03 May 2007

Ford and Rip Curl go beyond the wave.

Is Ford’s Ripcurl XR8 Ute Australia’s first co-branded car? It could be. Already a co-sponsor of a major Australian surfing title, the US manufacturer is doing some serious stretching in Australia alongside surfboard and clothing company Rip Curl.

While car manufacturers can piggyback on a large, loyal and extremely well profiled audience (think Ford vs General Motors Holden), it might also work if only to a niche market.

Hitching up with an existing youth brand seems like a good idea, especially if it’s an iconic Australian surf sport brand, like Rip Curl. And co-branding is useful as it helps reinforce the lifestyle image of the cars (how Australian is a ute after all, unless it's a panel van?) by linking in to an existing group of customers with similar tastes, lifestyle, or age. So it must be something that Ford has been missing out on as it seeks to bolster sales in a flagging demographic with the tie-in.

But it’s not Ford’s first foray into co-branding arrangements with clothing companies. Ford USA already produces SUV’s with lifestyle and clothing retailer Eddie Bauer (there’s a range of two and 4WDs in the 2007 series) and Subaru has teamed up with US outdoor clothing catalogue company L.L. Bean to produce the Subaru Gear range of outdoor apparel.

And there’s similar examples of between sports shoe and sports vehicle think Porsche and Puma, Adidas and Porsche, Ducati and Adidas, but mostly it’s been one way co-branding.

The most important thing for Ford is to make sure that the brand association works both ways, so that the target market segments don’t start to see it a just another multinational muscling in on a cool brand. Beyond the Rip Curl extras, what really makes this is a true Ford brand experience? What preserves brand attributes?

Importantly for Rip Curl, they should be wary that there is no diminution of their own brand by the target segment (as seen in the current Australian television advertising) but also by future target segments and this will require some strong brand management.

Australian wine is a glass half full.

Australia’s wine industry recognises it's glass is half full and now wants to reposition Australian wine at the premium end of the market.

This week the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation and the Winemakers Federation of Australia unveiled their Wine Australia: Directions to 2025. The Directions paper, which in a rare case of both industry cooperation and speed of report writing, was commissioned in 2006 and recommends 46 directions to be adopted by winemakers and marketers in coming months.

According to the report, Australia’s wine industry must” focus on strengthening sector structures, directly influencing domestic and export markets and gearing up for sustainable success.”

“The Australian wine sector needs to re-evaluate its current approach towards export markets. It needs to identify new and sustainable market opportunities through detailed market intelligence, and turn consumer interest into aspiration through segmented marketing strategies. In particular, this only can be achieved by raising awareness and expectation of an Australian wine story founded on an international reputation for regionally distinct and fine wine production. Further, it also needs to refocus its expectations in the domestic Australian market and introduce new strategies to encourage more Australians to drink better wine more frequently while still observing sensible and moderate consumption patterns.”

In developing the strategic responses (tactics) for the report, Wine Australia identified three megatrends and eight inter-related sub-trends, which it believes will influence consumer buying behaviours.

They followed this with a brand segementation strategy based around four levels or “personalities” for Australian wine. The four personalities - Brand Champions, Regional Heroes, Generation Next and Landmark Australia – equate to four value creations respectively: accessibility, interest, innovation and aspiration.

The segmentation strategy is followed by a number of strategic responses, some of which require further elaboration and some of which DIFFUSION believes are unlikely to change perception in overseas markets.

These include the development of a Wine Australia Trust Mark , a global communication plan and changes to to the exiting Wine Australia web site to better target user groups as well a brand health check to continually research and measurement of consumer perceptions of brand/country (Wine Australia) in key markets.

While the responses only address one of the directions in the paper and in themselves are unable to achieve both the desired repositioning and opening up of new markets for “fine” or premium Australian wine. What’s refreshing is that Wine Australia at least understands and acknowledges the importance of global brand propositions and positioning, something similar Australian government strategy papers have failed to understand (think Wool Australia or anything in ICT).

On the ground and particularly in lucrative US market, fine Australian wine lacks any great penetration.

The US market tends to operate as a multiple market. Step into any liquor store in New York and try and find a premium Australian wine. Sure you get Casella and a host of renamed Australian wines but it’s rare to find anything outside of the specialist wine stores. It’s a similar case in the UK, where Australian wine’s dominate the market but not at the premium end.

Firstly, the brand check should come first. Any one who understands the importance of brand will acknowledge this as should brand tracking and real research be a constant part of any good brand strategy. So many organisations and business shy away from real tracking or put this in the hands of their ad agencies.

Any communications strategy then should focus on making sure that the tactical responses (and they are tactical) are going to achieve the desired targets and are not something that came through an ideation workshop run by an agency.

So a Wine Australia trust mark is an interesting concept but it needs to get around the diminution of Australian wines by companies like South Corp, Beringer Bass and Fosters. Australian wines, regardless of what part of the market they have been developed for, already enjoy high trust status ..it’s just that there is no real brand recognition for labels called “Two Sheds”.

Similarly, redeveloping the Wine Australia website has to also go hand in hand with some real ecommerce initiatives mainly around tracking wine brands and enabling greater accessibility and visibility to the small regional labels and the landmark wines the paper identifies as part of the strategy.

What’s important about the Wine Australia directions paper is that it is so forward looking about the idea of strategic brand marketing. It's good news for marketers and brand agencies and that in itself is a rare drop.

Commbank takes its brand offshore.

In a move not reminiscent of the Coles Group (see DIFFUSIONblog 4 September 06: Is McCann set to give Coles a Walmart?) Australia's Commonwealth Bank has abandoned the creative work of its traditional Australian agencies and moved to US west coast agency, Goody Silverstein.

The move, reported this week in the Sydney Morning Herald, is certain to raise the hackles of incumbents STW and probably most other agencies in Australia.

More interestingly was the Herald columnists' assertion that "Australian companies (spell A_D_V_E_R_T_I_S_I_N_G) have for so long lacked any imagination or will to back interesting and engaging advertising and the ability of the communications sector to propose anything marginally outside of the predictable is remote."

Certainly that's been DIFFUSION's recent experience of adland as it seeks to perpetuate a mythic status as marginal thinkers and strategists. In fact, what we have seen is that most agencies seem content to rest on poor stale concepts and ideas and will not look for people outside the industry to change this. So, who can blame Commbank?

Just ask Optus, Singtel's Australian telecomms arm. There about to do the same thing to their Australian agencies for much the same reason. M and C Saatchi is likely to get the shove, and not without reason. Optus' "animals" were being used when I worked for Cable and Wireless in London, which dates from the time when Optus was owned by the former global carrier. So perhaps they need to be looking further afield or agencies in Australia need to work a lot harder?

The SMH doesn't let matters rest there. They put the boot in, describing senior marketing staff in Australia as "creatively retarded marketing managers". There's something in that as the dearth of great creative and well thought out brand strategy in this country is much the fault of clients as it is of agencies. Have a good look around at how they recruit senior marketing appointments. It's all through, in most cases, headhunters who work to set formulas and like their clients, rarely go outside the "predictable".

You reap what you sew.