When a brand’s strength is tied to a real person–when it is a celebrity brand–its fortunes rise and fall with that person’s reputation and behaviors (see Osama bin Laden, Michael Vick, Tiger Woods). In the case of the Livestrong brand, Lance Armstrong’s “doing the dirty” complicates his business and his charity.
The Livestrong brand is tightly tied to the cancer fighting Livestrong Foundation, but the brand is not strictly altruistic. The Foundation licenses the brand, which is personally owned by Lance Armstrong, and it is the driver of his multimillion for-profit empire. The dynamic is a complex one. Armstrong’s modest fame as a cyclist built the Foundation, and the Foundation burnished Armstrong’s reputation, catapulting his fame, marketability and fortune far beyond that of a mere road racer. Can you even name any other famous cyclists?
Lance Armstrong has confessed to doping by Oprah. The irony is the profit and fame dynamic of Livestrong was a key driver in Armstrong’s decision to cheat. He needed performance enhancing drugs to stage the comeback that built his celebrity that built the foundation that built the million-dollar enterprise. Now those performance enhancing drugs are dragging down the whole thing. It pays to be a winner. Being a cheater? No so much.
Jets player Tim Tebow has filed trademark applications in some seven categories for the term “Tebowing.” The blogosphere has erupted in complaints that the football player is trying to trademark kneeling in prayer.
A look at the actual filings (you can look at them here) show that is simply not the case. The applications are for the word mark itself. People can rest assured that they can take a knee in prayer without paying a licensing fee to Tim Tebow.
Trademarking your personal brand makes sense. Lady Gaga sued last year to protect her name, which has been valued at north of $1 billion. Trademarking a gesture, however, is not so easy to do, especially one so common as kneeling in prayer.
As the presidential candidates argue about what happened in Libya, Stratfor, an intelligence analysis group, has written a great article on Al Qaeda’s brand architecture mess. As Al Qaeda fades as a brand, other elements of Islamic jihadist movement will muscle into top shelf position
Al Qaeda isn’t the only Islamic extremist group with marketing problems. The Taliban must now combat media bias in coverage of their attack on a Pakistani school girl. The Taliban brand is being tarnished by media reports that have “crossed all limits” to paint the Taliban as the “worst people on earth.” Their plan to turn things around? They have selected 12 suicide bombers who will attempt to blow themselves up in the offices of various Pakistani and foreign media news offices. Talk about confusion about goals and utter befuddlement over methods.
Gone is the quirky all-over-the-place lettering and eccentric typeface. In its place you have a bland, flatness that conforms to the safe and generic facelessness that has become synonymous with a corporate look.
While it is true that eBay has evolved to be more than an online flea market, but becoming a channel for mainstream catalog and brick-and-mortar retailers doesn’t require that eBay become boring.
Creating a brand that is instantly recognizable around the world is a real feat of marketing. Destroying that is a real de-feat.
In one simple line, he repositioned the Democratic Party and defined a winning brand for the market: “If you want a winner-take-all, you’re-on-your-own society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility — a we’re-all-in-this-together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.” Bill Clinton has offered the market a clear choice.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, Bill Clinton isn’t running. Instead, Obama’s brand is relentlessly negative and unfocused, veering from anti-Bain to “you didn’t build that” to Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital. Obama styles his brand as “incomplete.” Compared to the positive energy Bill Clinton offered, that doesn’t sound like a winning position.
The ruling that Samsung stole technology from Apple could devastate the Samsung brand–but it may prove just as destructive to the Apple brand.
Already media wags have been calling the Android phone leader “Samesung.” But Apple could be starting down the path brand ruin. Today Apple has a reputation for being cool and creative, but how cool is it to be the market heavy who stamps out innovation? Apple’s promise “to go thermonuclear” on competitors is not at all cooland definitely is not creative. With this win, Apple might have taken the first step toward Microsoft-izing itself.
On the surface, Samsung sounds like a whiner when it complains about patent law being “manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners.” But there is truth to the complaint. No one likes to see their idea stolen, but there is a difference between protecting an invention and closing out all innovation for an entire category.
A similar situation 100 years ago damaged the reputation of innovators and ultimately destroyed their business. In 1906, the Wright Brothers patented the general concept of controlling pitch, roll and yaw with U.S. Patent 821393 for a “Flying Machine”. So basic was their concept, aircraft could not be flown without it. When Glenn Curtiss invented the aileron, the Wrights threatened to sue. Curtiss countered that the Wrights’ patent was so broad that if someone jumped in the air and waved their arms that the Wrights could sue them and win. Indeed, the Wrights did sue Curtiss (and everyone else) and they did win. Wright patent infringement lawsuits effectively shut down the aeronautical industry in the United States.
The Wrights won the legal battles, but not the war. The Wright Company earned a reputation for being greedy and litigious, and most devastating of all, for producing inferior products. The U.S. government found Wright aircraft were “dynamically unsuited for flying.” At the start of World War I, the United States could not buy any functional American designed and made planes—they had to buy French. By 1916, the Wright Company was out of business.
Apple does not now make inferior products, but will lack of competition cause complacency that puts an end to creativity? Apple is admired now for being cool, but will heavy handed attempts to protect its smart phone monopoly make them into the next Microsoft? Apple has won this battle, but at what cost to their brand long term? Their “monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners,” might not be so cool in the future. What Isaac Newton said about visionaries also applies to brands: “If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
Several months ago, we wrote about the unique way Google uses its logo on its website. Most brands consider their logos to be sacrosanct and unchangeable. Google changes and plays with its logo all the time. BBC News covered the Google Doodle phenomenon and interviewed Merriam Associates about the interesting brand building aspects of constant change.
Nokia’s brand problem is outlined in an insightful article today on Bloomberg. The Nokia brand has been so thoroughly buried by competitors that stores no longer mention it, much less carry the product. Smart phone buyers consider an Android phone vs. an iPhone. Nokia missed the smart phone revolution and compounded the mistake by playing catch-up in a competition that required it to leap frog way ahead. Being the second also-ran with 2011 technology in 2012 while combating an awareness and availability problem, the Nokia brand needs more than an ad campaign–it needs a miracle. Nokia could be as dead as Blackberry or Palm. (Remember them?)
AIG is returning to its old name, finally correcting a an ill-considered and ineffective name change.
Here’s what we said back in 2009:
“AIG is trying to outrun its old reputation by adopting a new brand. Will it work? Most people aren’t buying it. The entity, formerly known as AIG, is firmly attached to its reputation of irresponsible financial stewardship and credit default swap schemes that played a major role in the global financial collapse of 2008. The payout of millions in bonuses, particularly to executives responsible for the collapse along with lavish executive spa trips using the millions of US taxpayer bailout money haven’t helped. With record losses mounting and a reputation in shambles, a name change isn’t fooling anyone.”
At a fund raiser yesterday, President Obama disparaged his opposition by saying: ” “you can pretty much put their campaign on, on a tweet and have some characters to spare.”
Obama’s comment shows how far the brilliant marketer of 2008 has fallen off his game. Obama has forgotten what it takes to make a winning brand: YES! You should be able to fit your campaign or brand positioning into a tweet!
There is a lot more to an M&M than ”Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hand.” And Nike has a lot more to offer than “Just Do It.” Yet the fact that Mastercard is simply, in one word, “Priceless” says it all. Obama himself owes his election to “Change we can believe in.” Slogans or taglines that can fit in a tweet are a good thing: They convey a positive, unique, and important benefit in a catchy way. Good marketers and good politicians know that’s what it takes to sell product or get elected.
Of course, every winning brand should be able to answer “Where’s the beef?” in a full and factual way, but if your brand can’t be boiled down to a short tweet, you lose. Unfocused, free-ranging complexity that fills dozens of pages of a position papers won’t make it into the customer’s (or voter’s) minds–and if they can’t understand, articulate and remember what your brand stands for, they won’t buy it.
What is the Obama brand’s tweet? He needs to get one fast!