Thursday, March 26, 2009

Update: Tom O Article

So I know I promised Spring Break conversation, but it came to my attention that the link to Tom O's article takes you to a log in page and not the actual article. Then apparently is some crazy scheme to make money and turn a profit, AdAge only lets you read the article if you subscribe (I am set up on their email distribution list so I read the stuff that is free). So I have copied the article here, please don't tell.

With Populism's Rise, Prada's Fall
Smart Brands Will Again Resolve Tensions Brought on by Social Disruption
by Thomas C. O'Guinn <>

From David Letterman to Jon Stewart to Mike Barnacle to the guy in the cube next to you, more Americans are sporting a simmering anger some have termed "vengeful populism." Consumers are angry with bankers, Wall Street and any other cultural elite that has stolen from them lately. Because our pain is not felt equally, class conflict is a near certainty.

While populism comes in many flavors, it is, at its core, anti-elitist, and there are plenty of elites to dislike. Income distribution in the U.S. is approaching an L-curve, with a vanishing (and angry) middle class. Because social standing is in so many ways marked through consumption, brands that are "on the wrong side of history" had better watch out. On the other hand, just as in the Great Depression, smart brands will have an opportunity for greatness.

Uneven Pain
For three decades or so we have gotten used to, even embraced, a hyper-consumer culture. As long as credit was easy and times were relatively good, class conflict was, for most Americans, an anachronism. Now, with a deepening recession spreading pain unevenly throughout the country, the need to rethink some brands' positioning and communication couldn't be stronger. To proponents of cultural marketing, the truly great, iconic brands have become so by resolving tensions brought on by social disruption: Marlboro reassured real manhood for a formerly woman's cigarette with a then unmanly filter in the rigid, gendered 1950s; Pepsi claimed the youth revolution of the 1960s as its own; and Apple introduced the "computer for the rest of us" by rejecting the Orwellian IBM work world in 1984. Perhaps this is another tectonic societal shift.

What of luxury brands? Because so much advertising and brand communication is wrapped in and flavored with promises of social aspiration, how will luxury brands deal with the clearly unequal distribution of pain in the economy? How will the branded markers of the economic elite fare? Wealth is OK with Americans, but arrogant insensitivity is not. When unemployment reaches the homes of one in 10 Americans, will it be OK to carry the $2,500 clutch? Will those trudging off to work and diminished futures -- or, worse yet, those on the streets looking for work -- find it charming to see the wealthy lined up to have tea with their daughters' $100 dolls?

Distinction for Less
A handful of smart brands such as Target have for some time understood the new social order and offered design for the masses, distinction for less. The smart management of American Girl probably knows that in the 1930s some cities actually had toy libraries where children could check out a toy for a few weeks then return it so another child could enjoy it. Hopefully, we will never reach that point, but we may reach the point where class envy strikes such categories.

While some brand managers are just catching on, some just don't seem to have a clue. Appearing in my mailbox recently was a magazine with an ad for prestige watchmaker Patek Philippe. The copy justifying the $75,000 watch said: "You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation." Amazing. Don't you just love being reminded of the power of inherited wealth at a time like this?

In my own research, I have started to pick up the sour notes of this angry populism. One of my research subjects is the spouse of a doctor. She now "gets grief" from her co-workers when she "wears anything new." They say, "Is that new? Must be nice." She adds: "Now I just don't wear them. I told my husband to quit buying stuff like that. I can't wear that stuff to work or even out sometimes."

'Democracy of Affliction'
So what's a luxury, big-discretionary-bucks brand to do? In the Great Depression, the smart brands were very clever in the way they used Americans' ambivalence toward wealth. As the late historian Roland Marchand noted, smart advertisers pointed out that "even rich people have the same problems as you." He called this the "democracy of affliction." The smart Great Depression advertisers humanized the wealthy; they made them sympathetic characters with problems to which anyone could relate. They made even expensive brands about something, anything, other than wealth. They made their brands about commonly shared goals, problems, frustrations, values and community, not an I-have-mine-sorry-about-you arrogance. Remember, Americans love rags-to-riches stories. Other advertisers of the 1930s used this popular narrative to create brand stories about "breaking into fine society," making their brand part of your hope to fit in with the social strata above you and actually making it. The idea was inclusion, never exclusion. So, nuanced aspiration appeals are fine, but the sensitivity and humanity has to be there. The sweet spot seems to be sensitive value through things we share.

For every social upheaval there are winners and losers. This angry populism presents a big lever for the right brands. Just like Thomas Frank argued in "The Conquest of Cool," with respect to the 1960s Cultural Revolution, smart advertising and branding could now create middle-class-hero brands. Brands that get it could become the next VW, Pepsi or Apple. Remember: All "revolutions" and significant social moments need staging and costumes. At a deeper level, great brands resolve tension. This angry-populist sentiment is real -- it will most surely be with us for a while -- and you can actually feel its tension. That energy, that urge to strike blows of equality against those who have wronged us -- or show that even though we are much more fortunate than most, we are among the socially sensitive -- can be made part of brand meaning. Brands that facilitate some degree of resolution, expressed through branded consumption, will find power.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Thomas C. O'Guinn is professor of marketing and executive director of the Center for Brand and Product Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Business. He is co-author of "Advertising and Integrated Brand Promotion."

