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VIDEO: Brand Museum – The evolution of brands in South Africa

Howard Fox interviews Ken Preston, Publisher of Brands and Branding regarding the Brand Museum exhibition at GIBS Brand-Week.


2014: Five marketing tips to prepare for the year ahead

It was in 1964 when science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, author of over 500 books, visited the World Fair. Impressed by General Electric’s “Futurama” stand, showcasing electrical appliances from the previous four decades, he wrote an article in the New York Times predicting what life would be like 50 years later, in 2014. Not all his predictions have come to

World Fair -Isaac Asimov's predictions.

1964 World Fair Ticket. Predictions from 50 years ago.

fruition, certainly my house doesn’t have “walls that glow softly, and in a variety of colours that will change at the touch of a push button”. But his guesses – ranging from frozen meals and coffee machines to satellite phones and Skype to 3D TV – seem pretty Nostradamus-like. He concluded that humans will be relegated to “machine tenders” because computers will be able to do work better than humans, creating a society of “enforced leisure”. (Note to self – tell the boss!) This would predictably result in mankind suffering badly from the disease of boredom, “a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity”. Of course what Mr Asimov failed to predict was Sir Tim Berners-Lee unleashing the internet onto the world and creating the ultimate cure for boredom, whether work induced or not. It brought with it possibly the greatest change to how humans interact with each other and their environment. But, while the way in which we interact has changed dramatically as a result, humans have evolved very little over the last 50 years, which helps somewhat when offering marketing advice for the year ahead.

1.     Marketing is getting harder. That is good

Oh, for the old days – when you just put an ad in the Sunday Times and another on TV (on one of the three available channels) and the entire market had to watch. It made for easy marketing if you were a big spender. Small companies with more modest budgets struggled to be seen in the concentrated but overcrowded media marketplace. Now, however, marketers have an almost infinite number of options. As a result, contemporary customers expect a tailored, personalised approach when you communicate with them. This has levelled the playing field somewhat for small marketers who can now trade intellectual firepower against the bigger advertiser’s financial firepower. You can personalise and offer specific messaging. A whole raft of media agencies well versed in the niceties of sweating smaller media have appeared as a result.

2.     The social honeymoon is over

No one is impressed with your social media activities any more. No really, they aren’t. It’s just a ticket to do business these days. Just another channel you have to manage but not get excited about. In fact, the traditional social media channels are showing signs of having peaked; Facebook is struggling to keep younger members, Twitter is losing celebrities with millions of followers due to the sheer volume of communication required at significant time and cost. And the supposed value of social media, namely the fact that the communication is a two-way conversation giving real people power to influence, has started to show its darker side. Troll tweeters raise the risk of using this channel.

Social Media - the honeymoon is over.

Social Media – the honeymoon is over.

Many marketers, whether celebrities in their own right, or on behalf of brands, moved from traditional paid-for media to social channels which were hailed as being “free”. But, as my mother always used to say, you get what you pay for. The relative costs have started to equalise. It now costs virtually as much in time, effort and money – given the risk of negative response – to communicate on social media as it does on any other media. That is how the world works.

3.     Less is more Attention spans have shortened. Your market is used to Facebook with short written status updates, 140 characters in a tweet, photos on Instagram and Snapchat where a photo is automatically deleted after 10 seconds. It’s an instant gratification thing. Consumers also receive information in huge volumes, most of which isn’t commercial. This means your marketing message has to add value and get the message across instantly to compete. A picture is worth a thousand words. And the expectation is that you will add value to recipients’ lives, be it a joke, a stunning photo, deep relevant discount or interesting infographics. As social media channels grow paid-for advertising, expect resentment to grow. This can only be countered by adding (instant) value greater than the inconvenience imposed. Don’t think “advertising”; think “offering valuable (visual) content”. Those who give shall receive.

4.     Traditional is still lekker

Media consumption has certainly shifted, but that doesn’t mean traditional marketing Afrikaans albumsolutions no longer work. In an era in which multi-screening has become the norm –  watching TV, browsing the web on a tablet and checking social media on a smartphone, all at the same time – traditional media suddenly looks attractive again. Drive-time radio still gets your market’s full attention while they are trapped in traffic. “Out of home” billboards and other in-situ opportunities still offer the benefit of being able to associate your message with a specific context, medical aids in gyms for example. Specialist print publications, well-entrenched within your target market, still offer good value as ad rates face pressure from the proliferation of media types. En ander tale werk ook baie goed.

5.     Smartphones are smart marketing Your customers and their smartphones are inseparable. This adds location and context to your ability to communicate with them. It also means that large numbers of consumers are now connected 24/7. The impact on marketing is profound. Marketers are only limited by the bounds of smartphone user’s acceptable privacy limits. That said, in South Africa, most websites aren’t even optimised for phone-sized screens, and most marketers overlook location-based search optimisation. Consumer connectivity means your customers can compare prices online while viewing merchandise in store. It also means they can rate you on Google+, affecting your search rankings. Or trash your reputation on a recommendation site or social media platform. Or, embarrassingly, circulate that one spelling mistake in your advert (it only takes one!) If there is one marketing mantra for 2014 it is “only dummies underestimate the power of smartphones”.

This article was first published in Your Business magazine.


Score a touchdown with your marketing strategy

Super Bowl Ads – The marketing lessons

You don’t have the budget for a Super Bowl ad, but you can still learn from the best…

“Steal with pride” a former boss used to tell me. He was referring to using our competitors’ marketing ideas against them. I was never entirely convinced of the ethics of his advice, but we can certainly all learn from scrutinising world-class marketing.

What better classroom than the pressure cooker of Super Bowl advertising? For those not in the know, Super Bowl ads are the most expensive spots on the planet, costing a cool $3.8-million (that is about R35-million) for 30 seconds.

Howard Fox Chartered Marketer: Author or Score a Touchdown.

This article was first published in Your Business magazine.

The event itself is a really big deal in the States. Super Bowl Sunday is the second highest food consumption day on the American calendar, just behind Thanksgiving. The approximately 111 million television viewers apparently consume 13 000 000kg of chips , 90 million chicken wings and 3 600 000kg of guacamole, washed down with 325.5 million gallons of beer. No wonder marketers target them with such vigour.

