–Susan Perera, Attorney

There seems to be few industries with such fiercely combative advertising as wireless phone service providers. Reminiscent of the cell phone map advertisement war in 2009, 4G advertising is certainly on its way to the same level of tension.  Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T have all rolled out 4G advertising in the

—Anthony Shore, Operative Words

Let’s be honest: There’s a lot of bullshit in branding.

It’s a pity — and it’s a threat. Because today, brand or marketing communications exuding any whiff of bull will be distrusted, discredited and derided by today’s cynical audiences.

And no audience is more cynical than the 18-34 years-olds — the Millennials — who were born into an online marketplace awash in spam, paid “user” reviews, phishing and other greedy deceptions.

These cynics can sniff out bullshit from a mile away. Actually, they’re waiting for it. And when they zero-in on the source of a communication’s stench — an exaggeration, an ambiguity, an inconsistency, nonsense, a promise too good to be true — they’ll pounce. And rather than just take their business elsewhere, they’ll take up a cause to expose and punish the bullshitting offender by urging others to boycott.

Bullshit-free branding has always been important. Today it’s important and urgent.

Because nowadays, you can’t fool any of the people any of the time.


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 —David Mitchel, Vice President of Norton Mitchel Marketing

Successful brands often find holes in markets that need to be filled. There are numerous examples to illustrate this point. Microsoft found a great niche in the computer software market and their success made Bill Gates one of the richest individuals on the planet. Apple’s iPod was a product innovation that really enhanced the company’s bottom line. In the 1980’s, Porsche expanded their line of sports cars into a new niche with the 944 and it helped save the company from bankruptcy. However, sometimes holes exist for a reason and they can’t be filled despite the best branding efforts.

The latest example to illustrate this is Devotion Vodka. Devotion Vodka is a protein based vodka. The protein used in Devotion is casein, the same type of protein found in dairy products. According to its website, Devotion is "the world’s first and only 80 proof, triple-distilled casein infused vodka made in the USA". Recently, Devotion announced that they signed Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino of "Jersey Shore" fame to be their spokesperson. Additionally, The Situation will have an equity stake in the company. I believe The Situation is a reasonably qualified spokesperson for this brand. The Situation likes to drink and party as evidenced by his actions on "Jersey Shore" and he is also a fitness enthusiast.

Despite the alignment between The Situation and Devotion Vodka, it is unlikely that this will be a successful brand. This is because the product concept is flawed. The vodka is aimed at a fitness oriented individual. However, vodka is not perceived as a fitness oriented beverage. Additionally, I believe that people will have a hard time understanding how casein protein fits into a hard alcohol product. If the product concept flaw wasn’t a convincing enough argument, consider Devotion’s pricing strategy. Devotion will enter the market similarly priced to Grey Goose. Grey Goose is a vodka brand that is well perceived and associated with quality. It also holds cachet with those who live a Jersey Shore style lifestyle, a target market for the Devotion brand. In a consumer purchase decision between Devotion and Grey Goose, the vast majority of consumers should choose Grey Goose because of its brand equity and stronger price-value proposition.


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  Marketing maven, strategist, visionary, and best-selling author Seth Godin spent a day at Pantages Theater in Minneapolis last Thursday, providing much food for thought among not only the attending crowd, but those following the dialogue on Twitter too.

The sushi and cupcake lunch Seth selected, and that we enjoyed, on the roof of neighboring Seven, was pretty

Someone who is in the business of repairing Volvo brand automobiles has the right to say so, in advertising, and elsewhere — without obtaining advance permission from Volvo — provided consumers aren’t likely to understand the advertisement or communication to mean that the repair services and/or the business providing them is authorized by, affiliated with, or otherwise connected to

Apparently, if you own one of the diminishing number of retail shops that specializes in tobacco products, it doesn’t really matter if you have a brand or a distinctive name, or not. Tell them what you sell, tell them you’re open for business, and they will come, I guess.

