Advertising & Practical Thinking

The advertising profession is cold and cruel. The power of practical thinking is a perfect antidote.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Great Recovery GOOGLE...
Aug 31, 2015

Or, as they would say in Baseball, a brilliant "Save".

abc.xyz

May be better than Alphabet.com


You are back to form.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

“Do It Right.  The First Time.  Every Time.” 

August 13, 2015

Over the years, I have admired GOOGLE.

From the day they came out with their name, their Search Engine, Google Doodles (my favorite, the “Les Paul 96th Birthday” on June 11, 2011: http://www.google.com/logos/2011/lespaul.html), and all that they have continued to do…

A few years ago, they even sent me a personalized “Happy Birthday” doodle.  And, I am only one of their millions of users!

On Monday, August 10, 2015, GOOGLE gave me one more reason to say, “Well Done, GOOGLE!  I like Alphabet as the brand name for your new parent company.”

On Wednesday, August 12, 2015, I read that GOOGLE did not do their homework. 
They did not “google” and find out if the domain www.alphabet.com was available.

I could not believe what I read!

To me, the availability of a .com domain is an absolute must.  People who have heard of 

PentaTwo know that I create and develop brand names and branding strategies for clients.

PentaTwo’s tag line: Practical Thinking.

In 2008, I established my guidelines for developing a brand name:
It should be aurally and visually pleasing.
It should be relevant not just for today, but also for a long time into the future.
It should be meaningful.
It should become the property of the owner of the name.
It has to be real and not over promise.
It should be stylish and not trendy.
An Internet domain should be available.

GOOGLE did well on the first six; they forgot all about Number Seven!

And to add insult to injury, BMW owns the trademark “Alphabet” and the .com domain. 

They are not for sale!  OOPS!

In 2005, I recommended to a client: “Do It Right.  The First Time.  Every Time.”

It is amazing how we always find the time and the money to get it right the second or the third time!


I feel bad for you, GOOGLE!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

When Do You Rebrand? (Part One)

On April 20, 2009, one of the National Football League’s most inept franchises, the Detroit Lions, unveiled a new logo (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=4083796).

Is the new logo going to make the 2009 edition of the Detroit Lions a better team? By default, maybe. After all, in 2008 the team sported a 0-16 record, and even one win this season will be an improvement.

The visual identity of a product, or its logo, is only one of the many elements that constitute its brand. However, as a visual element, it contributes heavily to the make-up of the brand.

I have often stated, “A brand is not what you see or hear, it is what you feel.”

Yet, many companies revise/refresh the look of their brand by redesigning and re-launching their logo. The latest to reenter this arena is PepsiCo. All their major brands including Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Gatorade, and Tropicana have been rebranded and re-launched in the last three months. Not a bad idea, especially considering the fact sales of their flagship brand, Pepsi-Cola (as with all carbonated beverages) was slipping. For Pepsi, will the “Forever Young” statement sell more cases? Quite possibly.

Everyone wants to be Apple (the apple of the consumer’s eye – sorry, could not resist the temptation) and mimic the minimalist look of the iPod. This was one of PepsiCo’s objectives.

Sorry, a brand is what you feel, not what you see (or hear.)

So, when does a company/product rebrand itself? At times, never. BMW has always been The Ultimate Driving Machine; KLM, The Reliable Airline; All State Insurance, You’re in good hands; Morton Salt, When it rains it pours; and, Wheaties Cereals, The Breakfast of Champions, are a few solitary diamonds (are forever, as with De Beers Consolidated Mines) in a grave yard of retired brand slogans.

There are a few that come to mind who should have rebranded themselves years ago. Topping the list is State Farm Insurance. Take a look at their logo (www.statefarm.com). Not only is it ancient, but it also tells you that autos, life, and fire are the only insurance products they offer. What about health insurance and home insurance? And where is their "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there" slogan on the web page?

The conspicuous absence of the slogan from web sites, product packaging, and at times even advertisements is appalling, and many companies are guilty of this crime. And the returned verdict from the CEOs of these companies: “Our branding strategy is not working. We need to rebrand.”

Back to the Detroit Lions. Their new logo has made the visual of the leaping lion from the old logo (in Hawaiian blue) more ferocious, bearing its newly appointed teeth. The questions then become, will the Detroit Lions players when they take the field in their opening game, show the same ferocity and will there be any bight in their new found teeth? Will the Detroit Lions fans hear the roar of the rebranded team?

