Category Archives: Brand Campaigns

Messengers of Confusion

We all get why marketers choose ambassadors and evangelists for their brands. They help put a face and name to the brand, and add a human element to the perceived experience of using the product that the brand advocates. They also personify the sky-high stack of values that marketers  hope their audiences associate with their brands, and strike that elusive chord of emotional connect with those audiences. Long story short, ambassadors and evangelists are intended to be catalysts in the Attention-Interest-Desire-Action-Recommendation cycle. And the choice of brand ambassador is supposed to make their audiences go: “Of course, that makes sense.” and NOT “Err.. What were they thinking?!

Lately, though, there is an increasing number of brands whose choice of ambassadors seems to be more a cry of desperation, than a positive reinforcement. Don’t get me wrong, the chosen ones in question are super successful and admired people in their field. By themselves, their own personal brands are associated with all things positive. But it’s their association with certain brands that comes across as completely random, and honestly, just plain sad.

(Image credits: jessicaalbalove.tumblr.com)

(Image credits: jessicaalbalove.tumblr.com)

Take the Windows Phone, for instance. Jessica Alba is the face of the phone, and in all their commercials, press conferences, and other public interactions – the key reason that is claimed as the basis of this mutual association (Alba’s home & baby products venture ‘The Honest Company’ shares space in Windows phone promotional material), is that the Windows Phone works for people like Ms. Alba who have to multitask and juggle between diverse parts of their lives efficiently. Frankly, the whole premise of this association is weak-sauce, and it’s presented in a way that’s not really helping Microsoft’s case. Sure, the phone has clever features like the ‘Kids’ Zone’ that makes sure your kids don’t get access to any of your stuff on your phone (and thereby, don’t get to delete / tinker Apps around on your phone!). I also quite like the ‘Live tiles’ interface – interesting stuff, very Flipboard-esque. But I still don’t see any clear proposition and distinct advantage that makes me want to switch over to that phone. Also, no offence to Jessica Alba, but they may as well have used anyy other seemingly multi-tasking, well-liked celebrity as their endorser and I bet nobody would’ve wondered: “Hey, I wonder why they didn’t choose Jessica Alba as a brand ambassador!” It’s not a no-brainer association. Or even something that instantly clicks.

(Image source: www.engadget.com)

(Image source: http://www.engadget.com)

Another such “association” that is hard to comprehend, is the Alicia Keys – Blackberry 10 alliance. As if featuring her as a brand ambassador wasn’t confusing enough, Keys was appointed as ‘Global Creative Director’ for Blackberry (I’d love to see the job description for this one!). I know the Querty ‘Keys’ have always been one of BB’s trump cards, but isn’t this taking it a little too far?! Also, it’s not like Blackberry wants to leave their established positioning as a business phone behind: With the BB 10, they basically want to be a business phone & more for “people who want to get things done”. Apart from the obvious vagueness of that statement, it implies that BB now wants to be everything for everyone: a classic recipe for marketing disaster. And as much as I love Alicia Keys, it’s hard to digest her pantsuit-clad, Blackberry-brandishing Avatar: It’s just doesn’t make for a convincing story; and incidents like her continuing to use her iPhone to tweet (and later attributing it to hacking) are not helping the case either. Let’s just say this girl isn’t exactly on fire here.

(Image credits: http://en.inmoreau.com)

(Image credits: http://en.inmoreau.com)

The Justin Timberlake – MySpace alliance is one more such confusing story. But it may be worth watching this one closely, as there are two different factors in the mix: 1. Timberlake himself is the unlikely entrepreneur here and has invested $35 million in MySpace and released a new single exclusively via the platform, and 2. MySpace seems to be poised for a huge overhaul in terms of its design (getting rid of the clutter), quality of content, and focus: Timberlake plans to leverage the “social component to entertainment” by bringing fans and artists together in a more organized community on MySpace. So, the jury may still be out on this one.

To me, an example of a ‘no-brainer’ choice for brand ambassadorship would be Tiger Woods for Nike. Yes – despite all the scandals of the past couple of years, I think Tiger Woods still is a good choice for Nike – as opposed to Lance Armstrong, who has obviously earned his dismemberment. Reason being, while the personal character of Tiger Woods may be questionable, his professional capabilities and achievements cannot be doubted. On the other hand, with Lance Armstrong – the very reason for his glory: his performance on the cycling track – can no longer be held as the golden standard. And Nike is, after all, about performance. Nike never said it represents good husbands, or good family men – it only said it represented go-getting, performance-oriented stellar athletes and sportspersons. And his personal life notwithstanding, Tiger Woods still personifies this performance-driven perfection that Nike is all about.

