Yearly Archives: 2008

United College Fund.


When my daughter was very young she came home from school one day and referred to a girl in her class by the color of her dress, her height, where she sat and assorted other descriptors. The girls was black. We are white. My daughter never used skin color to describe the girl. She hadn’t yet been polluted.

The United Negro College Fund has recently undergone an extensive re-branding effort through which it will dial down, but not eliminate, the word negro. Only the initials will be used in the logo U.N.C.F.  
I admit to not knowing first hand how black people feel about the word, though with the heightened use of African American and People of Color the last couple of decades I’m going to go out on a limb and say negro doesn’t own favored status.
Hayes Roth and Interbrand gave the UNCF bad counsel by allowing use the word negro in its official legal name. If we need to define people by skin pigment, and frankly I don’t believe we do, I would suggest contemporizing the name using more accepted terms such as: black, African American or people of color. I can never see myself looking a black man or woman in the face and referring to them as negro. That’s the litmus for me. Am I wrong? 

Plumbers Hiney at Apple?


Steve Jobs made two big announcements yesterday at Macworld Expo, Apple’s annual technology tradeshow. The first was about a new notebook called the MacBook Air. The new MacBook was delivered to the stage in an interoffice-size envelope demonstrating its amazingly thin profile. Great theater.

The other big announcement was an iTunes movie distribution service, which will turn out to be a mistake if you ask me.


Apple is a technology company. An electronics and design company. Getting into media and media distribution dilutes the company’s core competency. I know, I know — Apple is making some nice coin with iTunes, but it is truly reducing the focus of the management team. Each year Apple spends more and more money managing lawyers and biz-dev people – money that would be better served going into product development.  


Will the cult that is Apple start to see some cracks? A quote from the New York Times today on the new movie service reads “But the risk for Apple is that consumers may not like the limits placed on their movie viewing,” a point referring to the amount of time in which renters must view the movie before it times out.  Apple has always been about expanding capability, not creating limits. Steve Jobs knows this. That’s why the iPhone was such a success. Creating limits for consumers is where the cracks begin. Nice computer. Movie business? Not so much.



Music industry medicine.


Memo to the music industry.

It’s no surprise that the music industry is in the dumps. 2007 CD sales were at 1994 levels. Here’s what needs to happen: Sony, Universal, EMI, and Warner need to keep selling CDs. They also need to keep selling music digitally, but at reduced prices, because the distribution of those songs is so inexpensive.  Here’s the kicker: they need to sell albums. No single songs.  If you buy Kid Rock’s new album, you must buy the whole album, not just your favorite song. Selling single songs is the fastest way to create a “one hit wonder.”  And for more entrenched musicians, selling one great song, which will be played over and over is the fastes way to create burn out. 
Get rid of the single song sales, cut the price of the digital album, and the overall business will pick up.    

Sorry Joe


 Joe Nocera, a business writer for the New York Times with some serious marketing smarts, wrote Saturday that Starbucks Howard Schultz (who has reclaimed the reigns at Starbucks) doesn’t get it. Mr. Nocera thinks big changes need to be made in order for the ship to be righted. I disagree.

The original vision of Starbucks is still strong and so long as the store growth is slowed and properly managed Starbucks will return to a growth stock.
What’s so cool about Starbucks today is that kids are really digging the experience. They are making road trips at night to Starbucks and if you happen to frequent Starbucks near a high school, you’ll note that the place is flooded with teens at lunchtime and after the final bell.
If Mr. Schultz figures this out, and I’m sure he will, and he caters to this growing segment in an elegant, soft-handed manner, he will kick some serious retail butt. This a “growth” not a “harvest” market segment. 

Mr. Nocera also thinks the Starbucks international growth plans are not a good idea.  Here, too, I disagree. Starbucks is seen as a “cool” American brand. In a world that is increasingly growing tired of the American commercial way, Starbucks remains an icon that holds positive sway.


Global Shopping


 Apple was recently sued in Britain for selling songs in iTunes at an inflated price to that of the rest of Europe. (A song in the U.K. cost the equivalent of US$1.57.) 