Please do come back for When Do You Rebrand? (Part Two)


Friday, April 03, 2009

An Open Letter to Advertisers.

Dear CEOs, CMOs, Directors of Marketing, Directors of Advertising, Account Planners, Creative Directors, and Copywriters:

Yes, times are tough. Most of us consumers have tightened our belts and further tightening is impossible for many.

Yes, we are eating only the bare essentials, driving the bare minimum, surviving with what we have, not using credit cards, falling behind on many scheduled payments, and living a very worried life.

We do not need to be reminded of this fact every moment of our lives, especially with every commercial opening with words to the effect of…

“In these economic times…”

“We understand you are going through difficult times…”

“Here’s a stimulus package for you. Have a sandwich, an order of fries, and a medium-sized beverage for just four dollars…”

“Now you can buy a car from us and if you should lose your job…”

I am sure most of your consumers/potential consumers have heard similar words over the radio or television in the last few weeks, and unfortunately will continue to do so in the coming months.

Please use the power of advertising in a positive manner. If you want to have a sale, go ahead. If you want to give away your product or service, that is your prerogative. A sandwich for three dollars, please do so. You can do all this and more. But please do not tell us you are doing this because you want to help those of us who are adversely affected by the economic conditions. You are doing this because you are in the same predicament as all of us: to make ends meet by making a few dollars.

Reminding someone of their misery makes them frown even more. Putting a smile on someone’s face costs nothing. Think about it.

Think positive!

I call it Practical Thinking.

Wish you a positive and pleasant day.

Best Regards,

PentaTwo

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Positively Brilliant!

A couple of days ago, I read about a creative marketing execution – going way beyond “traditional” thinking. My reaction, “Wow, this is positively brilliant!”

The winter of 2008-09 has played havoc with the streets of Chicago (and many other cities across the U.S.) There are potholes galore and driving is hazardous and on occasions painful on the wallet as tires and wheels have had to be replaced in thousands of vehicles. Townships and cities have been struggling with their budgets and Mother Nature – as soon as a few potholes have been temporarily patched-up, new ones have erupted.

Colonel Sanders of KFC fame is coming to the rescue with a “pothole refresh” program. The following is from Crain’s Business (for the complete article, please visit
http://www.chicagobusiness.com/cgi-bin/news.pl?id=33478):

Don't be surprised if you see Col. Sanders out filling potholes. In an unusual cause-marketing push, KFC is tackling the pothole problem in Louisville, Ky. in exchange for stamping the fresh pavement with "Re-freshed by KFC," a chalky stencil likely to fade away in the next downpour.

While KFC seems more suited to pot pies than potholes, the company is likely to build a reservoir of goodwill among the general population.

"This program is a perfect example of that rare and optimal occurrence when a company can creatively market itself and help local governments and everyday Americans across the country," said Javier Benito, exec VP-marketing and food innovation at KFC. Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson noted in a statement that budgets are tight for cities across the country, and finding funding for road repairs is a dirty job. "It's great to have a concerned corporation like KFC create innovative private/public partnerships like this pothole refresh program."

In addition to the Louisville project, KFC has issued an open offer to U.S. mayors to tell them about the state of their city streets and request assistance. The chain will select as many as four more cities at random for pothole assistance.

The restaurant has not yet been contacted by the city of Chicago, but has received request from Austin, Texas; Somerset, Texas; Chattanooga, Tenn. and Greenville, Miss.

Every now and then, I read about something that makes me wonder, “Who came out with that idea?" And then I tell myself, "I would like to shake his/her hand!" To the person who came out with this idea I say, "I want to shake your hand."

Now that I have written this, I think I will head out to the nearest KFC and order a couple of extra crispy pieces of their world famous chicken. No, I will make it a KFC Pot Pie.

What the heck, I'll make it a KFC Pot Pie and two extra crispy drumsticks.

A positively brilliant idea!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Put to bed the last time.


On Tuesday, March 10, 2009, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was put to bed the last time, after 146 years of publishing. Seattle residents are left with one newspaper, the Seattle Times.


In February 2009, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado, was also put to bed the last time after nearly 150 years, leaving the city as another with just one newspaper, the Denver Post.

I personally experienced the death of a newspaper nearly 30 years ago. The Morning Courier of Champaign-Urbana, after a 102-year history, published for the last time on March 31, 1979. Champaign-Urbana used to be a two-newspaper town. The Morning Courier was a client of mine.

The Courier and the News-Gazette were both afternoon newspapers; however, declining circulation numbers forced the Courier to rethink its survival strategy and they switched to the traditional morning mode. Unfortunately, the twin cities could support only one newspaper (in addition to the University of Illini student-run newspaper the Daily Illini.)

My mornings are incomplete without reading the print editions of my copies of the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. Most days, I have already read the web editions of other news publications before sitting down with my newspapers and a cup of green tea or black coffee. Pure bliss!

I am an avid reader of newspapers. Wherever my travels take me, I buy the local paper(s) and immerse myself in the read – one of the easiest ways of gaining a knowledge and understanding of the local customs and get a flavor of the city and its populace.

In the last few years, I have been to Seattle a number of times. The Post-Intelligencer was a part of my daily diet while there. Somehow, I don’t believe I will be visiting their web edition to get my dose of Seattle the next time I visit that beautiful city.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Think Positive


That was the headline of the Chicago Sun-Times’ Terry Savage column (aptly titled “The Savage Truth”) on Monday, March 9, 2009. Ms. Savage wrote:

“The fear factor is taking over the markets, the economy, and the public psyche. And no matter what programs, speeches, or photo ops the new administration stages, it won't help restore public confidence.

This is not to say that "positive thinking" can turn the stock market around, or restore jobs, or create incentives for business to expand production, or even for consumers to start spending again. That would require real incentives -- things like lower tax rates on risky investments or capital gains. Or tax breaks for entrepreneurs to create businesses and expand hiring.

But a little positive thinking could be just what the country needs right now.

Positive thinking

One of the great motivational books of all time, The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale, was written 75 years ago. The "secret" was this: "We become what we think about!"
And all we think about and talk about these days is economic failure. The latest headlines about unemployment are just the latest example. Yes, more than 8 percent of the population is unemployed, but that means 90 percent are still working.

This is not meant to be a paean to Pollyanna. But it is a request that we start putting all this bad news in perspective. Especially the media, and the administration.”

Ms. Savage concluded: “We can't let fear rule today. Let's try the power of positive thinking, for a change. Let's think about prosperity. Yes, we need sensible tax and spending policies to get us there. But let's stop looking down, and start talking UP! At least we'll be thinking in the right direction. And that's the Savage Truth.”


The complete article can be accessed at: http://www.suntimes.com/business/savage/1467089,CST-FIN-terry09.savagearticle#

Thank you, Terry Savage. May your tribe increase!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Uncommonly Common Service


It is human nature to talk about negative experiences, especially when it comes to customer service. Seldom do we acknowledge, at least publicly, some “uncommonly common service” we received during the day. So here I go with a couple…

I have ordered contact lenses from www.1800contacts.com for a few years, usually a six-month supply each time. A couple of weeks ago, it was time to reorder. Instead of using the Internet, I placed a call to 1-800-CONTACTS. With my previous order I had received a couple of damaged packs, and I wanted to make sure the company was aware of this.

My call was answered on the second ring with a most pleasant voice. Within a few seconds, she had my order history in front of her, listened to the problem I had with my previous order, said that she would not charge me for four packs, and my new order would be shipped the same day.

The same day, the soft water conditioning equipment at my home was malfunctioning and the water was unbearably hard. It was a Thursday afternoon, and I called DuPage Water Conditioning (the company from where I was renting the equipment) and the lady who answered the phone said that the earliest a technician could come in would be the following Monday. I gave her my cell phone number and said if there was any way the service call could be expedited, I would be most obliged.

Within ten minutes, I received a call from the owner of the company. He just happened to have overheard the lady answering my call. He said that he was on his way out for the day, but would come by my place and repair the equipment right away. Wow!

All of you who provide “uncommonly common service”, I salute you.


You are a most refreshing breath of fresh air, and may your tribe increase.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thinking Positive is Contagious


It is always good to know someone else is also thinking positively and trying to spread the word! On Monday (February 9, 2009) morning, like all weekday mornings at 8:00 AM, I received my email from The Emarketer Daily, a must-read for me every day.


