Telco Brands: the Fair for Canada FAIL in one picture

Rogers, Bell, and Telus blow their big chance. By being their same old big-Telco selves…

My friend Ottawa blogger and media commentator Mark Blevis has put out a couple of smart and incisive critiques of the “Fair for Canada” campaign by Canadian telco mega brands TELUS, Rogers, and Bell. Please do go ahead and read the and Full Duplex posts.

But I think the many, many problems with this PR blitz can be summed up in one picture – brought to you by your three friendly Canadian mega corporations.

Sorry big Telcos, the combined boards of Telus, Bell, and Rogers don't qualify as ordinary Canadians to, you know, ordinary Canadians.
Actual screen capture from the Fair for Canada mini-site:

Sorry big Telcos, but the combined  “Bell, Rogers, and TELUS Boards of Directors” writing a letter to Stephen Harper doesn’t qualify as “What Canadians are Saying” to the rest of us, you know, Canadians.  Continue reading “Telco Brands: the Fair for Canada FAIL in one picture”

Brand strategy advice: Stonz Footwear

Meeting the challenge of expanding Stonz into new markets

If you follow me as @DenVan on Twitter, information pills you might have seen that I contributed to a Dan Misener piece in today’s Globe and Mail. It was a brand strategy critique of the Canadian kids footwear and winter-wear brand Stonz. But as with many such things, order the advice I provided was about twice as long as the space they had for me. So for Stonz, and all brand managers (and geeks), I’ve included my full thoughts below.

First of all, here’s the Globe and Mail Article (click to visit)

Kids' outdoor gear maker needs to find memorable 'hook' for its brand

 (Article here) (PDF file here)

The Stonz brand strategy challenge

Official logo for Stonz Wear - found on every boot
Here’s their logo. The visual connection to footwear is pretty strong. As is the line above the “O”.

As the article says, Stonz is a Vancouver-based company that manufactures a growing portfolio of clothing and footwear for children. But their signature product, and the one most deeply associated with the Stonz brand, is the type of booty you see above for infants and toddlers. It’s big selling point: two rip cords help to keep it on your toddler’s feet – which is a real plus for us parents.

Their big problem: knock-offs. And this is particularly a problem as the company tried to expand into new markets overseas. Or as the article describes it:

(Founder and CEO Lisa Will) has seen several competing products that bear a strong resemblance to the all-weather outdoor baby boots sold by her company. She has even seen ads for “fake stonz”  pop up online.

Ms. Will believes her booties were the “originals,” but while the company has secured worldwide trademarks for the Stonz brand, it does not hold any patents on its bootie design or other products, she says.

What the brand strategy experts (and I) say

Dan Misener pulled together three experts to address this problem.

Karinna and Joyce focused on building a brand story around the moms that founded the company, and to highlight the “original” and Canadian nature of the brand. And I fully agree. But I think Stonz has a bigger problem. I think the name is a serious liability. Here was my full comment:

My brand strategy advice for Stonz (full text)

When I asked my wife – the chief buyer of clothing for our three kids – to name some children’s boot brands off the top of her head, she rattled off Cougars, Sorels, Uggs, Bogs, and “Kamiviks” (sic.).

Ever heard of Stonz? “Nope,” she said.

“How about these?” I asked her, showing her the company Web site. “Oh, those!” She said. “We had a pair of those booties for a while.”

She remembered the “booties” but not the Stonz brand.

That’s a problem

Product innovation and pure marketing chutzpah have gotten this company very far indeed, and congratulations to them for that. But apparel products, promotions, supply chains, and social media campaigns are far too easy (and legal) to copy. What can’t be copied is a strong, memorable brand “hook” that makes one product the brand all similar products are compared to.

Think of the Canadian-invented footwear product “Foam Creations,” which only became a global phenomenon and a billion dollar public company when an American team bought it, and re-launched it under the much stronger brand name, Crocs.

How do I know it’s a more effective name? Because all last week I was telling my kids “Put your Crocs on. We’re going to the beach!” But I can’t even imagine saying to my toddler on a cold winter day: “Let’s put your Stonz (Stones? Stons?) on and go outside.” I would just say “booties”.

I don’t think it’s too late for these smart, driven entrepreneurs to thoughtfully and strategically re-launch their core brand. But I do think it needs to happen. And soon.

But what do you think?

Am I being to hard on that name? Is it really necessary to change it? Weigh in in the comments below!

Grinding to the next level: new era at Bridgehead

Three short years ago I wrote about my favourite coffee shop chain Bridgehead on the occasion of their 10th location in Ottawa. Well, tomorrow, they’ll be opening their 15th store just off Preston. Think it’s a fluke they’ve been so successful? I Beg to Differ!

The new HQ – off Preston Avenue.

More than a store

The bright, spacious new retail store is just the beginning. There’s a lot more to this space.

Sorry, when I say “store”, I’m using the wrong word. The new Bridgehead location – just now getting its final tweaks prior to public opening tomorrow – will be far more than just another retail coffeeshop. It’s going to be the new head office for the Bridgehead chain and the new central warehouse to supply all 15 Bridgehead outlets across the urban core – big enough to have space for a community room, and hold coffee tasting workshops for staff and the public.

But in an even bigger development for the chain, it’s a roastery as well! So as of tomorrow, all coffee in all Bridgeheads across Ottawa will be roasted by their own local staff right here in Ottawa. 

This marks Bridgehead’s transition from being a retail reseller of other people’s coffee to being a producer and innovator, selling their own coffee. Along with this, they are building a team of experts who have already had to learn to produce large volumes every day.

