Tag : tv

110: Rebranding Strategies from Super Bowl Commercials

Two of my favorite commercial’s from the 2014 Super Bowl had something in common.

One commercial used self-deprecating humor with 1980’s icons.
The other hired a movie director to shoot an abbreviated action movie scene.

Radio Shack made an established one-liner come to life. “The 80’s called. They wanted their [insert item] back.”

Jaguar leveraged a subtle movie trope and used a white car in a dark ad.

What one point were both the Radio Shack and Jaguar commercials—two very different brands with very different ads—trying to make?

“We’re not who you think we are.”

Both had the same goal: change their respective brand’s engrained perceptions. Radio Shack had been wearing a pocket protector long before Best Buy took its lunch money, broke its soldering gun, and stuffed it in a locker. Jaguar had been showing people it’s yearbooks from the 1960’s, while yelling at Audi to get off its lawn.

Both now wanted you to know that they aren’t old, that they aren’t has beens. Both brands needed to tell you that they aren’t just evolving; they are going in a new direction.

Together, these two strategies encompass the most common ways that brands reinvent themselves. Radios Shack courageously showed you their past in order to contrast and give context to their future. In contrast, Jaguar grabbed a dramatic car from its garage and hoped its raspy exhaust note and some movie villains would wipe your memory of Jaguar’s recent AARP street cred.

Entrepreneurs ask me about how to “phase in our new look,” usually after a logo change, merger, or other important mile marker event. My answer to that question is twofold:

  1. Make the transition period no longer than six months—hopefully shorter.”
  2. Develop as many of the new media templates as you can before launching the new look, so that as many matching media pieces as possible can launch simultaneously. (This requires patience and self-control. If you’re like me, the secret proves a tough one to keep.)

For an auction company, it might be easier to transition a brand than it is for most other businesses, because—in addition to company promotion—auction marketers generate a lot of media to promote their sale merchandise. So, it’s relatively easy to distribute a large quantity of quick impressions for a new company image in a compressed period of time. Also, every once in a while, an auction company will get a premium asset to sell that will make a high-visibility campaign on which to start a new brand look—for that clean break.

Consumers who buy at auction are primarily shopping for specific items. Their search for that item draws them to photos and online mentions of that asset category, specific items, or distinctive attributes. As long as those assets remain the primary emphasis in auction campaign advertising, the brand image should be happening in the periphery, anyway. So, a style makeover—while seemingly abrupt to the advertiser—will not be jarring for the consumer.

Whether you’re showing a new era for an established company or just wowing people with new capabilities to replace old perceptions, don’t linger in the limbo between brands. Go boldly toward your new image.

When my pastor and his wife told their country church that they were changing the brand, 75% of people (including family members) left the congregation. Becoming a church that made unchurched folks feel welcomed meant making some church attenders feel uncomfortable. Candidly, every once in a while, I still get uncomfortable when my spiritual mentors challenge me to extend grace like God does—even when there are lots of positive peer pressure at what is now a megachurch.

Changing the dress code or the music style or the Bible translation from those of a traditional church can make you a contemporary church. Moving away from programs and dogmas and denominational jingoism can make you a culturally-relevant church. But I’m thankful that my spiritual mentors didn’t stop there—where form can still trump function.

Successful church happens when Christians don’t hold ownership of their local assembly—when it’s bigger than a brand, when we’re evangelists instead of multi-level marketers. When outsiders feel at home while still challenged by Scripture, growth can’t help but happen. Where there’s growth, there’s life. Often, life requires the death of an old thing for a new thing to sprout. Old things like the way church used to be.

98: Learning From Public Perception

Screen Capture of jcpenney's New "Auctioneer" AdAlmost 100% of my income comes from the auction industry.  Because of this, a lot of my Facebook connections also derive their livelihoods from the same line of work.  Last week, I saw a number of industry leaders posting and liking a web-published letter from the National Auctioneers Association (NAA) to jcpenney, asking them to immediately pull a television commercial that includes an auctioneer—on grounds of improper representation of a 12-figure segment of the economy.

Having not seen the commercial on TV, I found the ad online.  It shows a trite caricature of an old school “colonel,” calling bids backwards as western music twangs in the background.  And then it drops these statements: “No more pricing games.  Just great prices from the start.  That’s fair and square.”

Anybody who’s been to an auctioneer convention has met or at least seen bid callers that resemble to varying degrees the bid caller hired for this TV spot.  But anybody who’s been to an auction industry gathering can tell you that he represents the exception to the rule—at least the present and future of it.  So, the industry as a whole is probably as embarrassed by this portrayal as my college friend said she was by Crocodile Dundee being a representative of her native Australia.

I think the response, though, is more to the implication that auctions aren’t fair or square sales environments.  Nobody wants to be called unfair.  That implies shady, even immoral, business.  If that were the intended statement of the commercial, I would stand with professional auction marketers around the country in their attempt to stop the besmirching of their profession.

