Friday, November 28, 2008
In 1997 the French Connection Group PLC embarked on a rebranding of its flagship French Connection line of clothing, which was sold in both department stores and stand-alone company stores throughout the world. The company’s agency, TBWA\London, used an internal company moniker, FCUK (French Connection United Kingdom), as the conceptual basis for a newly brash brand image. Featured on product labels, storefronts, and in advertising that overtly encouraged the subliminal rearrangement of the acronym, the letters FCUK proved an immensely successful marketing device. The brand name was exported to North America in 1998, and subsequent advertising campaigns used the near-obscenity to incite predictable and, for French Connection, lucrative controversies. A 2003 print and promotional campaign on behalf of a line of FCUK fragrances, however, was bolder than previous FCUK campaigns, and it met with more mixed results.
The 2003 campaign, called ‘‘Scent to Bed,’’ leveraged a projected $10 million budget to introduce American teens and young adults to the fragrances FCUK Him and FCUK Her. The obvious implications of the tagline and product name were bolstered by an image, in print ads, of an attractive, nearly nude couple in an intimate bedroom situation. The ads ran in men’s and women’s fashion magazines as well as in teen magazines. Planned promotional tie-ins included in-store handouts labeled ‘‘License to FCUK,’’ which touted a ‘‘Scent to Bed’’ website.
French Connection was not, however, able to mobilize the campaign’s full budget or promotional capacities. Widespread protests by religious and concerned-citizens’ groups led the country’s largest department-store company—Federated, the owner of Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Goldsmith’s—to remove all FCUK products from its inventories, and the ‘‘Scent to Bed’’ ads were pulled from the teen magazines in which they had been placed. Though French Connection reported strong sales of the FCUK fragrances, the marketing campaign was put on hold. The company’s next American advertising campaign did not use the FCUK acronym at all.
Stephen Marks worked in the British fashion industry in the 1960s before starting his own company in 1972.
Named after Marks’s favorite movie, French Connection established itself as a British wholesaler of midpriced, upscale, casual clothing aimed at a fashionconscious target market consisting primarily of teens and young adults. The French Connection brand expanded to continental European, Asian, and North American markets. Marks took the company public in 1984. In the 1990s French Connection shifted its emphasis from wholesale to retail operations; the company undertook a corresponding broadening of its product offerings and renovation of its stores’ appearance. The retail fashion market was highly competitive and fragmented, however, and French Connection needed a clearer market positioning. In 1997 founder Marks enlisted TBWA\London’s Trevor Beattie, a creative director who had achieved fame in the advertising industry for creating an overtly provocative (and very successful) campaign for Wonderbra, to helm a rebranding of French Connection. Beattie decided that the company needed to promote an image of irreverent hipness in keeping with its core target market, but he had not settled on any unifying icon for the rebranding project when, while at French Connection headquarters, he noticed the letters ‘‘FCUK’’ in a company fax header. The letters stood for ‘‘French Connection United Kingdom’’ and were used in communications with the company’s Hong Kong office (FCHK), but Beattie immediately saw the brand-building potential of the nearobscenity. French Connection was rebranded as FCUK, a move that generated extensive controversy while fueling unprecedented company growth. Outdoor advertisements in London, tagged ‘‘FCUK fashion,’’ were outlawed by Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority after widespread outrage; the company responded with ads whose tagline, ‘‘FCUK advertising,’’ did little to quell citizens’ complaints.
In 1998 the FCUK logo began appearing in the United States, on T-shirts and on the company’s U.S. storefronts. Print ads explicitly encouraged the logo’s subliminal associations, using transposed language such as ‘‘night all long’’ and ‘‘I you want.’’ An outdoor campaign that ran on top of New York City taxicabs paired the brand name with the tag ‘‘Think your clothes off ’’; it was pulled after only a few days. Another New York print and taxi-top campaign followed, using copy that stated, ‘‘Brave but not free / FCUK censorship.’’
The primary target for the FCUK Her and FCUK Him fragrance lines was 18- to 25-year-olds, but FCUK also placed ‘‘Scent to Bed’’ advertisements in publications primarily read by much younger teenage girls. Given the ubiquity of sexual imagery in the media at the time, sexual appeals to young people had to be extremely explicit or daring to stand out. FCUK’s ability to make a splash in a hypersexual environment was primarily a function of its products’ brand name, which, in combination with the clear sexual implications of the ad imagery and the ‘‘Scent to Bed’’ tagline, amounted to one of the bluntest sexual appeals in recent mainstream U.S. advertising.
Given FCUK’s history of courting controversy as a means of spurring sales, industry observers took it for granted that the company welcomed the inevitable public uproar surrounding the fragrances’ launch. As religious and concerned-citizens’ groups began to mount predictable protests, Michael Wood, vice president of the media consultancy Teenage Research Unlimited, told USA Today, ‘‘The more people say, ‘How dare them,’ the more interest they get from the teen market.’’ Other analysts pointed out a potential pitfall of this approach: teens were dependent on their parents for the money required to make most of their purchases.
The American fashion-industry standard for sexually explicit marketing had arguably been established by Abercrombie & Fitch (A & F) in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Indeed, one of the most prominent groups protesting the ‘‘Scent to Bed’’ campaign, Concerned Women for America, described the FCUK campaign as ‘‘Abercrombie & Fitch on Viagra.’’ Despite the suggestion that A & F’s marketing was tame by comparison, the popular retailer of clothing for college-age young adults had become one of the most roundly protested advertisers of the time, regularly provoking the ire of concerned citizens across the political spectrum. Most of this outrage centered on the company’s signature ‘‘magalog’’ (a hybrid of magazine and mail-order catalog), the ‘‘A & F Quarterly,’’ which integrated racy editorial content with art-quality photos of nearly nude young men and women. An early issue of the magalog ran a widely condemned feature called ‘‘Drinking 101,’’ which encouraged college students to ‘‘drink creatively’’ and provided recipes for such cocktails as the ‘‘Brain Hemorrhage.’’ Another notorious issue, from the 1999 holiday season, featured a cover image that included a male model’s pubic hair as well as an image of Santa and Mrs. Claus engaging in sadomasochistic sex acts. A 2003 Christmas issue touting ‘‘group sex and more’’ generated a last round of outrage but proved the last installment of the publication; it was retired amid ongoing controversy and, perhaps more to the point, flagging in-store sales. American Apparel, an upstart wholesaler of highquality T-shirts and other basic knitwear, was responsible for another prominent advertising campaigns that flirted with pornography. The American Apparel print and outdoor campaign, introduced to coincide with the opening of the brand’s first retail outlets in late 2003, was largely masterminded and executed by the company’s founder, Dov Charney. It featured overtly sexual, casual snapshots of employees and other nonprofessional models. Balancing this pronounced appeal to sexual appetites with a sweatshop-free corporate model, American Apparel successfully targeted young, fashion-conscious urban progressives. Regularly outpacing the garment industry in yearly sales, American Apparel grew rapidly, expanding its stable of retail stores from two to more than 50 during the first two years of the campaign’s run.
FCUK Him and FCUK Her were the company’s first global fragrance products, and they became available worldwide in French Connection stores and department stores starting with a September 2003 launch in the United States. The ‘‘Scent to Bed’’ print and promotional campaign, developed by TBWA\London (FCUK’s agency of record since the 1997 rebranding), was a U.S.-specific element of the global push that was timed to coincide with the fragrances’ introduction. The projected campaign budget at the start of the campaign was $10 million.
Print ads ran in magazines that included
Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Maxim, and FHM as well as in the magazines Seventeen and Teen People, whose readerships consisted primarily of girls in their early and middle teenage years. The ‘‘Scent to Bed’’ tagline was superimposed over an attractive young couple in an intimate bedroom situation. This combination of imagery and text, supported by the subliminal reading of the accompanying brand name, sent an unmistakable sexual message to young people. Many assumed, judging from FCUK’s history of parlaying controversy into sales gains, that the company was hoping for some amount of buzz-generating backlash. The company itself remained coy about its strategies. ‘‘Whether it shocks you or amuses you,’’ Andrea Hyde, president of French Connection Holdings, told USA Today, ‘‘FCUK certainly makes the consumer think.’’
Promotional elements of the campaign included invitations to a FCUK fragrance launch party that were shaped like ‘‘do not disturb’’ signs for hotel doorknobs and that read, ‘‘FCUK in progress.’’ At the time of the campaign’s September release, plans were in place for a holiday promotion involving ‘‘License to FCUK’’ cards to be distributed by stores that carried the fragrance. The cards were to include a code to be used at a ‘‘Scent to Bed’’ website, allowing consumers access to a list of effective pickup lines and the chance to win a free sixperson Club Med vacation.
A ‘‘Scent to Bed’’ backlash gained steam immediately upon the FCUK fragrances’ American introduction. ‘‘It’s very disgusting and highly offensive,’’ Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America, told USA Today. ‘‘It’s a sad day when people have to do this type of advertising, especially toward our youth.’’ The American Family Association initiated a large-scale E-mail and phone drive to file complaints with participating department-store chains, and French Connection began experiencing trouble with the department stores that carried the FCUK brand. In the first two weeks after the fragrances were introduced, they ranked no lower than eighth among top-selling fragrances at Sephora stores and no lower than fourth at Bloomingdale’s. The controversy soon began to affect stores, however. The department store Kaufmann’s ceased using in-store ‘‘Scent to Bed’’ displays, while the largest department-store corporation in America, Federated Department Stores—which owned Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Goldsmith’s, among others—pulled not just the FCUK fragrances but all FCUK-labeled products from its stores within a month after the campaign’s launch. In October 2003 the magazines Seventeen and Teen People both announced that they would no longer run FCUK ads, and French Connection discontinued the campaign.
The fragrances remained available in French Connection stand-alone stores and sold well. According to Zirh International, the company that manufactured the fragrances for French Connection, the launch exceeded sales expectations as well as production capacities. Unused portions of the campaign budget were redirected to in-store initiatives and to other international markets. In November the company submitted to a relabeling of its products as ‘‘French Connection United Kingdom’’ in an attempt to get them back on Federated Department Stores shelves. The advertising campaign on behalf of the fragrances remained on hold indefinitely. According to Advertising Age, chairman and CEO Marks remained convinced that the campaign was right for its target market. French Connection’s North American sales continued to grow, reaching $84 million for 2003, more than double the company’s sales figures for 1997. After a separate 2004 controversy in Great Britain resulted in an order by the Advertising Standards Authority that all FCUK outdoor advertising be preinspected, French Connection temporarily discontinued the use of its notorious acronym. A 2004 U.S. campaign featuring TV, print, and outdoor components used models posing as bikers in the American desert. The campaign’s copy included, ‘‘Something beginning with F,’’ and ‘‘Don’t make us say it.’’ ‘‘We think it’s revolutionary,’’ Marks told Women’s Wear Daily. ‘‘Who else would advertise without using their name?’’
