Does Face-Time Mean Revenue Time?

I’m always intrigued by companies that are able to promote and market without direct price cuts, especially during a time of declining demand.

The recession has wiped out a large amount of business travel, particularly international travel, and those who are still allowed to get their passports stamped find themselves traveling coach, even on long overseas flights.  This poses a significant problem for airlines who make excellent margins on high-paying business travelers, especially those in business and even first class.  And online meeting tools such as WebEx and GoToMeeting are making it easier for remote productivity.  What to do?

One simple answer is to cut the price, but that doesn’t address the root cause of why cash-strapped companies have eliminated or curtailed business travel in the first place.  A more sophisticated approach is to figure out a way to use this challenging economic climate for trial generation and customer retention so that the airline is better positioned when the economy rebounds.  British Airways has come up with something clever, taking the idea of government stimulus and bailout spending and applying the concept for its own purposes with a new marketing program.

The airline commissioned research by the Harvard Business Review (2,200 business people) and found that 95 percent  believe that face-to-face meetings are key to success in building long-term relationships, and 87 percent agree face-to-face meetings are essential for “sealing the deal.”  More than half of those surveyed said recent restrictions on business travel have hurt their business.

In an effort to encourage more business travel, BA has developed “Face-to-Face,” a contest promotion targeting small to medium sized businesses (500 employees or less).  The cornerstone of the program is the “Business Opportunity Grant,” with 100 winners receiving the following suite of business services:

  • British Airways airfare for 10 round-trip Club World business class flights.
  • 5 free British Airways World Cargo freight shipments of up to 500 kilos to worldwide destinations
  • $1000 toward accommodation at Courtyard by Marriott
  • 5 Regus Businessworld Gold Cards providing access to business lounges worldwide
  • Canon PIXMA MX860 Wireless Office All-In-One Printer

You have to work for your money, though.  Companies enter online and need to write essays about their objectives for 2010 and how a grant would help grow their business.

British Airways Ad - WSJ 15 September 2009

Advertisement in The Wall Street Journal – September 15, 2009


BA is using the new marketing to remind business travelers just how important the up close and personal touch is.  Simon Talling-Smith, Executive Vice President Americas, explained:  “Face-to-face interaction fuels business.  In these challenging times, you can keep relationships alive through faceless conference calls or live video conferences, but chances are they won’t grow much without some quality face time.  These human connections matter, and it is from those connections that business flows.”


Price is and will always be a critical part of the marketing mix.  Although sometimes necessary, marketers should strive to develop approaches beyond just straight price-cutting.  Try to create a price benefit that can help build your business longer-term instead of just getting a one-time sales spike.  It’s more powerful for building your brand and positioning if you can wrap the pricing mechanism within an activity that actually reinforces the key selling point of the product or service.  In the case of British Airways, they’re reminding a key user segment why personal interaction, and hence business travel, is often a key business criterion for success.  Business travel will return, even if it’s less than before.  The airlines that can do a better job to retain existing users and potentially develop new users will be better positioned to capitalize post-recession.

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.


Attack Season

Direct comparison/attack advertising isn’t new, but it seems to have taken center stage recently.

This isn’t a great surprise given the recession.  In tough economic times, let alone a deep recession, the focus can shift to hard fighting for market share points, even fractions of points, rather than growing market or category consumption; and innovation emphasis/investment may be curtailed as well.  Those who have experienced it firsthand know that market share battles can get nasty.

There are many different points-of-view on how to handle direct comparison/attack advertising, and maybe some of it depends on what company one was trained in and under what leaders one worked.  One school of thought says don’t mention the other brand in the advertising.  Another says the market leader shouldn’t engage in this tactic.  A third school of thought says this type of advertising can alienate consumers because they just see companies fighting, don’t know who is telling the truth, and really just want to know the positives about the product they buy.  At the same time, there is a role for hard-hitting advertising that helps sell products or services.  What’s the adventurous marketer to do?

For your viewing and contemplation pleasure today, here are three advertising examples that I’ve followed in the past few weeks.  One seems to be a running legal battle, one a court just ruled on, and in the third example the industry advertising watchdog just pronounced its decision.

The Hot Dog Battle

Since it’s summer, we’ll start with the great American hot dog.  According to recent sales data from IRI (Information Resources Inc.), Ball Park (Sara Lee) was the leader with about a three-point share advantage versus Oscar Mayer (Kraft).

Both companies have been busy in 2009.  In fact, Sara Lee sued Kraft in late May over hot dog taste test claims, explaining in its press release that “the suit claims Oscar Mayer is presenting a taste superiority claim against the entire line of Ball Park branded hot dogs that is both false and misleading to consumers.”  Ball Park Brand Director Chuck Hemmingway added:  ” Simply put, we believe that these untrue statements are all a bunch of bologna.”