Give and ye shall receive

This year’s Super Bowl adverts were varied in message and approach: from Psy dancing Gangnam Style with giant, man-sized pistachio nuts to Budweiser’s offer to have viewers help name the baby Clydesdale horse about to join their beer-carriage team by tweeting “#clydesdales.

What they all shared was that they tried to offer some value to viewers in return for the 30 seconds taken away from the game. Many attempted to be funny, a few achieved this. Some, like the cute baby Clydesdales, managed to fit an emotive tale into the allotted half-minute slot. The escape of the old folk from the Glencobrooke Retirement Home for a night on the town,  including a foam party, tattoos and a run-in with the cops — before late night snacks at Taco Bell – was fantastically uplifting.

When marketing you need to respect that your “target market” is made up of real people and that you need to earn the right to intrude into their homes. We are inclined to forget that while we may have paid a lot of money to advertise, the targets of our communication haven’t directly benefitted from our advertising.

The same holds true with other forms of marketing. Take email campaigns for example. Just because you have someone’s email address doesn’t give you the right to spam them. You need to earn the right to have your emails opened. Some email campaigns have opening rates of less than a third of one percent of emails sent. That is a clear indication that recipients aren’t getting any value and they quickly learn to delete.

In your next email campaign, remember this Super Bowl lesson and offer useful (and relevant) information targeting the recipient’s interests, industry or profession. Perhaps include links to relevant video or news items. Remember “special offers” are only special to people who have an interest in them. To everyone else they are spam.

Hashtags rule

Twitter hashtags and other social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, were virtually ubiquitous throughout all Super Bowl adverts this year. So ubiquitous in fact that the Samsung Galaxy ad, which depicts guys brainstorming what to say in a Super Bowl ad, ends with the characters saying: “I like hashtags… Ok we use hashtags” as (obviously) their twitter hashtag comes up on screen.

An advert is really just an invitation to make a connection and possibly do business. Social media offers the opportunity to connect with prospective consumers and to magnify your reach by creating a buzz on the internet.

Super Bowl adverts play this game to the max with teasers on You Tube prior to game day and competitions and incentives to get people talking about the adverts when they are flighted.

In South Africa we are still somewhat behind the curve when it comes to leveraging social media for business. It is a relatively inexpensive channel to build an ongoing relationship with customers and prospective customers. But it is critical that the content adds value and is appropriate for the social medium.

The 30-second rule

Limiting yourself to 30 seconds to express your brand’s USP – unique selling proposition – is a great discipline. You really need to capture the essence of the brand. It brings the important things into focus. This isn’t unique to Super Bowl ads of course, but the cost and annual nature of this marketing opportunity certainly ensures that the message is distilled to the core of the proposition.

My stand-out advert here was for Soda Stream. I remember Soda Stream from my youth, it really came in a poor second when compared to the Real Thing. Soda Stream has realised that they are unlikely to win a cola taste war. Their unique (and it really is unique) proposition is that, unlike the big beverage companies, they don’t distribute millions of bottles around the world. Their advert demonstrated this USP strongly.

It is powerful stuff. So powerful in fact that the broadcaster banned the first edition of the ad, for fear that they would lose the advertising spend of the other beverage companies. Banning an advert, as Nando’s has proven, simply focuses attention on the issue. Soda Stream went on to enjoy five million You Tube hits and free publicity across all traditional media.

There is nothing more powerful than a truly unique, well-communicated proposition. Couldn’t you use a little of this in your businesses? How much time have you spend trying to define a really differentiated USP? This should be the real focus of all your marketing efforts.

Nothing beats an astronaut

You’ve probably seen the Axe ad on local TV, it was also flighted during the Super Bowl. For those who haven’t seen it: the ad uses a simple but dramatic creative concept, with an initial hero-lifesaver rescuing a bikini-clad girl from the waves. She stares dreamily into her hero’s eyes until she sees an approaching astronaut, she then runs off into the astronaut’s arms.

The advert is brilliant because it leverages two insights: deodorant isn’t really about smelling good, it’s about attracting girls, and nothing beats an astronaut, ever. Every guy has dreamed of being an astronaut. Unilever, the manufacturers of Axe are in a position, given the global sales of the product, to help a lucky winner fulfil this dream. From the consumer’s point of view it’s a dream that their money can’t realistically buy.

The lesson? Selling dreams is a fruitful proposition. Is there an opportunity in your business to sell a dream? If successful, you can trump your competitors, no matter how commoditised your product. It’s worth spending the time thinking about it.

Few marketers enjoy the sort of budget required to fund Super Bowl ads, but there is plenty to be learnt from watching them …


People power: testimonials, endorsements and recommendations

Lance Armstrong. Self admitted drug taker, doper, liar, perjurer and cheat. Tiger Woods, serial philanderer, destroying his (previous) clean cut image. Sir Jimmy Savile OBE: ‘predatory sex offender’ according to Scotland Yard, and paedophile accused of abusing over 300 vulnerable children including mentally handicapped and terminally ill hospital patients.

What all these personalities have in common is that they all held significant commercial and charity endorsements. People like famous people. Marketers like people who people like. Nothing can create a winning product quite as quickly as a strong endorsement from a well-known personality. Take the George Foreman Grill. Or to give it it’s full title, the ‘ George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine’, which has sold over 100 million units as a result of the aging heavyweight world-boxing champion’s popular infomercials. George’s famous signoff line “It’s so good I put my name on it” has entered popular culture. Without his endorsement the grill would have remained just another far less profitable ‘snackwich-maker’. Wouldn’t we all, as marketers, like to share similar success?

People power: testimonials, endorsements and recommendations.

This article was first published in
Your Business.

