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A brand, by any other name…

Guess the brands - answer at the bottom of the article.

Companies invest millions of dollars building and protecting brand names. A brand, by any other name, would lose all the credibility and loyalty it worked so hard for. Who knew Shakespeare could stay so relevant?

To put this into perspective, Fortune’s Top 500 global companies spend, on average, $1.9 trillion on brand marketing each year. Why do they care so much? Well, creating a dynamic and memorable brand can contribute significantly to the bottom line. Take a company like Wholesale Landscape Supply. Not much to remember there, right? They changed their brand name to Big Earth, and the next year they increased sales by 200%.

No different than partners struggling to find the perfect name for their newborn, companies spend a lot of time and money finding their perfect brand. Company owners build a potential list of names and, if they have the resources, they include customer research testing to find out how each name lands. Yet often research and science factor very little in the brand decision-making process, with companies spending most of their energy and resources on their product or service instead. In some cases the brand name becomes an afterthought. “If that’s true, those businesses are run by idiots,” says Mike Mann, author of the book and blog MakeMillions.com. He goes on to say that the brand name is foundational for everything else. Therefore, taking shortcuts and relying on your emotional instincts could sabotage your brand’s long-term success.

To facilitate success, spend the time upfront to choose your perfect name. Come up with some naming strategies and use data-driven research to help you get to the one unique and memorable brand name. But before you can even do that, you must have a clear brand strategy that identifies your brand position, promise, and reason for being. Your final brand name should encompass and embody your brand strategy.

Here are five possible approaches to finding your perfect brand name.

 

1. Use people names as the brand

Consulting firms like lawyers, accountants, trainers, and agencies tend to use founder, owner and inventor names as their brand, since their consumers are buying expertise directly from their people. It’s logical that their brand names are the actual people behind the brand.

Additionally, many companies have successfully built empire on a family name—think Disney, Johnson & Johnson, Johnnie Walker, Maytag, McDonald’s, Hugo Boss, Porsche, Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart and Toyota, to name a few. If you want to see a complete list, check out Wikipedia’s Companies Named After People. They have almost 1,000 family brand names.

2. Use descriptive words to explain what the brand is

This is where the left-brain entrepreneurs live. The descriptive brand name clearly communicates, in a straightforward manner, what service or product they are selling. Whether its tires, donuts, airlines, hotels, banks, restaurants, or pizzas, there are no surprises of what to expect from these brands.

The problem lies when they want to expand beyond their core product. Dunkin’ Donuts, for example, opened a store this year with only the brand name “Dunkin’” so they could expand beyond the donut and compete directly against Starbucks. Tim Hortons had the same problem when they first started as Tim Donut Limited. Today, they are known as Tim Hortons and offer much more than just the sugar-glazed donut. Midas Mufflers started as a specialty shop servicing vehicle mufflers but, as time evolved, they added brakes, shocks, tires and more. Simple solution—they dropped “Mufflers” from their name.

As long as a company sticks to their description they are golden, but once they want to branch out their name becomes a detriment. If you’re thinking of getting that granular with your own brand name, make sure to consider the future and stick to a name that is broad enough to encompass future plans.

3. Develop an image or experience that the brand projects

We shift now to the right-brain thinking. This is where we can use analogical reasoning with metaphors and tap into mythology and foreign words. These types become visionary brands with multidimensional imagery that can evolve and create a strong brand story. In some cases, the brand is much bigger than the product or service and actually becomes the underlying theme or promise. Nike, Patagonia, Verizon, Amazon, Expedia and Virgin are all great examples of creating a brand story that is bigger than any one product.

The $100 billion Nike brand actually started as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, but they had to come up with a new brand name once they started producing their own runners (see what happens when you get too descriptive?). They came up with two options, Falcon or Dimension Six, but no one liked either one! Jeff Johnson, Blue Ribbon’s first employee, came up with the name Nike— and it was just a name that came to him in a dream. Nike is the Greek Goddess of Victory. In 1971, graphic design student Carolyn Davidson designed the Nike logo swoosh for $35. The swoosh was designed to represent the wings of the goddess Nike. There was no research or focus group testing—they just did it!

4. Develop a new word as a brand name

Still in right-brain territory, this is the last chance if you have been unsuccessful in finding the perfect word to describe your brand. Start mashing up existing words by deleting or changing letters, creating new words, compounding words, or abbreviating words. The world’s most famous mashup brand name is IKEA. The first two letters in IKEA’s name are the initials of its Swedish founder Ingvar Kanprad. The last two are the first letters of the name of the property and village where he grew up: Elmtaryd Agunnaryd. Remember, you need at least one vowel to make it roll off the tongue. Some other successful mashup brands include Instagram, Tumblr, Fcuk, Pinterest, Facebook, FedEx, Acura, and Flickr.

5. Take a known word and reposition it as a brand name

I would have loved to be in the room when the agency pitched the brand name “Gap.” I can see the account manager reading the Oxford Dictionary definition: “Gap – a break or hole in an object or between two objects.” In the end, though, it was brilliant. Take an obscure word and load it with a new meaning. If you can tie the word to the brand story or promise, you’ll create a stronger connection to the brand name. Fruit seems to be a popular repurpose muse—we all know Apple, Blackberry, Tangerine, Orange, and Peach. I believe Lemon and Gooseberry are still available!

You’re Halfway There

Once you have the perfect brand name you need to protect it. The trademark process is a complete article in itself, and one I will never write. Securing viable trademarks is becoming increasingly difficult, but definitely not impossible. As a general guideline, descriptive words are generally too common to protect. For example, Hotel.com can’t be protected so, if you own the web domain name, that is as good as you will get.

Which leads me into the digital properties. If you can’t secure the domain name or social handles for your brand name, don’t sweat it. Joel Gascoigne, co-founder of Buffer says “the name itself matters much more than having the same domain name. Pick a great name, go with a tweaked domain name.” You might want to also buy misspelled variations of your name before others do. Google owns gooogle.com, gogle.com, gogole.com, goolge.com and googel.com. Trust me I have typed all of these variations, at some point.

Also remember that people must be able to easily pronounce your brand name and have it recognized by audio assistants like Siri, Google, and Alexa. If your brand will go beyond the world of English, make sure you understand any linguistic challenges with translations, idioms, slang, cultural associations, and connotations.

You will notice there was no mention of acronyms or initialism as a brand names. You have to start with the long, boring, and descriptive brand name first, make it known, and then shorten it down to its initials. KFC, RBC, IBM, AFLAC and BMW all started with their full names to gain recognition before they could shorten them. Check out my previous article WABBA – Will All Brands Become Acronyms.

acronyms brand names

 

A Brand Name is Only the Beginning

The brand is more than just a name. It’s a good start but it’s only part of your brand identity.

Beyond the name, a brand must define its voice, messaging, and content strategy—and make sure those representing the brand embody all of those things. The brand personality will influence all decisions like advertising campaigns, job postings, packaging and store design, sponsorships, customer service, and digital experiences.

 

brand name evolution

 

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

Many famous brands didn’t get their brand name right the first time, and many continue to tweak their names to broaden their markets beyond borders and product lines today. If you start with a name that doesn’t fit, don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board.

Lexicon Branding, one of the leading brand name agencies in the world, says a great name can make a big financial difference. And they should know—they have created $15 billion in brand names, including Blackberry, Danani, Febreze, OnStar and Pentium. The most iconic brands today aren’t mind-blowing works of art, either. They are simple words that have evolved into powerful brands: Nike, Google, Facebook, Walmart, Apple and Amazon. A simple name with a powerful strategy can (and will) make all the difference.

 

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Why Are So Many Retail Brands Closing?

why are so many retail brands closing

Is a retail evolution happening before our eyes?

Commercial real estate firm Crushman & Wakefield estimates that more than 12,000 retail stores could close their doors in 2018.  You can hardly go a week without reading a headline of a retail chain closing their doors or going into bankruptcy protection. The most prominent in recent memory was Toys “R” Us Inc. in the US. And while they’re still in business in Canada, they are hoping someone will buy them out.

The retail business is notorious for its cutthroat, aggressive tactics in a dog-eat-dog world—Walmart and Target are great brand examples of driving the market into low profit margins and destroying local merchants. Meanwhile, brands like Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb have taken the traditional retail model and completely transformed it, dominating their competition by daring to think differently. This success, plus the fact that in-person transactions still account for a whopping 84.5 % of total retail sales, suggests the problem is much bigger than online shopping options.

Willy Kruh, Global Chair of Consumer & Retail at KPMG, says there are three distinct revolutions taking place to create “a perfect storm that has been and will continue to hit retailers.” According to Kruh the changing demographics, geopolitical dynamics, and technological transformation make up these revolutions. While these certainly play a factor, sometimes a business’ demise boils down to the basics—bad business decisions and poor financial management in a world of cheap credit. If anything has remained consistent through the years, it’s that eventually someone has to pay the bank. Here are six reasons why so many retail brands are closing:

Shifting Demographics – Fashion Trends

At the end of 2017 and after 65 years in business, Sears Canada closed the last of their 130 stores, putting 12,000 people out of work. In 1952, Simpson-Sears started as a national mail-order business, and for years the Sears catalogue was more popular than the phone book. Every small town had a catalogue depot—their presence was better than Amazon with representation in 900 communities. On a regular basis, they produced a 556 page catalogue that sold everything from Allstate Car Insurance, live baby chicks, saddles, and even radiation detectors, according to the Canadian Museum of History website.

