Not Sure What They Are Selling

I’ve been seeing a number of different car commercials lately, but, other than the obvious, I’m not really sure what they’re selling. Some examples:

  • GM, yet again, is offering employee pricing on its vehicles. This year, they attempt to couch it in terms of an anniversary. This is something they have been doing since around 2000, and they pull the trick out whenever their sales are in the dumps, which seems to be most years. If your vehicles weren’t relevant before, resurrecting a bad sales idea isn’t going to change that. Sell your cars on their merit, not the fact that you’ve been overpricing and underdelivering.
  • VW seems to think that German engineering is best expressed through black Beetle acting as a talk show host. Saying that you have German engineering doesn’t make it good—the engineering itself does, however. Tell me what it means and what I can expect to experience from it.
  • Mitsubishi has introduced a new engine, yet doesn’t feel the need to explain to anyone what makes it unique or at least different. When you spend that kind of R&D money, market the heck out of the result.
  • Ford has introduced a new box on wheels with so-so EPA estimated mileage, touting it as something people should desire. Two things: one, average or slightly above average EPA estimated mileage isn’t enough, you have to do something revolutionary; two, most of us don’t care one lick what the EPA estimates the mileage to be in a vacuum on a treadmill with no friction, we care about the actual mileage from driving on real roads.

When you are marketing a product, no matter what it is, you have to focus on the actual features and benefits. If you don’t have any, save your money and reputation and stop selling it. Focus your energy on creating something that actually creates a point of differentiation. Be unique. Serve a market others ignore. Make a positive difference. But don’t, under any circumstances, try to treat your customers like gullible fools. That is the quickest route to irrelevance.

Think Twice about that Endorsement

With the primaries getting into full swing, we are sure to hear a slew of endorsements for one candidate or another. Some fairly notable ones (Sen. John Kerry endorsing Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Joe Lieberman for Sen. John McCain) have come already. But endorsements are not limited to politics. In the real world, we see celebrities endorsing everything from underwear to hair color to automobiles to, yes, politicians.

The question, though, is why?

Let’s start with politics. NPR aired a story on the day of the Michigan primary probing whether political endorsements actually work. There wasn’t a definitive answer, other than “it depends”. Which means, in the big scheme of things they probably are not overly effective. It appears that endorsements tend to help the endorser when it’s time to ask for a favor down the line. They also, sometimes, help the endorsee raise some extra money. There is no research, however, showing that endorsements lead to votes.

Mike Huckabee, in a separate story on NPR that aired the next day, publicly lamented some of the support he was receiving in South Carolina. Apparently, a so-called 527 organization by the name of Common Sense initiated a push-polling campaign on his behalf, much to Mr. Huckabee’s dismay. It wasn’t the style of promotion he wanted, even if it did lead to votes.

Turning to products, consider shoes and underwear. Michael Jordan has endorsed both. When he was still playing, and even for a time after, having Jordon’s seal of approval on basketball shoes made perfect sense. Having him push t-shirts and underwear? Not so much. Someone working long hours under difficult conditions requiring comfort would go a lot further.

Peyton Manning is another one. He and Gatorade are a perfect match. I can’t say the same for Manning and MasterCard or Sprint.

Even when you have the right match between product and endorser, the individual’s life off the field can have ramifications on your bottom line. For instance, when Michael Vick was arrested as part of his dog-fighting scandal, millions of dollars invested in endorsements went down the drain.

The lesson: find the right people to endorse your products and for the right reasons, even if they aren’t celebrities. And be prepared in case good endorsers go bad.

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