24 November 2008

It's about face: has David Jones given Miranda Kerr the flick?

Has Miranda Kerr, the new face of Australia’s oldest department store brand David Jones (DJs) been quietly replaced? So what happens when you realise your brand face doesn’t quite match the company it keeps?

Earlier this year DJs face supermodel Megan Gale stepped aside for lesser mortal and fellow model Kerr to be annoited the new face of DJs brand. Kerr did figure prominently in DJs Summer 2008 launch but since then has been a negligible presence in its national advertising and promotion.

DJs originally hired New York based Kerr to replace Gale on the catwalk for its bi-annual season collection launches in February and August as well as be its face in catalogues and advertising campaigns. Gale, it said, would continue in the lesser brand ambassador role.

But it’s Gale not Kerr who figures prominently in DJs major media campaigns, dominates its online presence and is widely featured in a national launch of a new American Express branded store card.

During the April baton change DJs pointedly said customers would undoubtedly embrace Brisbane born Kerr’s “warm and engaging nature." A direct link was made to her “Australian attributes”, describing her as a “ natural beauty with great sense of humour, a down-to-earth attitude and a love for Australia”.

Brushing away criticism Kerr was an unknown, DJs CEO Mark McInnes said her personality type could easily represent the brand, describing her as fashionable, approachable and aspirational.

“We want fun, fashionable and aspiring women representing our brand who are definitely not the Lindsay Lohans of the world," McInnes decried.

Yet, like Lancome’s sacking of Isabella Rosellini, L’Oreal telling Natalie Imbruglia she was no longer “worth it” and Versace’s disastrous hire of Madonna in 2005, doing good face doesn’t necessarily translate to sales if the fit isn’t right.

Kerr seemed to me to come across as neither a sophisticate nor particularly alluring in the Summer 2008 campaign; her self consciousness almost like that of a gawky teenager. More Hannah Montana than Lindsay Lohan.

Rather than adding to DJ’s brand equity and increasing it’s appeal, Kerr appears to have done neither.

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17 November 2008

Death of Print 2: Sensis and the final days of the phone book.

When did you last use the print edition of a phone directory?

In Australia the first directory was on a single sheet and listed just 44 numbers, now more than 100 years later it’s still in print but looks likely to go the way of the rotary dial phone. Here’s a couple of recent and related events that suggest publisher Sensis needs to prepare for the inevitable:

• Print company PMP’s contract with Sensis for production of Australian White Pages and Yellow Page directories expires on 30 June 2009;
• A new GPY&R Yellow campaign for Yellow Pages announces the release of a handy sized print version for use in the car;
Google and Telstra subsidiary Sensis announce they have signed a deal to integrate the data from Yellow Pages business listings into Google Maps Australia;
• Total worldwide smart phone shipments hit new peak of 39.9 million in Q3 2008 while in Europe almost 40% are GPS enabled. In Australia, 3m will ship constituting 30% of all mobile phone sales.
• Google announce a new iPhone application that runs a voice translation service which enables users to speak and ask for the name of a service or store near their location and have it sent to their phones.

According to Sensis, its Yellow Pages print version does AUD$1 billion in advertising annually and the Yellow Pages Online a further $100 million. Last year more than nine million print copies of its White Pages were distributed in Australia with Sensis claiming a 99% penetration rate into Australian households. But the events above threaten these brands’ relevance and could convey them to the dustbin of history.

The long decline in landline connections can be linked to falls in use of both print editions. In February Sensis parent Telstra announced, somewhat half heartedly, that it had arrested some of the decline in its fixed line services. In fact, the decline was just 2.1 % against a 2.5 % decline in the previous six months to June, the annual decline still around four or five per cent.

But there maybe something more significant going on with Sensis’ so-called Yellow and White Pages Networks, with both registering significant online declines in viewership this year. Alexa data puts Yellowpages.com.au views of its online edition down a massive 10% for the last quarter and Whitepages.com.au down 3%. This contrasts with White Pages’ claim in March it was number one for business search and Yelllow Pages announcement in November that more 11 million Australians used its service every month.

While competitive intelligence service Hitwise’s latest figures has White Pages with an increased market share of 10.89% for the same period but this is only 0.19% of all use across the entire online market with Google’s Australian operation dominating the market with 8.38%. White Pages is not even a top 20 site in Australia. Similarly, Hitwise has Yellow Pages increase market share by 7.25% for the period for a total share of only 0.11%. Up against Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, it is a minnow.

Sensis’ deal with Google Australia seems to at least acknowledge that its market share is close to a fiction and it needs to better position its brand to take advantage of the much anticipated growth in location-based services coming from the explosion in smart phone use.

By year’s end around three million smart phones will have shipped in Australia, most with built-in GPS such as the iPhone and Nokia Navigator. Portable navigation devices like Mio and TomTom, primarily used in cars, seem already to have been sidelined as carmakers increasingly include it as standard and users opt for more personal technologies. Already Nokia is the third largest provider of mobile navigation across all platforms in Europe. In this scenario, the release of the new Sensis Yellow Pages directory for car use seems both archaic and a folly.

Sensis says 25% of all phone books don’t get recycled but end up as doorstops or propping up computers. Perhaps these users are the only demographic that’s going to find it hard to lose the phone book. Regardless, PMP might want to check its contract when it comes up next year. My feeling is Sensis is losing its way and needs a better strategy that increases relevance, brand visibility and usability for a complete multiplatform environment, otherwise it might see more of its brands (think Trading Post!) analogous to a doorstop.

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13 November 2008

Brand Australia, I've seen the trailer.

The Country Brand Index (CBI) now ranks Australia as the top country brand in the world. While it may suggest some homogeneity around our identity, I’m wondering whether the latest Tourism Australia (TA) campaign is made disingenuous by its link to Baz Luhrmann’s depiction of Australia in his eponymous period epic.

A plethora of film tie-ins and promos: from a range of smartly designed but nostalgic Australiana homewares from production designer Catherine Martin right through to the much vaunted TA hook-up, serve to present an identity now blurred by brand and film image.

The Luhrmann/TA TV and cinema ads opportunistically piggy back on Australia-the-film and add confusion to Australia-the-country’s identity. It’s a marked contrast to TA’s previous prognostications that it would shift perception of Australia-the-country-the brand away from a focus on natural scenic beauty. While subsequent brand refreshes in 2003 and 2004 were designed to emphasise a broader cultural context, its 2007 campaign again refocussed on natural beauty but the earthy humour was considered derisory.

Now TA’s back to Australia-the-country-the-brand filled with natural beauty and an invitation to go walkabout. This time they’ve added Luhrmann’s beautifully shot sunburnt country but the only real difference is a whitewashed Aboriginal narrative borrowed heavily from a couple of Nic Roeg and Peter Weir films. Let’s not overlook the fact the message is delivered by a character featured in both Australia-the-film and the campaign.

Australia-the-country-the-brand’s number one ranking might have everything and nothing to do with the success of TA’s campaigns. Last year visitor numbers to Australia-the-country fell by between 4-5 per cent and so has the TA's inclination to link this to their campaigns. CBI’s international travellers might indeed love Australia-the-country-the-brand-the-film, but I’m not sure which version they think they’ll see next time they visit.

This blog was also published in AdAge's Global Idea Network.

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04 November 2008

Beyond Seiko. Defining emotional technology.

There isn't a definition for emotional technology, despite it being used as a band name and some scant references to the term in post-modern discourse.

Yet in 2007 Japanese watchmaker Seiko began referring to its watches as using emotional technology. Since then press releases and advertising clips from the company have described how:

SEIKO believes that the wristwatch is, above all, an intimate accessory. The best watches live in harmony, and interact, with the wearer and its functions offer the user a re-assuring and emotionally satisfying bond.

SEIKO's technological development is focused on the creation of 'emotional technologies'. Emotional technology creates the interaction between the wearer and the product.

From here it’s easy to deconstruct a definition from Seiko's text, set it within a meaningful context and even go beyond. First, technology is the product, not the mechanical or electronic drivers used to build or drive it. Second, emotional technology is defined by the creation of emotional intimacy between a user and the technology. Finally, this is measured by the level of comfort and efficacy derived from the technology and from the experience of closeness with it. For Seiko or any other technology brand, this occurs on between user and brand as well as on a collective basis.

Intimate engagement with technology is gauged by both degree of closeness and time. Technology needs to meet user expectations across the full span of a relationship, not just at purchase. Apple’s high rate of product innovation is not only the commercial imperative of in-built obsolescence but also the emotional commitment by users to its product. There is no better confirmation than hysteria surrounding the iPhone release or the opening of a new Apple Store (see below). Each demonstrate how Apple has a much better understanding of its users than most technology makers (think Sony’s Walkman failure and more recently, Motorola’s struggles) and has constructed this with real purpose.

The level of association between user and technology requires constant and increasingly intimate communication. Overt and expressive it includes visual branding, general advertising, promotion and communication. It also occurs by non-direct forms via personal proximity, audio and kinetic branding and technology design. While most technology branding does the former well and most do some form of the latter - the visual ubiquity of Apple’s white iPod headset, audio branding by Sony Ericsson or the distinctive design of a Dyson, all come to mind - few are exemplary in generating a high degree of intimacy.

Like all good relationships the success or failure of an emotional technology is affected by its nature, trust and the culture in which it operates. Mobile phones are more able to build trust and therefore a higher degree of intimacy than a washing machine, simply because the level, degree and type of relationship is different. Culturally, as Seiko notes, this "reassuring and emotionally satisfying bond" with a mobile phone is also going to be different for the 14 year old Gothic Lolita in Tokyo and the Gossip Girl fan in Manhattan. For each the basis of a more intimate engagement is determined by both usage and degree of customisation.

Importantly, emotional technologies need to ensure brand and product attributes are clearly defined, understood and shared. To see this is linked to brand success take a look at Saatchi’s Love Marks top 50. Without spelling out the obvious, the idiosyncrasy of this list is almost wholly dependent on the degree of intimacy and identification people feel between themselves and brands. Apple, the iPod and Google all occupy top 10 positions, while the Technology top 50 has Sony, TiVo and Sonar top 10 followed by Atari, Nokia, Nintendo, Canon, Blackberry and Nikon.

Seiko, for all its investment in its ownership of "emotional technology” is yet to make the list. Ironically it’s an old technology watch brand that does. No surprises, its Rolex.

This is an alternative version of a blog which originally appeared in Marketing Magazine on November 10. http://www.marketingmag.com.au/blogs

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03 November 2008

Brand priming or why Reidel glasses make wine taste better.

What makes wine in a Reidel glass taste better? Is it because Reidel is called “The Wine Glass Company” and it claims its glasses make wine taste all the more better than any other? How come a Tiffany diamond engagement ring set the benchmark for all others? And why do people queue for the latest release of the Apple iPhone, when they wouldn’t for any other phone? Does brand exposure influence a wider range of behaviours than we previously thought? Can exposure to specific types of brands and their associate brand messages really unconsciously influence our behaviour?

That’s the inference from a Canadian study Automatic Effects of Brand Exposure on Motivated Behaviour: How Apple Makes You "Think Different", which explored whether our unconscious can be so primed by exposure to certain brands they can create automatic and predictable behaviours and performance.

Published early this year by the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada and Duke University in the US, the study looked at whether the generally accepted priming effects applied to our social behaviours can be applied to consumer behaviour and how brands can influence this. If so, can so-called brand primes shape our behaviour and how do they does this happen?

Priming occurs when mental constructs are created around or by a particular situation. For example, it’s been well documented that exposure to the “elderly” can often cause behaviour we have already hard wired around this stereotype: so people who have been primed “elderly” may walk more slowly and display poorer memory than those who haven’t primed. Traditionally Most behavioural priming research hasfocussed on activating such these constructs via exposure to related words. If you prime someone with words related to “rudeness” they’ll probably behave rudely.

It is already accepted that exposure to brands can shape consumer decision-making. One US study found that consumers exposed to low-end brand names such as Wal-Mart chose products of higher value but lower prestige in contrast to those people who have been exposed to high-end brand names such as Barneys New York. Another found that as the frequency of exposure to a brand increases, so too does our tendency to choose that brand (this is not the same as frequency of message or frequency of advertising). Yet most research has been limited to exploring the consequences of brand exposure for subsequent brand or product choice. Does the impact of brand exposure end with purchasing decisions or can it actually extend to behaviours unrelated to the products the brand represents? In other words, so if words and exposure to certain people can cause people to behave rudely or walk more slowly, can brands also evoke both cognitive and motivational effects?

Much of the psychological value we get from brands appears to come from their ability to help fulfill our personality and identity. In representing desired personal qualities such as sophistication or manliness, brands such as Tiffany's or Jeep are goal-relevant in nature, symbolizing our aspirations and unattained goals. In particular, some brands may come to represent "be" or ideal-self goals (e.g., to be sophisticated), which describe people's aims to improve themselves. Just as exposure to certain role models such as people who represent success can inspire certain goal-directed actions, so too should exposure to brands that symbolise success at a given goal. Through associations with desired human qualities, goal-relevant brands can trigger these ideal-self goals and shape behaviour. For example, Nike is associated with traits such as 'active' and 'confident.' These characteristics are generally seen as positive, so the brand plays a motivational role, symbolising a desirable future and an ideal self.

Brands are often linked to our personality traits in the same way symbols or representations of people can (i.e.Virgin is a young, fun out-there brand and if we use a Virgin product therefore it may represent who we think we are). Brands can also be symbols of aspiration, representing desired personal qualities such as sophistication or power (Bentley versus Maserati) and brand-priming may well motivate performance-based behaviour. The study wanted to know whether these types of behaviours actually do result from priming by brands.

In a series of lab experiments, the researchers had subjects look at a screen that displayed a series of flashing numbers and kept a running tally of the results. Interspersed between the numbers were subliminal flashes of Apple or IBM logos. The same subject group was then asked to perform a creativity-measurement task, in which they were asked to come up with as many uses as they could for the common house brick. In many replications of the experiment as well as with control groups, the researchers found that people exposed to the Apple brand not only came up with more uses for the brick but that these were also more creative than those exposed to the IBM logo or no logo at all. In effect, Apple made you more behave and think more creatively.

These experiments measured and manipulated qualities of priming but this new research demonstrates that brands can also serve as sources of unconscious performance-based behaviour. Recent theory has it that brand primes initiated goal-directed behaviour only when those brands were associated with qualities desired by the individual i.e. I want to be more creative (Apple) or I want to be more active (Nike) Meaning a brand can affect your output and, in the case of Apple’s brand, it may make you think and work more creatively What these findings may also enable us to predict is when the various types of priming effects occur and what the behaviours are likely to be.

In blind taste tests even the best Reidel glasses, as well as they are made, don’t actually make your wine taste any better than say a $10 glass from Target. Apple’s iPhone looks and performs well but it does is no better on a benchmarked performance basis than a Blackberry Bold or a HTC Touch Diamond. What these brands and so few others have has been able to achieve is what these researchers do indeed prove – regardless of the efficacy of a product or its service attributes, the prospect of superior performance can be primed and can directly our purchase decisions.

Brand priming might help to explain why brand promise is no longer going to be enough; the point of difference is going to have to be buried deep in a brand’s DNA. The saliency of a brand can no longer just be determined by more dominant operational and visual attributes but by triggers that prime our unconscious.

This is a longer version of a blog which originally appeared in Marketing Magazine on November 5. http://www.marketingmag.com.au/blogs