This has been a fascinating evening.  I’ve been watching CNN and following the Twitter feed and Facebook page of Carnival Cruise Lines:

It reminds me of that line that Hal Holbrook’s character says to Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen):

Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.

I’m watching a brand react in real time in a way that could never happen in a pre-social-media world. The Carnival Facebook page is a jousting match tonight.  Thousands are commenting. Some are eloquently applauding Carnival.  Some are accusing Carnival of deleting negative posts (I tested it — it’s true).

Carnival Bathrobes

Look at the bright side, passenger.  You got a free bathrobe out of this deal.

Carnival is looking into the abyss tonight.  What’s staring back is a mix of condemnation and praise. More praise than I expected.  I’ve been on a Carnival cruise — one that didn’t have any special problems — and I was not impressed.  But clearly there are some die-hard Carnival brand advocates.  Just what a brand needs on a dark night like this.


Podcasts are to media what Trefoils are to Girl Scout Cookies.  Most of us know they’re there, and most of us never order them.  Unless you’re like me.  I love podcasts.

It all started back in twenty-aught-six when I got my first iPod – a 1-gigabyte Nano.  I thought I was a hepcat.  I got on iTunes and quickly learned there’s more than music to play on a music player.  I discovered a whole world of podcasts.  And they were free.  Free is good.

Podcasts are advertiser-supported but not advertiser-heavy.  Advertising on podcasts could work for your brand.  Your ad runs in an uncluttered environment to an opted-in audience. Toyota advertises on “Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know,” a video podcast that delves into pop conspiracy theories.  Shari’s Berries is a regular on the hilarious “This Week with Larry Miller.”

I highly recommend “Manager Tools” and its companion “Career Tools,” two energetic weekly podcasts that provide detailed direction on how to work effectively inside a corporation.  “Manager Tools” host Mark Horstman is brilliant and full of tough-love advice, such as “You’re not paid to be you, you’re paid to be effective,” “You’re not that smart; they’re not that dumb,” and “It’s all about behavior.”


Check it out for yourself.  Next time you’re on the iTunes Store search for whatever topic, title or person that interests you.  We all know “there’s an app for that.”  There’s also a podcast for that.

I feel like it’s December 23rd and the Christmas presents have already been opened. So much for anticipating what advertisers have in store for us during Sunday’s Super Bowl. Most, if not all, released their spots online this week. Coca-Cola and Volkswagen are already defending their work, which some say is defamatory.

Even if an ad is brilliant and stands up to initial scrutiny, do you think its impact is lessened by a Wednesday afternoon preview on your laptop instead of a Super Bowl Sunday debut on your big screen?

Advertisers clearly want to generate early buzz instead of waiting for the Monday morning recap. But as Kenny Rogers sang, “There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”


Christmas gifts and Super Bowl ads should stay wrapped until their day has arrived.  And cats should never be put in bags to begin with.


Sometimes branding is just being the master of the obvious.

Yesterday a company called Research in Motion changed its name to what it should have been all along:  BlackBerry.   No longer will we have to listen to “Marketplace from American Public Media” refer to the company that makes BlackBerry as  “Research in Motion, the company that makes BlackBerry.”

Now the company that makes BlackBerry just is what it is.  Research in Motion’s CEO Thorsten Heins announced that “Research in Motion” would become “one consistent brand that is recognized around the world.”

Well it’s about time, y’ think?

Blackberry png

RIM/BlackBerry is not the first company to rebrand itself with a more intuitive name.  Twelve years ago Dayton Hudson Corporation took on the name Target Corporation, as Target stores had become the biggest horse in the Dayton Hudson stable.

If your company is built behind a single, successful brand, go with it as your company name.  Keep it simple with a unified corporate brand name that people don’t have to unravel.

??????????Which brings us to Comcast.  In 2010 the cable/internet/phone provider that adopted “Xfinity” as the umbrella name of all its digital products.  Virtually everything from Comcast is Xfinity.  So, what’s from Comcast that’s NOT Xfinity?  The stuff in the hinterlands that’s not digital yet.  Seems like they’re splitting hairs.

“Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.”
“But I don’t think of you.”

— The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Consumers don’t need a puzzle to solve – they need a brand that’s easy to understand, a simple story that resonates.  Marketing managers who spend all day thinking about their product and brand need to remember that the rest of the world doesn’t.

My favorite brand turns 19 today.

