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The Whiteboard: On and off the brand wagon

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Winners, losers and in between in ’13

Some winners …

Al Jazeera on the rise. Its name literally means “The Island” and refers to the Arabian Peninsula, but it also sounds like a certain terrorist organization, or possibly a cynical late-night comedian.

But while it doesn't have the brand recognition of CNN or the hubris of Fox News, the Arabian news network has become a global brand with new roots in the U.S. It has won accolades from U.S.-based organizations, including the Webby Awards and brandchannel.com, for its news coverage that presents multiple sides to its stories. Al Jazeera America is now available in 55 million U.S. homes via cable and has shown some ratings growth. But will Americans be interested in yet another news channel?

Google domination. “You can't be all things to all people” is one of the oldest bromides in marketing. But the brand with the goofy name may possibly have done more to become ubiquitous than any in recent history.

After all, it is the first place we go for all manner of information, it has free software apps for virtually everything, and it owns Motorola and has begun cranking out its own hardware. It has even announced an initiative to extend life expectancy. What can't it do? Well, it hasn't caught up to Apple as the world's most valuable brand, but even that seems to be a matter of time — like the 1.3 seconds it takes to return its search results.

Snapchat. Oh no, you di'int! How do you know when a brand feels good about itself? When it's only 2 years old and it turns down an offer of $3 billion to sell itself to Facebook. Rumor is, the Snapchat folks think they are worth more like $4 billion.

Not only has Snapchat never made a profit, it has never generated ANY REVENUE. Oh, snap! How does that make any sense? Wait, maybe if I Google it …

Some losers …

Blockbuster all but busted. There was a time in many people's lives that a trip to Blockbuster to pick up movies (and another one to return the darn things) was a weekly occurrence.

Now Blockbuster's few remaining stores in the U.S. are being closed, its DVD mail service is ending, and it will exist only as part of Dish Network's streaming service as Blockbuster Online. It's hard to believe that just five years ago, Blockbuster offered $1.35 billion to buy — wait for it — Circuit City. Maybe both these brands could be featured on a special episode of “Pawn Stars” (speaking of rising brands). “Hey, I found this old brand in my attic — what will you give me for it?”

OfficeMax and Office Depot merge their problems. As with most “mergers,” the bigger company (Depot) actually bought the smaller company (Max). Both brands have struggled to compete with industry leader Staples, as well as Amazon and other online retailers.

And while the changeover in graphic identity to Office Depot for all stores shouldn't be overly traumatic, the real issue is whether the now-larger Office Depot brand can find ways to grow. Its management cites the greater buying power the company will have with suppliers, but as business super-consultant Peter Drucker often pointed out, greater efficiency is not a true business strategy. After all, as with many retailers, Office Depot and its competitors are selling the same pens, paper and toner.

The real branding question is, why should a customer buy from it, other than low price? Not so easy, is it, OfficeMax/Depot?

Finally …

What day is it? Let's give an honorable mention for ingenuity to Geico, the insurance marketing wizards, which briefly caught Allstate for second-largest car insurer earlier this year. It is a perennially improving brand, but its “Hump Day” commercial with a talking camel has to be one of the funniest, most-talked-about commercials of the last several years.

The insurance category has become filled with humorous campaigns, including Allstate's Mayhem character and the Farmer's Insurance professor, but Geico continues to put out multiple campaigns that make us chuckle while imprinting its “15 minutes could save you …” — well, you know. We all do.

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via www.taylorbrandgroup.com.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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