there will always be a scar

With this new commercial, it seems that JC Penney (NOT JCP) has now fully come back to their senses…

I’ve been updating my original post on the JC Penney brand debacle as they’ve come to this point. And I’m glad they’ve re-embraced their core brand.  As Mark mentioned in the comments of my original post, this really is the New Coke of the retail sector. Now the analogy is complete with their mea culpa.

Two last thoughts…

  1. Will they actually recover? Coke did but they were a much stronger brand with more equity built into the culture. As the spot begs for forgiveness from their old customers, will that core demo come back to buy husky jeans for their teenage boys when back-to-school shopping time comes?
  2. Even if they do recover, this will leave a scar that will never be erased. Sure, customers will forget in a few years, but it will be marketing case study fodder (just like New Coke) for years.

It’s a lesson for your brand. Don’t trash years of brand equity to rebrand. Your brand is your most important asset. Embrace it and build onto it.

jc penney failure

jc penney logoI’m typically not one to root for something to fail, but I will make exceptions.

Ever since the “rebranding” of JC Penney JCP back in February, I’ve boycotted the store and waited for the day that their marketing stupidity would result in marketing failure. That day was yesterday.

From the super annoying teaser spots back in January (Nooooooo!) to the vapid campaign that was heavy on style but lacking any substantive advertising strategy, the whole endeavor by JC Penney to abandon their heritage was sad.

The advertising campaign bothered me the most. Newspaper inserts were wasted empty brand building pieces sitting next to other stores’ inserts chock full of merchandise. JCP featured no products. The campaign delivered no message. JCP waded right into the culture wars with a spokesperson who many people find objectionable. The media placement and scheduling was infuriating to viewers. The creative was not original. It was like watching an advertising student recreate an ad from The GAP or Old Navy as a class project.

(Lack of substance is an issue with alot of advertising today. More ad people need to read this book.)

But advertising is temporal. If a campaign doesn’t work, you can shove it under the rug and start fresh with the next one. JC Penney’s bigger problem is they have irreparably damaged their two most valuable assets: their customer base and their brand.

They may not be sexy, but the 35-65 female demo buys most things in department stores. They have disposable income. They purchase clothes and other items for the kids and the rest of the family. This type of base customer was the loyal customer base of JC Penney. And JCP left them to chase after a younger woman.

The JC Penney brand was not broken, but did need an update and adjustment. Like so many companies instead of brand adjustments, they threw the baby out with the bathwater. Rebranding is rarely the answer. You only need to rebrand if the brand is damaged. (Phillip Morris, BP, etc)

Marketing execs need to learn that rebranding is like paying the mortgage on a house for 30 years then abandoning the house because you’re tired of the wallpaper and paint. The key to successfully moving the perception of a brand is to take the positive brand equity with you instead of abandoning it.

JC Penney faced an impossible task. You can’t change a 110-year-old brand in a few months. Maybe they began with good intentions. Moving away from constant sales, coupons, and promotions was a good idea, but they over reached by trying to reinvent language. People know what a “sale” is, but a normal person doesn’t understand what “month-long value” is. And who knew a “Best Price Friday” happens on Saturday and Sunday as well? In general, JCP should have been more delicate with the brand work.

So now what? JC Penney is caught between the dock and the boat. They’re going to have to decide whether to build on what they have or keep trying to reinvent. What would you do?

By the way, if any company is thinking of hiring someone to come in and destroy their brand in 9 months for $15 million, I’ll do it in 5 months for only $7 million!

(UPDATE: April 2013 – JCP has ousted the architect of failure and reinstalled the former head honcho. We’ll see if it’s too late to save the brand.)

(UPDATE: May 2013 – I’ve written a new post complete with the JC Penney mea culpa commercial.)

long term brands work

Diet Coke has surpassed Pepsi for the first time to become the second-most popular soft drink in the country. Regular Coke is still in the top spot.

Pepsi underwent a massive rebrand for most of their product lines in 2008.

Except for one infamous disaster, Coca-Cola has had relatively the same brand attributes including an antiquated script logo for over 100 years.

Discuss.

brand mutiny aboard the Pequod

The basic question is: Do you know this mermaid well enough for her to carry an entire global brand?

starbucks new logo

Even though you may have seen her everyday for the past 40 years, I don’t think anyone has really noticed her. The Starbucks logo is being revamped and she’s the siren(not mermaid) who has quietly sat in the middle of their logo since 1971. But she’s now front and center. And alone without the words “starbucks” or “coffee”.

It’s a fact that logos need to be updated (or you’d still be looking at the nipples on the original woodcut version of the Siren while sipping a Caramel Macchiato).

starbucks logo evolution

But logo evolution, like all forms of brand evolution, needs to be a very slow and incremental process. I can see dropping the “coffee” out of the logo; but not the “Starbucks”. After all, Starbucks customers don’t go there for the coffee. They go there for the CUP.

In any case, it’s a treacherous time to be messing with a logo. (just ask GAP).

drinking new coke at disney

mickeymouseThe great thing about established brands is that they all have a deep core element that they can always refer back to. This core attribute defines the brand in the public’s mind.

  • McDonalds has the arches and the clown.
  • Playboy has Heff.
  • And Mickey Mouse is the square one that Disney can always go back to

But after building 81 years of brand equity with Mickey, Disney is rebranding the mouse. They hope to “re-imagineer” Mickey to show his darker side. They want him to be cantakerous and cunning.