The Fox Entertainment Group was a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, a global media and entertainment empire. News Corporation published newspapers (including the Times of London), magazines (including The Weekly Standard ), and books (HarperCollins). The company owned an 81 percent stake in the Fox Entertainment Group, one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in the world. Fox Entertainment Group produced, developed, and distributed TV and motion picture programming (including Ally McBeal, The X-Files, and Titanic) through its Fox Filmed Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox units. It also owned America’s Fox Television Network as well as 22 TV stations across the United States. In addition, Fox Entertainment had interests in cable TV channels and major league sports teams.
Fox Entertainment’s Fox Sports division gained instant credibility in 1993 when it acquired the rights to broadcast National Football League (NFL) games. While the exorbitant rights fees the league commanded made the property a ‘‘loss leader’’ for the network, the cachet of professional football—especially among Fox’s core youthful male demographic—made the acquisition worthwhile. Using ultramodern graphics, ‘‘in your face’’ promos, and a highly energetic pregame show, Fox took over an already successful product and enhanced it. Two years later Fox took a bigger gamble when it paid $155 million for broadcast rights to National Hockey League (NHL) games for the next five years. In doing so the network had acquired an underperforming TV property that traditionally drew lower ratings than bowling. It hoped to repeat its NFL success on the ice. For the first three years of Fox coverage, ads for the NHL were handled by various agencies on a project basis. Then in late 1997 Fox Sports named the New Yorkbased advertising agency of Cliff Freeman & Partners to handle advertising for its broadcast coverage of NHL games. The agency immediately initiated a campaign designed to win hockey a wider audience through the use of offbeat humorous promos.
The Fox NHL promo campaign, directed by Christopher Guest through bicoastal Moxie Pictures, was composed of five ads based on the premise that many sports would be better if they were played like hockey. In one typical spot a female bowler was knocked to the floor by a competitor trying to prevent her from making a game-winning strike. Other spots depicted hockey’s violence and aggression applied to the sports of billiards, golf, and squash. The spots proved enormously popular with viewers and critics alike, earning Cliff Freeman & Partners a host of advertising industry awards. Fox continued to struggle to broaden the viewership for professional hockey, however, and in 1998 when the network’s contract ran out, ABC acquired the NHL broadcast rights for the 1999–2000 season and beyond.
Fox Sports acquired the right to telecast professional hockey at a time of great promise, when the NHL’s ratings on other networks were rising. Ratings for ESPN’s Sunday night NHL games were up 67 percent in 1993–94, while the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s telecasts were up 59 percent. Fox officials believed they could increase the average rating for hockey telecasts to a 2, which would represent a 12 percent increase over the 1.6 rating earned by ABC in a limited number of games in 1993-94.
The NHL was also optimistic about the partnership. ‘‘This is our first over-the-air contract in 20 years,’’ said Bernadette Mansur, NHL vice president for corporate communications. ‘‘There’s no doubt that ESPN has done a tremendous job in producing and promoting the NHL, but Fox gives us a national network contract. It takes us to another level.’’
A labor dispute between the league’s owners and players unfortunately delayed the start of the 1994–95 NHL season. When the lockout finally ended in January 1995, Fox Sports aired its first slate of promotional ads for its broadcasts of NHL games. The spots featured the offbeat humor that would become a hallmark of Fox hockey ads over the next few years. In one ad New York Islanders winger Benoit Hogue was shown shooting raisin bagels at a goal. In another Florida goalie John Vanbiesbrouck parodied 1950s child icon Jerry Mathers for a spot called ‘‘Leave It to Beezer.’’ The ads aired frequently, paving the way for Fox’s initial broadcast on April 2, 1995. That Sunday’s slate of six regional games boasted a panoply of new technical innovations designed to enhance the viewing experience. These ‘‘bells and whistles’’ included animated graphics, a theme song, five to eight cameras (with a robotic camera at the main game site), Dolby surround sound, super slow motion, and the ‘‘Fox Box,’’ a score/clock graphic that Fox had previously introduced during its NFL broadcasts. The broadcast was preceded by a 15-minute pregame show hosted by former basketball player James Brown, with commentary from former NHL player Dave Maloney. The anchors returned during intermissions for analysis that featured a few unconventional touches, including an in-studio roller rink, which analysts used to demonstrate skills and techniques.
After a shaky first season ratings-wise, the NHL on Fox, as it was dubbed, began to show signs of success over the ensuing seasons. During the 1996–97 NHL season, for example, national television demographic results posted increases in key areas. There was a 36 percent increase in NHL on Fox viewership among women aged 18 to 24, with an 86 percent increase during the Stanley Cup Finals. At the same time there was a 5 percent increase in NHL on Fox viewership among men aged 18 to 34, with a 32 percent increase during the Stanley Cup Finals. There was a 3 percent increase in viewership among male teens 12 to 17, with a 22 percent increase during the Stanley Cup Finals. The demographic improvements, however, may have had more to do with a renewed interest in hockey generally rather than a reflection of Fox’s broadcasts or promotional strategy. During the same season, by contrast, NHL on ESPN viewership rose 22 percent among women 18 to 24, with a 106 percent increase during the Stanley Cup Finals. There was a 14 percent increase in NHL on ESPN viewership among men 18 to 34, with a 52 percent increase during the Stanley Cup Finals.
Ratings did not continue to improve over the next season, however, and in the fall of 1997 Cliff Freeman & Partners of New York was awarded the Fox NHL account after a presentation to Neal Tiles, senior vice president for marketing at Fox Sports in Los Angeles. Spike DDB, owned by filmmaker Spike Lee and the DDB Needham Worldwide unit of Omnicom Group, continued to handle advertising for NHL games on Fox Sports Net, a cable television joint venture of News Corporation, Tele-Communications Inc., and Liberty Media, a unit of Tele-Communications.
Having inherited rights to broadcast hockey at a point of record viewer interest in the sport, Fox marketing officials believed the only way to ‘‘grow’’ the audience for its broadcasts was to appeal to casual fans of the sport. ‘‘If we put on a production for purists, hockey is going to fail,’’ declared Ed Goren, an executive in the Fox Sports division. ‘‘A lot of people have done it well, but the bottom line is that hockey hasn’t been able to attract a national audience. The most important mission we have is broadening the audience. If we do the greatest show in the world and all we get is a 1.6 [rating], we’ve failed.’’ To capture a youthful audience, Fox from the beginning relied on humor, high-tech effects, and the lure of larger-than-life personalities to sell hockey to fans who rarely watched the sport on TV. ‘‘Right now, hockey is like soccer,’’ said Goren. ‘‘Millions of kids play it, but they don’t watch it, because there are no heroes. We have to give them heroes. We have to sell these players as athletes and as personalities.’’
Despite a major marketing push in recent years, the NHL, as far as the major professional team sports went, remained a decided fourth among viewers, behind the NFL, Major League Baseball, and the NBA. Hockey remained a low-rated sport that nevertheless had solid advertiser appeal for companies seeking a young, male demographic target. Hockey’s major competitor in the fall/winter sports market was the NBA, which had arguably surpassed baseball as the second most popular sport after the NFL in the United States. Its ability to reach 18- to 34-year-old males made it an attractive property for those wishing to sell autos, soft drinks, and athletic shoes. Like hockey, though, the league had some problems—lower scoring games, the threat of labor strife, growing pains for the new breed of players, and the aging of its longtime current star system. As of 1999, however, the NBA appeared unthreatened by the NHL as a television property.
From the day it won the rights to broadcast NHL hockey games, Fox Sports pursued an aggressive promotional strategy designed to whip up interest among viewers who had previously not tuned in to hockey telecasts. From the ads to the broadcasts themselves, this strategy was marked by innovation, risk taking, and a ‘‘rewriting the rules’’ approach. ‘‘We’re telling our people there is no right or wrong,’’ said Goren.
There was, of course, an inherent danger in this strategy. If Fox reached too far to pull in new fans, it could alienate hard-core fans who preferred a more traditional approach. The network was willing to take that risk, however, betting that hard-core hockey fans would realize that the TV audience for the sport must expand if it were to grow in the next century.
To promote its 1997–98 slate of telecasts, Fox Sports turned to Cliff Freeman & Partners. Cliff Freeman landed the assignment from Fox Sports personally after making a presentation to Tiles, the senior vice president of marketing for the sports division of Fox. ‘‘I’m a big fan of Cliff Freeman’s work,’’ said Tiles. ‘‘We need a highly creative message to break through the clutter, because we are the clutter.’’ Freeman’s first ads broke in fall 1997, while the main campaign kicked off in January during Fox’s broadcast of the annual NHL All-Star Game. The new campaign consisted of four spots, all conceived by copywriter Eric Silver. In the first, ‘‘Bowling,’’ a woman bowler was shown about to make a crucial shot to win a match. From behind her back her opponent suddenly charged into her and knocked her to the floor, causing her to drop the bowling ball. ‘‘Bowling would be better,’’ a caption declared, ‘‘if it were hockey.’’ The other three ads played off the same juxtaposition. In ‘‘Billiards’’ a pool player needing to make one final shot was assaulted from the side by his opponent, who went on to sink the ball himself. ‘‘Golf ’’ playfully sent up the solemnity of TV golf broadcasts, as a golfer’s rolling putt was shown being swatted away from the hole by another player, hockey goalie style. ‘‘Very smoothly done,’’ commented the unseen announcers dryly. And in ‘‘Squash’’ two elderly competitors were shown ferociously checking each other into the court’s walls as they traded shots. The spot concluded with one man savagely pressing the other’s face into a clear glass pane. Once again, a caption proclaimed that the sport would be better ‘‘if it were hockey.’’
All four spots were designed to capture viewer interest with what looked like a real sporting event, then concluded with a humorous twist in which the violent ethos of hockey was introduced. This style was in keeping with research that showed that young viewers—jaded by a lifetime of watching conventional TV commercials—responded most favorably to offbeat ads marked by humor and surprising and violent twists.
Cliff Freeman & Partners won numerous awards for its ‘‘NHL on Fox’’ campaign. An entry comprised of ‘‘Billiards,’’ ‘‘Bowling,’’ and ‘‘Golf’’ earned the agency the Grand Clio in television at the 1998 Clio Awards Gala, held at Lincoln Center. Freeman’s work for Fox collected four Golds in various TV categories. The Fox ads were also awarded a Gold Lion as a media campaign at the 45th annual International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France, in July 1998.
Despite all the accolades, the quirky spots did little to boost the ratings for Fox’s NHL telecasts. The network’s NHL ratings plummeted to a 1.4, the lowest in four years. Fox admitted to losing a fortune on its $155 million rights fees. As a consequence, in August 1998 Fox lost its NHL rights to Disney (ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2) for a staggering five-year, $600 million bid. ‘‘In our own way, I guess we elevated the awareness of the game to a point where the folks at Disney decided it was worth a lot of money,’’ commented Fox Sports’ Goren.
The outcome of the ‘‘NHL on Fox’’ was more favorable for at least one player in the campaign. The ad shop of Cliff Freeman & Partners was kept on by Fox to create a series of offbeat commercials for the network’s game of the week baseball broadcasts. The slapstick spots retained the same wacky perspective and odd, cartoonlike characters of the agency’s NHL campaign.
