Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fish = Sea Kittens?

Some topics just beg to be talked about. This is one. Our friends at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have upped the ante on branding. A recent “Day to Day” segment on National Public Radio featured PETA’s effort to save the fish. They’ve started a campaign to get people to think of fish as Sea Kittens. To quote Dave Barry, “I’m not making this up.”

Campaign coordinator Ashley Byrne explained it this way, “PETA thought that by renaming fish sea kittens, compassionate people who would never dream of hurting a dog or cat might extend that sympathy to fish, or sea kittens.”

Make no mistake. I am not a fan of PETA’s mission or tactics. But you have to hand it to them for trying to remake an image that’s thousands or millions of years old (depending on your view of Creation). General Motors has been trying to change its image for years with no success, and they’re only a hundred years old.

From a marketing standpoint, they’re going about it the right way:

  • Think small: the campaign is being tested in North Carolina before going nationwide. That gives them a chance to test and tweak positioning and messaging early in the process.

  • Think long term: a cornerstone of their campaign is aimed at getting children to think in terms of Sea Kittens. PETA understands rebranding doesn’t happen overnight.

  • Think emotionally: brands are nothing more than an emotional reaction to tangible and intangible stimuli. Fish don’t melt your heart. Kittens do (for some people).

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. If they can pull this off, what’s next? Used car salesmen will be rebranded yellow Labs? Lawyers become koala bears? This could become the “golden age” for marketing consultants!!!

What do you think about PETA’s campaign?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

General George Patton on Planning

In June 1945, WWII was hurtling toward victory for the Allies. My father was a 27 year old Captain with the 101st Airborne, fresh from a historic defense of Bastone at the Battle of the Bulge. At the time the 101st was attached to the 3rd Army Division. The commander of the 3rd Army was General George S. Patton, “Old Blood and Guts.” Patton sent a memo to all of his officers encouraging them to finish the job and win the war. In his memo, I find several ideas all marketers can apply to our current troubled economy and companies. In the follow weeks, I’ll outline some of Patton’s wisdom. Here are his thoughts on planning.

“Don’t confuse HASTE with SPEED. It may take three to four hours to set up a battalion attack from two directions, but will get home in thirty minutes – that is SPEED. If you try to put on such an attack in thirty minutes, it may take several hours to get home – that is HASTE.”

Too often we fail to plan adequately and end up either failing or taking too long and costing too much to reach our objective (market introduction, brand launch, etc.). Patton’s advice would be to invest the time and money to do the research, create a workable plan, collect the needed resources, get in position, THEN attack. That requires discipline, a trait few companies have today. As marketers, it is our job to push back when leadership wants to act before the time is right. We have to have a sense of urgency but, as Patton suggests, not be hasty.

The former head of Product Management for Microsoft once described knowing when to launch a new software product was like holding a bowl of Jell-O. At first it wiggles and shakes, but as you hold the bowl still, the Jell-O settles down. At a certain point it’s still enough and that’s when you launch it into the market.

As we’ve heard all of our careers, failure to plan is a plan for failure.