Of course when things go wrong for the personality endorsing a product, they do go spectacularly wrong. Tag Heuer, Gatorade, Gillette, Accenture, AT&T, Golf Digest, Buick (General Motors), Titleist, and American Express all rapidly jumped from the Tiger ship at the height of his crisis. Interestingly Nike stuck with him. For the rest, the positive attributes Tiger had previously exhibited and which they had hoped would rub off on their brand suddenly became a huge liability. It’s what I call the ‘congressman effect’: the fact that it always seems to be the congressman who extols family values who then embarrasses himself, caught up in a sexual imbroglio – like the aptly named Anthony Weiner, forced to resign from congress having sent an inappropriate photo of himself to a female Twitter follower while his newly married wife was expecting their first baby.

The spectacular downfall of the likes of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong has not, it seems dampened large brands’ enthusiasm for celebrity endorsements. Nike has just signed Rory McIlroy for a reported $250 million, and produced a rather clever ad with both he and Tiger. Pepsi has just signed Beyonce for $50 million and perhaps surprisingly Chanel No. 5 now features Brad Pitt in its much-parodied $7 million ad.

Not all endorsements are world-class sports and media personalities. The introduction of social media has increased the importance of recommendations from ordinary users of your products and services. The world has become a more transparent place. A place in which consumers are (even) more cynical of what marketers tell them, and more trusting of advice from ‘friends’ even if such ‘friendship’ is of the more superficial Facebook variety. The average Facebooker has 190 ‘friends’ – a far wider influencer set than ten years ago. Sadly, consumers may take more cognisance of a Facebook friend they haven’t physically seen since school than overt product information from an advertiser. So given this context and the reality that most organisations don’t have millions of dollars to spend on celebrity endorsements, what opportunities do endorsements, testimonials and recommendations offer?

Market research based recommendations can be powerful, provided they are credible, relate to a recognised body of respondents and you have verifiable independent evidence of your claims. Of course they need to be stated in a non-technical and impactful way. Examples that come to mind include: “Sensodyne is the No.1 dentist recommended brand for sensitive teeth” and “Panado – The GP’s choice”. Risks include your competitors contesting the independence or validity of the research your recommendation is based on, or perhaps even worse, you losing the support of the market and consequently the endorsement over time. If you operate as a market leader in a more niche market, research of a viable sample by an independent research company could be a relatively cost effective way of building a powerful positioning which would be very difficult for competitors to replicate.

Ever wondered why you see so many serious looking ‘experts’ in white coats in adverts? The current Life Buoy ‘Clini Care 10’ television ad being a great example as a whole auditorium of white-coats applaud their hero – a bar of hand soap. By association viewers associate the product with an endorsement or recommendation by doctors. Without being disingenuous, are there positive associations you can create through imagery for your brand?

Awards also offer opportunities to present evidence from a third party that your product enjoys wide recognition and support. The Sunday Times Top Brands Awards being a fine example. Multiple brands annually leverage their good showing in the various categories of this award in their paid-for adverting, while their PR companies send out a flurry of releases to gain exposure. Advertising agencies are famous for being defined by the awards they win. This is because a service, particularly one as intangible and subjective as advertising gains huge credibility from commendation through awards. Given that there is (to be cynical) virtually a whole industry of ‘awards’ of various stature, there is likely to be one your product or company could leverage to competitive advantage. One caveat: beware tying your brand to an award of obviously dubious credibility. If you have effectively paid for an award, your competitors can too, or more damagingly, point out your award’s lack of credibility.

Recommendations by known experts or organisations, if they can be negotiated for acceptable cost, add significant stature.
Pope Leo XIII famously endorsed ‘Vin Mariani’, a patent medicine containing cocaine, in 1863. Clearly such a recommendation would be rather more difficult today, but Gordon Ramsey’s endorsement of Checkers’ butchery adds huge credibility to a previously undifferentiated offering. BP Ultimate’s “Recommended by the AA” as the only fuel endorsed by the Automobile Association of South Africa distances the product from competitor products, which frankly were delivered through the same pipeline. Are there similar opportunities within your industry or market? Here again, operating within a specialised niche might bring the cost of such a recommendation within budget.

While the term ‘endorsement’ normally applies to support from a celebrity, ‘testimonial’ usually relates to ordinary customers. Testimonials in my mind started running out of steam 20 years ago, (remember those old OMO ads where a women told us all that she “nearly died” with embarrassment from the lack of cleanliness of her bowling dress?) but have revived in the last 10 years as social media has become ubiquitous. Testimonials can be an important part of communal marketing via social media. Its has become the expectation that customers tell other customers about their experience. Amazon explicitly leverages this on their site offering product recommendations exclusively from customers. A powerful variant of this is their product recommendation engine, which automatically cross-sells on the basis that “customers who bought product A, also bought product B”. Instil similar thinking across your social media platforms. Make it easy for happy customers to tell other customers about their (positive) experience. And of course leap on any customer complaints before they too are multiplied.

This article was first published in Your Business Feb 2012.


A Director’s Guide to Marketing Directors

Given the progressively complex and rapidly changing business environment, few would argue the importance of the marketing role in commercial organisations. Companies’ market value and business flows (particularly given the apparently inextricable move towards digital business models) are firmly anchored to market decisions, degree of market orientation, and the strength of their brands and reputation. Even during these economically tough times, international brand values continue to climb to stratospheric heights. Coca Cola, affirmed by Interbrand (a respected branding agency), as the world’s most valuable brand, tops the list at over $77 Billion. “The company excels at keeping the brand fresh while maintaining a powerful sense of nostalgia that unites generations of Coke lovers and reinforces consumers’ deep connections to the brand.” Apple, rushing up the brand value charts to a close second (129% increase in brand value to $76 billion in 2012), has transformed how the world sees technology and its brand personality defines the very character of its consumers.

The explosion of social media has irrevocably changed company / consumer relationships, effectively reversing the balance of power. Take Dave Carroll, small time musician, peeved that United Airlines had damaged his guitar and refused to compensate him. Their parsimony no doubt saved their insurers a couple of thousand dollars. It also earned their reputation a YouTube video entitled “United breaks Guitars” which has amassed twelve and half million views to date. And a book (unsurprisingly named “United Breaks Guitars – the power of one voice in the age of social media”. Dave fills his days doing corporate talks on, well, how United breaks guitars. The Daily Mail quantified the resultant losses at $180 million. Contrast this with KING III requirements to carefully manage stakeholder relationships. Of course, Greg Smith’s New York Times op-ed piece on why he resigned from Goldman Sachs knocked $2.2 billion off their market capitalisation – certainly a material consideration for the board.