Monday’s topic: Commentary from Geoff Ramsey (CEO and co-founder): How Staying Positive Is Good for Business. I was thrilled to just read the headline. The first three paragraphs made me feel even better. Mr. Ramsey wrote:

We’re bombarded by it every day of the week. The news media is shoveling a constant stream of bad news to us in the form of economic reports, surveys of plummeting consumer confidence levels, company layoffs, negative earnings announcements and decimated marketing budgets.

This drip, drip, drip creates a tremendous imbalance in our perspective. And since the news is fueled by a very real economic crisis, many of us are prone to see the glass as not just half empty, but 98% empty. But that’s not a recipe for success, or even survival.

The answer lies in seeking a balance—anchoring yourself to reality while focusing on every glimmer of hope and opportunity you can find.

(To read the complete article, please visit:
http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?id=1006915)

This morning (Tuesday) something I heard on the “Mike & Mike in the Morning Show” on ESPN Radio (my morning radio listening in the car) made me feel good. With all the negative news, both in and out of the sports world, ESPN Radio is dedicating this week to something positive in the world of sports and calling it A Celebration of Sports!

Yes, it is a coincidence that within a few days of my thoughts on Something Positive, I am reading and hearing similar sentiments from others.

Thinking positive is contagious. Spread the word…

Friday, February 06, 2009

Something Positive


Yes, the economy is in shambles. We are all aware of this solemn fact. Many of us are experiencing the devastation every hour, every day. And, just to make sure that we do not lose sight of this fact, the media ensure we receive minute by minute, blow by blow updates.

Negativity pervades. It is in the air everywhere, and even if one is fortunate enough to not feel the impact, just the process of osmosis ensures we feel doomed.

Very few are doing anything positive to make a change, or try to make a change. It is not easy, but till an attempt is made, we will never know.

The Chicago Campus of the University of Phoenix wants to try. Try to be of help to small and medium-sized businesses by providing valuable insights into how to cope with today and plan and implement pragmatic changes.

Under the executive sponsorship of Dr. Marty Berman, Director of Academic Affairs, University of Phoenix Chicago Campus, a group of practitioner faculty members, loosely organized as The 21C Group, will offer an Interactive Business Forum Series to business leaders in the community.

The Interactive Business Forum Series has been developed for the express purpose of influencing business leaders into a positive thinking mode and guiding these leaders toward actionable business solutions for tomorrow’s challenges. The IBF Series will be led by a group of top-notch practitioner faculty having a pulse on the day-to-day happenings in the global economy, and practice what they preach to stay ahead of the curve.

The mission of the IBF Series is to help businesses with the timely dissemination of knowledge and wisdom, and the vision is to continuously offer business leaders pragmatic solutions to survive and prosper.

This forward-thinking, pragmatic forum where business leaders can gain ideas for implementing 21st Century business practices will be launched on Friday, February 20, at the Schaumburg (northwest suburb of Chicago) campus of the University of Phoenix, and will be offered at no cost to business leaders.

“Planning for the Unthinkable: Creating Resiliency in the Face of Constant Change” will be the topic for the inaugural Interactive Forum, and will be facilitated by Dr. Reginald Gardner and Mr. Ray Benedetto, two members of the MBA faculty who are also consultants and guides to local business leaders.

Yes, this is a positive step. A small step, yet very positive. Practical Thinking.

Dr. Marty Bermann and the University of Phoenix have to be commended for taking this initiative. Only good can result.

I must also state here, I am part of the University of Phoenix faculty. I teach marketing courses to MBA students. And, I will (along with Mr. Mike Yesner, a colleague) be facilitating the second IBF on March 20: “The Essence of Branding & Marketing your Brand.”

Monday, November 03, 2008

Hitching a Ride.

Am often asked, “How did you get into Advertising?” Let me rewind the tape to 1968.

A pleasant and cool afternoon, typical New Delhi February weather. I was a third year student at the Indian Institute of Technology, majoring in Textile Technology, and was heading to Connaught Place (downtown) to meet a friend.

