Friday, November 5, 2010

The American People Have Spoken

As published in ...
We live in a democracy that has endured a government for some 250 years bound to serve its people by office holders put in place by we the people.  And now, once again and emphatically, the “American people have spoken,” as countless newly elected Republicans and Tea Partiers have crowed in their victory speeches.

Indeed, we have.  And we have it dead wrong this time.  America is being hoisted by its own petard by an anger-driven and misled electorate, duped by the very powers they are railing against, armed with mathematically flawed financial agendas and swayed by promises impossible to keep.  We have become a culture insistent on instant fixes but unwilling to make any sacrifices to enable viable solutions.  Ergo, we jump on the extended tax cuts bandwagon for the wealthy, and ourselves, which will only add to the deficit, and for what?  Another “trickle down” fantasy?

If the GOP and Tea Partiers want to “take back America,” as Sarah Palin continues to screech, then my question is, “and give it to who?”  The same people who got us in this monumental mess in the first place?  The ones chomping at the bit to reinstate the kinds of unfunded programs that turned a government budget surplus into a mega-deficit the last time they were in charge??

The Tea Party has managed to rile conservative America into a myopic state of True Disbelief about what the Obama administration has actually managed to accomplish, despite being handed the worst state of domestic and world affairs in recent history.  By most measures Obama’s initiatives have: prevented a Recession from becoming a genuine Depression; reigned in Wall Street, mortgage lenders and credit card companies; minimized unemployment by bailing out the auto industry (which is growing again) and   injecting stimulus spending into the economy (adding to the TARP bailouts initiated by George W. Bush).  He’s also led the transformation of health care for the last remaining country in the industrialized world without a national program.  Along the way he’s also managed to engage Russia in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, implement long-overdue regulation of the tobacco industry, revamp the student loan program to eliminate the unnecessary middle-man banks and initiated his “Race to the Top” educational program along with stimulus dollars to keep teachers employed.

Presumably this is the “too much government” that America wants back.

And by the way, the US auto industry is showing Big 3 growth for the first time in two years , the DOW is at a two-year high and nearly twice the index it was in April 09, and for the first time in five months the US economy added jobs to the workforce (151,000).

On the contrary, Obama is being legitimately criticized by many economists for not being even more aggressive with his stimulus programs.  But now the Fed is pumping another $600 billion into the banking system in an attempt to further jolt the economy.

The newly empowered Republicans would have none of this.  They want to withdraw all unspent stimulus money.  Rescind health care reform even though it will generate $500 billion in Medicare savings over ten years – without reducing significant benefits.  Extend Bush’s tax cuts for $250k earners – even though it will increase the deficit by $700 billion over ten years (Office of Budget Management).  Repeal the limitations imposed on Wall Street – after all, they can regulate themselves, right? – and eliminate the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.   Some Republicans have even called for the elimination of the Department of Education.

Above all, and through all of this – create jobs, jobs, jobs and balance the budget.  Impossible.  As reported in the NY Times, in a “blueprint” this week from Eric Cantor, the likely Republican majority leader in the new Congress, “the party has made clear that its main proposals for creating jobs are to cut regulations and taxes – in particular to make the Bush-era tax cuts permanent for all incomes.   Extending the tax cuts, however, would add nearly $4 trillion to the national debt by 2020, and hundreds of billions more in interest owed for the additional government borrowing, greatly complicating another Republican goal:  balancing the budget.”  (NY Times, “GOP Lists Sweeping Goals, But Their Impact is Uncertain,” Nov 5, 2010).

And yet all of it bought lock, stock and barrel by the “American people.”  First of all, the joke is on the Tea Party.  GOP office holders will quickly separate themselves from them and their most fervent beliefs.  Karl Rove has already scoffed that they are “unsophisticated.”   Michele Bachmann’s (Minnesota’s new Tea Party House member) short-fused and public move to have herself appointed the number four position among House Republicans – a position she has little chance of attaining – won’t help any.

Some joke.  We’ll be left with the damage that would be imposed on the rest of us by what the latest CNN poll reports are a mere 2% of American’s who consider themselves active members of the Tea Party.  A movement dominated by older, white, men (44% of whom say they are “born again” Christians) who believe a fully armed, 21st Century America is what our founding fathers had in mind.  Many of those who by definition are already drawing Social Security are the ones who want to privatize it, despite the vulnerability it would create under an unrestricted Wall Street and financial industry, as they would also have it.  The same people who either believe there’s no such thing as global warming or if there is, we humans have nothing to do with it.

Fueled by ultra-conservative big business moguls like billionaires and life-long Libertarians David and Charles Koch, with unlimited campaign dollars funneled through anonymous fronts like “Americans for Prosperity,” Karl Rove’s “American Crossroads,” Dick Armey’s “FreedomWorks” and many others – all of which were set free by John Roberts’ Bush-appointed Supreme Court – they’ve been duped into supporting the very things that got us, and them, into trouble in the first place, like rolling back financial regulations for Wall Street.  In fact John Boehmer, Ohio’s Republican Senator and soon-to-be Speaker of the House, was the single biggest recipient of Wall Street campaign dollars (NY Times).

He’s also the one who said post-election that since “America has the best health care system in the world,” health care reform is unnecessary and risks “bringing it down.”  What planet is this guy from?  As of 2006, the United States was number 1 in terms of health care spending per capita but ranked 39th for infant mortality, 43rd for adult female mortality, 42nd for adult male mortality, and 36th for life expectancy. (WHO Statistical Information System (WHOSIS). Geneva: World Health Organization, September 2009).

“Our job is to listen to the American people and follow the will of the American people,” Boehner crowed at his victory celebration.   If that is indeed true, then we should be able to expect the GOP to endorse the following and take steps to implement them – all of which a majority of Americans have voiced support for:

·      The rights of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military – which will require ignoring the religious right.
·      Stricter gun control, and the ban of assault rifle sales – which will require defying the NRA.
·      Proactive moves to reduce global warming and eliminate green house gases – which will first require acknowledging its existence, and our role in it, and then standing up to the coal and oil industries, to name two.
·      Financial reform - which will require rejecting the undue influences of Wall Street, Big Business and Banking – and their dollars.
·      Greater health care access for more people – which will require resisting the self-serving influences of Big Pharma and much of the medical profession.

All of which will require great courage, a radical change in values and, once and for all, truly listening to “the American people” - a phrase that is quickly being turned into a meaningless cliché by self-serving politicians.

Of course these are all views expressed without undue influence from anonymous corporate dollars, misleading allegations or fear tactics.  These are some of the expressions of ‘the American people” that continue to be selectively ignored by Republicans, and now Tea Partiers, put in office to serve them and drowned out by a public who no longer votes on issues and facts, but blinded, misguided anger.

Damn straight!  The people have spoken. 

Be careful what you ask for.

Tim Arnold
Croton on Hudson, NY
5 November 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New (Old) Rules: How Budweiser and Bud Light can get back to selling beer.

Little more than a year ago somebody at Anheuser-Busch suggests Budweiser’s ad agency dig out D’Arcy’s “This Bud’s for You” campaign, immerse themselves in its strategy, its emotion, its ability to connect with beer drinkers.  See if it doesn’t inspire something beyond their product-driven “Great American Lager” advertising and even breathe some new life into one of the world’s once greatest brands - since Bud was in the process of trending a minus 9.5% in sales and dropping to an historic low 9.3 share for the year (Beer Marketer’s Insights data).

And Bud Light’s parallel woes (sales dropped 2.5% in 09 – their first lost in 27 years - a pace that continues YTD) shouldn’t surprise anybody, either.  Their “Drinkability” campaign was off the first day out, it’s failure predictable (which I did:  see January 2010 blog post).

The Budweiser mandate came on the heels of InBev’s takeover of Anheuser-Busch, which I wrote about at the time, for Advertising Age (“Hey Budweiser: The Only Way to Bring Back Bud is by Being Fearless,” AdAge CMO Strategy, Aug 11, 2008), which acknowledged the painful but inevitable take over with a plea to shake up A-B’s marketing – because it needed it – and for Christ’s sake, do not be penny wise nor pound foolish.  Unfortunately, it looks to me like they’ve made some major moves on their two flagship brands, Budweiser, and Bud Light, motivated by, well, fear itself.

They had reason to worry:  Budweiser sales in grocery stores, drugstores and supermarkets had declined 7.4% up to that point in the year, on the heels of total shipment declines of 6% and 4.7% the two previous years (Beer Marketer’s Insights).

The agency’s response, “It’s What We Do,” breaks less than six months later, added to their most recent tag line, “The Great American Lager.”

“It’s What We Do?”  Actually, I didn’t think their beer was the issue.  I thought it was Budweiser’s disconnect with beer drinkers that they were supposed to figure out how to fix.
Full disclosure: I have to admit, being an old D’Arcy guy instrumental in that campaign, I took some pleasure seeing the headline urging DDB to “study D’Arcy’s campaign” (AdAge, May 11, 2009), You know, imitation, or even inspiration, being some kind of flattery and all.

Bud Light left parent brand Budweiser in its wake in 2001 to become the world’s largest selling beer, to be drunk by nearly one in every five beer drinkers – a position Bud once held.  You could argue the Budweiser franchise no longer had a genuine parent brand at that point, and now Bud Light was losing business, too (3% first half of 09 according to Information Resources, Inc.).

Bud Light  finally dropped “Drinkability” for their current campaign:  “Here We Go,” from Cannonball, St. Louis, which debuted in this year’s Super Bowl.  They might as well tag it “Here We Go, Again,” because it, too, flies in the face of every New (Old) Rule described below.

If either brand is going to revitalize their relationship with beer drinkers – and that is their failure: they’ve ruptured any relationship they had – they might want to consider the following New (Old) Rules in beer advertising - with apologies to Bill Maher.

By the way: I can’t imagine anything worse – in advertising - than a client telling me to check out another agency’s advertising to see how its done, especially while I’m mired in InBev- imposed research and ivory-towered consultants.  Nevertheless  “… here we go:”

New (Old) Rule:  To co-opt a political rejoinder, “It’s the strategy, stupid.” 

The strategy behind “This Bud’s for You” was brilliant in it simplicity:  celebrate the working man like only the King of Beers could do, and reward his hard work with a Budweiser. This was a direct path to connection.   It was aimed at the heavy beer drinkers, the 20% of guys who drank 80% of the beer.

First of all, it’s hard to know who “It’s What We Do” is aimed at, except maybe guys who
watch television.  And the client.  And think about this:  instead of celebrating beer drinkers - one good way to connect with us - they’re actually kind of ridiculing us guys:  for all the stupid white man-ways we’ve been greeting each other over the years; or dissing each other (Hey asshole, you look like shit – but I’m only kidding. Let’s have a Bud.); or somebody’s delusion of how beer drinkers carry five, six beers in ballparks (Hell, you can’t even buy that many beers at once, even at Busch Stadium, can you?)

And then they make it worse by painting some kind of contrast that says, “But not us, not Budweiser, we’re not that, like, shallow, or faddish, or goofy, or cynical.  We’re still cranking out our beer the same way we have for more than 100 years.  So what’s up with you, beer drinker?”

Besides, what is the new, ground breaking strategy anyway?  We still brew Budweiser the same way it’s been brewed since 1876, despite all the quirky fads and social change swirling around us?  This has been a brand asset in Budweiser’s advertising for about a century and a half, through every conceivable kind of change and fad from flapper skirts to leisure suits and Ninja Turtles. And anyway, is this the core issue for anybody, besides the client?  Or the brewmasters?

Bud Light’s new campaign strategy is “intended to convey that Bud Light is a ‘catalyst for good times’,” according to Keith Levy, A-B’s CMO (NY Times, Jan 26, 2010).  “When Bud Light shows up, the party is going to begin.”  Somehow I don’t think partying carries the same gravitas as, say, hard work, or camaraderie, or even chilling on a beach – the last three representing relevant territory beer brands have actually owned, successfully.  Besides, these days, if I’m looking to alcohol to fuel a good time, a) I’ve probably got a problem, and b) whether or not, I’m solving it with vodka or something.

New (Old) Rule:  Beer drinkers buy the image, not the ingredients – not even the taste.  They rationalize their choices - in focus groups - based on the ingredients, and its “quality,” or its brewing process, which they’ll even interpret as “taste,” but nobody makes real beer choices based on rational reasons. Maybe the craft beer drinkers do (nah, maybe not), but not real, regular human beer drinkers. 

So, above all, you have to connect with them emotionally.  Make a relevant, emotional connection, in the context of beer drinking.  The essence of beer drinking is guys hanging out in a bar, sucking down suds, thinking they’ve still got it, and can still get it, knowing they’re in good company.  And some gorgeous, statuesque young woman walks in, all smart and confident, and walks straight up to you, the beer drinker, sticks out her hand and says, “Hi, I’d really like to meet you.”  Her eyes are dark as the night you want to spend with her and she’s got a 1000-watt smile and she’s got you at “hi” because she already thinks you’re cool.

The essence - but I digress.  The reality is most beer is consumed away from bars, a lot of it at home, with wives.  But home is boring in beer advertising.  So you try to capture some kind of essence.

Everybody knows you can justify anything through focus groups.  You hear what you want to hear – especially if you’re looking for respondents to feed back an ingredients message.  Sure, they’ll tell you, they heard it, and yeah, it’s meaningful.  But they’re lying. They don’t care about product attributes; they’re only using them to rationalize an emotional decision.

They must not care about taste, either.  A-B’s president, Dave Peacock, was quoted recently (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug 20, 2010, “Can Budweiser, the King of Beers, reign again?”) saying, “(Budweiser) wins blind taste tests again and again.  It’s the perfect liquid.” Exactly my point.  Taste doesn’t matter – as long as it tastes like beer and it has alcohol in it (“It’s all good beer,” A-B’s brewmaster used to say.  He knew); if it did, Bud wouldn’t have dropped from a high of 26% market share in 1988 to less than 10% today.  Over and out.

Until this year’s Super Bowl, Bud Light’s advertising has insisted that it represented “Drinkability” – a word lifted right off of Budweiser’s label, proudly proclaiming for decades that Bud has “… a taste, a smoothness and a drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price.”  Thing is, it was believable; it made total sense for Budweiser.  It made no sense for Bud Light.

So they changed it to “… the just right taste” with “Here We Go (Again).”  Which is what every beer drinker in the entire world thinks about his beer.

New (Old) Rule:  Assume the position of a brand leader.  Leaders lead, they don’t follow. Leaders set the standard, they don’t respond to lesser brands.  Leaders are proactive, not reactive.

Budweiser used to be The King of Beers.  We resisted the nagging efforts of Meister Brau when they protested that it “tasted just as good as Budweiser, only costs less.” The King does not acknowledge pretenders.

A-B held steadfast as Miller and others came out with the new, low-calorie L-I-T-E beer from Miller (as August III loved to call it) for two years, and then trumped the entire market with Bud Light (it was launched as Budweiser Light, by the way).

We were the leader, we assumed the position, and we acted like it.

No more.

“This Bud’s for You” ran for what, 15, 20 years?

How many campaigns has Bud been through since then? 

Worse, A-B has become totally reliant on increasingly thin line extensions and international expansion markets (Great Britain, China) to prop up their sales.  Meanwhile they’re losing their ass where it matters most, the US of A. To wit:

Bud Light Lime came on the heels of Miller’s earlier lime-flavored entry, Miller Chill.

Bud Light Golden Wheat followed Miller’s test and subsequent decision not to introduce a Miller Lite-branded wheat beer under its Brewer’s Collection.

MGD 64 boosted Miller Genuine Draft’s franchise long before A-B introduced Bud Select 55.

Even Bud Light’s “Drinkability” platform looked like a response to Coors Light’s “cold refreshment” positioning.

Meanwhile their home market, the very essence of their American roots, their DNA, continues to erode.

All of this “follow the leader” marketing is tantamount to admitting defeat.  No wonder.

New (Old) Rule:  Beer isn’t funny, or goofy.  Or sophomoric.  Beer drinking isn’t funny.  It’s … reparative, irreverent, satisfying, thirst quenching, rewarding, all about bonding and camaraderie.  And hooking up.  It’s … cool.  A good time, too, for sure; fun, but … not funny, unless maybe you’re drunk. This was another major flaw in Bud Light’s “Drinkability” campaign and continues to be with “Here We Go:” they seemed to assume it was Bud Light’s “sophomoric humor” that had been lost, so they’re trying to recover it. Actually, they have. Sophomoric, indeed.  Yes, grab-ass beer drinkers drink Budweiser, too, and Bud Light. But only because they aspire to be something else, like genuine Bud drinkers.  Market to the real Bud/Bud Light drinkers - the mopes will come along, too.

“Here We Go (Again)” continues to embrace Bud Light’s brand personality:  sophomoric.  It may be even worse.  Have you seen “Clothing Drive?”  It must reflect the essence of what Bud Light is after, because they’ve been running an extra-long version of it on their website. 

Scene from Bud Light “Clothing Drive:”

“The Great American Lager?”  Without some kind of emotional context, who cares?  Guys buy the beer whose label they want to sit behind at a bar.  Because it stands for the kinds of things they do.  Or wish they did.  So you give them a “reason why” so they can justify their choices in focus groups and when they belly up to the bar with their buds, and their Buds.  I mean, nobody’s going to actually admit they drink Budweiser because it reinforces their wannabe image of themselves, or their need for their friends to really really like them.
“This Bud’s for You” was an outright paean to the world’s heaviest beer drinkers. This was good business.  It was only in the middle of the commercials that we suggested it was the “exclusive Beechwood Ageing process that produces a taste, a smoothness and a drinkability (there’s that word again!) you will find in no other beer at any price.”  The reason why.  But the most of it embraced the beer drinkers we were after, celebrated them and their hard work, in stories and music-driven montages - and the “This Bud’s for You’ music was uplifting, emotional(!), recognizable; it always played a dramatic role in Budweiser’s advertising, unlike the wallpaper stuff we’re seeing now.

New (Old) Rule:  All beer drinkers are not alike.  Even heavy beer drinkers.  First of all, plenty of heavy beer drinkers are white-collar guys, always have been, but we knew they all wanted to believe – if they really had to – that they could work as hard as the blue-collar beer drinkers.  So they, too, were attracted to “This Bud’s for You’s” celebration of the working man.  Same effect the Marlboro Cowboy had.

And if Bud Light, and Budweiser, have become “my father’s beer(s)” – the kiss of death in beer – then you’ve got to speak to their offspring, in their language.  In their environment.  To them.  First of all, there’s no damned reason to walk away from us fathers.  We drink a lot of beer, too, plus we’ve got more money.  And it may take something radical to reach the young – ok, minimum age – heavy beer drinkers, to shed the old-guy image.  But don’t compromise it all by trying to be that way with everybody.  Being way edgy or totally hip might work for “minimum  age” beer drinkers, but not necessarily for everybody else.

We had the same problem then that they do now with younger beer drinkers.  What did we do?  We segmented the market (probably the first time a major brand ever did so, at least to the breadth and scale we did).  “This Bud’s for You” for the mainstream.  Special commercials that ran only on Saturday Night Live, for “young adults.”  Broad-based integration of Blacks and Hispanics in national commercials, which convinced them that they, too, were an important part of Budweiser’s brand world.  Hell, we made Lou Rawls our national spokesguy for a few years (all of which built on important community-based programs for further credibility); plus targeted media buys for both segments (with special Hispanic creative en Espanol, customized for Cubanos in Florida, Puerto Ricans in NY  and Mexican Americans in Texas, California and NY). 

What we did not do was try to be young and cool and stupid to everybody.  We isolated that stuff for the “young adult” market, and when August wanted us to run our first music-video spot for SNL (the first one ever, featuring Leon Redbone, a frequent music guest on SNL) on national football games, we talked him out of it.  We grabbed ourselves by the cojones, raised an objection, articulated why, and carried the day.  It was the right thing to (not) do then and it’s a strategy that holds today. 

We earned #1 positions in every segment after being the largest seller because we were never worse than everybody’s second choice.  And we generated double-digit growth for something like 36 consecutive months in an industry that was only growing at 1 or 2%.  In fact Budweiser was the only flagship brand showing growth: Miller High Life and Coors were dropping like streamlined bowling balls.

New (Old) Rule:  It’s about the beer drinker first.  Then the beer.  Connect with the beer drinker on an emotional level – his, not yours; get that right, then offer him your beer.  Relate to him, reach him, humor him even; give him something to identify with.  To aspire to, even. The badge to wear.  Something … meaningful.  Something positive.

An admission (or an obvious disclosure of truth):  “This Bud’s for You” took a cue from Miller.  They were first to recognize those 20% of the beer drinkers who drank most of the beer.  At the time Budweiser was seen as something of a white-collar beer, believe it or not. So we went after these blue-collar guys, too.  Genius!  But there was a major strategic difference between “This Bud’s for You” and “Miller Time.”  We were about the beer drinker (see above).  This Bud’s for You. They were about the beer.  It’s Miller time. We won.

“It’s What We Do?”  Same problem.

Actually, in some kind of perverse way, Budweiser’s current advertising gets the equation right:  they do put the beer drinker first.  Trouble is, they put him down.  Maybe I’m too sensitive, or too bald, but being reminded that we white boy bro’d our way thru some goofy man-greetings over the years just ain’t gonna win me over.  In life we should be able to laugh at ourselves.  It’s trickier in advertising.

And if I’m getting naked – I sure as hell have no interest doing it in an office with a bunch of other guys, do you?

In other words …

New (Old) Rule:  Beer is not for morons.  Or dipshits.  Despite the fact that we elected a president two terms in a row because he was “somebody you could have a beer with,” the good beers, the brand leaders, shouldn’t be marketed to morons.  So what was with the “sophomoric humor” in “Drinkability?”  And now “Here We Go (Again)??”

“This Bud’s for You” gave the beer drinker the benefit of the doubt, that he had sufficient wit to spot bullshit a mile away.  Well, they still can, as evidenced by the failure of Bud Light’s “Drinkability” campaign.  And now, “Here We Go.”  Actually, that’s good news for the rest of us.

New (Old) Rule:  Sometimes you just have to grab yourself by the cojones and say no. Apparently EuroRSCG started the “Drinkability” campaign.  Not sure where they get their beer credentials, but DDB certainly has them.  Somebody there must have had the kind of groaner reaction to this idea then that the rest of America soon had.  Dude?  You know damned well there’s just something creepy about it.  It ain’t working.  Just say no!  Avoid the inevitable.  And yet, here you go again with “Here We Go (Again).”  Do your agency and your client a favor.  Go for it.  Lot’s of times it will actually work.  Besides, if you don’t, you’re probably going to read about it later in some trade magazine.

New (Old) Rule:  There’s no substitute for gut.  Research is supposed to be an aid to judgment.  But it’s no substitute for it.  Which means you’ve got to have some judgment of your own, some instincts.  And the cojones to stand up for both.  If you’re relying on research to totally define your brand strategy, or your advertising, you shouldn’t be in the beer business.  In fact, you shouldn’t be in the advertising business either – you should probably be a researcher.

Bud Light discovered this the hard way with their “Drinkability” campaign, a strategy apparently derived from The Cambridge Group, a consultancy firm hired by August A. Busch IV a couple of years earlier (they must be pina colada drinkers).  He was following in his father’s footsteps: “the 3rd,” who retained a studied professor from Wharton - who actually came up with a definition for a “reparative” beer drinker - a guy who had a cold one to reward himself after a hard day’s work.  Thank you very much.  And in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs they were big time “Belongers.”   Once we got the prof out of the way, the result was “This Bud’s for You.”

The great DDB campaigns for Bud Light – Spuds McKenzie; “Yes, I am;” “I Love You, Man,” were not sophomoric and they were beyond funny:  they were irreverent, unexpected, wise guy attitudes that defied all sense of the expected.  They invited you to laugh with them, not at them, or at each other.  All of them expressing emotions and attitudes that beer drinkers could relate to, and did.  They became part of the vernacular.

Ain’t gonna happen with “Here We Go (Again).”

There’s a fine line, and a big difference, between being almost funny or worse, goofy - and irreverent; between humoring yourself and connecting with your target.  If I don’t like the guys in your commercials, I ain’t drinking your beer. In fact, no real beer drinker would take the kind of “kidding” in dumb silence that you see in “It’s What We Do.”   If some guy says to me, “Hey, I like your ‘stash, but where’d you dock your steamboat,” my answer is, “Yeah, and your girlfriend likes it, too.  In fact she’s outside in my steamboat, waiting for me to give her a ride.”

Truth is, these New (Old) Rules are both.  And they’ll still sell beer - if you’re willing to follow the rules.

© Tim Arnold
September 2010
A postscript:

Since I posted this piece, Anheuser-Busch announced the hiring of Anomaly, A NY/London independent advertising agency, and they’ve debuted their new work, “Great Times Are Waiting, Grab Some Buds.” 

Unfortunately it was launched in conjunction with an announced “National Happy Hour,” when A-B gave away a half-million Budweisers, presumably to generate trial among younger beer drinkers.  Their logic?  According to their own research, 4 out of 10 beer drinkers under the age of 30 had never tried a Bud, despite the fact that, according to A-B’s President, Dave Peacock, Budweiser wins all the taste tests.  Exactly, and the joke is on them.  Beer drinkers aren’t rejecting Budweiser’s taste; they’re rejecting the image, which A-B has rendered utterly irrelevant or worse, stupid.  So, thanks for the free beer and, until next time, I’m back to my regular brew.

Having said that, I like the look and feel of the “Grab Some Buds” advertising.  It may or may not be too late, but this advertising (re)assumes the position of a leader.  It reflects a contemporized version of the King of Beers. Simply eliminating the dipshits from their advertising sets them apart from, and above, most other beer advertising.  And with a half turn strategically, and given the time and budget support to work, I think this advertising stands a chance of making a difference.  We’ll see.

©Tim Arnold
October 2010


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

White Boy Gets the Blues

Everybody knew “What’d I Say,” an early crossover hit, a basic 12-bar riff that I practiced on my guitar since I was 13 years old, but this was a live album, “Ray Charles in Person,” recorded in Atlanta in May 1959. On it are some fabulous live recordings: an extended version of “Night Time,” with Miss Margie Hendricks helping out on vocals, that leads into “What’d I Say.” These are seminal versions, with a shouting Ray Charles wrenching up soulful, guttural exhortations “to be with the one you love,” and the Raylettes answering back, “… night and day. Night and day.” The backup singers sound like another horn section, they are so together.

Ray does “Tell the Truth” on this album, and for me it’s maybe the greatest live cut ever captured on tape – even more remarkable when you realize they got it all that rainy day in Georgia with a single microphone and portable tape recorder. Hendricks and the Raylettes actually take the lead on “Tell the Truth,” an indication of Ray’s confidence and swagger, and he answers back like maybe only some pimp could. And then coming out of David “Fathead” Newman’s sax solo a sound erupts from way down inside Charles, a scream that’s somewhere between the Devil himself and Jesus. It’s way too short. It leaves you begging for more every time. This is my final call; it is a sound from another world all together; when I hear it I am hooked on the drug that is and forever will be, the blues. The rhythm that is the blues.

I am a white boy that has got himself the blues. I’m 14 years old, and it’s 1961.

                                         Night Train Blues Band
                                Mondo Cane, the Village, NYC, 1990

“How ‘bout that?! How ‘bout that! Ray Charles! The great Ray Charles. The high priest! Ray Charles himself. What a show! What a show...” And the ecstatic stage announcer that day is dead right. From then on I had to learn this stuff, and learn it good enough, and electric enough, to play it live my ownself, in a band!

My earliest memory of anything close to a clue was this kid back in the fourth grade back in San Antonio. He brings a 45rpm of Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” to school for music class; he’s actually wearing blue suede shoes!, and he gets out on the floor and dances to the record.

I like it. A lot. And it sure beats the hell out of the “Ballad of Davey Crockett,” the other popular tune from that year.

Then we move up to St. Louis and by now rock and roll is all over the place. Back then there was two or three rock stations in St. Louis – WIL, KXOK and, for a while, KWK. And then in one of the dumbest moves in the history of the world, KWK goes on the air one day in 1959 to claim “rock and roll has got to go,” and proceeds to break every rock record they play so they can go back to an easy listening format. Before KWK disappeared into thin off-the-air somebody filmed this event, and you’ll see it today in rock history documentaries along with racist, southern rednecks protesting Elvis’ “nigger bop” music - examples of gross ignorance - and extreme prejudice - in the face of an unstoppable cultural phenomenon.

For me it was here to stay, especially that “bop” stuff.

Way down at the end of the St. Louis radio dial, “just to the left of your glove box,” was KATZ, a “Negro” station. And they played the shit. They played kick-ass roadhouse juke, blues. Electric Chicago rhythm and blues. And a lot of soul music. At the time I didn’t even know what to call it; it was kind of like rock and roll, only more raw, even more dangerous. While Elvis Presley was scaring the hell out of our parents, pissing them off with his sideburns and his sneer, he was pulling me into a whole new world with his versions of what we’d learn later was ethnic, Black, music, the kind of stuff KATZ and later, KXLW, was playing all the time around St. Louis.

For Elvis this genuine edge would last about 18 months, then he went white, way white, and then got fat making bad movies. But the blues, they came from way back and for me, last to this day.

Both of the Black radio stations played a lot of Ike and Tina Turner, a local St. Louis act really coming on with recordings they were making at Technisonic Studios out on Brentwood Boulevard, in St. Louis county. And Albert King and Solomon Burke, all of it somehow related to rock and roll, but about like a wolf is related to a dog. Four-legged and furry, but meaner, with longer teeth, and nowhere near domesticated.

KXLW played “Midnight Hour,” by Wilson Pickett (co-written with Steve Cropper, guitar magician and another white guy, down at Stax Records, in Memphis), a full year before any white station played it. Black music didn’t really cross over to a white audience until years later.

So most people had to wait for it. But not me.

Around this time I picked up a ukulele. Lot of guys I knew played ukes or acoustic guitars, so I taught myself some chords on a borrowed 4-stringed ukulele. We used to spend weekends out at a log cabin in Hawk Point, Missouri, drinking beers and gin and Pepsi or something, and somehow the tunes we’d crank out would get better and better the later at night it got. It was also out in Hawk Point that we could get the radio to pick up Wolf Man Jack from all the way down in Del Rio, Texas, eons before he was anybody anywhere else. XERF, a 50,000 watt clear channel station. We’d find him deep in the night when he would spin a lot of soul music and stompin’ southern rock.

“Rock and roll baaaaaaaayaaaabay!,” he’d howl.

Other times we’d get WLAC from Nashville, brought directly up to us by Randy’s Record Shop, and White Rose Pomade and White Star Petroleum jelly. Damned straight.

My life finally changed for good the first time I heard “Great Balls of Fire.” Jerry Lee Lewis. Nothing like it before or since. Or him. He wouldn’t so much play the piano as punish it, pounding notes from it that responded in yelps of pain. Three seconds into a song he was on his feet, kneading the breath and life out of the keys, scorching the air with his countrified threat of a voice.

“Great Balls of Fire” left me no way back. Didn’t want a way back. Even better, and unlike most of the other stuff I listened to, it became a big hit. Except for Little Richard - every bit as outrageous as Lewis, and also producing big sellers - it seemed like most everybody else who made it big was in another category - just rock and roll. Maybe Lewis wasn’t Black, but his early music was every bit as visceral.

And the fact that he absolutely horrified our parents made it that much better. He even made Elvis seem OK. A genuine certified juvenile delinquent with flying blonde hair and a country leer that dared parents everywhere to trust their daughters with him, just one time, for Jerry Lee. None would, so he married his 13 year-old cousin and disappeared in scandal for the next 20 years.

                                            Montana Studios, NYC, 1992

If you go back and really immerse yourself in early rock and roll - not Danny and the Juniors or Chubby Checker, but Gene Vincent, James Brown, Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley (the first record album I ever bought), Little Richard, Ronnie Hawkins, Link Wray, Jackie Brenston (the designated artist on Ike Turner’s seminal recording, “Rocket 88”), and many, many more even lesser knowns and one-hit wonders - these guys were making music that was dangerous. Its roots are pure Black. Gospel. And hot rod six-pack country. This music was a threat to life as our parents viewed it, and their values, and the way they thought “youngsters” should look, and act.

It was scary.

It was great.

My first real guitar was a Harmony acoustic, basic crap - but with six strings a lot better than a ukulele. I started off playing “Tom Dooley,” stuff like that. But soon as I could play the opening riffs to “What’d I Say” I had to have an electric. My mother took me out to McMurray Music on Page Boulevard and we bought a used, cherry-red Les Paul Jr. Gibson guitar, single pick-up, for $90. It was beautiful and would have sounded fantastic except I had to play it through a cheap, Barney Kessel Kay amplifier with an 8-inch speaker that I blew out in about ten minutes - thereby having a very early “fuzz tone” sound. It was all we could afford.

But I had my electric guitar and I started practicing to records soon as I figured out the three basic rock and blues chords. Trouble was the only record player we had at home was some weird thing where the turntable played through the TV set - some kind of archaic, late-fifties technology - which meant I had to practice downstairs in the living room where
everybody else was. One night my dad’s passed out in his easy chair and I’m inching up the volume, bit by bit - which means through the 3-inch TV speaker it’s about as loud as the ballgame on his radio - picking along with a Jimmy Reed album - and finally my old man wakes up.

He’d had enough: “It’s not that I don’t like that kind of music (shit, he hated it),” he lied. “It’s just that it all sounds alike.” He was almost right about Jimmy Reed, but for all the wrong reasons.

I went back upstairs.

                                                          The Benders
                                                   Casa Loma Ballroom
                                                         St. Louis 1985

Not too long ago I saw a vintage Les Paul Jr. for sale just like the one I had: $3100.

In those days in St. Louis most real blues joints were over in East St. Louis, or way down Delmar Boulevard inside the St. Louis city limits, and nobody went to those places until a few years later when you could first make yourself a lot smarter and braver after getting some old dude to buy you a couple of six packs of Falstaff beer.

But Sunset, in South St. Louis, was an anomaly. Primarily a municipal swimming pool, they had an adjacent clubhouse, no booze, and kids from all over used to go there. I can remember pressing in on a chain link fence to hear Ike and Tina playing outside one night when I was about 13 years old.

Sunset imported fabulous bands from the east side, bands with horn sections that played rockin’ bar blues to driving shuffle kicks. Benny Sharpe was one of the best. From the east side, pomaded hair, slick and cool. I’m sure half his band had done time. His sax player would always have a lit cigarette stuck in one of his horn’s keys while he played, and Benny stuck his filter first on the sharp end of a string from his Fender Strat, one just like Ike Turner’s. He’d get a raw, piercing sound that drove the whole band, and when he played he just stood there, and the notes would come up from his soul and out through his amp and right down into my gonads. “Take it or leave it motherfuckers, but I know you can’t just stand there,” he seemed to say. And he was right. It was primal.

One time Benny Sharpe steered his boat-long, tail-finned red Cadillac right into MidWest Laundry, just inside the St. Louis city limits, where I worked Saturdays during high school; we had curb service and he was picking up some dry cleaning. I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t even park in a space, just pulls up long ways, defying anybody to suggest otherwise, and hands me his ticket. Cool. His processed hair shined like neon lights on a beer glass, and there’s a gorgeous blonde white woman wedged up next to him in the front seat.

I went and got his cleaned-and-pressed sharkskin suit for him. Three-dollar tip for a $2.75 cleaning bill. He was probably on his way over to a gig at Sam Spaulding’s Wonder Bar, on the east side.

This was the blues for sure.

But Ike Turner was the one for us back then; we bought Fender guitars like he played, and Fender P Bass guitars like his bass player. And we learned his music, not just the hits he had, but the songs he played even before Tina, tunes like St. Louisan Billy Gayle’s “Tore Up,” “Rocket 88,” and “Prancin’,” a cut on the B-side of Ike’s first album, “Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm,” an all-instrumental album that has Ike and Tina’s photo on the cover even though Tina didn’t sing on Ike’s records until later. She was strictly doing club gigs with him then.

Lot of historians say “Rocket 88,” written by Ike Turner, was the very first example of rock and roll. He plays piano on it, not guitar.

“Prancin’” was formative: the sound Turner gets on his Strat is unique for its day, more common today. Clear, prominent, assertive, with enough bottom on it to round it out, the pick-up switch jammed between the top and middle positions to give it a kind of a reverb bite. (Today Fender manufactures their Strats with five pick-up positions, to allow for this; back then you had to know how to rig it). When the horns take over in “Prancin’,” Ike starts raking his strings with his pick, easing off his left hand each time just a bit, for more of a pop scratch, so he drives the whole thing like a drummer. Meanwhile he’s got his bass player playing the four and five notes on open strings on a Fender Precision electric bass when some guys are actually still playing old acoustic uprights.

Not bad for a guy whose main instrument was the piano. They were way out there, and they’re from St. Louis. And so am I.

Something else was going on back then: The kids at my high school really loved Motown music, including me; I know it was popular a lot of places, but we absolutely loved it. Not just Marvin Gaye’s “Pride and Joy,” but “Can I get a Witness,” too, a driving gospel roof raiser, and “Stubborn kind’a Fella;” not only Mary Wells’ “My Guy,” but “Bye Bye Baby,” a screaming, throaty tent shaker.

If you listened to this stuff, you just had to dance to it, too; being a great dancer was a source of pride for guys and girls. And, seriously - as many guys as girls worked on steps, moves, rhythms. American Bandstand was a great place to get ideas, and we did. In fact, the teenagers on Bandstand, kids from Philadelphia and fabulous dancers, even looked different than us. We were white bread white boys with Princeton haircuts. They were sharp fine dressers with slicked back ducktails. And the show was integrated.

When I was 15 I got my first big-time guitar (it wasn’t until years later that I realized just how great my Les Paul Jr. was; it’s just that back then having an electric guitar with only one pickup was like having a car with no radio) - a Gretsch, semi-hollow body, chrome flake Silver Jet, a 1957 beauty that I bought from a friend in 1962 for $200. Fabulous, with a Bigsby tremolo, and it went with me into my first band.

The guy I bought the Gretsch from would teach me stuff out at his house; it was the first time I ever plugged my guitar through a good amplifier. What a difference! He played his bass through a piggyback Ampeg tube amp (they were all tube amps, back then) that held the sound down on the ground like cement, so you not only heard it but actually felt it come up through your feet and detonate inside your stomach.

Early on in high school somebody introduces me to Lindell Hill, a rough, blue-collar type guy, a few years and many miles older than me, who had gained a bit of a reputation as St. Louis’ “blue-eyed soul brother” for his ability to sing and play kick-ass R&B. Lindell was the real thing; he played a Strat and he played it without a pick, with his thumb and index finger and with a deep feeling for the music fueled by his countrified squint on life and not a little anger, usually aimed at his lusty wife, Choosy. There was a sense of danger in him; he’d been around, even though he was only in his mid-twenties, and he was between gigs.

We practiced together, him on lead and vocals, me on my Gretsch playing rhythm guitar and an even younger guy from school on drums. Sometimes we had a bass player, sometimes a guy on an electric Farfisa keyboard, but mostly it was just the three of us, and we played out for the next four years as “Little Caesar and The Blue Notes.” With Hill’s influence and teaching we learned tunes from Howlin’ Wolf, Billy Gayle, Solomon Burke, Elmore James, Albert King. Barrett Strong’s “Money.” James Brown. Instrumentals like “Last Night,” “Hold It,” “Comin’ Home,” Green Onions.” And of course, “Prancin’.” We even played some Motown - our own way - and things like “Shake a Tail Feather” - not Tina’s version, the real one, by the Five Dutones, who did it first. And much better. I think they were from St. Louis, too.

For a long time we got away with just the three of us. All my practicing at home, with records, pushed me into playing some kind of fuller sound, like I was trying to mimic the whole band or something. Flat wound strings, lots of bottom end from my amp, extra stokes on the 5th and 6th strings all had a way of filling in big around Lindell’s lead, and our drummer had Turner’s shuffle kick down cold.

I was never great, but I could hold my own, and we got pretty good.

We got great gigs back then. Fraternity parties, and St. Louis club dates, even though only Hill was old enough to legally be there. I finally got a great amplifier, a Fender Concert with four ten-inch Jansen speakers, and more than once we had to put not only my guitar through it, but also Lindell’s, plus his mike! Insane. I even played bass through it. I’ve still got the amp.

My early high mark came the first Friday night we played at Wig Wam, my own high school’s teen town, where girls I lusted after, cheerleaders I had unattainable crushes on, showed up along with everybody else and actually danced to our music! This was a long, long way from “Tom Dooley” on my ukulele. There was a school chaperone there who would make us play a slow song every fifth or sixth one, so the kids wouldn’t get over heated and turn into juvenile delinquents right out there on the dance floor. Hell, we only knew one slow song, so we’d play it in a different key each time.

We played one whole summer, four nights a week, down on the DeBaliviere strip inside the St. Louis city limits, next door to the Stardust Club at a place called Apartment A. The Stardust was a famous strip joint where Evelyn West and her $50,000 Treasure Chest (“Insured by Lloyd’s of London,” the ads said) still performed, and every break she’d bring her assets - now worth maybe $50 - next door to our gig and play the pinball machine. By that time she was about 60.

Another summer we played weekends up in Pagedale at a dump appropriately named The Dungeon. The owner would show up late every night and insist we play something Jimmy Reed. I’ve still got a black and white picture from that gig. White shirt, Princeton haircut, vanilla white everything, white bread suburban boy. But there I am with my Gretsch, and we’re playing the real shit.
                                             Little Caesar & The Blue Notes
                                              The Dungeon, St. Louis, 1965

If you’ve seen “Animal House” then you’ve seen Jim’s Rib Station, Columbia, Missouri, “College Town USA,” where I went to school at Missouri University. Only difference is Jim’s is in the middle of town; the club in Belushi’s movie is way outside town. Everything else is the same, except instead of “my man Otis” there was Winston Rose and the Aftones. Every once in a while we’d gather up our courage - get ourselves real tight - and go down in there real late to listen to the music. We’d be the only white guys in there and sit down at all 18 years of age and order ourselves a round of champagne cocktails or Budweisers. Or both.

I actually got myself into the band a couple of times to sit in.

One night at Jim’s one of us said something to some dude he took exception to - something like, “Hello, how are you this e’nin?,” and Jim himself comes over and sits down at our table and says we are going to have to leave. Now. And he walks us up the stairs, out into the parking lot and all the way down the street to our car.

He probably saved our lives, and his liquor license, and I’m sure his priorities did not rank in that order.

And great gigs at Mizzou, where we played for the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity, the Sammies, most of whom came from University City and Ladue in St. Louis, so I knew them all - which made these gigs even better. They were the best dancers, and they threw outrageous parties. One night we arrived late at the infamous I Club in Columbia to play a Sammy party - late because I literally had to go knocking door-to-door to borrow an amplifier and finally convince some guy’s wife that her husband sent me over to their house to pick it up for him. A complete lie.