In 1990 Foster’s Lager, owned by Foster’s Group Limited (previously Foster’s Brewing Group) and distributed and marketed by Miller Brewing Company in the United States, began pursuing a U.S. strategy of associating itself with ‘‘Australianness.’’ After a detour away from this marketing strategy, Miller and its Foster’s agency, Angotti, Thomas, Hedge of New York, in 1994 released ‘‘How to Speak Australian,’’ which became one of the longest-running and most popular beer advertising campaigns of its time.
‘‘How to Speak Australian’’ began with spot placements in regional markets and an estimated budget of $3 million. In 1997 Miller made it a national campaign and increased the budget to approximately $10 million. From 1994 to 2001 the campaign’s central idea remained consistent.
TV spots introduced a word or term, such as ‘‘Room Service,’’ and then showed what that term meant in Australia; in this case, it meant a live chicken and a meat cleaver delivered to a hotel guest’s room. Following such arresting redefinitions of commonplace terms was an image of the Foster’s can, labeled ‘‘Beer.’’ The commercials closed with the tagline ‘‘Fosters. Australian for Beer.’’ Print, outdoor, and radio executions followed this basic model, which seemed virtually inexhaustible. Four to six new TV spots were crafted each year, and the consistency of the platform also meant that old spots could be recycled as long as they remained fresh. ‘‘How to Speak Australian’’ won a Silver EFFIE Award in 1994 and a Gold EFFIE in 1995, and the Foster’s brand grew rapidly in the United States through 1998. The campaign remained popular, and the brand continued to grow, but by 2000 Foster’s sales had begun to be eclipsed by other beers in the imported-beer market. Some analysts believed that Miller had missed an opportunity to turn Foster’s into an import stalwart along the lines of category-leading Corona Extra. After the dissolution of Angotti, Thomas, Hedge in 2001 Miller assigned the Foster’s advertising account to Chicago’s J. Walter Thompson agency. J. Walter Thompson made an unsuccessful attempt to reinterpret what was by then a classic advertising campaign, and in the following years Miller continued searching for the right agency to update the Foster’s identity.
In the 1980s the Foster’s Brewing Group (which later bought heavily into wine brands and dropped ‘‘Brewing’’ from its name) set out to make its undistinguished namesake brew stand out from the pack of Australian beers by raising its profile internationally. As the brand attained status outside of Australia, Australians themselves began drinking it in larger numbers. By the mid-1980s Foster’s was at the top of the Australian beer heap, and its international image was strengthened by a series of commercials in the United Kingdom featuring the actor Paul Hogan, then a TV personality trafficking in the supposedly quintessential Australianness that he would go on to parlay into international fame in the movie Crocodile Dundee (1986). Foreign sales became a prime source of Foster’s revenue, and in the early 1990s the company set out to brand itself in the United States by playing up its Australian roots. An unproductive detour away from this strategy was scuttled in 1994, when Foster’s U.S. agency, Angotti, Thomas, Hedge, settled on the ‘‘How to Speak Australian’’ platform that, together with the tagline ‘‘Australian for Beer,’’ would define the brand’s marketing for years to come.
During the 1990s and into the first half of the following decade, Foster’s was distributed and marketed in the United States according to a succession of complex corporate arrangements in which its Australian parent company partnered with the Canadian beer maker Molson and the United States’ Miller Brewing. Although the specific terms of these agreements shifted over the course of the ‘‘How to Speak Australian’’ campaign, Miller was, practically speaking, responsible for Foster’s marketing in the United States. The arrangement allowed Foster’s to take advantage of Miller’s extensive distribution network, but at the same time Foster’s parent company did not have control over the brand’s marketing. This became cause for concern when, because of the terms of the three-way partnership, Foster’s advertising budget was calibrated not just according to its own performance but according to the performance of Molson, whose fortunes were then in decline in the United States. Thus, despite Foster’s sales growth, Miller capped spending on ‘‘How To Speak Australian’’ at approximately $10 million annually through 2000.
As Foster’s beer became established in numerous countries, advertising for the brand was no longer aimed chiefly at Australians but at a broader audience of people who may not have known much about the Australian way of life. In the United States in 1997 the ‘‘How to Speak Australian’’ campaign was directed primarily at male consumers of legal drinking age, 21 to 34 years old, who favored imported beer. That group of consumers had been the main target for the brand’s U.S. advertisements for some time. ‘‘This audience is very advertising-savvy. They want commercials to not only give them a reason to drink Foster’s, but they also want to be entertained. We feel these ads succeed on both levels. Our Foster’s ads try to entertain, show the product attributes, and provide a humorous look into the Australian lifestyle,’’ said Marino. ‘‘Our research shows that Foster’s is viewed as a very unassuming, approachable brand that appeals to both blue-collar and whitecollar audiences.’’
When, in 1997, the ‘‘How to Speak Australian’’ campaign moved from spot and regional placements to become a national campaign, the leading imported beer brands in the United States were Heineken and Corona Extra. In 1997 Heineken ran an advertising campaign to establish the company’s symbol—a red star on a green background—as a widely recognized icon. One print ad featured a red star floating on the Chicago River, which had been turned green for Saint Patrick’s Day. Another showed a star-shaped display of red Christmas lights against green electrical cord. The campaign had been launched in 1996 with a teaser that consisted of a solitary, unidentified red star on buildings and outdoor billboards. The campaign’s broadcast advertisements showed the Heineken star on objects such as sunglasses and cocktail napkins. Actual conversations among people drinking beer in social situations were recorded and then performed by actors for the commercials. In one spot a man expressed his amazement that his date did not know who wrote Moby Dick, and the woman snapped at him in return. In another spot a man boasted about his state-ofthe-art computer system. His companion commented, ‘‘That’s psychotic. What are you gonna do with all that?’’ The man answered, ‘‘I don’t know. Go online. Meet girls.’’ Another spot showed people discussing the significance of a white radiator on display at an exhibit of modern art. The commercials were intended to convey the message that Heineken was ‘‘authentic’’ while faddish microbrews were not. Heineken spent more than $30 million on print and broadcast advertising in 1997, an increase of 55 percent over its budget for 1996. Another competitor, the top-selling import brand Corona Extra, had experienced slow sales during the late 1980s but had seen a 35.7 percent sales surge in 1996. The Mexican beer was marketed in the United States by two companies, Barton Beers and Gambrinus Co., that operated separate regional promotions. The brand’s U.S. advertising, which revolved around fun and sun at the beach, was widely viewed as instrumental in the brand’s rise to the top of the U.S. import market. Corona’s unwavering commitment to this marketing strategy through the end of the century and beyond was rivaled, among beer advertisers, only by the consistency of Foster’s positioning.
The leading American beers during this time were Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light. These brands, led by the Bud sibling brands, leveraged marketing budgets 5 to 15 times larger than that of Foster’s.
Foster’s U.S. marketers and the agency Angotti, Thomas, Hedge initially grappled with the problem of creating brand awareness in an environment dominated by bigbudget domestic-beer campaigns. The campaign ran during 1994, 1995, and 1996 in markets including San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Denver, Atlanta, and New York. A warm reception and sales gains led Miller, in 1997, to take the effort national, raising the initial budget from an estimated $3 million to the $10 million figure that was to remain constant, with slight variations, through 2001. During this time the campaign remained extremely faithful to the original concept developed by Angotti, Thomas, Hedge. ‘‘What we’re trying to do is position Foster’s for both a domestic audience and an imported audience,’’ Angotti account director Michael Stoner told Brandweek. ‘‘It has an easygoing, laid back personality. We tried to get that through in the ads.’’ The TV, print, outdoor, and radio executions used Australia’s reputation as a refreshingly untamed land inhabited by tough, no-nonsense, offbeat men and women as a corollary to the values Angotti hoped to attach to the Foster’s brand identity.
The 15-second television commercials opened with an announcer saying in a thick Australian accent, ‘‘How to Speak Australian.’’ The announcer pronounced a word or phrase, and then the commercial illustrated a humorous definition. For example, the spot that defined ‘‘room service’’ showed a live chicken and a meat cleaver being delivered to a guest’s motel room. Another early spot showed the Australian definition of ‘‘No’’: a woman casually tossing a man out of a bar. The spots each ended with an image of a can of Foster’s and the caption ‘‘Beer,’’ followed by a close-up of the brand’s logo and the tagline ‘‘Foster’s. Australian for Beer.’’ Similarly, a billboard used a picture of a dagger labeled ‘‘Australian for dental floss’’ and a picture of a Foster’s can labeled ‘‘Australian for beer.’’ The tagline made it sound as if Australians were so fond of Foster’s that they equated it with the word ‘‘beer’’ and would drink no other brand. Although this was not strictly true—Foster’s was, during the 1990s, Australia’s second-biggest beer brand—all of the various executions during the campaign’s life worked together to convey that single brand message. As the campaign became well known across America, Angotti’s challenge became to keep the commercials fresh through consistently surprising and humorous interpretations of the central conceit. ‘‘Witness Protection Program’’ featured a man dressed in a kangaroo suit living with a gang of kangaroos in the desert. In ‘‘Wake-Up Call’’ an innkeeper tossed an alarm clock through an open motel window, striking a rugged male guest, who grinned as he awoke and sat upright. ‘‘Marriage Counselor’’ depicted a woman winning an arm-wrestling match with a man in a bar, after which a referee said, ‘‘That settles it, mate. Her mum moves in.’’ Another spot showed a great white shark with the caption ‘‘Guppy.’’ Each year Angotti typically produced four to six new executions, and because of the campaign’s consistency, commercials from previous years could be reused seamlessly alongside new spots. The campaign became so successful that the parent company of Foster’s adapted it for use in Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, the Caribbean, and numerous European countries.
The ‘‘How to Speak Australian’’ campaign won a Silver EFFIE Award for advertising effectiveness and creativity in 1994 and a Gold EFFIE in 1995. Consumers tended to be more familiar with the Foster’s brand than any other brand except Budweiser, and Foster’s commercials were the most popular among brands in the category, according to the Australian American Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. Jim Mullahy, senior brand manager for Foster’s lager, said, ‘‘We have a lot of fun with Foster’s advertising, and viewers clearly enjoy that humor. Research indicates that ‘How to Speak Australian’ is one of the most widely recognized and memorable ad campaigns for beer. The strong brandbuilding advertising was integral to Foster’s tremendous sales growth, which has been in the double digits for the last five years. In 1997 alone the brand increased more than 25 percent.’’
Foster’s sales again handily outpaced those of the fast-growing import segment as a whole in 1998, ending the year up 20.6 percent, but 1999 saw the brand’s growth slow markedly, to 9.2 percent. By 2000 Foster’s was growing more slowly than the imported-beer category as a whole, and beer-industry analysts routinely spoke of the brew as a missed opportunity for Miller. Because of the Miller-Molson-Foster’s agreement, Miller had never raised spending on Foster’s to the levels that the immense popularity of ‘‘How to Speak Australian’’ seemed to warrant. By the time this restrictive corporate arrangement was reconfigured in late 2000, analysts wondered whether Foster’s might not have missed its chance for sustained success. Although spending was raised to more than $15 million in 2001 and was projected to rise in future years as high as $25 million, Foster’s was not able to capitalize on these increases. By 2003 the brand was in decline in the United States, with sales losses of 7 percent.
