Olympic Branding? What’s the Point

20 05 2010

Could we expect anything less from the country that brought us Poobah and Teletubbies?

Is this what Olympic branding has come down to? And what does it say that the mascots are “created” by someone who builds them out back in an old shed and who come to life by the power of magical rainbows, and who are good at copying everything they see?

Joking aside about the 2012 London Games Mascots…can we take a step back and ask ourselves: Why? Why mascots?  There have been very few good mascots in the history of sports. And by my count, most of them have gotten their praise by what they do rather than what they look like or their mystical background (i.e. an old man who retires, builds grandkids some tinker toys, and add in a rainbow and voila, the London Games mascots are born!). Take the San Diego Chicken for example:

Or the Phoenix Suns Gorilla

But outside of a select few entertaining mascots, most are questionable at best. What’s their purpose? Good mascots take attention AWAY from the game. For some sporting events, that’s good. If you’re a Houston Astros fan or a Los Angeles Clippers afficionado you’ve got to have entertainment somehow, right? But for good sporting events, what’s the point? Sure, marketers will say: It’s for branding. Good recognizable images are memorable, and memorable = good branding = good marketing.

But I have to raise the question: Why do we need to brand every Olympic games? Branding just for branding’s sake isn’t a strategy. And don’t we have the rings already anyway? The branding has been done, and frankly, I can’t imagine that any spectacular mascot is going to improve what’s already recognized as one of the most visible sporting events in the world. I mean: do we ever see anything similar in other world events? The World Cup every four years has no mascot that I know of. The worldwide economic summit in Geneva? Nope. (Though, who says economics couldn’t use a little extra fun in them?).

For once, I’d like to see a team (or Olympic Host country) just say “no” to mascots. Otherwise, it’s an ongoing joke we keep renewing every four years.


The Art of Viral

7 05 2010

Word of mouth. Viral video. Buzz. Marketing colloquialisms today sound like a chronic illness. Fact is, average marketers don’t seem to get the art of online marketing. Most seem to think that good e-marketing is putting an ad online for people to print, or texting a coupon to someone’s smart phone. By extension, an online video is just a 10 second snippet of a TV commercial.  The problem with this perspective is it’s audience-negligent. No one wants to watch a TV commercial online, especially if they’re just going to TIVO right past it…no matter how funny it might be. No, online videos are a creation unto themselves. They’re somewhere between TV show and advertisement. In fact, a good online video differentiates itself from an advertisement based on 4 key features:

1. It’s narrative. This isn’t rocket science: People like stories. People who like stories like to forward stories. People who receive forwarded stories in turn forward the stories. And so on.

2. It’s different and edgy. A viral video is a unique media creation, something that you wouldn’t see on TV. It’s humor, presentation, and delivery are unexpected and even edgy. Unfortunately, many marketers translate this into a liberal presentation of questionable content that can’t be shown on television. This perspective misses the mark, and, frankly, it’s overdone. A viral video is uniquely interesting, in the same way The Office was uniquely funny when it first aired on NBC. It redefines what entertainment is and can be.

3. It’s time-sensitive. Many people say that a viral video should be 30 seconds to a minute. But I say, “It depends”. Generally, if you can get a good entertaining story in 30 seconds or less, then do it. The point: be concise. Don’t go over, don’t go under.

4. It’s cultural. I don’t mean that a viral video should be a Discovery-channel exposition of the mores of a society. No, a viral video is culturally relevant, pointing out or even poking fun at the underlying standard operating procedures that often go unnoticed or under-recognized in society. In this way, viral videos may even be irreverent. To this point, one may say that a viral video is satirical, and I completely agree. Think David Letterman and Rupert Jee.  Heck, think Mark Twain. He would be the virtual Bull in a China Shop if he lived a century and a half later.

Here’s a video that hits all 4 principles of a good viral video:

Advertising, Duped?

13 04 2010

10 years ago, Al Ries declared that Advertising was dead (and that by extension, PR was “alive”). 10 years later, although he may have been right about PR, I think he was a little off about advertising…it’s not dead, it’s just been duped.

Over the last 50 years, we’ve had so many different ways to prove that advertising works:

  • The 4Ps (or 6, or however many are floating around today–I’ve even heard of the 4 Cs!)
  • The Image continuum: Any number of concepts labeled as branding, brand imagery, even positioning. Throw differentiation in there, and you’ve got 4-5 different concepts that so similar that they have been used interchangeably.
  • Reputation/Social Marketing: This one is my favorite. The idea is that if you do well (contribute to a charity, rebuild a park, etc.), consumers will buy more from you.

Here’s the kicker:Each one of these concepts are designed to be the “fill-in-the-blank” answer for the following statement:

If I ______, more people will buy my product.

Problem is, you could put any one of the above-mentioned marketing concepts into that statement, but it won’t make it more true than if you filled in the blank with “dance around in a top hat and a cane”. Ok, I exaggerate. But the principle remains:

Just because you have a recognizable logo, just because the advertising is consistent, HECK just because you helped TY Pennington BUILD A HOUSE…none of it is going to ensure a purchase.

No, advertising is not dead, it’s just been duped all these years. All this time forking out loads of money to sponsor television ads for “the big game” (seriously, when is the NFL going to wake up and un-copyright the title of their championship game?!), or to sponsor three people with little actual musical talent to tell up and coming singers that they’re not the next Idol, doesn’t mean I’m going to buy the product. And you know what, I don’t think I’m alone. Just because the ad is catchy, high-profile, or any other current social qualifier that labels it good, doesn’t mean it’s going to get someone to buy. But may I speak for the rest of America and say, “Thank you for the funny ads!”

