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Another Example of Not Getting It

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Cadillac broke new work today by BBH. All I have to say is, why?

This work is no better than the last few rounds of work by Modernista! or the work of their previous agency. I will give Modernista! props for the “My Cadillac Story” effort but Cadillac a thumbs down for abandoning it.

The line “Mark of Leadership” is meaningless especially when they’ve been playing catch-up to the Europeans, Japanese and now Korean’s (Hyundai Genesis) when it comes to quality. Simply saying it does not make it so. Sure the blokes at Top Gear found new love for the second generation CTS-V but they weren’t making apples-to-apples comparisons to other Euro (M5,RS4, C63)/Japanese (IS-F). The comments in the AdAge article are all sadly accurate. Probably the best comment was about the tagline being “destined for the ‘one year and out’ dumpster.”

Most importantly what tis shows me is that what Cadillac nor BBH seems to understand is that :30 spots aren’t necessarily the name of the game anymore. Start with a great product and build compelling content around that product at strategic touch-points. It’s great that Cadillac has a YouTube channel but judging from the total views of all of the work on their channel (885,329) the “content” is hardly compelling. You want compelling content? Have a look at Ken Block’s DC Shoes/Monster Energy Drink/Subaru“infomercial” which is at 14 million views and counting. The aggregate of the DCShoesFilm Channel is at 34 million views and counting.

Cadillac has a great story to tell. Did you know the gear shift pattern/pedal configuration as we know it is courtesy of Cadillac? It’s unfortunate that no one is able to help Cadillac try to tell it.

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Can Hummer have a Hyundai Moment?

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I recently read a great blog post by Andrew McCafee on the “Illusion of Brand Control” from the Harvard Business Review blogs. Mr. McCafee studies how technology affects businesses.

In his article he cites examples of two brands. One which seeks to try and corral perceptions of its brand the other who seeks to let its brand run free.

The brand that seeks to corral the perceptions of its brand does so fairly unsuccessfully while the brand that lets it brand run free seems to find organic success. These may not be apple to apple case studies but nevertheless, the former it would seem could learn something about perception, identity and aligning business, product development and marketing strategy.

The example of the brand allowed to run wild is MIT, in which there are 11 student blogs featured on the admissions office web page. They are central to the schools communications efforts. The premise was simple. The school is confident enough that in having some of the greatest scholars of the world grace its campus, why wouldn’t they be capable of presenting a cogent dialogue on a variety of topics to the world thus demonstrating why you would want to attend MIT.

On the other side of the spectrum is Hummer.

Mr. McCafee starts his piece…

“You’ve probably heard by now that ‘your brand is no longer yours.’ The assertion’s based on simple math. In the era of blogs, discussion boards, Facebook, Twitter, and other Web 2.0 tools, virtually everyone can get online and talk about your company and its offerings. As a result, the amount of information your marketing and PR departments can generate is only a small percentage of the total volume of content on the Internet about your firm.

What’s more, if some of the external voices become as popular, or perish the thought, more popular than your official voice, then they’re going to show up high in organic (as opposed to paid) search results. For example, I just typed “Hummer” into Google. The second result is the Wikipedia entry about the vehicle, and the fourth one is a site full of user-submitted photos that are not likely to please the brand’s owner.”

Let’s talk about the fourth one. On that site there are 5092 submissions of people flipping the bird to passing Hummer H2s. That’s a lot of angst.

When one thinks about Hummer’s past advertising, it often portrays young, good-looking, hip and adventurous 30-something individuals utilizing their Hummers to create their own adventures seeking out the most remote spots on earth.

Granted a great degree of Hummer’s spots are automotive eye candy in shot in places like the far reaches of New Zealand. However when there are people in the ads, the folks and imagery used in Hummer’s spots are really not at all representative of the actual Hummer consumer. And these days, I don’t think there are many people in America who want to be seen in a Hummer. The people portrayed in the spots of old courtesy of Modernista! are no doubt beautifully art directed and shot. But the people in the commercials look a lot like, well the people in agencies like Modernista! And what I know about people like these is that most of them wouldn’t buy a Hummer. They’re probably more likely to buy a Mini. And the hardcore outdoor folks that you might find riding their bikes to their boutique agency are design/brand snobs and extraordinarily eco-friendly. I might personally resemble this last remark.

