Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Brand Doctor

                The biggest problem with McDonald's is that they are just so omnipresent.  They are going to have a stake in everything, everywhere, always.  I don’t think I have a problem with them sponsoring so many things, because I don’t inherently support McDonald’s when I, say, watch a World Cup soccer game, but rather just get more exposed to the restaurant chain than I would like to.  One of the biggest problems with this country being so money-driven and class-conscious is that people think having very little money is an excuse to have very little class.  The times I have gone to any kind of Mickey D’s in the past two years or so are those times when I am on the road with my family and they’re buying.  As they pointed out at the end of our Wyoming trip last year- ‘We can’t always afford to spend a lot of money on dinner.’  So I suppose I should be thankful that I live in a country that allows cheap meals sometimes.  But when you make a place like McDonalds part of your regular lifestyle, you miss out on so much joy in life that isn’t just out of reach because you, say, can’t afford a sit-down restaurant, or have very little time.  It’s just SO easy to go grocery shopping and have some frozen pizzas and just try your best to have a sit-down meal.  Your kids need to be able to feed themselves, they need to feel like they’re part of a family and that they’re a self-sufficient breed, and they need to be getting proper nutrients.  No matter what you get at McDonalds, it’s just not going to be as good for you as something you make for yourself. 
All of these consequences build on themselves, and this is to me why McDonalds is so evil.  They’ve just insinuated themselves into the lives of a certain class of people to such a large extent, that a lot of people think of it as just a way of life.  Like, this is where normal people eat on a regular basis- which is sad, because McD’s has a very effective method of making it seem that way, and the more it starts to seem that way, the more it becomes true.  Their slogan now, which they haven’t changed in a decade and probably won’t ever again[i] is “I’m lovin’ it!”  What is “it”?  It is everything you can possibly imagine, because this place is everywhere and everything.  You can’t escape it.  First of all: support Mom and Pop shops as much as you possibly can.[ii]  Secondly: Fix your own meals as much as you possibly can.  Because while the Krocs have done a very good job of making you think that you should only eat stuff that’s familiar to you, that’s the furthest thing from the truth.  One of their most recent commercials is some guy who just became a rich pro athlete- but hey, he stays true to his roots by buying all his friends McDonald’s.  I’m glad we’re not friends, because I would be telling him to take us out for something good, like sushi.  Like good sushi.  When I go to a store, I’m suspicious of things that are too inexpensive.  I would rather pay more for a superior product which I don’t have to replace or otherwise regret getting sooner than I’d like.

However, there are some soccer sponsors I do respect, and one of the reasons I respect this one so much is in large part due to their commercials.  There are several really good Heineken commercials, but I think one of my favorites has to be the one with the guy chasing down some chick who left her business card case in the cab.  (Be warned, the version of this that appears on TV is much shorter.)  He goes to a place called The Chop and gets a shave.  He later goes to a place called Step Sisters.  He learns to swing dance.  Then he ends up at a jazz joint called the Broken Note.  Here he buys the piano man a Heinie and plays a few notes on the piano.  Then he’s quickly out of cards and hasn’t found the lady, whose name is apparently Eve.  Eve is both a great name for an attractive chick, because it is the name of the first woman, but it’s also quite possibly just the name (a great name) of an upper level restaurant which he soon finds from a giant neon sign.  He gives the red-haired hostess the case, as if to ask who he can give it back to, and she leads him to some kind of private urban gondola where they share a couple cold ones.  What’s great about this particular Heinie commercial to start with, is that each of these places just has such a perfect name.  And while other commercials for Heineken have featured men with a lot of talent wooing ladies, they’ve mostly been dudes who are offensively over-confident in whatever environment they enter.  This is one with a guy who, while obviously not shy, definitely doesn’t know what to expect from any part of this adventure, but he’s able to roll with anything.  Especially a hot redhead[iii].  The other great part is that while some of the other commercials take place on a cruise or somewhere foreign, even though the main character is most likely American, this ad made the correct choice of setting with a large (American-looking) city, probably NYC.  Thus we don’t have the subliminal message that you need to be rich to be as suave as the guys in the commercial.  You just need to drink Heinie and have some class.

When I was growing up, my dad had a Chevy S10 with a flatbed in which he would transport us around the neighborhood in the spring and summer.  It was black, had a small cab, a stick shift and he later sold it for about $2000.  But Chevys from there on were always synonymous with trucks for me- the machines of Men, which separated us from the Canadians and the French.  When I was trying to even out the themes in T-shirts I owned, I found one with a Chevy logo at Target and it became one of the only tops I own that doesn’t honor some sports team.  But I do feel like Chevy is a team in its own right.  It was the car answer to the Coke-Pepsi rivalry[iv].  I was on team Chevy.
And Chevy has done a lot of things right to close that gap, especially in the truck department.  They always had the better slogan for their trucks- Like a Rock.  It even had its own song: “I was strong as I could be…”   The Chevy logo is simple and classic as well.  It’s one shape, and while the outline of the shape is essentially 12 segments or so, they do a really good job of emphasizing that it’s pretty much just two really thick lines that cross each other.  You can see on the grill of most of their vehicles, that the long, horizontal line sits on the distinguishing middle bar, with the thicker, vertical line hangs out un-assumingly in the middle, only slightly dangling off either side.  (This simplicity of design was something Ford still hasn’t nailed down.)  And the name Chevy has itself a very American appeal, given that the full name, Chevrolet, is obviously French in origin.  You both ignore that root and honor the forebears who shortened it in this country.
Lately Chevy has been very much trying to emphasize its place in Americana, and is in my opinion succeeding.  Their campaign in the middle of the last decade was “An American Revolution”.  They introduced a bunch of new cars, and brought back many of the old ones.  Everyone loves and knows the Camaro and the Corvette.  But the Impala has a place in the urban landscape of this country and the Suburban was the first major vehicle for people who had a lot of stuff and/or people to carry around, but didn’t want to drive a creepy van.  And I don’t care what people say, the El Camino might be the best vehicle ever, and the granddaddy of all coupe utilities.  But while not all the new vehicles have stuck, I think those who own the Equinox love the name of the vehicle at the very least.  There may not be much of a point to the SSR, either, but let’s be honest- it’s pretty sweet that it exists.  I think they’ve done a great job of solidifying their identity- as a company that takes risks, but knows what it’s done right.
The fact is that I haven’t been a huge Ford backer historically and they haven’t done a lot in this area lately to make that change.  They do just tend to rest on their laurels a little bit.  But there are a few things they’ve had working against them in the past few years.  For one, they can’t help that a lot of Canadians wanted the Ranger, inherently reducing its appeal in America.  And they definitely got hit by the brunt of the recession.  The new image they are trying to create is doing really well for them.  They are fully embracing the eco-revolution and from everything I’ve heard the Fiesta and Focus are really fun to drive.  The main thing that has gotten my attention is their new grill, which I think is more of a representative for your company than people tend to give credit to.  We’ve known for a long time that you want generally to stick with one style across all of your vehicles, but the main conundrum was how to make yours unique compared to every other car company.  Could I look at your car or truck and say “Oh, that’s a ­­______”?  Ford has succeeded with their new-style grills which look equally appropriate on any type of vehicle[v] and are especially identifiable, more so even than Chevy lately.
But what they haven’t been able to do is get a logo that you only have to see part of, the way you do with Chevy, Coke or McDonald’s.  The Ford logo has been the same for a long time, but now that a lot of auto manufacturers are using ellipses for their main logo, it has become so much less unique, despite its trademarked status.  What they probably should do is make a close-up of part of the Ford script within the enclosure.  Something with white-on-blue, ala the Coke tail, which they’ve leveraged so deftly.  The only thing I can think of they may have that people think of them in even the top 5 for is the color blue.

[i] Until the sh*t hits the fan and it becomes something like “It wasn’t just us!”
[ii] I’m glad we live in the age of Yelp!, we have a means of telling what places of those we’ve never heard of are actually good.
[iii] “Fine! We’ll go somewhere private and have sex! Settle down!”
[iv] Which really isn’t one anymore.
[v] Even on the embarrassingly wide array of cars that are going by the moniker “Crossover” these days.  Can we just admit that some of them are essentially Station Wagons?