In spite of this context some companies remain without a marketer in the boardroom. While it is the norm to have board finance committees, remuneration committees, ethics committees and audit committees, it is very rare to have a customer, brand or reputation committee. However given the requirements of King III and the increasingly legislative environment in which South African business is required to operate, the marketing directors role is increasingly critical.

Howard Fox's article first appeared in Director Magazine.

This article was first published in Director Magazine, the Official Journal of the Institute of Diretcors

At a leadership level, the scope of the marketing role is dependent on the marketing-orientation Vs product / production orientation of the organisation as a whole. Organisations vary dramatically in their marketing orientation due to their market conditions, industry structure, strategic intent and maturity as an organisation. Brand driven organisations are inclined to place greater emphasis on marketing with greater scope under the direction of the marketing director. In sales led organisations a separate sales director may work in conjunction with, at the same level as the marketing director. In business-to-business roles or indeed those organisations that are price takers (such as miners of commodity products) may require only a very limited marketing role.

Job Role

Senior marketing professionals at board level must balance the analytical and creative. While it is true that the marketing discipline may perhaps require a greater creative component than say, financial management, it should not be confused with “Mad Men” the American TV show depicting an ad agency in the ‘60’s. While the creative output is perhaps the most physicall                                                y evident, and is a differentiating aspect of marketers role, it in not, a senior level, the exclusive defining aspect. Marketing remains after all a management science. The Marketing Director needs to be able to hold a long-term focus on developing the brand and business positioning into the future while simultaneously retaining a short-term action orientation.

The high level functions of a Marketing Director include:

  • Input into the organisations overall strategic direction.
  • Translating the strategic direction into a specific marketing strategy and campaign.
  • Create a corporate  / stakeholder communication strategy and plan
  • Developing and protect the organisations corporate and other brand/s
  • Developing and protecting the organisation’s reputation, including risk management and mitigation structures and procedures.
  • Overseeing new business development and sales strategies.
  • Ensuring appropriate pricing and distribution structures are in place.
  • Managing the organisation’s marketing resources. Budgeting for such.
  • Identifying, appointing and managing appropriate, cost effective marketing service providers
  • Development and maintenance of market and competitor intelligence, and the maintenance of the organisational customer records and CRM systems.
  • Develop a suitable structure for the marketing department and if appropriate a matrix structure for marketers embedded within functional business units.
  • Leading the marketing professionals across the organisation.
  • Ensure legal compliance of all marketing activities.

Appointments at this level would clearly hold significant experience, ideally in the type of marketing environment the organisation operates within. Recognising that marketing is very broad by definition, experience in the FMCG field may not easily, for instance, translate to business-to-business marketing. Likewise senior marketers from within a marketing specialisation such as advertising or research may be stretched to undertake a full spectrum marketing-generalist, leadership role. A senior marketer should additionally be reasonably knowledgeable in a wide variety of allied disciplines, such as production, information technology, legal and finance given that the marketing function is expected to interface across such disciplines.

While there are a number of notable senior marketers with no formal qualification in the subject, it would be the norm to expect a Marketing Director to have a minimum of a degree specifically in marketing, communication, or an associated specialisation. As with other board level appointments a general management qualification such as an MBA adds stature, improves linkages into the business and ensures an organisation-wide outlook. A professional designation Chartered Marketer conferred by the Marketing Association and ratified by the Directorate Registration and Recognition (DRR) of the South African Qualification Authority is available to senior marketers.

Reputation Management

It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and 5 minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you will do things differently.

Warren Buffet.

The Marketing Director is the primary custodian of an organisation’s brand and reputation. While most of his efforts are focused on building a positive reputation, the marketing director needs to ensure reputation monitoring and risk mitigation strategies and structures are in place in anticipation of future crisis.

King III points out that the economic value of a company can no longer be based solely on the balance sheet:

Principle 8.1: The board should appreciate that stakeholders’ perceptions affect a company’s reputation.

Principle 8.2: The board should delegate to management to proactively deal with stakeholders relationships.

Principle 8.5: Transparent and effective communication with stakeholders is essential for building and maintaining their trust and confidence.

Principle 8.6: The brand should ensure disputes are resolved as effectively, efficiently and expeditiously as possible.

Large listed companies may retain the services of a specialist stakeholder relations firm to maintain communication with shareholders, although responsibility for such may be devolved to the Company Secretarial or Corporate Affairs teams.

Some larger brands have their brands explicitly valued by external brand agencies to ensure long-term protection and growth of this asset. While the marketing profession can’t claim unanimity with regards to brand value methodology there are recognised methods, such as ISO 10668 Monetary Brand Valuation.

Creativity and the role of ad agencies.

Creativity is used as a lever to multiply the impact of a well thought through communication campaign. You will recognise from your own experience that highly creative adverts break-through the clutter more effective than bland ones do. However, clearly a more risqué advert or communication is more likely to offend at least a portion of the target market. Thus while a creative campaign can offer significant strategic advantage, it may come with an increased risk to the organisation’s reputation. The degree of market tolerance for such communication depends on the history of the organisation with regard to past advertising (i.e. has it always tweaked the nose of convention) and the category of product and service. A fast service chicken restaurant with a long history of satirical and irreverent advertising is more likely to be forgiven than a funeral home or multinational pharmaceutical company. Critically brands should remain consistent to reduce market push back.

Marketers outsource the creative component of advertising to external agencies because it is difficult to justify the cost of retaining ‘creatives’ in house, especially given the ad hoc nature of their output; creatives prefer and work best in the fertile environment agencies offer; and because the sort of creative staff who work at ad agencies generally don’t want to work in client-type organisations.

A primer on media

Media has proliferated, fragmented, and faces significant change as consumers move from traditional media such as newspapers and magazines to more contemporary channels such social media. Some form of media is a requirement to communicate to an organsation’s target market, and is likely to be their single largest marketing expenditure. The broad categories of media are: those channels the company owns: web sites, brochures, in house publications and the like; media it buys such as advertising and sponsorships and that media exposure it “earns” – traditionally thought of as “public relations” but increasingly “content marketing” and most social media. It is the marketing directors responsibility to arbitrage between the costs and advantages of the media types available. This is done with the assistance of a media house, which offers both media strategy, as well as media buying on behalf of a large number of organisations. Earned media is likely to be facilitated through a media relations or reputation management service provider (previously known as the “PR agency”).

Staying legal

The South African business environment and in particular the marketing environment has become and continues to become increasingly legislated. The days of simple self, or industry regulation are largely coming to a close. With sanction of fines up to R10 million or jail terms up to 10 years, the risk of legal non compliance are material at board level. Clearly the prospective reputational damage of a legal case via the Consumer Commissioner, the Competition Tribunal or other bodies are also significant. While the Marketing Director may not be in a position to determine the specific legal risks of a particular market structure, marketing strategy or tactical undertaking he should certainly have sufficient knowledge and experience to know when to confer with legal council.

Relevant legislation specific to marketing issues includes:

  • Competition Act no 89 of 1998 as amended
  • Consumer Protection Act no.68 of 2008
  • Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, 2002
  • Protection of Personal Information Bill soon to be promulgated
  • Sector specific legislation such as FIAS Act no. 37 of 2002

Self-regulation clings on in the form of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), an independent body funded through industry contributions based on advertising spend. All members are required to abide by the rulings of the ASA. Additionally, in terms of the Electronics and Communications Act (Act No 36 OF 2005) all electronic broadcasters must adhere to the code administered by the ASA. This offers a low cost alternative to legal action to settle complaints regarding advertising in South Africa. Unfortunately for marketers it also means that advertisers are required to respond to complaints even if such a complaint is from a single individual. The ASA can sanction advertisers by prohibiting further dissemination of the communication.

This article was first published in Directorship the official journal of the Institute of Directors South Africa.


Brands. It’s what we do. It’s who we are. (With thanks to British Airways’ ad campaign)

I am told these days’ English homeowners use their Dyson brand vacuum cleaners to ‘Hoover’ their carpets. ‘Dry ice’, ‘petrol’, ‘video tape’, ‘yo yo’, even ‘heroin’ all started out as brand names. Brands set our style, dictating what to wear, and according to my kids, what not to wear. Brands infuse our language, our culture, our lives. Jez Framption the global Chief executive of Interbrand says they are “living business assets”.

Technically, economists tell us that the addition of a brand turns a commodity, which is “fungible” (the same, no matter who produces it) into something for which consumers can develop a preference. Oh, they are far more than that. “A brand is really an emotional connection you have with a product or service. It’s so emotional in fact that you become fairly irrational in the way you try to justify why you’re using it.” Martin Lindstrom[1]. Here follows an ode to such irrationality:

Howard Fox's article in Brands and Branding

This article was first published in the Brands and Branding in South Africa Annual.

I shop, therefore I am.

(Selfridges brand line in collaboration with artist Barbara Kruger.)

Only a rare few don’t subscribe to the cult of brand: Daniel Suelo, 51 left his last $ 30 in a phone booth and has lived the last 12 years without money, largely in a cave in the Moab desert, Utah. Except for a small lapse in 2001 when he received a $ 500 tax refund (on what one has to ask?) and blew it driving a Mercedes 600 sports coupe across America, he has voluntarily lived without brands, or in fact much at all in material possessions.[2] Others have tried – journalist Neil Boorman burnt all his branded possestions and spent a year without branded goods – and of course wrote a book – Bonfire of the Brands. Mr Boorman suffered (apparently) from an affliction called ‘obsessive branding disorder’ which he describes as a combination of compulsive shopping and reliance on brands as status symbols to maintain his self-esteem. His year without brands was intended to purge himself of such obsessions and sounds frankly painful. Given the ubiquity of branded items, which he had sworn off, he had to avoid the high street and take to the backstreets for army surplus and second hand shops. He even had to have the tailor at his drycleaner make some of his clothes to avoid branded garb. Food shopping meant finding local butchers, fishmongers and fresh produce market. Neil never did manage to find an alternative for his branded electronic gadgets and in the end spent the entire year without a TV or DVDs.

The ugly face of brand capitalism

“I really want to do this. To everyone else, it seems like a stupid thing to do. To me, $10,000 is like $1 million. I only live once, and I’m doing it for my son … It’s a small sacrifice to build a better future for my son.” Karolyne Smith, having accepted $15 000 to have the brand ‘’ (an online casino) permanently tattooed across her forehead. She was in good company given that the casino, famous for its stunts went onto shell out $25 000 on William Shatner’s kidney stone a year later. Makes the airhead media opportunity seem positively cheap.

Permanent brand tattoos are less rare than you may think. I believe iconic brands – Harley-Davidson, Playboy, Coca-Cola, Nike, and Apple are popular. Why? According to BJ Bueno the author of Cult Branding Workbook (2008), it gives one entry into desirable social groups, which share special interests and common values. They also remind customers of the memories, emotions, experiences and positive associations they have with the brand, apparently wrapping up all these complex feelings and memories into a single branded adornment of the body. It also acts as an iconic reminder of what the customer’s see as his own ideals, (which of course match with the brand’s ideals), drawing strength for the image deeply rooted in contemporary cultural mythology.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

“It is no different from the 19th century when parents named their children Ruby or Opal… it reflects their aspirations” Professor Evans, Bellevue University, Nebraska, commenting on parent naming their children Chanel, Armani and other brand names.

While ‘Jacob’ and ‘Emily’ were the most popular names for children in the US in 2002, during the year of study two years earlier,

55 boys were named ‘Chevy’ while seven boys were called ‘Del Monte’ a brand famous for amongst other things tinned vegetables and pet food. 49 boys’ parents were obviously keen photographers given their birth name of ‘Canon’. 300 girls were given the name ‘Armani’ but just six boys were called ‘Timberland’. Perhaps after the traditional cognac and cigars to celebrate the happy occasion, six boys were named ‘Courvoisier’ after the cognac. The youngsters can be relieved that few parents appeared to be particular fans of Cabel Hall Citrus Limited’s grapefruit, orange and tangerine hybrid branded ‘Ugli’.

Naturally many brands are named after people, the most memorable being John Cadbury, Seymour Cray (Cray super computers for the non geeks amongst you), Louis-Joseph Chevrolet, William Colgate and Michael Dell. One can only hope that Ms ‘Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii’, who at the age nine legally ‘divorced’ her parents in New Zealand so that she could change to a more conventional name, finds similar fame, perhaps in P.R.

Buy and burn

‘Buy nothing day’, popularised anarchist pop group Chumbawamba (yes the folk who gave us the better known Tub Thumping / I get knocked down we have all gotten drunk to) is typically ‘celebrated’ on the Friday after Thanksgiving in the US and the following Saturday everywhere else. Never heard of it? You aren’t alone. Conspicuous consumption is frankly more popular, particularly amongst, I understand, wives. Thorstein Veblen first described conspicuous consumption in Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Naturally he was married, (to one Ellen Rolfe) in what is described as a ‘hateful marriage’.

Burning designer shoes, ripping up thousand Rand branded shirts or sloshing famous label whisky into the dust – ‘Izikhothane gangs’ take the conspicuous in conspicuous consumption to entirely new heights. Psychologist Simphiwe Sinkoyi says “…their art consists of little more than branded clothing and face-offs with rival crews who compete over who has more money.” [3] Originating in communities on the East Rand, the phenomenon soon spread to Soweto. Often the children of factory or shop workers, the Izikhothane assimilate the power of the brands they destroy by proving they don’t need them, supposedly because they can always afford more. The entire performance is rounded off with a ‘gloating dance’. As outsiders it easy to be critical, especially given the gangs’ dependence on hard working parents to financially support their ‘art’. From a brand point of view however, what greater demonstration of the intrinsic power of brands that the physical manifestation or even future possession of the product becomes inconsequential?

Positively criminal

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine – not much of a brand is it? But ‘Ecstasy’ now that’s much more alluring. You may be surprised to learn that there are in excess of 300 separately recognisable brands of illicitly produced Ecstasy. You can find a comprehensive catalogue of “e” brands here: . Most of the brands borrow established brands such as ‘Apple’, ‘Bacardi Bat’, ’Chanel’ and a plethora of car brands from Ferrari and Honda to Mitsubishi and Mercedes. (Isn’t that illegal?!)  Perhaps the most refreshingly honest brand of these particular pharmaceuticals is ‘Caution’ a green table with a warning triangle containing an exclamation mark.

Not all banned brands are quite as harmful. ‘Marmite’, the dark brown sticky paste made from yeast, much loved by the English on morning toast, was famously banned in Denmark under food safety laws last year. It joined Rice Crispies, Shreddies, Horlicks and Ovaltine all banned for, wait for it – containing added vitamins.

In the same vain of giving the finger to authority, Pepsi famously trumped Coca Cola’s (official) sponsorship of the 1996 Cricket World Cup in India with its “Kaha na war hai” or “Nothing official about it” campaign. Based on research that “official” had negative connotations for the youth market, being ‘unofficial’ became a winner. Closer to home Kulula received short shift from FIFA with is ‘Unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What’ campaign.

Brands no longer just reflect of our personalities. Brands shape our behaviour, our culture, our language, our appearance and our position in society. Brands make us who we are.

First published in Brands and Branding in South Africa annual 2012

[2] The man who quit money. Mark Sundeen 2012

[3] The Star 18 July 2012


Take an ad or else!

“Hello, Howard speaking”

“Er, (indistinct) who’s speaking please?”


“Ah yes, are you the marketing director, fully empowered to take all media buying decisions without having to discuss it with anyone else?”

“I suppose so.”

Hi, I’m Joe[1] from ‘You’ve Never Heard of this Magazine’. I see you’ve been advertising in Financial Mail. I am phoning to understand why you haven’t booked anything in our publication.

“Sorry?” – question, not an apology.

The Media Mag

This article first appeared in
The Media magazine.

“Yes, you appear to have overlooked booking in our publication.”

“Ok,” politely, “I’m afraid I’m not familiar with your publication, is it new?”

“No not at all, we are on edition two. We launched early last year. We’re a monthly.”

“So, you’re a business publication then?”

“No not really. More a sort of sport / lifestyle magazine.”

“But you can see from our campaign for a financial service product, that we are aiming specifically at the business market.”

“But business people like sport too, you know! Anyway, I was speaking to your MD’s office before this call. They really suggested I discuss this fantastic opportunity with you. I’m sure he wouldn’t want to hear you had missed a great opportunity to promote the company’s products.”

“I’m not entirely sure that the context would work, as you can see the ads are about, well, frankly, ‘death’. Seems incongruent with sport.”

“So, “ pause, then shuffling of papers “ isn’t ‘Name-of-large- financial-services-company’ a competitor?

“Indeed they are. That’s interesting, are they advertising in the next addition of ‘You’ve Never Heard of this Magazine’ ?

“Oh sorry, I can’t reveal that sort of information!”

“You bought it up.”

“We’re offering a big discount. 7.5% off rate-card. And for every ad you get three and a half pages of editorial”

“No one pays rate-card, but what’s the content focus of the mag?”

“Oh we mostly do company profiles.”

“I thought it was a sport publication?”

“We’re distributed to all the government ministries and embassies.”

“What’s the readership then?”

“We have a print run of up to 4 000.”

“Ok, and the readership?”

“My PA did some dipstick research, we have very high pass-on rate – 27 readers per print.”

“Seems high – ABC verified?”

“ABC what? I thought you were empowered to take these sorts of decisions, am I speaking to the wrong person? Would I be better going back to the MD’s office? His PA seemed very interested in the magazine, in fact I have arranged for voucher copies to be delivered to the executive dining room.”

Howard Fox prior to interview on 702 Talk radio.

Howard prior to appearing on 702 Talk Radio

“Tell me a little about your readers.”

“We think its about a fifty-fifty male / female split. Mostly employed.”

