Two companies have pulled themselves out of a pretty narrow corner this past year and I have to give them a big hand: They are Blockbuster Video and AT&T.
A year ago, I really wondered if Blockbuster would even be around for another 12 months. Back then, the accessibility, ease of use and shrinking pricepoints of cable's on-demand programs, online downloads and the growing popularity of Netflix seemed to be shredding the video rental giant to bits. The stores were starting to look dingy. The parking lots were empty on the weekends. The windows were getting taped over by really cheap looking promotional posters. No one I know even bothered to rent movies there anymore. The end seemed near. Very near.
But Blockbuster bounced back. They took a moment to take a look at the situation. They realized what they were up against. They adapted to the new landscape. They changed their ways and fought back for our business. And while the verdict isn't out yet on whether or not Blockbuster will make it in the end (or perhaps even come out on top), the way in which they executed their comeback campaign was worthy of a standing ovation.
The ads are fun, engaging, and most imporantly SIMPLE. By simple, I mean clear. They tell a story that even a four year old would get. (Simplicity was one of the elements they absolutely needed to hit a bullseye with, and they did.)
Basically, Blockbuster decided to become more like Netflix... but by keeping the stores, ended uppoviding a "best of both worlds" type of service: You want to do everything by mail? Cool. We can do that. You want to be able to return your movies at a store to speed up the process? No problem. We can do that too.
Rocket science it isn't, but it didn't need to be. Blockbuster didn't need to reinvent the wheel. It just needed to understand it, grab hold of it and take it over, which it did. So far so good. I haven't had a chance to look at any numbers yet, but I would be willing to bet that Blockbuster is a lot better off today than it was this time last year, and for a company we had all but given up on, that's a hell of a comeback.
The other company is AT&T. The telecom giant that owned the 80's seemed to have kind of fallen behind over the last few years. With wireless companies like Verizon, Cingular and even youth-friendly T-Mobile hitting home runs left and right, terms like "relevance" came to mind whenever AT&T's name was brought up... which wasn't often, but... that's my point. To make matters worse, the growth of free web based aps like Skype weren't helping either. (My parents live in France, my brother on an island in the Indian ocean, and my sister in Brazil. Do you really think we waste money on long distance phone calls when we can video-conference for free?)
What I am trying to say is that despite its size, history, infrastructure and resources, AT&T appeared to be a bit like a dinosaur compared to the hip, fast moving companies that obviously "got it."
I kept asking myself... how are these guys connecting the world again?
Then AT&T did something strange. They changed their logo. They changed their name from AT&T
... and I have to admit that at the time, this type of exercise seemed to me like a complete waste of time. There was AT&T, seemingly a sinking ship (albeit a slowly sinking ship, but yeah, the writing was on the wall), spending money on a fresh coat of paint. At the time, it didn't really make sense.
Rebranding for the sake of rebranding was completely worthless without something substantial... like real change.
But then AT&T bought the popular wireless provider Cingular. Yeah, the one with the fun little orange logo and the fresh, youthful image...
... and the exclusive contract with iPhone.
At the time, I hoped that this was just a ploy. That since AT&T couldn't make it work, they had decided to buy a popular wireless brand, and just give it a big infusion of cash and resources to make investors happy... but then I found out that Cingular was going to actually BECOME at&t.
What?! Had at&t just spent all of this money acquiring a relevant brand only to... kill it and turn it into... at&t
? No way. At the time, it didn't make sense.
Words like "ego" came to mind.
In the first few weeks, the whole affair threatened to leave a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. What in the world was at&t doing?!
That is, until the TV adds started coming out. You know, the ones in which the Cingular logo spins around the glob and morphs into the at&t logo? Yeah. Those. Like Blockbuster, these ads are simple, clear, to the point... and yeah, effective.
These simple little ads single-handedly turned things around by telling the story of what at&t was trying to accomplish. They turned at&t from a seemingly bloated, irrelevant, purchase-happy mega corporation into a smart, forward-thinking, fresh company again, and that, my friends, is no small feat.
And a big hurray for succesful Marketing Communications.
at&t didn't need a dancing chicken for this one. They didn't need talking monkeys. (Not yet anyway.) They needed a campaign that revitalized their brand and made all of the strategic moves they made in the last two years make sense. Hell, the campaign needed to make these changes exciting, and it succeeded in doing that as well.
A lot of people in this business think that ads exist to sell products. To some extent, that's true... But the true purpose of advertising is to a) create an awareness (for a product or brand), b) establish a relationship (between a consumer and that product or brand) , and c) trigger a reaction in that consumer. In the best cases, that reaction could be desire, it could be excitement, it could be a sense of kinship or a dozen other reactions that will help that consumer adopt the advertised product or brand as one of his/her brands of choice.
Everyone hopes that advertising sells products, but... advertising is only part of the purchasing decision process. A small part.
Unless you're pushing $0.99 Whoppers or something.
Where at&t and Blockbuster score here is that they used advertising as more than just a selling tool. They used it as an effective marketing communications tool. With their ads, they reached vasts amounts of people and started telling them their story again. One ad at a time. One spot at a time. One little jingle at a time.
In the light of the changes taking place with their companies, they opted to use mass media to clarify their plans and rejuvenate their brands.
A year ago, both of these once great brands seemed to be circling the drain of obsolescence. Today, they seem to both be making unbelievable comebacks.
I don't know about you, but from where I'm standing, it's pretty damn impressive.
There are two marketing/branding/communications team sout there somewhere doing a hell of a good job for these folks, and everyone associated with these projects is going to have something to be VERY proud of for the rest of their lives.
Well done, folks. I hope that business schools and marketing communications programs the world over allow their students to study what you've accomplished here. It's nothing short of perfect. :)
Have a great weekend, everyone.photo by kamirkriza.