In 2000 Angotti, Thomas, Hedge was dissolved. Miller awarded the Foster’s account to J. Walter Thompson of Chicago, and the new agency crafted a 2001 reinterpretation of the ‘‘How to Speak Australian’’ that applied the original campaign concept to urbandwelling Australians. J. Walter Thompson had lost the account by 2002, however, and its successor, WiedenþKennedy, held the Foster’s account for 10 months without selling Miller on any of its ‘‘How to Speak Australian’’ executions. In June 2004 Miller gave the account to another of its roster agencies, Ogilvy & Mather, which was charged with the job of applying the ‘‘Australian for Beer’’ tagline to escapist imagery of the sort that had propelled Foster’s competitor Corona to its spot at the top of the imported-beer market in the United States.
FootJoy, owned by Fortune Brands, Inc., sold more golf shoes during the 1990s than any other company by keeping their innovative shoes on the feet of the world’s best golfers. Two events in 1996, however, caused the company, which also made socks and gloves, to restrategize its advertising. Not only did Nike, Inc., announce it would begin designing golf shoes, but it agreed to pay champion golfer Tiger Woods $8 million a year to endorse them. Fearful that Nike would dominate the burgeoning younger market of golfers, FootJoy released its quirky ‘‘Sign Boy’’ campaign to attract young players. In 1998 FootJoy awarded its estimated $5 to $7 million advertising budget to ad agency Arnold Worldwide Partners. Print ads and television spots appeared in January 1999 starring comedian Matt Griesser, who played the campaign’s character titled ‘‘Sign Boy,’’ a moniker for the standard-bearer or person carrying the cumbersome scoreboard from hole to hole during golf tournaments. In the first eight commercials Sign Boy pestered golfers, sometimes mid-swing, with his overzealous blathering and obsession over FootJoy shoes. With a background in improvisational comedy, Griesser ad-libbed every commercial, which appeared on channels such as ESPN, NBC, and ABC. In one spot Sign Boy dove into a water hazard while wearing nothing but FootJoy shoes. The golfers Phil Mickelson and David Toms looked on in horror. Another spot showed Sign Boy slinking into a locker room just to sniff the FootJoy shoes of professional golfers. Another featured him nabbing Ernie Els’s toothbrush. With the exception of a yearlong hiatus in 2002, the ‘‘Sign Boy’’ campaign expanded to include Internet ads as well as on-site promotions where Griesser would actually heckle players during golf tournaments.
The campaign collected a Silver EFFIE Award in 2001 and helped increase FootJoy sales 10 percent in the market of people under age 30. Andy Jones, marketing vice president at FootJoy, told the Palm Beach Post, ‘‘Ultimately the judge of any advertising campaign is market-share growth. During the campaign we’ve experienced significant market-share growth in both golf shoes and golf gloves.’’
Fortune Brands, the corporation that owned alcohol brands such as Jim Beam and Knob Creek, purchased FootJoy in 1986. Running non-humorous advertising that usually featured golfers, FootJoy dominated the golf-shoe industry during the 1990s. It was only after Nike announced its upcoming golf shoe that FootJoy rethought its entire marketing strategy. Not only had Nike dominated the outside-athletic-shoe industry, but the titan was showing a growing interest in golf, first with its introduction of Nike golf apparel. Then it offered world-champion golfer Tiger Woods an $8 million endorsement in 1996. Woods, who was playing Masters Tournaments by the age of 19, appealed to the under-30-year-old age group. Soon afterward FootJoy senior product manager Tim Murphy told Adweek (eastern edition) that FootJoy had experienced an erosion in its market share among younger customers since Nike engaged Woods.
In 1998 FootJoy asked Arnold Worldwide to rebrand the company’s shoes for a younger audience. Arnold Worldwide’s senior vice president, Jamie Graham, worked on the project with Ron Harper, the agency’s senior art director. Graham explained to Shoot, ‘‘We were in the right place at the right time, because Nike was coming along, doing some very cool stuff with Tiger Woods. FootJoy was worried about being perceived as old-fashioned, so they gave us more [freedom] than they might otherwise have done.’’ The Sign Boy character was first conceived by Harper, who recalled a friend raving about serving as a standard-bearer at a tournament. Harper and Graham began strategizing FootJoy’s first humorous television commercial. For the casting call they titled their scripts after player nicknames such as ‘‘Philly Mick’’ for Phil Mickelson and ‘‘DL3’’ for Davis Love III. After screening 100 candidates Harper and Graham chose actorcomedian Matt Griesser, who not only picked up on the nickname references but also began lampooning different golfers during the cast selection. ‘‘He nailed David Duval’s swing in the audition room. We couldn’t get rid of him, in fact,’’ Graham said to the Palm Beach Post.
The ‘‘Sign Boy’’ campaign targeted golfers and golf enthusiasts under 30 years old. It also hoped to retain FootJoy’s core golf customers while maintaining the brand’s rank as the golf-shoe industry leader. To reach this younger demographic, the campaign used humor, a quality not typically found in golf commercials before 1999. ‘‘A lot of golf commercials in the past were just Lee Trevino telling people to use Top-Flite,’’ Griesser told the Florida Times-Union. ‘‘FootJoy was trying to reach a younger audience and one way to do it is with humor.’’ In a spot with British Open champion David Duval, Sign Boy began testing wind speed for the golfer and then rambled on about what club he should use. The spot ended with Sign Boy heaping praise upon Duval’s choice of FootJoy shoes. Sign Boy also made appearances at tournaments. During Rhode Island Country Club’s CVS Classic, Griesser told driving-distance record holder John Daly that he needed to lengthen his already lengthy backswing if he was serious about driving the golf ball. Aware that its target market would grow tired of seeing the same three or four commercials played over and over, Arnold Worldwide filmed eight commercials total. Graham explained to Shoot, ‘‘People who watch golf watch it religiously, so the same people who watch golf this weekend will see all the golf advertising over and over again. They appreciate the fact that we give them more, rather than less, commercials. Sign Boy himself has a cult following on the tours. He makes appearances and goes to charity golf events.’’
In 1998 Etonic Athletic Worldwide, one of America’s leading makers of golf shoes, ran television and prints advertising that claimed their new plastic-cleated shoes caused less damage to fairway turf than FootJoy shoes. The print, created by ad agency Greenberg Seronick O’Leary & Partners of Boston, ran in Golf Digest, Golfweek, and Golf Magazine. FootJoy immediately sued Etonic, stating that FootJoy had been making spikeless, fairway-friendly shoes since 1959. FootJoy demanded Etonic stop the campaign and pay damages. In August 1996, while donning a black Nike hat with the company’s ‘‘swoosh’’ emblem, Tiger Woods won his third U.S. Amateur Championship. After the tournament he announced that he would begin endorsing Nike, which analysts estimated would earn Woods $8 million per year. At the Greater Milwaukee Open that took place the following weekend, Woods dressed in more Nike apparel, which included Nike golf shoes. Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf, said to Brandweek, ‘‘Our philosophy at Nike Golf, as well as at Nike, is to start with the best players, make product that works for them, and establish ourselves that way.’’ Not only would Tiger Woods continue endorsing Nike shoes, but Nike also rolled out its own line of golf balls in 1999 and had introduced clubs by 2002. After Woods first announced the relationship with Nike, one retailer, Susan French, told the Portland Oregonian that she immediately sold out of her 3,000 Nike hats and ordered an additional 750 to keep up with demand. ‘‘They want the hat, they want a shirt, they want any sort of memento,’’ she said. Nike continued using Woods’s endorsements, each of which featured the tagline ‘‘It’s time to change.’’
The ‘‘Sign Boy’’ television spots first appeared on January 8, 1999, during the Mercedes Championship on ESPN, and later rotated across network channels NBC, CBS, and ABC and on the cable channel USA Network. Initial commercials ended with the FootJoy taglines ‘‘The No. 1 shoe in golf ’’ or ‘‘The No. 1 glove in golf.’’ The first eight spots were also filmed unscripted. Professional golfers featured in the spots, such as Davis Love III, Justin Leonard, Phil Mickelson, David Duval, and Jesper Parnevik, were asked to react with Sign Boy as they would any tournament volunteer. Sign Boy, played by Griesser, pestered, distracted, and admired the golfers with overzealousness as they attempted to golf. ‘‘We use him in a specific relationship with all the pros, mashing on them and telling them what superb footwear they have,’’ Graham explained to Shoot. ‘‘His particular obsession is that he knows every single style and brand of shoe inside out. We engage him in good-natured banter with the pro golfers.’’
The ‘‘Sign Boy’’ campaign took a hiatus in 2002 when FootJoy released its poorly received ‘‘Golf Gods’’ campaign, which featured animated golfers receiving superpowers from their FootJoy shoes. Graham told the Palm Beach Post, ‘‘[FootJoy] got hundreds of e-mails, hundreds and thousands of e-mails saying, ‘Hey, where’s Sign Boy? What have you people done? And by the way, we hate these Golf Gods.’’’ Andy Jones, FootJoy’s vice president for marketing, said to Shoot, ‘‘I think the best thing we can say about it is that it was a mistake. . . .We pushed the envelope with Sign Boy and we were trying to push the envelope again.’’ By 2003 the ‘‘Sign Boy’’ campaign had resumed with five new spots, including one that featured Incredible Technologies, Inc.’s videogolf game Golden Tee. By 2005 the campaign included Internet banner ads, and its budget had escalated from an estimated $5 million to $7 million.
As the campaign progressed Griesser increased his public appearances at tournaments. In 2005 Sign Boy stumbled into the audience at the CVS Charity Classic golf tournament. Craig Stadler, a well-built professional golfer with thick facial hair, sat beside his son and other golfers waiting for the father-son tournament to begin. According to the Providence Journal, the crowd exploded with laughter as Sign Boy pointed back and forth between both Stadlers and said, ‘‘Walrus. Little Walrus. Walrus. Little Walrus.’’ Next he teased Jay and Bill Haas by repeating, ‘‘Big Haas. Little Haas. Big Haas. Little Haas.’’
Each year the campaign released more commercials than most industry competitors. ‘‘We shoot them at breakneck speed,’’ Graham stated to Shoot. ‘‘I think the thing with humor is, the more you have—as long as it’s funny—the better. You don’t want to tell the same joke over and over again. So even though some of these spots don’t air nearly as much as a purist would say they should, it satisfies us because it never gets boring.’’
