We seem to always be complaining about big brands over here
at scenarioDNA. It’s easy to get into
the banter of the big brand slam when you’re slightly exempt from their wrath
and cushioned by two rivers the East and the Hudson. The alternatives to big
brands are ubiquitous in major cities like New York, all you have to do is walk
around a bit.
It’s a rude awakening, however, when you’re temporarily
thrust back into the suburbs from which you came. I’m blogging from Suffolk
County, Long Island, where Wal-Mart
now sits as an “anchor” tenant in the nearest mall. Twenty-five years ago this
mall was the hottest thing since slice bread boasting one of the first multiplex theaters and
stores like A&S
and Macy’s in their bridal
Macy’s still remains, but Wal-Mart took the place of
A&S. Like a child who refuses to join the crowd, it sits reluctantly with
its back turned in the former A&S footprint. Wal-Mart’s main entrance faces
the parking lot and a fortified wall of concrete rudely interrupts your window
shopping beyond Hot Topic.
Wal-Mart’s got a self-confidence problem. So do many
struggling big brands. Yet some take risks. Take, for instance, NASCAR and its hardcore plugs in
Nights. It took a risk to be placed in a movie where satire reigns supreme.
Caught between Will Ferrell
and Ali G, how could you not
expect a bit of poking and prodding? NASCAR is laughing all the way to the bank
at its white trash brand connections.
And other brands saw the confidence. It was contagious and
they got involved. Wonder
Bread, Applebees, Perrier—to name a
few—all come off well. They put their necks out to take a licking. In the
end they demonstrated a sense of humor and showed that they didn’t take
themselves too seriously. You couldn’t escape from the heavy media penetration.
King got in on the momentum.
The future for a big brand is all about unbundling who they
are, getting over themselves and seeing where they make the most sense. And
doing it simply. No one wants to be caught fraternizing with the 800-lb
bullying gorilla in the room.
Wal-Mart tells you that they’re cool via paid-for
back-to-school emails on Daily Candy,
but they’re not cultivating hot designers like Target does. Why
wouldn’t Wal-Mart build on its credibility of basic apparel? Accept the socks
and underwear. What is Wal-Mart doing to help the Dickies and Caterpillars of the
world? Target’s helping Isaac
Mizrahi and Luella.
got itself into the user-generated content business where the likes of Youtube is already doing an amazing job and
letting creativity flow. Developing more exciting events and promotions ala Red Bull would have gotten
some fabulously authentic Youtube exposure for Coke. Seeding catalysts is a
better stance. What if Coke created a microbrand specifically involved with Rooftop Films? Coke successfully
unbundled Tab. And
Tab builds on what Coke is and uses it to advantage.
Big Boy is celebrating its 70th anniversary with a Big Boy lookalike
contest. The finalists are all replicas of Big Boy with his burger held high
from his big belly to his male gender keeping the brand stuck in the mud.
Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to rally pop toy designers through Kid Robot and call on pop artists like Jeff Koons to add their take
on Big Boy? It would certainly pull in Big Boy’s loyal cult following.
Last year, Samsonite
hired a hot shot accessories designer as creative director, but is more stylish
luggage really what the world needs from Samsonite? Is this what Samsonite
needs to sustain its brand? A partnership with Ziploc might be more in order
for Samsonite. Zippered bags are allover packing. Real Simple magazine has whole articles
devoted to their uses. In light of recent headlines, how about a whole line of
clear easy to zip luggage?
Car maker Ford
has yet to flirt with the concept of lifestyle and innovation. It introduced
its Escape Hybrid
in a dated body and without compelling savings. Although the 2008 Escape Hybrid
will debut with new styling and upgrades, its news stands to be eclipsed by
DaimlerChrysler AG who has revived plans to sell its Smart two-seater in the
United States. Measuring just eight feet from bumper to bumper, the Smart
ForTwo gets more than 40 miles to a gallon of gas in combined highway-city
driving. A second-generation two-seater will meet all US safety standards and will
start selling in early 2008, probably at under $15,000.
The problem is that we’re going through a transition phase.
It’s easier to have the confidence to arc up as a small brand. It’s not so easy
for big brands to take the risk to move down across niches. On the other hand,
big brands have the advantage in being able to deliver shorter, more exclusive
runs of product to build credibility.
You can keep a loyal following by being a lot of different
things to different people. Fodder for great viral brands is creating stuff
that connects with people. The rest follows. You don’t have to be thinking
about how to build a social network. You just need to be thinking about what
you can do to make people happy.