Fix the strategy, Tony.

Fiat_screenshotMaybe the guy from Coke got a job at Fiat… Some of you may recall I blogged a year or so ago about Coke releasing a video about their “assistance” in the fight against obesity. And I thought it was a bonehead move only highlighting their contribution to the problem in the first place. (Plus killing my joy buzz for drinking Coke.)

Now Fiat is elbowing into the game…

Auto historians (or just older folk) may remember that Fiat, (like Alfa Romeo, Renault, Citroen, Peugeot) had to beat a retreat from American shores because of a legion of cars beset with reliability problems. And for years, Fiat was jokingly referred to as an acronym for “Fix It Again Tony.”

In recent years, Fiat has fought its way back to the U.S. And now, in a worrying reminder of times past, Fiat has again scored at the bottom of JD Powers quality surveys. Further worrying is the new spot being released by Fiat. It is a play on the “fix it” legend. I think it is a knuckle-headed decision for 2 reasons:

  1. Why would you want to remind people of “Fix It Again Tony” and start them off on reminding other people?
  2. The spot seems to reinforce the idea that Fiat values style over reliability — which is what pushed them out of the U.S the first time around.

Here’s a nutty idea that GM and Ford finally wrapped their heads around: Just start making good, attractive, reliable cars. People in the U.S. really like that in their transportation. Or at the very least Fiat should refrain from inserting themselves in “fix it” conversations.

Otherwise Fiat will soon stand for “Final Iteration And Termination.” Again…

— Simon Dixon

The Natives are Restless

23KEHR1-articleLarge_editIn the movie “Island of Lost Souls” that the above line references, the beast-men end up no longer feeling bound by Dr. Moreau’s laws, as he himself breaks one of them….

I have a PowerPoint slide I use in my lectures. It is simply the words, “Tell the Truth.” I especially feel the need to use it when I am appearing in a university setting so people can grasp, and hopefully internalize, the concept early. I tell the audience that there is no trick here; that it is not some campaign slogan. It is just a good idea for life in general and for marketing also. When I meet someone and they find out what I do for a living, they sometimes say some version of, “So you try to talk me into buying things I don’t want or need.” That is one way to look at marketing, I guess… I think of what I do as providing compelling truths about my clients or their products so people can make good, accurate decisions about the value of my clients and whether they need them or not. “Shoe-horning” is no way to build a relationship. If your product or your campaign is not good enough to win customers via truth, get a new product or get a new agency.

And it is through that lens that I look at the “new” blossoming of “native” advertising that is very hot right now. (The disguising of advertising as news content.) Apparently we are to believe that hoodwinking potential customers is considered a good start to a relationship. And when I see such storied organs as The New York Times willing to walk this road, I know things are getting bad. The most valuable thing that The New York Times has to offer is its reputation as a purveyor of truth. – I’d say native advertising threatens that and certainly weakens it. – They shouldn’t ask people to value what they don’t seem to value themselves. I often put things into human terms, which, I think, makes it easier for clients to see the relational aspects of an issue. If someone lied to you to get you to go out on a date with them, how would you feel when you found out the truth?
Think about this before jumping on the native advertising bandwagon. The natives will eventually turn on you….

— Simon Dixon

Wall of No’s

Recently I was visiting a non-profit client’s new facility. It was beautiful. As I walked through the lobby I saw a common sight: a “wall” of glass tiles with donor names etched onto them. Impressive. As I continued to walk I saw a second “wall” – this one was covered with completely blank un-etched tiles awaiting sponsor names. I am sure that the client saw this as a wall of opportunity; an invitation to potential donors to put their name on the wall. To me it was something different. It represented a Wall of “No’s” – all the people who had no doubt been asked to give money but had declined to do so. Made me wonder if those people knew something I didn’t…

I have no doubt that you have seen this effect when you walk into a restaurant and see that they have several “Best Of” awards but the most recent was from, say, 3 years ago. What does that mean? They forgot to put up the most recent accolades? They now suck? Well we don’t necessarily know, but as I often remind clients: “if you fail to put out a message, one will be put out for you” – perhaps by your competitors. (Their message might not be as friendly as yours.) So for those of you who have “specials” pages that are blank, “news” pages that never get updated, or a donor wall/path with 10 bricks, or a brand that has not been audited for a while (or at all…): it’s not that you are not saying something; it’s that you absolutely are saying something – it’s just not good.

Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO

Freedom to Fail

It’s an important conversation. Without freedom to fail I’m not sure you have freedom at all.

I talk about this a lot in my lectures, particularly when talking to students. It seems that more than ever our students are frightened of failing. And so they don’t risk it. And they don’t feel the exhilaration of just going for it. The esteem that comes from persistence. The strength that comes from eating pavement, dusting off and carrying on.

I see fear of failure in my own 10 year old son and his friends and am working hard to ameliorate it. It is such the enemy of what made America great. As someone recently said to me, “perfect is the enemy of done.”

I sometimes use the analogy of climbing. If you want to go up 50 feet in one pitch, you have to let out 50 feet of rope. Well now you have to accept the risk of falling 99 feet until your safety kicks in. If you can only accept the risk of falling 6 feet you can only go up 3 feet. But too many people are looking for some magic bullet where success comes without risk. (PLEASE remember to contact me when you find it.) Until then, I remind students that the journey between where they are and bankruptcy is so small they might hardly notice the difference. So while that is the case they should take advantage of it.

Ninety-nine percent of Thomas Edison’s working life was spent learning from failures. But we remember the huge successes that came from them. In fact the successes are how we remember and define him. The only way to guarantee failure is to never try – a pithy platitude I know. But nonetheless true. By and large in life, we regret the things we don’t do much more than those we do… So for your kids and YOU: give that idea you thought of while you were commuting last week a try. Let me know how it goes. Really, I’d like to know. And particularly how you or your kid felt for trying it.

 
Cheers,
Simon

Ticket punch

I was with my son in Washington, DC for the week of July 4. (Everyone should go and see those fireworks at least once.) At one point we went to catch the Metro and found that our tickets would not work at the gate. After chatting with the station manager we discerned that the magnet on my billfold had demagnetized the ticket. (His guess on that was quick enough that I guess it is a rather common occurrence. Maybe a warning Metro?) I asked what I could do. He said I could get a refund on the tickets if I either: a.) mailed them with a letter of explanation to an address he did not have, or b.) took them to Metro HQ in downtown Washington, DC. While purchasing replacement tickets, I pointed out to my son that there were 10 machines beside us ready to take our money but in order to get any of it back we were being asked to jump through serious hoops.

Now much like my travails with the Apple lightning charger “screw-our-customers-switcheroo” it is unlikely I will stop using Metro over this issue. (See nose/face spite.) But they have put a new negative opinion of themselves in my mind. And when the time comes that I have a no-loss choice to make between them and something else, this opinion will weigh in.

For years I spoke of this theory to the “schoolyard bullies” from the Washington Post as they told me what the new ridiculous annual rate increase for auto advertising was going to be. They laughed. Then along came Craigslist and the Post found out that investing in customer loyalty would have been a good thing. So ask the same questions of your own company. How easy is it for your customers to deal with you when things are not going well? Friendships born in the crucible of fire are quite often the strongest.

Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO