Our Thoughts…

Six things you can learn from the failure of Target Canada

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Target Canada's failure comes with a lot of lessons to learn

It’s been a week since the announcement that after only two years, Target Canada would be closing its doors. It’s an announcement most expected but perhaps not so soon. But as time unfolds and discussions about Target’s flop deepens, we can’t help but feel reminded of one of our core beliefs: that if you’re going to do something you do it right. You have to be competitive, you have to be better, you have to give people something to make a big deal over.

You don’t have to be a retailer to take valuable lessons away from this. Anyone can learn something from this failure.

1. Do your research.

The North American retail landscape was already shaky for department stores. The downfall of Sears has been in the works for a while, and overall consumers were gravitating away from bricks-and-mortar one-stop shops and toward online shopping, or specialty stores and boutiques. (Walmart, however, continued to thrive because it was the best option for lower-income people).

Basically, channel your inner-boy scout and always be prepared. Knowledge is power.

2. If you can’t be original, be better.

“Getting there first” is vital in most markets, but if you can’t get there first, you can still win — by being different and being better. The “Target experience” from South of the border set up big expectations for low prices (competitive with Walmart) and tons of stock. So when prices weren’t as low as its US counterpart and shelves were notoriously low in stock, Target already failed to give something different. So the “Target experience” became the “slightly more expensive than Walmart” experience. They didn’t give anyone anything that they were lacking.

Basically, there’s no excuse for not being the best at something. Good enough is never good enough.

3. Don’t get too big for your britches.

As another one of Canada’s biggest success stories turned flops Blackberry could caution you, the idea of rapid expansion is enticing, but could be a recipe for disaster. Target already shot itself in the foot when it went into Canada operating on assumptions and not taking into account things that could go wrong, but what sealed the deal was its quick roll out. Most moved into former Zellers locations and many of those were less desirable geographically than those of Walmart. Expanding on as short of a timeline as they did gave Target more to fix when they started having problems.

Basically, dream big but keep it reasonable. Accept your limitations and don’t ever get ahead of yourself.

4. Set yourself apart.

People love exclusivity, and in both Canada and the US, designer partnerships and “high-end” in-house labels have proven to be success stories for many retailers (see Sobey’s partnership with Jamie Oliver’s line of food products). While Target US offered an exclusive line from designer Isaac Misrahi in the fashion department, Canadian stores couldn’t do the same. Even when Target began to carry the sought-after Vitamix blender, they were unable to offer prices any lower than the health food stores and kitchen boutiques that also carried it.

Basically, you have to be different, prove that you’re different, and give people something they literally can’t get anywhere else.

5. Stay true to yourself.

“Expect more, pay less.” With a slogan like this, it’s almost like Target Canada was daring people to find a problem with it. Because of the advent of online shopping, customers know what they can get at Target in the US — so to find that Canada was lacking those things was a let-down. In the video below, a beauty blogger shows just how underwhelming Target Canada’s cosmetics selection is in comparison to the US.

If you promise to exceed expectations, you have to know that people are going to build expectations. It’s that simple.

Basically, you can’t make promises that are simply empty words.

6. Assume nothing.

Most of the problems listed above came down to Target making assumptions — assuming that shoppers would chase the “Target experience” despite non-competitive prices. They assumed that the novelty would stay alive despite early missteps. It didn’t give consumers enough credit and failed to deliver what they desperately needed. It was as though they went in blind to all other factors.

Basically, you have to prepare to make mistakes, prepare for things to be difficult, and prepare to have to work to make people care.

Throwback Thursday: Marketing Hall of Legends

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Paula Gignac, a 2012 inductee to to the Marketing Hall of Legends.

It’s just eight days until we don our fancy(-ish) duds and head to the biggest event in Canadian marketing. The American Marketing Association’s annual Marketing Hall of Legends (MHOL) gala will be taking place next Friday, January 30, in Toronto, and we’re humbled to have been a partner in this event since 2011.

We love being a part of the MHOL each year because it’s all about celebrating what we’re most passionate about — the extraordinary.

The great thing about this event is that that it honours not the work but the great minds behind the work. It’s all about everything put forth by an individual, the creativity and the ideas that come from their minds. This is our third year profiling inductees, and each year we feel privileged — not because of the profile or the exposure, but because we’re fully aware of how rare it is to get to be able to connect with successful, experienced people on this kind of level.

