Has Mayor Rob Ford destroyed the Toronto brand?

Toronto the Good

I’m from Toronto, but I’m not really from here, if you know what I mean.  It seems most people in Toronto are from some place else.  That’s what makes it such a great place to live.  It’s visibly impossible to tell the tourists from the locals.  Toronto is a beautiful collection of cultural pockets, Italian, Greek, Jamaican, Chinese, South Asian, Brazilian, Jewish, Korean and everyone else woven throughout the city. If you love multiculturalism, Toronto is the place to be.  I love it. 

0704prideToronto has a vibrant LGBT community, with one of the world’s largest Gay Pride parades.  Our premier (equal to a governor in the US) is a lesbian and yet her sexual orientation didn’t really make the news cycle, before or after she came into office.  Isn’t that a healthy sign of a modern day world?

The hot political issues you hear in other parts of the world won’t be discussed at the lunch table in Toronto.  No one really talks about gay marriage, free healthcare, abortion and gun control.  We’ve implemented  solutions and kinda moved on past these issues.  Gay Marriage has been legal since 2003, Healthcare has been free since the 1950s, Politicians never talk about abortion anymore and in most provinces it’s fully funded under the healthcare laws.  We think guns are a problem, because that’s a big issue for us, but in reality, Toronto only has 50 murders per year compared to 500+ in Chicago (same sized cities).   

Toronto is different.  Toronto is very modern.  Toronto is good.   ‘Toronto the Good’ is one of the city’s many nicknames, first used in 1888 when there was a campaign for moral purification.”  Toronto is a fairly pure city.  

It would be safe to say that Rob Ford is a far cry from purification and not likely a fitting leader of “Toronto the Good”. 

So what is Toronto’s brand?  

Toronto is a well respected city, some love it, but almost all like it.  People see all the good, whether it’s multiculturalism or the fairly liberal virtues of the city we offer.  And clean comes up every time.

As for the Toronto tag line, I’m not sure we have one.  I’ve never heard one.   We have some good shopping, good collection of live theatre, a noteworthy ballet and a solid film festival.  We have the greatest hockey team on earth that last won in 1967.  We had the tallest structure (not building) in the world and maybe top 3 now.  We are close to Niagara Falls, a short two hours away.

Wow, who the heck are we?  

Here goes:  Toronto is a nice place to live.  

There I said it.  I’m sorry.  That’s really what the Toronto brand is all about.   We aren’t sexy, fun, wild or insane.  We are nice.  Polite.  Friendly.  Comfortable.  Courteous.  Safe.  And Clean.  

We are a nice place to live.  Embrace it.  

I guess that’s why Toronto never makes the US news.

Enter Stage Left:  Mayor Rob Ford

Well, this week Toronto finally got its wish.  We made the US news. 

hi-rob-ford-interactive-852For those who don’t know, Rob Ford, Toronto’s infamous mayor has admitted that yes, he smoked Crack last summer, but it was likely during one of his many drunken stupors.  His words.  It’s re-assuring that at least we know he was too drunk to remember.

Toronto has finally made the US news cycle and we are on every late night TV show.  I was watching Jimmy Kimmel last night and he just said “Rob Ford” without even saying “Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford”.  Wow, we have hit the big time.  We are famous finally.  Embrace this Toronto.  

Here is Toronto’s seven minutes of fame on the Daily Show with John Stewart.  Tourism Toronto could not afford this coverage.  


So what’s the damage to the Toronto brand?  

First of all, what’s the damage to the Rob Ford brand?  None.  People in Toronto have known Ford was like this for a long time.  So this is not really new to us.  Just good comedy.  Even back last year there was a fun list of 21 things about Rob Ford that will get a good chuckle.  “The 21 Things to Know About Rob Ford” New York Magazine   

There are contrasting Rob Ford poll numbers floating around that could give him room to repair this.  On the positive side, his job approval rating is up 5% compared to before the crisis.  But 60% of the people are saying he should resign.  So if he can find a way to put this behind him and create some “comeback story”, then his core supporters could help him to stay in office.  Check himself into re-hab, lose 30 pounds and come out a changed man.  Just follow the Bill Clinton playbook.

Good brands have to be either better or different.  In the high taxed political world of Toronto and Canada, Rob Ford occupies a very unique message in Toronto, that of “lower taxes”.  He’s almost the wrong guy with the right message.  If someone comes along with a “lower taxes” message but in a much refined image, then Rob Ford could be ousted.  No longer unique.  

As for the Toronto brand, I think it’s relatively safe.  I know local people are “embarrassed” and ranting on Facebook about what a disgrace this is to Toronto.  It won’t really damage the city.   Toronto has such a squeaky clean image, this will fade into the news cycle and won’t come back to haunt us.  In the last 20 years, we’ve seen so many politicians do some pretty bad stuff that we are long past that.   Nobody equates the bad behavior back to where they are from.  

