August 25, 2007

Backchat Or Sweet-Talk?

'Our waitresses pinch back!'

Last week, I visited local retro diner Eddie Rocket's with my family and was reminded how much I enjoy their particular sassy brand of communication, especially the signage. Dotted around the walls are notices telling diners: 'Be nice, you might have to work here someday', 'In case of fire, pay the bill and get the h*@% out of here' and 'Be patient, gourmet food takes longer'.

You could argue that, in the words of the old wisecrack, 'I didn't come here to be insulted!' ('No? So where do you usually go?') but there is something charming in the irreverence of the one-liners that proves highly popular, not only with our family but with the dozens of teenagers and other families around us that help make Eddie's one of Ireland's most successful franchises.

So why do we go there to be insulted? I've long believed that the popular notion of the customer as king is flawed as it suggests a subservient relationship between seller and buyer. Instead, I think it's much more important to ask what role the customer (or situation) demands of the seller and to play that to the utmost. At Eddie's, it's clear that we like it when the seller is sharp rather than honey-tongued.

In part, it's because it matches our own sense of the type of service likely to be found in a classic American diner of the '50's. It's also charming when a brand doesn't take itself or its customer too seriously. Eddie Rocket's is quick to remind us that it's only American-style food after all; but with the assurance that what it does, it does very well.

Here, the customer isn't always right. Instead, Eddie's works hard on building rapport rather than old-fashioned respect and allows its customers to kick back and enjoy hospitality diner-style. And judging from the happy buzz during our recent visit, it's apparent that Eddie's does offer a cure for the summertime blues.

August 11, 2007

The Latest Squeeze

I was quite taken aback at the supermarket during the week to see that local soft drink-maker C&C has launched a pure orange juice under its traditional Club Orange brand. Club Orange once enjoyed great kudos here in Ireland as one of the few local brands to beat Coca Cola into second place anywhere in the world. The brand prides itself on using real oranges to make its fizzy drink and makes much of the 'bits' of real fruit that it contains.

For me, it's more than a 'bit' of a stretch for a fizzy drink brand to offer a natural fruit juice - although perhaps no more so than McDonald's addition of salads to the menu or Coca Cola's flogging of natural water (although at least the drinks giant doesn't do so under its flagship label). At the very least, it plays as a clumsy effort to sugar-coat the unpalatable evidence of the effects of soft drinks on health (whether teeth, tummy or artery).

Or maybe it's more of the same addiction to all sorts of spurious spin-offs that afflicts brand-owners in all walks of business? When asked by our clients to bless such tenuous extensions, we brand them a 'bridge too far'.

What do you think? And what's the most unlikely addition to a brand offer that you've seen over the last while?

In Brand We Trust

Trust me...

So which brands do you put your faith in to do what they promise?

The Reader's Digest Trusted Brands survey of 2007 doesn't throw up too many surprises (Most Trusted Mobile Phone: Nokia; Credit Card: Visa; Cereal: Kellogg's etc) but I was intrigued to see that the Most Trusted Petrol Retailer in the UK is not one of the traditional oil company giants but one behometh that has wandered in from another category entirely: Tesco!

How can a relatively new entrant outperform players with track records going back, in some cases, well over a century? We tend to think of trust as being something that builds up only over time (which is one reason why antique brands are so keen to parade founding dates and fathers in front of customers) but the evidence from customers in the UK suggests to me that petrol retailers there with significant heritage to draw on have seriously botched the whole issue of trust.

Tesco, which doesn't make any grand claims about quality and is often a convenience or price choice, has somehow managed to take the trust it's built up through its supermarket business and elbow its way to the front of the line at the petrol pump.

I can't see Kellogg's allowing a blow-in brand from another category the same opportunity. At the same time, Tesco's trumping of the category incumbents suggests that customer trust is more fragile than we imagine.

August 07, 2007

The Cream Of The Icebox (2)

Both Kevo and Emma raise interesting questions about how and when we use a brand in their comments on my most recent post.

Kevo points to the contrast between the regular Magnum consumer (in elasticated waist pants no less!) and the slim and dusky beauties in the advertisements. There's a similar irony in the beer-bellies that flesh out the replica jersies that have become such popular fashionwear for sports fans here in Ireland (and across the water in the UK). I remember locals in Hong Kong liberally dousing precious cognacs in Coke (much to the horror of the brand-owner).

I guess we don't always have a say in how our customers use our brand (as Burberry learned to its cost).

Meanwhile, Emma wonders whether her preference for an ice-pop reflects poorly on her.

I don’t think so - it probably speaks of a certain innocence (or may just be a matter of taste). I still enjoy Cidona (the local apple-flavoured soft drink) for its connotations of childhood holidays – but I do think Magnum has somehow positioned itself as a ‘serious’ choice.

Perhaps Emma would choose Wibbly Wobbly Wonder when out with girlfriends and a Java Magnum when on a working trip with colleagues?

What do you think? Do you have a portfolio of brands from which you choose depending on the occasion?

August 06, 2007

The Cream Of The Icebox

How do you switch off when you take a break?

Some years ago, we made the mistake of holidaying in our own country (Ireland) where, apart from the poor weather, I found it difficult to completely switch off thanks to the almost hourly reminders of my working life through newspaper, radio, billboards and overheard conversations. In particular, I found any mentions of brands that I was working on or alongside heavily distracting.

Since then, we've holidayed overseas, typically in France, where the change of language and scenery offers a good, easy-to-access balance between the novel and the everyday. Once we step off the plane in France, I have the impression that I've left all professional responsibility behind me on the tarmac in Dublin. Any thinking that I do around brands over there tends to be of the daydreaming sort.

Snoozing by the pool this summer, I basked in the background sounds of children making their choices at the refreshment booth and marvelled at how comprehensively Magnum towers over the ice-cream market in France and elsewhere. When I recall my own childhood, a time when ice-creams were sold as childish treats and the only adult choice in the refrigerator was choc ice, it seems extraordinary that it took so long for a brand to capture some of the more sensual and grown-up flavours of the treat.

Within my own family, I've seen how Magnum has firmly established itself as a brand of arrival, something you qualify for as you grow up. This summer, my youngest graduated from the ice-pops that had previously been his favourite poison to Double Chocolate Magnum, and I heard the talk of similar rites of passage echoed by other parents and children as they made their way to the kiosk and debated their purchase.

Magnum's more recent advertising for its Java flavour plays explicitly to this sense of ritual, makes for a brand that has truly carved out virgin territory for itself in the forest and leaves behind those of its competitors who wish to stay playing in the sandbox.