My favorite brand is not a car, or a beer, or a coffee or a computer company. My favorite brand is a radio station. Not some fancy subscription satellite or heuristically customizable internet station, but just a regular terrestrial radio station.

I’m talking about The Ticket. KTCK. Sportsradio 1310, Dallas. And I don’t even live in Texas. But thanks to the wonders of iHeartRadio I’m a loyal Ticket listener, a “P1” in Ticket parlance. The Ticket uses P1, the Arbitron metric of single-station listenership, as a merit badge for the dedicated follower. How brilliantly obvious and simple.

What makes The Ticket special? Why is The Ticket not like any other radio station in America? What can all brands learn from The Ticket?

–          The Ticket gives its followers a sense of belonging, of being on the inside.  P1s have their own events like Ticketstock and Fight Night and Normathon (featuring Norm Hitzges, the senior statesman of the station).  P1s have a vocabulary all their own:  “doin’ a bit,” “HSO,” “spares,” “bullsh,” “greatness,” “tired-head” and “a beating.”

–          The Ticket is not like anything else in its category.   Even the biggest sports fans can get tired-head from the typical sports-talk radio station.  Too much analysis, preview and re-view, and “call in and tell us what you think of the Giants’ latest trade” blabber. The Ticket just flows with whatever guys are thinking about that day. Sometimes it’s the latest episode of “Breaking Bad,” sometimes it’s Lee Harvey Oswald’s bathtub. The Ticket doesn’t ignore sports, it just knows there’s room for a lot more.

–          The Ticket is consistent but not stuck in a rut.  After 19 years, it’s still Sportsradio 1310.  Many of the same voices that were there in 1994 are still there.  New talent is onramped in a way that doesn’t disrupt the flow.  New media are embraced.  The Ticket’s presence on Facebook, Twitter and blogs is seamlessly integrated with on-air content.

Ticket 1

Some cool stuff The Ticket sent me on my birthday a few years ago. Thanks, guys!

–          The Ticket builds relationships.  Every day the Ticket celebrates the birthdays of its P1s along with the biggest names in sports on a segment called “Why Today Doesn’t Suck.”  Everybody feels like somebody.

–          The Ticket doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Good brands aren’t stuffy.   Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Moe’s Southwest Grill.  They know how to make you laugh and still deliver a prime product with super service.   The Ticket celebrates its gaffes with an “E-Brake of the Week” segment, when listeners call in to vote on the worst on-air screw-up.

–          The Ticket takes risks.  There are no sacred cows, not even sacred Dallas Cowboys.  Regular appearances by the Fake Jerry Jones, the Fake Tiger Woods and other false idols are filled with “I can’t believe they said that” zingers.  Top-shelf sports figures from David Beckham to Phil Mickelson might be interviewed by Scoops Callahan, a Ticket character who speaks in 1920s press lingo, or by the Overcusser, a zealous locker-room reporter who clocks in at 30 bleeps a minute.

–          The Ticket has friends. It also has enemies.  You can’t please everybody.  Barry Switzer and Shaquille O’Neal love the Ticket. Lee Corso and Bob Knight? Not so much.

–          The Ticket is a thought leader.  Amidst the shtick there is substance. The guys on The Ticket are smart, especially when it comes to knowing what’s going on with the big four local teams: Cowboys, Rangers, Mavericks and Stars. They are the go-to experts. They just don’t act like it.

Marconi Awards, loyal advertisers, a cult-like following and nineteen years in business.  Not too shabby for a bunch of guys just sittin’ around talking.  Happy Birthday, guys.

For more of my gentle musings on The Ticket, see




Your “Most Endorsed For”scoreboard may not exactly say who YOU think you are, but it says who THEY think you are.

linkedin-logo2Four months ago LinkedIn added a one-click endorsement system that allows your contacts to say what they think you know without writing a single word.

It goes like this:   In your LinkedIn profile you list a set of skills and areas of expertise.  LinkedIn polls your contacts with questions like “Does Yourname Here know Project Management?” or “Does Yourname Here know Quantitative Research?”  Every time a contact answers YES to one of these questions, you get a point on your profile next to that skill.  Before you know it you’ve been codified with a number for each skill.

So who do they say you are?  Does it match your own opinion of yourself?   If not, what are you going to do about it?  My top four “Most Endorsed For” skills are Marketing Communications, Direct Marketing, Advertising and Marketing Strategy.  That’s about right.