It’s an opportunity to get to sit down and have genuine, intimate conversations with each inductee and take away real knowledge from them. It’s not about resumes, it’s not about specific work. It’s about their philosophies, their outlooks and skills that go beyond specific jobs — a perspective that can only be honed through experience.

We wanted to share a few highlights from the past three years of working with the Marketing Hall of Legends (it was tough to pick).

We shortlisted these videos (among many — you can see the others that we had the tough task of choosing from on our Youtube page) because these were great examples of people who had great life lessons to spread to anyone, not just marketers. With Aldo Bensadoun, we loved the passion that he brought to the human side of the business. Paula Gignac impressed us with not only the wealth of knowledge and her perspective on the digital ecosystems and management, but also her commitment to excellence. Miles Nadal was tenacious and unapologetic about his philosophies, and he really sets himself apart from the pack.

Of course, there’s a lot to be learned from any of our previous inductees, so don’t let us tell you which to watch. There will be even more this year, and we’re so excited to see the amalgamation of so many people’s hard work.

If you’re interested in attending this year’s gala event, details and tickets are available at www.amamarketinghalloflegends.ca.

The art of marketing, celebrity and pseudo-science

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Canadian author Timothy Caulfield took a pretty direct approach with the title of his brand new book: Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?, which delves into the topic of cultural celebrity worship that is so strong that we start to believe everything they say, even when pushing pseudo-science concepts such as cleanse diets and magical superfoods which would otherwise be hard to swallow.

Paltrow isn’t the only celebrity Caulfield goes after in the book, nor is she the only celebrity to make outrageous claims when it comes to health and medicine far beyond the reaches of their education and background. One can easily point to Jenny McCarthy as the culprit for bringing vaccines out to trial for “causing autism,” a theory that has been discredited but still remains rampant among McCarthy’s followers.

The discussion goes far beyond health and diet, and even further beyond mere celebrity obsession. Our willingness to believe everything actors, musicians and models pump out is actually a marketing phenom. And if we’re not careful, our passion for “causes” could cause us to weed out critical thinking.

Where does marketing come in?

Brands aren’t just limited to companies. There’s an increased demand for everyone to have a “personal brand” these days. For many, that personal brand involves standing for — or against — something.

These days for celebrities there is undeniably pressure from the public to stand for something, to be an individual with a cause. Those celebrities without a cause risk being labeled vapid or just a pretty face. And as everyone suddenly finds themselves with a plethora of social media platforms to express themselves on, no one wants to be giving empty words.

It’s an act of marketing one’s self, to take a stand for something and to become a “go-to” subject matter expert. It seems like a pretty smart strategy to ensure that you’re not a one-hit wonder, that you won’t fade into obscurity when your looks fade or your movies are no longer relevant. Everyone is looking for a legacy. And for many, it’s about becoming an authority on things they’re not qualified for.

Why do so many people believe in it?

Building brand trust takes a long time for some companies, but when a brand is an actual person, it’s more, well, personal. Consumers don’t think of it as brand trust because they don’t think of celebrities as brands (hint: they are).

We also tend, when worshiping celebrities, to look past the business of fame and the expectations they have to lose or maintain certain weights. Would Chris Pratt have needed to drop weight and gain cheese-grater abs if he weren’t starring in Guardians of the Galaxy? More importantly, would he have had the financial motivation or the time? Short answer: no. Long answer: noooooo. We forget that not only do we not have the time or money to look a certain way, we don’t have a need to. And quite frankly, so do some celebrities when promoting their juice cleanses and “Raw ‘til 4” diets.

This is also a marketing trick. Celebrities market themselves as regular everyday people. They go to the grocery store! They take public transit! And they are paid millions of dollars to star in major movies, so they have to crash diet using pseudo-science to justify their destructive habits!

Why is this a problem?

Celebrities becoming advocates or the faces of causes is so commonplace now that it’s practically expected. (This doesn’t just stick to science, either. Celebrities have also become authorities on social justice and human rights causes, even if they don’t know a damn thing or seem self-contradictory in their acts.)

On one hand, it’s a great testament to the power of personal branding that one can become an authority on something by virtue of passion alone. On another hand, it is a relatively depressing reality, that many will believe an actress’s regurgitation of a discredited theory on vaccines, but will lose it on Neil DeGrasse Tyson for not firmly opposing GMOs.

