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10 posts from September 2008

Don't Worry: We Have a Trillion Dollars Now

This ad broke today from WaMu regarding the merger. I think it speaks for itself.

WaMu Merger Ad

The text reads: WaMu has a bright new future, thanks to the stability of JPMorgan Chase (and their nearly trillion dollars in customer deposits). But Chase brings more than money to the party: together we have 14,300 ATMs and 5,400 branches nationwide, a quarter of a million employees, and the confidence of banking with over 100 million other customers. (etc.)

Well, I guess I didn't have to worry about the brand going away... and perhaps with this newfound trillion dollars, they can afford to come up with some other exciting reasons why we should continue to bank with them.


Save the Brands! First Up: WaMu

Buh-Bye

[EDIT, 12/1/08: They announced today that the WaMu brand will be retired and replaced with Chase, so this post is pretty moot.]

There are many sad things about the distress that's currently working its way through our financial system: the loss of jobs for many of our fellow Americans, the threat of implosion of our securities market, the billions of dollars in mortgage (and shareholder) value evaporating like so much smoke from an unfiltered cigarette.

In the aftermath of this threat of financial armageddon in the United States, where none of us know where to go and whom to trust, the question -- painful as it is -- must be asked: who will save the brands?

That's right. With the seizure of my hometown's Washington Mutual, I'm seeing a dark period for some of our nation's top brands.

WaMu had invested countless billions of dollars to paint a perky, friendly face on money. The WaMu marketing machine had been laser-focused on less-sophisticated, higher-risk consumers, putting forth a friendly facade that was dubbed by their former CEO, Kerry Killinger, as the “Wal-Mart of Banking."

If we've learned anything from Wal-Mart, it's that it isn't what your name is, but the following: 1) what you sell, 2) how you sell it, and 3) how you get what you sell to the place where you sell it. Banks are always good at #1 and #3. They take your money, they lend you money, and they give you your money when you need it. #2 is where the magic happens.

So, how did WaMu sell it? WaMu's core offering, from the banking side, has always been about making basic services free, then hyping the quality of service that you'd receive in the branch and online. Underneath that promise of "Free Checking!" and "More Human Interest" and "Another Revolution in Banking" and "The WaMu Way" was a very deep portfolio of shaky mortgages. These products were serviced through their lending arm, which was very adept at hoovering up mortgages from other banks. The mortgage interest, as well as heavy service fees on low- or no-cost accounts, were two of the major sources of revenue for their banking services.

You can get that top-line summary from reading the press on WaMu and sampling some of their campaigns over the years, but I'd like to throw a different perspective in here.

I had serviced them as a creative for a few years while at a large marketing firm, and after eating and sleeping with them as a client full-time for a year -- I mean that figuratively, of course -- I can tell you that this whole "seized and sold by the government" thing may not destroy their brand.

A caveat, however. JPMorganChase may choose to swallow the brand up wholesale and remake them in their own image, but there's also a counter-argument as to why the WaMu name and ethos should stick around. But this would take real risk, and I assume JPMorganChase has already taken on plenty.

For the moment, indulge me in this little dialogue I've concocted:

WaMu. Sir. I'm assuming no one has called you sir until now, but I'm testing it out, so you can get used to it.

Instead of being that happy-go-lucky, a little quirky, PG-13-movie-loving knucklehead we so love and admire, we need you to, well, grow up. Just a little. We need you to acknowledge the reality of what's happened over the past few years between you and I. Yes, I can forgive you for the college years, the dark nights of the soul characterized by the barbaric yawp of "Whoo hoo!" that we could hear from your frat house, where the parties seemed to be endless and the promise of champagne was always buzzing through the thronging crowd.