Taking a bus was out of the question as the lines (or queues) at the bus stop were unwieldy, and other forms of paid transportation were beyond my reach. So, it was back to the old reliable – the thumb. Yes, in those days, college students would put their thumbs out and many a gentleman would stop and offer a ride. It was safe for both parties.

On this day, a middle-aged gentleman stopped and he was headed to CP. Lucky me! Soon the conversation got to what the two of us were doing and he told me he owned an advertising agency. Even after all these years, I remember his name (very strange since my memory nearly always fails me with names).

Mr. Allen invited me to his office and introduced some of his people – an Account Director, a Creative Director, and a media person. He must have spent over 30 minutes explaining the agency business to me. I was impressed!

When I walked out of his office, I decided my future would be in the advertising business. I said to myself I would complete my engineering degree in the top three of my class and get myself a scholarship to pursue a graduate degree in Advertising at one of the fine universities in the U.S.

The best ride I ever hitched. In fact, that day started my love affair with the advertising business and for that I am grateful to Mr. Allen.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Client Service

I have been in the advertising profession for over 23 years on the agency side and the last 15 as an independent consultant. One of my strengths, over the years and still today, is providing impeccable Client Service. My service philosophy is reaffirmed by a simple sentence I have used over the years to conclude all my client correspondence: Assuring you of my best attention at all times.

My definition of Client Service: Always look at the big picture first – fly at 37,000 feet above ground level and then make the descent. Provide the best possible thinking and effort. Anticipate Client’s needs and be pro-active. I am here to make a positive impact on the Client’s business, not win awards for my work. Make what I think and believe are the right recommendations. Spoil them with this brand of service that their dependence on me keeps growing.

The longevity of my client relationships is a testament to this philosophy.

And then, there have been times when I have gone way beyond the call of duty. For instance…

On a Saturday morning in 1977, my home phone rang at 7:30. It was Mr. RJ, one of my clients. “Did you watch the 10:00 PM news on Channel Three?” “No, Mr. J, I did not.” “The seventeen year-old boy who died in a motorcycle accident last evening was my son.” I was shocked and had no clue why he was calling me. After all, he had known me for only a few months.

He wanted me to have a song written and played at his son’s funeral on Monday afternoon. After expressing my deepest condolences (not really knowing what to say), I asked Mr. J if he could tell me something about his son. “He was a free spirit,” he responded and asked me to come over to his house for the wake later that morning. I had never been to a wake, and all I knew was that there was no weeping at an Irish wake.

Off I drove to Mr. J’s house. Over a hundred people, all with a drink in their hands, some solemn and others jovial. Yes, I did not see any tears, except in Mrs. J’s eyes. The parents of the late free spirit told me a little bit about their lost one. They said the visitation at the funeral home was at 5:00 PM on Sunday. I promised I would have a song for them on Sunday and asked them to come over to my office (very close to the funeral home) at 4:30.

I had about 30 hours to deliver on my promise and absolutely no idea how I would deliver.

In the past four years, I had written the lyrics to a few jingles working with a handful of musicians at a local recording studio. I called the owner of the studio, and he said he would open the studio for me in a few hours and call in a composer/guitarist/singer. Within 24 hours, I had written the lyrics, the musician composed the music and we had a song recorded.

At 4:30 PM on Sunday, Mr. and Mrs. J, their other children, and a few other family members were at my office. I played the tape for them. Till that moment, I had never seen a dozen people burst into sobs the way they did. They left after listening to the nearly three minute song a few more times. I cried after that.

The musician played the song at the funeral the next afternoon.

Promise made and promise delivered.

Epilogue. The musician and the studio sent me their bills. I just paid them and did not invoice Mr. J. How could I? Unfortunately, Mr. J died a few months later. A private aircraft he was piloting crashed. A few months later, the business changed hands and the relationship with Penta was terminated by the new CEO.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Searching for the Soul of a Brand

As stated previously, I strongly believe every brand has a soul and it can usually be found in the head of the CEO of the company. The SVP of the global advertising agency who had asked me to expound on the words “brand” and “branding”, later asked me, “How do you apply your practical thinking to mine the head of a CEO of a global company ?”

Seek beyond the obvious and look for simple clues that we would never consider as bearing any relevance. The Bentley he (or she) drives, the Armani suits he dons, or his Rolex timepiece do not necessarily reflect the innermost workings of the mind of this person. These are just the outer layers.

