Brandmusing

Lowe's Hammered, By Not By All, After Pulling Ad

The headlines in the Los Angeles Times and Ad Age are virtually identical this morning: “Lowe's Faces Backlash After Pulling Ads from TLC's 'All-American Muslim,'” reflecting the growing controversy surrounding the No. 2 home-improvement retailer’s widely reported decision that, in the words of a California state senator, many people see as “"bigoted, shameful, and un-American."

As Karl Greenberg re-reported in yesterday’s “Around the Net in Brand Marketing,” the Florida Family Association had protested Lowe’s advertising on the show, claiming it is “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values." Lowe’s withdrew its advertising while protesting that it did not do so “based solely on the complaints or emails of any one group.”

Spokeswoman Karen Cobb said yesterday that Lowe's has a "long-standing commitment" to diversity and pulled the ads only after the show became "a lightning rod for people to voice complaints from a variety of perspectives." Cobb tells the LA Times’ Shan Li in an email that other companies had also removed their ads from the show. A spokesperson for the Discovery Network and TLC Network declined to comment on that assertion, emailing, “we stand behind the show … and we're happy the show has strong advertising support."

A Couple of Whiffs for Amazon?

There’s a quote floating around that basically says that sluggers who take big swings strike out more often than singles hitters. One of the heavy hitters in the digital ballpark, Amazon, has been having a bad game.

The New York Times’ David Streitfeld reports this morning that the Kindle Fire is being lambasted by some reviewers on its own website, as well as influential outside techies such as usability expert Jakob Nielsen.

Among the problems cited are: “No external volume control. The off switch is easy to hit by accident. Web pages take a long time to load. There is no privacy on the device…. The touch screen is frequently hesitant and sometimes downright balky.”

That might be enough to put most consumer products on the bench. “But as a range of retailers and tech firms could tell you,” Streitfeld writes, “it would be foolish to underestimate Amazon.”

The product does carry an average of four stars from more than 4,700 reviews, has nearly 9,000 “likes” and the online retailer claims on its home page this morning that it is the “#1 most-gifted product on Amazon.” (Do you “gift” in your family? Just curious.) Piper Jaffrey analyst Gene Munster points out that 13% of the naysayers give the product a mere one star but says the figure has held steady since the product’s launch and predicts that its attractive price compared to the iPad will make it a winner in the long run.

Twitter, Wendy's Both Breaking News

The headline above is a mere 35 characters. Meaning what? You got it. Meaning that it doesn’t take much to entice us to learn more about something that catches our fancy. Not only that, but I have 105 more characters at my disposal to get really verbose if I want to tweet the information. Amazing how this app, which makes headline writers of us all, has so quickly changed the way we think about things.

The winner of Twitter's Golden Tweet Award for the most retweeted tweet of the year is Wendy’s, we learned yesterday. Its Father’s Day message -- "RT for a good cause. Each Retweet sends 50¢ to help kids in foster care #TreatItFwd” -- reportedly raised more than $50,000 for foster children, a pet cause of its late founder, Dave Thomas.

“In a year when the entertainment world gave consumers and media pundits plenty to tweet about, including Charlie Sheen’s eyebrow-raising antics and Ashton Kutcher’s fumble over the Penn State scandal, it was an advertisement from the burger chain that was the most retweeted tweet of the year,” blogs the Wall Street Journal’s Suzanne Vranica.

Hard-boiled marketer that you are, you might be tempted to ask if the feel-good campaign actually resulted in more than enhancing Wendy’s goodwill. CNBC technology contributor Natali Morris wonders the same thing. “Subliminal advertising does seem rather powerful to me and I find myself wanting a cheeseburger as I click through to Wendy's Twitter page but I am four months pregnant so I might not count,” she blogs.

Netflix' Hastings Wants Us To Look at the Big Picture

Problems? What problems? Did you see a problem around here?

“To hear Netflix CEO Reed Hastings tell it,” writes the AP’s Michael Liedtke, “the bone-headed decisions that have dragged down the Internet's leading video subscription service during the past five months eventually will be forgotten like a bad movie made by a great film director.”

Actually, Liedtke allows, Hastings has been “humbled and surprised” by customers’ reactions –- not to mention the loss of 75% of the value of his company –- to his strategy of splitting the mail-rental and streaming services into two separate plans and drastically raising prices, followed by a name change that was later recanted. He also threw out some “self-deprecating humor” at a UBS AG media and communications conference in New York Tuesday. But in the end, he believes that his company will prevail.

"If you fundamentally believe Internet video will change the world in 20 years, we are the leading play on that basis," Hastings boasted. He quickly added a caveat: "As long as we don't shoot ourselves in the foot anymore."

P&G Sells PUR, Keeps Global Clean Water Program

The PR Newswire headline reads: “Helen of Troy Limited Announces Definitive Agreement to Acquire PUR Business from The Procter & Gamble Company.” Cincinnati.com, the website of P&G’s hometown Cincinnati Enquirertrumpets the more important story: “P&G Brands Water Purifier.”

The purifier P&G is putting its name on is not a typical commercial product, however. The product that will carry the didactic label “P&G Purifier of Water” is a packet of powder developed by P&G in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that “enable[s] people anywhere in the world to purify dirty water in a simpler, more affordable and convenient way,” according to the Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program (CSDW) website. CDSW distributes the product at cost to governments in need.

Based on technology similar to municipal water systems in developed countries, the powder removes pathogenic microorganisms and suspended matter, making contaminated water clean.

“P&G remains committed to the life-saving work we do through our Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program to provide clean drinking water to countries throughout the world,” says chairman and CEO Bob McDonald. “As a natural extension of that commitment, we are rebranding the water purification packets with a new P&G logo, visibly standing behind a product that embodies our purpose, to touch and improve lives.”

Kraft Names Who Will Move Its Cheeses (And All Else)

Kraft Foods yesterday formally revealed that current CEO Irene Rosenfeld, 58, will head up its $31 billion global snacks business, and Kraft North America president Anthony Vernon, 55, will run the $17 billion North American grocery business when the company bifurcates next year, Reuters reports.

“The appointments of two internal candidates -- which was widely expected -- could signal that the two new companies do not plan to deviate much from Kraft's ongoing aggressive marketing makeover, which has included multiple ad-agency shifts and more aggressive spending,” E.J. Schultz observes in Ad Age.

Kraft also named John Cahill, 54, currently a partner at private equity firm Ripplewood Holdings, as non-executive chairman of the North American grocery company. Cahill will “initially” serve as executive chairman when he joins the company in January, however, “reflecting the tremendous effort required to launch and transition to a public company,” according to a company statement.

"Irene, John and Tony are three of the finest executives in business today," says Mark Ketchum, lead director of Kraft’s board of directors. "Their commitment to shareholder value, passion for brands and focus on sound financial management give the board great confidence in the future of the snacks and grocery companies."

Xbox Takes Command In Living Room Voice Recognition

What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you read this headline from this morning’s New York Times: “Xbox Live Challenges Cable Box”? If you’re like me, it’s “Wow, Siri, get me my nickel-and-diming cable provider on the phone and cancel.”

But it’s all still a fantasy at this point –- including my employment of Apple’s Siri as a personal assistant –- as it turns out. The cable set-top box is only going to become “less relevant,” Nick Wingfield and Brian Stelter report -- contingent, of course, on your making the Xbox, and competitors to come, more relevant.

“People will still need to pay the cable providers to get channels through the Xbox. They will also have to pay the roughly $60 a year Microsoft typically charges for a premier membership to Xbox Live,” they write. “And the Xbox won’t be a true substitute for everything viewers can get through their cable boxes because content rights will have to be negotiated for some shows before they can be watched through the console.”

Although you’ll be able to get, for example, the Verizon FiOS service through Xbox, it’s not the robust version that streams though the cable box that has the antiquated looks of the VHS tape deck it sits next to on the shelf. For now, at least, it only delivers 26 channels of programming.

Google, Amazon Back In Frenemy Territory

Google is testing a service that would compete with Amazon.com by allowing consumers to order goods from local stores and the branches of national retailers (Macy’s, Gap and Office Max, for example) and have them delivered to homes and offices by the next day. The Wall Street Journal’s Amir Efrati and Stu Woo broke the story yesterday. Both Google and Amazon refused to comment on the report.

“Google doesn't plan to sell items directly to consumers,” Efrati and Woo were told by a person familiar with the matter. “Instead, it will meld its search engine's product-search feature, which directs shoppers to participating retail websites, with a new quick-shipping service that Google will oversee.”

The service “would escalate Google's budding rivalry with Amazon, which has been riding the success of its $79-a-year Amazon Prime program,” the story reports. In a sidebar blog, Efrati lays out the intrigued-filled details of the two online behemoths frenemy relationship over the years.

Amazon has been one of the largest purchasers of Google AdWords since its inception in 2002 -– so much so that it devised a system of having individual employees open accounts to bid on keywords, working around the limits Google had placed on the number of search terms any one company could have in its inventory. Google caught on, though, and worked out a deal.

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