Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cool Ikea Shopping App

While I do look forward to the day that I can afford big girl furniture and no longer have to shop the Ikea, I quite enjoy the low prices and typically good design the brand has to offer. I don't even entirely mind having to walk miles through the store to locate what I need (or as is often the case- don't need). But part of the shopping process that don't particularly like is having to keep track of the items I find in the showroom with that little piece of paper and golf course pencil. On recent trips I've used my iPhone to take photos of the tag that accompanies most products as it lists the name, price and location in the warehouse. My system was a bit clumsy and it was always a little annoying to have 25 photos of random furniture. Enter SwedeShop the iPhone app that is the answer to all of my Ikea shopping woes. I can't wait to test this puppy out the next time I make a trip to the Swedish Superstore.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Anti-Branding Campaign, aka Branding Campaign

I just ran across this article posted on PSFK about the streetwear brand Freshjive's campaign to "unbrand" itself. Rick Klotz, the owner and designer for Freshjive, was motivated to embark on this "anti-branding" campaign due to his "disillusionment with the world of branding and marketing and a desire to return to the essence of the design practice". And just what does an anti-branding campaign look like? If you ask me, it looks a lot like branding.

Apparently the brand's logo had been misappropriated (faked) to sell counterfeit goods. Klotz says that the brand's name is "forever defunct". Klotz's answer was to drop the brand's logo and replace it with a black box. Which to me is, well, just a different looking logo.

This guy Klotz seems to be pretty brand savvy but I can't help but want to reply to this move by shouting brand rule #1: Your brand is NOT your logo. Your brand is a personality, a stance, a voice... which is exactly what he's establishing, or confirming, with this effort.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Just because it sells products, doesn't make it good branding

The other night I found myself perched high on a soapbox I've mounted a number of times since entering into the world of advertising. The essence of my stance was that there should be no bad advertising. Period. It's my belief that consumers deserve to be exposed to good ads. Sure, sure I recognize that "good" and "bad" are highly subjective terms but I'm not talking about the definition of "good" that I as an advertising professional would assign to advertising. I'm talking about how my mom, sister or any other non-ad person would define bad. The bad ads that I'm referring to, and those that sparked this debate, are the scream-to-be-heard types that are often associated with direct response or automotive commercials. The argument that's typically made in favor of this style of assaulting communication is that if it works (works = sells products) then it's good advertising. In same breath that the argument is made, products like the Snuggie, Sham Wow and the Chia Pet are used as support. True, these are successful sales stories. But what they are not are successful brand stories.

Advertising should not only be used to sell products, but also to build brands. The need to achieve both of these things is why the "as long as it sells products it's good advertising" argument fails. And while yelling at consumers may get their attention and may even result in sales, it's lack of brand building is where it misses the boat and is therefore bad advertising.

Ok, stepping down now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The corporation behind the curtain

A few months ago I found myself in a familiar position- slinging lattes behind the counter at Starbucks. My first go round at the ‘bucks was in college and to this day I maintain that I was one of my favorite jobs. So when earlier this year my agency announced that, that thanks to the recession, our salaries would be cut by approximately 20% I thought maybe I’d don my green apron once again in an effort to supplement my diminishing salary. My plan worked. I was rehired to work the opening shift at a store located on the ground floor of the Bank of America Building. Since this store was smack dab in the middle of the financial district and caters to a lot of foils working east coast hours, we opened at 4:00 am. Shocking, I know. Even more shocking was the fact that I agreed to work there despite these draconian hours. Working these hours was actually by design as I wanted something that wouldn’t interfere with my “real job” as a brand strategist. I took the job and went to work. Twice. That's right, I quit after just 2 shifts and it wasn't the hours that prompted me to hang up my apron, again.

I hung up my apron because the Starbucks that I knew and enjoyed working at was a thing of the past. The very things that I loved- the art of pulling a perfect shot, the camaraderie amongst the baristas, the banter across the counter with the customers were gone. Espresso machines are now automatic so there's virtually impossible to NOT pull a perfect shot*. The baristas seemed more like factory workers numbly going through the now monotonous routine. And the customers seem to want nothing to do with an experience. They want their coffee and they want it fast. I should add that the store I was working in didn't have an actual seating area, it was somewhere between a full sized store and a kiosk, so naturally this only perpetuated the factory-like atmosphere.

I've followed Starbucks over the years, as many brand nerds do, but for me it was kind of personal. Sure it's a big, bad corporation but working there allowed me to see that they genuinely care about their employees and treat them well. Combine that with the fact that I think they're selling a fine product definitely makes for a brand that I'm happy to support. But one day I noticed that the counter tops were crowded with stuff and the food offerings stretched far beyond the more pared down cafe snacks that they had offered for years. I could think of only one thing: brand dilution. A feeling that Howard Schultz also had and expressed in the now famous 2007 memo.

This article that ran in the NY Times about a year and a half ago highlighted one attempt that Starbucks made to "revive the intimate, friendly feel of a neighborhood coffee shop." They did this by shutting down over 7,000 of their stores to "retrain" employees. They focused on techniques to improve taste as well as customer service. Unfortunately, this attempt wasn't enough to weather the economic storm that resulted in the closing of hundreds of Starbucks across the country. But that didn't stop the brand from taking yet another step toward achieving the neighborhood coffee shop they long to become.

Last week Starbucks opened 15th Ave Coffee and Tea- the brand's attempt to create an indie coffee shop environment. The difference being, of course, that this "indie" shop is backed by the world's coffee giant so it's a safe bet that unlike most neighborhood shops the tables at 15th Ave won't require a book of matches to stay level. This announcement is being heavily criticized by brand and business experts left and right. But as we know, it's the voice of the consumer not Wall Street that ultimately determines the fate of a brand's success. And on that note, the writing may be on the wall, or more accurately the blog.

I poked around the site,, and found a blog that currently includes a single post- a welcome message from the store manager Jenna. It was in response to Jenna's post that Kevin, a visitor to the site, made the following comment that may perfectly sum up the very reason why this latest revival attempt may once again leave Starbucks and fans of the brand like myself disappointed. Kevin's comment: "You’re a Starbucks, so why all the cloak and dagger with trying to be an indy. I’d have more respect if you just came out and branded it with the old logo. Focus on the core, the coffee. Seriously as a shareholder this store and move is a disappointment."

*"Perfect Shot" is an actual term that was once used in training materials and in my opinion one of the small things that instilled a sense of pride in employees).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Note worthy

I think the clay notebook carving Sumerians would be pretty excited to see the impressive evolution of writing utensils. I ran across two examples just today.

The first innovation, called the BookMarker, is fairly simple and low tech but still very useful (so long as we're still reading paper books). It was designed by a former engineer at IDEO. It's a simple concept and I like it.

The second one is more high tech and super cool. The product is called the Pulse Smartpen from a tech startup based in Oakland, CA. It essentially digitizes what you write and hear, perfect for college students taking notes during lectures.