“Personal branding” is a hot topic in career development.  Defining any brand – including the brand you call “Me” — begins with knowing what people already think about that brand.  The “Most Endorsed For” scoreboard is a good place to start.


With the college national championship behind us and only eight teams remaining in the NFL playoffs, followers of American football are now fixing their eyes on February 3rd, Super Bowl Sunday. 

CBS has already sold out its inventory at an average price of around $3.7 million per 30-second spot (is that net or gross, might I ask?).   That’s right – over $7 million a minute.

Is it worth it?  In an era of retweeting, rehashing and reality imitating art ad nauseam, perhaps it is worth it now more than ever.  As long as the advertiser gives us something to tweet or Facebook or LinkIn about.  When done right, a Super Bowl ad can generate endless “free” repetition, replay on cable news, podcast chatter and social media buzz.

Remember the irreverent, unleashed wildness of the 2000 Super Bowl ads at the height of the dot-com boom, when E-Trade’s spot with a cha-cha-ing chimp boasted “We just wasted two million dollars.  What are you doing with your money?”

E-Trade chimp

Thirteen years later the price of a Super Bowl spot has nearly doubled and the opportunities for exposure through social media have gone from zero to everybody.   I’m expecting some killer work from big brands on February 3rd.  If you’re like me, you’ll get up to get your favorite food and beverage only at certain moments of the game – when they’re actually playing football.

Class of '13

Can anybody get excited about 2013?  It’s just not a pretty number.  Odd-numbered years roll in with a yawn – no Olympics, presidential elections or World Cups.  Odd years are the mortar between the even-numbered bricks.

I’m surprised I haven’t seen more chatter about fear of 13, aka triskaidekaphobia .  Maybe we’re just avoiding the discussion.

“Naturally, it’s 13. Why 13?”

“It comes after 12, hon.”

           – Marilyn Lovell (Kathleen Quinlan) and Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) in “Apollo 13.”

Every year has a brand.  Some years arrive amid great expectations: 1976, 1984, 2000.   Others just sit there like the quiet kid in class (name one big thing that happened in 1993).  .

What’ll we see in 2013?  A better economy?  Less red-blue divisiveness?  More time spent thinking about today’s opportunities instead of tomorrow’s problems?  I’m hopeful for all of that and more.  Even Apollo 13 was, in the words of Tom Hanks/Jim Lovell, “a successful failure.”  Unlucky Apollo 13 was very lucky.  

Let’s all make something special out of 13.

Elvis meets Nixon 12 21 1970
Maybe you’ve heard the story.  Maybe you’ve seen the photos. In case you haven’t, here’s the recap:

Forty-two years ago today, early in the morning of December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley showed up, unannounced, at the gates of the White House to deliver a letter he had written to President Richard Nixon.

Elvis Letter Page 1

Transcript of letter from Elvis to President Nixon 12 21 1970

Elvis wanted to meet with the President and he wanted the title and badge of Federal Agent for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.  Elvis got everything he asked for.  By lunchtime.  That day.

How did Elvis do it?

THE BRAND:   By 1970, sixteen years into his show biz career, Elvis Presley had evolved into Elvis.  The bejeweled, cape-wearing, “See See Rider” singing, Vegas-playing Elvis.  Elvis was a brand that everybody recognized and many respected.   When Elvis showed up at the door — even the door of the White House — the door was open.

THE ANGLE:  Even if you’re well known, and even if you say “please,” you need a selling proposition, a unique brand attribute.  Elvis had one:  Elvis could relate to everyone.  In his letter to President Nixon, Elvis wrote: The drug culture, the hippie elements …do not consider me as their enemy… I will help out by doing it my way through my communications with people of all ages.

THE ASK:  Elvis didn’t beat around the bush.  He asked specifically for what he wanted.  When you don’t ask, you don’t get.

THE LIMITED TIME OFFER:  When Elvis showed up at the White House gates four days before Christmas, the Nixon staff knew they had to move quickly.  Elvis was a limited time offer.  Better act now.

THE CLOSE:  Elvis wasn’t going to leave the White House without a new badge.  He knew better than to take “We’ll get back to you” for an answer.  Elvis was persistent.

A brand built over time, a unique and well-timed offer and a clear call to action set the stage, and a well-prepared, confident salesman brought home the badge.

Elvis BNDD Badge















Elvis has left the White House.