Zellers: Night of the Living Dead Brand

zellers queensway

via your classmate Vito:

One of the best known Canadian brands has come back from the dead to feast on the clearance merchandise of Hudsons Bay and Home Outfitters! Many people don’t know this, but there are two Zellers locations still chugging along in Canada. One in Nepean, ON – a suburb just south of Ottawa and one right in our backyard on the Queensway in Etobicoke, ON. They’ve been open since 2013, but you won’t find much advertising for these two stores. In fact, the stores aren’t listed on the HBC store locator and you won’t find any mention of them on the HBC corporate website. It’s almost as if they are run by some supernatural retail force.


What treasures are kept in these stores you might ask? Well, in the article linked below, Christina Avila bravely ventures to the Queensway location and admits she was surprised at what she found. Unlike the original Zellers stores of yesteryear, these stores sell a variety of clearance merchandise from large brands including Nine West, Ralph Lauren, Ivanka Trump (everyone’s favorite), Dooney & Bourke, Kensie, and BCBG MAXAZRIA.


Apparently these stores were quietly re-opened after HBC sold all locations to Target, which begs the question, why continue using the Zellers brand name? They could have reopened as ‘Designers4Less’, ‘Brand Clearance Warehouse’ or something along those lines and allowed the well-known name associated with Zeddy the bear and 3D club sandwiches to rest in peace.

I’d argue that the mass familiarity with the Zellers brand among Canadians, whether the connotation is positive or tainted, is what accounts for much of the patronage that these stores get. Why ditch a brand that is well known and try to build a new one from scratch? Maybe the negativity surrounding Zellers (if there is any) doesn’t outweigh the familiarity when it comes to getting feet in the door.

What do you think?


The Grass Is Always Greener…


via your classmate Ryan:

While medical marijuana has been on the market for some time with a prescription, the Federal Government of Canada is currently in the process of legalizing the sale and recreational use of marijuana. Importantly, this legalization will be managed with regulations which specifically include how marijuana can (or cannot) be branded.

The Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation recommends plain packaging and prohibit any product deemed to be “appealing to children” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/files/editorial/News/marijuana_explainer-1213/Marijuana.pdf). To note however, there are different camps with varying definitions of the phrase “Plain packaging”.

In one camp, “The federal task force recommended that plain marijuana packaging be allowed to include the company name, strain name, price, amounts of psychoactive ingredients and warnings.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/cannabis-industry-opposes-plain-packaging-advertising-ban-1.3982113)

Another camp believes, “Cannabis should be treated essentially the same as liquor, a sector where companies cannot show people using the product in commercials or target underage individuals.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/cannabis-industry-opposes-plain-packaging-advertising-ban-1.3982113)

Arguably, the latter would be a more appropriate treatment whereby there are restrictions on branding but branding none-the-less. Branding will give firms the opportunity to display and convey their value proposition and differentiation. It will also make the product look more legitimate than what is currently sold in the black-market. Legitimacy and access is what I think will drive current customers to purchase from newly authorized (legal) sources vs. illegal sources (one of the government’s goals). Marijuana has as many variations as alcohol (or versions of alcohol i.e. whiskey vs. scotch, etc.) so branding will be critical in informing the customer about the differences and characteristics of one brand or strain over another. Elements that could be included are grower, growing conditions, source, farm name, etc.. Similar to food, where customers are demanding to know more about where their food comes from, the same principles apply here.

If branding to this degree is allowed, it would be an interesting time for new brands to build an identity, image and personality. This would be the first time the product is available to the masses in Canada, so potential customers would need to be educated to entice trial. This would be followed by more education to explain why one brand has a better product than another brand. Brand Personality would need to be managed carefully due to federal regulation regarding the branding of marijuana. Recommendations from the task force seem to indicate that firms could not brand themselves as being part of having a luxury or fun life style the way alcohol brands do but also seems to be more liberal than cigarette branding. Accordingly, these new brands should focus of the uniqueness, rarity and production effort of their particular product over others. This would convey a premium product but would exclude any personality traits (i.e. fun, hip, older, younger).


Keep Calm, and Carry On (Buying at Reitmans)


Happier days: Markle as Reitmans Brand Ambassador in the fall of 2016

Via classmate Sheena:

Meghan Markle has ended her relationship as brand ambassador for Canadian women’s retailer, Reitmans. The star of ‘Suits,’ more recently making headlines as Prince Harry’s girlfriend, said goodbye to the brand she signed on with in 2015. Meghan Markle was brought on board to inject a youthful refresh of the Reitmans brand. It was part of a strategy for the retailer to target younger customers to buy its apparel and re-energize the Reitmans brand, without “alienating the older women who still make up a core market.”