What a horrendously bad idea.

For years, marketers have had the example of the spectacular New Coke disaster to use as a warning for brands not to mess with core brand attributes. We’re about to get another example.

Of course, Disney does have a problem. They’ve failed to keep Mickey relevant to a younger generation. But this is not the answer.

The first step of trying to make Mickey more edgy is an appearance in a new video game:

Epic Mickey, designed for Nintendo’s Wii console, is set in a “cartoon wasteland” where Disney’s forgotten and retired creations live….The game also features a disemboweled, robotic Donald Duck and a “twisted, broken, dangerous” version of Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World.”

A disemboweled, robotic Donald Duck.

Walt is spinning in his cryogenic frozen grave.

rebranding the hut

hutIn one of the worst “re-branding” moves that I’ve ever seen, Pizza Hut is dropping pizza from its name and will now be known in some locations as just ‘The Hut‘.

What a great move. Trash over 50 years of brand equity for something that makes me think of a dark dank dwelling in the Third World. Of course, it’s been coming for awhile. They’ve brand-extended themselves to oblivion instead of doing the core product (pizza!) well.

What makes it even more sad/funny is the delusion they’ve sold themselves and are now sending out in media relations…

…characterized the name change as an attempt to transform its stores into hip hangouts…..The new “hut” stores will be more than a place to simply pick up some take-out…they will include televisions that broadcast CBS programs such as “Wheel of Fortune” and “Entertainment Tonight.”

Because we all know the kids think that nothing can be more “hip” than Wheel of Fortune. Maybe they could reach back into the CBS archives and air old episodes of ‘Murder She Wrote’ to be even more hip.

They just may have a bad case of self-loathing with their name. They’ve tried to “rebrand” the Pizza Hut name on several previous occasions like “Pizza Hut Pizza & Pasta Cafe”, “Pizza Hut Italian Bistro”, “Pizza Hut WingStreet”, and the half-joking April Fools’ prank, “Pasta Hut”. A smart guy once said “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity”

Hey Yum!, listen up. The problem is not the Pizza Hut name. The problem is the customer experience. Even though your spokesperson, Christopher Fuller, gave a cheesy non-answer to real issues, the facts are clear in the public’s mind: Your employees don’t care. Your stores are dirty. Your service is horrible. (In one of my local Pizza Huts, there’s a sign above the lunch buffet that says not to even bother requesting any type of pizza because they aren’t going to do it.) And as I previously said in this post, you have forgotten your core product.

In kneejerk fashion, other chains may follow the move:

  • Dominos will become “Backgammon”
  • Papa Johns will become “Papa Smurfs”
  • McDonalds will become “Mick”
  • Taco Bell will become “The Bell”
  • KFC will become “Sammy Nellas”
  • Burger King will become “CP+B”

bada bing

Lots of people are hating Bing just because it’s from MSFT. I think you can find lots of other reasons to hate it including that Bing can’t seem to find things that are on the Internet — which is the first thing I look for in a search engine.

I really hate this line from their introductory page:

We sincerely hope that the next time you need to make an important decision, you’ll Bing and decide.

Oh snap, Google!  See how they’ve verbed themselves!? What a fabulous marketing tactic for any company:
–Don’t treet my email address.
–Make me a canon of this document.
–Just stick a Curad on it.

chandler bing search engineI also dislike their look. They apparently decided to be everything that Google is not. Google’s page is clean with lots of white space. Bing looks cluttered with a background that is remnicent of a “ahem” PC desktop background.

But the big basic problem is that they’ve just slapped a new look on a pre-existing bad product. Live Search wasn’t good. “Rebranding” by slapping a new name on something is never the answer.

And what about that name? Among many other meanings, Bing means “disease” in Chinese. Nice. It’s callled research, boys. You could have googled it and found out.

Rebrand Nation

I don’t want to get into the politics of it, but this article from Slate is a wonderful example of the mistakes that are made when you try to “REBRAND” through words and not actions.

It doesn’t matter what you SAY. It matters what you DO.

Press Releases don’t change public perception of your brand. Positive customer experiences do.

If government propaganda can’t change public perceptions, what makes you think your incredibly clever advertising can?

Mc-Iced

I continue to watch the attempted evolution of the McDonalds brand. It seems they to want to be the next Starbucks with all the coffee promotions they’ve been brewing lately.

McDonalds has introduced a new iced coffee drink. At least with iced coffee, they’ll avoid lawsuits from people spilling the cup in their laps. Unless they sue for frostbite instead of burns.

This is the latest in a long line of new products and store remodels that McDonalds is using to try to change the public perception of the McDonalds brand and branch out into other market segments.

I often rant that trying to “re-brand” is a pointless exercise. The brand is generated by the consumer, not dictated by the company.

For a majority of the public, the McDonalds brand still evokes the thoughts of unhealthy food, freakish clowns, and minimum wage workers. A chic coffee drink and premium chicken aren’t going to change that overnight.

And you can see the trouble they’re having in trying to change the perception. Only a few companies in the world have the money and public attention to try and pull a re-brand off. And they fail most of the time.

What makes you think you’re going to pull off a “re-brand” with your budget?