Tom O'Guinn the Rock Star!

I meant to get this up earlier in the week, but not sure how many of you all (I will refrain from writing ya'll even though that is how it sounds in my head) saw the new guest columnist in AdAge. Our own Executive Director Tom O'Guinn was recently featured for his article "With Populism's Rise, Prada's Fall." (click on the title and it will take you to the article)

The article is a testament to the changing society we live in today. People are rejecting the consumer elitism that has propogated society and essentially rebelling against that norm. Just last week citizens were going to AIG executives' houses and protesting. When was the last time any of us did that? It is great to see both Tom O and the Wisconsin School of Business (more specifically CBPM) getting recognized in AdAge. Currently we have Tom O for Brand Strategy and will have him for another class in the Fall.

For prospective students, if you aren't going to AdAge at least once a week to see what is going on in the marketing world, you should. Hopefully we will see a little more of Tom O in AdAge in the upcoming weeks.
Next Blog Post: Spring Break Excitement!

Monday, March 09, 2009

GMN Challenge Winners--Brand Domination

And the winners are...(they are above, but names are below, have to keep the suspense)

I know this is old news for most, but a group actually won the GMN Challenge. Yes, the event was held in January and I should have written about this six weeks ago, but alas, I did not. The GMN Challenge is a great event for first year students to get back into the swing of things the first week of school.

8 teams of four were given a marketing case on Thursday afternoon to analyze and were challenged to come up with a solution by Friday morning. This year the case was based on Kingsford Charcoal and the teams had to come up with a way to turn Kingsford around after five consecutive years of declining revenue.

Most of the teams worked through the night and into the wee hours of the morning to put together powerpoint presentations. Teams then made presentations to senior executives from Sears, Lands End, and SC Johnson. Two teams were chosen to make a final presentation in front of all the judges and participants.

Team 1
Amy Maier (Brand)
Jessie Miller (Brand)
Courtney Carlovsky (Finance)
Sunaina Velagaleti (Research)

Team 2
Mark Digman (Brand)
Shannon Robinson (Brand)
Greg Arseneau (Brand)
Justin Hajny (Entrepreneurship)

After great presentations by both teams, Team 2 came away victorious. Team 2's strategy was to develop self-igniting individualized bags of charcoal to drive velocity and profitability, while identifying the key insight that women don't want to get their hands dirty. I participated as well, but did not win as you can tell. It was fun and I enjoyed working with Jon Jones (Brand), Claudia Klug (Research), and Amber Schleitcher (Supply Chain), however we didn't provide enough tactics. Either way, Jon Jones is incredible on PowerPoint, that is what I learned.

On the plus, I am working with Greg, Mark, Amy, and Sunaina on teams this semester and Jessie and I were on the same team first semester so I am surrounded by great people. They might not think the same about me, but that sucks for them. I would highly recommend the GMN Challenge to anybody because when else do you get to pull an all-nighter the first week of schoool, the week before interviews start while you are still jet-lagged from Turkey.

Dinner at the Local--$9.48
65 bags of Welch's fruit snacks--$7.99
18 Diet Cokes--$5.99
Some non-descript giant bag of pretzels that Claudia brought--$.99
Getting two hours of sleep and losing in the first round--Priceless


Sunday, March 08, 2009

1st Semester vs. 2nd Semester Differences

So I have received a lot of questions about the difference between first and second semester. Well, it is really a difference between individual work and group work. Second semester is all about group work. We have group projects in Operations, HR, Economics, Brand Strategy, and Marketing Communications. Some are as easy as simply doing homework problems together, while some are as challenging as developing an IMC (integrated marketing communications, don't worry I didn't know what it meant either until the first day of class) from scratch for a client.

I would say there are fewer exams and only two midterms so that is manageable. However, getting together to meet for the group work is challenging. I spent most of this weekend going from one group meeting to another, but ultimately we are getting the work done. Since the groups are mostly cross functional (at least in the core classes), our schedules aren't always easy to coordinate. Luckily, I have a great group that works very well together and is willing to pick up the slack for each other.

Something that is specific for Brand students is the addition of a Nielsen training course for first years. Over the last three weeks, we have had three classes aimed at teaching us about Nielsen data and how to incorporate it into our internships. It all culminates tomorrow with group presentations. We have been divided into teams of four and challenged to analyze the last three years worth of data for Gold Medal Flour. The goal is to find some key insight that would lead to a marketing change for General Mills. Needless to say, this project is very difficult, but very practical. It will be interesting to see what each team comes up with.

I guess the other big difference between 1st and 2nd semester is the time that extracurricular activities take up. 2nd semester is the time that 1st years take over leadership positions in the various MBA organizations. Brand students are some of the more involved students on campus so our time is stretched particularly thin.

Brand Student Leadership positions:

GBA (Graduate Business Association): President; Vice President; Development Chair; Community Service Chair; 2nd Year Rep
GMN (Graduate Marketing Network): Co-President; Treasurer; Logistics/Communications Chair; GMN Challenge Chair
Net Impact: President; Treasurer; Webmaster; three Action Officers
Consortium Club: President
Out for Business: President

With only one week before spring break, I know that most of our minds are on warmer climates and umbrella drinks. It is only two midterms and a two group projects away.