The sad truth is, those days are over. You've failed out of school -- and at the ripe old age of 119, more or less. Now is the time to forge on, with a sense of optimism, but no longer with that boyish, devil-can-care attitude that carried me through many a night of balancing my checkbook. No, sir. I want to see the scars on your knuckles, as you run them through your sandy blonde hair. I want to hear you speak in a tone of voice that's two notches below sassy. I want you to say the following:

"We've been through some rough times, old friend, and now we can move on to a new phase in our relationship. One where we can whisper real secrets into our ears instead of sweet nothings."

"And the first thing I want to share with you, David, is that I made a big mistake. I didn't listen to you, way back when you closed your account with us because we held your $260 cash deposit for 7 days before crediting it to your account, causing you to bounce two checks, and waive the fees. I didn't try to stop you from closing that account, or stop sending you mail about starting a mortgage with us. I didn't treat your friends very well in their mortgages with us, and many of them refinanced with other providers because we kept losing their mortgage payments and threatening them with foreclosure."

"All of that is in the past now. I've learned my lesson now. No more commercials about day-old sushi and bald men that dream they've grown hair and banks that treat people like cogs in a gigantic machine. From now on, I will put your money where my mouth is. I will treat you with respect and dignity for banking with me, and only spent a small portion of my free time wallowing in base humor to gain people's attention about my Free Checking product. The rest of the time will be focused on your needs, citizen of Seattle. You have my word."

You may consider this a cheap shot. There are billions of dollars and thousands of jobs at stake here. I have friends that work at WaMu whom I want to see happily employed. Our local economy hinges WaMu, which is a cornerstone bank of the Pacific Northwest.

But I've spent enough time with the WaMu brand, and seen the level of thought that goes into its expression through their marketing and advertising, to see that it has a reasonable facsimile of a human voice beneath all that posturing. It's just yearning to come out in a more mature expression, and in a way that can bring a human face to a ruined corporation. Sure, in the past few years, that WaMu brand personality has been trampled and stomped all over, and now the brand will likely be kicked to the curb. But at least let it have its last moment in the limelight, singing its sad song.

So I say, friends, that we allow WaMu its chance at redemption. Much like our Uncle Fred, who has seen his life destroyed by addiction and is now going through his 12-step recovery, WaMu has a chance to heal its wounds, and our own.

Whether this will happen has yet to be seen... but I'm idealistic enough of an American to dream that we could try to afford a teaspoonful of grace to a failed banking institution with a legacy of funny ads.

That's more than we can say for those other banks out there that are, well, banks.


Make the Olympic Logo Bigger

2010 Olympic Logo on Whistler Peak, Canada, September 2008

While resting at the top of Whistler Peak a few weeks ago, I couldn't help but notice how good the Vancouver 2010 Olympic logo looked as a 15 foot statue. Good enough to try to put in my pocket and take with me... although a two-ton pile of rock may be hard to strap on the car roof and drive down the Sea to Sky Highway to Seattle without dramatic consequences.

Back at home, staring at my photo of this gigantic logo -- especially after spending this week working with my designers on a bunch of fun logo concepts -- made me think about how the process of great logo development is often comparable to stone carving, though initially at a very small scale. You bring out the raw material from your sketchbook and pare away at a tiny rendering within the computer, chipping away at an idea until the unnecessary elements fall away to reveal something meaningful. In that organic, poetic process, even the cast-off shavings can be formed into compelling designs. Various half-ideas fuse into new wholes.

But after all of that work, you make the logo bigger. Much bigger. If you can't blow your logo up to fifteen feet scale, then stand back and feel like you want to grasp it in your hand, you probably haven't fulfilled your task to a level of great satisfaction.


Why You Are a Designer

A few months back, I posted a chart that showed some of the (tongue-in-cheek) reasons why I'm a designer.

A number of designers across the Web took it upon themselves to remake that chart to show exactly why they are designers as well. Here are some of them.

First up is this one from the designer Loic Sattler:

This one brings it into the game designer space, from Zack Hiwiller's blog:

This final one is from Lee Holloway's blog Tutto lo stesso:

Why am I a designer

If I've missed any, please feel free to comment with a link to your chart and I'll add them to this post!


