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Alf's Articles

Learn the Lessons of the Brand Leaders

by Alf Nucifora

Most brand marketing tends to fall into three categories. At one end there's the truly horrible stuff that insults the marketing mind for its irrelevance and waste…the advertising often associated with financial services and insurance companies, for example. The bulk of the branding efforts can be assessed as competent, if not plodding by nature, the grind-it-out, "three yards and a cloud of dust" routine. Much marketing for "body repair" such as treatment or remedies for headache, arthritis and menstruation comes to mind. Then there are the noticeably brilliant campaigns that impress for their ingenuity, strategic focus, discipline, consistency and, best of all, results. These true conquests are in short supply, but a review of six that have appeared on the radar for some time now, illustrates how the best-of-class go about their daily marketing affairs. Although their supporting budgets far exceed the resources of the average marketer, the lessons to be learned have less to do with money and more to do with marketing smarts.


Somebody here really knows how to build and protect a brand. Note the attention to iconic consistency. The brand's arresting television advertising always incorporates a sea of red, the wink-wink incorporation of the "bulls eye" logo (showing the name would seem inappropriate), contemporary and appropriate music (never a voice over), and a sense of currency and hipness that you know appeals to a multitude of demographics. It appeals to me, and I'm the proverbial aging white male. The consistency extends to the shop floor, with a class-above merchandise selection, even for a discounter, and store merchandising that faithfully delivers most of what we expect from having seen the advertising.

Target's "discount chic" tone distinguishes itself from Wal-Mart's "Nascar denim" appeal. That means they pick up everyone from affluent cross-shoppers who slum it at the discount store when the purchase need has low social or self interest (think cheap, every-day electrical appliances or home wares) and the minimum wage earner seeking to acquire a slice of the American dream at an affordable price.

The Passion of Christ

With a box office take of $370 million, the film has been the second highest grosser of the year, not to mention the record-breaking 4.1 million DVD copies sold in its first day in the stores, and all this without much in the way of traditional marketing support. Gibson, the film's director and campaign's commanding general, heeded the lesson of the previously successful "Blair Witch Project" release…let the marketplace talk it up and let the Internet be the megaphone. One suspects that the provocation of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League was deliberate, as was the arousal of cinema influentials such as Frank Rich of the New York Times who obligingly responded with a front-page feature story. The decision to restrict pre-screenings to "friends" only served to strengthen the hype. Gibson cleverly combined this buzz marketing with guerilla attack by targeting natural constituencies (churches and religious groups) who did their prescribed job of spreading the news through powerful word-of-mouth. Gibson is more than a fine actor and accomplished director. Add "brilliant marketer" to the bio sheet.


At $249, it isn't cheap. And yet, until recent times, it remained on retail back-order. Why? IPOD began life with the advantage of being Apple progeny. If there's one thing Steve Jobs does well, it's new product introductions. With a brand tonality that is so cool and contemporary, who, of the music-listening class, can resist its appeal? The extrinsics are equally appealing, from the sleek, minimalist packaging to a choice of colors alien to most computer appliance environments. The introductory marketing support was flawless in its execution. Imus talked it up day-after-day to his 10 million listeners and the print ads demanded to be closely scrutinized. And let's not forget the supporting iTunes library that sold over 70 million songs in its first year from a catalog of more than one million legally-accessible tracks and more than 600 independent labels.


It's how discount airline travel should be marketed. Here is an airline that learned from the master (Southwest) and went one better. JetBlue stayed true to a dual-pronged strategy of service innovation (on-board satellite TV and leather seating throughout) and a genuine culture of customer care (on-time performance and clean planes). They understood right from the start that success lay in carving out a distinctive brand image (unlike most airlines) and respecting the customer by delivering the basics according to promise (also unlike most airlines). An emphasis on delivering the story through aggressive PR has resulted in miles of favorable media mentions supported by a powerful word-of-mouth message. The result--a loyal customer cult that seems committed for the long term…unless expansion over-reach does them in. Preserving a hard-earned culture in heady times is never a given.

John Kerry's Patriotism?

Let's go non-partisan for a moment. Applying the "reasonable man" test, the Kerry lack-of-patriotism fracas defies logic. Think of it as competing brands… Vietnam War service with five medals for bravery versus "champagne duty" in the National Guard. The competing brand claim (Kerry's lack of patriotism) remains suspect and unproven and flies in the face of official judgment. Yet Kerry and the Democrats clearly lost the battle. The reality is, Republicans have always been the superior marketers. In the take-no-prisoner world of modern day political campaigning, the GOP sticks with the fundamentals…strategy, consistency, a ferocious sense of discipline, and an intelligent appreciation of the value of marketing and branding in winning the day. From Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" to the early appropriation of the talk radio airwaves, Republicans were always the smarter and more aggressive marketers. That's how brands win in the voting marketplace.

It's Vegas, Baby!

This fastest-growing city in the US is now in a rarefied class of its own from any number of perspectives…growth and tourism appeal, not to mention, notoriety. Rare for a city, it possesses a distinctive brand image that no other can copy. Take that, Atlantic City! How does Vegas do it? Let's start with the product…a best-of-breed delivery where it counts…hospitality, dining, art-on-display, shopping, entertainment and spectator extravaganza. The Vegas marketing-meisters know how to exploit the media, providing the locale for two current television series, and providing a steady stream of content to the Travel Channel. Marketing consistency prevails. From the slot machines in the airport terminal, to the larger-than-life billboard cavalcades, the arriving atmosphere is everything we expect, and more…the sweet smell of easy money, coupled with the implied statement of sin-on-the-make. The branding line says it all. "What happens here, stays here".

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