Wednesday, May 30, 2007

MySpace: Is the Magic of its Brand Fading?

There's an interesting dynamic that occurs whenever a brand is spawned from concepts such as audience empowerment, personal expression and community. Brands like Digg, LiveJournal, Wikipedia and even Google (now the #1 brand in the world) have all gained much of their power from the consumers perspective that they are working to empower us. Of course, nothing defines this as much as social networking sites like Friendster and, most of all, MySpace.

MySpace's entire brand has grown from providing its users with the power to express themselves, post their info, share with their friends and meet new ones. Of course, along the way MySpace became one of the most heavily visited websites on the Internet, became the most significant alternate channel for bands and musical artists to break out, and it was purchased by Rupert Murdoch's Fox Interactive Media for half a billion dollars (a price that now seems to have been cheap).

Now, here's where things get tricky. Much of the appeal of MySpace is the ability for users to customize their profiles (adding images and media, restyling stylesheets, etc.) and communicate with each other. By making these activities easy and pervasive, and constantly pushing the envelope on profile customization, MySpace has actually started to descend into semi-anarchy.

The site has become flooded with everything from sexual predators, to pornography marketers, to ponzi schemes, to profiles rigged to install malware or divert visitors to dubious external websites. While there are some features to allow a user to block requests or messages from unknown profiles, there are still many threats lurking within this community of over 100 million members. To add insult to injury, Fox Interactive actually wants to recoup their investment, so the site has become more and more crowded with advertising and promotions.

So here lies the conundrum. The MySpace brand was built on freedom of personal expression and a fanciful wonderland of communication. MySpace can't really prune back these features without alienating at least some portion of its user base. As recent history has shown, an alienated user base can make a pretty big stink (witness the recent revolts at Digg and LiveJournal). At the same time, the increasing quantity of parasites and threats (and intrusive ad placements) are turning MySpace into a less-than-desirable neighborhood. The effects are starting to show too. MySpace's growth has leveled off and begun to decline, while that of rival FaceBook (with a cleaner, safer interface) has taken off.

So what is old Rupert Murdoch to do with his troubled brand? Do you make bold moves that cause short-term pain in the name of long-term viability, or do you keep taking baby steps and hope that the brand doesn't rot out completely by the time you get things under control?

I have no idea, I'm just glad I don't have to make that decision.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Doritos X13D - THe Flavor of Interactive Branding

OK, this is a very cool concept. Doritos develops a new flavor (pretty tasty, I might add). Rather than just slapping a name on it and releasing it, they put it in a black bag and give it a codename "X13D". Then they develop a promotion that encourages consumers to figure out what the flavor its themselves, visit a new microsite (, and participate in a contest to name the new flavor.

Here's where it gets even better. In the past, a promotion such as this might hinge on a big cash prize, a fantastic vacation, new car, etc. So what is the prize that Doritos is offering in this promotion? 100 of the people who submit a name will be selected to become Doritos "Flavor Masters", getting a year's supply of chips (who figures out how much that is, anyway?) and membership in a tasting test panel for new flavors.

How cool is this? They're leveraging the consumer's sense of creativity and the new trend of audience participation to generate brand excitement without even having to put up an expensive prize. This isn't the first time Doritos has leverage the huge trend in user-generated content. In a move that helped draw attention to the prospect of crowd-sourced advertising, Doritos recruited fans to create their own Doritos Super Bowl commercials, and the winners were aired during Super Bowl XLI.

Although consumer-created advertising is proving to not be a big cost saving for the companies sponsoring it, it certainly gets the attention of the consumers themselves. In my book, that's a tasty reason to keep the consumer participation going strong.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

iPhone Killers: Brand Prophecy and Aspiring Challengers

Ahhh, the Apple iPhone. While this is an offshoot of the overall Apple brand, it is also certainly a power unto itself. The story could easily be the fodder for a Hollywood movie.

For years there were whispers, rumours and secretive stories told around the light of a flickering LCD screen. One day, they said, Apple would create a cellphone and a new age of mobile communications would dawn. Old empires would be toppled and new creativity would flood the earth.

When Apple finally announced the imminent arrival of the cellphone-messiah on January 9th , the media coverage was absolutely deafening. The day of reckoning was officially on its way and, as far as the media was concerned, the iPhone's dominance was already set in stone.

Of course, as soon as you have one person saying something is a "sure thing" (much less millions of people), it's only a matter of time before challengers arise. In this case, the rumblings started in a mere 9 days, when Engadget reported rumors of a supposed Google phone as a possible "iPhone Killer".

The parade of would-be iPhone assassins has continued all spring. Here's a timeline:

January 18 Engadget reports on the rumored "Google Switch"

February 15 talks up the Neo1973 from FIC

March 28 reports on the Helio Ocean

May 9 Gizmodo hypes up the forthcoming "Media Monster" from Motorola

May 21 Cool Tech Zone reports on the ultra-pricey LG Prada

Whew... that's a LOT of killers for a device that hasn't had a single unit sold and delivered yet. That's the amazing thing about this brand. It's so powerful that the entire industry is treating it as if its been on the market for years with a big chunk of market-share. In the process, they continue to feed and magnify the hype.

And so we find ourselves walking those last few miles to the great event. Will the iPhone's actual arrival be like the Big Bang? or like a wet match? Will any of these supposed challengers steal its thunder or knock it off the top spot? Who knows, but it'll be a great show to watch!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Geico Cavemen Evolving into a TV Show

A mascot can certainly be a powerful part of a brand, but how often are they powerful enough to actually spin off on their own? I guess you could say this was "thousands of years in the making", but a couple of cavemen have just managed to make the leap from commercial mascots to tv stars (rather than the more usual other way around). The Geico cavemen, famous for standing up against the discrimination of Geico's "so easy a caveman could do it" slogan, will have their own sitcom on ABC this fall.

Originally rumored to be in pilot mode back in March, the series is now officially a go, with ABC announcing it as part of the Fall 2007 lineup a few days ago. The series will revolve around three cavemen living in the modern day and presumably struggling with modern prejudice about their lower position on the evolutionary scale.

From a branding perspective, it's certainly an accomplishment when you create a mascot with such charisma and appeal that it can cross over and "become" the product instead of simply selling the product. For Geico, it's a grand-slam homerun. They get to benefit from the exposure when the show airs, and from all of the publicity that it is even being made in the first place. Here's an interesting tidbit, by the way: although this is very, very rare, this is NOT the first time it has happened. Back in the late '80s, the California Raisins (the claymation-animated ones) had their own TV show.

I'm sure Vegas will be running a line on whether the series will make it through a full season, but even if it doesn't, it's a great case study on branding!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ahoy! Old Spice tries to break into a new audience

So how do you take a brand that most people probably associate with their grandfather or great uncle and rejuvenate it for a new, younger audience? You develop a slogan that plays up the concept of experience, you hire one of the greatest tongue-in-cheek comedy actors of our generation and you write some hilarious commercials designed to make that bit of gray hair a badge of honor.

This is exactly what Old Spice (a Proctor and Gamble brand) has done recently. This is very smart. With a name like "Old Spice", they were never going to be able to portray it as a cool, young product. The new slogan "Experience is Everything" suggests that those older gentlemen out there living the life (with their yachts, mansions and classic sense of style) are onto something that us young guys wish we had. It's a great example of taking a potential brand weakness and spinning it into a strength.

Here's the original Old Spice commercial. Pay special attention to the painting behind him as he walks.

Here's the new Old Spice body spray commercial. This is very confident and well executed. Note that there isn't a single word spoken about the product, yet the message comes across loud and clear.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Comcast Channel 1 : Tuning in a new brand

How do you make a major new brand without having to create a new service or product? Ask Comcast.

After years of successful growth for Comcast's On Demand service, the Philadelphia-based cable giant decided to give its popular service a new identity, rebranding it as "Channel 1". All of a sudden, comcast channels are full of commercials for "ch1", and the site even has a new, Flash-based, video-filled website at

The thing that's so beautiful about this is that Comcast didn't have to develop anything new in the actual service offering. They already had a great product that had a pretty bland identity (and frankly, I could never remember if it was "OnDemand" or "InDemand"). By simply rebranding it, they have managed to breathe new life into the offering. Plus, they made it easier for people to remember how to get to the service (just punch in channel 1 on the remote control).

Are there other companies with "sleeper brands" out there that just need a new face to reinvigorate them? Probably. As I find them, I'll mention them here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Super-Powered Brand

What do Comcast, Burger King, Kraft, 7-Eleven and Target have in common? They're all caught in the same web of brand cross-promotion!

Spiderman 3 has taken over theaters across the country, setting box-office records and simulataneously unleashing a tremendous wave of product marketing tie-ins. The interesting thing about this, and other movie/product tie-ins, is that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. The movie brand gets incredible visibility in physical locations as well as on TV (case in point, I saw a commercial break tonight where three out of four commercials had something to do with Spiderman), while the partnering brands get to leverage the excitement over the movie to help them seem current and stand out in the crowd.

For a truly popular, mass market movie like Spiderman, it really is a win-win and the movie comes out looking like... well... a hero.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A new brand is born!

Welcome to the inaugural post of a new blog focused on the world of online branding. My name is Jeff Greenhouse and I am the President of Singularity Design, an interactive marketing agency specializing in online brand maximization. This blog is intended to provide a place for us to post our varied thoughts and observations about the remarkable evolution of online branding.

We've come a looooong way, from the days of academic gray pages and blue links to today's world of RSS feeds, fully dynamic flash sites with video, and a myriad of other tools to fight the war for consumer mindshare. I'm looking forward to sharing my musings and hopefully spurring lively discussions about the past, present and future of this exciting media!