Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hot Holiday Toys 2014

Those "hot holiday toy" lists have been out for weeks. There are some obvious selections (Frozen merchandise) and some not so obvious, ready for gift-givers to browse and buy. Promotions and publicity now--the bigger, the better--will build brand awareness and recognition, even preference and early purchasing, in advance of the holiday shopping season that accelerates in late November.

Toy review site TTPM says: Disney Frozen dolls, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures, and Doc McStuffins (at left) will be hot this year, among others.

Walmart says Frozen plus: Air Hogs RC Zero Gravity Laser Racer, Airstorm Firetech Bow (think Hunger Games), Barbie, Hot Wheels, and others, including the Vtech smartwatch (at right) for kids.

Toys 'R' Us toy list includes Legos, Little Live Pets Bird Cage with "live" birds, FurReal Friends toy pets, and Transformers, among others.

And if you're shopping in the UK, Hamleys has the My Friend Cayla doll (which looks things up on Google for your children), Doh Vinci modeling set (a la 3D printing), and the Xeno the Cheeky Interactive Baby Monster (at left).

Amazon categorizes its top holiday picks, including "retro," "Mom picks," "classic brands," and "in the movies." 

Get 'em while they're hot! Or at least while they're in stock.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Black, white, and green all over: newspaper merchandise

If you've opened the New York Times lately, you know that the "grey lady" has its own merchandise for sale. You can't miss the full-page ads on Sunday, marketing everything from its own photographs to front page reprints to logo-emblazoned T-shirts, caps, and keychains. Other merchandise includes vintage typewriters, baseball memorabilia, and personalized gifts for all ages and special occasions (see wedding gift, above). The Times also markets "journeys" such as small group tours of historic places or areas with special political significance.

With print advertising revenues down and fewer US consumers getting their news primarily from newspapers, merchandise marketing has two benefits for papers: it boosts revenues and it appeals to loyal media brand fans who want to be identified with that paper. NY baseball fans might wear a Yankees or Mets cap, while NY news fans might wear a NY Times cap.

Reader profiles differ from paper to paper, so the merchandise being marketed differs, as well. Here are a few other examples of newspapers marketing merchandise, a trend not limited to US markets:
  • The Denver Post sells photos from its newspaper.
  • The Los Angeles Times markets T-shirts, photos, back issues, and LA-related merchandise like mugs.
  • The Chicago Tribune shop features back issues, photos, T-shirts, and made-in-Chicago merchandise.
  • The UK Guardian newspaper has an online store featuring T-shirts, wallets, and more--including satirical figurines based on political figures.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald offers Australian products like books, art prints, wristwatches, and more.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Vertu's Strategy Tweak: "Understated Luxury"

Remember the original Vertu cell phones, dripping in diamonds and looking like the status symbols that they're meant to be? Vertu has been sold (it used to belong to Nokia) and the new owners have tweaked its strategy and switched technology.

Now that smartphones have taken over, old-style "brick" handsets are out. Vertu's phones have to not just look smart, they have to be smart. The new Vertu wants to be known for "understated luxury" with a high price that puts an exclamation point in exclusivity.

Above, the Vertu Aster, which features a leather case on the outside and inside, Android KitKat OS. Details like Dolby digital sound and three different network connectivity methods (GSM, 3G, 4G) add to the functionality. In ostrich leather, handcrafted by an artisan, the Aster is priced about $9,500. Precious stones are extra.

The CEO says Vertu is "taking a more understated luxury approach to match what the consumer is today...The world has changed in terms of phones and in terms of customers."

Women's Wear Daily observes that Vertu is targeting a younger customer (particularly in emerging markets) with high-end fashion touches. It operates 70 Vertu-only stores worldwide to control the ambiance and service in which its top-end phones are sold.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why Retailers Go Bankrupt

CNBC has a slide show with store logos of retailers that have disappeared in the recent past. On the list: Borders, Tower Records, KB Toys, Circuit City, CompUSA, Blockbuster, Woolworth, Mervyn's, Linens 'n Things, Bombay, and Coldwater Creek. The Boston Glove has its own slide show of defunct retailers.

Not on most of these recent lists because they're LONG gone: Kresge, Higbee's, Halle's, Peck & Peck, Gimbels, B. Altman, Loehmann's...the list really does go on and on. Just do an online search and you'll find Wikipedia pages devoted to defunct retailers.

Also see the retailer graveyard at Retailer Graveyard, maintained by Green Light Retail Real Estate Services. Here's a link to the dead department stores, for instance.

Why do retailers go bankrupt? A variety of forces in the marketing environment are at play:
  • The economy
  • Changing consumer tastes
  • Changing shopper behavior
  • Population shifts 
  • Industry consolidation
  • Management issues
  • Financial woes 
  • Technology 
Ecko expanded rapidly and filed for bankruptcy only 21 years after its founding. Coldwater Creek faced changing fashion tastes. Circuit City expanded at too fast a pace and faced intense competitive challenges. Even during the current economic recovery, some retailers may not make it.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Greek Yogurt Marketers Compete in the Streets

Chobani--the entrepreneurial company that almost singlehandedly made Greek yogurt into the most popular yogurt in America--wants to know what consumers like and dislike and how tastes are changing. So it opened a cafe in the trendy SoHo section of Manhattan and now tests new flavors and products there.

The cafe sells food but it also doubles as brand promotion: “Everybody who leaves the cafe says they are more likely to buy our product at the grocery store,” says the head of Chobani's marketing and branding. Chobani is high social: With nearly 1 million Facebook likes and 83,000 Twitter followers, Chobani is staying in touch with consumers for a two-way conversation.

Competitors Yoplait (owned by General Mills) and Dannon (Danone) are countering the Chobani cafe with their own pop-up shops and food trucks in SoHo. Yoplait declared a "taste-off" with its pop-up shop, inviting consumers to come in and taste flavors and compare for three days early this year.

Dannon has put Oikos yogurt food trucks on the road to bring a taste of its Greek yogurt to the streets. Naturally, the Oikos trucks prowled SoHo during the same time as Yoplait's pop-up shop was open and the Chobani cafe was serving.

Look at supermarket shelves, and it's clear Greek yogurt has virtually taken over, a huge change from just a few years ago, when it was a niche business. What's next for yogurt marketing?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Major League Soccer's New Brand Logo

It's a new branding era for Major League Soccer. As the 20th season of the league approaches, it wants to signal the next stage in its North American growth. So the boot and ball are gone, replaced by this striking new brand logo that lends itself to team-by-team adaptation. Here's what the MLS's CMO told Sports Illustrated about this latest version of the brand logo:
The more modern brands of the world don’t need to telegraph a specific category or line of business they’re in. In many cases, they stand for something much bigger. A great example of that is Apple.
Not everyone is enamored of the new logo. A Boston Globe writer says: "... while I don’t have a great sense for design, I’m not sure I even like the new logo. But I do find the switch itself interesting. It conveys that MLS, which is calling the rebranding effort ‘MLS NEXT,’ thinks it’s entering a new era."

I definitely agree--MLS is using this modern brand element to reflect its emergence as an established sports league. No longer a startup that has to explain itself over and over, the MLS of today has big-league players, major media coverage, good audience numbers, and marketing confidence.

In fact, MLS has become so good at marketing the game experience that college football is using it as a model.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Campbell's Soup Revamps Marketing Recipe

These are difficult times for Campbell's, which is struggling through lower consumption of canned soups and changes in consumer lifestyles and tastes. The company's traditional condensed soups in red-and-white cans may be iconic, but they also may seem old-fashioned to Millennial buyers who seek spicier flavors and either speedier preparation or fresh, home-made meals.

Those accustomed to microwave meals or add-boiling-water noodle soup may not necessarily be interested in other types of soups. And the growing interest in home-made meals--fueled, in part, by the foodie culture, including food and cooking programs, web sites, blogs, and more--is also eroding sales of canned foods. Yet convenience is an important factor: canned soup is shelf-stable, quick and easy to make on the stove or in the microwave.

The Chunky line of soups target men, in particular, which is why Campbell's has a sponsorship relationship with the NFL. Above, a photo of Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks and his mother, who appear in "Mama's Boy" TV commercials for Chunky soup; among other NFL players and their moms who appear in Chunky commercials are Demarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys and Todd Heap of the Baltimore Ravens.

Campbell is introducing hundreds of new products each year to find the most appealing and enduring. It's also diversifying its product portfolio through acquisitions, as part of its marketing plan to reverse weak results.

Meanwhile, Campbell of Canada is updating the look of its heat-and-eat soup labels to stand out on the shelf and communicate contents to busy shoppers. The label redesign was based on eye-tracking research and is intended to "sell from the shelf" as part of the marketing plan.

“The number one objective is breaking through and being very distinct at shelf-level and having the consumer be able to either very quickly find the variety they’re looking for, or discover a new variety,” explains the senior director of marketing.

Monday, September 22, 2014

New Product Success: 10 Million Sold in 3 Days

The headline says it all: Apple's new iPhone 6 and 6+ are big, big hits. Although analysts expected high demand, an opening weekend figure of 10 million indicates that Apple has once again correctly identified the sweet spot of consumer interest. This time, the larger screens are a major attraction for iPhone fans--not to mention the status of being among the earliest adopters of this new product.

Although Android is the big market share winner worldwide, Apple's iOS dominates the US market, with a nearly 42% share. New iPhones have caused a frenzy in the past, but this latest product launch eclipses Apple's previous records.

Apple has traditionally shown initiative and power in product launches. Its ability to orchestrate and implement all the details of product development, production, and introduction--including the all-important intro marketing campaign--is a major strength. That doesn't stop rivals from sniping, of course, as Samsung did one day after Apple's highly publicized launch of the iPhones and Apple Watch.

With customers deciding between tablets and phones--and sometimes buying both--the industry is seeing even more innovation and crowding than ever. This final quarter of 2014 will feature a number of competitive smartphone launches, including:
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Samsung Z
  • Sony Xperia Z3
  • Nexus 6
  • Moto X + 1

Friday, September 19, 2014

Derek Jeter, Legendary Brand Ambassador

Derek Jeter's retirement from the NY Yankees is unlikely to halt his success as a brand ambassador. Jeter has maintained the respect of peers, sponsors, and the public, even as some other star athletes have been embroiled in controversy and scandals. His involvement with brands adds that "halo" of legend, a plus in sports marketing.

One of several tributes to Jeter in his final Major League Baseball season is this stylish commercial from Gatorade. Jeter himself suggested the action and the Frank Sinatra musical accompaniment. There's a print tribute as well.

Nike, another brand endorsed by Jeter, has its own plans for tributes

Whether the Yanks get to the 2014 playoffs or not, Jeter has had a terrific baseball career--and his successful marketing career still has a lot of momentum.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ranking the Top Hotel Brands

No two brand rankings are exactly alike--as these rankings of top hotel brands clearly show.

This week's Fortune magazine lists the top 5 hotel brands as ranked by a survey conducted among business travelers who are readers of Fortune and Travel + Leisure. Their picks:
  1. Ritz-Carlton
  2. Luxury Collection
  3. Kimpton
  4. Waldorf Astoria Collection
  5. Fairmont 
Travel + Leisure separately ranked the world's top hotel brands earlier in the year this way:
  1. Amanresorts
  2. Oberoi Hotels
  3. One & Only
  4. Four Seasons
  5. Mandarin Oriental
U.S. News & World Report ranked North American hotel brands this way in January:
  1. Park Hyatt, Chicago
  2. Ritz-Carlton, Montreal
  3. Rosewood Hotel Georgia (Vancouver)
  4. Waldorf-Astoria, Chicago
  5. St. Regis Punta Mita (Mexico)
The American Customer Satisfaction Index ranks hotel brands this way as of April:
  1. Ritz-Carlton
  2. J.W. Marriott
  3. Hyatt
  4. Hyatt Place
  5. Westin