J&J, Kenvue and the Jets.


I am a Jet Fan.  Where I come from (NY), this is understood to mean a football fan of the NY Jets.  In all other parts of the world, it means helical pieces of aluminum that cool an airplane motor.  See how important words are?  Which brings me to my real point, Johnson & Johnson is changing the brand name of its consumer products division to Kenvue.

Yes, Kenvue.

Johnson’s Baby Powder will now be called Kenvue Baby Powder or Johnson’s Baby Powder by Kenvue.

Apparently the pharmaceutical and devices part of the business is fast growing while the consumer products like Listerine and Tylenol are taking it on the chin from generics and store brands. Dilution of sales in the consumer brands is all the more reason to dial-up smart consumer brand strategy efforts. Doing the opposite is a recipe for failure. This move will accelerate revenue loss and hasten the death of this consumer products spin-off.

The pharma and device company, with much more targeted buyers, should get the new name not the other way around. I understand pharma medicine names are among the worst brand names in the hemi-verse, (Luboxi anyone?) but adding the Johnson & Johnson master brand will only help marginally. Make a clean break.

Here’s what I would do: Rename the consumer products J&J and use Johnson and Johnson (no ampersand) for pharma and devices. Simple. Maybe not approvable by the lawyers but at least it won’t blow up a perfectly brilliant consumer brand name.  

Oh, back to Jet fan.  Johnson & Johnson has nothing but great brand associations worldwide, unless you are a Jet fan.




Learn to Earn.


In my lifetime I’ve been a parking lot attendant, dishwasher, busboy, waiter, house painter, mail room attendant, advertising account manager, marketing director and brand strategist but bever a salesman.  Not until a few years ago.  On my heels with few paid consulting assignments, I needed to put some cash points on the board so I took a job selling remodeled kitchens.  I told myself that for a person in the selling business, I had never really looked someone in the eye and sold belly-to-belly.  David Ogilvy, the godfather of advertising, would have chastised me for never strapping on a pair of salesman shoes.

Stationed at big box stores with a samples table, my job was to sign up customers for estimates.  And you know what?  I sucked at it. For a couple of months, I was at the very bottom of the company. When I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself, something clicked. I took it as a challenge — started diving for ground balls. I worked hard to connecting with customers and to entertain. People started listening. I started listening. And homeowners made appointments. I learned how to sell.

Shortly thereafter the company made me a trainer. I didn’t earn much, but I learned much. And that was David Ogilvy’s point.  You gotta sell to sell.


PS. For a sample of best practices learned at this sales job, write Steve at WhatsTheIdea. Some pretty savvy stuff.



Develop a Brand Strategy and Cut Once.


Brand strategy is a unique undertaking.  It’s not many things, it’s one thing. Full stop.

When done correctly, brands have one strategy.  One “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” that is sacrosanct. Inviolate.  At What’s The Idea? brand strategy is constructed using one brand claim and three proof (or support) planks. With this construct in place, every tactic thereafter is on strategy or off. It’s simple. Once the master brand strategy is done and done right, everything thereafter becomes additive and brand positive.  Everything thereafter becomes brand management. Not rethink.

At ad agencies today, departments of brand planners oversee project tactics. They enable creative team to do good work, providing them counsel on interpretations of the strategy.  It’s not necessary. Everyone in marketing is a strategist. Creatives. Project managers, Accountants. In their own little way.  With a brand strategy in hand all team members can officiate execution. No matter their function.

In carpentry, there’s a saying “measure twice cut once.”  Master brand strategy is the measure and tactics are the cutting.




Explicit Vs. Implicit Brand Values.


I was listening to the radio the other day and a spot came on for a hospitality company. The copy ended with line “A place for all occasions.”  Since a key brand strategy application is messaging (AKA advertising) I couldn’t help myself from twinging. (It’s a curse, I know.)

A place for all occasions may be meaningful to the marketing or ownership team but it’s not to the radio listener. I can just imagine the client telling the writer,  “Our revenues are good in weddings, but we need more parties” or, “I’m making money on the weekends but need bookings during the week.”  To which the copywriter might have responded, “How about we close with a new tagline A place for all…”

Here’s the thing, marketers’ problems are not consumers’ problems. You can’t tell consumers what you want them to do. You have to tell them why — thereby encouraging them to want you. Solve their problems. As a consumer, I don’t want a hospitality location for all occasions, I want one for my occasion.

That’s why brand strategy planks are values. 

Heineken once found out people were drinking their beer more during the day than at night. More as a refreshment or lunch beer.  They didn’t come out and tell people to drink at night.  They celebrated the night life and let consumers make their own decision.  Heineken gets branding.

Great brand strategy is implicit rather than explicit. Get the care-abouts right, get the good-ats right, and you get the brand right.




Mutations and Evolution.


I’m a closet anthropologist and someone who likes to think about evolution. A professor at my alma mater Rollins College explained taught me one of the forces of evolution is gene mutation. Natural selection being another important force. Human evolution takes hundreds of thousands of years and even though my brand strategies are designed to be future-proof, they won’t stand up to that timeframe. Hee hee. So, we should always entertain the notion that brand strategies can evolve. To that end we must always keep an eye out for mutations. 

Our job as brand planners is to watch out for the signs. One way to do this is to constantly update and refresh the proof plank.  Keep a history or archive of your proof planks over time and then look back to see how they have changed. 

If the market changes in a way that one of your planks seems less of a care-about or good-at – or if that particular plank is lagging in activity — consider a new plank. Remember evolution is slow. And that can work in your favor. Just don’t assume everything stays the same forever.  

