The Greenest Brands in America

In recognition of Earth Day, Brand Keys has released its list of the greenest brands in America

Being seen as green is much more difficult because so many brands are trying to send that message.  Therefore, consumer expectations are much higher. Indeed, last year 40 brands qualified as “green” according to Brand Keys.  This year it is just 25.

The list includes a lot of familiar names, but one that many may be unfamiliar with is the cosmetics brand Kiehl’s.  (They have been part of the L’Oreal Group since 2000.) 

The imagery on their website and the very simple, almost retro packaging (Kiehl’s began as a homeopathic pharmacy in 1851 and much of its packaging looks like it came out of time capsule from that era) may help to explain their inclusion on this list.  The brand is also known for its philanthropic activities, including support for HIV/AIDS research and environmental causes.

Feminism for a new generation?

This article from the New York Times this weekend was a bit unfocused, but it touched on two different trends among teenage girls – girls who, in a decade or less, will be adult consumers.

The first part of the article centered on YouTube star JoJo Siwa, who is promoting what one might call a new flavor of young feminism:

“In a world where parents of children ages 8 to 14 have long been concerned about hypersexualized clothing, early puberty and overly sophisticated media messages, JoJo is part of a growing group of girls documenting routine, age-appropriate behaviors and activities such as being nice, doing their choresdivulging what’s in their backpacks, making dresses out of garbage bags and working to pay for their own clothes.”

The article then meanders into a deeper discussion of the young female stars of YouTube.  Older people always worry that new trends herald the end of civilization as we know it, and the presence of young girls crossing over from YouTube to mainstream stardom is no exception.

 ‘”It’s troublesome to me when I see this being celebrated as the herald of what our young girls should aspire to,’ Ms. Long said. ‘That you, too, can go from being a YouTube star to having your own deal on Nickelodeon.’”

How do these trends compare or contrast with those of past generations when those generations were in their teen years?  What does this suggest for how brands can reach these girls, not only now but also down the road?

(photo: Ryan Henriksen for The New York Times )

"Take on TJ" takes the prize

The Advertising Research Foundation announced its 2017 Ogilvy Award winners this week and the Grand Winner was Nike’s “Take on TJ” campaign.

This campaign was in support of Nike’s “Gear Up “ initiative, which encourages teenage athletes to stock up on the equipment they will need for the coming sports season.

The key insight was developed around social listening and Google search trends. Teen athletes spend their summers the way most teenagers do – going on vacations, working, partying, and hanging out.  But when fall sports season approaches, they start to freak out, wondering if they’re going to be in good enough shape to compete.

This campaign highlights the fictional but yet all too real “TJ,” the adversary who is always just a little better than you.  The one you always want to beat but can’t.  They launched the campaign on Facebook and YouTube and it blew up. They created a humble-bragging Twitter account for TJ and had NFL star Richard Sherman at the customer service center answering all TJ-related calls.

According to the case study linked above, typical Nike seasonal campaigns generate 10,000-12,000 website visits in a month.  TJ generated 1.5 million visits and Nike considers it one of its most successful social campaigns to date.

Winning the Holidays

The 2016 IPA Effectiveness Awards were recently announced and the Grand Prix Winner was John Lewis, a retailer whose holiday adverts have become part of the culture in the UK.

I don’t think there is a campaign quite like this in the US.  Each holiday season, John Lewis releases a new ad on TV and online that is eagerly anticipated by everyone in the country.  Each story is highly emotional and is supported by an in-store experience that invites shoppers to become part of the story.

The campaign is credited with driving up sales by an average of 16% during the holidays and have boosted the company’s market share to nearly 30%. The holiday season accounts for 40% of John Lewis’ annual profits.  The campaign itself has generated more than £8 of profit for every £1 spent. 

Here is the 2016 campaign in all its glory – the ad, the in-store experience, the music, and the merchandise.  You can see campaigns from the previous years here.

Marketers often look for points of differentiation.  There is no point of differentiation here; many retailers could have made an ad like this.  But none of them did. 

