Online Video

Brand Strategy: Does Your Brand Have An Enemy? It Needs One.

The inspiration for this article comes from faithful Brandscapes reader Kent Davidson of Advanta Design.

In designing products for companies like Bombardier, Samsung and Cisco, Kent makes it a habit of pushing the envelope to create new possibilities.  So he was quite struck by the irony of the Mediocrity car company.

The Appeal of Mediocrity

Mediocrity is a fictional automaker invented by Subaru.  It is featured in a hilarious ad campaign that you’ll enjoy watching.  In order to position itself as a leader in innovation, Subaru concocted Mediocrity as an antithetical enemy that lives up to its name.


The ad campaign, as well as being very funny, is a smart piece of strategy.  It gives Subaru what every brand needs, an enemy.

What Do Brands Need to Succeed?

If you were assigned the task to build a new brand, what steps would you take to create it?  What would the brand need to become established and successful?

A unique, engaging name?  A simple iconic logo?  A clearly articulated persona?  A compelling value proposition?  A sense of mystery?  A sense of community?  How about the ability to immerse customers in an enthralling experience?

All of these elements are important and valid.  But there’s an important item missing from the list.  How about an enemy?  That’s right an enemy.  Every brand needs an enemy.

Pepsi, Coke & 7Up

Coke needs Pepsi.  Pepsi needs Coke.  7Up needs both Pepsi and Coke.  Dr. Pepper needs Pepsi, Coke, 7Up and every other soft drink.

The Red Sox need the Yankees.  The Oilers need the Flames.  The Longhorns need the Aggies.

Bush & Obama

In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama needed the record of George W. Bush.  In the 2010 mid-term election, the Republicans needed the record of Barack Obama.

Teen-focused products need out of touch parents.

In sports, politics and branding, having the right enemy makes a big difference.

Do You Like the Enemy Idea?

How do you feel about this enemy concept?  Are you on board with the idea?  Or does the notion strike you as old school, unenlightened and barbaric?

Don’t we live in a more genteel, intelligent, sophisticated age that has advanced beyond binary paradigms of conflict?  Isn’t it a small world after all?

If your brand is committed to making people feel good, this enemy talk might seem out of character.  But don’t shrink away from the idea too quickly.  If you brand story doesn’t have an enemy, you’ll likely struggle to engage customers in your message.

The Disney Example

Consider the example of Disney, one of the world’s highest profile feel good brands.  If you distill Disney down to its essence, the company’s core competency is storytelling.  The company earns billions every year by tapping into our innate fascination with stories.

Brand Storytelling

Disney excels at storytelling because in many cases, the story is the product the company is selling.  But even if you’re not selling a story, you’ll do the best job of selling if you use great storytelling.  And that’s why every brand needs an enemy – to build a great story.

Think about the classic Disney films.  Each one features a foreboding enemy.

Sweet Snow White was opposed by the wicked witch.  Peter Pan was taunted by Captain Hook.  Cinderella had to overcome the domination of her evil stepmother.  The 101 Dalmatians were hounded by Cruella De Vil.  In the Jungle Book, Mowgli faced the constant threat of being Shere Khan’s next meal.

Why All the Enemies?

Why would a feel good company like Disney devote so much attention to enemies?  Great storytelling demands it.

Without an enemy, there is no story.  Life is comfortable, but dull.  The audience doesn’t care.  Theatre goers don’t pay to be bored.

Enemies make stories interesting.  They raise the stakes.  They introduce risk and intrigue. Once an enemy appears, we’re no longer sure how things will turn out.

Triggering Emotions

Enemies trigger emotions.  When viewers are first introduced to Snow White, they may like her.  But when she is threatened by the wicked witch, like turns to love.  Viewers become emotionally engaged.  They feel fearful for Snow White and angry at the wicked witch.

This is an important lesson for brands.  Great brands connect with customers at the emotional level.  If your company doesn’t create an emotional connection, you don’t have a brand, you’re positioned as a commodity.  Enemies can help create the emotional attachment that every brand needs.

