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February 2010
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Guns and venti shots

Starbucks-and-guns Starbucks is being prodded to take a stand on state laws allowing people to carry unconcealed guns.  

Opponents say the company's coffee houses should ban gun-toting customers, just as they ban those who aren't wearing shirts or shoes.

Proponents of the law say the company should keep its caffein-stained fingers off the second amendment. 

Both sides love the debate because it keeps the issue in the news. 

My own opinion was forged when AT&T got caught in the crossfire between the Religious Right and Planned Parenthood over abortion. I think Starbucks should avoid this issue like watery Nescafe. The company should say nothing beyond "our stores follow local laws." Otherwise, it risks being sucked into a debate it doesn't want to have. 

For example, the statement posted on its web site suggests that it hesitates to put its baristas in the position of asking gun-toting customers to take their sidearms elsewhere.  That suggests that there's some danger involved, which is exactly the position opponents of the laws have taken. Without meaning to, Starbucks appears to be taking sides.

When I was studying philosophy, I asked the metaphysics professor a question.  He stopped wandering around in front of the blackboard, looked me in the eye and said something like, "In 30 years of teaching, I've never heard such a provocative question."  So naturally, I elaborated.  "Oh, that's what you mean," he said.  "No that's stupid."

Sometimes less is more.

Real Beauty for men?

Blog dove girls In Secrets of the Marketing Masters, I wrote approvingly of Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty.

Launched in 2005, the campaign celebrated the curves and natural beauty of real women, going so far as to show them in their skivvies complete with love handles and wrinkles.  

The ads tried to help women regain some of the self-esteem that the media and the beauty industry was sucking out of them. They struck a responsive chord with women around the world and, in the process, repositioned the brand as an attitude rather than as a 50 year-old moisturizing soap. 

The campaign gave Dove the breadth to encompass a range of products from shampoo to firming cream, boosting sales and launching a host of business school case histories. (Not to mention a chapter in my book.)

But now one has to wonder if the Dove brand managers really understood what they had created.  During the 2010 Superbowl, they launched Dove Men + Care, a new line of products designed for the average Joe, not Jane. Dove for men

My problem with this move is that it is sacrificing the Dove brand's meaning by trying to stretch it across a market that shares none of its core values or concerns.

Few men share the same insecurities about their appearance as most women do. 

It's as if Dove's parent company, Unilever, tried to stretch another of its brands -- Axe -- to include women's products.  It doesn't compute. The Axe brand has an adolescent male personality.  It lives in a frat house, not in a split-level with hair curlers on the breakfast table.

Dove Men  Dove is corrupting its most valuable, hard-won asset -- its very meaning.

Furthermore, the notion of billboards depicting "real men" in their skivvies might have some of us reaching for another Unilever product -- Slimfast -- but it won't sell much shampoo

News consumption

News%20Icon.jpg-600x450 The Pew Research Center has just issued a report entitled "Understanding the Participatory News Consumer." 

It quantifies what many of us already suspected -- whereas Americans used to get their news primarily from television, they now use multiple platforms to get their daily news.  In fact, on a typical day, six in ten Americans (59%) get their news from a combination of online and offline sources. 

The internet is now the third most-popular news platform, behind local and national television news and ahead of national print newspapers, local print newspapers and radio. 

More than a third of internet users have actually contributed to the creation of news, either commenting about it or disseminating it on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. 

As a result, 75% of people who get their news online receive it in the form of messages forwarded from someone else. 

Murphy was an optimist

Laurie  At some point, every brand discovers that the Murphy of "Murphy's Law" was a hopeless optimist. Just ask Tiger Woods or Akio Toyoda.  

How a brand deals with that law of the universe separates the amateurs from the professionals. No one knew that better than my friend and former boss, Marilyn Laurie, pictured at left when she received the Alexander Hamilton Medal from the Institute for Public Relations in 2006.

No one handled more crises than she in the decade she led AT&T public relations. And I probably learned more from her than anyone else I ever worked with or for. 

My first book, Tough Calls, reflected a lot of that (however haltingly). Unfortunately, I had to cut one of the chapters for space reasons and, on re-reading it recently, I realized that it has even more relevance today. 

Here's the quick takeaway:    

The first rule of crisis management is to avoid bringing one down on yourself by making sure someone with a broad stakeholder perspective participates in the planning of any significant initiative
If that ounce of prevention isn't enough, follow the second rule: accept responsibility.  That means tell the truth, tell it quickly, fix the problem, and demonstrate your sincerity by giving something back.

"Giving something back" was one of Marilyn's contributions to the accumulated wisdom of crisis management.  Messrs. Woods and Toyoda would be wise to consider what it means for them.

Download the Tough Calls "missing chapter" for all the details.