“Income splits?”

“Oh perhaps 90% of our readers earn between two thousand and a hundred and fifty thousand rand a month.”

“I don’t see a fit with our current strategy I am afraid.”

“But our next addition will be a feature on your type of product. Your absence will be very obvious.”

“Indeed it will, but we actually have a specific media strategy based on the comstrat developed from our 3 year strategic marketing plan. Your publication would if anything distract from the rest of our efforts.”

“Don’t you have contingency budget.”


“This is a very limited offer, you’ll have to get me a signed booking form by close of play today or the cost increases 50%, and I can’t guarantee you’ll get in.”

“Look we book through a media house, but I’m not interested”

“What is your budget cycle?”

“Calendar year, but what has that got to do with it? Our strategy won’t be dramatically different just because the financial year clicked over.”

“So I’ll call you in January then.”

So this isn’t you calling. But when you call with your never to be repeated, industry changing, virtually free, incredibly strategy congruent media offer, understand that the last three call I took from a media representative was the conversation above. So unless you have a well thought-through, relevant pitch, which will add to the thinking of the media strategist I have entrusted with planning appropriate media, don’t waste your time.

Here is the insight:

I am going to take media decisions based on who consumes your media (and who doesn’t). Understand that if I want a very general, audience, I can almost certainly get it more cost effectively elsewhere. However if you have cornered the entire constituency of left-handed basket weavers, I might have a very specific campaign waiting for just such an opportunity. If you can also reliably tell me that no right-handed weavers read your publication, now we are really talking. (Oh how break-though is my right Vs left weaver ad- positively award winning!)  If you are a small niche publication, play to this strength rather than trying to be yet another generalist publication.

The context – i.e. specifics of your content, style and tone are vitally important. Yes, senior business people read sports publications but perhaps as they kick back (pun intended) they are less receptive to a ‘Keyman’ life insurance ad highlighting the risk of their business partner dying.

Other advertisers: Sometimes I want to be seen with my competitors, sometimes I don’t. But I drive the strategy not my competitors. Certainly dodgy ‘non-time-share’-time-share, illegal online casinos, herbal remedies and the like may preclude my prestigious brand from participating in your publication. I will, I am afraid, judge you by your lowest common denominator. Likewise some advertisers add value by their inclusion, and if you don’t have them I may not want to be the first to jump in. Female interest magazines are required to have big fashion and cosmetic brands if they are to look the part. Prestigious business and male interest publication really do need that ‘aviation time instrument’ or Italian sports car ad on the outside back.

Your offer of free editorial is great but means your content is rubbish supplied by advertisers. I am turned off.

Nobody pays rate card, right. So I’m not comparing your offer to your arbitrarily determined rate card but rather my next best media (or other marketing) opportunity-cost and the likely return. More importantly your substantial discount means nothing if the other decision criteria are negative. I have turned down free ads, because inclusion in the publication would be damaging to the brand.

So, please:

Do do research into the company’s campaigns and products. But be realistic. If there isn’t a logical fit it will damage to your publication as much as my brand.

Do look me up on Linked In before you hint that I am incompetent in overlooking your ‘opportunity’.

Do bring new thinking or an idea to the table that’s worth talking about.

Don’t try and bully me. If the MD buys your ad he can pay for it from his budget. I’ve got his agreement on this.

Do be professional and offer credible circulation data and research. Marketers want to take informed decisions not wild guesses.

First published in The Media magazine.

[1] Names have been changed to reduce embarrassment.


Marketing Karma

Most of us marketers spend our working lives attempting to get
consumers to do something – usually to actually buy our products. 
But there is a whole (often overlooked) category of marketing 
where the intention is to get someone to stop doing something. 
Or perhaps even more dauntingly, getting someone to do 
something, which is not only onerous but has no direct benefit 
to themselves.
Intrigued?  ‘Social marketing’ (not to be confused with the currently much more trendy ‘social media’) is, according to Wikipedia “the systematic application of marketing, along with other concepts and techniques, to achieve specific behavioural goals for a social good”. Think ‘LoveLife’ – stop having unsafe sex; National Blood Services -donate blood; Don’t drink and drive.
This marketing specialisation was highlighted by my good friend John Arnesen (LinkedIn profile:, Director of Advocacy at SAQA – who is writing his doctorial thesis on the subject. As he points out, in many instances, social marketing promotes the ultimate intangible. Take SARS increasingly successful campaign to encourage tax compliance: there is no physical product, just a concept of ‘doing the right thing’. There is no specific benefit to the taxpayer; after all complying is likely to cost more than tax dodging (until they get caught!) 
The fundamental question is – what can marketers in a more commercial realm learn from our Social Marketing colleagues?
First off, do we perhaps believe our consumers are rather more cynically self serving and parochial than they really are? Are we missing opportunities to influence behaviour based on the social good? Certain banks’ ‘affinity cards’ appear to be a successful case study. Donating a small amount to a suitable charity / affinity group is likely to have greater impact than passing such a (small) reward back to the consumer. That is because they feel good no matter how small the donation, whereas, they may feel a little under rewarded if they received it themselves.
Secondly, let’s not forget the power of peer pressure. There is, in my opinion, increasing pressure (especially among younger consumers,) to ‘do the right thing’ with regards to environmental protection and ethical business practices such as those espoused by Fairtrade. Not only can brands no longer be seen doing the “wrong thing”, but there is distinct competitive advantage in doing more of ‘the right thing’. More importantly for marketers, friends don’t let friends buy ‘wrong’.
Thirdly, have we as marketers, in our desire to finely segment markets, lost the importance of the greater community? Pepper and Rogers’ seminal 90’s book ‘One to One Future’ (SBN-13: 978-0385485661) espoused the idea of market segments of one. Groupon ( and of course Facebook (you really do have to see ‘Social Network’ it’s a case study on reputation management!), prove the greater power of the collective.
So the fundamental point is that Social Marketing again highlights the fact that we as marketers really do operate in consumers’ heads. And that gives us far greater influence than we may realise: A recent Scientific America report found that women who thought they were wearing fake designer items (they weren’t – both control groups were wearing identical original brands!) were more likely to cheat, lie and generally despise humanity.  Fundamentally there is marketing Karma.
The Marketing Fundamentalist


Do we like our ads too much?