I ask you, in the digital age when purchasing digital assets, what is to keep a person in the U.K. from paying $.99 for a song in America if it costs more then half again that price in England? The currency.
This flattening of the world when it comes to purchasing digital assets is going to create great demand for some sort of global currency exchange or, perhaps, even a new global currency (the world-o?.)  
If Pay-Pal figures this out, or some smart bank, we’ll be shopping all over the world easier than shopping in our own town – and saving world-os. (Let’s save the tax discussion for a future blog.)

Welcome back Schultz

I love Starbucks. I go there every morning for my grande non-fat latte. Howard Schultz is putting himself back in charge of Starbucks because the business has started to show signs of underperformance. It is seeing its first “dings” after many years of astonishing – Harvard business case — growth. The slowing of sales is generally attributed to overbuilding of stores and McDonalds coffee product (new and planned.)  
Starbucks store build out has probably been too fast, (remember Krispy Kreme?) so Mr. Shultz plan to slow store growth is a good one. And cutting underperforming stores is also a smart move. Either the demographics and geographics support the Starbuck’s experience or not. But McDonalds? And its new espresso bar? I think not. The Starbuck’s core customer doesn’t want to smell Egg McMuffins and canola oil potatoes thingies while waiting for their Ethiopian blends. Not a competitor. Please.
Starbucks might consider offering a “value” coffee-of-the-day to staunch the migration of people on a weekly budget, but please don’t be worried about Mickey Dees.
Mr. Schultz will do just fine. Welcome back.

Detroit, anyone home?

Is everyone in America as excited as I am about the Chevy Tahoe being demoed at the Consumer Electronics Show that drives itself? Without a person in it? It is expected to be ready for commercial release within 10 years. I’m so excited I could wet myself.
Good old US automotive ingenuity — hard at work. And aren’t you glad General Motors decided to showcase this important technology with the gas-guzzling Tahoe rather than, say, a more energy conscious car that would encourage Americans to drive more efficient vehicles?
I don’t know where you live, but regular gas in NY is about $3.30 a gallon and rising. And it’s going to go way higher as a new generation of people from China and India buy $2,000 cars and start demanding more gas in Asia. But at least we’ll be able to look forward to cars that drive themselves in the next decade. Whoo hooo. 
Detroit, pardon me, but would you please pull you head out of your collective trunk and start building some more energy efficient cars. Doofuses!

Meep Meep!



When I drive my Prius into a gas station and start pumping behind a big American car that is already pumping, I get a look of acknowledgement. Not positive or negative, just a look. When I pull away before they’ve finished fueling the look turns a hint envious.  They get. And some of these big car people aren’t even filling up…they’re just getting $20 worth.
Remember how you could always tell a European movie by the size of the cars in the street and the high pitch of their horns? Meep meep! Well we are getting very close to that environment here in the States. The tipping point is here. The day of the huge car is really over. Pickup truck sales are down, SUVs are down and new cars are getting smaller and smaller. It has taken a while, but most of the size queens are starting to realize they look a silly driving around in big, gluttonous vehicles.
The energy and resource consumption of the average American is 30-times that of a person in an emerging country. Marketers who recognize the future before consumers will be the winners. Toyota did. 

Happy New Year!

I can’t think of a more exciting way to start the new year than with the Iowa Caucuses. As a student of brands, I have always paid close attention to the marketing of political candidates and/or the lack thereof. It seems as if many candidate handlers try to sell the person, not the person’s views. It’s therefore hard today to compare candidates and see notable differences. There are some grays, but no real policy differences.  (Edwards today, declared he would have us out of Iraq in 10 months. That’s a difference, but it is one of a fading candidate.)
If all candidates have similar views on healthcare, global warming, conservation, immigration and Iraq, then on what are we to judge them?   
In brand building you create a single position or promise for the brand and then array beneath it key supports. In candidate building, few want to stand for one thing — they want to stand for everything. What’s left on the table for the people to judge is then solely the candidate’s TV persona. That’s what many in America vote for. Who in the debates made the most sense and looked most comfortable? Who acted presidential?  Who seemed the smartest? It becomes about the person, not the policy. 
If one managed a brand the way candidates are managed the whole store would be filled with generics. The best candidates stand for something. Let’s see if anyone steps up?