Marketing is the art of spreading your truth to the public. Those spreading their truths have a responsibility to ensure that it is the correct truth, but in the meantime, consumers need to do their homework.

Stunning commercial promotes awareness of PTSD

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The Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation's veteran dogs are helpful for veterans suffering from PTSD.

Last week we lauded Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign videos for being a great conversation starter about mental illness. Then we saw this commercial form the Netherlands, and were blown out of the water at the will to go above and beyond the lines of conventional conversation surrounding mental health, specifically PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is only now being acknowledged in the mainstream media as a legitimate mental illness, let alone one that commonly and painfully affects war veterans young and old.

The Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation, a group known for raising and providing guide dogs for those in need, and this commercial highlights a type of guide dog many aren’t aware of — veteran guide dogs. And they’re advertising that service through a jaw-dropping and beautiful commercial.

We weren’t surprised to learn that the spot was the winner of the Gouden Loeki 2014, an award for excellence in Dutch commercials.

This advertisement is powerful on many levels. We commend it for showing the hardships and traumas of war in an accurate and respectful way without being too graphic or too scary for a wide variety of watchers.

The grave seriousness of the content and the straightforward, unapologetic manner in which it’s communicated is so well-done that you don’t feel at all tempted to laugh when the soldier begins licking the other soldier’s face. Nor do you even feel compelled to say, “Aww” at the dog. It’s not about how cute the dog is, it’s about how important it is.

The commercial has pulled you in, more like a dramatic film than a commercial. Which is exactly the kind of seriousness needed to address PTSD.

One of the criticisms we had on the Bell Let’s Talk campaign was that it oversimplifies many of the discussions surrounding mental illness. This commercial, however, does a good job of going above and beyond the obvious and shallow. Overall, we’re impressed, and touched.

#whatshouldwecallme: Video production edition

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Anyone who’s ever worked in video can probably relate to these moments. It’s okay. We understand. We’re here for you.

1. Getting stuck in traffic on the way to a shoot.

2. Finding out a client gave you a referral.

3. When an emergency vehicle’s siren goes by during a really good take.

4. When you’re shooting in a corporate office and you blow a fuse.

5. Getting it right on the first take.

6. When you show up to an outdoor shoot and the weather isn’t what was forecasted.

7. Watching terrible audition after terrible audition.

8. Finally meeting the actor who nails it.

9. The drive back after a 14-hour shoot.

10. Having to unload all your equipment from the van after the drive back after a 14-hour shoot.

11. When you’re shooting in an office and the next-door neighbor gets really excited about his conference call.

12. When the talent nails a really long teleprompter take.

13. A client sitting back and trusting you to do what you do best.

Throwback Thursday: Old cigarette commercials

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One of the many old cigarette commercials claiming cigarettes could be good for you.

Watching old cigarette commercials always feels strange. It’s weird sometimes to think that there was once a time when cigarettes were not only advertised as a mega-glamorous and cool, but people legitimately believed that they were healthy.

This 1956 spot for Kent Cigarettes is heavy on the glamour (it would actually be pretty awesome if companies used pretty female lounge singers to sell things again) and also heavy on the BS. Take a look for yourself.

Really, Jonathan Blake? You’re telling us that after a carton of your cigarettes we’ll be hooked?

Who’da thought?

Sometimes it’s shocking to look back and think about the things people used to believe, and how flimsy health advice used to be in these commercials. On one hand, it makes you wonder what we’re falling for now in commercials (this just in: gluten will literally ruin your life; quinoa will make you live forever).

But it is harder to get away with making bogus claims related to people’s health to peddle your products nowadays, because we’re living in an age of increasingly vigilant consumers. It’s harder to pull a fast one on people.

Of course, Kent is just one of the many cigarette ads of the golden age. This endorsement of Phillip Morris cigarettes by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez is relatively tame, and this Raleigh ad tries to entice housewives into smoking through coupons. But Wilson Cigarette’s sponsorship of The Flinstones and the resulting ads are nothing short of jaw-dropping in today’s context. Imagine how many kids and teenagers watched these.

There are a lot of things we long for from the good ol’ days. These old cigarette commercials are not among them. But we do find them fascinating to look at, because it reminds us of just how much things have changed and how much more aware and empowered consumers are.

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