Monday, August 13, 2012

Who says you can’t have it all? The brand Gods, that’s who.

I was recently reminded of a series of commercials that ran for the American beer Michelob Lite in the 1980s. Based around the syrupy jingle “Who says you can’t have it all?”, the spots showed a certain demographic, at the time called “yuppies”, who supposedly did have the whole enchilada. As Hugh MacLeod points outs in his humorous, “do-the-work-you-love” book Evil Plans:
The campaign for Michelob Lite beer tritely asked the question “Who says you can’t love your work and leave it too?” as a sly substitute for the question “Who says you can’t get great, satisfying taste in a beer that also happens to be kind of light and watery.”
Some of the other themes in the campaign included the head-scratching "Who says you can't be somebody and still be you?" as well as the paean to lost youth "Who says you can't have pinstripes and rock and roll?" The answer in every case was an emphatic “Oh yes you can!” (You can check out one of the commercials here.)

The “Who says you can’t have it all?” ad campaign only had a shelf-life of about a year and in hindsight it’s not hard to see why. At its core, the brand was making a statement that’s just not believable. In beer, as in life, there are usually trade-offs involved. And while a beer with less calories may be a good thirst quencher, it probably doesn’t qualify as “a super premium beer”, as Michelob Lite liked to refer to itself.

Today, there are more than few brands who exhibit this same “over-promise, under deliver” behavior (I’m talking to you, banking sector). But there are several companies and brands that are doing an excellent job of nailing down their own unique market positioning by promoting a product benefit that resonates and separates them from their competitors. A few examples:
*Wendy’s. I’m the opposite of a fast food fan, but I’m almost tempted to stop by a Wendy’s. Their new ad campaign is centered around what’s called “Wendy’s Way” with an emphasis on high quality ingredients. Check out their nifty Web site where you can tour a picturesque 3-D farmland that brings to life the Wendy’s point of difference. Does Burger King or McDonald’s use the same fresh ingredients? Probably. But for now at least, Wendy’s has seized and owns the “fresh” mantle. 
*Apple. I’ve seen several of the new “genius” commercials, and I’m less than impressed, as are the critics. After years of superior advertising, Apple has put out a series of corny slice-of-life spots about an employee from their “Genius Bar” assisting customers in need. Yet, while the execution feels very Dell/Best Buy-ish, they do point out a huge point-of-difference that Apple has over these competitors—they offer great customer service from helpful employees who really know their stuff. 
*Meijer’s. In the supermarket category, I could tell you about the superior shopping experience and quality of a Whole Foods or Wegman’s. But instead I’d like to talk about convenience. As reported by the Zing! blog, the Meijer chain has set up a radical new way to redeem coupons. Open an account at their m-rewards Web site and you can enter all the coupons you want online before you go to the store. Then, just enter your mobile phone number at check-out and “your coupons will be miraculously applied to your purchase”. It’s a frictionless way to pass along savings, without all the clipping and paperwork.
One final note on Michelob Lite. While their “You can’t have it all” spots failed, so has virtually every other campaign they’ve tried over the years. (Remember, “Light up the night”? I didn’t think so.) I’ll again let Hugh MacLeod weigh in on this less than successful brand:
“Twenty-plus years after declaring their ability to be all things to all people, that brand is still struggling, trying to be something—anything—other than unexceptional.”
What about the companies, brands and loyalty programs you work for and with: Do they offer a real point-of-difference? Do your customers see them as exceptional?