With or without Rob Ford, Toronto will always be “Toronto the Good”



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email-Logo copyABOUT BELOVED BRANDS INC.:  At Beloved Brands, we are only focused on making brands better and making brand leaders better.Our motivation is that we love knowing we were part of helping someone to unleash their full potential.  We promise to challenge you to Think Different.  gr bbi picWe believe the thinking that got you here, will not get you where you want to go.  Our President and Chief Marketing Officer, Graham Robertson is a brand leader at heart, who loves everything about brands.  He comes with 20 years of experience at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke, where he was always able to find and drive growth.  Graham has won numerous new product and advertising awards. Graham brings his experience to your table, strong on leadership and facilitation at very high levels and training of Brand Leaders around the world.  To reach out directly, email me at graham.robertson@beloved-brands.com or follow on Twitter @grayrobertson1


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Ikea: “Long Live the Home” is Easy to Love

I’ve always loved Ikea.   As a kid, I’d pour through their catalogues reconfiguring my room in my mind.  Most recently, I took my 13-year-old girl to Ikea and she must have said about 38 times “I’m serious Dad, I want that.”   I can sympathize.

Ikea is fully committed to creating magic for their consumers, whether it is in product designs or in their advertising.    Whether it was the Ikea Lamp Ad (“Many of you feel bad for this lamp.  That is because you’re crazy…”) or the Subway ad where they took a plain and boring subway car and turned it into a lively home you could live in.   Ikea was in the same class as Volkswagen where they’d surprise and delight you on a regular basis.   However, over the last few years, the ads seemed to be missing the magic—I was trying to understand the symbolic nature of the ads, but it wasn’t really connecting with me.  The risk of talking to yourself is you don’t connect and you lose your beloved status.   Ask the Gap.

But this year, Ikea has begun to make their advertising comeback, thanks to the powers of Leo Burnett who can turn brand purpose into brand magic.   And while Ikea always had great ads, it was always hard to piece these ads together until “Long Live the Home” came along this year to establish a Big Idea in the marketplace.   The work is truly beautiful.

One of the hardest things to do is come up with a Big Idea for a Brand, especially in the case of a Branded House.   For a case like Ikea, the idea needs to be big enough to establish the brand idea, yet still sell kitchen cabinets, chairs and closets.   Internal conflict gets in the way of creating a Big Idea and standing behind it:  a) how much brand vs product b) how much equity vs selling c) who makes the ad and finally d) who pays for it internally—brand or product marketing?    You really need to commit to making it happen, and gain the full support across the organization—usually starting from the Top.   Big Ideas like “Think Different”, “Just Do It” and “I’m Loving It” are some of the best examples of Idea lines that connect the brand with consumers and even transform their way right into the culture of everything they do.  That’s where Ikea needs to go next.

There are many brand and business benefits to a Big Idea.   Big ideas should have a 5-10 year life, giving brands a consistent idea to connect behind.   It makes it easier to come back to the brief each year.  Also, there becomes a tone, a character and sometimes a series of devices that help frame the Idea that makes it easier to control how the brand shows up, over time, across various mediums and across the various business units.

Ikea follows the best in class use of the Big Idea, with a 60 second anthem style Ad to establish the Big Idea in the consumers mind, and then separate product ads across various mediums and built into the website, in-store and catalogue.   The TV ads are beautifully shot and connect on a deeply emotinal level, the print ads of high quality and connect.  I really like the unique product Ads they’ve done wheter it is TV ads that sell kitchens or print ideas that sell closets, while staying within the Big Idea.

However, I didn’t notice the idea making its way when I looked at the store level.  I’d love to see “Long Live the Home” be built right into the Ikea culture, brought down to the store level and even begin to influence their customer service.   The big idea becomes more than a tag line, but rather a promise the brand stands behind at every stage of the brand. Without the full comittment to brand all the way through the Love Curve, the magic of the great advertising and cool product designs sets up a High Promise that Ikea struggles to deliver at the experience stage and leaves consumers yearning for more.

That commitment to brand at every touch point has helped propel the Apple brand to the next stratosphere of Beloved Brand.  Ikea, you’ve done such a fantastic job with the advertising, my only ask is that you keep going to make it part of the brand. 

As a bonus for fans of past Ikea Advertising, here is Lamp and the Subway Spots.

New Loblaws At Maple Leaf Gardens: A Love Affair with Food.

New Loblaws store at Maple Leaf Gardens

There hasn’t been a line up at the Gardens for 10 years.  But there was today.  Maple Leaf Gardens is the heart and soul of many Torontonians and yet inside now sits a grocery store.