The harsh truth is that, after being the economic driver for the last 50 years, the Baby Boomer generation is taking a back seat. The Boomers (54 years and older) represent over 37% of the population but will not be a major target audience for retail brands unless you sell adult diapers (a $2 billion industry projected to grow 10% annually).

There has been a great deal written about the perceived “touchy” Millennials (check out 5 Traits Brands Need To Know About Millennials), but the underlying message to retail brands is that Millennials are different than their parents. They are a demanding crowd who expect more than just the traditional customer service model—they want an experience they can Snapchat or Instagram to their friends. They want to feel good, be socially responsible and, if possible, they want a one-of-a-kind bargain. Simply put, they want the Gucci bag without the Gucci price. They want to feel in control of the entire process. They want to engage brands via digital channels and if that’s too hard, they’ll go somewhere else. This is where the Internet of Everything continues to grow.

So what does all of this mean for retail brands? First, don’t rely on the Boomers to keep spending as they move to a fix income (called a pension). Generation X is doing fine, but isn’t a large enough group to replace the big spending Boomers (and they have too much debt). The Millennials will be the next big spenders when (if) they can secure stable employment. But how those Millennials will spend their money will be very different.

The cold reality is the past isn’t the future. Sears lost touch with their customers. They had their eye on their fierce competition instead of on who was paying their bills. If they had continued to innovate, could they have been today’s Amazon? Retail consultant Richard Talbot said “It’s very sad, and it’s just amazing how they could fritter away their name, reputation and business model.” The watch is now on US Sears Holding and Kmart to see how long they will keep their doors open.

 

The Right Business Model – Retail Therapy

Starbucks is the world’s best-known coffee retail brand. They built their empire on the insight that people wanted a small indulgence of a great cup of coffee in a wonderful atmosphere, and would pay a steep price for it. Past Starbucks International President Howard Behar explained that “We’re not in the coffee business serving people, we’re in the people business serving coffee.” This customer-centric model catapulted Starbucks’ success, so why didn’t it work for their tea offshoot, Teavana?

In the third quarter of 2017, Starbucks announced the closure of all 379 Teavana locations across North America. They couldn’t blame the demise of Teavana on Millennials, who are just as big a fan of tea as coffee. Instead, they attributed it to declining mall traffic. The big difference between a Starbucks restaurant and a Teavana outlet is that Starbucks is a place to sit down and enjoy your coffee experience, while Teavana was a walk in and walk out retail outlet.

Teavana had no ambiance nor community. Charlie Cain, once a VP at Teavana, said “Teavana’s success was as a novelty gift shop in high-traffic, Class-A shopping malls.” Starbucks eventually understood this business model’s limitations, but it was too late. Teavana sold you tea leaves, not an experience, and this mistake was ultimately responsible for its failure.

It’s not all bad news. While some retailers have seen the writing on the wall and given up, others have innovated their way to success. PetSmart, a big-box retailer of pet food and pet toys, saw shrinking margins and understood they had to diversify and create more value by adding the convenience of veterinary medicine, pet grooming, pet training, and pet boarding.  All of these were complementary services that strengthened their brand and protected them from being obsolete—at least for now.

 

Pile it High and Sell it Cheap

The economics of retail aren’t for the faint of heart. Real estate and operational costs, including higher minimum wages, continue to increase pressure on retail margins. Pop ups, fast fashion and off-price chains create an impossibly competitive landscape.  “A pair of men’s dress pants cost less today than they did a decade ago,” explains Manny Chirico, CEO of PVH Corp. (parent company of Calvin Klein & Tommy Hilfiger). E-commerce has also added another pressure point, making it easier for consumers to comparison shop. “The internet has acted as the great price equalizer,” said Joel Bines, managing director of AlixPartners retail consultants.

When a brand is not applying retail economics well, they tend to focus on the bottom line and forget about the customer. But every time a customer goes to the store and gets frustrated, they go somewhere else instead.  Target’s launch in Canada was a great example of this frustration—after many years of Canadians shopping at US Target stores, there was a huge and pent up demand for the same experience in Canada. Instead poor prices, lack of merchandise, and void of service quickly drove them out of the Canadian market.

It’s no surprise that off-price retail stores like T.J. Maxx, Winners, and Marshalls are booming. T.J. Maxx and Marshalls’ annual sales exceed those of Nordstrom Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. combined. Today T.J. Maxx and Marshalls have over 3,800 locations, with the hope of another 250 stores within a year. Discount retailer Dollarama who has over 1,100 stores across Canada has been one of the most successful retail chains who has motivate customers to  increase their spend from one dollar to over four dollars per visit in less than ten years. This equates to almost $3 billion in sales in 2017. It’s interesting that these retail brands aren’t relying on a digital strategy or big data to figure out what their shoppers want—they know its affordable pricing for quality merchandise.

Who’s Minding the Store? Or Is It a Layaway Gone Bad?

