Kylie Jenner’s Coty Deal.


International Cosmetics Company Coty Inc. is paying spokesowner Kylie Jenner 600 million dollars for 51% of her company. Not a bad day at the office for Ms. Jenner. Does that mean Coty is the “boss of her” now? I think so. Not that they would want to piss her off. Easy come easy go… Kylie could mic drop the company (unless contractually obligated) if she feels mistreated.

Kylie is smart. Coty is just one percent smarter. Kylie, in effect, has just signed a deal to be Coty spokesperson for life. It may seem like a Bobby Bonilla deal (Google it), but fast forward a couple of decades when spokespeople are paid even crazier money for their marketability (read, media magnetism) and this one-time payout may seem low. Argentina’s Lionel Messi earned $127 million this year. Ms. Jenner is only 22 years old but at age 42 she may regret today’s rate.

Coty’s main reason for the purchase seems to be Ms. Jenner’s social media following. She has 270 million followers. All In the right demographic…today.

Is this smart business? My guess is it will be for a few years, but without the right business blocking and tackling this move will water down both brands.

C’est la vie.


Net Positive Brand Strategy.


Peter Thiel, he of the PayPal mafia, has been quoted as saying “Competition is for losers.” Billionaires can afford to say that kind of thing, especially start-up fund billionaires, but the rest of the world is not so inclined.

Strategists, especially those in brand development, must be aware of competition. Someone at McCann NY once counselled me to be mindful of “Who is going to lose the sale you’re making?” A brand “claim and proof array” must be based upon market conditions…and market conditions include the competitive landscape.

But I have to say I like Mr. Thiel’s meddle on this one. I favor playing offense when it comes to brand strategy. Playing defense is akin to positioning around competitors.  Brand discovery, and you can peal the onion many ways, really comes down to customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. These translate to brand positives. If they happen to highlight a competitive shortcoming that’s fine. But just as Mr. Thiel wants to invest in companies for which there is pent-up demand and no competition, brand strategy is best done when net positive.

With a net positive brand strategy in place, the tacticians can go to war and sully reputations if need be. But remember “Tastes great, less filling” didn’t say “competitive beers taste like ass and make you fat.”



Brands and Identity.


I was watching the lowly New York Knicks last night and the TNT halftime show announcers were trying to explain why the Knicks were bad. Kenny Anderson and Charley Barkley were riffing on the team’s identity. They had none. Were they a defensive minded team? A half court team? Fast break team?

The fact is, as currently constructed, the NY Knicks are still in gestation. All the new players they brought in are okay, but none stars. So what’s the identity? Is it a player? When Carmelo Anthony was on the team, was he their identity? Can a team’s identity even be determined by one player? If you have LeBron, it can.

I think team identity is more like brand strategy. And that starts with the coach.

Teams like products are existential. They are what they are. Sure you can change the formula, but good coaches and brand managers, first have a plan, second they use what they’ve got. Coach K was the same coach with Zion Williamson, but he also adapted to the player. Brand managers can sweeten the soda a lil’ bit, but shouldn’t be changing the formulary upon a whim. They start with a plan.

Kenny Anderson and Charles Barkley like Knicks coach David Fizdale but without saying it, they implied the lack of identity starts with him.

This stuff isn’t random. Not in basketball, not in branding. A talented, informed and prepared coach, with a plan, is needed in both cases.




Burger King’s Impossible Whopper.


Thanks to high cholesterol I’m a fan of plant based-meats. There’s just so much chicken a man can eat before he grows man boobs. The Impossible Whopper at Burger King is a creature comfort that’s popped up on the landscape for which I am extremely happy. At a certain age you are dealt health cards where you can eat and drink less of the things you love. It sucks. Meat, for me, is one such. (Scrapple please.)

I’ve eaten hundreds of cheese whoppers in my lifetime but stopped cold turkey about 10 years ago. Thanks to Impossible and Burger King, I’m back. I’m so back.

(Picture not linked to video.)

