Monthly Archives: March 2009

The Mouse that Roared: Kodak’s Printer Campaign

A little over a year ago, I heard the CMO of Kodak, Jeffrey Hayzlett, speak at a conference. He is a great speaker, with an even greater story to tell. I went back to work and called one of my tech clients and said, “watch out–Kodak is going to come after you in a big way!”

Remember Kodak? They used to be known for cameras and film, and were basically given up for dead not too long ago. Well, they have reinvented what a “picture” is all about.

Then I forgot about it until last night. I confess, I was watching Dancing with the Stars when I realized the the printer division of Kodak had broken a new campaign. And this morning, a Kodak printer ad was on the back page of The New York Times. Themed “Print and Prosper”, it goes after the printer industry’s jugular: the fact that although printer prices are low, the cost of ink cartridges can choke a horse.  

 

Print and Prosper Campaign

Print and Prosper Campaign

Pretty direct, isn’t it? (I believe the agency is Deutsch.)

What I like about this is that Kodak’s marketing team has adopted a totally classic challenger brand positioning. So many companies are too timid to really go for it in the way the Kodak has. Being a challenger brand requires that you take off the kid gloves. So what exactly is Kodak challenging here?

Just like a narcotics pusher, printer companies currently offer (nearly) free samples (i.e., printers) in order to hook you on their ink cartridges, which can be very very pricey. Kodak directly assaults this way of doing business by saying that Kodak charges a fair price for printers AND ink cartridges. Kodak is bucking the widely held belief among printer manufacturers that most printer profit margins are virtually non-existent, and the only way to make money is on the ink. They are actually charging more than average for their printers, while promising a much lower lifetime cost for ink.

In so doing, Kodak is tapping into the consumer demand for transparency. Consumers know that printers from HP, Canon, Lexmark, et.al, are sold at an artificially low price in order to hold them hostage for the ink. The list of offerings is also very simple. Kodak sells 7 printers, and 3 types of ink cartridges. HP has 7 sub-branded printer categories (DeskJet, PhotoSmart, etc.)  and 100!!!! separate models that are suitable for home or small business use. I tried to count how many kinds of ink cartridges they sold, but I gave up at 160. Does the world really need that many kinds of printers and accessories? To be fair, a great deal of the ink cartridges may be for specialty graphics arts related printers, but really!

So Bravo to Kodak for looking at the business in a different way. There is always a risk in trying to claim “low price”. They could set off a pricing war in the inks category. They could also provide permission for the larger competitors to raise the cost of printers. Either reaction might push Kodak back into an “also-ran” position. 

I’ll be interested to see what’s next.

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Filed under Brand strategy, General Marketing

What’s in a name? For AIG, waaaay too much.

Just when I thought I had seen it all, I read that AIG has actually removed its name from its headquarters building on Wall Street. I have been wracking my brain for the last 24 hours, trying to think of anything that compares. I can’t.

There doesn’t seem to be a precedent. Certainly not to the extent of buses filled with indignant and self-righteous citizens who peer at the A.I.G executive homes in the estate sections of Fairfield, Westport and the like. It doesn’t matter that 99% of the fury is misplaced and directed at the stoic survivors who still work there and who had no part in the massive trading losses.

All that seems to matter is that AIG clearly believes that its name, which was on the equivalent of life support, must be expunged from the public consciousness. They have hired Lippincott to come up with a fresh name. That is one tough assignment.

Think back to other corporate scandals. Enron drew universal hatred and scorn, too, but it went out of business and its name and award winning logo went with it. Barings, another financial concern pulled down by a rogue trader, was sold, then cut up and resold in little pieces. (Baring Asset Management still exists, as a subsidiary of MassMutual, but that’s all that is left.) Drexel Burnham Lambert hung on for a while, post-Milken, but also died. WorldCom, luckily, had a former corporate name–MCI–in its hip pocket. But when it rebranded, it had a lot of baggage to overcome:

The company’s switch to the MCI name in its advertising and promotion that there is no mention whatsoever of WorldCom. Normally, a “new and improved” campaign makes at least passing mention to the company’s former identity.

In this case, WorldCom’s excesses are seen as so excessive that the company disdains even the slightest mention. “It’s a cancer,” one executive said.

Sounds suspiciously like what senior executives about AIG must be saying about their own identity. It must be a truly miserable place to be right now, as was made clear in the Op-Ed letter in today’s New York Times, Dear A.I.G., I Quit!

As I have said before, naming should not be undertaken lightly. In this case, I agree with management’s decision. It would be interesting to know what is their budget for re-branding, though.

At the end of the day, I hope that “NewCo” spends even more to inspire their people and reassure them of the rectitude and viability of the company. They deserve it.

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Filed under Brand strategy, corporate identity