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What if all this media hysteria surrounding Tiger Woods isn’t necessarily true? What if it was a Buick Enclave that bumped into the tree and fire hydrant? And what if it all happened while he was trying to drive, shave with a Gillette razor and talk on his cell phone using AT&T minutes?

What a great way to promote your product using a celebrity frontman!

The sidebar to all this craziness has been what this will mean for Woods’ endorsement deals? My question, is why do companies tie their brands to celebrities — with good or bad reputations — in the first place?

Some endorsement deals do make perfect sense. I can understand why Titleist and Nike would associate with the best golfer in the world. Whether it’s valid or not, who doesn’t want to use a golf ball that’s played by the best golfer in the world—even though it’s not going to change your game one bit. And if I stretch my imagination and realize how celebrity-crazed our society is I can see why the consumer may hold Gillette top-of-mind when they see Woods holding a Mach3.

But Accenture and AT&T? I don’t understand those. What exactly does Woods know about business consulting or wireless plans? It’s a lot of money thrown at a name — regardless of all that unfolded this past week. As far as I’m concerned, it’s more a waste of money than a lot of money.

To me, using a celebrity to pitch your product is lazy. Throwing a ton of money at a problem lacks about as much creativity as a company that regurgitates the “Got Milk” of I (heart) NY” campaigns for their own purposes.

As you can see on Accenture’s site, Woods is still front and center with an interesting tagline: Opportunity isn’t always obvious. Hmm.

You need not be involved in the marketing business to have heard that AOL is becoming Aol. with a whole new corporate identity and logo and we’re assuming brand strategy.

No, you didn’t notice it when you logged on to because they’ve yet to officially unveil the new look that comes on the heals of AOL spinning off from Time Warner. You also didn’t have to read it on the multitude of design blogs that tend to cover this sort of topic ad nauseum. No, it was right there in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News , Huffington Post and thousands of other outlets that likely picked it up off the AP.

I find it interesting that a logo re-design by a company that has continuously lost relevance over the years receives this much attention in the mainstream media. It unfortunately instills in the minds of people who read these articles that the brand is the logo or the logo is the brand. However you want to look at it, articles like this just skim the surface and continue to reveal why there’s such a disconnect between business, brand strategy and design.

Why aren’t these articles taking a deeper look into the brand strategy and the reasons for the spin-off of AOL from Time Warner? Why don’t they ask what this new creative direction is going to do for the company and how it’s going to be implemented into everything moving forward? Instead, we see a bunch of Aol.’s slapped on top of what appears to be stock photography. What is the context in which this new logo will live? We really don’t know. Unfortunately all anybody cares about is the new logo and whether they hate it or not. Personally, I don’t have an opinion one way or the other because I don’t have a clue what Aol. is trying to achieve.

If Aol.’s new strategy (whatever it may be) is successful and they return to prominence alongside today’s Twitters and Facebooks, nobody’s going to care what the logo looks like. Right?

When we start talking to a client about their service or product one of the first questions we ask is: how do you come up with your price?

It’s a fully loaded and important question. Sometimes the answer is because it’s in a competitive range. Oftentimes they rattle off a margin that they want to hit and work forward from the cost to produce. Other times we get a blank stare. Rarely do we get a straight answer.

This whole pending Silverdome deal got me thinking about cost vs. price. There’s an uproar across the region about the $580,000 sales price for a building and property that cost $55 million to develop and build nearly 35 years ago.

Yes, that is pretty sickening. It’s an outrageous difference even in this economy. But I challenge you to ask yourself, why is it worth more? Isn’t anything only worth what a buyer is willing to pay? A realtor can show me listings up and down my neighborhood, but until I see recent comps it’s all talk.

We’ve all seen a businesses create products that are priced right out of the marketplace because the cost to produce is just too high and their need for worthwhile margins is too vital to their success. That model doesn’t work in the long-run. The enhanced value and differentiation is what gives margin its meat.

I remember reading about IKEA’s model for producing and pricing new pieces of furniture. They give their designers the price (or the cost to produce, not sure which, but a starting point nonetheless) of the desired piece and then let them build it within that framework. Makes perfect sense to me. Why don’t we all look at our products and services in that light?

Now let’s get back to the Silverdome. Sure, this big white tyvek elephant sitting along M-59 and Opdyke is going for less than an average home in Birmingham, but look me straight in the eye and tell me you wouldn’t want an average home in Birmingham over a huge, vacant building in Pontiac that supposedly costs $1.5 million a year to maintain.

You see, the market for the Silverdome is extremely small. You’re only going to attract developers with another use for the land or business people interesting in bringing in large sporting events or concerts. There are two options for the property — destroy and redevelop or use it. Both come with a hefty pricetag in addition to the sales price. Just because the building is massive, impressive, hosted a Super Bowl and Wrestlemania and takes up a major footprint in the middle of Oakland County, doesn’t mean that it’s desirable to a whole lot of people.