Moody’s Investors Service analyst Charlie O’Shea says that US retailers have been under duress for years with the rise of new retail brands and online shopping. Those brands with heavy debt—much of it from leveraged buyouts similar to Toys “R” Us—have been able to push off a reckoning because of a decade of low interest rates and central bank stimulus keeping the credit markets loose and free. Now that interest rates are rising and the credit market is tightening, many retail chains are on their creditors’ radar. J. Crew Group Inc., Claire’s Stores Inc., Nine West Holdings Inc., and Bon-Ton, to name a few. According to Moody’s Investors Service, the amount of debt coming due for 19 distressed retailers is set to more than double over the next two years. So this painful trend of failed retail business will continue.

 

Political Catwalk

The retail industry thrives on stable and growing economies where consumers know where their next paycheque is coming from. In the last couple of years, nothing can be taken for granted. Terrorism, Brexit, uncertain trade deals, wild stock market swings, mass immigration, political shifts in the US and UK, anti-establishment sentiments, and growing “nation-first” attitudes all add up to a pervasive sense of uncertainty that has a negative effect on the retail industry.

Nielsen Company tracks consumer confidence of the top 123 countries quarterly. At the end of 2016, there were only 15 countries that indicated an “optimistic” view on the economy and their situation. Interesting that the US is in third place for optimistic consumers and Canada is just a hair under in the pessimism camp –Trump tweets aren’t helping.

Technology Transformation – Bricks and Clicks

There is no question that Amazon has changed the book industry forever, and now has set its sights on all things retail. Many brick and mortar retailers are scrambling to build their digital presence in spaces like e-commerce and social engagement. It’s curious that while Walmart wants to become more like Amazon, the reverse can also be seen.

Willy Kruh says retailers must become more connected to customers at all potential touch points. This includes “unifying data and analytics to create a holistic view of the customer; going ‘beyond the sale’ to improve the customer experience; upgrading systems to be more agile and better able to integrate commerce and mobile technologies; improving the supply chain; improving ties with brands; and expanding partnerships, especially with fulfilment centres.” And don’t forget—do this at the lowest price possible.

All of this will be possible with big data and artificial intelligence (AI), assuming privacy laws don’t curtail its advancement. While the off-price retailers don’t seem to waste their time or money on technology by overcomplicating the customer experience, others like Walmart and Costco are pouring billions of dollars in to e-commerce and digital capital. They have the business model to allow them to transform, while others who don’t have the ability to compete as this level will struggle. Former Walmart CEO Bill Simon claims that e-commerce retailers like Amazon have an unfair advantage against the small, specialty retail chains because they don’t collect sales taxes unless they have a physical store or office in that state. “Amazon sells below cost and continues to do that. It’s destroying jobs, and it’s destroying value in the sector.”

 

Selling Out

The foreseeable future doesn’t bode well for some retailers. Robert Schulz, analyst at S&P Global Rating, predicts that “[retail] defaults in 2018 could match or exceed last year’s record report level.” As retailers move away from trends, fads, and colours and move towards algorithms, clouds, and robotics, new retail models will come and go—and so will the brands.

While it seems to be a perfect storm, there are many brick  and mortar retail stores doing just fine. E-commerce isn’t the answer to all the challenges, because e-commerce will not replace the desire for human interaction. We are social animals who like to explore and try new things. We are physical, and need to use our senses to get excited to attach ourselves to material things. Because of this, it is estimated that e-commerce will take 25 years to reach 50 percent of retail sales. “This is not the end of retailing as we know it,” says Joel Bines. “People are not going to stop going to stores.” But the experience will continue to evolve and become more interactive with every experience being capture on social media.

No question, brands must have a digital strategy to better service their customers, but it shouldn’t be the brand’s ultimate goal. The goal should be to build a relationship on the customer’s terms, one customer at a time.

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The World Needs More Canadian Brands, and We’re Not Sorry.

The world is getting smaller as global brands get bigger, thanks in part to the internet, globalization, and worldwide trends. Where do the humble Canadian brands fit? Surprisingly, a few recognizable Canadian brands have burst out from the Northern Frontier. Canadian brands have been strongly linked to our natural resources and long, cold winters—which makes sense given we’re the second largest nation, encompassing 9.9 million square kilometers that reach three coastlines. While our southern neighbour brands dominate the world, most Canadian brands are happy to stay above the 49th parallel, building iconic brands that only live within the Canadian psyche. But there have been some brands that have ventured beyond.

 

True North Strong Brands

In true Canadian modesty, there are several brands that have made it big outside of Canada. You may be amazed to find an eccentric range of global brands that call Canada home!