Here’s the thing though. One of the coolest things about Burger King is the brand value “flame broiled.” What’s The Idea? readers know how I feel about the aroma of flame broiled burgers wafting along America’s streets and what a hunger aphrodisiac it is. Flame broiled is a killer differentiator for BK. But my gut tells me Impossible burgers — though they may have conquered the red blood thing with the heme additive – is manufacturing the grease thing a la George Lucas. I’m not sure coconut oil gets them there. The Impossible Burger TV spots do great job of presenting the whopper in a luscious light. But is the “glisteny” juice sprayed on? If so, they should stop. It’s disingenuous. Food stylists live and die by the spray bottle. But the Whopper, Impossible and flame broiling deserve better.

Glisten to me. I know of what I speak.



Sweetgreen and Brand Ballast.


The Sweetgreen brand strategy is a little bit like one of their salads. Lots and lots of healthy things. Take for example the Curry Cauliflower salad, made with blackened chicken thighs, curry roasted cauliflower, shredded cabbage, cilantro, raisins, warm quinoa, organic arugula, Sweetgreen hot sauce, cucumber tahini yogurt dressing. This amazing assort of ingredients provides the tongue with rich tastes and wonderful flavors. Also crunchiness. Sweetness. Warmth. Coolness. In cooking, this approach works brilliantly when done with finesse.

In branding, however, too many ingredients can cause the brown effect. The color that results when adding too many colors together. Sweetgreen, bless their hearts, tries to do so many good things that their insular message is lost. Or watered down.

It’s weird because Sweetgreen does many things so right. But from a brand organization perspective it needs to boil it all down…to three, manageable ingredients.

Here are a couple of lifts from the website:

“We want to make an impact and leave people better than we found them, and we tailor our approach in each market to reflect the needs of the community.” This is a non-endemic mission with no place in brand strategy.

“Create experiences where passion and purpose come together.” Marko-babble, though well-intended. Again, not endemic.

I could go on. This company is well positioned in the marketplace owing to pent-up demand for healthier food options and sustainability. The clientele is loyal, the product outstanding. But those things are replicable. What isn’t replicable is brand ballast. Sweetgreen today needs to double down on it’s brand focus. If so, it will paint a way forward that is indelible and timeless.



YETI About to Get Cold Shoulder.


Say it ain’t so Yeti. You are not really opening up more and more retail stores. It sounds as if you’ve been bitten by the success bug and it could be your undoing. Yeti is a very cool brand name, which I first came across on my handlebar grips. It seems there’s a mountain bike company by the name too. Yeti coolers are a gold mine. Now a public company with board members hungry at the trough, Yeti is looking to grow faster than the laws of nature allow. Hence, retail stores.

The problem is that Yeti is a sales handgrenade for Bass Pro Shops, West Marine, Cabella’s, REI, and Dicks Sporting Goods and an assortment of mom and pop and chain hardware stores across the country. Let’s not even mention Amazon who accounts for 30% of Yeti sales.

These channel partners built displays around Yeti products. Moved prime store real estate and displays around to help build excitement. These partners were your biggest fans. Now you’re trying to take traffic and sales away from them. Yo lo mistako.

It reminds me of when Krispy Kreme changed its channel strategy and started flooding the market with product. “Pick up your cold donuts at the gas station,” was the big growth idea. IPO- and CEO-driven initiatives.

Yeti has a great product but they’ve taken their eyes off the ball. They are going from underdog to over-dog, and their biggest fans will be leading the way.



Marmot’s super bowl spot.


(This post originaly appeared February 10, 2016, then was taken down die to a hack.)

I love the Marmot brand. I ski in Marmot, I sleep in Marmot, I do outdoors stuff in Marmot. I want to own more of it.  The gear is well-designed, engineered-to-the-max and good looking.  They’ve done a wonderful job with branding and marketing. (I have tend pole that bent, and it doesn’t even bother me. Why? Because Marmot is like family.)

Then, before the Super Bowl, I saw a Marmot teaser ad campaign and knew I wasn’t going to like. Super Sunday I saw the real thing.  It’s a Goodby, Silverstein and Partners spot, focusing around, you guessed it, a marmot. Were this toilet tissue or insurance, maybe. But cuddly talking Marmot? Oy. I can only imagine the 2 other campaigns the agency pitched to beat this one. It should never have been presented. Lazy ass trade craft. It is so unfitting of the brand.

