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Recently in Marketing vs. Branding

February 15, 2007 | Tate Linden
Two concepts that I thought would never successfully mix: anything involving the word "viral" and my nether regions.

I have been proved wrong.

(Please note that I am going to do my darndest to make this a PG-13 post. Maybe even G if I can find a way. If you are offended by "Hoo Has" and the like you may want to surf elsewhere.)

afeita.jpgIn what may be one of the most unusual successful viral marketing ploys, Philips Norelco has launched - a site dedicated to getting men to shave... well... everywhere. Backs, buttocks... and a couple other things starting with the letter b. And throw in a couple "p" words too.

The product they're pitching is the "BodyGroom" - a razor specifically made to shave you all over. I'm not quite sure how this particular razor was modified from, say, any other electric razor on the face of the earth, to perfectly shave your business, but it certainly is causing a stir. Thousands of bloggers are talking about it already - and it was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal yesterday as well.

More intriguing to me is the fact that the term "Optical Inch" is spreading like wildfire too. The website with the name is already camped and for sale. There are hundreds of bloggers talking about it.

But why? Why is it that an optical inch is desireable at all? This strikes me in just about the same way that the logic used by guys with combovers and toupes use. Something akin to "Hey, if I wear my hair just right I might fool people into thinking there's more here than there actually is."

This line of logic is one that doesn't sit well with me. Long ago I decided that the moment I had an urge to start parting my hair near my ears I would shave it all off. As you can see this moment has come and gone.

Men of the world -consider this: You may be gaining an optical inch by using this new wonder-product, but (hopefully) at the end of the day the final method of measurement isn't going to be visual.

In establishing your brand it is often said that you want to under promise and over deliver. I think that this product (and its marketing method) are ensuring that its clients do the exact opposite.

The ad campaign is in my opinion a good one. The brand that they are building, however, seems critically flawed. I don't think I could ever willingly associate myself with a company or product that so overtly preyed on a man's insecurities with a solution that so clearly didn't help the situation.

That said, I am involved in open-source research that could make this "Optical Inch" laughable. Get 'em to stand back a bit and who knows how big the "benefits package" could get.

Operators are standing by.

At a distance.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
January 30, 2007 | Tate Linden
I think we can all agree that branding is supposed to set companies apart - or rather set a specific company (the one being branded) apart from all others that it might typically compete with.

What would happen if every company in the world branded itself?

Is it possible for hundreds of millions of companies to truly be unique in their markets?

I believe what makes branding work is that the number of companies that invest in their brands is actually quite low. I've not seen any statistics, but certainly among small businesses branding is so rare as to be almost non-existent. And in mid- to large- companies I'd wager we're looking at less than 10%.

To my way of thinking, the lack of buy-in from the majority of companies makes the money spent by the companies that do brand go much further. It is easier to be unique when no one else is making an effort to do so.

But what happens when everyone is branded? Honestly I'd like to know. Has anyone envisioned a world in which every single company has carved out a niche for themselves?

Personally I think that in a world of branded products a generic solution becomes desirable. We're already seeing some of this in the young adult markets. A few thoughts from other experts on the topic:generic.jpg I think that there's validity in the argument provided by many educated affluent young adults - that global brands are in some way a little bit overly produced or manufactured. Once an organization gets huge there's so much variability and inconsistency (in staff, work product, direction) that a single identity can't really encompass it. Any solid brand is a gross simplification.

I guess this is why I am so constantly surprised that the smaller companies aren't branding. Small companies can genuinely build their brands and immediately see the effects. So long as most small companies aren't doing this (let's say it's an example of the 80/20 rule) this should work.

I'll refine my question(s)...

Do any of you think that there's a set percentage or ratio at which branding will cease to work for anyone? Is it 20%? Is it 80%? Is it when an unbranded company becomes unique by its very lack of brand?

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
January 26, 2007
Manliness, as personified by Burt Reynolds, right, didn't help push sales of Miller Lite.
CHICAGO ( -- Apparently deciding that market-share losses violate "Man Law," Miller Brewing Co. is shelving its "Men of the Square Table" ad campaign.
Manliness, as personified by Burt Reynolds, right, didn't help push sales of Miller Lite.
The campaign, by Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, Miami, debuted last spring with considerable buzz. The ads featured celebrities Miller and Crispin apparently thought personified manliness, such as actor Burt Reynolds, football star Jerome Bettis and wrestler Triple H, who would meet in a glass cube to settle questions about manly behavior, such as whether it's permissible to put fruit in beer. (It's not.)

