October 13th, 2010

Habit Roundup – 10.13.10

By Kyle Morich

A new series of short takes on interesting articles.

Gap’s Logo Misfire (AdAge)

In the least surprising news of the week, Gap, Inc. switched back to its classic logo four days after announcing a new, “evolved” logo to reflect the “changing” nature of the store.  Gap’s sales problems were not caused by consumer confusion about what the logo meant.  Gap never successfully retargeted its brand beyond the “Everybody in Khakis” spots from the mid to late 90s.  I applaud them for undertaking the difficult task of revitalizing their brand image to their target market, especially in the midst of a recession, but they clearly misaligned their priorities.

Changing the image of their clothes, stores, and reputation takes time, and consumers need enough experience with Gap to reset how they view the Brand.  Changing the logo before this process occurs almost feels like cheating, or repainting a rusty car without fixing the damage first.  By changing the logo and announcing to the world “look how much we’ve changed,” the subtle approach was lost.  Gap made consumers consciously consider whether the company had changed, and they responded with a resounding “nope.”

Buick Circumventing Awareness and Interest to get to Trial (BrandWeek)

Speaking of trying to change consumer brand perceptions, Buick has one giant hurdle ahead of it.  Buick, alongside Cadillac, is the quintessential “old person car,” and it has staked its survival on re-targeting toward a younger generation of consumers.  To help in this endeavor, Buick is considering a new program where they deliberately give GM consumers Buick loaner cars to drive when their current automobiles are in for service.  By forcing consumers to drive one of their cars, Buick is ensuring that consumers that would never consider choosing one actually interact with the car.

In automotive sales, much like electronics, the brand becomes one of the biggest factors in repeat purchase.  In a purchase decision as complex as buying a car, the number of variables to consider quickly become overwhelming.  Declaring “I am a Ford person” makes that decision much easier, even if the only reason you are a Ford person (or Toyota, Honda, or Chevrolet) is because a Ford is what you are used to.  This makes things difficult for Buick, as I doubt anyone under 65 would voluntarily say “I am a Buick person.” So I like their new idea.

As a marketer, if I can get you to try something, this tangible experience is worth so much more than exposure to advertisements that only engage the conscious mind.  Look around an Apple store to see this idea executed to perfection. Interacting with a product activates the entire brain, and allows the unconscious mind to have the information it needs to weigh in on a decision.

NYC Takes Insanity Approach to Weight Management (Grist)

Some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Clearly New York City hasn’t heard this phrase, as they have released a series of “shocking” ads designed to convince NY consumers that they shouldn’t be drinking all that soda.  One of the ads reminds consumers that there are 26 packets of sugar in a 32-ounce soda, and that these extra calories will bring nothing but obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  TV advertisements feature a man eating sugar packets at a bar, and another man drinking a giant glass of fat.  Visually, they are compelling.  Behaviorally, they are worthless.

I am reminded of an experience I had several years ago in midtown Atlanta while eating at an Italian restaurant.  A large van drove up next to the patio emblazoned with the words “Meet Your Meat!”  Surrounding the van were flat screen televisions showing various farm animals (pigs, cows, chickens) being led to slaughter, presumably, so that I, the selfish, heartless carnivore, could eat them.  It was gross and unsettling.  Then I finished my pepperoni pizza.

How many smokers stop reaching for cigarettes because the label warns of the risk of cancer?  The problem with obesity in America is that we have horrible eating habits and have not been offered a solution that helps replace those bad habits with healthful ones.  Fat people are aware that they are overweight, and those of us that drink full-calorie soda are completely aware that there is too much sugar in our drinks.  But while these ads may create revulsion and intentions to stop drinking soda, I guarantee habitual soda drinkers go right back to their Cokes, Dr. Peppers, and Mountain Dews as soon as they enter a familiar soda-drinking context.  By not focusing on behavior and the contextual cues that lead to poor dietary habits, New York is wasting a lot of money.

Poor Customer Training (NY Times)

Finally, I loved this article in the New York Times about the problems retailers are now facing with customers requiring ridiculously high discounts to buy their merchandise.  The article mentions mega-retailer Macy’s in particular, who has found it necessary to add 30 – 40% discounts on top of regular everyday discounts of 20 – 40% for average discounts of 50 – 80% on clothing.  This is no way to do business, and all these retailers are going to pay for these decisions dearly in the coming years.

The problem with discounting (as I’ve discussed before) is that it resets the perception of value in the customer’s mind.  Consumers begin to rely on a sale as a heuristic for purchase, and the past notion that discounts on retail prices are reserved for special holiday sales and closeout items is now antique.  “20% Off!” now feels like full retail price, and customers aren’t reaching for their wallets until that percentage reaches at least half off.  A stressed out parent who gives her whining child a cookie to be quiet will soon find that the child has learned to keep whining until he gets a cookie.  These retailers are now finding that their customers won’t buy anything until it’s been put on sale.  Everything a marketer does has the potential to shape a customer’s future behavior.  Coupons and discounts can be powerful tools in driving customer decisions, but retailers are clearly not thinking of the consequences.

Thanks to MediaPost’s “Around the Net in Brand Marketing” daily newsletter for help in finding these articles.  If you don’t subscribe to their daily marketing coverage, I highly recommend it.

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