Fast forward to this Kraft ad in the August issue of Relish, a Sunday newspaper magazine insert:

Hot Dog Ad

The Challenger Keeps Pressuring the Leader

The next advertsing example is Powerade (Coca-Cola) and Gatorade (PepsiCo).  Powerade recently launched a new version called Powerade ION4, containing four electrolytes, including calcium and magnesium.  Gatorade, which invented the sports drink category, has two electrolytes, but not calcium and magnesium.  Naturally, Powerade said it now had the superior drink, touting that it was “the complete sports drink.”

PepsiCo sued Coke in April.  Last week, in a court decision, Coke and Powerade prevailed.

Here’s one of the Powerade launch communications, which began in March:


My Soup Is Better Than Yours

Finally, Progresso (General Mills) and Campbell Soup have been battling since late last year, in part about new consumer trends in favor of fewer and easier to understand ingredients.  Harking back to when Chinese food and MSG were the negative craze, the salty ingredient was once again in the spotlight.  The top ad promotes Campbell’s Select Harvest line, while the bottom ad aims to boost Progresso.

Campbell Vs Progresso


This soup battle may have been decided by the industry’s advertising watchdog, the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau, which stated in an August 4th press release that General Mills should “discontinue comparative advertising that communicated inaccurate messages regarding Campbell soups and MSG content.”  Companies are not legally required to adhere to NAD decisions, though the trend is for compliance.  General Mills replied that “it will take NAD’s recommendations into account in future advertising.”


Hard-hitting advertising/marketing communications is one thing, and after all, the goal is for your company to win.  However, direct comparison/attack advertising is a whole other ball game, and must be approached somewhat differently than your regular advertising.  Such an effort must become an even greater collaboration between the marketing team, its agencies, legal, market research, and R&D in a thoughtful analysis that considers all potential scenarios.  Depending on the claims, manufacturing may need to participate as well.  And don’t forget that input from sales on potential customer ramifications can be helpful.  At the very least, make sure sales is properly prepared to answer customer questions about the ads so they’re not blindsided.  Depending on the brand/product line and how far you’re going, top management may need to be in the decision-making loop, or at least apprised of what’s going on.  The best guidance I can share, though, is to rely on solid marketing thinking and discipline if such an option arises.  What is the brand or product positioning?  What are the key benefits for the customer versus competition?  What are you trying to communicate and why will it give you a differentiating advantage?  Can you support the claim?  Can you stomach the publicity and potential legal action?  To borrow an old cliche, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.



Can Two Worlds Beat One City?

Tough times can make strange bedfellows.

In the United States, trade associations have become ubiquitous, with industry players pooling resources to champion issues for their collective benefit.  Think milk, pork, beef, and consumer electronics, just to name a few.

But two direct competitors, just six miles apart, with proud histories as separate Indian nations, joining forces to market themselves as a distinct entertaniment destination?  Now, that’s something altogether different.

Yet, that’s what Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos in southeastern Connecticut are doing.  With consumers tapped-out of discretionary entertainment funds and casino revenues declining in this difficult economy (Mohegan Sun’s net income fell 13.3% for its fiscal year 2008), the two competitors decided to team up and battle for a greater share of the region’s gaming market.  How?  They’ve targeted Atlantic City.

“We can drive more business together than we can individually,” Michael Speller, president of Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprises (owner of Foxwoods) told The Wall Street Journal.

This week, the former rivals launched an advertising barrage that uses billboard ads strategically located on major highways in New York City, Long Island, and northern New Jersey.  There’s also a Web site headlined “Two worlds beat one City”  (  Billboards feature that headline and two more that take direct aim at the Atlantic City gaming industry:  “Way beyond the boredwalk” and “Escape the Jersey snore.”  The ads were created by Adams & Knight, a Connecticut agency (

 Two Worlds Beat One City Billboard

Way beyond the boredwalk Billboard

Escape the Jersey snore Billboard

Mitchell Ettess, president and chief executive officer of Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, the owner of Mohegan Sun, speaking about the northern NJ/NYC market, told The Wall Street Journal that “we want to aggressively approach those folks and show them Connecticut is a better destination.”

According to the Norwich Bulletin, “the venture, slated to run through the end of September, is designed to position the region as a major resort and entertainment destination. The program will highlight amenities offered collectively by the resort casino properties as well as the local tourism and hospitality industries.”

Time will tell if the eight billboard ads and Web site can effectively reach and impact the desired target market.  Apparently, print ads are under consideration for a potential phase two effort.


Defining your market and competition is a strategic decision.  Sometimes the competition is more than your competitor.  It’s rare outside an industry association, and definitely a tricky dance, but just maybe your competitor can be your partner.  Be careful, though.  Be very careful!

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.