The ‘‘Sign Boy’’ campaign earned a Silver EFFIE Award in 2001, increased FootJoy sales 10 percent with the under-30 market, and stoked FootJoy’s lead over the rest of the industry. The campaign also injected golf advertising with humor, something it had lacked before the campaign’s 1999 release. In 2001 Griesser said to the Portland Oregonian, ‘‘Now you can see more humor in golf ads all the time. I like to think that the ads I’ve been in also have served to reveal more of the golfers’ personalities.’’ The campaign reaped praise from cable station the Golf Channel and from sports publications such as Golf Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Golf Plus, Golfweek, and Golf World.
During the campaign’s first five months FootJoy sales increased 16 percent over the previous year-to-date figures. The campaign’s lighthearted humor, according to some analysts, simultaneously appealed to older and younger consumers. Graham told Brandweek, ‘‘Only FootJoy can talk about tour dominance, which they do via these ads in a way that appeals to young players without putting off the older guy.’’ Griesser’s personality as Sign Boy far exceeded the creatives’ expectations for the character, which originally called for ‘‘a doofy-looking guy who walks around in very long shorts.’’ Arnold Worldwide originally gave the campaign a life expectancy of three years, and was pleased to be proven wrong when it exceeded five years.
For 15 years Ford Motor Company, the number two automaker among Detroit’s big three, had advertised its vehicles with the slogan ‘‘Have you driven a Ford lately?’’ In 1998 the company launched a new campaign with the tag line ‘‘Ford Cars: Built to Last.’’ The campaign, developed by advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, used a storytelling approach and ran in print and broadcast media as well as on the Internet. It was based on the notion that people enjoyed hearing other people’s stories. The ‘‘Storytelling’’ campaign centered around everyday people who owned Ford vehicles, and the ads used humor and emotion to reach consumers. As its spokesperson Ford chose John Corbett, best known as the philosophical disc jockey on the television series Northern Exposure, a man with a pleasant, relatively low-key demeanor that fit well with the campaign. His role in the commercials closely resembled his work from the hit show, in which he had been something of a narrator. Corbett and country superstar Alan Jackson, another Ford spokesman, appeared together in an ad for National Ford Truck Season beginning in October 1998, and they were also featured on the company’s website.
The company launched the campaign during the Winter Olympics in February 1998 with six television spots. The campaign included ads for the Mustang, Taurus, Escort ZX2, and pickup truck models. Six months later, Ford decided to expand the campaign to all of its 1999 vehicles.
The Ford Motor Company, founded in 1903, has experienced its share of highs and lows. Its founder, Henry Ford, was described by Ed Crews in an August 11, 1998, article in the Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch as ‘‘a mythic figure in American business history. He comes down to us as a contradictory mix of inspired tinkerer, backyard mechanic, captain of industry, eccentric and capitalist oppressor. Sometimes it is impossible to see where the myth ends and the man begins.’’ In 1908 Ford introduced the popular Model T. Also known as the ‘‘Tin Lizzie,’’ it was said to be the ‘‘universal car,’’ built to be rugged, reliable, and easy to operate. When Ford incorporated the assembly line into his company’s production process, he revolutionized not only the auto industry but also all industries. Increased efficiencies allowed Ford to keep prices down and expand into overseas markets. By 1915 Ford had produced its millionth car. In 1916 Ford made half of all the American cars built and accounted for 40 percent of the world’s auto production.
But success may have blinded Henry Ford to the need for change. By the 1920s competing automakers were producing models with more style, comfort, and power than the Tin Lizzie. Ford dragged his feet on producing a new model, and the company continued to make the Model T into the late 1920s. Only when it became absolutely clear that the car would not sell at any price did Ford throw in the towel. He shut down production for six months in order to retool the plants for a new model. The successor Model A enjoyed good sales, but by 1932 General Motors (GM) had taken the number one spot from Ford, and GM held it for decades. Over the years Ford introduced many successful models, including the Thunderbird, Escort, Taurus, and, perhaps most notably, Mustang. It also produced the Edsel, a spectacular flop, and from time to time the company suffered financial setbacks. Ford became known for its pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles, including the F-Series truck and the Explorer. Despite its successes, however, for the most part Ford remained an also-ran to number one General Motors. In addition, Ford and other U.S. automakers eventually had to contend with inroads made by foreign auto manufacturers, primarily the Japanese.
The ‘‘Storytelling’’ campaign was developed with both male and female consumers in mind. For instance, ‘‘Hands,’’ a commercial for the F-Series truck, showed close-ups of the hands of a hardworking but sensitive mechanic named Joe. Shots of Joe’s hands working with a blowtorch and gripping the wheel of his Ford truck were interspersed with shots of him holding a small child. Jan Klug, Ford Division’s marketing communications manager, said, ‘‘The ‘Hands’ story is the highest rated F-Series spot we have tested among men and women. It really touched a chord with consumers, who could relate to a guy and his truck balancing work and family.’’ Ford took care to ensure that the campaign would appeal to women even if it did not target them exclusively. Three of the six television spots used to launch the campaign featured women. One spot informed viewers of Ford’s support for Race for the Cure, a national breast cancer charity. In addition, because ‘‘Built Ford Tough,’’ the popular tag line used for trucks, tested poorly with women, Ford dropped the idea of also using it for its car ads. Instead, the tag line ‘‘Built to Last’’ tag was created for Ford cars.
Seven months after the campaign launch, Adweek reported that Ford intended to increase its spending on ads that targeted Hispanic and African American consumers and, for the first time, to make some of the advertising targeting African Americans part of the general market pool. Uniworld, New York, was hired to handle the African-American marketing, while Zubi Advertising of Miami handled the Hispanic advertising.
Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler (which in November 1998 merged with Daimler-Benz AG to become DaimlerChrysler AG) made up Detroit’s big three automakers. For years GM had enjoyed the number one spot in U.S. auto manufacturing, followed by number two Ford and number three Chrysler. In November 1997, however, Ward’s Auto World reported that all three were losing market share in passenger cars to light trucks and sport utility vehicles. At the same time there was increasing pressure on the Detroit automakers to keep prices down. GM offered various financial incentives, including cut-rate financing programs and cash rebates on 1998 cars and light trucks. Ford and Chrysler offered similar incentives as well. The Wall Street Journal reported in November 1997 that, despite healthy sales and a robust economy, U.S.-based automakers were also facing increased price pressures from Japanese imports as a result of the weak yen and reduced production costs. During 1998 General Motors reportedly lost market share, and in August 1998 the Wall Street Journal noted that ‘‘GM’s total sales and market share fell below those of No. 2 automaker Ford Motor Company for the first time since a national strike against GM in 1970.’’ Ford’s market share for April 1999 was reported to have dropped by 0.9 percent from that of the previous three months, however.
The launch of a new advertising campaign in February 1998 was a major event for the company. According to Art Spinella, the automotive director for CNW Marketing Research, ‘‘Ford tends to hand on to its ad campaigns for a long time.’’ The new campaign featured a new tag line. The slogan that Ford had used for 15 years—‘‘Have you driven a Ford lately?’’—was replaced with ‘‘Ford Cars: Built to Last.’’ The tag line ‘‘Built Ford Tough’’ continued to be used in truck advertising. The television ads told stories of everyday people with humor and emotion in order to strike a chord with consumers. In choosing a spokesperson, Ford looked for someone who was not such a megastar that he or she would overshadow the product. Corbett, known from Northern Exposure, tested well. In fact, his role in the commercials closely resembled his role in the television series, in which he served as something of a narrator. In a written statement issued several months after the campaign had started, Ford described its approach as ‘‘down-to-earth’’ and ‘‘a real change in Ford’s approach to advertising.’’ According to Ford’s Klug, ‘‘When we launched the campaign in 1998, we discovered that everyone has a favorite story about a car or truck. This campaign is all about communicating on an emotional level—not just price and features.’’ According to Ford, the spots dealt with ‘‘the human spectrum of experience, from the humorous to very emotional themes.’’ Klug noted that the campaign ‘‘is all about building mindchanging communication, and to do that we need to make an emotional connection with our customers. One of the benefits of the campaign is the ability to tell stories that capture the personality of individual vehicles, but in a consistent, unified way that conveys the values that stand behind the Ford name.’’
Examples included an ad in which two friends—Charlie and Ray—made a wager over the capabilities of the F-Series truck. Charlie bet that Ray’s truck would not be able to tow an 8,000-ton ship, and, of course, he lost. Another example was an Escort ad in which two women in a ZX2 tried to elude a strange van that was chasing them. When the van passed them, they realized that it was Publishers Clearing House trying to give them a prize.
Ford reportedly earmarked $80 million for the campaign, double the amount spent the year before. Six 30-second television spots were introduced during the coverage of the Winter Olympics, with the models advertised including the Mustang, Taurus, Escort ZX2, and F-Series pickup truck. One of the ads focused on Ford history, and another emphasized Ford’s commitment toward Race for the Cure.
After six months of running the ads, Ford decided to expand the campaign to all of its vehicles—cars and trucks—with the release of the 1999 models. Corbett was enlisted to appear in 13 new commercials, which included the ‘‘Hands’’ spot and another called ‘‘Charlie’s Parents,’’ in which two overprotective parents took comfort in knowing that a Taurus was helping keep their son Charlie from harm. Another humorous spot showed two women talking about their boyfriends’ Mustangs, only to realize that they might be talking about the same man. In addition to the 13 new spots, several old ones were carried over from the 1998 campaign. Ford also decided to change its 1999 marketing strategy to focus on its primary brands—Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Jaguar, and Mazda—rather than individual models. Jim Schroer, Ford’s executive director of marketing strategy and brand management, believed that past marketing efforts had tended to promote specific nameplates, such as Taurus and Explorer, too heavily and did not connect with or reinforce the primary brand. ‘‘The change is to make sure each nameplate strengthens the primary brand it is under,’’ he said.
Spinella of CNW Marketing Research predicted, ‘‘This new campaign looks like it has some legs under it and Ford should be able to use it for another 10 to 15 years.’’ Ford’s Klug thought that the storytelling approach was effective. ‘‘Storytelling is part of the human DNA,’’ she said. ‘‘People can really relate to it. You can tell stories that revolve around the personalities of our products.’’
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
In October 2005, Ford Motor Company introduced the new Ford Fusion. Inspired by the company’s futuristic Ford 427 concept car, the Fusion was a four-door sedan aimed at young, upwardly mobile drivers. It replaced the discontinued Taurus model. The Fusion was launched into a competitive segment that featured established vehicles such as the Nissan Altima, the Honda Accord, and the best-selling car in the U.S. market, the Toyota Camry. Ford hoped that the Fusion’s unique visual design, which included a distinctive three-bar front grille, would help the vehicle stand out.