Party Browsing

Party Browsing

Now that everyone's got a snazzy browser in their iPhone, it seems like the Internet has become our real-world intelligence confirmation unit. I can't recall the last time I was at a party or eating dinner with some friends, and when a point of consideration came up, out came the phone for instant Wikipedia validation. Web browsing is now social, just forced through a straw.

This kind of collaborative browsing, while still fresh and new, seems to be an evolution of co-browsing activities such as Medium and other fairly new sites on the scene. But what I'm really interested in is the following:

How do you make browsing the Internet a real-world, at home party activity? How do you work together in one physical space to assemble and share entertainment and knowledge? Do you have multiple input devices? A giant touch screen with a natural user interface? Do you control it with your mobile device? It's not good enough to each have our own Internet appliance. We need one appliance that we can throw all of our thoughts onto, like a digital whiteboard mixed up with a browser, to mush it all together. Just imagine the overload of great stuff, all there on one big screen.

Of course, then we'd need a drinking game to go with it as well.

We were having a great time party surfing this past weekend. When having friends over for dinner recently, our postprandial activity consisted of calling out links we'd recently enjoyed, then surfing to the appropriate URL and sharing the information out among the group. After a while, practically anything one of us said became a URL to check out.

Big technology and game companies, get right on it. I'm sure there are at least twelve people that will pay $500k for such technology in their palatial homes.


Web 9.0: Why You Should Care

Flight _ Photograph by David Sherwin

Prognostication -- an eternal quest for the scent of the new. Imagining the future, in punditry, with the hopes that the world will turn out just like how you've imagined it. Then, claim your foresight is hindsight as well. Watch where the birds cluster as they fly overhead, towards the setting sun.

What's more difficult than fortune-telling? Doing something that incites the actual change. Or, what's more likely, to observe a change already in progress and shunt it down an alternative path that will lead to an even greater change. Designers are expert in molding artifacts and ideas in this matter, iteratively and sometimes explosively -- and in a strange kind of symbiosis, often changing the maker in the process. We spend so much time creating the work, and little to no ink is spilled describing how designers are changed by the process as well.

Continue reading "Web 9.0: Why You Should Care" »


EcoTagging: Does Your Sweater Have a Baacode?

Baacode Icebreaker.com

Almost six months ago, I blogged about the EcoTag, a thought experiment in making sustainability factors transparent for clothing purchases. Companies such as Timberland and Patagonia have been working to provide this level of sustainability information online and on clothes labels. And now another company has joined their ranks: they show you the source of their wool right down to the sheep farm.

Check out Icebreaker, a New Zealand company that spins locally-sourced merino wool into technical outerwear. They've developed what they call the "Baacode," which is a unique number associated with each piece of clothing they sell. You go onto their Web site and enter the code to see the exact farm where the wool came from, who runs it, etc. The company also provides information on their general guidelines for manufacturing ethics and animal welfare.

This is definitely a step in the right direction. While they don't reveal the carbon cost of their distribution from New Zealand to France to Germany to Shanghai and then out to retailers, it's great to see a clothing company showing in detail the impact of each phase of their product manufacture.

The only red flag in my mind, while reviewing their site, was how they couched their manufacturing ethics. More specifically, they encourage good working conditions, 3 meals a day, free lodging if necessary, but with regards to pay, they only mandate minimum wage for their workers. Their products are premium and affordable -- a rare combination -- so an incremental increase in the cost of their product lines in return for paying premium wages in the actual manufacturing process would be a worthwhile tradeoff.

Also, the videos are a little too slick. Why not just have a Web cam showing factory conditions in real time? Oh, wait... PR wouldn't like that...


What Should I Do With TypographyPolice.com?

Bad Typography

Oh, the curse of a great URL, purchased amid a flurry of irrational anger at a poorly designed, awfully kerned, Comic Sans-ridden sign in a bakery window. TypographyPolice.com, what shall I do with thee? You are about to expire, and I should probably renew you and actually do something with the domain.

Some ideas that came to mind in the heat of the moment:

1. A running blog of terrible type examples from the real world, with pointers as to how to avoid those mistakes.

2. Along with those terrible type samples, highlights of amazing typography alongside a series of 20 or so rules that designers can follow to rock the their type hardcore.

3. A Type Police exam and, upon passing, a membership card that showed that you were a Type Policeperson and were fully authorized to smack down on the terrors that face us in a Microsoft Word-dominated world.

4. Printable tear-off sheets that people could use to paste violations on real-world stuff. (Design-Police.org started this after I bought this URL, which made me quash the idea of TypographyPolice, but really, these are different things, right?)

What else could this domain represent? How can we save the world from ridiculous typography and the terrors that it imprints on the public at large?


The Pitfalls of Marketing Social Responsibility, Part 4 of 4

See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series.

Based on the pitfalls shared in the past three posts, I think there's a few very simple guidelines that companies can follow to minimize the amount of perceived hypocrisy your social responsibility marketing can have on your brand.

1) Don't spend money on marketing social responsibility. Spend it on being socially responsible and being humble about how far you need to travel in your quest to lessen your impact on society.

This could be translated as, "Put your money where you mouth is, marketer." If you're spending millions of dollars on a corporate campaign to say how great you are, you're wasting money actually being great and signaling to your customers that there's a perception issue that needs to be shifted. There are better ways to evangelize your behavior than this.

Take a page out of the Patagonia playbook. Sure, they spent money on a nice Web site to highlight the true cost of creating and shipping one of their items to you. But they do something practically no one else does: they show you the good and the painful truth, and acknowledge they need to do better. How rare is that?

2) Use public relations and internal communications with your employees to broadcast social responsibility from your employees out, through their social networks and community activism. Forget the full-page ads.

Spreading the word through your employees is more valuable than any marketing will ever be, because it is spread by humans in conversation instead of one-way broadcast media. For topics as slippery as social responsibility, which always have their ounce of hypocrisy, these topics require a conversation to discuss all the nuances of what you're trying to accomplish. Give your employees the data and the support that they need to have a conversation, then step back and don't try to control the conversation. Let them speak their minds, for good and for bad.

3) Don't expect your customers to spend more for social responsibility as part of your marketing push. Unless your product is game-changing.

Going green, for some companies out there, may be seen as a smart business decision and also as a reason to charge more for their products. Your customers shouldn't have to bear the burden for how you change how your company operates and markets their services. If you amortize the costs of social responsibility into your current portfolio and let your customers know that they're getting a greener product for less cash, they'll find more perceived value in your offering and be more likely to participate.

--

Truly, it doesn't get any more complicated than this: Don't spend money to say you're changing how you do business to save the world. Just go out and save the world, and people will talk about it. Ignore the "greenvertising" race that's going on in the ad world, as companies jockey for position as the nicest, kindest, happiest little car manufacturer or producer of clothes. More action, fewer full-bleed ads!


The Pitfalls of Marketing Social Responsibility, Part 3 of 4

Chevrolet Tree Hugger

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

This post talks about the following rule:

3) Don't pretend to be what you're not. This is the worst hypocrisy.

Anyone remember Pallotta TeamWorks?

It was an experiment in for-profit charitable giving, run by a charismatic, cultish CEO. This Los Angeles-based company produced a roster of events such as the Avon 3-Day Walk for Breast Cancer, the AIDSRide, and many others. Their well-honed marketing and PR machine created an appearance of a vibrant, tight-knit community of people across America that would take part in hardcore athletic activities to raise funding for hot-button medical initiatives that needed research breakthroughs. Their events were well-attended, well-run, and chock full of people who really felt they were making a difference.