Start peeling the onion, one layer at a time.

Find out what are the brands he consumes regularly, from toothpaste to coffee, and cookies to chocolate. Soft drinks, beer and Scotch. Even deodorants, soap and shaving accessories. When was the last time he changed any of these brands?

How long has he been with the same insurance, home and auto, company? How long has he been with the same mobile services provider? Who is his rental car company? If any changes were made in the last two years, why?

Does he go the grocery store? Does he go to a hardware store or book store regularly?

Is he a collector of art, vintage wines, stamps, coins, or sports memorabilia?

Does he try new products or new brands? What was the last new product he bought? What was the last new brand he bought?

Does he play golf? Does he ski? Is he an outdoorsman? Does he watch sports on TV? Was he an athlete, a musician, or an actor at any level? What are his favorite TV programs, movies? What about music – blues, jazz, rock and roll, or classical? His favorite business and non-business publication? What were the last works of fiction and non-fiction he read? His favorite author?

What was his first job and at what age? How many siblings does he have?

On an average, how much time a day not related to business, does he spend on the Internet?

You get the idea. You are trying to mine the head of the CEO for some data and information. The interpretation of the findings is what will lead to that one nugget – the soul of the brand.

No, it is not brain surgery. It is just practical thinking.

Yes, there are times when the soul of a brand is totally lost in the cobwebs of the mind of a CEO. Or, the interpretation of the data is way out in left field. This is when we have confused brands!

Once the soul of the brand has been articulated, the process of branding the product can start – usually with the crafting of a position statement.

Monday, October 20, 2008

What is a Brand?

I am very often asked, “What is a brand?” And my response always is, “There is no simple answer.” Yes, it is very easy to say AT&T, Apple, Microsoft, Starbucks, Xerox, Colgate, Kleenex, and Avis are all brands, as are a million other names. No, these are brand names. So then, what is a brand?

In its own way, “branding” is a modern day phenomenon. Yet, it is a very old concept.

Forty years ago, advertising and consumer behavior textbooks devoted just a few paragraphs to this topic.

Today, there are over 200 books on the subject of “branding.”

In the mid-to-late 1800s, Procter & Gamble and a few other consumer products companies started branding their products. Between the 1600s and 1800s, criminals were branded. Literally!

In the 1200s, England required bread makers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths to put their “marks” on goods they sold.


As far back as 1300 BC, potter’s marks were used on pottery and porcelain in China, India, Greece and Rome.

From a historical perspective, it does appear that branding originally served one primary purpose – identify the source of the product. This led to providing product differentiation, honesty, and quality assurance.

A few years ago, a SVP of a global advertising agency asked me to expound on the words “brand” and “branding”. My response:
• Every company, product, or service can be branded. Those that are not are essentially generic.
• Every brand has a soul. Normally, this resides in the head of the CEO of the company originating the brand (product or service).
• Branding is the process of mining the head of this CEO to search for the soul and finding that one nugget; developing a communications platform for the findings; and, effectively and efficiently communicating the “values” of the brand to all the constituents or stakeholders.
• The most important constituent for a company, or a product, is the consumer. Other constituents include the shareholders, the suppliers, the employees, and all other parties that are involved.
• Branding is a strategy developed to own a piece of a specific target audience’s mind share for the product or service.
• When this strategy has been developed and the brand’s values are communicated to its target audiences, identity and image are the two outputs.
• A company’s, or a product’s, identity is defined by its name, its logo (the design, typography and colors), and its tagline.
• A company’s, or a product’s, image is defined by the perception the consumer has of the company or the product.
• A brand is not “all things to all people”. A brand will own a piece of the mind of a very specific set of consumers. This is attained through the process of “positioning” and is normally reflected in the brand’s tagline.

A brand is not what you see or hear. It is what you feel.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Who Needs Branding?

The Republican & Democratic Parties!

The 2008 Democratic Party Convention starts in Denver Colorado on Monday, August 25, 2008. As of August 28, the adjective “presumptive” will no longer be used with the phrase “Democratic Presidential Candidate”, while referring to Mr. Barack Obama.

“Presumptive” will again be discarded as of September 4. It will be Mr. John McCain, Republican Presidential Candidate.

Over the last few months, I have been wondering what do the two parties, Democratic and Republican, stand for.