The J. Walter Thompson agency, also based in Detroit, was responsible for developing a launch campaign for the Fusion. The resulting ‘‘Life in Drive’’ campaign kicked off in October 2005 and featured a mix of traditional and new-media advertising. Its centerpiece was a series of television commercials. There were several 15-second spots, along with two 30-second spots. The spots often ran back-to-back, with a 15-second commercial leading into one of the two longer spots. The 15-second spots all featured a contrast between ‘‘life’’—illustrated by images of people performing dull, frustrating tasks, such as trying to open a CD case—and ‘‘Life in Drive,’’ where the viewer saw the Fusion on a drive through a hip cityscape depicted via quick cuts. The campaign also featured an innovative online component, which included a ‘‘Photo Fusion’’ feature on the Ford website. Consumers could post pictures of themselves along with brief descriptions of what the photos contained. Posters were then given an opportunity to view other consumers’ pictures based on shared keywords in their descriptions. This interactive program was meant to attract young consumers who were comfortable with seeking information online.
The campaign met with solid success. Ford sold more than 23,000 units between the Fusion’s October 2005 debut and the end of the calendar year, with sales climbing every month. The vehicle sold so well that dealers reported having trouble keeping the new Fusion in stock, forcing Ford to increase production of the vehicle.
The Ford Motor Company was founded by Henry Ford on June 16, 1903. Based in Detroit, Michigan, the company was responsible for one of the most important innovations in automobile manufacturing, the assembly line. This 1913 innovation helped make Ford the second-largest automaker in the world (after General Motors) for much of the twentieth century. By the beginning of the twenty-first century the Ford Motor Company was selling vehicles under eight different brands: Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Land Rover, Mazda, Volvo, Jaguar, and Aston Martin.
Ford decided to create a new four-door family sedan to replace the Taurus, an older model that consumers no longer found exciting. After considering other names, the company called the new vehicle the Ford Fusion. The design of the vehicle was inspired in part by the Ford 427, a concept vehicle that had been met with general acclaim at a number of auto shows. The Fusion featured a spacious interior, a stiff chassis for better handling, and a distinctive exterior design. The car was meant to look sleek and speedy, in contrast to other, more staid midsize sedans, such as the Taurus. Most notable was the vehicle’s three-bar front grille and its unique triangular taillights.
Ford also created a racing version of the Fusion, which competed in National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) events. In fact, Ford’s racing division provided some input on the car’s design. Internal data showed that Ford’s market share was 6 percent higher among NASCAR fans than it was nationally. The Fusion would debut at the Ford Championship weekend at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, which featured the final race of the 2005 NASCAR Busch series. The event was planned for November 17 and 18, 2005.
In October 2005 Ford introduced the Fusion for model year 2006, with a base price of $17,795. Ford was already in the midst of a strong year, with sales up 12 percent from 2004 through September. It hoped to be able to establish the Fusion as a vehicle that could sell up to 160,000 units annually.
The Fusion was designed to appeal to consumers between the ages of 25 and 35. These consumers were identified by the company as being strongly interested in music and technology. Ford wanted to connect with middle-income consumers who were both established in their careers and upwardly mobile. While some of these buyers gravitated toward sportier cars, such as the Ford Mustang, or toward large SUVs, internal data at the automaker led Ford to believe that drivers in this age group were becoming more interested in midsize sedans. In effect, the Fusion would serve as the next step for the young drivers who had previously driven smaller cars such as the Ford Focus. As a family sedan the Fusion was especially geared toward young families, people with younger children, or those considering starting a family soon.
The Fusion competed most directly with other midsize vehicles. These included imports such as the Honda Accord, the Nissan Altima, and the Volkswagen Jetta and domestic models such as GM’s Chevrolet Malibu. The giant of the midsize field, however, was the Toyota Camry. First introduced in 1980, the Camry had been the biggest-selling car in the United States in seven out of the eight years between 1997 and 2004. In 2004 it sold an impressive 426,990 units. It usually sold for between $19,000 and $25,000. The Camry was not a flashy car; its popularity rested primarily on its reputation for quality. It was a safe, durable vehicle and held its resale value well.
Ford hoped that by pricing the Fusion between $17,995 and $21,000, it would distinguish itself from its competitors. Prices for the other major midsize cars on the market began around $18,400 and could climb as high as $25,000 for so-called luxury versions of the vehicles. Ford believed that its aggressive pricing might help offset the fact that many established brands had built-in customer bases.
Ford designated the Detroit-based ad agency J. Walter Thompson with developing a launch strategy for the new Fusion. The resulting campaign, released in October 2005, was named ‘‘Life in Drive,’’ and it mixed traditional television and print advertising with online efforts and live events. Print ads appeared in USA Today and in local newspapers. The campaign was preceded by a series of Fusion Flash Concerts, featuring bands such as alternative hip-hop stars the Roots, popular rapper Fat Joe, and rock bands Staind and Collective Soul. The Staind event was a particular success, drawing 12,000 people to a free concert in Boston. Organizers had only expected a showing of about 500.
The ‘‘Life in Drive’’ campaign began in earnest with a series of 15-second teaser spots directed by Grammy-winning director Joseph Kahn, who had previously directed music videos for rock band U2 and rapper Eminem, among others. One commercial, ‘‘Trash Day,’’ began with a half-dressed man taking out the garbage. He was too late and missed the garbage truck, and a voice-over declared, ‘‘This is life.’’ Suddenly, rock music blared, and a series of quick cuts showed a Fusion driving around a city. The voice-over returned to say, ‘‘This is life in drive.’’ Another 15-second spot, ‘‘Doggie,’’ showed a young woman cleaning up after her dog, leading to the same voice-over and quick cuts. The spot titled ‘‘CD’’ featured the same setup, only this time it began with someone having difficulty opening a CD case. Each commercial closed with the text tagline ‘‘Life in D,’’ which then gave way to the Ford Fusion logo. The ‘‘D’’ resembled the ‘‘D’’ (for ‘‘drive’’) that appeared on the Fusion’s gearshift.
Kahn also directed two 30-second spots for the campaign. These premiered on October 31, 2005. The most important, ‘‘Particle,’’ drew attention through its prominent use of the Apple iPod as a prop. A portable music player known for its distinctive white color and sleek design, the iPod was first introduced in 2001 and quickly became the most popular digital-music player on the market. It was particularly popular among drivers in the Fusion’s target demographic. Some critics felt that by trying to associate itself with a trendy new product, Ford risked allowing the Fusion to look stale and uncool by comparison. One critic noted that the Fusion did not even have an adapter that would allow the iPod to play in the vehicle.
‘‘Particle’’ began with a man on a subway listening to the device. As he listened, particles that looked like bubbles began to rise out of the iPod. These bubbles then drifted up from the subway car and onto a dance floor, where they circled a young woman. The bubbles continued to circulate, moving past rollerbladers and a flat-screen television. Finally they reached a traffic intersection, where they ‘‘fused’’ together to become a Ford Fusion vehicle. The other 30-second spot, ‘‘Ignition,’’ featured a similar theme. This time the Fusion itself generated the energy, which in turn revitalized a wornout urban neighborhood. Both commercials ended with a voice-over declaring, ‘‘a car shouldn’t just use energy, it should create it,’’ before concluding that the Fusion represented ‘‘more innovation from Ford.’’ Often Ford packaged one of the 15-second spots back-to-back with one of the longer commercials, creating a 45-second advertising block.
The campaign quickly branched out into new media. In November Ford began an effort at three major Web portals: Yahoo!, AOL, and MSN. The Fusion was represented via prominent ads and banners on all three sites. Ford also used an innovative ‘‘Photo Fusion’’ feature on its own website. The feature allowed customers to post personal pictures on the site. When they did so, consumers were also asked to describe their photos. Based on those descriptions, the Photo Fusion feature would then show other consumers’ pictures to the poster, based on similar keywords in both descriptions. This interactive system was meant to appeal to young consumers who were more interested in actively navigating the Web than in watching TV commercials. The company also posted selected ‘‘Life in Drive’’ television spots on the company’s website.
The Fusion met with solid success. After its October 2005 introduction the vehicle saw sales increase every month. By November Ford had already sold 15,481 units (a number that included precampaign sales). In December the Fusion sold 7,568 units, its best monthly figures for 2005. According to internal studies, customers rated the Fusion’s unique design as the number one reason for purchasing the vehicle. The car managed this without the heavy incentives, such as cash rebates, that many automakers used to help sell new vehicles. The vehicle proved so popular that Ford dealers had a difficult time keeping it in stock. As 2006 began, Ford ramped up production to meet the ever-growing demand. In an effort to expand its appeal, the company also announced that it would develop a hybrid version of the Fusion for model year 2008.
Between 1994 and 1996 Fila USA climbed from seventh place in the athletic-footwear category to an impressive third place. Although the company made shoes and attire for a variety of sports, basketball-shoe sales proved Fila’s biggest success. An endorsement deal with Detroit Pistons’ player Grant Hill played a clear role in this achievement. After introducing Hill’s signature shoe in 1995, Fila’s basketball shoe sales shot up 52 percent in one year, putting it right behind the industry leader Nike. Image problems, however, continued to nag Fila. In the United States athletic-shoe sales were driven by both technology and style. Fila was struggling to transform its image from that of fashionable shoes to functional shoes. By 1997 Fila had still not found a solid niche among young consumers, the lifeblood for athleticshoe sales. During the first half of the year retail orders were weaker than expected and sales were stalled, forcing Fila to do heavy discounting. Even Hill’s endorsement seemed less meaningful to teens than it had been a few years earlier. A young player in a New Jersey basketball league was asked by Bloomberg News about Fila shoes. He summed up the problem: ‘‘Look around—nobody’s wearing them.’’
Despite the waning effectiveness of Hill’s endorsement, Fila renewed his contract in 1997 and created a new advertising campaign to promote the Grant Hill 4 basketball shoe. It was reported that Hill’s new seven-year endorsement agreement with Fila was valued at $80 million. The campaign began in early November to tie in with the start of the National Basketball Association’s new season. Four initial television spots focused on Hill’s personality rather than the shoe’s new high-performance technology and featured the tagline ‘‘Change the game.’’ Subsequent print ads followed the same theme as the television spots.
The campaign failed to achieve its goal of driving sales. Based on 1997 sales, in 1998 Fila had dropped to number four in the U.S. market, behind competitors adidas, Nike, and Reebok. Further, in the first quarter of 1998 Fila’s U.S. sales plummeted 52 percent. Leo Burnett USA was hired as the agency of record for Fila in July 1998 and was charged with creating a new campaign to support the launch of the Grant Hill 5 shoe.
Fila was founded in Italy in 1926 as a knitwear company and introduced its first line of athletic sportswear in 1973. During the 1980s and early 1990s Fila’s U.S. footwear was produced by another company under a licensing agreement. In 1991 Fila made the strategic decision to regain direct control of its footwear line and bought back the license to make its own shoes. Over the years Fila had positioned itself as a source for fashionable athletic footwear and apparel. The fashion niche had helped distinguish Fila from its more technically oriented competitors, but it marred Fila’s image as a maker of functional shoes.
