Author Archives: Evelyn Starr

We Laughed, We Cried, It Was Better Than Cats

L'Oreal ad with Cybil Shepard Because I'm worth itOne endearing quality about my sister when we were growing up was that she sometimes cried at TV commercials.  There was one in particular where a large litter of puppies greeted children at their grandmother’s house that got her to well up.  I was not surprised when, as an adult, she got a dog.

I teared up at commercials too when I was a child, and felt funny about it until I noticed her doing it.

I still shed tears at TV ads once in a while.  And not just when they are maddeningly bad advertising.

Marketing that packs an emotional appeal is powerful.  Brands that successfully tap the emotion they evoke stand apart from their competitors and establish a connection with their audience.

Consider some of the most memorable taglines:

“Plop plop fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is.”
“Just do it.”
“Because you’re worth it.”
“The ultimate driving machine.”
“Pepperidge Farm remembers.”
“This is your brain.  This is your brain on drugs.  Any questions?”
“The happiest place on earth.”
“Virginia is for lovers.”
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”
“Calgon, take me away!”

In a notable twist, marketing is something the government has actually done well for recruiting purposes:

“We’re looking for a few good men.”
“Be all you can be.”
“It’s not a job.  It’s an adventure.”

To make a memorable and lasting brand impression, it is not enough to understand how your brand serves your customers practically.  For your brand to soar, you have to understand how it serves them emotionally.

And you have to get the emotion right for your message to resonate.

One tagline that strikes me as off and risky is “I’m lovin’ it.”  I, and many McDonald’s stockholders, are most definitely not lovin’ it.

Marketing history is littered with emotional branding misfires.   The standout in this category is New Coke, which was a sweeter version of the nearly hundred-year-old secret formula when it launched on April 23, 1985.  Advertising for the new Coke proclaimed “The Best Just Got Better” and “Change for the best!”

New Coke Ad from 1985 Change for the bestBut customers did not want change.  They were attached and devoted to the old Coke.  The switch provoked widespread consumer protests and hoarding.

On July 11, 1985 Coca Cola management relented and brought back the old Coke as Coke Classic.  Now the only place you can find New Coke is on e-Bay.

And it’s still unopened.

On Coca Cola’s website, the company claims that those who chastise its New Coke decision forget the context – that the company had watched its market share slip to Pepsi over 15 years.  New Coke was an effort to stem the tide and represented what CEO Roberto Goizueta called “taking an intelligent risk.”

I call it a company so desperate to reverse its share slide that it never explored consumers’ emotions related to the brand.

Other, more recent emotional marketing misfires include:

  • Huggies’ campaign in 2012 showing Dads as inept caregivers;
  • Bic for Her pens in pink and purple and “designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand”; and
  • Apple’s U2 album giveaway that struck customers as “worse than spam.”

What the marketers above thought would be funny, special, and generous instead offended, mocked and felt intrusive.

Miscalculating customers’ emotions is costly not only in financial terms but also in goodwill and trust.  Customers buy your brand because they think you understand them.  A misfire is a loud pronouncement that you don’t.

So how do you get the emotion right?

  1. Talk to your customers about their experience with your brand. When do they use it?  How do they use it?  What prompts them to think of it?
  2. Identify the emotion your brand delivers. Is it relief?  Empowerment? Control? Confidence?  Nostalgia?  Reassurance?
  3. Acknowledge and incorporate the emotion in your marketing communications.
  4. Test your marketing communications before launching them. Make sure consumers perceive the message as you intended or tweak it until it resonates well.

Like the affinity you feel for a good friend, emotional branding can make a big difference in the way customers feel about your brand vs. a competitor.  Take the time to infuse your marketing with emotional appeal to make that connection and grow your brand.

Do you recall a TV ad that moved you emotionally?  Please share it in the comments.

Posted in Brand Storytelling, Brand Strategy | Leave a comment | Back to top

Whole Foods Frays Organically

Whole Foods Responsibly Grown LogoHave you ever wished for a personal chef?

Well for two months I had one.

In autumn 1999, after years of working as a chef on yachts, in restaurants and on catering gigs, my sister-in-law Rachael decided to transition to a new career:  web master.  Her transition involved relocating to the Boston area and earning Microsoft certifications.

Rachael moved to her parents’ house in Needham while she studied for her certifications and waited for her new Watertown condo to be ready.  Her parents decided to move to Cape Cod two months before her move-in date though.  So my husband Dan and I invited her to live with us.

Rachael had begun contracting for the Massachusetts Department of Education and began to commute to their office in Malden from our house in Natick.

One of the first nights she arrived home, she saw me in the kitchen, four months pregnant and feeding my 20-month-old son dinner in his high chair.  There was no evidence of other meal preparation.

She then uttered those four little words that pregnant women love to hear at the end of the day: “Let me start dinner.”

Within a week I dared not go to the supermarket without getting a list of ingredients from Rachael first.  And Rachael not only cooked, she taught me to cook too.

She taught me the perfect timing for hard boiled eggs.
She taught me how to roast a chicken.
She taught me how to sear meat on the stove and finish it in the oven.

I went to Whole Foods to purchase beef and poultry.  Whole Foods was the gold standard for organically grown, environmentally considerate and health conscious food, and the only one offering those benefits at the time.

Today the market place is different.  Most supermarkets offer a natural foods section and at least some organic produce.

Whole Foods is facing a moment where it needs to reassert its market leadership.  But instead of rising to the challenge, the company seems to be backpedaling on core brand tenets.

Whole Foods recently announced a new “Values Matter” campaign.  Three of their eight core values are:

  • “selling the highest quality natural and organic products available,”
  • “creating ongoing win-win partnerships with our suppliers,” and
  • “satisfying, delighting, and nourishing our customers.”

And yet.

  • Whole Foods just launched a new system they call “Responsibly Grown” to grade produce on environmental and sourcing factors that are not included in organic farming. Under this new good-better-best system, conventionally grown produce can rate higher than organic products.  Organic farmers feel jilted.
  • Co-CEO Walter Robb announced that to appeal to millennials, consumers born between 1980 and 2000, Whole Foods would launch a separate chain of stores featuring “modern, streamlined technology, innovative design, and a curated selection” of lower-priced organic and natural foods. Because the rest of us prefer the dowdy, disorganized stores with overpriced products?
  • Last year several California communities fined Whole Foods $800,000 for overcharging for prepared foods by including the weight of plastic containers and by mislabeling the weight of the food as heavier than it actually was.  The New York Department of Consumer Affairs accused Whole Foods of similar practices on June 24, prompting the Co-CEOs to issue a video apology on July 2.
  • The House Rabbit Society and PETA are protesting Whole Foods’ pilot program to market rabbit meat. Activists are appalled by the company’s effort to encourage consumption of the third most popular household pet after dogs and cats.  Demonstrations have occurred at stores across the country.

There is nothing “highest quality,” “win-win,” or “delighting” about any of this behavior.

Whole Foods rating system Good logoWhole Foods is a 35-year-old brand in adolescence, feeling the pressure to conform (by marketing more conventionally grown products to lower prices and compete) and exhibiting the self-centered actions of a company that wants to redefine long-held perceptions of produce quality.  Perceptions that it helped create.

And like a teenager with these tendencies, Whole Foods is spending a lot of time explaining itself and jeopardizing our trust.

Whole Foods Rating System Best LogoThe market has noticed.  The company’s stock price is near its 52 week low.  Management needs to avoid being solely focused on another of the company’s core values “creating wealth through profits and growth.”

The way forward for Whole Foods is not to emulate traditional supermarkets just because they are moving into the natural and organic space that Whole Foods owned for so long.  This is commoditizing, not differentiating.

Whole Foods made its name as a trailblazer, not a follower.  They need to blaze a new trail by revisiting the problem they solve for consumers.  It was never just about access to organic and natural food.

There are plenty of avenues among those eight core values to redefine how they compete.

Whole Foods’ flagship store in Dedham, Massachusetts has seized on this idea, focusing on nourishing customers and healthy eating education.  They have a Culinary Center that offers regular cooking classes and can host events.  They’ve created a Meet-up group that has grown to 218 members in just a year.

While not every Whole Foods store may be equipped to offer a full-fledged culinary center, with creativity they could create a similar experience that would get customers in the store and offer them a unique experience.

As Rachael would tell you, people experience joy and develop an affinity for you when you cook for them.

Posted in Brand Growth & Rebranding, Brand Strategy, Brands In Adolescence | Leave a comment | Back to top

Car Talk

Silver Honda Pilot

Photo credit: Fiona Traub

I grew up in a family that bought large used cars.  My dad was good at finding sturdy, reliable cars that owners no longer wanted once they had logged 40,000 miles.  He bought the ones that a local mechanic blessed and could fix for a couple hundred dollars.  Then we drove them another 80,000 – 120,000 miles.

So it may not come as a surprise to you that I am driving a 2006 Honda Pilot with 113,000 miles right now.

And like most cars that have traveled that far, it is showing a little wear. The paint on the fender has chipped off in several places.  A few rust spots dot the bottom of the doors.

But the car has become an old friend.  It has served us well for over nine years.

I envisioned it taking my family through college drop-offs and pick-ups and being there for my kids to drive.

Since the car rides well, I thought it would just need some care to go for another few years.  Recently I invested in the car’s insides – new front and rear brakes, new timing belt.

Then I investigated repairing the outside.

I walked into the Coach and Carriage Auto Body shop in Natick Center and asked about getting my car painted.  An appraiser named Joe introduced himself and said, “Let me see what I can do to talk you out of this.”

Before he even saw the car.

We went outside and Joe circled the car twice.  Then he said, “Here’s the thing.  Rust is like cancer.  The little bit you see on the doors outside is just the part that’s visible, but inside there is much more. If I repair and paint your car now, it will cost $4000 – $5000, and the rust will return in six months.  You won’t be happy with it.”

Joe the car oncologist gave my car doors about two years to live. After I recovered from the news, I told him of my hopes for the car.

Joe said, “This is a great car for the kids. It’s reliable and safe. Keep it for them. You can always replace a door if you need to. Take the money you would pay to repair the outside and put it toward a new car for you.”

But Joe doesn’t sell new cars.  He was turning away my business.

Why would he do that?

Because Joe understood that the Coach and Carriage Auto Body brand is not about repairing and painting cars.  It’s about making the owners happy with their cars by restoring their luster.

And if I was not going to be happy with my car, that would not be good business for Coach and Carriage Auto Body.

Turning away my business was a good business decision for Joe.  He did what was right for the customer and not what would fill his coffers in the short term.

Do I trust Joe now?  Absolutely.  Will he be the one I call next time I need auto body work?  Yes.  Am I likely to recommend him?  You bet.

In fact, I am likely to tell this story and rave about him to hundreds of my closest newsletter subscribers.

The positive word-of-mouth will likely bring him more business than my one car repair would.

To build your brand’s reputation and generate customer enthusiasm that prompts word-of-mouth marketing:

  • Know the problem that your brand solves for your customers. It is unlikely to be the provision of a particular product or service.  Joe knew that the problem that brought customers in was that something adverse had made them unhappy with their cars.  They looked to Coach and Carriage to make them happy again.
  • Identify all the possible solutions your brand can provide well. This often leads to ideas for new products and services.
  • Forgo the quick sale in favor of doing what is right for the customer. If your brand can’t solve their problem, help them find other solutions.  Joe did this for me by listening to my problem, supporting my idea of keeping the Pilot for my kids and suggesting that I put the funds I would have spent at his shop toward a new car.  One that would make me happy.

On behalf of his auto body shop, Joe provided the solution that his brand offers.  He just didn’t make any money doing it.  While this is not a sustainable model for every interaction, it was a wise choice for my case.

Thanks to Joe, I’m now in the market for a new small SUV.  Any recommendations?

Posted in Brand Strategy, Marketing Insights | 2 Comments | Back to top

Don’t You Forget About Your Brand

Ally Sheedy's character in The Breakfast Club, before and after her makeover.

Image source:

This past March marked the 30th anniversary of the movie The Breakfast Club

For those of you who might not know it, the movie portrays the gathering of five stereotypical high schoolers (a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal) for a day-long detention on a Saturday.  Over the course of the day, social barriers recede.  The teenagers share insights that both explain their stereotypes and undermine them at the same time.

The movie struck a chord with adolescents everywhere when it was released, and continues to engage succeeding generations.  My husband and I watched it with our teenagers a couple of years ago. read more

Posted in Brand Growth & Rebranding, Brands In Adolescence, Marketing Insights | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment | Back to top

Life is Good Goes for Grand

Original Jake drawing from Life is Good,  brand in adolescence

Original Jake Drawing
Image source:

While many families chose warm weather destinations for the February school vacation, my son AJ and I took a road trip to Vermont and upstate New York.  No, we are not skiers.

Why would we choose a subzero-temperature week to travel to these northern locales?

To look at colleges.

AJ is a junior in high school.  Though he will not be applying to colleges until next fall, we are visiting now so that he will know where he wants to apply then. read more

Posted in Brand Growth & Rebranding, Brands In Adolescence | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment | Back to top

15 Tips for Using LinkedIn Updates to Grow Your Network

LinkedIn Rolodex

Image credit: Social Media Quickstarter, now known as

Do you remember the card game Concentration?  Or maybe you called it Memory or Pairs?

To start, all the cards were face down in rows.  You chose two cards to turn over.  If you made a match, finding two aces for example, you kept those cards and could turn over two more.  If you did not make a match, your turn ended and the next person tried.

The person with the most matches won.

Early on the game was a real memory tester, because you had to remember the cards that you saw based on a single short exposure. read more

Posted in Marketing Insights, Marketing Tools & Tactics | 2 Comments | Back to top

What a Croc

Crocs in all rainbow colors

Image source:

I was a persistent child.  How persistent?  Let’s just say that several times during my childhood my father wished, “May you have a child just like you.”

Well, I did.  Two of them.

On a Monday in early January 2004 my daughter Fiona came home from preschool and demanded to know when we were going to Disney World.  Several of her friends had gone during the December break, so when were we going?  My husband Dan and I just smiled and said we did not know.

She inquired again on Tuesday.  On Thursday.  On Saturday.  On Sunday.  Our 5-year-old son AJ began asking as well. read more

Posted in Brand Growth & Rebranding, Brands In Adolescence | Tagged , | 2 Comments | Back to top

How To Beat Email Triage

Evelyn in simulated skydiving chamber

Photo credit: Daniel J. Traub

For the holidays, I unplugged for 9 days.  I went on a cruise with my husband, kids, siblings, their spouses and kids, and my parents.  We were a group of 14.

Depending on your family, that may not sound relaxing to you.  But it was for me.

I participated in trivia competitions with family members (and won a couple). I read. I ate. I danced. I flew in a simulated skydiving chamber. read more

Posted in Marketing Insights, Marketing Tools & Tactics | Leave a comment | Back to top

Brand Storytelling Lessons From Harry Chapin

Harry Chapin Heads & Tales album coverI missed seeing Harry Chapin in concert by three days.

If you don’t know Harry Chapin by name, you would probably recognize one of his songs, particularly Cat’s in the Cradle or Taxi.

I was at a summer program in East Brunswick, New Jersey with 21 other teenagers in July 1981.  We had tickets to see Harry perform on Thursday July 19thHe died in a car crash on the Long Island Expressway on Monday July 16th en route to a benefit concert at Eisenhower Park’s Lakeside Theatre.  He was 38 years old. read more

Posted in Brand Storytelling, Marketing Insights, Marketing Tools & Tactics | 2 Comments | Back to top

Holiday Card Dos and Don’ts

holiday-dos-and-donts-image-280x204Have you heard a holiday song on the radio yet?

It always amazes me how early the holiday music starts.  I am among the 81 percent of Americans who don’t want to hear it in stores before Thanksgiving.

But while I am not ready to endure endless loops of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” I am already thinking about my business holiday cards. read more

Posted in Marketing Insights, Marketing Tools & Tactics | 8 Comments | Back to top