Remarkably, most international Canadian brands go unnoticed in Canada, when measured against the mega American global brands. In Leger’s 2018 annual ranking of Canada’s Top 20 Most Admired Companies, only five are Canadian brands (Shoppers Drug Mart, Canadian Tire, Dollarama, Canada Post and Sobeys) and only reside in Canada. Level 5 Strategy Group’s blog post How Canadian Brands can Compete on the Global Stage concludes that Canadian brands understand the importance of articulating the rational side of the brand experience, but falter on the emotional side of brand building. WestJet, however, is a great example of a brand that has built an emotional brand promise on “We Care”. Yet WestJet’s reach is still limited to its Canadian audience.

Rupert Duchesne, past Group Chief Executive of Aimia (parent company to Aeroplan Loyalty Company), doesn’t think Canadian brands have a strong desire for international trade. “You see a [Canadian] product and you think to yourself, if you put it in a certain country it’d be a winner,” he explains. “But we have a national view that international trade should be south of the border.”

 

O’ Canada Brands

Here is a list of brands that you might not have realized were Canadian. These brands have built their image on the Great White North, tapping into the clean air, fresh mountain water, vast wilderness, and pristine winter wonderland.

 

Canadian Spirit Brands

Great multicultural spirit is what Canada stands for. Core to the Canadian culture is the freedom to express ideas and live in peace. Canadian are perceived as friendly, tolerant, and clever. We also need a sense of humour to endure 6 to 8 months of winter! Outside of beer, poutine, beaver tails, maple syrup and ketchup chips, Canadians like to be active, enjoy life, and express themselves.

 

Canadian Hospitality Brands

Canada attracts tourists from around the world because of its many natural wonders like the Rockies, Niagara Falls, Coastal Islands, and much more. Canadians are also known as the nicest people in the world, with unfailing courtesy and politeness. In the book How To Be A Canadian, Ian and Will Ferguson theorize that there are 12 Canadian “sorries”: simple, essential, occupational, subservient, aristocratic, demonstrative, libidinous, ostentatious, mythical, unrepentant, sympathetic and authentic. They say once you master saying “I’m sorry,” you will be a true Canadian.

 

Canadian Trusted Brands

Canada is known for being a relatively safe and ethical country with an effective government system and a Prime Minister who knows how to say “sorry.” According to Reputation Institute’s 2017 Country RepTrak survey of 55 countries, Canada was the world’s most reputable county—an honour we’ve enjoyed four times over the last six years.

 

Canadian, Eh!?

There are always those outliers—brands that don’t fit the Canadian psyche but that have captured consumers around the world.

The World Needs More Canadian Brands

I am [not] sorry to say most Canadian brands are happy to focus on the 36 million Canadians that reside within our borders. Brands like Canada Post, Canadian Tire, Hudson’s Bay Company, Tim Hortons, and MEC have been content staying within Canada for the last few decades. But the ones that have endeavoured beyond the great north have built formidable brand empires with little fanfare.

There seems to be a common thread weaved through these brands. They don’t wear their emotions on their sleeve, they are more concerned about their customers than projecting their self-interests, and their CEO isn’t a name or face that you know. These are well-established brands that have grown over time, meeting and surpassing customers’ needs. These brands have adapted to changes and have been around for decades, with a clear focus on the customer.

Jeannette Hanna, a marketing expert and founder of Trajectory Brands, says successful international brands from Canada are chameleon-like, successfully adapting to many markets around the world. “They can fly under the radar in an interesting way so that they look international, and they look stylish, and can appeal to a broad base without having to scream that they’re Canadian.”

CEO Bruce Flatt of Brookfield Asset Management would agree. He believes “keeping a low profile is good for business. It’s best to be under the radar.” All the better to stalk our competition.

Quietly and politely, Canadian brands bring more Canada to the world. Buy Canadian, eh!

 

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Laughter Is the Shortest Distance Between Brand and Customer

Five ways to use humor to build a brand.

Building your brand on humor is no laughing matter. In fact, this choice can be a high-risk (but high-reward) branding option. Laughter is the obvious outcome, but humor also creates a positive emotional relationship between a brand and its customers. Humor can cut through the clutter and go viral in seconds—because funny attracts eyeballs. People reward clever, creative and witty humor by watching and sharing it. Humor can revitalize an old offer or make an ordinary product extraordinary overnight—and it can make you into a brand that people want to be associated with.

 

Funny Theory

I quickly found that looking for the secret sauce of what makes things funny wasn’t much fun at all. E.B. White had it right when he mused that “analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

Frog or no frog, Dr. Peter McGraw and Joel Warner wrote the book The Humor Code. In the book, they developed the Benign Violation Theory, which states that two simultaneous conditions are needed to make something funny. First, it must violate the way we think the world should work and second, it must be benign enough that it does so in a way that’s not threatening. This is the fine line of what is funny or in downright bad taste.

A master of Benign Violation is comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who has the innate talent of pointing out outrageous funny things (violation) in everyday life (benign). My favorite example is the episode where Mr. Pitt eats a Snickers bar with a knife and fork.

