The Birth of White Mystery Airheads (and What It Taught Me)

Airheads White Mystery package

It was early 1993.  I was less than a year out of college, and the Assistant Brand Manager of Airheads candy.  (A title that no doubt made my parents very proud.)

After the successful launch of Blue Raspberry Airheads in August 1992, we were searching for the next new flavor to add to our lineup.

We took all the standard steps – reviewing category sales data, reading trade magazines, meeting with flavor suppliers, etc.

And taking the standard steps, unsurprisingly, resulted in a list of the usual suspects.

Continue reading “The Birth of White Mystery Airheads (and What It Taught Me)”

The 2019 Super Bowl Ads: Who Unleveled the Playing Field?

Doritos Super Bowl Chance the Rapper Backstreet Boys


By now, we’re at the point where we know what to expect from the Super Bowl ads.

Before the game, you could have jotted down a list of what you thought you would see, based on history.  That list probably would have included:

  • Celebrities galore!
  • Animals (especially dogs) at their most undeniably adorable
  • People or animals doing silly dances
  • Inspiring Statements of High-Minded Purpose
  • The unusual, the surreal, the flat-out bizarre (with or without reason)
  • Production values to rival a summer blockbuster film

You can make this kind of list for almost any category.  Sometimes, it’s comically easy to do.  And the more “tried, true and expected” the items on that list, the more ripe that category is for some rule-breaking.

So who broke the rules with this year’s Super Bowl ads? Continue reading “The 2019 Super Bowl Ads: Who Unleveled the Playing Field?”

Six Important Questions for This Year’s Super Bowl Advertisers

M&Ms Super Bowl Advertisers


Quick show of hands: Do you have a marketing budget of five million dollars?

And if you did, how would you feel about spending it in 30 seconds?  Because that’s exactly what last night’s Super Bowl advertisers did.  Repeatedly.

That’s nearly $167,000 per second – more than most Americans earn in an entire year.

So I trust you’ll forgive me if I approach the Super Bowl ads, and the surrounding fanfare, with a healthy degree of scrutiny.  I’m a brand guy – always have been – but I also know this:  If it doesn’t sell, it’s bad branding.

And, based on history, most of last night’s ads did not sell. Continue reading “Six Important Questions for This Year’s Super Bowl Advertisers”

Here’s How One Business Quadrupled Its Sales in a Flat Market

Matthew Fenton Chicago Brand Strategy


For many leaders of smaller businesses, sustainable growth can be difficult to conjure up.  If that sounds like you, I’d like to introduce you to a company that should give you hope.

Consider these results:

  • This company has averaged 19% compounded annual growth over the last 8 years, with annual growth never less than 6% during this period.
  • This company doubled sales in one five-year period, and nearly quadrupled sales in eight years.
  • Notably, this growth was earned in a mature market that can be challenging to sell to.

And they did it without relying on any “secrets,” gimmicks or silver bullets.

Intrigued?  Let’s get to know them a little better. Continue reading “Here’s How One Business Quadrupled Its Sales in a Flat Market”

In a Crowded Market, How Do I Create Brand Differentiation?

Nordstrom Macy's Brand Differentiation


“We’re in a crowded market.  We have no meaningful advantage, and if we did, someone would copy it by next Tuesday.  So how do we create brand differentiation?”

This question, or some version of it, is one I’ve been asked most often in my 20 years of brand strategy consulting.

The good news: There’s always an answer, and I’ll point you to several areas of exploration.  The bad news: It won’t be easy. Continue reading “In a Crowded Market, How Do I Create Brand Differentiation?”

Why Is Brand Awareness Such a Weak Objective?

Brand Awareness Martin Shkreli


At some point in the history of marketing and sales, the “purchase funnel” was created.

At the top of every funnel is the first step – awareness.  We then proceed down the funnel to consideration, evaluation and purchase (though the exact steps vary from model to model).

Brand Awareness Purchase Funnel
One of several versions of the “purchase funnel.”

And so some marketers began to believe that brand awareness was a reasonable objective of their efforts.  How can we stuff consumers into our imaginary funnel if we don’t start with awareness? Continue reading “Why Is Brand Awareness Such a Weak Objective?”

Be Selective (To Do More With Less)

Be selective to do more with less


Be selective.

This is not a suggestion or an empty mantra.  It’s one of the very few brand-building imperatives I’ll propose to you.

As a leader of a challenger brand, you’re starting from behind, and with fewer resources than your competitors.  And limited resources must be focused if they are to have maximum impact.

Here are five important ways you can be selective: Continue reading “Be Selective (To Do More With Less)”

Heinz Just Approved Ads From “Mad Men,” and That’s a Good Thing

Heinz Mad Men Fries Ad


In this case, advertising imitates art.

AdWeek reports that Heinz has approved ads that were originally presented on the TV series Mad Men.

In season 6 of that show, set in 1968, Don Draper pitches a series of print ads to Heinz execs.  The ads are novel in that they don’t show ketchup at all – only foods that are wanting it.  As Don tells the Heinz execs, “The greatest thing you have working for you… is the imagination of the consumer.” Continue reading “Heinz Just Approved Ads From “Mad Men,” and That’s a Good Thing”