The irony: Advertising has been drinking the Kool-Aid all these years, and sure, sales may go up (or go down), but do you know who really benefits? The consumer. Thanks to advertising shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars, I get to watch my favorite shows for free.

Now:  do you know what does work? It’s ironic. Find what people want and actually give it to them. Case in point: Denny’s. Remember this?

Integrating Communication: Engaging Your Audience

6 10 2009

Too many people think that integrated marketing communications (IMC) is only about making all your messages match. At its most basic, some see IMC as branding: using the same logo, colors, and tagline in every communication piece. But in reality, IMC has little to do with making everything look the same, at least for successful IMC. No, IMC is about engaging individuals and groups across your stakeholder spectrum, through synergy and appealing to their hearts and minds.

For Example: Queensland, Australia’s “Best Job in the World” Campaign:

This campaign embodies IMC. It’s about building relationships and engaging stakeholders, through an innovative message that is carried and translated across multiple media channels.

oh…and in case you want to know which video application won?


A successful IMC campaign should have continuity, and a sense of permanence to it. Of course, this was fully built into the Queensland campaign:


Cult-Celebrity Branding: A lesson from the NBA

9 04 2009

Any theorynpractice regulars will know of my bias towards covering the NBA on this blog (I’m sorry, it’s just fun to pull out public relations learnings from stuff that happens in the NBA, for good or for bad). This one I couldn’t help but bring out. And I’ll start with a question:

How do you build a cult-celebrity inducing brand? 

Tapping into pop culture and gaining a following that transcends mere consumer favoritism is arguably the Holy Grail for many companies.  In fact, there have been a slew of books written about it, and yet, it’s anything but an exact science.

The fact of the matter is, it may very well be serendipitous, a combination of being in the right place at the right time, and viewed by the right people–especially if they’re keen on satire…Today’s example comes from, where else?, the Los Angeles Lakers, where a relatively under-known player has garnered some major attention. Sasha Vujajic, from Slovenia, is a 3 point specialist for the Lakers, who is often fondly referred to as “The Machine”. The nickname has a fuzzy origin, either initiated by Kobe Bryant, who said he’s a machine, or by Vujajic, himself, who said he shoots like a machine. One Laker fan decided to run with it, and has created a buzz-worthy set of videos, including a game vlog built around The Machine character.

Now, the video is a crude representation of Sasha, and could even be considered offensive. Though, taken in fun, it could also be considered invaluable publicity for the Lakers. Vujajic’s response, though somewhat ambivalent (see video below), may be a valuable lesson for other companies that may find their brand interpreted perhaps incorrectly in the spotlight.

The Lesson:  Run with it (with in reason). Celebrity and popularity, unfortunately, are up to the audience, and, therefore sharing brand building with fans, customers, etc., may be essential in building a cult brand, even if it doesn’t represent the company’s own intended image.

Forget the jersey, let’s talk about a FedEx Holiday

17 02 2009

As you probably know, I love highlighting unique cases of public relations where public interest and opinion clash with corporate agenda.

I found one such example browsing sports news this morning. In an unprecedented display of love for a Fortune 500 company, Memphis opted out of flying the corporate colors of FedEx on a special FedEx appreciation night. Apparently, the jersey (pictured below), would cause a local and national enrage about capitalism gone awry…

Well, I say, what’s worse? Displaying the corporate colors or dedicating an night to “appreciate FedEx”? I mean, isn’t it bad enough that FedEx has now become a verb for sending package (even when we plan on sending it via UPS)? Why aren’t we talking about turning a non-commercial basketball exhibition into a corporate-endorsed activity? Euro jerseys don corporate emblems, and NASCAR drivers are ad incarnates for their sponsors. I guess if you consider this is an NCAA-no-corporate-endorsements-allowed event, then you can say otherwise…

But at issue here, says I, is why aren’t we questioning FedEx Appreciation night? Maybe it’s a matter of diverting attention with this about-face on using the corporate colors on the jersey. You may disagree with me, but backing off on using the corporate colors sure looks like they’re diverting attention, and it seems like the type of stuff that gets PR practitioners derided rather than praised…

Branding the Presidency

9 01 2009

A book I’d like to see Obama write in 10 years: “My Trip to the White House, Or, How I Used Time-tested Branding Strategies to Win the Presidency”

–Obama, if you’re reading, I get royalties for the name, or I at least get a dedication in the acknowledgements section…just a thanks BG?–Then again, maybe I’ll write the book..

From his original logo in which the O doubles for a sunrise (or is it a sunset?) to just about everything else in his campaign, Obama branded himself into popularity. I don’t think we’ve had a president with such pop-celebrity in at least a generation. And yet, he came out of virtually nowhere to take the entire media world by storm.  And…it’s all thanks to branding. Either that or his charismatic personality and emotional leader persona…

Now, as even after he’s won, he’s still going.  Only this time, he’s going Comic-Con…

Obama Spider-ManYep, Obama’s now infiltrated the Geek demographic.    Not to mention, he gets a glowing recommendation from Marvel Editor-in-Chief: “It was really, really cool to see that we had a geek in the White House. We’re all thrilled with that.”

It doesn’t matter which way you lean on the President-elect, you’ve got to recognize his unique branding approach to winning…

Note to McCain: It might have been a closer race if you would have done more for you logo than slap your name on a blue background and underline it.  That, and maybe if you had chosen a different running mate.