Laughing Matters

Jack Schafer, Ph.D., a writer for Psychology Today, says “laughter releases endorphins, which make us feel good about ourselves and others. This good feeling creates a bond between two people and imbues a sense of togetherness.” Brands that incorporate humor in their branding strategy can increase their likeability.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any significant research to support this claim, except to say that intrinsically we all do business and build relationships with people we like. Rohit Bhargava, author of Likeonomics, says we are living in a world where brand believability is very low. Consumers are bombarded daily with corporate speak, half-truths, or biased messages. For the sake of survival, they are ambivalent or negative to these messages as a default—Bhargava calls this the “likeability gap.” To bridge this gap, brands must build trust, be relevant and be unselfish in a timely and simple fashion. Doing something different, like using humor, can make a brand relevant and can create significant impact in a world of sameness and brand parity.

 

Funny Attractions

Humor generates big dollars in the entertainment industry. From 1995 to 2017, Statista movie box office revenue data shows that the comedy genre rakes in a total of $42 billion, second only to adventure movies. Comedy has continued to grow over recent years, with over 17.6 million people visiting a comedy club in 2016. That’s an increase of 10 percent since 2014! A contributing factor to this influx is the mass broadcasting of comedy specials and routines on Netflix and YouTube (where comedy is the 5th biggest channel), and popular live events like Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival, that attracts over two million spectators each year. The rise in comedy popularity is particularly true for younger viewers—according to a recent study by NAPTE/Content First and the Consumer Electronics Association, comedy is the top genre watched regularly by 74 percent of Millennials (vs. 70 percent for Gen Xers, and 68 percent for Boomers).

The attractiveness of humor also applies to marketing. A quarter of television commercials are classified as humorous and, of the top 10 most-watched ads of 2017 on YouTube, four of them are based on humor.

 

Brand Attractions

The main reason humor is used to build a brand is two-fold: humor can attract attention quickly and can enhance brand likability overnight. But this doesn’t guarantee success. Ace Metrix conducted an extensive research study on the Impact of Humor in Advertisements (2012), and found that the “keys to effectiveness are relevance and information.”

There are five primary ways humor can be used to build a brand:

1. Bonding

Humor can be used to bring together like-minded people under a halo of fun. Humor can bring out the unique club mentality present in celebration, without the fear of elitism. Coca-Cola, for example, is a mastermind at creating a warm and funny connection with their consumers. It must be all that sugar they put into the drink!

As well as conveying emotional information about oneself, laughter elicits similar emotions in others and therefore serves a bonding function. If laughter serves a social bonding function, it should be no surprise that it also serves to increase a person or brand’s likability.

 

2. Releasing Tension

Humor can be an easy way to address a difficult conversation or sensitive subject matter like insurance, banking, or personal hygiene. Somehow, the toilet tickles many-a-brand’s funny bone. Humor, when used with sensitivity, can be very successful, and even potty humor has a time and place (most likely in a boy’s locker room).

GEICO is a great example of taking a sensitive subject (insurance) and transforming it into must-watch TV ads. Then there is Aflac’s famous quacky and wacky duck, who helped to elevate the Aflac brand to one of the top 25 brands in 2015, based on the annual SMB Insights Study conducted by The Business Journals.

3. Attraction

How do you take a 70-year brand heritage of Old Spice and make it relevant to not only young men, but also to the women who purchase products for the men in their lives? Women are responsible for over 50% of body wash sales, so hooking them as a demographic is vital. Eric Baldwin, Executive  Creative Director at Wieden+Kennedy (the agency behind the Old Spice brand transformation) said: “When you are saying ‘Listen to us tell you about body wash and deodorant and we will entertain you,’ you’d better make sure that is exactly what you do: entertain the hell out of them.” And that is exactly what Old Spice has been doing since “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” was debuted in 2010.

4. Rivals

How does the little brand take on Goliath who has more market share, more brand awareness, more brand recognition, and deep pockets to keep it that way? Create a cult phenomenon using humor! It’s easier said than done, but many brands have succeeded. Humor can also be used to avert potential detractors.

If used correctly, humor can be a clever and original way to communicate tons of information in a playful and entertaining matter. One great example is the Dollar Shave Club.

5. Entertainment

For those brands looking to capture younger audiences, it’s all about entertaining and keeping those attention-deficit consumers engrossed in nonsensical brand stories. In a study How Humor in Advertising Works by Prof. Dr. Martin Eisend at the Universitat Viadrina Frankfurt (2011), it is cited that humor may help overcome weaknesses in advertising messages. Skittles is a great example of this type of brand humor in its Taste the Rainbow commercials, of which I am not their target audience (thank heavens!).

Last Laugh

If you want to wrap your brand with humor, you need to understand what type of humor fits your brand. Are you looking for the silly giggle like a school kid? The nervous and uncomfortable chuckle? The derisive snort? The joyous cackle? The big contagious hearty belly laugh? Or the soft, suppressed chortle?