This is where the opportunity lies for Hummer for North America. If they align the business strategy, product development and marketing effectively they could actually carve out a nice little niche for themselves.

While current brand perception is negative, I would predict that if you dug down to the brands core you’d find perception about the brand is probably still pretty well respected for being a vehicle that can pretty much get anywhere.

I have no idea what the new owners are considering for Hummer, but how about thinking of this for a second. Develop smaller than H2-type vehicles with less bling, powered by clean diesel (the magic word is torque) and provide functional utilitarian packages aimed at various affinity groups (outdoor enthusiasts).

This is where I wonder if Hummer can have its own Hyundai moment. Any marketer with a subscription to AdAge knows that Hyundai is the marketing darling of the industry these days and rightfully so. However it wasn’t marketing that created Hyundai’s turnaround. It was the company.

As Mark Allen Roberts said in response to the AdAge’s “Marketer of the Year”article on Hyundai, “What they did brilliantly was on the front end.”

I don’t suspect Hummer will be as universally captivating as Hyundai because it will always be a niche brand but I do feel that there’s a tremendous opportunity for Hummer.

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Today, AdAge reported research findings from the 4As that “Chief creative officers at large U.S. agencies, on average, billed $964 an hour to clients in 2008.”

Pardon me, but that’s insane.

If that’s what clients are paying, they’re not even close to an ROI. Most of these are at agencies owned by holding companies which are publicly traded companies with blue chip clients. Didn’t IPG land on a list of one of top 10 companies likely to file for bankruptcy this year? Gee I wonder why? Creative directors should start asking for raises. Perhaps the agency biz needs to be raked over the coals the way the financial services businesses currently are over compensation. Granted I will say that if the $100 million dollar man at Citi earns the company a billion dollars, give the guy what he wants. But I digress.

There are companies that have said they’ve changed the agency model but let’s be honest, that’s a crock. If it looks like a duck… They’ve changed the COMPENSATION model NOT the BUSINESS model. No one has. And clients haven’t demanded it of them. In general, large and mid-sized agencies are often given Carte Blanche to “move the needle”. And research is designed to show how “I’ve moved the needle”. Clients, how about empowering your employees and demanding more of them to ensure they are not using the agency to make them look like heroes?

And as the universe of consumers lean towards microtrends and microbrands, big agencies can’t service these companies because they charge too much. They have to charge too much to pay for the exorbitant overhead.

Here’s what I think? The :30 spot doesn’t mean what it used too. Heck, corporate web sites don’t mean what they used to.

A good friend is the founder of a student loan marketing company. If you do a search on student loans, there’s probably a one in three chance you’ll land on one of his sites. It’s a pretty ingenious business and I admire him greatly for what he’s built.

He shared with me an effort for one of his financial services clients that he represents for student loans and credit card products.

I think it speaks volumes about how much companies miss opportunities in understanding their customers and prospects and how disconnected middle management is from senior management.

On one of his several web sites he has a student marketing blog. He posted a blog comparing two credit cards aimed primarily at college students. He also conducted a poll. The poll suggested a pretty clear winner. The winner was a rewards card. There were 250+ comments which further suggested that what students cared about was rewards but they also cared greatly about rates. The comments are in essence qualitative research and could help the company figure out what to probe for in formal qualitative research or what to ask in quantitative research and can also help folks at an agency in developing communications that are far more relevant and appealing to the target audience.

Furthermore, one may discover that a way to use the broadcast medium is to drive people to this blog as opposed to directly to the corporate web site or 800# where the prospect will be hit with a hard sell and likely be apprehensive. The blog, poll and corresponding comments would validate and support the prospective customer’s decision. Yes, as a company you’ll lose a little bit because of the shared revenue with your marketing partner but arguably you’d make that up with stronger close rates.

Isn’t that what everyone’s goal is?

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