I like ads, I really do. They’re art. Sometimes the best even end up on display in museums. Adverts are attractive, often amusing, informative, a snapshot of our contemporary history. They are a source of pride for their creators. They look good in our portfolios, make great conversation around the braai and allow us to show our kids what we do for a living.

The fundamental question is: Do we like our ads too much?

Liberty Health Billboard

First off, I suspect that the answer to too many questions in marketing is “an advert”. It seems that too often creating an ad is the culmination of the marketing process. And there is of course the whole (sexy) ad industry waiting for the call. It’s trite, but let’s remember advertising is just a subset of one of the (apparently now indeterminable number of) marketing P’s Do we spend a similar amount of time and resource on the other fundamentals of marketing? How much time have you spent over at the “pricing agency” this month?

As a result of this focus on ads, are we as marketers overlooking less sexy but possibly more effective ways of building our brands? As the Chile mine crisis reached its emotional climax (with claims of higher viewership than the world cup), my marketing friends and colleagues were unanimous “You just can’t buy positive exposure like that”, they lamented, as they headed off to the ad agency. Not the PR Company mind you! Yes, non-paid-for commercial communication can be hugely powerful, yet remains (with apologies to my enormously professional colleagues within the PR and communication specialisations) the unpopular stepchild of our profession. Fundamentally are we being objective with how we allocate our marketing resource and effort?

Secondly, to the specifics of the ad itself: Seems we marketers think that a really good ad can fix any product, positioning or marketing weakness. It’s what I refer to as putting lipstick on the bulldog. It might fool a few, but fundamentally it remains a bulldog. How many times do we see brands or products where the only differentiation is the advertising? The weakness of such a “lipstick strategy” is that lipstick is freely available to our competitor’s at the nearest beauty retailer (read agency), even if the shade is slightly different.

I always liked the definition of an advert in law – namely: “an invitation to do business”. Which leads me to an illustrative (if cruel) analogy in this regard. Think back to school. When the pimply-faced, socially-awkward classmate handed out their mother’s beautifully crafted party invites, enthusiasm remained thin and attendance of the event was inevitably embarrassingly low. When the sexy number we were all secretly in love with, merely mentioned the time and location of a trendy sounding bash, there was an unseemly scrabble to attend.

My point is that it’s not always the elaborateness of the invitation (read advert) that is the answer. Perhaps the differentiated attractiveness of the party (read product) itself is more important. So fundamentally let’s make sure we as marketers invest sufficient time and resource on the party and not just the invite.


The customer isn’t always right. 
The customer is always victorious.

“The customer is always right”. Wrong. Frankly the customer isn’t always right. But thanks to social media, now the customer certainly is always victorious. Fundamentally, the balance of power has shifted.

Earlier this month GAP introduced a new logo. A week later it announced it would revert to its original logo, after widespread, harsh criticism of the design on Facebook and Twitter. Closer to home, a large, respected retailer was forced to reverse its decision to stop stocking (apparently poor selling) religious magazines after a social media uproar.

I am not debating the elegance of the logo or the wisdom of alienating a vocal religious community. Rather the fundamental question is: how do marketers operate in an environment where the control of their brands has been explicitly usurped in the social space?

Our consumers deserve the utmost respect, not least because they pay our salaries, however, a consumer committee has never to my knowledge created a successful brand or managed a company to the satisfaction of shareholders. The average consumer has difficulty expressing new or novel concepts for as yet ‘unexperienced’ needs. It’s just not their strength. We all remember the often-quoted case of the Sony Walkman. In an interview in the authoritative journal Playboy (yes, that one), Akio Morita Sony’s Chairman and Founder stated, “The market research is all in my head! You see we create markets.” What would have happened to the concept of the personal-earphone-based-music-device in today’s social media dominated market, one wonders? If early non-adopters had scoffed at the prospect of using earphones when the state-of-the-art was woofers and tweeters – would we enjoy the benefits of the iPod today?

Howard and Ike Phaahla – SAFM Media Show, discussing Acumen Magazine

A fundamental question is just who should we as marketers be listening to? It used to be easy. We listened to selected consumers by conducting research on folk who matched our target market, all carefully stratified and representative of the intended market and of course in secret – both from other consumers and our competitors. Before, it didn’t matter if non-target consumers didn’t like our product or brand. It was called market segmentation. Now we have to listen to the most vocal, the most connected, even if frankly we preferred they didn’t buy our products

We live in a world of ubiquitous data freedom. The seminal “Wikileaks” site that serially releases highly classified military and political documents is a case in point. The world is now incredibly transparent. Individuals have almost unlimited access to information and powerful channels in which to disseminate it. Their opinions, backed by such data are given far more credence than any commercial organisation. So how do we fundamentally change the way we market under these new rules?

1) Ensure all the company’s consumer intentions are not only honourable, but will be perceived as such. Spend greater time and effort playing devil’s advocate, testing for unintended consequences of any action or communication.
2) ALL brand communication should be considered visible to everyone – from emails to individuals to narrowly targeted advertising campaigns. We’ve all experience the office email faux pas, where an inappropriate comment in a forwarded email has offended a colleague you never intended to see it. Hold this thought as you review all your communication – could it possibly offend an unintended audience? Will the brand still look good if it makes it onto You Tube?
3) Work with your community on social platforms. Their expectation is involvement in return for their commitment to your brand. Just like a friendship. Seems reasonable.
4) If you experience that “oops” moment, tend towards full disclosure and rapid apology rather than obfuscation. In my view the social media world is forgiving and has a short attention span for crimes against the collective sensibility – providing you ‘fess up’, make right and are perceived to be acting honourably. Never act illicitly by responding to corporate criticism on social networks disguised as a “member of the public”. The community will find you out and forgiveness will be a long time coming.

So fundamentally while I contend that the consumer may not always be right, to quote the lesser-referenced Cesar Ritz (of hotel fame): “The customer is never wrong.”

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