So although there is no differentiation, there is, as the marketing wizard Al Ries calls it, pre-emption.  No other retailer (and probably no other brand of any kind) can play in this space now, because John Lewis “owns” it – simply because of how effective these messages have been.


This is your brain on advertising (?)

A recent study attempted to map how :15 video ads on various online platforms affect activity in the brain.  One of the insights is that “health food, coffee and hospitality brands advertising on publishers’ sites had a big impact on the detail-oriented left-side of the brain. However, ecommerce and consumer electronics brands resonated with the right side of the brain.”

What does this mean for advertisers, though?  The notion that the right side of the brain is more “creative” while the left side of the brain is more “logical” has been debunked.  Indeed, it isn’t even clear what the terms  “creative” or “logical” mean. As this commentary asks, does higher-level mathematical ability not require high levels of creativity?  We need both sides of our brain working in concert to function in the world.

One marketer read the advertising study in question and called it a bunch of nonsense.  What do you think?

(Thanks to Cecilia Troiano of our global partner in Brazil, Troiano Branding, for bringing this research, and the pushback, to our attention.)



This Friday New York Times column is another reminder that brands are more than a collection of product attributes and functional consequences.

The author, Wendy McLeod, has composed a paean to the brands of her youth, some of which are long gone but which still hold a place in her heart.

For her, the list includes Vick’s Vap-o-Rub, Right Guard, and Noxzema.  Vick’s resonates with me – I might also add  Salem cigarettes and Mennen Skin Bracer to the list.

The childhood memories of brands should not be underestimated.  There are often weighty psychological attachments there that transcend rationality and consciousness.

Wake Up the Silent Home

Love this commercial from Sonos that ran during the Grammy’s – Wake Up the Silent Home

There is a cultural story at work – it is increasingly common to be together, but alone, as we all sit around the living room with our individual devices.  Moreover, if we’re alone in this way, we’re probably not listening to music together.  In fact, around the world 67% of families don’t listen to music together.  In the US, it’s 79%.

So Sonos, which makes speakers and home sound systems, decided to fight back against that trend in a highly metaphorical way.


The business of biking

Fundamentally, the neighborhood bicycle shop is only a little different than it was when the Wright Brothers were building bikes -- before they got into airplanes. But it might not be that way for long. We found this article to be an interesting one about how competitors in a unique industry respond to change.

The bike industry doesn’t seem like a particularly healthy one in many ways.  Since 2000 about 40% of bike shops have closed.  Structural forces make it hard for small, innovative manufacturers to make headway, buying a bike isn’t as easy and convenient as it could be, and the sale of used bikes is way up.

Bicycle dealers are now trying to respond, before they go the way of neighborhood bookstores and record stores.  They are beginning to offer more mobile services and increased customer education.

Maybe the biggest problem – people aren’t riding as much.  In 1995, 56.3 million Americans rode a bike six or more times.  In 2015?  Just 36 million.  If you were in this industry, what could you do to inspire people to get out and ride?

The world is your playground

A study just published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences explores the topic of playfulness in adults and even implies it could be an addition to the “Big Five” personality traits.

The researchers have identified four types of playfulness in adults:

·         Other-directed: People who like to fool around with friends and acquaintances

·         Light-hearted: People who treat all of life as a kind of game

·         Intellectual: People who enjoy playing with new ideas or who can turn mundane tasks    into something interesting

·         Whimsical: People who are amused by strange, unusual, everyday occurrences.

The authors argue that people who are playful can be misunderstood – it is easy to perceive them as frivolous or unfocused; however, playful people are also well-equipped to find novel solutions to complex problems because they can see things from different perspectives.

An Augmented Holiday

Augmented reality, after close to a decade of hype and promise, is finally making a bit of a splash in the children’s toy market this holiday season.

In case you missed it the White House launched an AR app – “1600” – a couple of weeks ago. This, of course, comes on the heels of the Pokemon Go phenomenon.

Among the toys and games this season – the Neobear Magnifier, which is a handheld AR magnifying glass; Hologrid: Monster Battle, an AR board game that brings characters to life; and House of the Dying Sun, which puts you in the cockpit of a starfighter as you try to save the galaxy.

As Chuck Martin of MediaPost explains, this kind of holiday wave will help bring AR to the mainstream as more and kids (and parents) discover what it is capable of.

"Christmas" or "Holiday"?

A marketing communications company has studied which email subject lines lead to the best open rates around the holiday season.

“Happy Holidays” is an inclusive greeting but it may not the best phrase for retail marketers to use in their emails.  Actually, emails with the word “Christmas” in the subject line  boast open rates 26% higher than those that use the word “Holiday.”  The word “Hanukkah” drives open rates 40% higher than “Holiday.”

I wonder why this is?  Does the mention of a specific holiday conjure up a different image in our minds (and thus slightly different feelings and emotions) than the generic word “holiday”?  Would this finding apply in other contexts like TV ads or in-store displays?

Shaping parliament, shaping society

Do the seating arrangements in our legislative bodies shape (or reflect) how our societies are governed?

The architecture firm XML, based in Amsterdam, has published Parliament, which is a design study of the halls of parliament of all 193 members of the United Nations.

The authors argue that legislative halls are all organized in one of five ways – semicircle, horseshoe, opposing benches, circle, or classroom.  The classroom style, for example – with straight rows of chairs facing the front of the room -- is common in more authoritarian nations like North Korea and Russia.  The UK House of Commons, which is known for its spirited debate, uses opposing benches, which emphasizes the distinctions between parties. Circular designs, on the other hand, generally foster a sense of unity and collaboration.

We should not take for granted how work spaces and seating arrangements can affect our behavior and thinking unconsciously.

Donald Trump -- the feminine candidate (?!)

This is one of the more interesting stories I have read this election season – “Donald Trump Talks Like a Woman.”

Although Trump is hyper-masculine in his rhetoric and, unfortunately, in some of his alleged behavior, linguist Julie Sedivy contends that his frequent use of “I” (as opposed to “We”), the use of shorter words, and the use of auxiliary verbs like am, don’t, and will mark his speech as strikingly feminine – and thus very personal, likeable, and trustworthy.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is basically in the middle of the spectrum of masculine/feminine language.  Her speech, according to Sedivy, is far more masculine than Trump’s but more feminine than that of candidates like Sarah Palin, John Kerry, Jeb Bush, or Bernie Sanders.

(To be fair, another linguist, John McWhorter of Columbia, throws shade on all of this. He says Trump’s language is simply more informal than Clinton’s, not necessarily more feminine.)

Sedivy also cites a 2015 study of political advertising that suggests female voiceovers are more credible than male voiceovers in ads focusing on issues like education, childcare, and reproductive rights, while male voices were more persuasive on topics like the economy or foreign policy.

Snobby no more

Abercrombie & Fitch has been, for years, a highly polarizing brand – kind of a “mean girls” brand.  Many teenagers loved it; many others loved to hate it.

However, in the face of plummeting sales, A&F yesterday launched a new marketing campaign. Gone are the brooding, shirtless dudes and snobbishness.  Now the message is inclusiveness.  There is even a new logo.  The store experience will change, too.  They will become much brighter and slightly less heavily scented.  Essentially, they are trying to become a “casual luxury” brand for people in their 20s who loved the brand as teenagers.

It may be a tough road for A&F.  Its rivals American Eagle and Hollister have already carved out their own inclusive images that young shoppers seem to find appealing.  Moreover, A&F isn’t necessarily a warm, fuzzy brand that a lot of people are inherently rooting for.  Many people who are in their 20s and 30s found the brand intimidating and exclusionary, while many teens just find it un-cool.

(The Wall St. Journal article above is behind a pay wall, so if interested you can listen to the Marketplace story about the new A&F here.)

Better nudges, better citizens

As we (thankfully) near the end of the 2016 presidential campaign,  a couple of ideas for increasing voter turnout (and civic responsibility, in general) from the pages of the New York Times.

The Times cites several examples of governments that have gamified civic responsibility.  China has reduced instances of sales tax evasion by turning tax receipts into scratch-off lottery tickets. One study found that the new tax revenue amounted to 30 times the cost of the lottery prizes.

In Los Angeles, a project called Voteria offered $25,000 to a randomly-selected voter who cast a ballot in a 2015 off-year election, the kind of election typically plagued by very low turnout.  The lure of a cash prize increased voter participation by 46%.

Not everyone loves the concept.  One high-minded commenter on the Times article sniffs, “Using incentives to ‘nudge’ people into their duties is at odds with the notion of a self-governing citizenry. In a republic, citizens are supposed to be motivated by civic virtue.”   But in the context of a world where many leaders and would-be leaders seem to lack civic virtue, is this really such a profane idea?

Facebook tried something even simpler – just reminding people.  When users logged into Facebook in September they were greeted with a reminder – “Are you registered to vote?  Register now to make sure you have a voice in the election.”  On the first day of the campaign, a nearly unprecedented 123,000 Californians registered to vote or updated their registrations.  Other states saw similar activity.

Ending the pernicious problem of public poop

Thanks to Jess Kukreti of Olson Zaltman for sharing this NPR story on the Global Sanitation Fund’s efforts to eliminate open defecation in Nepal.

The organization is experimenting with a strategy called Community Led Total Sanitatation (CLTS). A typical activity includes residents being led on a walk around the village while a group facilitator points out piles of human feces and asks who is responsible.  If someone can identify the culprit, the group leader hectors that person them with questions like, “How does this make you feel? Do you feel good about that?”

Some have criticized this “shaming” approach for being offensive and condescending.  Perhaps. But it also has been successful, helping to nearly eliminate open defecation in Bangladesh.

Emotions like shame, disgust, and guilt can be tricky.  In a traditional marketing context, research shows they can backfire.  If consumers perceive that a brand is trying to manipulate their feelings of guilt, they find that communication to be less credible, they are less likely to actually feel guilty, they lose trust in the company, and they can even become angry at the company.

This situation is probably a bit different. Not only is this not a “company” trying to promote a “brand,” but also CLTS is using guilt/shame to inhibit behavior that clearly violates social norms – rather than using it to persuade more people to buy a specific brand of laundry detergent, for example. So guilt/emotion has the power to motivate people here in a way that it might not in a classic marketing effort.


You see them on your Facebook feeds.  You see them in market research.  The people who think nothing good has happened since 1981. The people who hate everything.

This article tries to get inside the heads of these vexing killjoys – and it builds its narrative around people who relentlessly criticize Pokemon Go.

Research suggests that some are like this just because they are sour people by nature.  But other times folks play the contrarian to make themselves stand out against the masses.  In one study, if you told participants they were average in some respect, they were more likely to speak out against the majority opinion in a subsequent discussion.

Does this mean anything for market research?  Not infrequently we encounter respondents in research who seem to reflexively dislike anything that is put in front of them. Do we screen out those people somehow?  Do we do something at the start of the interview to put them in a better mood?  Or is it in some way beneficial to hear the opinions of these nattering nabobs of negativism?

One small step for VR...

Some clever and innovative marketing from a company you might not necessarily expect it from – Lockheed Martin, the global aerospace and defense giant.

They created a virtual reality experience called “Field Trip to Mars.”  Kids climbed aboard a bus to attend a science and engineering festival in Washington DC, but suddenly found that this was no ordinary school bus.  It became a rolling VR headset that gave the students a sense of what it would be like to travel across the face of the red planet.

This is part of a community outreach program to get elementary school kids hooked on the possibility of space travel and generate interest in STEM fields. The “Field Trip to Mars” won 19 awards at Cannes this summer.

When life is work

Thanks to Tim Bradley for sending this article about the science of work – specifically how much time you spend at work and HOW you spend that time.

The columnist, John Brandon, was set off by a comment from Marissa Mayer, who boasted that the recipe for Google’s success was people who, in the early days, worked 130 hours a week.  As Brandon says, “[That] recipe is seriously flawed. Working 130 hours does not lead to success. Working smarter leads to success.”

Research shows that in order to do quality work breaks are critical – they prevent boredom, help us reassess goals, and most importantly help us retain information and make connections.

Perhaps the people at Google did work 130 hours a week, but the company’s success may have come in spite of that herculean effort, not because of it.