Prose and Cons: Presidential race, blogging, brand battles
Prose & Cons loves a big marketing battle. It doesn’t matter if it’s Coke versus Pepsi or Channel Nine versus Channel Seven, when the big boys get the marketing machines rolling it is always entertaining. No bigger battle looms on the horizon in the next 18 months than the race to be in the race for the White House. It will be the biggest personality marketing blitz ever and, with budgets expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, it will be a spend even the biggest brands would envy. It will be August 2008 before the US Democratic Party anoints a presidential candidate, but right now the nomination is Al Gore’s for the taking. Gore hasn’t announced he is running at the time I write this, but I have little doubt he will. He even has a new book due out in late May that will provide further fuel for the publicity fire. His spectacular reinvention on the back of worldwide concern regarding climate change has made him the right man at the right time. Even more so as current Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have too many issues to overcome to win office. Gore doesn’t even have to shake the ‘loser’ tag (see John Kerry) that would normally scuttle a second presidential bid since he is widely thought to have won in 2000 and been denied by a Republican-leaning Supreme Court.
Throw in the subsequent predictably disastrous George W Bush presidency and Gore looks even better. The emergence of Gore into the field makes the Republican nomination almost irrelevant. While some candidates would fancy tackling Obama, Clinton or John Edwards, facing Gore in a country with a serious desire for change in the Oval Office is a totally different story. Especially since the Republican big brand names John McCain and Rudy Giuliani are not well-liked by that party’s conservative religious base. For all his marketing hype and political savvy I expect Obama to remain in the spotlight as Gore’s vice president. The real intrigue will be what happens with Hillary. She’s too good to go down without a big fight and her husband behind the scenes is the best political marketer of our lifetime. It’s going to be fascinating. Pass the popcorn.
Beware the blog
The European Union is showing great foresight by seeking to punish fake bloggers. In changes that take effect at the end of this year it will become explicitly illegal for businesses to publish websites or write fake blog entries that purport to be from consumers. The move aims to counter the growing trend of business owners seeking to cash in on the word of mouth advantages arising from the internet, particularly as consumers rush online for advice and recommendations. While Amazon has exposed authors caught giving their own books five-star reviews before and hotel sites have nabbed businesses posting glowing reviews of their own establishments, prosecuting people for misrepresentation has been difficult. While here in Australia our Trade Practices Act frowns upon misleading advertising, the laws, first framed in the 1970s, need revision to cater for modern global practices such as blogging. Could I legally, for example, write a marketing book and ‘encourage’ my students to go online and post favourable reviews? Until legal reform occurs I suggest taking what you read online with a healthy dose of suspicion.
Big brands battle
If the cover of this magazine read 1987 instead of 2007 not only would I not have any grey hairs, but also a list of best global brands would surely feature icons McDonald’s, Kodak and Levi’s near the top. Well, grey hairs I have in abundance and so it must be 2007 and all three of those mighty US brands are facing complex challenges to remain relevant and successful. McDonald’s has been my standout and remains near the peak, having correctly read the change to healthy eating and making appropriate marketing modifications. Most importantly, the fast food giant has changed its positioning to a firm that holds no secrets and is willing to embrace new thinking. Nice marketing move, despite my initial concerns that the repositioning exercise would only serve to confuse customers. Levi’s and Kodak haven’t been as fortunate in tackling changing consumer preferences. That Levi’s missed the designer jean revolution is now marketing folklore, but, in its defence, everything seems simple with the benefit of hindsight. Levi’s is no longer the only teenage aspiration brand that signifies social safety and acceptance. Competition is immense and, with casual wear having gone upmarket, Levi’s is boldly fighting hard to re-establish its position at the head of the pack.
Kodak has slipped down the Interbrand global brand rankings and has significantly reduced its workforce in the last few years. In a search for relevance in the digital age, Kodak has needed to somehow appropriately harness the sweeping technological wave that eroded its traditional market position and forced it to redirect its business operations. Most recently it has focused on low-cost inkjet printers with a pricing strategy aimed at making print cartridges more affordable. This move will no doubt shake up the industry and be good for consumers, but is unlikely to gain Kodak any semblance of the brand dominance it once had.