I can just imagine the engineers in the goose down research center, breathing feathers all day, watching the game on TV with their friends. “A talking marmot, really?” No wonder advertising and marketing people have a bad name in engineering focused companies.

As a brand strategy guy and Marmot fan it was a sad day. Even if the spot tested off the charts with the teens and tweens – the next generation of buyers – it was a brand mistake. A 5 million dollar mistake. And that’s a lot of feathers.





Brands. Flags. And Design.


Is it possible to like design work, yet dislike the product? I believe it is. Case in point. I find the above variation of a civil Middle Eastern flag quite compelling. Attractive would not be the right word, but there is something about the palm tree and the swords that create muscle memory and power. Swords are cool as design elements even though murdering journalists taints the fuck out of the product. Abhorrently so. 

Speaking of palm trees, the South Carolina state flag uses a palmetto and crescent dropped out of an indigo background. It’s pert cool though monochromatic. I’ve seen some bastardizations of the flag characters with other colors that really enhance the design. A license plate with some setting sun colors are quite nice. A strong promotional tool, the flag and mark.

And lastly, and I almost hesitate to type this one, is the confederate flag. It’s an interesting, yet simple design. As a stupid kid who went to college in FL, I hung a confederate flag on my wall oblivious to the pain and suffering it denoted. I liked the design. I also hung some Amerind prints on my wall not knowing what they stood for. I liked the colors.

Design is personal. As a tool in branding, design can be powerful. It engenders feelings and symbolism. But is also can act as a magnet for negative actions and behaviors. That’s why brand management is so important.

Brands need to flag the “good.”



Innovation and Sloppy Money.


Many business evolutions these days come from product or service improvement or product or service disruption. Disruption, as a term of art, began as a meme and book title in the ad business. It meant stop consumers in their tracks – challenge the messaging roll, if you will. Then disruption moved on to productization and product development. Charlene Li and Altimeter Group go on about how disruption helps develop and corner new markets.

Whether improving or disrupting, it’s likely you are looking to “innovation” to deliver the goods. Remember the term R&D? Research and development? That was a common business function; a year-over-year line item on the annual budget. Especially for larger companies. The mega companies still have R&D groups or facsimiles hereof but most companies these days find it more economical to seek “new ideas” from hired innovation companies: boutiques, workshop groups and consultants.

Innovation is being outsourced.

At the higher end, these innovation engagements can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. What I call sloppy money. This ain’t agile. You can call Accenture Interactive in to solve your banking problem, but it’s not likely to be any different than the problem that existed in the 70s. Just with an interactive twist. If you must outsource your innovation, it’s best to start with a smaller outside team –a more manageable team. A team with more to gain with a business win. Not an army.

Problem identification is the first deliverable. Sloppy money makes for more problems, not less.



Truth or Proof?


According to Stewart Alter, a McCann-Erickson historian and one-time head of publicity, copy chief Ralph St. Hill, at predecessor company The H.K. McCann Company coined the term Truth Well Told. A brilliant, if simple, piece of poesy, the line illuminates McCann offices on every continent.

Talk to brand planners past and present and you are likely to hear the word “truth” many times. Words like transparency and authenticity are pop planning words, but truth has generational staying power. Truth in advertising makes lots of sense. If consumers sniff out even a hint of mistruth, they begin to shut down.

As a brand planner I’ve built a practice around proof. Proof is what delivers truth. Proof is a tangible. It’s dare I say “existential.” Branding and adverting are certainly cousins but branding is the chicken and advertising is the egg. The chicken keeps giving birth to eggs. Brand strategy, done well, keeps giving birth to ads.

The way to build a brand is to create an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging, the framework for which is one claim and three proof planks, and stick to it. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center may be the best cancer care anywhere (truth), but the fact that they get the toughest cases in the world is the why (proof).

Brand planner hard drives across the globe are filled with proofs and truths. Search out the former in order to build your brand strategies.