That said, I doubted that was the intent of the ad; so, I called jcpenney’s media relations department.  Kate Coultas, jcpenney spokesperson, emailed then called me to affirm that the intention of the TV spot was to illustrate an environment where consumers are inundated with advertised price points from various places.  A live “outcry” auction proved analogous of that concept.  Having spent time in a candid conversation with Coultas, I trust that the motif was the goal and not an attack on potential customers from the auction community.

jcpenney logo used with permissionIn an official statement, the company stated, “Our ‘auctioneer’ ad is part of our campaign to introduce consumers to our new ‘Fair and Square’ pricing strategy. Our new pricing strategy aims to put an end to the frustration many consumers have with today’s endless retail promotions. The ad is in no way meant to portray the auctioneer profession in a negative manner and we apologize for any offense we may have caused.”

Even before I spoke with Coultas—having watched the series of six ads in which the auctioneer spot falls, I extended grace to Peterson Milla Hocks (known as PMH in trade forums), the ad agency that put the series together to illustrate how jcpenney is breaking away from convention with their new, three-tiered pricing strategy.  And I refrained from any critical remarks of PMH, because they are not auctioneers.  They represent the marketplace, people of the population that only know of auctioneers what stereotypes and TV shows have shown them.  Sadly, in both those situations, an unprofessional or timeworn bid caller most likely contributed to those impressions.  My clients, peers, and I work through branding to combat that stigma, as does the NAA through robust continuing education, public relations initiatives, and a standard code of ethics.

That said, this situation presents itself with a chance for collective introspection—a chance to remind ourselves of how crucial public perception of the auction marketing method is.  Candid auction professionals must concede that, while auctions are above board, they do come with some obstacles to purchasing that retail doesn’t.  Using jcpenney as an example, its customers:

  • do not pay a buyer’s premium
  • are not charged an additional fee to use a credit or debit card
  • do not have to register at the door in order to purchase
  • are allowed to return items under certain terms within a documented time frame
  • do not have to reveal their purchases and the amount paid for them to a crowd from their community
  • are not assigned a number that they have to remember or carry with them while shopping
  • do not have to wait through audible announcement of sale terms before shopping commences
  • do not have to wait for a designated date to purchase an item
  • do not have to wait for a list of items to sell before they can buy their desired item

Am I against auctions or the auction method?  No!  I’ve purchased multiple items in live (on site) and online auctions.  I just sold my iPhone 4 intentionally through the auction method instead of listing it on Craigslist or selling it to a local electronics dealer; and when the winning bidder was flagged as a scammer, I trusted the auction method to sell it a second time.  My wife and I were even runner-up bidders last November on a house and were fully prepared to purchase it, had the bids not gone as high as they did.  If I didn’t believe in the auction method, I’m in the wrong line of work.

What can be gained with the auction method is a liability to other sale formats and vice versa.  One of the tradeoffs for the benefits of live bidding is that an auction isn’t always the most convenient way to purchase.  Some of that is immutable—the nature of the method.  Other aspects are improvable with ingenuity and technology.

Thankfully, courageous auction professionals are working toward making it easier and more convenient to buy things through the competitive bidding environment.  Most auction firms are including simulcast online bidding for those who can’t physically be present at the auction.  Others, including many of my clients, have moved to online-only auctions in which bids can be left at the buyer’s convenience—even for real estate.  One auctioneer I met allows returns of items purchased at personal property auctions.  Another auctioneer, faced with international bidders walking out of his auctions due to the unintended intimidation through his speed talking, told me that he has killed the chant in his bid calling—as have international auctioneers I watch on Velocity.  Some firms are moving to mobile payments and/or killing fees.  Personally, I think eBay’s Buy It Now concept and auction tracking app are both positive ideas for the auction industry.  The list of innovations and redirected strategies is dynamic—a rising tide continuing to lift all progressive boats.

The fight to save and grow the auction industry is in the hands of us who market in it every day.  Our success will require us to step out of our perspective, our conveniences, our assumptions.  Our jobs will most likely continue to require more steps and a wider skill set.  I’m in this, too.  To maintain value for my clients, my responsibilities, packages, and services have changed over the past years.  Have you found that to be true?  If not, how long do you think your status quo will serve you well?

While researching for this post, I discovered that jcpenney also got negative feedback recently for hiring Ellen Degeneres as a spokesperson.  Apparently, OneMillionMoms.com, a project of the American Family Association, is encouraging people to boycott the department store for hiring a lesbian endorser.  Sadly, it’s no surprise that these calls crescendo from evangelical Christian roots and voices.

My friends and acquaintances who have struggled with same-sex attraction are no less acceptable to God than my heterosexual friends who have struggled with porn, premarital sex, extramarital affairs—or for that matter, gossip, laziness, bitterness, jealousy, overeating, or ignoring the speed limit.  We are all broken people who can’t heal ourselves.  Not one of us can attain heaven, wholeness, or God’s favor with our own effort.

So, I don’t understand the boycott—what is wanted, what is hoped.  A sinner-free jcpenney would put the chain out of business in a week for want of a single customer or employee.  Based on John 3:16, we know that Jesus wants Ellen and her partner in heaven—and heaven working here in and through them—as much as he does in and through any of us.  In light of that, how does a vociferous boycott align with those goals?  And how can redeeming, restorative love be observed by the secular world in the fanaticism from those who claim to carry the Holy Spirit in their heart?  Last time I checked, there was no passage in the Bible suggesting anyone boycott an unbeliever into soul-level repentance and saving faith in what Jesus did for them.

[footer]Images used by written permission from jcpenney.[/footer]

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