Will Meghan Markle’s split from Reitmans be detrimental to the brand, or will the brand benefit?

I suspect that Reitmans will see a bump in sales and brand awareness in the short term given the media is widely reporting on Meghan Markle ending her relationship with the brand. Media reports speculate the reason for the split is because Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s engagement is imminent. It’s worth noting that had Meghan Markle ended her relationship with the brand and Prince Harry not been part of the equation, there likely would have been few or no media reports about this endorsement deal ending.

Reitmans will certainly benefit from the added media exposure, and the free buzz generated from the news coverage will help give the brand worldwide exposure. For example, media in Britain have latched on to the story, a place where Reitmans isn’t sold (although there are close ties between Canadians and fashion retail in the UK: the Weston family’s empire includes department stores Selfridges and Miss Selfridges).

As Reitmans’ brand ambassador, Meghan Markle would have increased brand awareness and attracted the younger customers Reitmans was targeting – so, in the long term, and in order to continue their brand strategy, the brand will need to find in its next ambassador someone who can both appeal to women of all ages. However, it is unlikely that Reitmans will benefit in the long term should Megan Markle and Prince Harry get engaged, as Markle’s celebrity didn’t have sufficient brand recognition or momentum during the time she served as brand ambassador for Reitmans for it to carry on.



Note to Samsung: Don’t Screw This Up

Galaxy Note 7

Via your classmate Shashin:

In August 2016, Samsung introduced the newest addition to its popular Note Phone series: The Note 7. Boasting moderate improvements from the last Note Series, the Note 7 came with a wide range of features and an extensive battery capacity. The tech world rejoiced, for a while.

Within a few days, news of overheating and exploding batteries started coming to light. By mid-September, Samsung stopped selling the Note 7 and issued a voluntary recall of devices sold before Sept/15th. Samsung tried to identify the root cause and fix the devices before reselling them, but the problem persisted. By the end of the year, Samsung was forced to pull all Note 7 products from the market and reimbursed the customers in exchange for the devices.

A recent article in Harvard Business Review highlights Samsung’s recovery from this fiasco, and predicts that in the long-term, the brand will not only survive, but thrive. The author highlights 3 key insights into the Samsung brand:

  1. A large, loyal base of existing customers insulates the brand.
  2. Geographically identified brands bounce back quickly.
  3. The Note 7 crisis is limited to a single Samsung product and is self-contained.

The issue around the Note 7 batteries and Samsung’s reaction to it epitomizes why customer experience and brand management are critical to a company’s survival. Having a large base of customers helps to insulate a brand from rapid market loss. In Q2 of 2016, Samsung sold over 78M smartphones. Including all the products that Samsung sells, the company’s consumer base would be ~1B customers. During the recall period, customers chose to replace the defective devices with brand new Note 7 devices, further evidence that loyalty runs deep in Samsung’s base. Further, Samsung’s speedy response and ownership of the issue gave consumers additional confidence in the brand and helped them look past its transgression. Given a history of successful and popular product offerings, the loyal customer base will quickly put the Note 7 debacle behind them.

If this issue plagued a smaller brand without a large, loyal customer base, then then negative publicity would have decimated the company. In Samsung’s case, the culmination of having a loyal customer base and being proactive while dealing with the crisis will help ensure the brand will rebound in the long term.

Do you agree?


“Ummm, NOT Okay, Burger King.”

bk-20170419102456900Google home is a voice-activated speaker powered by the Google Assistant, developed as a competitor to Amazon’s Alexa. As with its Google Glass offering, you summon help from Google Assistant with the phrase, “Okay, Google…”

Creatives at Burger King decided to leverage the new technology in an innovative–but ultimately disastrous–campaign. In a 15-second spot, a spokesman says he doesn’t have the time to describe the wonders of the chain’s signature sandwich. Instead, he says, “Okay, Google, what is the Whopper burger?” Google Assistant’s algorithm goes straight to the source: the Whopper’s Wikipedia entry, which Burger King’s marketing team had edited.

The response was swift, with multiple Wikipedia editors calling out the company for breaking its community rules, and consumers editing the pages in a negative light, including:

“The Whopper is a burger, consisting of a flame-grilled patty made with 100% medium-sized child with no preservatives or fillers, topped with sliced tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cyanide, pickles, ketchup, and mayonnaise, served on a sesame-seed bun.”

According to reports, Google disabled the feature just two hours after the campaign began.

