Upon seeing the horrible replays of the horrible event during last week’s bombing of the Boston Marathon, I couldn’t help but notice the surrounding banners and logos that seared themselves into my memory. Though neither John Hancock Financial nor Adidas had absolutely anything to do with the disastrous events, those images of banners and apparel logos are forever connected. Of course, the idea of this happening at a sponsored event never crossed the marketers minds – and hopefully it never will – to dictate whether they should participate. But, what if it did? Would brands evaluate terror risk before sponsoring an event for fear of the collateral damage of repeated impressions shrouded in tragedy?
I realize that, in the larger scheme of things surrounding tragic events, this topic is irrelevant and possibly tasteless, but it is absolutely real. The question is whether the represented brands do anything in response specifically because of the connection, or do they shy away from continuing the connection for fear of getting into a no-win situation.
To illustrate that thin line between good and opportunistic – what if Adidas were to do a campaign to raise funds for the survivors or even promote the fact that they might provide funding toward prosthesis for those who lost limbs? Either one is worthy at its core ( Adidas is already doing a fundraising campaign and John Hancock seeded One Fund with $1Million) but it becomes a matter of how one chooses to promote either one. Again, is the goal to place your brand in a positive light, in light of the fact that it was so connected to negative? Or, is the goal to do good and the positive light will be a byproduct and not the goal… It really comes down to intention and messaging.
In a little side note, beyond what Adidas is doing in response, Nike actually had to remove Boston Massacre products that they had already created in celebration of the storied NY Yankees/Boston Red Sox rivalry. In Nike’s case, they weren’t even involved in the marathon, but were still affected by a branding and taste issue.
My hope is that Adidas, John Hancock and even New Balance can afford to do even more to help those most deeply affected by the bombing. Of course, it can’t be expected. But, if Adidas provided apparel or prosthesis for the injured; NB provided apparel or prosthesis for the injured and Hancock provided financial resources for the injured and the families of the deceased that would be very cool.
In this case, who knows if it will be more financial support to the grieving and the survivors beyond what we’re already seeing. In the spirit of the event, the city and the aftermath, all of the sponsors will most likely come out even stronger next year. And, hopefully, nobody will make the wrong move and be conveyed as opportunistic or scared.
And even more hopefully, this kind of tragedy will never happen again and the question will not arise for brands in considering their sponsorship of events and whether there might ever be a negative connection with their brand.
Posted in Ruminations
Tagged Adidas, Bombings, Boston Marathon, Branding, Campaign, Collateral Damage, Events, Fund Raising, John Hancock Financial, New Balance, Sponsorship, Strategy, Tragedy
UK grocery company, Tesco, has decided to pull out of their American Invasion and take a $1.8 Billion write-off (with the favorable UK exchange rate – only 1.2 Billion Pounds – it still doesn’t soften the blow of the astounding loss.) Tiffany Hsu’s LA Times article points to Tesco’s misunderstanding of what the public wants and the dire consequences of trying to compete with the Wal-Marts, Costcos, Trader Joes and the like. If Tesco believed those were their competition, their analysis was very off – regardless of recession or not. Tesco saw themselves as something they were not – and in America, it’s foolish to think that customers will save bad branding by finding the hidden gems behind whatever facade is presented. Any way you slice it, its unfortunate that Tesco’s invasion of the American market was dead on arrival.
It had a lot more to do with branding, design and store locations than what Americans do or do not want. Admittedly, my exposure is limited to their locations in the Los Angeles market, but it quickly became very clear how Fresh & Easy was positioned counter-intuitively and ineffectively.
The first store I visited was a huge space on heavily trafficked tourist destination Hollywood Boulevard. It was large, dark and depressing. Another location was also in midtown on a heavily trafficked car artery with no abundance of parking spaces. And the last one I was in a week ago was probably the best model of what they should have been doing all along – a small, bright and colorful store in a heavy pedestrian area near USC.
Beyond their questionable locations and early dreary decor, they should have positioned themselves as the perfect last minute spot to pick up quality prepared meals and sundry items on the way to work or on the way home for dinner. They couldn’t/shouldn’t have felt they could compete with the established big markets.