If you feel a new stronger brand plank coming on, test it. Do not add a new plank to the mix. It will only confuse your target.




Be Ambitious With Your Brand Objectives.


At the end of my brand strategy presentations, I like to make sure the claim is well received.  I offer up slides listing all the pros and all the cons.  At present, I don’t ask C-level management and approvers how they feel the claim will perform against key product objectives. That needs to change.

Of course, understanding the KPI is critical to this step.

Much work in brand strategy work focuses on one overarching problem. I like to walk and chew gum.  What’s The Idea? brand strategies are intended to accomplish numerous things. All tied to top company objectives. Not just one.

A healthy discussion of how key objectives are met by the brand claim and brand planks proves the worth of the strategy.  Presentations meant to simply earn a go/no go decision are weak. Once the strategy is approved the hook has to be set. It has to show its business-winning nature.

I once worked on a huge healthcare brand and presented 15 plus objectives I believed the strategy could accomplish.  The client was nervous and made me pull back.  He didn’t want to his boss to think we were overly ambitious.  And he didn’t want to fail. Oh my!!




Covid and Fieldwork.


I’m tired of pet peeves — how about a post on stuff I enjoy. I’m reading a book call Go Luck Yourself, by Andy Nairn. It’s a good read. If you like advertising and most brand strategy today is about advertising, it offers ups some neat stories about getting to good, effective work.  Advertising is nothing if it does not impact sales. And Mr. Nairn’s point is you can make luck and take advantage of luck, if you pay attention. It’s a fun read.

During Covid, I remained behind the keyboard and did much of my work remotely. That’s beginning to come to an end. I’m back on the beer and coffee circuit and it’s energizing. I met Frederic Terral, a brand planning like-mind and polymath, this week in Asheville and it pumped me up. Tangentially, I went to an archeology presentation last night on what lies Under Jerusalem and it, too, energized. I find insights and inspiration for brand strategy everywhere…I’m like fly paper for that shit. And listening to the speaker and author Andrew Lawler and a thoughtful Palestinian women commenting behind me, gave me jolts of inspiration. How will textured discussions about buildings, rocks, history, politics, religion and compassion inform what I do on my next assignment?  I can’t wait to find out.

It’s good to be back an in the field.




Boiler Plate.


The older I get the more I post about pet peeves.  Hope I’m not getting cranky. Saw this piece of boiler plate used by a company that shall remain nameless. It’s a great example of burying the lead and lack of focus.  If you are Coca-Cola or Google you needn’t remind people of your Is-Does — what a brand Is and what a brand Does. But if you’re new or newish it’s pretty important.

Here’s the boiler plate:

Founded in 1998, So and So Company is a purpose-driven company that strives to empower the whole family, including pets, to live happier, healthier lives.

They believe that the products you put in your body, on your body and use in your home matter.  Popular product lines include premium pet food and supplements as well as clean health and beauty products for the consumer.

Okay, okay…if you get past the copy about being purpose-drive, you do get what they sell. Albeit, it’s a bit of an all-over-the-place portfolio.  Pet and people?  Products for in your body, on your body and in your home?  That covers some consumer ground. What tethers the products together is the all-natural claim, I guess. It doesn’t even say all-natural, I’m just assuming.

This company may be successful. In fact, they are growing.  But positioning, as Al Ries and Jack Trout proudly proclaimed, is everything. 

This boiler plate makes me cringe. In my brand evaluation tool “Brand Strategy Tarot Cards,” boiler plate is one of the first cards turned over.

Get it right so your consumers don’t have to work too hard.



The Biggest Pity.


Nothing pisses off a creative person more than being told a client doesn’t “like their work.”  Nina DiSesa a big-time creative director or yore explained it to me this way “Ads are like our babies.” They are nurtured and coddled over time and can’t just be easily dismissed.

I’ve often spoken of the “like-ometer”, a fictional device clients use in approving ads. The notion of subjectivity in advertising or any creative pursuit, is real. And in the advertising business it’s super real.

That’s why top creatives like a good brand strategy. They are devising with a purpose in mind. They have a tight objective.  This helps them in development but also in getting approvals. There’s a basis for arguing for their work. It’s called a brand strategy.

When a person judging an ad doesn’t like a “color” or “negativity” or “the great outdoors,” the brand strategy can be employed. And the like-ometer shut down. 

We can’t get to better work without a strategy — the launch pad for all marketing and communications. Most professional ads are developed using a brief.  Few are developed using a brand brief.

That is the biggest pity of the craft.





I must admit to being a cheerlead for my brands. That’s not to say all brands are worthy, some will actually be clunkers. When that’s the case all you can do as a cheerleader is convey to management the changes that need to be made in order to make them good brands.  Those changes can be in the form of product or product experience. If the brand is underdelivering what consumers “care-about” or what it’s “good-at,” then you can always share with management benchmarks of better competitive products. Cheerleading for quality.  Hopefully management will see your category interest and positiveness not as a slight but as caring and industry insight.

But let’s assume your product is good. Being a cheerleader and living in the land of milk and honey is a good thing when establishing positioning and brand strategy. Positives beget positives. They give people enjoyment. When you are a cheerleader and constantly praise and mine brand values, if something negative does come about management is more apt to seek out your perspective.

Brand planning is a positive pursuit. High school cheerleaders are taught to smile. Even when the score is lopsided. Look for the good in your brand and celebrate it.

It makes everyone’s job easier.