This “social media altercation” is one of many examples of the tension between brands and consumers, and a good illustration of the vigilance with which consumers monitor corporate actions, lashing back as needed.

Was Burger King technologically savvy or just naive? What do you think?

First Air Miles, Then United Airlines; Now Nike’s Putting On Airs?

Nike Kiss My Airs
Via your classmate Sebastien
On my way to class, I saw the above Nike advertisement displayed on a TTC bus shelter.  I knew that I had to take a picture of it even though I did not realize yet that it was going to be the topic of a blog post! 
KISS MY AIRS! Isn’t that rude? Why put the word air in plural anyway? Is it so that the word finishes with an –S (as the word usually in this phrase) or is it that the ads are talking about both shoes?  
Nike tried to “cleverly” modify a common expression to associate it with its Air brand of shoes. Did it work? I am not too sure. Some might see the result as witty; I would rather label it as corny. Regardless the way you perceive it, I believe that the ads do not fit Nike brand identity and image.
Nike is usually recognized as inspirational. Its spokespeople are athletic, focused, determined, and hard-workers. They are filled with a motivation to better and surpass themselves, but they are never arrogant about it. Nike is about one competing against oneself; it has nothing to do with others. This is the personality that I attribute to Nike. Its slogan expresses this attitude; no excuses, “Just do it”!
“Kiss my airs” would better fit a company with a slogan such as “Just beat them!”
Is “Kiss My air” witty? Perhaps. Does it fit Nike’s brand? I do not believe so.

United in a knot

Image by The Red Dress via Bloomberg.com

Via your classmate Joyce:

That breeze you’re feeling is Pepsi’s sigh of relief. In what’s been called the ultimate “hold my beer” move, United Airlines managed to find itself in an even bigger PR nightmare days after Pepsi launched its controversial ad featuring Kendall Jenner.

To give a brief recap of the United Airlines incident:

  • The airline had overbooked a flight from Chicago to Louisville and were looking for four passengers to volunteer their seats in order to accommodate four of its employees to make a flight.
  • When none of the passengers (who were already seated) wanted to give up their spots, United selected passengers to be removed from the flight.
  • While three of the passengers vacated their spots, David Dao refused to give up his seat. What ensued was airport officers being called onto the plane to physically drag Dao out of his seat. More disturbingly, Dao was injured in the incident resulting in lacerations on his head. And the kicker to this was that this incident was recorded and shared online.
  • Once made available online, the video went viral.
  • But it didn’t stop there. United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz responded to the video in an email sent to employees. In the email, Munoz deflected the blame by stating that United employees followed proper procedures and that Dao was belligerent and had defied airport security officers.
  • Naturally, this email was also shared on social media where people voiced their concern on the tone-deafness of the communication.

I’m sure you know that it’s not uncommon for airlines to overbook their flights. It’s one of the many pain points of flying. I don’t envy the Marketing, Brand and PR departments of airlines. It’s a constant battle of handling customer complaints. But I think the David Dao incident is a really compelling case on how brands and organizations need to be mindful that people (customers and employees) are always watching and we’re at a time when everyone has a camera and video recorder readily available. Gone are the days when someone like Dao can be shuffled aside and provided compensation quietly outside the prying eyes of the public. We live in an age where isolated incidents can have huge reputational and financial repercussions. In the case of United, its stock dropped by 6.3% the day following the incident (http://fortune.com/2017/04/11/united-airlines-stock-drop/).

Case in point, organizations need to be extremely careful about how their brand is being represented at all times. It reminds me of the 2010 incident where a TTC transit fare collector was caught napping in the booth (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ttc-to-investigate-sleeping-fare-collector-1.890811but.

But the point isn’t the necessity for proper employee training and how they represent the organization’s brand. It’s that brands need to be keenly aware and prepared that eyes are on them all the time. All it takes is one incident, one error or even an event taken out of context to collapse all of the brand equity an organization has worked so hard to attain. Going back to United Airlines, even though it was airport officers who were dragging Dao off the plane, the incident happened on a United Airlines flight and the public immediately links what happened to the brand. Not only that, United didn’t get any sympathy from the public when it was revealed that the four seats were needed for employees. Why should United customers need to accommodate the company’s employees?

Overall, it goes to show how a cell phone and a social media platform can have such a huge impact on a brand’s reputation. This definitely isn’t the first or even the last time United will experience a dent in their reputation. What I hope is that the organization learns from this incident and makes the necessary changes on how they address their customers. At the end of the day, they’re in the service industry and customer service should be their top priority.