Bridgehead 2.0

The roastery is filled with gear straight out of a steam-punk alchemist’s lab.

And you can really taste, smell. and see the difference. I tried one of the new Espresso roasts in a tasty, steaming cup of Americano today, and it not only tastes better, it looks better – with a real head of dense foam like you find on your cup in Europe.

One day early, I was invited in for a sneak peak at the new location, and I asked Bridgehead’s Coffee Program Manager Ian Clark whether  that was just my imagination. Here’s his geeky-but-fascinating answer, plus a look around the new roasting facility – including a glimpse of their new “Human Roaster.” Check out the YouTube.

Brand evolution

What becomes very obvious very quickly is that Bridgehead is evolving into a different kind of brand. Always a savvy purveyor of great coffee, they are now becoming a place where great coffee products are developed and refined.

What does this mean for Bridgehead? Well, this is where I’d love to hear from you. Have you tried the new roasts? Are you excited about visiting? Let me know in the comments!

Labatt: “Our goal was simply to protect our brand.”

Twitter to Labatt: we Beg to Differ!

This quirky little illustration by pop artist Gary Baseman was used in Labatt’s Blue ad campaign: “A lot can happen. Out of the Blue.” Indeed it can…

Twitter to Labatt: “We Beg to Differ!” This quirky and macabre little illustration by pop artist Gary Baseman was used a few years ago in Labatt’s Blue ad campaign: “A lot can happen. Out of the Blue.” Indeed it can… let’s hope the brand magicians at Labatt can put this one back together.

Out of the Blue.

It’s true. A lot can happen like that

You can be sitting at your desk working when a strange Tweet appears in your stream about a severed foot being mailed to the headquarters of the Conservative Party of Canada. Whoa. Weird.

Or next, page it can happen that a weird, twisted news story unfolds in all its evil awfulness on every media channel, so you can’t even listen to the news or look at a news site online while your kids are in the room. Weird, and annoying.

Then the story can get worse with tales of kitten killing, serial-killer-dating, and cannibalism. Weird, annoying, and kind of upsetting, because it became clear very quickly that all this was being staged by one narcissistic young slimeball to have exactly the effect it was having.

Then the Internet good guys can rally their troops to try and help find the guy, and the guy can be caught. Because he was Googling himself for hours in a public Internet cafe. A great relief actually (and can we get a clean-up at terminal 7?)

And we hoped, such a capture can signal the end to the stupidity, butchery, and media manipulation.

Seriously. All of that can happen.

But then, you know what else can happen? Out of the Blue?

Someone working at a major Canadian consumer beer brand – let us call that brand “Labatt” – sees that the Montreal Gazette has skimmed a photo of the evil perpetrator  from the (do I even need to say “alleged” any more?) killer’s Web site. The photo is splashed all over their online coverage like so factory-produced beer across a freshman dorm room.

And, horrors! In the photo he is holding their product Labatt Blue!

Board rooms are booked. Meetings are convened. People speak in urgent voices.

There is a BAD man. In a PUBLIC newspaper. Holding OUR BEER!

Suitable horror is expressed by all, minions and executive washroom keyholders alike, and a powerful, simple idea emerges:
we must protect our brand!!!

Now this is where, out of the blue, somebody got the idea. An idea which isn’t a bad idea if you’re the sort of person paid to have such ideas. It just seems that way to the rest of us…

They send a lawyer’s letter ordering the Montreal Gazette to take down the photo.

So what happened then?

There’s a name for all of this, as Dabitch reminds me: “the Streisand Effect”, wherein a brand tries to “protect” itself from a media storm but ends up wading into an even deeper mess. And you’ll note that Labatt has already secured itself a spot on the Wikipedia listing for Ms. Streisand’s eponymous Effect. How’s that for exposure?

But the part that got me was this quote from Labatt’s vice-president of corporate affairs:

“Once the Gazette explained their position, we promptly thanked them for their response, dropped the matter and we will not be following up further,” Charlie Angelakos wrote in a statement. “Our goal was simply to protect our brand.”

Now dear readers, you tell me: is that how brands are protected?

Or is it perhaps how brands are dismembered, cannibalized, and made notorious for all the wrong reasons?

After all, a lot can happen…. Out of the Blue.

Sorry Ashton Kutcher. That’s a wipe-out.

Yesterday, a friend linked to the video below, wondering why Ashton Kutcher and advertiser popchips would post such a “racist video”. Then an online debate broke out about whether it is racist or not. I won’t paddle into that one, but I will offer this…

Yesterday, health a friend linked to the video below, wondering why Ashton Kutcher and advertiser popchips would post such a “racist video”. Then an online debate broke out about whether it is racist or not. I won’t paddle into that one, but I will offer this…

(Guitar Riff. Maniacal laughter.) WIPEOUT!!!

Anyone who’s had a joke fall flat knows that  humour is a tricky balance. It’s like surfing a wave. You’ve got to ride the edge between keeping your audience laughing and “sucking water” (so to speak).

But “edgy” humour is an even bigger wave, and humour dealing with controversial topics like gender, race, is the biggest, nastiest wave of all. Only the most skillful comedians can hold themselves on that edge without making people angry.  Peter Sellers did it brilliantly in The Party by creating a character that with stereotypes, but ends up making most of us love him. Will some people be offended? Sure they will. But most will sense the risk, see your skill, and cringing, go along for the ride.

Ashton Kutcher? Sorry my friend. Stick to the small waves.

Or better yet. Stay on the beach.

Update: The ad has been pulled by popchips.