When your product isn’t desirable to but a few, it’s just worth a whole lot no matter how big and impressive you think it is.

It still amazes me that brands continue to take the approach of slamming the competition in order to get their point across. I just don’t get it. It seems like the easy way to make a TV spot or advertising campaign. Funny over effective only works for those interested in watching the Super Bowl mainly for it’s 30 second sitcoms.

Verizon’s “There’s a map for that” spots are hilarious. But are they winning cell phone users over? It seems to me that they only focus on AT&T’s negatives. The same rings true for the Droid’s iDon’t campaign. Tell me about the Droid, not what the iPhone isn’t.

We live in an age where it is easier than ever to experience a product without first having to buy it. Seeing someone’s finger zoom across an iPhone screen two and a half years ago gave you the perfect point of view of how the product would work months before it hit the market. The Droid? I don’t know, even without bashing the iPhone, it looks an awful lot like one. Maybe they shouldn’t be so hard on them considering they lifted all the product designs straight from Apple.

Now if you think this iPhone-using author is just defending the company like some fanboy, you’re wrong. I don’t like the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” campaign. Again, negativity is the platform for those spots. Sure, they’re funny, but the whole approach is the easy way out as far as I’m concerned. I wonder how many people would actually argue that a PC is better than a Mac? Just like I doubt too many would question Verizon’s coverage dominance over AT&T.

The biggest aspect of branding that we impress upon our clients is the fact that they must differentiate. We wouldn’t advise a client to wage a war on a competitor. If anything at all, it fails to shine the light on you. Isn’t that who we should be bringing the awareness to?

Placing the competition’s shortcomings under a magnifying glass doesn’t make your product stand out. In fact, all it does is start the bickering. I would argue that the true leaders in any category don’t bring attention to the competition … why would they?

It looks like Mickey Mouse is going under the knife for a makeover. Some would argue that changing this icon is the worst thing Disney could possibly do. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea, but unfortunately, when change like this happens it tends to be over the top. Eventually it usually backfires.

Change may be necessary, but they just need to be careful. According to this New York Times article , only 20% of the $5 billion spent globally on Mickey Mouse merchandise was forked over in the United States. That seems like a pretty low number to me and a figure that would require the cartoon surgeons to scrub up and grab their pens and Wacoms.

The biggest problem with Mickey Mouse, who is 81 years old, is that he’s simply irrelevant. Kids aren’t fooled or enamored by animated mice like they were generations ago. Buzz Lightyear and Aliens draw a lot more attention from my 3-year-old than a mouse with black ears and no real skillset. Rather than changing the Mouse like they changed Barbie a few years back perhaps Disney should let the old critter become more of a Chairman or retired consultant to the Disney franchise? Let Buzz and The Incredibles play more of a leading role.

As the NYT article mentioned, this does have a New Coke feel to it. Let’s hope that if change does occur, he still holds on to some of his octogenarian and classic characteristics and doesn’t become too salty like some of the articles I’ve read suggest.

We say it a lot, but the best clients and greatest success stories are with those who are passionate about their business. Without exception that is always the case. So it’s pretty exciting to see a client and entrepreneur who is extremely energetic and passionate about his companies be recognized for his outstanding efforts and achievements.

Last week, Jesse Berger, President of Eastern Michigan Kenworth, received the Young Leadership & Excellence Award from the Automotive Hall of Fame.

SOZO | Pivotal
has had the pleasure of working with Berger for over five years. When we started he operated one location, Berger & Sons, in Clinton Township. Today, Berger has quickly expanded his group of Kenworth truck dealerships and in addition to his original location, has dealerships in Dearborn, Sterling Heights, Lansing. Last year he was named to Crain’s Detroit Business’ 40 Under 40 list.

Too often you get wrapped up in the day-to-day work, so it’s refreshing to be able to attend an event like this and see one of your business partners recognized for his contributions to this region. Take a moment to watch this video and listen to one of Michigan’s greatest young business leaders.

Jesse Berger — Automotive Hall of Fame Speech from SOZO Pivotal on Vimeo.

Congratulations, Jesse!

The worst thing you can do in a branding campaign is tell someone you’re something that you’re not. So with that in mind when was the last time you thought Yahoo! as the “home on the web”?


It appears as though the online business is preparing to launch an aggressive brand strategy with the intent to position the website as the “end all, be all” on the web.

Unfortunately, things have changed. Yahoo! may have once been the home on the web. Heck, it was the mansion until Google came out of nowhere only a few years back. When crafting a new marketing message you can’t make bold claims that just aren’t true. It usually appears desperate and laughable.

We’ve had people call us in the past telling us they want to be the next (fill in the blank). I hate to tell you but branding alone won’t get you there. Show us how you’re different and we’ll do whatever we can to make sure everyone realizes it. Then, all you need to do is stand behind it and be passionate. Easy, right? If you’re really good it should be easier than it is difficult.

