Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Tale of Two Burgers: vs

Throughout the history of modern marketing, there have been some truly legendary rivalries. One of the biggest has been between the Clown and the King. In other words, McDonald's vs. Burger King. This rivalry has been going for a long time and certainly shows no signs of slowing. At the same time, there has certainly been a shift in the balance of power in the marketing to the adult demographic in recent years. The current balance (in favor of Burger King, in my opinion) is obvious by looking at new campaigns from both camps that debuted in recent days: "" from McDonalds and the Western Whopper mustached campaign (featuring from Burger King.
I'll lead off with Burger King. Ever since they revived their mascot, in the form of a regally dressed, slightly creepy king with a permanent plastic smile, their marketing has been interesting, innovative and eye-catching. In this campaign, they are touting the limited-time-only Western Whopper by giving this sandwich the supernatural power of growing a western cowboy moustache on anyone who eats it. In the TV commercials, we see various types of consumers happily savoring the Western Whopper with a big bushy moustache growing on their face, whether they are teens, old ladies playing cards, or even a lucky basset hound that gets to finish his owner's burger. All of this is interspersed with western music and shots of The King doing a bit of an old-west jig.

The commercials themselves are attention-grabbing, but in keeping with Burger King's commitment to online marketing (which goes all the way back to Subservient Chicken) they don't stop with just the commercials. At the end of each commercial, they show the URL for This microsite lets visitors upload a photo of their own face from their computer (of course, I'm sure you could use a friend's face instead) and grow, trim and style a moustache on top of it.

Burger King really brings together an all-star collection of viral marketing and interactive branding features in They give visitors to the ability to send customized, singing telegram emails to their friends. They also provide several incentives for visitors to register (
McDonald's new commercial promoting the venerable Big Mac focuses on a startup "dot com" company that claims its forthcoming website will be "bigger than the Big Mac". This creates tons of buzz and hype (obviously suggesting that anything bigger than the Big Mac must be the end-all-be-all). When the site finally launches at the end of the commercial, the "visitors" counter rings up a grand total of three visits. A delivery guy (eating a Big Mac) says "I guess it wasn't bigger than the Big Mac".

It's an okay commercial, but nothing particularly memorable. At the same time, the name of this fictional company,, is repeated many, many times through the commercial. This creates a great opportunity for McDonald's to take a few more cheap shots at dotcom mania and build up more brand exposure for the Big Mac. McDonald's has squandered this opportunity. All that exists at is a single, poorly prepared page, that is only slightly humorous. It does link across to the main McDonald's website, but to a fairly uninspiring "burgers" subpage.

The Winner
A visit to Alexa shows that both website have been getting traffic, a clear indication that the mere mention or presence of these URLS in the tv commercials are driving consumers to check them out. From the perspective of branding, Burger King is embracing this traffic, and McDonald's is wasting it. In this head-to-head, we're declaring the King is still the King.

Monday, June 18, 2007

VitaminWater: Cool, refreshing branding

"Try crossing the antarctic without your wooly underwear. Try Essential. Try it!"
"Try swimming the Atlantic when you just swam the Atlantic. Try Revive. Try it!"
"Try giving an Amazonian howler monkey a Brazilian bikini wax. Try XXX. Try it!"

These imperatives, shouted out in a cocky British accent, accompanied by the same words in bold print and bold colors is just a sample of VitaminWater's new marketing campaign. All I can say is that this new marketing campaign for VitaminWater is an attention-getter.

VitaminWater, from Glaceau (bought out by Coca Cola a few weeks ago) has always worked to build a strong consistent brand through their heavily coordinated and very recognizable packaging, but now they are working to build up their brand on the air and online. Accompanying the TV campaign is a really intense, Flash-based website at

There are a lot of things to appreciate about this website when it comes to branding. First off, it's an intense rush of motion and interactivity, with bottles of VitaminWater front and center and almost larger than life. There is absolutely no ambiguity about the point of the site or the real stars.

Then there's the color. VitaminWater's product line is completely color coded and the site is decked out in that same juicy color scheme. As you move from product to product, the entire interface adjusts to colors that complement the specific product. This blends with typography (thanks to the fact that you can embed fonts in Flash) that is a perfect match to the product labels.

And with that, I offer my own homage:

"Try packing five gallons of branding into a sixteen ounce bottle. Try VitaminWater's website. Try it!"