Now, I am not new to American politics. Even when I was very young in India, I had my own opinions – and mind you, this was all from information gained from reading the Indian newspapers and occasional issues of TIME, LOOK, LIFE, or NEWSWEEK. Even though I was an ardent reader of Encounter, I was pro Barry Goldwater in 1964 and pro Richard Nixon in 1968. I must admit, at that time, I was not very engrossed with the ideologies of the two parties. I knew one was conservative and the other was liberal, but did not have wisdom to know the detailed differences.

The escalation of the Vietnam War made me anti-Nixon. I suppose all the anti-war protests, the student rebellions, and the music world influenced my thinking.

In August 1971, I came to the United States, and in April 1972 I started an advertising agency, Penta Advertising (please read The Penta Story). My introduction to serious American politics was a couple of months later when the Democratic candidate for the Illinois State Senate, Mr. Joe Pisciotte, hired me to provide advertising services for his election campaign.

One of my recommendations called for spot advertising in the central Illinois market during the 1972 Olympics. The recommendation was not accepted as the campaign manager felt that the elections were still a few months away. I pleaded my case – name recognition and building the Pisciotte name; however, to no avail.

Notwithstanding the fact that the war was still raging, the Republicans won big in 1972, and Mr. Richard Nixon was reelected. Central Illinois was a very conservative district and Mr. Pisciotte lost by just two points to the incumbent, Mr. Stan Weaver. It was only during the campaign did I learn that Mr. Weaver was a member of the board of directors of my first client, the bank – ouch!

Would advertising in the Munich Olympics (everyone was glued to Mr. Jim McKay and ABC) have made a difference? In my mind, yes! Building name awareness takes time.

Since then, I have been involved in a few successful campaigns for candidates to the U.S. House of Representatives, the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate. All, but one, were Republican candidates. And the lone Democrat was the late Mr. John Gwinn whose advertising I took over only because of the conduct of the incumbent, U.S. Congressman Dan Crane. Ironically, I was responsible for Mr. Crane’s advertising the previous election and his getting elected.

To a certain extent, till a few years ago, there were major differences between the platforms of the Republican and Democratic parties.

Today, the line has blurred.

Those of us in the advertising profession are well aware of the services provided by above-the-line and below-the line advertising agencies. Today, the line has blurred.

Can the two political parties afford to have no perceived differences? Is everyone a “centrist”?

Currently, according to the web sites for the two parties:

“The Democratic Party is committed to keeping our nation safe and expanding opportunity for every American.”

“The Republican Party stands for a safer world and a more hopeful America.”

Okay, so the only difference: one wants a safe nation, the other wants a safer world.

I believe it is time for the two parties to take a stance. It is time for the parties to re-brand themselves and re-launch their brands. And while they do this, they should also launch their elephants and their donkeys into outer space!

The one that does this first will have more to gain.

Today, the only branding of the parties that exists is visual. Visual as in ‘red” or “blue”. If a state is predominantly republican, it is a red state; and if it is predominantly democratic, it is a blue state. And yes, if a state has an equal distribution of republicans and democrats it is a purple state!

This coloring system was started by NBC News in 1976, during the Jimmy Carter/Gerald Ford election. A state won by Mr. Carter was lit in red and a state carried by Mr. Ford was lit in blue.

The color coding proved to be very popular and each network had its own colors – ABC even used yellow. In 1984, CBS decided to color the republican states “red” and the democratic states “blue”. This to a certain extent, I suppose, reflects CBS’s political leanings, as blue is a more pleasing color and red signifies danger!

However, it was only during the 2000 elections did all media follow the same color coding. According to The Washington Post, it was the late Tim Russert who coined the terms “Red States” and “Blue States”.

Is it not ironic that the color “red” associated with communism is the color assigned to the conservative party?

The color coding, or forced branding is carried to the next level by the political candidates themselves. More often than not, a republican candidate wears a red tie or scarf, whereas a democratic candidate dons a blue tie or scarf.

A message to the two parties: Brand yourselves. Stand for something. And, give the voters a true choice. Not a whitewash. If you don’t, there will only be gray states!

As for me, philosophically I am red, and not a pinko. Musically I like the blues, especially the Chicago variety. And when I blush, which at times I do, I turn purple!