear tactics to get their way.
By blaming LightSquared for a potentially fearful doomsday scenario (first responders getting lost, planes colliding in midair, your car’s navigation system not working, etc.) the major telecoms can confuse the issue and redirect blame directly onto their potential competitor. And because the problem is mostly technological, few consumers, investors or legislators understand the actual issues and will instead make up their minds based on the emotional cues of the lobbying.
It’s not as if there’s not regulation already. The Federal Communications Commission allowed LightSquared to start buying broadband spectrum in 2003. According to Falcone, “We were mandated to build this network and now the GPS community is saying, ‘They’re interfering with us.’” (But the other companies) “didn’t put the proper filtering on their devices. We’re not interfering with them. They’re interfering with us.”
What’s more, Falcone said “99 percent of the problem” will be solved by LightSquared using a different part of the broadband spectrum. This is a surprisingly cooperative move considering that the interfering companies are clearly leaking into LightSquared’s real estate and not the other way around.
Do you understand the controversy better now that Falcone has explained the situation? Me neither. We still don’t understand what LightSquared is doing or how it will benefit us. Falcone’s delivery was a professional business-like response, but it was full of “speeds and feeds” tech-talk instead of emotional consumer benefits. Again surprising because Falcone is a straight-talking Minnesotan and could state his case clearly and concisely.
It should come as no shock that the most successful tech company on the planet, Apple, exorcised these “techxplanations” years ago. In his March iPad event, Steve Jobs said, “…a lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in and they’re looking at this as the next PC…and they’re talking about speeds and feeds just like they did with PCs.”
As Joshua Topolsky, editor of Engadget, wrote,
“Apple no longer has to compete on specs and features, nor does it want to…it’s not the RAM or CPU speed, screen resolution or number of ports which dictate whether a product is valuable; it’s purely about the experience of using the device.”
Just like Steve Job’s video announcements, Falcone has gone on TV. His goal is to inform people that LightSquared is investing in innovation and exercising their free market prerogatives while the entrenched GPS and communications players are using old-school scare tactics to halt their vision. But moving the conversation from “speeds and feeds” to emotional benefits has worked spectacularly well for Apple and could help solve LightSquared’s problems, too. More importantly, there’s a lesson here for all of us to keep our marketing communications “all about them” and to remember to appeal to our consumers’ emotions before we appeal to their intellect (“hearts THEN minds”).
Some revolutions start with a bang. “The shot heard ‘round the world” is how Ralph Waldo Emerson waxed poetic about the opening salvos of the American Revolution at the battles of Lexington and Concord.
About 135 years later, “The shot heard ‘round the world” was used to describe the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria that plunged Europe into World War I.
Other revolutions don’t announce themselves with such fervor. Do you remember when you started using a cell phone, started emailing or first used Facebook? Those activities probably didn’t seem like such big deals then but one day you woke up and everyone was doing it. Unlike the introduction of Apple’s iPod, iPhone, and iPad, most technological advances seem to just kind of happen. One day you know a little bit about them and by the next week they’re ubiquitous. When you weren’t watching the world just seemed to change, causing enormous upheavals in various industries including journalism, advertising, education, and banking. As I’ve said before, “The future started yesterday.”
There’s an old wife’s tale about boiling frogs. Why any old wives would want to actually boil a frog is beyond me. But that’s not the point of this story so please bear with me.
The idea is that if you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water it will jump out the very second it feels the heat. But if you start the frog off in a pot of cool water and then slowly turn the heat up, the frog will sit quietly until it’s parboiled.
Some revolutions are like that. They happen so quietly and so discreetly that you don’t even realize that they’ve occurred. They just become part of the air we breathe and the ground we walk on and we take them for granted as if they’ve always been there.
With that in mind, take a look at this Starbucks’ ad created by advertising wunderkind Dave Lubars, creative director at BBDO.Study it carefully and tell me what you find unusual. The letters in the headline are in different shades of brown but that’s not so odd. The descriptors Starbucks uses to identify their drinks (“Decaf,” “Syrup,” “Milk,” etc.) have been changed to romantic terms such as “Working. With you,” “Alone. Together,” “Table for Two,” but that’s not it either. And instead of just stamping the Starbucks trademark on the bottom of the ad the logo has been cleverly inserted by including it on a product shot, in this case a Starbucks cup with a frothy cappuccino in it. But that’s not it either.
What’s unique to this ad are the models, specifically the models’ sex. The model in the front is almost certainly male but the model in the back, in the red plaid shirt, could be a man or a woman. And all the details, from the watch to the bag, add to the ambiguity.
This is the first ad that I’ve seen from a major advertiser where the couple could be heterosexual or homosexual, depending on the viewer’s point of view. Do you want to see a man and a woman? Then there they are. Do you better identify with a gay couple? Then that’s who’s in the ad.
Most big companies only show gay couples in ads specifically aimed at gay audiences. The obvious thinking is that while the companies want to take advantage of the vast economy of gay consumers, they don’t want to risk offending other, less tolerant customers. But I’ve seen this ad in both Rolling Stone and The New York Times and while both have substantial gay readership, neither caters exclusively to that specific market.
Starbucks’ ad is really an amazing bit of sleight of hand – an ad chameleon that changes its orientation based on who is looking at it. I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest of Starbucks’ campaign – I’m curious to see if this piece is a one-off anomaly or the first shot quietly fired across the bow of the sexual orientation of traditional advertising.
I’ve read that Starbucks is also running this campaign on TV. I truly hope they’ve figured out a way to maintain their now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t androgynous approach. If they don’t, Gil Scott-Heron will be right after all. The revolution will not be televised.