There are plenty such great brand ambassadorships around. Take the case of Jennifer Hudson‘s much publicized, winning battle against the bulge courtesy Weightwatchers, for instance. Or the long standing James Bond – Omega association. Or heck, even John Stamos and Oikos – what better way to underscore the Greek-ness (and ahem, appeal) of their brand?! These ambassadorships make sense, not just because they make people sit up and notice the brand, but more so because they echo the exact qualities that the brand clearly wants to highlight, and they speak directly to the purchase decision maker. While it is true that the right ambassador could work wonders for a brand, it’s not an imperative to success. And whether or not marketers choose to enlist celebrity ambassadors – it’s high time they reminded themselves that their brand is supposed to be the hero of the story, and the ambassadors merely the narrators and messengers of it. Not the other way around.

Facebook and its Chairy faux pas

October 4, 2012 marked a milestone of sorts for the world of Social Media in general, and Facebook in particular. Facebook reached the magic 1 billion number in terms of total active users. To put the enormity of that number in perspective: that's 1/7th of the world's population, and almost as many people as in the entire country of India! And to think they were at half a billion users only two years ago - which means they added the other half in a mere two years; Google+, privacy issues, and the lackluster IPO notwithstanding.

Isn't this a brag-worthy achievement in itself? The fact that there's this intangible product that has touched the lives of a BILLION people across the world in such a way that it has become a ubiquitous part of their online social expression and communication - surely deserves mention?

If I were Mark Zuckerberg, I'd make sure this fact was celebrated and given due emphasis. Apart from the pure PR-worthiness of it, this is a milestone I would have definitely wanted to highlight in the first major mass-media campaign that I commission to mark the occasion. As opposed to digressing and comparing my thriving Social Network to a chair. Whether or not I am a Clint Eastwood fan.

But then, I'm not Mark Zuckerberg. So I can't help but wonder: what was he thinking?! I understand the noble underlying intention was to draw a parallel between Facebook and Chairs - in terms of their being ubiquitous in people's daily lives. But the approach and even the "big idea" leaves a lot to be desired. See the ad for yourself here.

And here's the voiceover copy, in verbatim:

"Chairs are made so that people can sit down and take a break. Anyone can sit on a chair, and if the chair is large enough, they can sit on it together and tell jokes, or make up stories, or just listen. Chairs are for people. And that is why Chairs are like Facebook."

Before you get a chance to let that last profound statement "...Chairs are like Facebook" sink in; the Ad goes on to include Doorbells, Airplanes, Bridges, even the cosmic Universe in the list of things Facebook is supposedly like. Again, I do get the noble intention they had of driving the point of "connecting people" home - but seriously, was this the only way to do it? Seriously, 'Chairs are for people and so is Facebook' - that's the best they could come up with? Heck, by that logic, even coffee (or beer, for that matter) is for people. And people share things over a cup of coffee (or a mug of beer). So Facebook's like coffee or beer too, right? Oh, wait. I see where they're going with this now: Facebook's like a chair, a cup of coffee, an airplane flying in the sky, a bridge between two sides of the river, and like the limitless Universe out there. Ohhh - Facebook's like everything in life itself. Wow. I think I have goosebumps. 

Okay, I should probably be a little kinder. All they're trying to say is: Facebook connects people. But you know something? Even Nokia made that point better, years ago. Which is why, I don't really get the point Facebook's trying to make through this Ad. Also, who exactly is the audience for this Ad? This isn't Year-One of Social Media or Facebook: We know how social networks work, and what they do. So here's a thought meant for the marketing guys at Facebook to hear: Why don't you simply focus on the fact that you're not just some social network anymore - you're an essential part of people's lives. Period.

And that's exactly why, Wieden + Kennedy Portland, I have to disagree with you. Facebook is NOT like a chair. A chair is something that's sitting somewhere in my room. Sure I use it, but I don't care about it so much. It's a chair, for God's sake! I could replace it, or sit on another chair. Are you then trying to tell me that Facebook is just like some piece of furniture, and as replaceable as a chair? Why would you want to proactively downgrade your status in the lives of your 1 billion active users? Speaking of whom; how come there's no mention of that milestone either - even as a tiny little baseline on the last screen of the Ad?

Must say, Google+ did a much better job with their Ads by talking about what they shrewdly knew were the best features of their network: An Ad focusing on their 'Circles' feature, and an Ad showcasing their 'Hangouts' feature. The fact that not as many people actually use Google+ actively, as do Facebook - is the topic of another blog post! But the point is, at least Google did a good job communicating their features to people who weren't aware, and they managed to present the technology aspect in a human way.

I'm not sure Facebook has managed to convey any of its features well at all. Sure, we don't really need to be educated about what Facebook does at this point in their lifecycle, but the 1-billion milestone deserved a muscle-flexing Ad reasserting their position not just in the world of social media, but in the daily lives of regular people. Unfortunately, the 'Chairs' campaign is far from asserting anything positive and is unlikely to do Brand Facebook any favor. And quite frankly, it seems like an internet meme just waiting to happen.