The launch of the new Loblaws in the heart of Toronto is clearly a stake in the ground to say “we love food”.   In fact, Loblaws screams it.   I must confess that I love grocery stores, big and small, everywhere on earth.  I’ve been known to sneak into grocery stores on my holidays just to look around—from Paris to Edinburgh, from Monaco to Auckland and from St. Petersburg to San Francisco.   And now in Toronto, I’ve seen the nicest grocery store I’ve ever seen.

From the turnaround in the 1980s, with Dave Nichol and the creation of the President’s Choice brand that enticed so many, Loblaws reached Beloved status, clearly ahead of any competitor in sight. Consumers admired Loblaws and the great things they were doing while competitors and vendors feared them.

The Beloved Loblaws brand of the 90s had fallen back to Like It, as everyone caught up. This new store is a stake in the ground that Loblaws can be loved again.

As Loblaws stumbled in the early 2000s, with mergers and internal politics, they became obsessed with beating Wal-Mart and started to look like Wal-Mart.   Before 2003, Loblaws and Westfair operated seperately.  With Wal-Mart getting stronger, the desire to be a Mass Merch was taking over.  They were no longer a grocery store and now clearly a Mass Merch store.  They launched glorious sized stores that they named “Real Canadian Super Store” which is about as generic of a name as you can get.  In fact, Wal-Mart calls theirs “Super Centre”–almost the same.   These mega sized stores are filled with cheaper versions of T-Fal pans and $15 blankets.   The Loblaws name was nowhere to be seen.  Why? Because of internal politics.    Competitors were catching up, Sobeys and Metro launched some pretty good copy cats.  Loblaws didn’t really do anything in a while.   And Loblaws was falling from Beloved back to Liked and it was now the same as the rest.  

Today, as I approached the new Loblaws store, the first thing I noticed was “Great Food” attached to the logo.  And once inside, that’s all I saw–Great Food.   I saw all the cupcakes, the cheeses and of course the Chocolate Mound where I bought some freshly carved slices of chocolate.

Chipping a piece of Chocolate from the Mound of Chocolate. Very fresh taste.

Everyone was making stuff:  freshly cooked chickens and freshly baked breads.  Rejoice in the love of food.  I kept saying “wow” at every turn.  The fresh bread, baked right before your eyes.   Most grocery stores say Fresh all the time, this one was showing it.

Loblaws took a giant step forward, a step back from liked towards beloved, helping to separate themselves from the competition.   And as I said many times in the 80s and 90s, “I can’t wait to see what Loblaws does next”.   Exciting.  

Here are some more photos of the New Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Wall of Cheese on display.

The most impressive signal of Fresh was that there must have been a hundred people in the process of making something.

First Line up at MLG since 1999.

Very beautiful lighting, feels European and Expensive

Vantage from above the fresh produce area.

Deli counter with fresh foods all around.

Old Seats from the Old Gardens. Golds were the best back then.

Holt Renfrew, A Beloved Brand trying to Be Liked By The Masses

“No one goes there anymore because it’s too crowded”  – Yogi Berra quote

The never-ending recession has every brand agonizing over decisions on a daily basis.   The biggest decision is around Price, and the need for volume balanced off against the perceptions of Brand Equity.

This past week, I was at Holt Renfrew, Canada’s answer to Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and Selfridges.  I’m not a big fan of Holts.  I wish I was a fan, but my Scottish blood makes me way too cheap to ever find something within a reasonable price range.   Well, guess what people?   Holt’s is now filled with items you can afford, and the place is packed.

At first glance, it appears as though Holt Renfrew is immune to the recession.  So I decided to join the crowd and look around.   I saw a Holt Renfrew branded travel beauty bag, which was a $100 value, but for sale at a price of only $25–and it even included a $10 bounce back coupon off my next purchase.   Perfect gift for my daughter.    Next, I walked past ladies winter hats, saw the perfect gift for my mom.  I flipped over the tag:  $25.  I even got the nice pink box to the put the hat in, which I think the box has even more prestige value than the money I paid.  I walked out with the nice big pink Holts bag, proudly walking along Bloor Street, knowing that everyone must have thought “wow, that guy has money”.   If only they knew, I spent 56 bucks, including GST.  It just seems wrong.

For those who want the $25 Make Up Bag, here’s the link and you better move fast: 


Did I mistakenly walk into the Bay, instead of Holts?  No, there’s no way the Bay would be dumb enough to sell a Travel Bag or a winter hat for only $25.   This is like getting a Mercedes for around $15,000 or staying at the Four Seasons Hotel for $59 a night.  It gives the masses a piece of luxury, but at a cost.