In 1993 Fila began remedying its lackluster sports image by signing a number of marquee athletes to endorse the shoes. In the basketball market the roster included players Jerry Stackhouse, Jamal Mashburn, and Hersey Hawkins. Bringing Detroit Pistons basketball player Grant Hill into the fold in 1994 helped the company climb from seventh place in the athletic-footwear category to third. Fila senior vice president of advertising and communications Howe Burch credited Hill’s alliance with taking the company to a new level. He told the Washington Post that Hill ‘‘bridged the two markets for us, urban and suburban.’’ Hill’s endorsement meant a lot to footwear buyers for sporting-good stores as well as to the kids who bought the shoes. A buyer for City Sports in North Reading, Massachusetts, told Footwear News that he considered Hill’s selling power second only to Chicago Bulls’ basketball great Michael Jordan.
The endorsement strategy worked well initially. In the athletic-shoe category Fila moved into the number three slot, behind Nike and Reebok. For basketball shoes the company’s sales were second only to Nike. The original Grant Hill basketball shoes, introduced in 1995, were unique and sold out quickly. But young consumers proved fickle about their athletic shoes. Many were unimpressed with the design of the second and third version of the Grant Hill shoes. Pairs were sitting on retailer’s shelves and being discounted. ‘‘Sellthrough’’ (the percentage of inventory sold by retailers per week) on the Grant Hill model introduced in October 1996 was just 10 to 15 percent. By contrast, the first version had sold through at as high as 70 percent. In 1997 Bloomberg News asked players on the New Jersey basketball league what they thought of Fila. One 17-year-old said, ‘‘They look ugly, with those big Fila words.’’
Part of the problem was that basketball shoes as a category were in a slump. Fila also acknowledged that releasing the shoes prior to the start of the basketball season might have been a mistake. Alan Sisson, owner of Slam Dunk, New York, told Footwear News in September 1997, ‘‘Fila was one of my best vendors a year ago. They’ve definitely slipped, but I feel they’ll come back.’’
Others were more critical of Fila for continuing to play up the style of its shoes rather than emphasizing technological innovation. Young consumers who had grown up in the age of technology expected to hear about a shoe’s technical features. Company president Bob Liewald justified Fila’s positioning in Sporting Goods Business, saying, ‘‘Our mission is to create a unique blend of creativity and function. We’re not ashamed of who we are. The name works against us and for us.’’
Several years after Fila began producing its own athletic shoes, the company held a pivotal focus group with 12-to 18-year-olds that altered the direction of the company’s marketing efforts. The youths said that they could not relate to Fila at all. Fila shoes seemed more like fashion statements than something to wear for playing sports. According to American Demographics, most athletic shoes were actually worn in nonathletic situations where style was more important than performance. For most wearers, what mattered was looking cool in school. Nonetheless, even the least athletic kids were looking to inner-city basketball courts for cues to what shoes to wear, and they did not see Filas there.
Capturing young buyers’ interest was crucial for Fila and other athletic-sportswear companies. According to the Athletic Footwear Association, most athletic-footwear firms actively targeted consumers in the 12- to 24-yearold range. Not only did this group make up 28 percent of the total sales market, but they also tended to spend more per pair and stick with a brand as they grew older.
Few retail categories had as formidable a leader as athletic footwear did in the mid-1900s. In 1996 Nike dominated the market with 44 percent of U.S. athletic-footwear sales. Reebok held 16 percent of the market, Fila 7 percent, adidas 5 percent, and New Balance 3 percent. By 1998 Nike was running its ‘‘I Can’’ campaign, a successor to the wildly successful ‘‘Just Do It’’ campaign. Nike’s new ads, however, had not resonated with the youth market as its previous ads had. Consumers were apparently growing tired of Nike’s win-or-else attitude and its glorification of athletes. In addition, by becoming the industry leader, the shoes had lost some of their trendiness. Evan Cameron, a partner and head of planning at Berlin, Cameron & Partners, which handled part of the Reebok account, said that teens in his focus groups referred to the Nike symbol as a ‘‘swooshstika.’’ During the 1990s Reebok followed in Nike’s footsteps, making heavy use of athlete endorsements to impart the message that it too was a performance brand. Although the strategy had paid off by earning the company the number two sales spot, Reebok was also facing poor sales in the late 1990s. In fact, athletic-shoe sales had cooled for the entire industry. Companies were realizing that imitating Nike would no longer earn them easy sales. ‘‘Nike created a vocabulary ten years ago, and everybody’s been using that same kind of imagery and vocabulary ever since,’’ Bill Heater of Heater Advertising, the lead agency for Reebok, told Advertising Age. ‘‘The same athletes, the same photographers. There’s a suffocating sameness in the category.’’
The athletic-footwear companies that showed any substantial growth in 1997 were those with offbeat approaches to marketing. Adidas’s advertising, for instance, relied less on athlete endorsements and more on regular Joes. One series of TV commercials for adidas that was successful in courting new customers actually portrayed a group of fat Yankee fans. The ‘‘brown shoe’’ phenomenon was another factor in declining sales of athletic shoes. Kids were taking off their basketball shoes and putting on hiking boots and lug-soled shoes made by smaller labels, such as Wolverine’s, Hush Puppies, and Caterpillar. To complicate the matter, they were also flocking to designer-label sneakers from such companies as DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger.
In September 1997 Fila renewed its contract with basketball star Grant Hill, signing him to an $80 million, seven-year endorsement deal. Analysts had speculated earlier that losing the endorsement would have been a crippling blow to Fila. There were other indications, however, that buyers did not necessarily want any more sports celebrity endorsements. In years past, a celebrity endorsement was a surefire way to sell athletic shoes, but many insiders believed that the trend had outlived its usefulness. Executive director Gregg Hartley of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association told the Boston Globe, ‘‘There are only about four athletes in the whole world who can actually sell product.’’ According to Hartley, the athletes that were worth their fees included basketball star Michael Jordan and golfers Tiger Woods and Greg Norman. Other athletes did not necessarily earn ‘‘a bang for their marketing buck,’’ noted editor Sean Brenner of Team Marketing Report, an industry newsletter.
Fila was banking on Hill’s cachet to lend credibility to its footwear line. They had good reason to think it would; more than $100 million had already been generated from Hill’s signature shoes. But with the NBA season about to get under way, Fila still faced a considerable roadblock. ‘‘They don’t have the shoes that kids want to buy,’’ Peter Russ, an analyst with Shelby, Cullom Davis & Co., bluntly told Bloomberg News in mid-1997. Kids wanted shoes that blended the latest street looks with the hottest technology. Fila’s reputation as a company that sacrificed performance for fashion continued to hurt sales. The new Grant Hill 4 basketball shoe had the potential to overcome that image problem. It was built on the company’s proprietary 2A technology, which consisted of a matrix of high-performance, thermoplastic cylinders that provided cushioning and stability. Arnell Brand Consulting Group, New York, created the advertising campaign for the Grant Hill 4 shoe. The campaign’s debut tied into the beginning of the NBA season in November. For most marquee basketball shoes, footwear companies could count on a window of four to six weeks in which to sell their brands. ‘‘After a week,’’ says Mark Westerman, director of advertising at Fila, ‘‘you know if the campaign is working.’’ The four 30-second television commercials for the Grant Hill 4 shoe played up Hill’s personality and image, which Westerman described as ‘‘a champion, a winner, a good guy.’’ The spots, which employed the tagline ‘‘Change the game,’’ communicated what it took to win, using a more low-key, introspective style than past campaigns. For instance, ‘‘Anthem’’ interspersed images of Hill playing basketball with close-ups of him as he listened to the national anthem before a game. ‘‘4 on the Floor’’ used rap lyrics to draw attention to the Fila shoe. In both ‘‘Tunnel’’ and ‘‘Shower,’’ viewers saw Hill quietly getting himself psyched up for a game. Print ads that complemented the television spots appeared in Slam, Source, and Sports Illustrated, and a mural of Hill on a wall in downtown Detroit carried the theme as well.
The campaign did not spark the sales that Fila needed. In 1998 Fila announced that its overall sales were worse than expected in the United States. ‘‘We had an exceptionally high level of close-out sales which killed the market,’’ Fila spokesman Andrea Nacmias told Footwear News. $480 million in 1997 U.S. sales gave the brand a share of about 6 percent, which meant that it trailed adidas as well as Nike and Reebok. Fila’s 1998 firstquarter U.S. footwear sales figures were also grim, dropping 52 percent to $78.8 million. ‘‘[Fila] essentially [has] no shelf space left. It can only go up from here, I suspect,’’ said Flavio Cereda, an analyst with the London office of ABN Amro. ‘‘They’ve got to do something about their presence in the U.S.’’ Fila did not need an industry analyst to state the obvious. By that time it had already hired companies to study branding and logistics and brought on board a new advertising agency to release the Grant Hill 5 shoe.
Fila was not alone in posting poor sales for basketball shoes. The Athletic Footwear Association reported that basketball shoes accounted for only 20.2 percent of total athletic-shoe sales in 1997, compared to 28 percent in 1998. Other styles, such as running shoes, were on the rise, perhaps in a backlash response to bulky basketball shoes. Even with rising sales in certain categories, however, the entire athletic-footwear industry—including Nike—suffered that year. Consumers seemed to be moving away from big brands and toward smaller, more individualistic labels. Many companies were reevaluating their marketing strategies, particularly their use of endorsements by athletes. Jim Andrews, editor of IEG Endorsement Insider, a newsletter that tracked endorsements, said he thought that shoe companies had ‘‘oversaturated the market. So many players had signature footwear, it was no longer unique.’’ Although Grant Hill’s endorsement had undeniably helped put Fila on the map, even Howe Burch acknowledged that ‘‘kids just aren’t as inspired by athletes because a) there are too many of them and b) because of their behavior. It’s contributed to the overall cynicism and distrust of sports personalities.’’ Reebok was a visible example of a company that chose not to renew its contract with its star athlete, basketball player Shaquille O’Neal. Sporting Goods Business reported that Fila was shifting its focus more toward performance sports. ‘‘We put the needs of the street ahead of the performance needs of the athletes,’’ said John Eberle, vice president of communications at Fila. ‘‘We’ll return to making innovative products.’’ Sources indicated to Advertising Age that the next brand push, released in 1999 by newly hired ad agency Leo Burnett, would position Fila around performance and technology and might also leverage the company’s Italian heritage. The first ads promoted the newest Grant Hill shoe, the Grant Hill 5, and they were followed by additional work to promote the Fila brand. And while Fila was committed to its contract with Hill through 2004, ankle injuries had the basketball star sidelined for much of the 2000–01 season. Frank Fudo, a partner at the sports-marketing firm 16W Marketing, told ESPN that Hill excelled on the basketball court, ‘‘but him not playing doesn’t help Fila too much.’’ In 2000 Fila began its first consolidated global campaign with BDDP/TBWA of Paris and Merkley Newman Harty of New York serving as the creatives. The new tagline that enhanced the various ad images, ‘‘Sport Life Fila,’’ was designed to send the message that there was more to life than sports. Television spots featured Hill, Chicago Cubs star Sammy Sosa, and U.S. women’s soccer team captain Carla Overbeck. The new campaign portrayed the athletes actively participating in their specific sports but also showed their human side outside of the sports arena.