It will be interesting to see what the message really is when it launches later this month. But if what we read is true, it appears that Yahoo! is talking about what they’d like to be (or what they wish they still were) rather trying to figure out how to unseat Google. You can’t tell me how great you are, I need to see it. I’m hoping there’s more behind this than just a tagline. Maybe Yahoo! is actually reinventing its product. Maybe they’re differentiating from the other second-tier search sites. Maybe they’re doing something revolutionary that Google hasn’t yet considered.

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. If that’s the case, brand the heck out of it!

I must admit that I noticed it immediately. It was probably a week or so before my RSS feeder blew up from all the hysteria: IKEA’s decision to drop the use of Futura in favor of Verdana in its recently shipped Fall catalog.

I’m certainly not trying to brag. In fact, I’m not all that proud of myself that I notice these things sometimes. I literally walked past the stack of mail in the office, saw the catalog and thought what happened to Futura?

So why all the hoopla over a stupid typeface? Well, just like the design of logos, typefaces garner a lot of attention in the design community. Without being in the room, we have no idea why IKEA decided to abandon Futura. Maybe the designer of the catalog didn’t have the font loaded on the computer and figured Microsoft’s Verdana would substitute just fine. Who knows.

And who cares. I guess I do, but don’t listen to me on this one. I’m a typeface geek, but certainly not a snob on this issue — I’ll be the first to admit when I finally see a great use of Comic Sans and I’ll cringe when I lay my eyes on a hack job with Gotham (today’s type darling thanks to its use in the Obama brand).

It’s not the typeface. It’s not the font. It’s the reason behind it.

Have you heard about Starbucks’ new concept store called 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea? When I first learned about the initiative a few months back I thought it was another shot at trying to regain a shine that’s lost its luster over the past couple of years.

However, after reading Starbucks: Howard Schultz vs. Howard Schultz in BusinessWeek, I realized how brilliant of a move this is. Schultz basically pulled together a team of Starbucks employees, gave them a small budget and challenged them to create a coffee shop that could compete with Starbucks. Oh yeah, as the Starbucks’ brass stayed out of it. What better way to ask how can we be better than to immerse yourself in the mind of a fledgling competitor.

Now, of course, we don’t all have the budgets and resources of a company like Starbucks, but think about this for a few minutes. What would you do differently if you were entering your market today? How would you compete against, well, you? When you enter in that fresh thinking and start-up energy, all kinds of ideas come about. Remember how it was when you first started your company? Ideas always outnumbered hours available. Too often a rapidly growing and wildly successful business forgets to pack innovation into its portfolio. Just ask GM.

We also tend to spend lot of time worrying about the competition. What new products are they launching? Look who they’ve hired? How did they win that business? What are they’re annual revenues? How can they support a staff like that? What are they doing differently? Why is everyone talking about them?

Perhaps we should forget all of that for a bit. Sure it’s great data, but what do we do with it and how does it apply to us? After failed attempts of going head-to-head in the breakfast food category with the likes of McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts and continuing to build, build, build aa the economy started pushing back in the other direction, Schultz hit a homerun with this idea. What better way to understand where your market is shifting than by reinventing with a completely different concept. Quite frankly, there’s no way he could have done this under the Starbucks name. It would have been too risky and would have been another way of alienating even more customers—after all, regardless of the negative news your hear and read, there are still long lines at most Starbucks.

What would your competition have to do to knock you off your game? Figure it out and then go and do it. Let’s call it innovative innovation.

Here’s a video introducing the new store concept:

What’s one way of confusing sponsors, alienating the public and blowing thousands of dollars? How about unveiling three logos in as many years?

That’s what the Woodward Dream Cruise did when it recently unveiled a new logo that looks an awful lot like a bad classic car cliche and carries more detail than what could effectively be reproduced on the side of a 747. How exactly do they plan on printing that on hats, polo shirts and key chains?

I caught word of this change last night over at the Tanner Friedman blog and was stunned to hear that the sleek design created last year by former GM Design Director, Dick Ruzzin, was being put to rest.

Over here we loved the identity created by Ruzzin and thought it was a mark that could take the Dream Cruise well into the future and reach out to everyone (sponsors, affiliates and businesses included) in this area—whether or not you’re a hardcore car enthusiast. From merchandising to visibility, Ruzzin’s creation was spot on and had the ability to resonate with everyone from Detroit to Birmingham to Pontiac. This year’s version is tough on the eyes to say the least. Catch someone walking down the street with that shirt on and you don’t know whether they attended the Woodward Dream Cruise or a Wednesday night parking lot car show at Big Al’s Diner.

I’m assuming the designer was a professional and he was just set back to the drawing board over and over again by an uneducated committee. Or, perhaps they did their research and this is the right direction for the event. But as far as I’m concerned, The Woodward Dream Cruise should stand out as the world’s biggest and best classic car exhibit. In our opinion, it lost a huge part of that when it so quickly shelved last year’s icon in favor of … this.