I was one of them. I participated in the 2001 Avon 3-Day Walk in Washington, D.C., raising with my wife over $2,000. And at first, the event was a blast. I met a ton of amazing people and really pushed the limits of what I thought was possible for me to physically accomplish.

During the second day of the event, as we lounged in pain around the camp and chowed down on a lackluster spaghetti and tomato sauce, Dan Pallotta gave a speech about what his company wanted to accomplish as a whole. He painted a bold vision of us making a real impact in breast cancer research, complete with jingoistic music swelling up in the background to punctuate his responses. He showed us an events roster for the upcoming year, encapsulated in a gigantic brochure (probably 24" by 12", full color, dozens of pages) that would be mailed to us after the event. He hoped that we would take part in more Pallotta events and keep the flame for their foray into making the impossible possible.

As a marketing professional that had spent the past four years working with nonprofit clients such as American Diabetes Association, I knew that something was very, very wrong. Such a brochure would cost at least $8 to produce and mail -- a move that smacked of complete fiscal irresponsibility. Barring low participation in an event, the highest fraction of every dollar donated should go directly to the associated charity. Where was all this money coming from?

When I returned home from the event, I immediately found a groundswell of citizens and journalists on the Internet that were savaging Pallotta's for-profit basis and event performance. Pallotta's bold experiment was shaped around a mission that put the participant's transcendence of their physical limits (an epic bike ride, a 60-mile walk) before the actual results of those actions for the associated charities. In the AIDSRides, as an example, only 21 cents of every dollar raised went to charity.

When confronted with these numbers, the companies that had hired Pallotta to produce their charitable events immediately fired him. As a result, the company imploded and laid off all 250 of its employees.

If Pallotta TeamWorks was a non-profit enterprise and had carried traditional non-profit values, they might have operated on a shoestring and shown real results. Their core values were at cross-purposes with the core values of what charitable giving should be: a selfless sacrifice for a just reward. Their core audience of hardcore exercise do-gooders saw straight through their marketing hype and personal empowerment doublespeak into their lack of sacrifice.

This leads to the only corollary of the third law:

No matter where your company exists, it is a world citizen. Behave like one by giving back thoughtfully and not being voraciously greedy.

Pallotta created their own little world and ignored the big picture. People think about companies and brands like they think about people. They have a face and a voice and a history. Yes, they still need to bring in revenue. Just make sure you do so in a way that is mindful of your impact on the community and the context in which you create your gains, and be prepared to give some of it away in exchange for greater respect.

It sounds so easy in theory. But in practice, this is where almost every company falters. No matter how many contests you hold to encourage green citizenship or how much money you invest in promoting your investment in social responsibility, people will only ask why it took so long for you to get started. This leads me to my final corollary:

It's best to invest in social responsibility without promoting it. Unless you can create a legacy.

Unless you're Patagonia or TerraPass or any of a list of companies that have centered their entire business practice and brand strategy around sustainability, consider making incremental change without viewing each action as a marketing opportunity. Wait until there's a holistic story to tell that doesn't smack of opportunism.

Here's a good example. Within a period of months, Tully's Coffee switched their espresso to organic/Fair Trade, brought composting into all their stores, changed the engineering of their materials to make them compostable, and began bringing local/organic baked goods to support their coffees. By creating a legacy with their business choices across the board, they changed their stance in the market and even made Starbucks look a little weak in the knees. At least, until Starbucks fought back. What I find really interesting is that Tully's never heavily promoted the switch on their Web site... And didn't want to acknowledge the articles floating around regarding how Fair Trade is actually retarding the process of bringing better coffee on the global market?

Yet again, every step forward for social responsibility is on a slippery slope. I applaud companies like Tully's that are looking to renovate their business model, realizing that it's one of the only ways towards true sustainability and being responsible for their actions on society at large.

In my last post in this series, I'll talk about ways to approach spending money on marketing social responsibility, if you must...