Pop-culture references The spots drew laughs, hundreds of thousands of entries to an online "Manlawpedia," and pop-culture references (a wholly-unrelated-to-beer Chicago Tribune story Sunday asked if it was a violation of "man law" for men to wear scarves), but Miller Lite's sales lost ground to its rivals. Sales fell by low-single digits last year, while rivals Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light and Coors Brewing Co.'s Coors Light saw sales climb in the mid- and low-single digits, respectively.

When asked, Miller executives said they believed "man laws" would gradually seep into the popular culture and eventually boost sales. But their patience appears to have run out.
January 10, 2007
Apple Computer Is No Longer. Steve Jobs announced after the announcement of the iPhone yesterday, something seemingly subtle, but actually really big: a name change. Apple Computer, Inc., will from now on forward be called Apple, Inc., reflecting the fact that Apple is more and more turning into a general electronics company instead of a computer/software company.
November 7, 2006 | Tate Linden
Over on Lee Hopkins' Better Communications Results blog there's an interesting post about the use of images on vehicles. I really enjoy Lee's blog and find the information that he provides to be though provoking and informative - especially if you are interested in learning about PR.

I too think that the pictures he has posted are quite cool. But there's a difference between a cool picture and a workable concept. A few problems appear with the advertisements:
  1. Every single picture on the page looks surprisingly similar. The trucks are all in the same position with the same background. These aren't photos of actual campaigns, they're mockups. (As evidenced by the final photo that shows the truck "speeding" in the parking lane or about to run off the road - depending on whether you're in a left-driving or right-driving country.) This doesn't mean it can't work - but it does imply that it isn't actually being used.
  2. An advantage of using mock-ups - the colors are vivid and clear - versus two-dimensional and covered with dust. The pics would likely be less convincing when scratched, tagged, and covered in dirt. It makes me wonder how the campaign would age and how expensive it would be to maintain.
  3. One advantage of using the same photo is that every shot is from the same angle - from behind, below, and to the left of the truck. Most of the images "pasted" on the wall of the truck don't work from any other position outside the truck than the position taken by the camera. So - if you're directly behind the truck you would see a picture that makes no geometric sense - the inside of the truck as seen from the left. It doesn't make visual sense.
On the plus side - if the trucks actually were rolling along the road they'd probably have other drivers competing for the exact right space for the perfect view. This could lead to blog mentions and press coverage. But even this has a negative. It could also lead to accidents as drivers jockey for their shots with their eyes on the camera instead of the road.

Even worse... the "sweet spot" for viewing in this instance is only a short distance behind the truck, meaning that people will sit in the danger zone appreciating the advertisement and making it hard for the truck to safely change lanes. The problem with this is that trucks typically can't tell when their rear bumper is clear of traffic. I don't know many truck drivers that would be interested in having people hanging out in the danger zone.

Okay, so I don't know many truck drivers at all. Any, really. But if I did and I asked 'em if they like people hanging out back there I bet they would say "no." (I do hang out in Truck Stops when I drive long distances - but I've yet to pick up any friends.)

I'm probably over-reacting here, but
October 12, 2006 | Tate Linden
Apparently so.

Business naming firm Dynamo [site down at time of post] stands to earn this much for the sale of the domain name - a registrar of wiki sites.

We at Stokefire are amazed at the value placed on the domain by John Gotts. We think there's a bit of a disconnect here. When people are trying to build websites they don't go to When people want to buy pizza they don't go to And when was the last time you went to
October 4, 2006 | Tate Linden
We direct you to this bit of PR.

If you don't have time to read it just check out our Abridged and Bulletized version (Really, it is shorter):
  • Sinus Buster is first FDA registered Capsaicin nasal spray
  • Sinus Buster is on its way to becoming a household name
  • Sinus Buster is outselling their closest competitor by 3 to 1
  • Sinus Buster is outselling their closest competitor by 24%
  • Price Chopper is an upscale store
  • Sinus Buster costs twice as much as their closest competitor
  • Sinus Buster isn't spending much on advertising
  • Sinus Buster is unique because it contains the same chemical that provides the heat for hot peppers.
  • The inventor of Sinus Buster is a wild self-defense instructor who teaches women how to destroy attackers.
  • The inventor has done more than 50 live demonstrations that involved him getting sprayed in the face with pepper spray
  • The inventor has been on Oprah
  • The inventor suffered from cluster headaches and a runny nose.
  • The inventor tried every modern medicine but couldn't solve his problem
  • Someone sprayed the inventor in the face with pepper spray when he had a headache and the headache went away.
  • The inventor finds this promising.
  • The inventor invents pepper spray designed to be shot up the nostril willingly
  • The inventor squirts hot pepper up lots of noses and the owners of the noses love it!
May 11, 2006 | Tate Linden
Piers Fawkes over at PSFK had this to say about advertising blogs...
"The problem with advertising press online and offline is that they report on advertising. It's a fundamental flaw. Advertising is not where the game is at anymore. Advertising has become a tactic while client side marketers look at how companies act as a brand as a whole - and communications is just one of many tools."
Pretty gutsy words... from a guy that seems to be running an ... advertising... blog.
April 28, 2006 | Tate Linden
This release came across my desk today:

Atlanta, GA (PRWEB via HRMarketer) April 27, 2006 --, a premier source for diversity recruiting, has released its Prestige Package, a new job posting/branding package designed to attract diverse job seekers by including companies' work culture profiles in their job listings.

Click here for the full text. (Emphasis mine, above.)

Why did this catch my eye? Well, a few weeks back I received notice of a position for a branding expert where it was quite obvious that no one knew what branding was. This new release seems to say that job postings like that one are a thing of the past. If a branding firm handles job postings they'll be on-target and relevant, right?
April 19, 2006 | Tate Linden
Nope, I don't have an MBA - though I began the process about six years back at Johns Hopkins (a good program, but the way) for a few semesters of night classes. A move to the left coast cancelled that endeavor, and the degree was overcome by events as I learned many of my most valuable skills on-the-job over the ensuing years. So, why mention MBAs here? Because, as Grant McCracken over at This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Anthropology and Economics points out, MBAs don’t learn how to brand while in school. Sure, they can espouse numerous philosophies and methods for marketing or selling a product, but they often have few skills that allow them to take the step back and really define a brand before trying to market or advertise it. Grant correctly points out that business schools aren’t focusing on defining what branding is or how to do it. Heck, MBAs I’ve spoken with refer to logotypes and icons as brands, and never dive deeper than that. (Just look at how many design firms call themselves experts in branding...)

Personally, I don’t blame the MBAs – they’re taught whatever the schools have in their curriculum. There’s no real option for learning more unless you go to a company with a strong understanding of branding or have an exceptional mentor that shows you the ropes. Anyhow, Grant wraps up his blog-o-the-day with a question – “When is the business school world going to snap out of it and get this right?” I don’t think that is necessarily the right way to end the conversation. As branding experts we have the expertise (by definition) and desire (as shown by our chosen profession) to make a difference in the way entities are perceived. Rather than ask when someone will get branding right, why not take the needed step and make it right? It seems wrong that we’re sitting here throwing stones at institutions that don’t know how to do for themselves what we want them to teach. The question shouldn’t be a question at all. This should be a challenge to the institutions, to us, and to maybe even to the MBAs to make the change. If the institutions won’t provide degrees in branding, then perhaps we should. Imagine a world in which the best branding minds in the business come together to create a curriculum that will truly teach what branding is, how it can be done, how to measure the value, why it is needed, why it is different than design, marketing, advertising, and every other specialty that claims their work product as “branding.” Wouldn’t this lend credence to the reality of branding? A first step might be to create a certificate program that is backed by respectable branding experts from across the country. Whether it is a one week intensive course or a quarter-long applied learning experience – either option would help to stop the bleeding. Ultimately I would love to see Masters of Business Branding degrees, or even an undergraduate degree in Brand Development and Management. So, screw the questions about “why?!” and let’s get down fixing it. You need a place to make it happen? My HQ (just outside DC) has a training room that can handle about 25 to 30 bodies. I’ll reserve it for as long as we need. If a certification in branding is successful then the MBA programs will follow suit, since they’re ultimately in the business of making money. Two closing thoughts. First, I’ve been told by a few branding experts that branding can’t be taught. My response: Hogwash! If branding can’t be taught then it doesn’t exist. Even if one must have an innate ability to be able to brand there are still ways of increasing ones skill – and that can be taught. Second, let us resolve that as branding professionals we will never again complain that people don’t understand branding. We brand ourselves as ineffective by saying it. If people don’t understand then it is our responsibility to remedy the situation. Does anyone else here see the hypocrisy of the situation? Any whining about branding (and lack of respect for the same) from here on out will result in a vigorous poking. And this isn’t the pleasant kind…

Tate Linden Principal Consultant 703-778-9925