But this was a gig, and this was the club where Ike Turner had played, and we had to have the right gear.

By the time we get there the place is going nuts, and they actually give us a standing ovation just for walking in! There’s a genuine high-rise stage and we set up quick as we can, no warm up - just a tune up. They’re already on their feet ready to dance and Lindell and me are still tuning our E strings. The sound from the very first note is unbelievably full, powerful, and there’s only the three of us, no bass. Every person in the house is out on the dance floor from the first song, which was always an instrumental. The acoustics are phenomenal. We sound like a seven-piece band.

This was going to be the best night we ever had - except somebody calls and says the cops are on the way! The owner, an enormous man who’s been around the block many times, with the face mileage to show it, knows he’s got at least 172 underage drinkers in there, and he closes the whole thing down.

We played for all of maybe twenty minutes, but I can remember the fantastic sound we got to this day.

Another time at Mizzou, during my freshman year, Little Caesar and the Blue Notes play for a huge and illegal dorm party outside Columbia. We start late because the band’s car broke down on the way from St. Louis, and they have to catch a bus the rest of the way in.

After the gig we’re putting our stuff away and hanging around generally acting the fool, throwing empty beer bottles up against the wall. I stand up to fire off a 16oz Stag bottle when I take what feels like a solid brick right to the head. Everybody comes rushing up to me wearing these various expressions of horror. Then one guy grabs me by the shoulders and pulls a huge slice of amber glass out of my nose, and another one just next to my right eye where a beer bottle smashed into my face.

They rush me off to the clinic to get stitched up. I’m beyond pain, but not beyond bleeding.

Ain’t nothin’ like the blues.

                                    Rum Boogie Café, Beale Street, Memphis
                                              with Delta Highway 2009

©Tim Arnold
New York


Friday, April 9, 2010

Is Luxury Dead? Maybe Not.

As published in Advertising Age ( 6 April 2010 and by The Luxury Society ( 12 May 2010.

Guess who says the following attributes are most influential in making "important purchases" today: value, price, overall quality, good design and functionality?

A clue: 84% of this group texts from cellphones; 78% use social networking; 66% use the mobile web and 57% use mobile apps. 

It's not who you think it is. In fact, it's a group whose median age is 45, not 19. 

According to "The New Face of Affluence," an in-depth study from Dwell Strategy and Research, San Francisco, these are the attributes that drive purchase decisions of the "New Affluents." Indeed, the median household income of the more than 1,000 survey respondents is nearly $200,000. They're the same people who have the economy and the environment top-of-mind when making these purchase decisions. 

Using 2009 Mendelsohn Affluent Survey psychographic data, and with the help of DJG Marketing, New York, Dwell identified a segment of nearly 9 million Americans who have household incomes of $100,000 or higher. They represent less than half of 1% of U.S. households, spend $303 billion annually on their favorite brands and have a whole new take on what it means to be wealthy. 

According to the survey respondents, "luxury" brands, per se, are no longer important to them, or even relevant; neither is "overall social status," they say. This generation of nouveau riche is shunning "conspicuous consumption" in favor of brands that represent quality, aesthetics and authenticity. These attributes, along with uniqueness, integrity, design and performance, represent today's "prestige" for these high-end consumers. And their emerging values and brand motivations make these consumers a more diverse group than one might assume. 

A brand does not have to be expensive to attract New Affluents. What they're now demanding from brands is a new and different kind of relationship. And, as supported by these findings, the days of controlled, top-down brand marketing are over, especially for this sector. These wealthy and would-be elites are actually looking for brand interaction -- a dialogue -- based on integrity, authenticity and performance. And not only are they equipped for interaction, they're demanding it. 

So what brands do New Affluents find meaningful, authentic and relevant? Apple, Sony, BMW and Ralph Lauren, unsurprisingly. But Crate & Barrel, Ikea, Whole Foods and Levi's, too. Porsche, Lexus, Chanel and Viking. And Target, North Face, Volkswagen and The Gap. Missing from this segment's 75 favorites list are classic luxury brands like Cadillac, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Armani and Versace. 

 * Top 75 brands as listed by the respondents to the "New Face of Affluence Report conducted by Dwell Strategy + Research.  Type size reflects relative rankings by respondents.

Note:  Toyota appears prominently in this survey - which was conducted in December 2009, before their recall crisis mushroomed.  And despite the fact that their sales have plussed in March 2010, by most accounts these gains are the result of unusually aggressive incentive spending, zero per cent interest deals and lease discounts.  In light of this, and Dwell's research, Toyota is likely to fall significantly in the New Affluents' favorite brand rankings.

These New Affluents are smart (85% graduated from four-year colleges; 52% did post-graduate work) and hard working (50-plus hours per week -- both at home and in the office); their families are their No. 1 priorities (40% have children at home). And, at a median age of 45, they are well-off. But they got there through careers that for them are a means to an end (only 4% rated "career" as a No. 1 priority). Success for them is having the independence to involve themselves in family -- and their well-being. The qualities they most associate with "prestige brands" are aesthetics, innovation, integrity, originality and authenticity. They don't buy anything "to impress others." 

The majority of New Affluents agreed completely that "technology is indispensable to the way I communicate." So, just like the Gen Xers so many marketers seem obsessed with, these New Affluents text, tweet and post on social networks. "They are powered by 21st century technology" -- all of which came of age when they did. It's an integral part of their lives. Google and Dell are among the most frequently cited brands as meaningful to them.
The study's takeaway will be no surprise to successful brand marketers, except perhaps that now it applies to this heretofore stratospheric source of revenue, too: Define an integrated, consistent and positive interaction that reflects your brand's values, and understand that these consumers depend on mobile connections and social networking just like their mass-audience counterparts. 

In other words, cultivate a relationship, don't just sell a product. "Great brands create experiences, not products," say the majority of the study's respondents. 

It may be time for more brands to consider this sector as a source of revenue. If you're authentic, functional and design-centric, and you know how to cultivate a genuine relationship between the brand and these New Affluents, then it may be time to consider some targeted, interactive communication with them. If you can generate a "personal connection" like their other top brands do, and engage them in a meaningful way, 86% are even willing to pay more for a brand they like. They are classic early adopters, and willing to embrace brands that heretofore might be considered unworthy. Some of their emerging top brands have already figured this out and are breaking new ground creatively and are using new media. 

Many of their top brands eschew traditional advertising forums to focus on web outreach. Nordstrom is one of their many favored brands posting banner ads online. For some, targeted catalog distribution is a core marketing vehicle: Design Within Reach and Room & Board both distribute impressive catalogs on a regular basis, in addition to aggressive online marketing.
Other brands have maintained and even enhanced their cachet through a reliance on long-standing brand attributes that are now even more important to this sector: quality, design, functionality and innovation. These brands include BMW, Mercedes, Bosch, Nike, Hans Grohe, Volvo, Bose, Porsche, Rolex, Canon and Viking. 

Even a big-box retailer has earned its way into New Affluent-favored status as one of these "authentic," "meaningful" brands: Target. In part through its bold "Expect More. Pay Less" positioning and advertising, Target has turned a seeming contradiction into a compelling design-driven platform -- one that has direct appeal to New Affluents. Target is once again realizing net earnings growth and increased margins, no doubt in part because they've added incremental appeal to a high-spending sector without losing their base. Target has successfully extended its customer relationships through ancillary programs such as "Dream in Color" and "Democracy of Design," and their many museum and theater partnerships, including the Target National Design Center at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York.
Target has helped make good design accessible to everyone. 

In fact Target has taken a page out of Russell Wright's mantra, "the importance of the value of good design in everything and for everyone." Wright, who preceded Martha Stewart's retailing to the masses by 50 years, extended modernist design to the masses in furniture, accessories, dishes, glassware and table linens. Now, the study shows, there are a number of collectible, retro brands that are also among the New Affluents' top choices: Herman Miller, Knoll and Eames. 

So, is luxury really dead? 

No. But it has been redefined by those in the category who have clearly rejected "social status" as a contributing factor to purchase decisions. They're buying fewer things of higher quality; they're shying away from disposables when they have a choice. They have replaced older values with contemporary new qualities such as the economy, sustainability, the environment and current cultural trends as top-of-mind issues affecting these decisions. 

They're using new language. Attributes like uniqueness, know-how, design and performance have redefined "prestige." Now it's "self expression," not "status." The New Affluents' brand choices evidence at minimum the demand for a new dialogue with them. Don't sell them a product. Offer them a brand. Better yet, a brand experience -- just like astute marketers have been doing for years. The difference now is it's 24/7. This newly defined segment is up late, surfing the web, taking the time to learn about products and what appeals to them. And once they're in, they'll stay with you -- as long as you maintain the relationship. 

The internet has created a way for people to connect at every level, and the New Affluents are taking advantage of it like everybody else. The brands that are connecting with them know it. And now these well-to-dos are attracted to many of the same brands that other segments are. They're wearing some of the same kinds of clothes, driving some of the same cars and shopping at many of the same retailers. 

Got a brand that has these kinds of values but isn't on their list yet? Ask yourself, why not?

(c) Tim Arnold, 6 Apr 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Missing Link.

The Missing Link.

I know what you’re thinking: how could anybody defile our Statue of Liberty like this? Our very symbol of freedom and democracy, the icon we all rallied around after 9/11? Who would do such a thing?

The Republican Party, that’s who.

I took this photo in the lobby of a sprawling space at 220 12th Ave between 27th and 28th streets in New York City. It was rented on behalf of the Republican Party and converted to host after-hours parties for their delegates and insiders during their convention week. The week before the convention it was cleared for security by the US Capitol Police, whose mission it is to “protect and support the Congress in meeting its Constitutional responsibilities.” This statue – rented and installed there by the Republican conventioneers - is two stories tall and sat right inside the front door and immediately to the right of a large bank of metal detectors. “Give me your revelers,” it says around its base.

Building tenants were warned that it would be active each night from 10pm to 6am – and no wonder: lots of steam to blow off after endless speeches about why it takes George W. and Dick Cheney to protect us from dangers of the world we live in, and admonitions from the likes of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said, “To those who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say, don’t be economic girlie men!” And rants from Southern Dixiecrat Senator Zell Miller: “our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our Commander-in-Chief." (A teaching moment, as President Obama might call it now, except these Republicans didn’t learn a damned thing, did they?).

At the time I questioned the utter hypocrisy of it all. How does the Republican Party come to New York, drape themselves in the American flag and family values, co-opt the Statue of Liberty as their convention symbol, parade 9/11 widows to the stage and shamelessly exploit this act of war in speech after convention speech, all within a heart beat of Ground Zero – and then erect an abomination like this?

I wanted to know how Rudy Giuliani felt about how his Republican Party defiled his city’s and his nation’s most powerful symbol of the very values they continue to lay claim to. Or Mayor Bloomberg? Was this George Pataki’s idea of how to welcome visiting Republicans into “hostile territory,” make them feel more at home? How did any of these guys explain this to their wives (ah, never mind)? And I wanted to know how “good Republicans” like John McCain (well, he used to be one) tolerated such a thing – especially since his party had adopted this very symbol to represent their convention. And by the way, who paid for it all?
And hey - why would these 2nd Amendment zealots want to set up metal detectors to screen for guns, anyway? It’s our inalienable right to carry the damned things. Ain’t it, or ain’t it not?

Problem was I was taking all this stuff way too seriously.

First of all, think about it: Mark Sanford and John Ensign and Paul Stanley and Mark Duvall could have walked into their 2004 convention party headquarters in New York City, taken one look at this sexy lady and said, “yeah baby! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

And then it dawned on me: McCain was thinking ahead, too, and he must have come face with an inspiration:


Because less than four years later he erects another robust female figure, puts her on her own pedestal and names her “the next Vice-President of the United States of America!“ Let’s face it, Sarah Palin has a lot in common with this other Republican version of what must be their vision of what the real American woman is all about. Damn straight!

Most of America was surprised with McCain’s pick, but that likely did not include the Republican conventioneers at that 2004 convention party – they’d already seen a fully-authorized, pre-qualified, full-figured precursor-icon for an otherwise unknown who would storm America’s next election stage with breathless – and some would say, clueless – cheerleader chutzpah.
Think about the foreshadowing, the links between these two babelicious idols that at the very least must have represented for McCain a phantasmagoric contrast to what he was going home to.

Both assume one of those jaunty, look-at-me ain’t I hot? poses.

And speaking of hot … you betcha! …


“Give me your revelers,” is what it said to the Republican partiers at the base of the not-the-Statue of Liberty. And the she went back into storage. Give me a bridge to nowhere, said the Governor. And then she quit.

The not-the-Statue wears a tiara crown; the Statuesque wore one when she won the Miss Wasilla Pageant – but just look at her now, here she comes - still wearing one as if.

Both are stylishly adorned, some would say gratuitously sexy, both wardrobes funded by their enablers.

The not-the-Statue of Liberty has bigger boobs. The not-the-Vice President is a bigger boob.

Each one is air headed: the statue, literally, the wannabe … literally. In other words, they’re both empty suits. They are both political bimbos.

Truth be known, Palin has much in common with the real Statue of Liberty, too:

“The statue is built top-heavy in order to create a slight forced perspective and appear more correctly proportioned when viewed from its base.”* Which also describes the goal her political handlers would have to adopt in her election bid.

The Statue of Liberty holds a tabula ansata (look it up) in her left hand, representing the Declaration of Independence; the not-the-Statue of Liberty holds no such thing, tantamount to admitting she’s no pretender. The wannabe writes crib sheet notes on her left hand – a declaration of dependence - which is tantamount to admitting she is.               

“The statue was built to withstand heavy winds, but designed to sway when faced with high wind loads.” * Ring a bell?

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses … the wretched refuse … the homeless … ,” as it’s inscribed at the base of our Statue of Liberty. To which Palin could be expected to respond, “wouldn’t that be one of those dope-y change-y things for us Republicans?”

On the other hand … maybe this cheerleader ain’t so dumb after all:

                                                           “Gimmee an O … !

After all, if, according to the Republican’s last excuse for a president, “… the human being and fish can coexist peacefully,” then anything is possible.

*Wikepedia, The Statue of Liberty, Physical characteristics.

(c) Tim Arnold, Sept 2, 2004: all modified Statue photos.

© Tim Arnold