The bigger the laughter, the higher the risk and the higher the potential of being divisive, but sometimes the reward is worth that risk. Sometimes, though, being too funny can have the opposite effect than you intend. There is always a brand that crosses the line and takes funny to a non-benign place. There are also those brands that are so funny and outrageous that the consumer only remembers the joke but has no idea who or what the brand was. Robin Evans, in his book Production and Creativity in Advertising, coined the phrase “the vampire effect,” where the humor or spokesperson overshadows the brand message. The moral of this story is to keep your humor on message, to help build up instead of detracting from your brand.

Here is a Wrigley commercial that crossed the benign line, to the point that it was taken off air because of so many complaints.

 

Final Punchline

A brand’s sense of humor should come from a strong sense of who the brand is, what it stands for, and how their customers perceive it—both today and into the future. If your brand humor comes across as authentic and genuine, people will follow you and will give some leeway to screw up. In today’s world of speed, personalization and relevance humor can cut corners in production values and can capture large audiences, even if your products are boring. Humor is also about timing and context as opposed to polish. If you take no risks at all, you’ll never be in any danger of ever making anyone laugh.

 

The headline to this article is an adaptation from the original quote “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people” by Danish comedian Victor Borge (1909-2000).
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Brands in Pink

It’s not just a colour. It’s a state of mind.

The colour pink is a unique and somewhat controversial colour that is loaded with meaning and emotions. Dr. Veronika Koller, a professor and researcher at Lancaster University who studied how people interpret the colour pink, says that pink contains more meanings than any other colour. This is a respectful summation of this revolutionary colour. If history has anything to tell us, the colour pink has a lot of opportunity left in it in the world of branding.

 

The Colour Pink

Christina Olsen, director of the University of Michigan, Museum of Art, says the colour pink isn’t part of the electromagnetic spectrum so we aren’t seeing actual wavelengths of pink light but “an extra –spectral color, which means other colors must be mixed to generate it.” The primary two colours to make pink is red and white but it is yellow and blue tones that form a wide spectrum of pink colours. Wikipedia has identified over 46 notable shades of the colour pink (where as blue has over 73). In the ranking of popular colours pink is listed as number four behind blue, black and grey.

Alice Bucknell in her article A Brief History of the Color Pink explains pink has been a spectacular contradiction for masculinity and femininity. In Japan, the colour pick is associated with masculinity honouring slain Samurais whereas western cultures popularized pink in the eighteen-century fashion scene within the pastel-loving bourgeoisie. The art world brought pink to the forefront starting with the French Impressionists and Neo-Impressionist movements (such as Claude Monet’s lilies and Edgar Degas’s dancers). In the 1960’s pop art took pink to the next level with artists like Andy Warhol (with his famous Marilyn Monroe). From there we saw pink move towards a vibrant neon-soaked 90s, to finally to a subdued Millennial pink that speaks to a more emotionally connected and tolerant society.

 

Tickled Pink

Pink is known as the happy colour. Think about cotton candy and bubble-gum— pure delights.

The psychology of the colour pink is firmly rooted in the perception that pink is a feminine colour that connotes nurture, care, calmness, romance and hope. Marketing has definitely played a role in portraying pink as a “girly” colour.

Intensify the colour to a hot vibrant pink and the psychological properties shift the tonality to youthful, energetic, sexy and fun. The range of moods and feeling pink can portray are vast and can quickly define gender and/or personality.

T-Mobile uses hot pink (magenta) to help differentiate their brand from the big competitors (AT&T and Verizon) and set an irreverent brand tone. In 2012, John Legere joined T-Mobile as CEO, who created a new brand around the colour of pink transforming the company to be more energetic, youthful and cooler. He must have done more than introduce hot pink to successful motivate his employees to proudly wear their shocking magenta uniforms every-day.  This brand transformation has been a large part of T-Mobile’s successful turnaround from a $29 billion in sales and negative $6 billion revenue loss to, today, a $51 billion in sales and positive revenue over $4 billion. In 2014 T-Mobile was successful in shutting out AT&T subsidiary from trying to use a similar magenta colour by trademarking theirs— feisty true colours.

 

Pretty in Pink

Associating baby boys with blue and baby girls with pink is a relatively new trend says Jo B. Paoletti, author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America. She said the gender-code between pink and blue was firmly drawn in western societies in the early 1980s thanks to branding and marketers such as Care Bear, Barbie, Hello Kitty, and many Disney princesses. Pink became the leading colour to define pretty little girl’s materialistic world of glitter and fairy tales.

In 2011, Forbes reported that Disney Princess franchise made $1.6 billion (US) in North American retail sales and $3 billion globally. Making it the best-seller beating Star Wars, Sesame Street and superheroes. Pink power prevails.

