Rush Limbaugh’s lessons on branding

rush_limbaughThis relatively short post is for all of you out there who think that brands are the sole responsibility of the marketing department.

Recently, it was reported that the St. Louis Rams were up for sale and that several groups were interested in bidding for the team, most notably, a group headed up by Dave Checketts (former CEO of Madison Square Garden) and controversial radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh.

Several NFL players have already stated that if Mr. Limbaugh’s bid is successful they will never play for the Rams. People in St. Louis have vowed to never again attend games, and at least one NFL owner (Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts) has said he will never vote to approve such a sale.

Why? Because you are who you associate with, and the Rams will have a distinctly different brand if Mr. Limbaugh is one of the owners. After all, Mr. Limbaugh is a brand unto himself – A brand that, through association with the Rams, will hurt ticket sales, free agency and, ultimately, the value of the franchise, merely because he is such a divisive personality.

So next time you think that brands are managed by your agency or marketing department only, think about Mr. Limbaugh and his potential effect on the St. Louis Rams.

A company is a living, breathing entity whose brand can be affected by everything – including customer service, sales, operations, product quality, and even its ownership group. And if you do something out of brand character, like bring a polarizing influence into your company, it can really hurt you in the end.

Think of it as ‘The Limbaugh Effect’.

Mega Dittos.

Update – Mark Cuban just wrote a good post on why the NFL can’t let Rush Limbaugh be an owner here.

Update #2 – Don Banks from SI.com is reporting that Limbaugh has been dropped from the group bidding to buy the Rams.

Social Media = car. Brand = gas.

social-mediaOnline Spin just released an article about succeeding with Social Media and how the answer isn’t in advertising, Facebook pages or Twitter profiles. To this statement I only have one thing to say:

Duh.

Online Spin has it right. But is this such a revelation? Why is it that so many social media ‘experts’ out there don’t understand the fundamentals of brand engagement? When people talk about your brand, or friend/fan your brand, or tweet about your brand, it’s because they have bonded with your brand, not because you simply exist. The principles of brand strategy and engagement have never been more essential today, yet these social media tacticians have many clients believing that they’ll reap financial rewards if they just set up a fan page on MySpace.

The only companies that do well in social media without clear brand support are the ones who innovate in social media. Companies like Naked Pizza who put up a Twitter billboard out front of their location to give followers special deals. The desired brand effect was a pizza for early adopters (go figure, the pizza is 100% organic).

If you’re living up to your brand promises at every touch point and creating advocacy with your customers, then your elevated presence in social media is assured. Not only will people flock to your social media sites, but they may even create their own fan sites as well. I recently flew Virgin America and loved it so much, I devoted a whole article to it. And I don’t even know if Virgin has a Twitter profile.

My advice is this: get your brand in order and build some loyalty. Until you do, your social media presence won’t do much for you. Think of it this way. Social media is the car and your brand engagement is the gas. Without people who love you, your social media ain’t goin’ no where.

How to erode brand trust – by Hyatt

firedI’m a fan of Hyatt Hotels. In fact one of my favorite hotels is the Hyatt Olive 8 in Seattle. As a customer I have always been pleased with their attentive service and care, which are strong pillars of their brand.

However, as a consumer, I was really disturbed to hear about Hyatt’s recent underhanded move to eliminate their housekeeper positions in Boston and replace them with a third party. I won’t go into details (click here for the story), but it hardly smacks of any care. And if any of it is true, how can they not think this erodes my trust in their brand?

In this day and age companies just can’t get away with acting out of brand character. You can’t tell consumers you’re one thing and then be completely opposite to your internal stakeholders. We’ll find out one way or another. And here’s the worst part. Due to social media proliferation this PR gaffe won’t be localized to the Boston area. It has the potential to affect Hyatt globally.

So what may have begun as a cost saving measure, has now become a costly crisis for Hyatt. And all because they didn’t think that their staff was a part of their brand.

Hyatt has responded to the negative press with a statement you can read here.

What ‘real man’ would you choose to front your Alcohol?

mad-men-2Advertising Age has just written an article detailing the new hyper-virile manner with which some spirits brands are now promoting themselves. Billed as the anti-Sex in the City era (in which the Cosmopolitan was the heralded beverage for women in a boom economy), this new phase could be dubbed the Mad Men era, where belts are being tightened in a poor economy, people stay home more and many alcohol pitchmen are emulating the behavior of the characters from the popular Emmy Award winning series. The commercials that I seem to see the most of feature “Sopranos” star Michael Imperioli for 1800 Tequila,

And of course, the Dos Equis commercials, starring the most interesting man in the world (Paula Forbes has a great blog post with all commercials here).

Ad Age’s point, I believe, is that life imitates art, and in unstable times we men are trying to emulate these real men from Mad Men. So, I guess my question is, if you had an alcohol brand to promote, which pitchman/character would you use? I have some suggestions below:

Mark Harmon – Jethro Gibbs (NCIS)
Hugh Laurie – Dr. Gregory House (HOUSE)
David Caruso – Lieutenant Horatio Caine (CSI MIAMI)
Matthew Fox – Jack Shephard (LOST)

For me, the runaway winner has to be Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in IRON MAN.

So, who would be your choice for the ideal front man?

How to blow off customers – by Kleenex®

kleenexI was doing some industry reading today and came across a Kleenex® campaign that isn’t necessarily about selling more tissues, but about protecting their brand trademark. The banner ad and subsequent microsite actually tell (or scold) us that when using the word Kleenex, we need to use the Copyright ® after it.

The copy reads:

You don’t need a Social Security number to get your identity stolen.

When you spend nearly a century building a name that people know and trust, the last thing you want is people calling any old tissue a Kleenex® Tissue. Simply put, ‘Kleenex’ is a brand name and should always be followed by an ® and the word ‘Tissue.’ Please help us keep our identity ours.

I’m a little confused by this campaign, and what’s more, I don’t really like being lectured to by a brand. I guess products with this kind of ubiquity need to be careful what they wish for. By being so top of mind, they risk having consumers call their competition by their name. And this is a bad thing? I don’t think it has hurt products like Band Aid, Xerox or Google. Maybe Kleenex should just focus on being the best tissue on the market and keep their legal team out of the marketing department.

Co-branding can really suck

minifangsIf you haven’t seen Digital Kitchen’s campaign for True Blood, HBO’s Vampire series, you’re in for a treat. They’ve created a series of mock ads with real companies (who have given up their brand and logo) to promote True Blood. The ads are great, but it begs the question: if you had the opportunity, would you allow your company to be a part of this co-branding venture? I guess it depends on what you stand for.