Federal Express Corporation (FedEx), founded in the 1970s, built its success on an innovative business model, offering the business world the first overnight shipping service. But savvy marketing also played a key role in the rise of the company. Just one year after becoming operational, FedEx released its first advertising campaign. Increased sales resulted, as did more advertising. In 1978 FedEx introduced the award-winning ‘‘Absolutely, Positively Overnight’’ campaign, which featured a fasttalking spokesman. It ran until 1983. Other memorable FedEx campaigns that followed were ‘‘It’s Not Just a Package, It’s Your Business,’’ which ran in 1987 and 1988; ‘‘Our Most Important Package is Yours,’’ which ran from 1991 to 1994; and ‘‘Absolutely, Positively Anything,’’ a 1995 campaign. Reliability and speed were at the heart of the message in these campaigns. Then, in 1996, FedEx released a campaign called ‘‘The Way the World Works’’ that emphasized the company’s position as a leader in global shipping.
‘‘The Way the World Works’’ was designed to communicate the idea that FedEx could help customers, particularly small businesses, cultivate contacts all over the globe. The company’s longtime advertising agency, BBDO Worldwide of New York, designed the advertisements, which showed customers in various countries using FedEx delivery and warehousing-inventory services to market their goods.
FedEx considered ‘‘The Way the World Works’’ to be one of its most successful marketing efforts. According to the company, it increased awareness levels of FedEx to new highs. Nevertheless, by autumn 1998 the company was ready for a change, and it returned to a more humorous approach with the ‘‘Be Absolutely Sure’’ campaign that followed.
When it began operations with 14 small aircraft in 1973, Federal Express was the first company of its kind to offer overnight shipping. At the time it delivered to 25 cities from New York to Florida. The next year the company launched its first advertising campaign with a budget of $150,000 and the tagline ‘‘Federal Express—a whole new airline for packages only.’’ After the first commercial was broadcast, the company’s shipping volume shot up from 3,000 to 10,000 packages a night. By the end of 1997 the company had a fleet of more than 600 aircraft and some 40,000 other vehicles, and it was handling 3 million packages worldwide every day.
Because it was the first company to offer express delivery services, Federal Express created its own market. Demand grew quickly, and Federal Express became the first company in the United States to achieve revenues of $1 billion within 10 years. Revenues mushroomed to nearly $35 billion by 1996, and, according to the company’s 1997 annual report, they were expected to reach more than $250 billion worldwide before the year 2020. Over the years Federal Express became known for its humorous advertising campaigns, including pitchmen who spoke at a frenetic speed and an employer who pretended to be his secretary when he telephoned to check on a package. With ‘‘The Way the World Works’’ the company took a more serious approach, stressing brand image and the ability to help businesses compete in the global economy. The latest campaign also meshed with the general FedEx tagline, ‘‘The World On Time,’’ which had been introduced along with the company’s updated logo in 1994. It was not only the tone but also the message of the company’s advertising that changed. In the early 1990s the message was that consumers could rely on Federal Express to deliver packages quickly. The ads emphasized the company’s technological features, such as software for tracking shipments. The principal message of ‘‘The Way the World Works,’’ however, was that FedEx could deliver worldwide.
According to Steve Pacheco, manager of advertising for FedEx, ‘‘The Way the World Works’’ campaign was targeted primarily at three groups of consumers: professional managers who were 25 to 54 years old and who earned at least $35,000 annually, small shippers and owners of small businesses who were 25 to 54 years old and who earned at least $50,000, and people who made decisions and influenced opinions in corporations, a largely male group 35 to 64 years old and with household incomes of at least $60,000. Although in the past, small businesses had not had much opportunity to buy and sell merchandise in other countries, this was becoming important to compete globally. ‘‘Federal Express is an enabler that allows them to do business all over the world,’’ Pacheco explained.
FedEx could not only ship goods quickly, but it could also track the precise location of a package, and it offered a money-back guarantee if the item did not arrive on time. A business could predict when merchandise would arrive or exactly when it needed to be shipped. This allowed businesses to lower their operating costs by maintaining smaller inventories. Because a large percentage of inventory was in transit at any given time, FedEx planes and trucks, in effect, became mobile warehouses for the company’s customers. The concept of shipping and receiving merchandise ‘‘just in time’’ became increasingly popular. The taglines ‘‘The World On Time’’ and ‘‘The Way the World Works’’ thus helped FedEx convey the message that it understood modern business practices and could be an important element in a company’s operating strategy.
Pacheco said that FedEx hoped that the ads would surprise people who were not familiar with everything the company had to offer. At the same time the campaign was intended to broaden the company’s appeal to its established customers and to encourage them to make better use of its services.
FedEx was the largest express transportation company in the world. Thanks to its vast network of aircraft and trucks, it could deliver to more than 200 countries within 48 hours. It had the only routes in and out of China and exclusive rights to many other routes in Asia, where 7 of the 10 fastest-growing economies were located. By 1997, although FedEx still dominated express delivery with a market share of about 43 percent, it had lost ground to competitors. According to the Colography Group, United Parcel Service (UPS) had 27 percent of the market, Airborne Express 15 percent, and the U.S. Postal Service 5 percent, with all other services combined claiming 8 percent. Worldwide, the total revenues from express shipments for FedEx were 50 percent more than those of its nearest competitor.
In terms of all shipping, however, UPS had grown to be twice the size of FedEx. In 1995 UPS shipped 3 billion packages every day and had revenues of $21 billion. By contrast, in 1997 FedEx shipped about 3 million items daily, and it reported revenues of $10.2 billion in 1996 and $11.5 billion in 1997. To better compete with UPS, FedEx merged with Caliber System and thereby acquired the RPS trucking company, which was the second-largest ground carrier after UPS. FedEx also benefited from a 15-day strike of UPS workers in August 1997. UPS saw its share of the package delivery market drop from about 80 percent before the strike to an estimated 70 percent after. FedEx employees put in overtime to cope with the flood of extra packages during the strike, and the company reported that its earnings more than doubled for the quarter because of the additional volume. FedEx estimated that it retained 15 percent of the extra volume after the UPS strike had ended. During the strike FedEx ran a print ad thanking its employees for helping the company handle the additional workload, and it rewarded its workforce with a $20 million bonus. Among other things, the ad told the public that customer service was important to FedEx personnel. The U.S. Postal Service competed with both FedEx and UPS by advertising its Priority Mail service, priced beginning at $3, which was notably cheaper than its competitors’ charges of $6 to $12 for two-day delivery. FedEx sued the Postal Service for false advertising, because Priority Mail did not guarantee two-day delivery. Instead, it offered ‘‘two- or three-day’’ delivery and in 1996 delivered only 81 percent of its packages within two days. An advertising industry watchdog council said that the ads were acceptable, however, for the public understood the difference between what the Postal Service and its competitors were offering. The ads and the lawsuit continued, and the Postal Service maintained that, by promoting Priority Mail at an inexpensive price, it had pressured FedEx to lower its charges by a third.
‘‘TheWay theWorld Works’’ campaign was created at the request of Frederick Smith, founder and CEO of Federal Express, who had asked the senior management of the company to organize a campaign that would focus on the global economy. BBDO produced the commercials. BBDO, known for the use of emotion and human interest in its advertising, tapped into the idea that FedEx empowered individuals to realize their dreams. The dream might involve designing avant-garde furniture and selling it to someone on the other side of the world or shipping a dress from Italy to Japan so that a wedding would come off perfectly. FedEx wanted people who saw the commercials to perceive them as heartfelt messages. What was implied was that the company cared as much about every package as it cared about the wedding dress. FedEx’s Pacheco said that the campaign’s five key objectives were to ‘‘magnify the scope of Federal Express, show the global and international capabilities, add value to the FedEx brand, communicate all of our high-tech innovations, and position Federal Express as a leader.’’ Previous ads had touched on some of these points, but ‘‘The Way the World Works’’ took a new direction by calling attention to global delivery services. The word ‘‘world’’ in the tagline was significant, because it emphasized FedEx’s ability to deliver worldwide. In addition, it referred to the fact that the people who worked for FedEx were of all races and lived in many countries. ‘‘Early on, we identified the need to be as culturally diverse as we could. You’ll see people from all around the world in the campaign,’’ said Pacheco. Just as important was the word ‘‘works,’’ which conveyed the idea that FedEx helped its customers get their work done by helping them solve their delivery problems. The campaign featured six TV spots—five 30-second commercials and one 60-second commercial—that were introduced in late 1996. The spots ran mainly on highly rated television programs, including prime-time shows and sports and news broadcasts. In one spot a dressmaker in Italy shipped bridal gowns to customers in Japan. Another scenario showed pop-up books published in Wales being sent to classrooms in England and Thailand. The warm, distinctive voice of actress Linda Hunt asked, ‘‘How did such ordinary people come by such extraordinary powers? Believe it or not, all it took was the wave of a wand.’’ In a humorous spot called ‘‘Doug,’’ an employee had entrusted an important package to a delivery company other than FedEx. When the package failed to arrive on time, Doug’s manager locked him in a closet and berated him while the rest of the staff looked on. Each commercial ended with a picture of a revolving globe and the tagline ‘‘The Way the World Works.’’
The spots were translated into various languages for the 20 markets in which BBDO handled FedEx advertising. Although they were broadcast in various countries, the commercials were created primarily for the United States. In fact, the campaign was the first that FedEx had not customized to individual countries.
It was generally felt that FedEx’s ‘‘The Way the World Works’’ campaign achieved its goals. For one thing the commercials improved the company’s image with the public. ‘‘The campaign spiked our awareness level up almost to all-time high levels,’’ Pacheco said. In a survey reported in USA Today, 28 percent of consumers said that the spots were very effective, while 15 percent said that they ‘‘liked the ads a lot.’’ A mere 4 percent said that they disliked the campaign. The spots were most popular with people 30 to 49 years old. Pacheco claimed that the commercials were actually more popular than the USA Today survey indicated. He noted that FedEx and BBDO had conducted their own awareness studies and had found that the campaign was one of the most effective the company had ever undertaken. For example, multiple telephone surveys conducted to judge the public’s perception of the FedEx brand over a period of time showed a strong, positive response to the commercials. Perhaps one of the most important indicators of the campaign’s success was the number of people who contacted FedEx directly after seeing the spots on television. One woman in New York City liked the wedding dress in the commercial so much that FedEx put her in touch with the dressmaker and gave her permission to use a copy of the gown for her own wedding. Another person used classical music from the campaign as a tribute at the funeral of a loved one. A third person obtained some 20 red chairs like those used in one of the spots. Pacheco noted, ‘‘I think FedEx, because of its closeness with its customers, probably gets more customer reaction like this.’’
‘‘The Way the World Works’’ came to a close in 1998, when FedEx elected to shift gears, as the company now faced competition from a number of upstart overnight shippers, such as DHL. The company returned to a more humorous approach with the ‘‘Be Absolutely Sure’’ campaign, which offered comical examples of what could occur when someone relied on a cut-rate shipper rather than FedEx.
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