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April 26, 2006

Art and Branding: A Collision in the Desert

Art is about mythmaking.

Branding is about creating value.

Value creation also can involve mythmaking.

Since branding and art both involve mythmaking, it seems natural for art and branding to collide. That is exactly what happened with Prada Marfa.

Many people are quite familiar with Prada, the Italian fashion company which holds prime space in elite urban shopping centers around the globe. When Prada opens a new store in downtown Tokyo…well that is something that is expected.
What is completely unexpected is to find a Prada in Marfa, Texas. The town of Marfa is located in the West Texas desert near the Mexican border. It has a population of 2,121 and is about 9 hours drive from San Antonio.

In 2005, two Scandinavian artists installed a Prada mini-boutique in the desert 26 miles from Marfa. This sculpture is a 15 by 25 foot adobe building designed to look just like a Prada store, and even contains Prada merchandise. The main differences between this sculpture created by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset and a real Prada store are:
 It is completely out of context
 It is a mini version
 It will never open
 It will not be maintained

Well, the last item is debatable. The sculpture was vandalized soon after it was finished. Shoes were stolen and the building was spray painted with graffiti. After that break-in happened a handyman restored the building.

Art and clothing are intertwined. Clothing is already woven with myth. If you think about the functional value of clothing on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs you simply need clothes to stay warm. If that is all that mattered about clothing, then a $3 shirt, $10 pants, and $5 sandals from Walmart would suffice. That is a complete ensemble for less than $20. So, why then do people spend upwards of $500 on a mere shirt from Prada?

Clothing is transformational. It is aspirational. It is enveloped with social meaning. People are paying $3 for the shirt and $497 on symbolism.

By supporting the artists in this desert adventure, Prada reinforces its sphere of meaning beyond simple utility of clothing. As doing so it becomes a more interwoven part of the lexicon of the art world. And the myth grows.


- Prada Marfa website

- article

April 17, 2006

Process Makes Perfect: A is for Apple, B is for Beatles, M is for Marriott


For those of us around long enough to remember that music was played on vinyl records, the apple logo was pretty famous. It is not the same apple logo that is associated with iTunes, but rather the apple logo that represents George, John, Paul and Ringo who you might remember as having the band called the Beatles.

Apple Corps is the company that was formed by the Beatles members and its main division, Apple Records, served as their record label. Apple Corps also included several other divisions in its portfolio including Apple Electronics, Apple Films, Apple Publishing and Apple Retail. The Apple Corps logo was based on the well known painting by Rene Magritte whose painting Paul McCartney acquired.

In 1981, Apple Corp sued Apple Computers and the latter agreed to restrict its use of the name to computer products. In 1991, Apple Corp sued again as the computer company started branding music synthesis products. As a result Apple Computers paid $38 million for the settlement.

If you seek out Apple iTunes on the web you will find it on the Apples Computer website. This website is undoubtedly branded with the Apple brand. So, it looks like even after two law suits about the trademark the management that launched iTunes overlooked the legal implications of launching the offer which directly overlapped with Apple Corps core business (pun intended). The case was recently tried in London and judge has not yet declared the ruling. If the judge rules against Apple Computers for the third time it could be a costly oversight for company as it quite possibly could have to pay a royalty on all future music sales on iTunes.

In the Hotel industry beds are front and center in the brand offer. That is why Marriott spent a year designing and testing its new luxurious bed which features “Down Surround” pillows, a down comforter with duvet cover, and a lightweight down blanket on a plush pillowtop. This was a mammoth undertaking involving 628,000 beds at over 2,400 hotels. The hotel touts the project as using 30 million meters of fabric, enough to stretch 75% around the world.

This all appears quite wonderful for the weary traveler, but it seems like Marriott overlooked the operational impact of the program on the housekeepers at the hotels. Housekeepers must change 16 rooms a day (containing 26 beds), and now with all the extra pillows and duvet covers they have less time to do each task. In a UCSF study researchers found 62 percent of housekeepers has seen a doctor for pain and 84 percent were taking medicine for pain they incurred at work. And these housekeepers are voicing their discontent with the program. When employees are unhappy, it’s bound to rub-off on the customers whether consciously or subconsciously. And that negativity will offset positive gains in the brand experience. Marketing actions impact business operations and it’s the entire process that needs consideration when developing new brand value.

In the development of brand value the new programs launched often have wide ranging implications and yet too often we see companies launching programs without thinking through the legal, operational or other consequences.

