Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Starbucks Red Cup Controversy - Will the Christmas Police Please Knock it Off!

A memo to the Christmas Police: The backlash over Starbuck’s 2015 holiday cups is proof that you're nuts. Starbucks’ approach this year is a simple one – it’s inclusive and elegant, and encourages you to create your own holiday greeting on the cup. This requires some literacy, of course, so some of you may not be included. The absence of snowflakes and holly, Christmas tree ornaments, the Baby Jesus or grownup Jesus on those red cups is not evidence of a "war on Christmas."

Who are these people anyway? Are they the same folks who drive around with the “Put Christ Back in Christmas” car decals all year long? Different strokes for different folks, I say. But, hold your holy high horses. If you’re thinking of boycotting the brand, stop and think about the people who serve the coffee in those cups. A Starbucks boycott wouldn’t make for a very merry Christmas for those guys, now would it?
Here’s an unfortunate Christmas morning scenario:
Gee Mommy, how come Santa was so stingy this year?

Well Billy, some really uptight people decided Starbucks’ red cups didn’t conform with their visual standards of the Christmas spirit, so I got laid off.

…and here’s a link to the Ad Age story. Enjoy it with a cup of coffee, and have a Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

This Brand Really Does Know “Shit From Shinola”

Here’s a great story about a brand that is upscale, local, made in Detroit, and using storytelling to engage with the upscale consumer. What could be better?
Refreshingly, this is not a “comeback” story about Detroit. We’ve all seen the sad pictorials of abandoned factories and blighted neighborhoods. And we’ve read all about what went wrong with Detroit in books like Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit:An American Autopsy.
It is not a story about a brand that is merely using Detroit as a backdrop for their new hipster campaign while sending the manufacturing offshore. 
No, the Shinola brand story is about successful entrepreneurs who are making upscale products and creating jobs in Detroit. Participating in the “maker movement,” which supports artisans who make handcrafted, small-batch goods, Shinola’s stores host exhibits and events to offer a platform for American-made goods.
Shinola’s founder, Tom Kartsotis, and current CEO, Steve Bock, both have roots in the watch business. Kartsotis founded Fossil Inc. in 1984 and Bock is a former Fossil executive. The pair wanted to bring Swiss-based watch technology to the U.S., and build a company that also would produce other design-focused products stateside, such as bicycles and journals. Their mojo is working overtime, as they seduce luxury retail buyers with their brand story.
Also, the name itself is a kind of ‘in your face’ departure for products that are pricey. Yes, it comes from the saying, “You don’t know shit from Shinola.” Shinola, as it turns out, was a brand of shoe polish that was sold from 1907 to 1960. You learn something every day.

Read the full story by Christine Birkner

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

'Man on Wire' had a close encounter with our man Mike Eisgrau

This blast from the past comes from our man in New York, Mike Eisgrau, just ahead of the Friday, October 9 release of the film “The Walk” about Philippe Petit’s mind-blowing 1974 tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers. Mike reached back to his days as a reporter for WNEW radio news to pull this one out of the archives.

110 stories above lower Manhattan, Petit had just completed what has been described as “the artistic crime of the century.” With his own feet firmly on the ground, Mike’s reporter’s instincts told him that Petit would be taken for a psychiatric evaluation prior to booking, so he scrambled over to Beekman Downtown Hospital and there was Petit, in the ambulance bay at the ER. This photo is actually a screen shot from James Marsh’s documentary film "Man on Wire.”

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Volkswagen Diesel Mess - How Will the Brand Step Up?

If ever there was a brand in crisis, VW is it. The revelation this week that some of its "clean diesel" engines are not so clean leaves it with a brand image problem that could linger for a couple of generations. And more importantly, it could drive away many who have been loyal to the brand for years.

In his resignation statement this week, CEO Martin Winterkorn did his best imitation of Claude Rains' character in Casablanca, saying he was "shocked and stunned" to find that some of VW's cars had been programmed to cheat on emissions tests.  

Volkswagen has long been a "quirky" brand, outside the mainstream. In the U.S., which comprises a relatively small portion of the brand's global sales, VW was happy to sell its cars to people like me who appreciated the German engineering and performance/handling characteristics that came along with it, and simply could not picture themselves in one of the banal and often overpriced offerings from Toyota or Honda.

But in the last decade VW made the choice to expand its U.S.market share. They did so, unfortunately, by making their cars look more like their bland, utilitarian Asian competition. Ok, so the 2015 Passat is plain, and its base 1.8 liter isn't as good as the 2.0T in my 2008. There are hard plastic door panels where there was once stylish upholstery. I could go on, but I won't. So they've made their cars look less different, less charismatic. That's understandable, they want to be more appealing to the U.S. consumer, whose loyalty to Toyota and Honda is as bewildering to me as it is unwavering.

Based on my personal experience with the brand, VW has always stepped up for the consumer. A recent intake manifold replacement on my 2008 was covered under an extended warranty - No charge. Same thing for a catalytic converter replacement on a 2003 Jetta with around 90,000 miles. I think you'd be laughed out of the service bay if you tried to get Ford or Chevy to make good on something like that.

Now, just as they've begun to convince the U.S. consumer of their mainstream worthiness and environmental friendliness alongside Asian and U.S. products, they have a scandal on their hands that is every bit as damaging as any experienced by Toyota (unintended acceleration), Chrysler (Grand Cherokee rear-mounted gas tanks) or others in recent memory.

So how much damage has VW done to its brand? 

In his September 25 NY Times story, Ron Lieber suggests that beyond potential vehicle buy-backs or compensation of another kind, there’s a trickier question. Many of those who bought the diesel autos were trying to do their part for the environment. He says now, the logos on their vehicles have made them brand ambassadors for confessed cheaters, and they are now driving cars that spew as much as 40 times more pollution than emissions standards permit. How do you compensate somebody for that?