This image got me thinking about how often this marketing strategy — if

by David Mitchel, Vice President of Marketing at Norton Mitchel Marketing

Branding is an intricate and complicated process. Every aspect of the marketing mix must be handled with care. Brand managers watch their brands in the same manner that most parents care for a newborn child. However, there is an element of marketing communications that brand management teams are unable to directly control: pop culture references about the brands in what appear to be non product placement contexts. These pop culture references can come from both old and new media. They are often found in music, and frequently occur in the hip hop genre. In recent years, brands have been prominent parts of popular YouTube videos. As social media evolves, it has the potential to present new threats for brands. With regard to pop culture references, it is a challenging minefield that brands must negotiate carefully in order to prevent them from detracting from marketing strategy.

In 2003, hip hop artist 50 Cent became a huge sensation with the album “Get Rich or Die Tryin’”. One of the many hit songs from that album was “In Da Club”. Near the beginning of the song, the lyric “we gon’ sip Bacardi like it’s your birthday” appears. This is not the only time that the Bacardi brand has been mentioned in song lyrics, but it is certainly one of the more prominent references. In its advertising over the years, Bacardi has crafted an image of being a fun brand, as their ads often feature a party scene. This may have inspired 50 Cent to write the lyric in the way that he did. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Bacardi featured a “Bacardi By Night” print advertising campaign. These ads clearly targeted individuals with serious jobs and emphasized that Bacardi was a part of their work-life balance.   Additionally, Bacardi has also used their long standing and rich history as a selling proposition in advertising. Bacardi’s association with fun and partying may have attracted the hip hop element, as extravagant partying is a common theme of hip hop imagery. However, this association is tenuous at best and does not appear to be widely perceived. Bacardi has strongly withstood unsolicited pop culture references and its well refined marketing communication messages have helped to ensure that they remain the world’s largest spirits brand.


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In December, PepsiCo introduced the United States market to a new, special limited time offer. From December 28-February 22, the Pepsi brand would offer Pepsi Throwback. This version of Pepsi contains real sugar, just as Pepsi products did until the early 1980s. This is the second market trial of Pepsi Throwback, as it had originally been on store shelves in the spring of 2009. As we near the end of this limited time offer, I urge Pepsi to make Pepsi Throwback the standard Pepsi product permanently. Offering a cola product with real sugar and 1970s era nostalgia packaging will benefit the brand. It is a healthier product that will foster goodwill in the marketplace, it evokes positive memories and it gives the brand an advantage over Coca-Cola.

The best decision that Pepsi can make from a product standpoint is to remove high fructose corn syrup. Until the last 2-3 decades, the vast majority of colas were sweetened with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Since high fructose corn syrup was introduced, the nutrition value (or lack thereof) has been intensely debated, particularly in recent years. Many attribute high fructose corn syrup to causing higher rates of obesity. It is not smart strategy to use an ingredient that can be perceived as harmful to health. By removing high fructose corn syrup, Pepsi gains a competitive advantage over chief category rival Coca-Cola, assuming that Coca-Cola doesn’t revert back to sugar as well. Even if Coca-Cola does make the move, Pepsi would retain first mover advantage, and would still be more positively perceived. This move of returning a product to the original formula evokes nostalgia feelings. When a brand can be associated with positive, nostalgic feelings, it is usually a beneficial occurrence.


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Mark Image

In November, I wrote about how Gatorade’s 2009 re-branding as G has been a complete failure. G was an ill-conceived approach to slowing sales in 2007 and 2008. It damaged brand equity, confused consumers and didn’t reverse the trend of falling unit sales.

In the final paragraph of my last blog, I noted that PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi said the company is planning a “massive Gatorade transformation” for 2010. I recommended that Gatorade should follow the model of Coca-Cola when they decided to retire New Coke. By doing this, Coca-Cola admitted their mistake and moved on by hitting the reset button on their brand.

Initial details of PepsiCo’s 2010 “massive Gatorade transformation” have been made publicly known here, here and here. Gatorade’s brand strategy for 2010 seems mediocre. Although they are making some positive changes, other moves indicate that they still don’t understand how to successfully market their brand.


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