The article compares them to a Wal-Mart, but Tesco should have positioned Fresh & Healthy as more akin to a refined and healthier 7-11 – like their own Tesco Metros back in the UK. That healthy option would have been the right aspirational touch – especially in Southern California.
Fresh & Easy might have worked if they had stronger positioning. It seems they were even unclear on who they were meant to be. Because of that, their marketing never worked. It’s a shame, because if you look at their location near USC, they could have focused on smaller spaces in higher foot-traffic (or more easily accessible) areas to create something akin to the Marks & Spencer Simply Food product in the UK. Another similarity to M&S in the USC location was the automated tellers that allowed staff to be focused around the store to help out in ways you certainly don’t see in a 7-11.
The promise of getting in and out of a market in five minutes with inexpensive essentials and healthy prepared meals would have been something that might have made it a success.
Short of that, its another example of a move that a company should have never ventured in the first place. Or, its an example of a good thing that never had the required clarity and forethought to drive success. Fresh & Easy is Dead. Long Live Fresh & Easy.
Posted in Ruminations
Tagged Marketing, Communication, Identity, Strategy, Consumers, Branding, LA Times, Research, Tiffany Hsu, Wal-Mart, Competition, Grocery Stores, UK, Tesco, Fresh & Easy, USC, Marks & Spencer's Simply Food, Markets, Location, Trader Joe's, Costco, M&S
Last week, NPR ran a piece on the challenges that JC Penney is facing while they shift the way they do business under (relatively) new CEO, Ron Johnson. While listening, it brought to mind some of the factors we often deal with when working with clients, management, and teams to institute new programs, processes and functions. Regardless of vision or how great we believe that change will be in the name of growth or optimization, those growing pains cannot be overlooked in either the planning or the execution.
Regardless of how strong your vision is, the ability to convey that vision to all participants is paramount. In some cases, it even requires that solutions for bypassing participant buy-in should they can not see what the company is trying to do. But, you’ve got to make sure the vision is realistic – and without taking a moment to consider any move from most sides is a recipe for disaster.
In the case of JC Penney, we don’t know how things will play out in the end. But, the NPR report highlights how the regular JC Penney customers were less than thrilled. The environment that was created for those consumers was one that they connected with emotionally – to the point you would think they’ve lost a loved one when talking about how it used to be. Though sales were down 30% in Q4 ’12 from ’11, could that be tied to disgruntled regulars? Or, is it tied to the pains of shifting from one client type to another? By reading the comments below the NPR report, you can see there are enough counter examples pointing to the change being positive for JC Penney.
Recent work with one of my clients has brought the same challenge to light. How do you bring vision, instill new processes and get buy-in from the people who are key to turning those changes into company success. Interestingly, the most important people to get buy-in from are not the C-Levels (though they do give the approval on the spend) – it is the people who will be carrying out these new processes. A broken record comes to mind when thinking about how much communication is required to convey what you are intending to do.
Sometimes the illustration of the new versus the old can offend those who are fine with the way that might not be truly effective – so you can’t just rely on illustrating the benefits in light of the situation they are now in. The element of democracy that is prevalent in the workforce these days requires something akin to a PR campaign just to put those new processes in place. Again, you can have the strongest vision and product in place, but if there’s no buy-in, you’ve wasted time and resources. Even with the installation of automated processes, if there’s a human that needs to interact with that process, you need to negotiate and guide them through those growing pains.
Hopefully, JC Penney and Johnson’s team will be given the leeway to work this transition through. Far too many changes are abandoned at the first glimmer of failure. But as with any challenge, there is a sliver of failure, you’ve just got to push through smartly. Because, ultimately, a smart vision and strategic growth always has growing pains as a byproduct. You’ve just got to guide that pain into profit and not breakage.
Posted in Ruminations
Tagged Business, Campaign, Functions, Growth, JCPenney, NPR, PR, Process, Profit, Programs, Ron Johnson, Shifts, Strategy, Vision, Workforce