The colour pink doesn’t stop with infants and young girls. Victoria Secret has successfully used the colour pink for over 40 years to build a lingerie empire of over $8 billion US (2015) in world-wide sales. In 2002, Victoria Secret introduced the PINK brand to attract high school and college-age girls to purchase causal loungewear a step down from the sexy lingerie.

 

Despite this pink persuasion, I have found no conclusive scientific evidence that gender-coded pink influences women more than men nor does it have any effect on human behavior. JR Thorpe stated in her article, Why Are We So Obsessed With Millennial Pink? There’s A Scientific Explanation For Everything, that there is sufficient “evidence that we do seem to view pinks in a positive light in some situations, likely as a result of cultural programming.”

Post World War II every home had some sort of pink household products based on targeting women who were entering into the work-force and started drawing a paycheque (thanks to the war). Remember grandma’s pink bathroom complete with pink doilies? As Jennifer Wright says in her article How Pink Became a Color for Girls, if a lady “tells you that her favorite color is “pink!” she might be telling you that she wants to be dainty and demure and stay at home. Or she might just be a badass who’s trying not to scare you too much.”  Does this mean that intrinsically women are influenced by pink to some degree, due to generational exposure or a desire to be part of something bigger?

 

The Politics of Pink

While the colour of pink has been associated with passive, innocent and girly. As an advocacy colour pink has been fierce and powerful, loaded with pride and strength.

The pink triangle was associated with the gay liberation movement but its original creation was far more evil as it was used by the Nazi’s to identity homosexual prisoners in concentration camps.

In 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation gave pink ribbons to runners in its New York breast cancer survivor race. The following year, the pink ribbon became the official—now ubiquitous—symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In both cases, the pink colour is used to communicate active defiance and empowerment. Many feminist groups have adopted the colour pink as a sign of strength and pride in the mission towards equality and opportunity.

The pink ribbon Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an excellent example of using the gender-coded colour pink to their advantage to promote awareness and increase early detection of breast cancer. Some people would argue that the pinkification of breast cancer has turned a horrible disease into a brand that has been commodified by other brands for their own profits. That being said, the BreastCancer.org estimate that “about 40,610 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2017 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989. Women under 50 have experienced larger decreases. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.” I wasn’t able to find any awareness statistics on the pink ribbon campaign but I would guess it would be highest among the many ribbon campaigns that exist today.

 

For Pink Sake

Then there are those brands that don’t care about the gender-coding or personality traits of the colour pink. They just want a colour that will clearly differentiate them from the competitive pack.

Owens-Corning is one of those companies who introduced their Pink Fiberglas insulation into the market over 50 years ago. In 1980 they introduced the Pink Panther as their mascot in all of their marketing to accentuate their pinkness and likable pink personality. Since introducing the Pink Panther customers prefer pink insulation by a ratio of seven to one over the closet competition, as revealed in a Owens-Corning study done in the late 1990s. They were also one of the first company to successful trademark their colour against competition. Mr. Smith, Head of Marketing says, “We are fortunate. We have a trademark color that is up there with Coke red.” In his dreams!

In 1893, the Financial Times went from a generic white paper newspaper to a shade of salmon-pink which immediately distinguish it from all the competition. Why pink? It was cheaper to dye it pink than dying it white. Today, the opposite is true but as readers’ transition to the online version the colour is more about tradition than attracting attention on a dying newsstand.

 

Millennial Pink

Millennial Pink, also known as the Tumblr Pink or Scandinavian Pink (check out Pinterest), is the politically correct colour that has appeared in shades of beige with a touch of blush to a pleasing peach-salmon. This gender-neutral, androgynous colour is growing in popularity since it first appeared in 2012. You can find it in restaurants interiors, furniture, household products, clothing for both men and women, hair tints, drinks, rose-gold iPhones, and Drake’s album cover Hotline Bling, to name a few.

“Millennials are increasingly redefining what it means to be a grown-up in a seriously troubled world,” explains JR Thorpe. “Sometimes, we all want to be soothed — and what better way to do that than looking at Instagrams of a mid-century modern pink velvet settee.” May I suggest that they use the pinky velvet Pepto-Bismol, a better solution to sooth their tummies.

I predict there will be a few digital gender-neutral brands that will be utilizing this colour soon. Two brands that have embraced this restrained colour so far are Acne Studios clothing retailer and Thinx, a period-proof underwear company.

 

Pinked Out

No question, pink is a strong colour to build a brand, but you must understand the connection you are trying to build with the colour. You can’t ignore the historical gender connection that pink has in defining or promoting femininity (both good and bad). Maybe Millennial Pink will make pink less about gender and more about how it makes you feel.  But until then, as hip-hop rapper Talib Kweli said “women are complex creatures.” I think the colour pink is just as complex.

However, many brands have successfully broken away from the competitive crowd using the colour pink and more new brands will do the same.

 

Check out “Does the Colour of a Brand Really Matter