Tag Archives: branding


ie_iconIt’s official – the new JC Penney brand is: “We’re Just As Confused As You Are!” – Interesting move. Not sure that Macy’s is quaking in their boots just yet.

It has appeared over the last couple of years that the folks at Penney were concerned that there were no recent case studies on how to screw up a brand so they have worked diligently to provide fresh material. Most recently, after firing Ron Johnson their “saviour” CEO, they hired back the previous CEO that Johnson replaced. (Really it’s a choice only between just these two guys? No one else with talent out there? #Bush-or-Kerry?)

A fortnight ago they released an apology ad. Oh golly…what underground bunker are these chaps working from? And now just two weeks later they pull that ad from all sources and have started running a “thank you for coming back” ad. I couldn’t make this stuff up! Really, in two weeks we all came back? Wow.

For Penney they have two choices: the Target route which Johnson was trying to put them on but takes patience, an ability to bleed profusely in the short-to-mid-term and a better branding/advertising/sales strategy.

Or just be like Macy’s. Macy’s is a profit machine. What they are doing is not rocket science. Plus the Macy’s strategy is not unassailable. Going the “constant sales” route bonds customers to the deals not the brand which makes them vulnerable. Unlike Target, no one thinks of themselves as a “Macy’s gal”. But veering (lumbering) from one huge strategic commitment to another is confusing to customers, morale sucking to employees and evaporative to profits. I hear a sound in the distance like a giant toilet flushing…

BE SOMEONE. CHOOSE WELL. STICK TO IT. Or start writing copy for your next apology ad. And start looking at resumes for your next CEO. Hey, I hear Ron Johnson is available.

Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO

See who’s getting BrandAid from Idea Engineering!


I’m pleased to take a moment away from marketing observations to announce the awardees of our “BrandAid” (West Coast) pro-bono initiative. BrandAid is an initiative that we created (in partnership with the Santa Barbara Foundation) to award branding and communications packages to two nonprofits in 2013. We received 32 applications and there were two that we found most compelling, who best articulated the help they were looking for and the results they hoped to achieve.

Our winners are:

1. Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County
2. Santa Barbara Partners in Education

Both of these organizations provide invaluable services to their community.  We are looking forward to helping both of them achieve even greater success in the future!  — And I’d like to take this moment to encourage everyone to consider in what way they can lend their expertise to assist a nonprofit in achieving greater results.

Simon Dixon

Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO

Take a look in the mirror.

ie_iconA little while ago I mentioned the Dove “Beauty” ads in comparison to the Coke “Obesity” campaign. And I said that Dove, unlike Coke, had really got it right. That they seemed to actually care about women’s perceptions of themselves. They did not come off as hypocritical or just looking to burnish their credibility or sales. Well now some new Dove ads have been released and I just want to put out a link to them. Not because they are good (although they are) but because the message is important and I think we should be spreading it. It is too easy for us to believe that we are less than we are. Too easy for us to discount and overlook our beauty and value. And over time these devaluations mount up on us. Please take time to watch these ads. And take a new look at yourself. See your beauty. And maybe tell a loved one (or just an acquaintance) about theirs, too.

Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO

Is Content King?

ie_iconWell not necessarily. Merely content is maybe on the level of “minister without portfolio.”

GOOD content however is at least a member of the ruling politburo. But what about “Design is Duke” or “Video is, errr, Viscount”? Here is the reality, if you are relying on just one part of your messaging to get the job done, it won’t. Houses built on sand and all that… A friend recently went to a mentoring session where she was advised to “just get blogging” – she was told that what she said was not so important, just to be saying something.

Really? What unadulterated balderdash. Think of it in terms of having an actual conversation with a person you just met. If they just prattled on relentlessly about inanities and you had the option of pressing a “go away and don’t come back” button: you wouldn’t press it? If someone showed up for an interview unwashed, disheveled and with a hangover would you even have the conversation? What you say, what you wrap it in and how it is delivered are all important. And the good news is, if you do your work, you can have it all.

To get there ask yourself some simple questions and devote a serious amount of time to the answers: 1. Who are we? (“We” being your organization, product or concept.) 2. Who are we trying to reach? 3. What is the “resonant format” for reaching them? i.e., What is the language and delivery method best suited to them? And then, ummm, “just do it”. All.

Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO

Lip up fatty

ie_iconWell with all due regards to Buster Bloodvessel and Bad Manners for the above referenced song, I don’t think the conversation about obesity is being won or well engaged by Coke with their new campaign on such. I think they got ill-advised.

If you are the problem then entering the conversation to ameliorate the problem almost always seems hypocritical. If Marlboro said they were going to make smaller cigarettes so you would get less cancer; if Colt said their guns would henceforth be using smaller bullets to make them safer: would you react positively? It would just sound like they were trying to buy you off with some platitudes. Smaller cans? We sell water too? Less junky options at schools?

The truth is in what they chose to run for their $4m slot in the Superbowl. That was for the big gun: Coke. And you know what? That’s fine! I don’t think people think badly of Coke as a company. They are a beloved brand. Why are they muddying it with apologies? No-one with concerns about obesity in America will be mollified by this. And people who enjoy Coke are having their buzz killed. I am wondering how Coke will follow this up: free Clearasil for teenagers perhaps?

The right conversation done correctly was well-demonstrated by the folks at Dove. They came out looking fresh and clean.

Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO

Nice to be noticed.

ie_iconI love art. In many forms. When I am at our DC offices I always try to make time to take in a gallery or show or walk the streets looking for cool street art. One evening I was in Dupont Circle strolling back from picking up a book at the wonderful Kramerbooks and spent 45 minutes watching some amazing street performers.

DC street performers
DC street performers

As I walked back to my hotel I saw a shirtless, shoeless man lying on the street surrounded by some very interesting art pieces. I stopped to take it all in. The man jumped up and starting speaking to me from a rather toothless mouth. He was definitely either on something or missing something but it turned out that he was an artist of some acclaim (at some time) – he even had a magazine article to prove so. He had certainly fallen on hard times. We stood and chatted about his art and many other things, (some on a level of “visitors from space”). I asked if he might sell me one of his “shrunken head self portraits.” We ended up at a price of one bottle of Pellegrino, one bottle of Pepsi, a box of Cheez-Its, a pack of Marlboro 25′s and $89. Not your standard auction fare… I came back from my shopping trip to do the exchange and from somewhere he had dug up a couple of bags and some bubble wrap (!). As I said my goodbye he got teary and thanked me for stopping to talk with him. “Most people work hard not to notice me,” he said.

Art for sale

Art for sale



I was flipping through a magazine recently and was halted by a series of Macy’s ads where the clothes being featured were modeled by people with disabilities of different kinds. I was not sure what to think at first. It certainly caught my attention. Was it some cynical advantage taking? Or was I the cynical one? I decided to go with the “thanks for noticing me” route. I bet these people were very chuffed to be in these ads. And guess what? People with disabilities buy clothes; maybe now from Macy’s. George Will once said, “Obama’s great political talent has been his ability to grant his admirers permission to think highly of themselves for thinking highly of him.” I love that observation. I think Macy’s just pulled off something similar and threw in the models feeling good about themselves for good measure. Good one Macy’s.

The “burning wreckage” antithesis of this would be Coke’s recent anti-obesity ads. More on that later…

— Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO

It ain’t over…

ie_iconAs a teenager I lit out for the territories and moved to London to seek… who knows what, probably girls. During the few years I lived there, the job I enjoyed the most was as a page-boy at the Park Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge. (If you ever find me with a mojito in my hand ask me to tell the “escort” story…) Anyway, when I interviewed for the job, I was sat down in front of the Head Concierge (a big-deal job in Europe) — the very regal Mr. Snook. He asked me what appealed to me about the job. I told him I liked to “meet people.” He told me I would not be there to meet people — I would be there to “serve people.” Over the years I have learned what an important distinction he was making.

Just last week in DC I had a similar conversation about ad campaigns when a young (and very smart) woman studying advertising told me that a campaign was a success because a lot of people got to know the product. My point was that that was not what the agency was hired to do. The job was to SELL a lot of the product. I know of no company that posts “how many people know us” as part of their financials. It was an important step in that campaign but NOT the finish line.

I think that a lot of mediocrity in advertising (and in people’s work in general) comes from people doing the job they “want to do,” versus doing the job they are being “asked to do.” A campaign should be centered on the finish line of the client.

I have been known to say that branding and advertising is the highest form of art. A fortnight or so ago I took in the wonderful Caravaggio exhibit at LACMA and then (much to my son’s relief) hit the modern galleries. With such art the goal is an emotional response of some sort. Yours might be different to mine and different again from the artist. But that is just fine — it is a personal journey.  In advertising the goal is a SPECIFIC response. As it turns out, that involves expertise and critical thought. So make sure you or your agency is applying it to your next project.

— Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO