Public Relations

What’s in a Name? Kraft’s Distasteful Rebranding

Kraft, one of the great global brands, wants its snacks business to be known henceforth as Mondelez International.

Yes, Mondelez. That’s “Mond” from the Latin for world. And “Delez,” which rhymes with disease.

Pronounced “mohn-dah-LEEZ,” the new name is actually supposed to suggest delicious world, but the concoction is unappetizing.  The P.R. brigade rushed to explain that the company’s products aren’t going to be rebranded. Mondelez will just be the corporate name, in the background, on the back of the package. In small type. You’ll hardly notice it.

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The Devolution From News to Newest

The news media has fallen under the boot of “the forces of entertainment” said a prominent senator this week. Huh? Was this a battle that we missed somehow on one of those 500 specialized channels we can’t find the time to watch? Kiddo, that war is long over. Entertainment won.

“Instead of a watchdog that is a check on the excesses of government and business, we have the endless barking of a 24-hour news cycle,” scolded Jay Rockefeller in a hearing that was supposed to be about retransmission rights between broadcasters and cable operators. He stayed on point, however, with his argument that consumers shouldn’t have to pay (and dearly) for hundreds of channels they don’t care to watch and that swamp the mindscape with bread-and-circuses triviality and ideological hokum. He noted the average monthly cost of cable service increased at triple the rate of inflation between 1995 and 2008, according to the Federal Communications Commission.. []

In any event, the yapping is going to just get more intense. Any day now expect to witness the debut of the The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s newest creature, eager to show its 24/7 social media pedigree by being available only on tablets like the iPad (a “game changer” declared the savvy old mogul during an earnings call in August).

“We think it’s a great format because the tablet in general lends itself to a type of journalism that is really new,” said News Corp. heir James Murdoch.

So just what is this new type of journalism? Reports [] have it that The Daily is experimenting with an investigative secret weapon called a “quadricopter” — basically a drone with cameras that can be operated with an iPad touch screen. No celebrity will be safe. Just another example, Senator, of how the newest thing (a.k.a., technology) trumps news.

Let’s Make P.R. Stand for “Promoting Responsibility”

Before the Deepwater Horizon destroyed its credibility and balance sheet, BP spent millions on green-related imagery: donations to environmental groups, solar panel experimentation, speeches on safety. It redid its logo to look like a green and yellow sunflower and cleverly recast its initials to stand for a new slogan: “Beyond Petroleum.”

We know how well that worked out. We got the Gulf disaster anyway. Not because it was inevitable. No, a million spent on a better blowout preventer would have avoided that – a mere drop compared to the gallons of money expended on commercials and lobbyists and image consultants since the accident. Lesson: Integrity is cheaper than bullshit.

Arguably, the company did its damnedest to stop the leak and continues to clean up the aftermath (at least on the visible surface). But wouldn’t the global behemoth, and the planet on which it resides, have been better off if its catch phrase had been retooled as “Beyond Publicity”? Or “Beyond Perfidy”?

There’s nothing wrong with salesmanship. It’s a necessary lubricant. Most relationships, good ones too, get their start with a little courtship. But increasingly in this hyper-marketing age (commercial, political, religious, and otherwise) we have to be on the lookout for those whose game is deception. Or even self-deception, for believing something is true doesn’t make it so – viz, all the trendy “green” campaigns we’ve witnessed recently.

When you come across falseness, you don’t necessarily need to crusade against it. You have other things to do. But you should refuse to feed the beast with your business. As Thoreau said, “It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support.”

Shun the lobbying polluters, the Trickle-Down tricksters, the Wall Street thieves, and their ilk. Deny them your eyes, ears, mind, money and votes as much as possible. Do not lend them your sacred trust and credulity. Give a new meaning to P.R. by putting your own spin on it: promoting responsibility.

Finally a Use for the Internet: Complaining With Effect

Social media is attracting more and more older people. Social media is great for complaining. … Coincidence?

I kid. But really, a phenomenon is afoot. A recent survey conducted for the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that social media use among those 50 and older zoomed from 22 percent in 2009 to 42 percent by 2010.

That study found that Internet users aged 50-64 almost doubled their use of social media to 47 percent (with one in five saying they check social networks daily, also up 100 percent). Social network use among those 65+ doubled to 26 percent (with those checking in daily more than tripling to 13 percent). Meanwhile those 18-29 (a.k.a. the youngsters) are slowing down (if only because they’re already such heavy users). Social networking among that group went from 76 percent in April 2009 to 86 percent in May 2010.

A separate Pew study (they’re very inquisitive people) found that Americans ages 70-75 who were online increased from 26 percent in 2005 to 45 percent in 2009.

[Update: The average age of a Facebook user is 38 years old, according to statistics compiled by Flowtown and publicized by Pamorama, For a company that started exclusively with college students, more than 60 percent of its users are now older than 38. The average Twitter user is 39, with 64 percent being 35 or older.]

Back in the day, with dates designated as b.c. (before computers), people would complain by writing a letter. Then as civilization progressed, they would make a phone call – and talk to a real person. In their own country. Eventually, however, the computer age made it possible to be ignored in a whole new way: email.

Companies might be wistful for those days. Facebook and Twitter in particular have empowered consumers and voters to view their opinions very quickly and often with great effect. Stories abound of people impotently complaining in (increasingly) old fashioned ways – and then getting a corporate response within minutes after using Twitter or YouTube instead. United Airlines mangled Dave Carroll’s guitar and then relegated him in customer service purgatory. So he created a music video that attracted nine million viewers on the Internet. And then he quickly got relief from UA.

[Update: The wax of social networks and wane of email will likely continue, and thus have consequences for marketing and customer service. The same statistics compiled by Flowdown cited above indicate that those age 18-29 use social media as much as email to communicate – and those under 18 prefer social networks over email.]

Customer service, long seen as a “cost center” drag on earnings, is rapidly getting more attention in the social media age. It’s been a long time coming, as complainers’ true numbers and depth of sentiment are perpetually under-represented; only a small percentage of dissatisfied customers actually make the effort to complain formally. Not surprisingly, customer service hasn’t been seen as an easy target of cutbacks in times of austerity (or greed). Furthermore, businesses, ever promiscuous, have favored wooing new customers (sales and marketing) over romancing existing ones (customer service). That imbalance will likely change.

“Until now, most customer service has been in a black hole of obscurity,” Pete Blackshaw of Nielsen Online Strategic Services recently told Time magazine. “Now you just spend a few minutes searching tweets to see who’s mad and then how they were dealt with.” He wrote a book whose title pretty much sums up the new reality: Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000.

Conclusion: because all age groups are increasingly using social media to communicate, these networks are also the future of both marketing and customer service.