Thursday, June 7, 2007

want2Bsquare - A brand tries to own the square

About a week ago, the strangest commercials started airing during Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. The ads featured what seemed to be a shady medical facility in an eastern European country, where a doctor (who looks a bit like Christopher Walken) is finishing a procedure to mold his patients heads into the shape of cubes (something they are apparently very excited about). The commercial ends with a URL, There is no mention of the product, no English spoken, and no recognizable brand or logo.

Of course, this is designed to create curiosity. I usually resist these attempts (I try to be the cat that doesn't get killed), but this one was too bizarre and cryptic. I had to see what it was about. What did I find when I went to that URL? An equally bizarre, but incredibly rich and well-constructed immersive Flash-based website full of strange activities, games and animated creatures. Who is behind want2Bsquare? Scion, the wildly popular customizable brand from Toyota.

I've got to say that I'm impressed, both by the depth and detail of the want2Bsquare site, and by the bold and unconventional way that Scion is approaching this campaign. Unlike many other marketing campaigns, the original brand identity is NOT plastered all over this site. Instead, they are intensely focused on the shape. Everything is boxy, square or cubic. This is clearly a reflection of the boxy, square shape of the Scion xB. A quick Googling turns up a related (and similarly sponsored) want2Bsquare art exhibit in New York and LA.

It is the notable lack of Scion branding involved in this campaign that makes me realize just how audacious a move this is. With the want2Bsquare campaign, Scion is trying to OWN the shape. They are trying to claim one of the main primitive shapes and build a strong enough association that when people think of a square (or the word square) they think of Scion.

This is really bold! If you think about how Nike is intimately related to both the shape of its "swoosh", and even the word "swoosh" itself, then you'll realize they type of Holy Grail that Scion is going for. This might be overly ambitious (or I might be reading too much into it), but at least they are off to a good start.

Want2Bsquare? I just might.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

London 2012 - A Killer Logo?

Apparently, the day-glo colors and graffiti-inspired shapes of the 1980's will be completely back in vogue by the 2012 Olympics in London. At least, that's what I gather by looking at the new logo and website for the 2012 Olympic and Paralymic Games. When I first loaded up the site, I was certain that I hadn't found an "official" olympics website. It seems that even the organizers themselves aren't confident, since one of the main activities of the site is to encourage the public to create OTHER designs.

So what would make this trainwreck of a logo even more of a mess? How about animating it in a way that fails the Harding FPA machine test, which identifies video content that can cause epileptic seizures? Yeah, that would count as a double-disaster. According to CNet, they had to remove the video clip from the London 2012 website. This confirms that the London 2012 online brand is bad enough to actually kill someone. That HAS to be a first!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Microsoft Surface: A touch of cool for the Microsoft Brand?

Microsoft and "cool". Those are two words you don't see together very often. Given that this is the largest software company in the world, with products covering the whole spectrum of our computing lives, that's a bit of a sad statement. I'd say that makes Microsoft Surface blogworthy. Finally, Microsoft has come up with a product that makes people "ooh" and "ahh".

Microsoft Surface, for those who don't know, is a tabletop computing platform that lets users interact with a 30-inch, full-color, fully touch-sensitive work area. Now, when I say "tabletop", don't think about a computer that goes ON a table. Think about a table whose flat top surface IS the computer!

How is this different from a traditional touchscreen that we're all used to? The Microsoft Surface can simultaneously track multiple touchpoints. This means you can use two hands, ten fingers, or even more if you have another person sitting there with you, all at the same time! This technology is definitely something new and has a great, futuristic feel to it.

Don't expect to see one of these in real life all that soon, since they're going to take a while to get to market and they'll be pretty pricey (at least at first). Frankly, I think that the commercial success of the Microsoft Surface will really depend on the appearance of truly innovative, elegant software applications that take advantage of it. This marriage of new technology and exciting software is something that is old news for Microsoft's adversary Apple, but Microsoft itself doesn't have the best record in this area.

Commercial success aside, the biggest benefit from Microsoft Surface could be the injection of coolness that it brings to the stodgy giant from Redmond. Microsoft has been losing serious ground in several key areas to Apple and Google. Both of those companies are fully tuned in to the public's idea of cool. At the same time, one of Microsoft's latest and largest attempts, the launch of the Microsoft Live brand, has been widely acknowledged as a failure.

How has Microsoft leveraged the cool factor of Microsoft Surface in its branding? The Microsoft Surface logo is colorful, modern and elegant. The Microsoft Surface website is bright and energetic, although given the excitement of the product, it is not nearly as interactive as it should be. It remains to be seen if Microsoft will be able to leverage the initial excitement about Microsoft Surface to breathe some life back into its brand image, but at least this proves that the brand still has a pulse.