The short term attempt at sales gains is off-set by the longer term sales decline when your core customer stops coming.  For Holts, they’d have to sell 100 make up bags to the masses just to make up for the revenue lost from one $2500 dress from a core consumer.  And in terms of profitability, if we assume the dress has 40% margins and the make up bag only 10% margins, Holts would have to sell 400 make up bags to make up for that one dress.   And it gets even worse when the masses realize they still can’t afford to buy anything beyond these cheap and cheerful items.

Famous little blue box from Birks.

But we’ve seen this story before, in Birks.   Through the 1980s, Birks had grown to 225 stores, and was trying to be all things to all people.  You could walk into a Birks in Mississauga, put down $125 for some nice pearls and walk out with the little blue box, guaranteed to make any woman drool when she sees that box.  But in 1992, Birks declared bankruptcy–they went back to what made them famous and who they were.   They re-trenched so that all Birks locations were in special locations.  And you needed to save up so you could afford something to go in the pretty blue box.  They figured out that it’s ok if the masses drool, but can’t afford.

Holt Renfrew Pink bag carried with pride around Toronto.

As we’re in the midst of the debate around 99% vs 1%, Holts has to realize who they are and who they cater to.  Every time they dip into the 99%, they lose a consumer in the 1%.   There has to be some reverence the masses have when they walk past the windows at Holts.   They have to feel a bit scared when they look at the price tags.   They have to be worried they are out of their element.   If that Pink Holts bag I so proudly displayed quickly becomes a commodity, then the core audience–the one percenters–will find somewhere else to shop.

As Holt’s looks to see if they can see the end in sight to the recession, they might not realize that they are already seeing the beginning of the end in sight of their status as a Beloved Brand.  The lesson:  trying to be liked by everyone might mean you end up loved by no one.  

Listerine PocketPaks: A case of Becoming a Beloved Brand Through Execution That People Love

It was 11 years ago this month, that I launched the Listerine PocketPaks brand here in Canada.  It was one of the most exciting launches I’ve been a part of–with an amazing consumer response.  Good memories.

We knew we had something different and wanted to take advantage of that difference.   As we brainstormed, we talked about how movies get such quick awareness and desire.   We wanted that–and used that as our model for the launch.

About 4 weeks before the launch, we got devastating news that the launch would be delayed three months.  All the media and sampling programs had already been set, and distribution was committed.   This could destroy our brand before it even launched.  Instead, the delay helped because with all the media and sampling programs pre-launch, it actually created such a pent up demand for the brand, that once we launched, we hit a 55% share in the first month.

The key programs for Listerine PocketPaks.

  • DRIVE TRIAL IN SOCIAL PLACES:  With a product like this, you had to try it to believe it.  We sampled all summer in events like film festivals, food events and carraces–and the theme of the sampling was Aliens from another planet, with attractive 20-somethings in tight blue silk, ready to fully engage in conversation about this product from out of no where.  We gave out full pack sizes, and we know from tracking that people shared them with an average of 13 people.   For every million samples we gave out, we were reaching 13 million people.   They spread the word for us.

    Sampling Events, with Aliens from outer space. Dropped 1 million full size packs before the product hit the shelf, creating pent up demand.

  • DRIVE AWARENESS IN SOCIAL PLACES:   With movies as our inspiration, our Advertising took a very movie feel–launching an 89 second movie ad in theatres that summer.   One other convention we broke was we didn’t say the brand name until second 46, so that we could fully engage the consumer before they knew it was an ad.  Lots of pizazz, but in reality the ad is all about the 5 step demo of using the product.   The advertising results were very strong on breakthrough, brand link was huge, made the brand seem different and persuasion were very strong.

    The way movies marketed new products was our inspiration. And made it's way into our execution.

With all the activity through the summer, there was such pent up demand, that we hit a 55% share of the mint market in the first share period, and maintained a #1 share position throughout the first three years.    We over-delivered our forecasts by over 50%.  Stores could not keep this in stock.   We won the Product of the Year award and the Advertising won a Cassie for Best Advertising.  And on top of that we were the enviable “most stolen product in Wal-Mart”.

The ending of the story is not so pretty.   Like most confectionary products, it had a spike early on, but we weren’t able to sustain.  From a production point of view, they never figured out a way to get that damn strip in the pack for a reasonable cost.  Compared to food or confectionary, the margins were very strong at 60%.   But compared to the other healthcare margins of 75% or 85%, Pfizer could not justify the investment to keep the sales strong.   Different brands tried to use it on other healthcare products as a delivery mechanism.  But it never caught on.   Listerine PocketPaks captured the imagination of consumers in the summer of 2000, with marketing execution all designed to make it a beloved brand.

You’ll still see it around some places, but we haven’t fulfilled that one consumer’s belief that he’ll never have gum or mints again.

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