Friday, February 17, 2012

How Apple's Chinese Workers are like Oompa-Loompas

In Ronald Dahl’s adventure Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Oompa-Loompas escape from their natural predators in Loompaland by accepting Willy Wonka’s invitation to work at his factory. There, these short-statured, orange-skinned people live happily, free from being eaten by the Whangdoodles, Hornswogglers, and Snozzywangers. They sing songs, make chocolate, and get paid in their favorite food, cacao beans.  I like to pretend that my smartphone is made by Oompa-Loompas in that socially responsible factory. 

But that’s not the case as we discovered in a recent New York Times article in which Apple received a large black eye for manufacturing their iPads and iPhones in China in what was described as troubling working conditions, characterized by low wages and excessive overtime. Of course, Apple isn’t the only manufacturer stooping to these practices and sourcing to low bidders like Foxconn. HP also uses this manufacturer and, in fact, I’m hard pressed to find an electronic device marketed in the U.S. that isn’t made by workers stacked in tech dorms in China. 

So does this mean consumers should stop buying iPads? No, but it does create a hurdle for Apple devotees, who don’t want to disguise their devices or be perceived as loyalists to a big bad company. So what actions will they take? The answer is in the October 2011 Cone/Echo Global CR Opportunity Study, which reported that consumers worldwide (and they surveyed over 10,000 people) are demanding a higher level of social responsibility from the companies they buy from. Many reported using their loyalty and purchasing power to advance these demands. As Apple’s consumers utilize their power to press for the company to evaluate external suppliers like Foxconn, what actions do you think the company will take and how will those actions impact sourcing and manufacturing in China?  We’ll watch and see. 

Corporate responsibility critics complain that the time and money spent “doing good” detracts from the business mission, which is to sell people the products they want and make money doing it. But Doug Guthrie, (no relation), Dean of the George Washington University School of Business, in his Forbes article, Corporate Social Responsibility: Cheaper Than a Pension Fund, provides a historical case for corporations leading the way to the rise of CSR. “They (companies) put the agenda into play in the first place, actively defining the system and what constituted socially responsible corporate behavior.” 

As evidenced by the negative reaction to China’s manufacturing practices, the Cone/Echo survey, and Dr. Guthrie’s educated view, brand marketers (and their CEOs) should realize that CSR does not stand on its own as an act of altruism or as a public relations stunt. CSR is a method of creating and maintaining brand legitimacy and it impacts every aspect of the business even vendor employment practices, as the Apple “incident” has shown. 

The moral of the story is to take CSR seriously and examine your company’s actions at every audience touch point. Be prepared to discuss and defend what the public sees and perceives, remembering that customers today are more engaged and knowledgeable than any other time in capitalism’s history. If there’s a weak point, fix it, because the value of that action will pay off in brand credibility...which will mean dollars to the bottom line. 

Also don’t discount Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory as only a child’s story. It is a great example of the benefit of corporate social responsibility because by protecting the Oompa-Loompas in his factory, Willy Wonka achieved three key goals. First, he defined a strong platform for branding the uniqueness of his product, integrating the company identity with his rare employees. Chocolate made exclusively by Oompa-Loompas. Second, his actions portrayed the company as a benefactor and we all know that philanthropy is a “good” thing. And third, he created an exceptional economic advantage, significantly lowering his manufacturing costs and giving him a considerable edge over his competitors. His workers were housed in dormitories on-site and got paid beans. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The AD That Won The Super Bowl!

Yes, we all know the outcome of the New York Giants' battle with the New England Patriots, but there's another Super Bowl score.  One that gives us the ranking for the top 10 commercials. This year for the first time that involves USA Today’s Ad Meter and the forces of Facebook, and those results will be in on Tuesday evening.

We all know that Super Bowl commercials are as entertaining as the game itself. What you might not realize is that competition for top choice contenders is equally as fierce, but it hasn’t always been that way. In 1989, USA Today, in an effort to build brand awareness and advertising revenue, introduced a very smart marketing strategy. They took a small panel of people, put them in a room with a meter, and told them to rate the Super Bowl ads on a scale from one to 10 during the game.

These rankings were published in USA Today the next day, headlining Monday’s paper, and quickly were re-broadcast by other media outlets becoming the focal point for morning TV news and radio talk shows. And just like that, USA’s Ad Meter results were adopted as the marketing gospel for who “won” the Super Bowl.

For corporations who are investing something like $100,000 a second, USA’s ad score card is taken seriously. One epic example from 2007 is when CareerBuilder’s Big Game ad didn’t make the Ad Meter’s top ten, and that Monday morning right after the Super Bowl they put their advertising business up for an agency review. An Ad Meter certainty, as Rob Schwartz, TBWA/Chiat Day Chief Creative Officer, recently described it to Ad Age editor, Michael Learmonth: “If you’re No. 32 on the Ad Meter, better put your resumes together.”

The reality is that top placement in USA’s Ad Meter still bestows privileged status (and longer-term employment) to the agencies and companies that produce these advertisements. But this year it seems that the digital age, where consumer research, media information, TV ratings, online intelligence, and mobile measurement are part of a marketer’s daily routine, has brought a change in USA’s Ad Meter evaluation methodology.

In addition to selecting two consumer panels in two secret locations, USA opened up the voting to you and me on Facebook. Yes, we have a chance to actually take part in the 2012 USA TODAY Facebook Super Bowl Ad Meter. There’s still time to view, rate, and share the Super Bowl ads with your friends. Voting started at kickoff on Sunday, but it doesn’t end until Tuesday, February 7 at 6:00 p.m. EST/3:00 p.m. PST. And, according to the website, America's pick is listed after at 10 p.m. EST on February 7 at this address.

Having a chance to vote is certainly great fun; just, two thoughts on the value of those top picks. The first one is that the only list that really matters is the one that’s relevant to you. Jeff Louis points out some great alternatives to USA’s Ad Meter picks in his recent article,Top 11 Super Bowl Ads of the 21st Century. Second thought is: remember that no matter what the ratings are, the real difference an ad makes is in how many people actually buy the product. And yes, there are ways to figure that out, but that’s for another post. Now go vote — no telling where this election methodology will lead!

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Do you remember Larry, a.k.a. “The Target”? His photograph was taken with his mobster sidekicks, Johnny, “The Face”, and Freddy, “The Fish." The photos were part of a branding campaign I worked on (yes, it was a while ago, so don’t rub it in) for the DayGlo Color Corporation. The issue was that their brand was being hijacked.

Brand jacking is what happens when other folks start using your brand’s name for their stuff. For example, Kleenex is both a tissue and a brand. In Europe, when you vacuum your carpet, you’re “Hoover-ing." In DayGlo’s case, of course, florescent paint was being called “dayglo."

Linguistic experts thrill at this because it is proof that our language is dynamic as new words and language patterns are forever evolving. But for corporations and causes, with the growing number of social channels, this word metamorphosis is a mixed blessing. Brand jacking can be problematic but also contribute significantly to awareness.

We've all read about the negative side, like when a politician or celebrity has had a fake social media account created for them by a malicious fan or their personal accounts hacked. There are web addresses, too, changed ever so slightly from the company’s own address, containing content your mom wouldn’t approve of.

I also read recently how protesters are using Amazon’s open review and tagging model to highlight unpopular products or issues. Probably most common is negative comments on Facebook. Also, see Turnier’s article "When Twitter Hashtags Attack." These items and more give brand managers insomnia as they seek positive ways to deal with negative images.

The good side of brand jacking is that you’ve definitely cut through the clutter when the consumer sees fit to adopt your product as the name for the thing. You are the brand. You’re what the consumer expects and you influence how they evaluate similar products. That’s brand nirvana in my book.

In DayGlo’s case, the brand has become the word and something pretty unique happened that the company didn’t sanction. Back in 2006 on college campuses in Florida, the world’s largest paint party began. It was called DAYGLOW. Close spelling, same sounding, but not exactly the same moniker as DayGlo Color Corporation. Of course, consumers aren’t paying any attention to the slight spelling change. What’s a “W” anyway, except a way around some legalese (I’m betting)?

It's still going on today. DAYGLOW, the event, promises high-energy music, art, dance, and PAINT in one mind-blowing performance where dayglo, no I mean, fluorescent paint, is sprayed onto a waiting audience. What a way to engage young consumers in a positive brand experience. The text between two girlfriends would read, “Covered in dayglo and dancing my a-- off."

I sympathize with DayGlo as this scenario is like giving my daughter the car keys. It is difficult to let go of your brand and allow your fans to take control; but in this case, DayGlo the company was never in control. They were completely removed from the equation. The fans were followers of the performance experience, not the paint.

I know these fans aren’t differentiating between any fluorescent paint and the real DayGlo paint, yet I can’t help but believe that their participation and enthusiasm is instrumental in popularizing the paint and the company. And when, during the concert, they’re sprayed with paint, that’s a fun-filled introduction to a product they wouldn’t have thought twice about before. It also makes me consider the power of crowdsourcing in creating awareness. Maybe the lesson here is: Get noticed, and invite your brand to a party. What do you think?

If you’re wondering what happened to Larry, The Target — he met his demise in a shoot-out in his hometown, Cleveland, Ohio. He probably would have been okay if his fashion sense had been better. At the time of the shooting he was wearing a long overcoat. It was DayGlo pink.