For quite some time the world of product development has focused on process management. That is because the engineers in product management understand that working with established procedures in new product development helps by reducing the chance of malpractice. Even commercial airline pilots who all are highly skilled professionals that fly commercial aircraft every working day use preflight checklists before takeoff. The pilots do not simply check the gas gauge and decide to make a go of it. There is something to be learned here. The brand experience is delivered cross-functionally and understanding the entire process of brand delivery is the perspective brand managers need to adopt. This is a call for action for brand managers to document, process map, and double check the flight plan before taking the controls.

Related Links:
- Apple Corps
- Apple Computer

- After a Year Designing and Testing, Marriott Introduces New Bed, Featuring a Seven-inch Jamison Mattress, Hotels-Online.com, Accessed April 17, 2006

- 628,000 Marriott beds to get luxury makeover by the end of the year, CNBC, Accessed April 17, 2006

- Battle of the beds, SFGate.com, Accessed April 17, 2006

- A Couple of Apples Square Off, Wired.com, Accessed April 17, 2006

The Apple Corps logo is protected by copyright and/or trademark. It is believed that the use of low-resolution images of logos to illustrate the corporation, sports team, or organization in question qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

April 07, 2006

Can John Hopkins be beautiful?

Talk about co-branding. One of the world’s leading medical research institutions is lending its brand to a skincare product line.

It’s nothing new as far as co-branding a newly launched brand with that of an established one. What is new is this established brand is one of the most-respected in the world with an image and identity that evokes prestige, trust, and cutting-edge innovation, not to mention its highly world-wide level of awareness. With such a positive and respected association it is only right that Cosmedicine would want to associate its foray into the market on a platform of that breadth and depth. On the other side of this brand association is J. Hopkins with its brand associated to a no name, no brand skin care line. Brand-wise, there is a fundamental disconnect with respect to the Hopkins brand.

A strong and trustworthy image and identity are hard enough to come by in such a trend-oriented industry that cosmetics happens to be. The cosmetics industry has most recently been using “science”, or at least the label, as a driver for new product marketing; thus, it seems that with each passing day comes a ground-breaking research study on a touted new (or old-turned-new-again) ingredient to deliver “younger”, “fresher”, “smoother”, “radiant”, and basically anything else related to transformed appearance to that of the perception of youth and beauty. It has got to the point where it is hard to believe in this industry where exactly science stops and marketing and branding begins.

Does it really always just come down to the Benjamins? And will consumers “buy” the branding or will J. Hopkins see a diminished brand result? (If so, where can a diminished brand go for funding then?)

Is this brand innovation or brand dilution? Your mirror may be the only relevant indicator.

Further reading:
You can read the details and the debate in Rhonda Rundle’s WSJ article from Wednesday’s edition [Subscription required].

You can find out more about Cosmedicine at Sephora online.

April 06, 2006

Assessing the Best in Viral Marketing


Marketing Sherpa has recently awarded the top 12 viral marketing campaigns. I applaud them for awarding campaigns where performance metrics are a key factor.

Per my paper published in the Journal of Consumer Behavior’s titled “Buzz Marketing: Building the Buzz in the Hive Mind” I take issue with the term viral marketing. The much preferred and more accurate term is “buzz marketing.”

To better understand the machinations behind the campaigns I have assessed these buzz marketing campaigns and categorized them into various buckets based on promotion vehicle and market served (B2B or B2C). Of the various campaigns categories the type utilized the most frequently was a tie between “games” and “entertainment”. These methods were only applied to consumer markets.

Information of a “how to” nature was used in the B2B markets whereas, semi-exclusive information was offered in B2C markets in the form of new-to-the-world music and unreleased films.

Advocacy marketing, which is marketing for a social cause, was used in a campaign that crossed both B2C and B2B markets. And unique offer value, in the form of a belt buckle knife, was also promoted to both markets.

The campaign that impressed me as the most innovative and humorous is the Monk-e-email, a campaign from Careerbuilder. This campaign makes novel use of customized audio (text-to-speech, phone recorded, or computer mic recorded) to send messages. It caused quite a stir amongst the friends I directed it towards. It is definitely buzz worthy.

Below is a table that shows the campaign classifications.


The Buzz Campaign List
1. Peerflix Paparazzi
2. Beer.com's Virtual Bartender
3. New Rules of PR (PDF)
4. Wadsworth Atheneum - Surrealist Exhibit
5. The Quantum IT Challenge
6. MakeMyTrip Viral Series (India)
7. Blog in Space
8. Kreedo Brand Democracy
9. Monk-e-Mail
10. mySBC eBill Service: Trees in the Forest of Change
11. Belt Buckle Knife
12. The ERP of This Century

Related links
- MarketingSherpa's Viral Marketing Hall of Fame 2006: Top 12 Campaigns You Should Swipe Ideas From

- Monk-E-mail