Discovery & Character Development

Enemies enable discovery.  The contrast between the hero and the enemy helps audiences grasp the hero’s true nature.  Only against the backdrop of darkness do we come to appreciate the qualities of light.

Enemies play an essential role in character development.  Only Bambi’s struggle with the hunters, the hunting dogs, and the forest fire allowed him to take his place as the new Prince of the Forest.

Unexpected Allegiances

Enemies also create unexpected allegiances.  In Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann seemed the most unlikely of cohorts until the attack of Captain Barbossa and the cursed crew of the Black Pearl.  Then the trio became steadfast allies.

Customers will have a strong attachment to your brand if your enemy is their enemy.

What Enemy Should You Choose?

So if every brand needs an enemy, who should your enemy be?  Does it need to be your direct competitor?  It depends on your market position.

If you’re the underdog in a David and Goliath struggle and you offer some unique benefits, maybe Goliath should be your enemy.  You might be able to get customers to reconsider their Goliath allegiance and steal some market share.

If you’re locked in a two-way, head-to-head battle with another supplier, where customers have to choose one or the other, it seems to be a natural choice to make that competitor the enemy.  This approach works well in sports rivalries and political battles.

It was also the rationale behind the Pepsi Taste Test.  The side-by-side comparison got cola drinkers to stop and think about which soda actually tasted better.  The drawback to the campaign however, was every commercial gave Coke a piece of the spotlight.  It also made Pepsi quite Coke-focused.

If you make your direct competitor “The Enemy” you might end up putting more energy into battling the opposition than telling customers what you can do for them.

Should Your Enemy Be a Competitor?

Your marketing message certainly needs to differentiate you vis-à-vis alternatives, but the competitor doesn’t have to be “The Enemy.”  You have other options.

The enemy could be what your competitor stands for.  In “1984,” the iconic Super Bowl commercial launching the Macintosh, Apple didn’t take on the IBM PC directly, but a far more menacing foe, the totalitarian group think it represented.

The enemy could be a concept.  Rather than go head to head against another actual car company, Subaru invented Mediocrity.  With Mediocrity as its enemy, Subaru positions itself as the champion of innovation, without drawing attention to an actual competitor.

What Plagues Your Customers?

Perhaps the best choice of enemy is what plagues your customers.

Maybe your enemy should be the poor sales results, paltry profits or lagging morale your customers may be suffering from.  Advanta Design’s enemies include the high manufacturing costs, low demand and slim profit margins clients will face if they take a product to market with generic, off the shelf parts instead of opting for a custom design.

If you can weave a convincing tale that positions your company as the hero that triumphs over the enemy that is attacking your customers, you’ll capture their attention and likely win the business.

What dragons are your customers battling?  If you have dragon-slaying capabilities, you may have found the enemy you’re looking for

Brand Messaging: Do You Talk To Your Real Customer?

30 Second Sales Seminar

Did you see the 30 second sales seminar on reaching the real decision maker during the Christmas shopping season?

Insights for the Complex Sale

The lesson came in the Rad Mom TV spot pitching the Nintendo Wii.   The commercial provides valuable insights for any company that needs to impress a group of people in the sales cycle, whether you’re flogging video games or a multi-million dollar software installation to a major corporation.


A Contrarian Work of Genius

The commercial is a contrarian work of genius.  It steers clear of the standard, predictable script used in most video game commercials.  The usual approach is to focus on users and fuel adolescent males’ rabid cravings for super hero combat and napalm explosions.

These flashy, but run of the mill commercials (like this promo for the Xbox Crackdown 2 game) do a good job of getting kids excited, but by no means win the sale.  Frequently they set the stage for ill-fated lobbying efforts and family conflict.


Here’s the scenario they create: excited teens with fire in their eyes and testosterone pumping through their bloodstream put the latest video game at the top of their gift list.  They expect their parents to become infected with their enthusiasm.  But it doesn’t spread.

The Real Customer

Instead they run into the objections of Mom, who barring an intervention by Santa, determines what presents make it under the tree.  Mom is very powerful.  She makes more than 80 percent of household buying decisions.  As the holder of the purse strings, she is the video game makers’ real customer.

Tough Objections

But asking a Mom to buy a video game is an uphill battle.  A lot of Moms, maybe even most Moms don’t think highly of video games.  Do any of these complaints sound familiar?

Video games promote violence.  They turn teenagers into zombies.  Kids lose all track of time, playing them for hours on end.  Homework gets neglected.  Grades suffer.  Kids emerge from a gaming binge showing aggressive, anti-social conduct.  Video games foster addictive behavior and erode our family dynamic.

These are tough objections.  Most video game makers don’t equip their users to refute the real decision maker’s arguments.  All they can do is hope that the teens have the necessary dogged determination, debating prowess and whining skills to wear their parents down.

Doing the Unthinkable

The Wii commercial removes the need for this family strife by doing the unthinkable.  It makes Mom the star of a video game ad.  It proactively answers each of the motherly objections, using Rad Mom as the spokesperson.

The Real Customer Becomes the Star

The spot opens with the very attractive, genteel Rad Mom having a coffee conversation with the camera in her spacious, nicely decorated kitchen.  She is surrounded by a poinsettia, a nutcracker figurine, a Father Christmas doll and an advent wreath.  Dressed in a cozy-looking snowflake ski sweater she diffuses the poor family dynamic objection by proclaiming “Family time is Wii time in our house.”

The commercial then cuts to the living room, where Mom, Dad and two young teenagers are on the couch engaged in head-to-head Wii competition.  Rad Mom is having fun.  She is good at Wii.  First she triumphs over her daughter in a quiz show bomb game.  Next she smashes her husband to oblivion in ping pong.  Finally Rad Mom gallops over her son in a horserace.

A Jubilant Cry of Conquest

With each victory, the mild mannered coffee conversationalist breaks from her refined demeanour into a jubilant cry of conquest.  She stops just shy of spiking the Wii control into the carpet and trash talking her competitors.

Why all the excitement?  Because in the Rad Mom’s house, Wii is a high stakes game.  The model family isn’t playing for money, but for something far more valuable in Mom currency – chore assignments.  Winners get free time.  Losers do extra work.

Transforming the Product’s Essence

With her Wii success, the Rad Mom got her daughter to do the dishes, her husband to make dinner and her son to put the laundry away.  The commercial transforms the essence of what a video game is in the eyes of Mom.  Wii is not the enemy of family values, it is the platform of honour for Mom, the real hero of the family.

What could be better for a Mom than to emerge from her underappreciated support role and delegate a few household tasks?  It just doesn’t get any better than this.

“Everyone’s a Winner, Especially Me”

In her final appearance, Rad Mom is back in the kitchen, observing that with Wii “At the end of the day, everyone’s a winner, especially me.”

The commercial then closes with special holiday pricing details on Wii systems.

Great Entertainment & Great Example

The Rad Mom commercial is great entertainment and a great example for companies that need to appeal to different levels and roles in a large corporation to make a sale.

Many of the B2B companies I’ve encountered follow the Xbox Crackdown 2 advertising approach.  They focus their brand persona and messaging on the user.  They excel at talking techie to techie, but the message isn’t meaningful to the real and often hidden customer in control of the budget.

Stymied Sales Efforts

Solid proposals enthusiastically supported by users get rejected in the corner office because they don’t address the right issues.  The executives don’t get excited about the product features and buzzwords that wow users.  “Innovative, next generation, cutting edge solutions” are as appealing to the CEO as rocket powered gas canisters are to Mom.

The sales efforts of user-focused brands often falter at the upper rungs of the corporate ladder.  Have you ever had a sure-fire pitch shot down by a nameless V.P.?

Talk to Your Real Customer

The solution is to follow the Wii example.  Give attention to “the Mom,” who has the ultimate power to say yes or no.  Craft your value proposition in terms that are meaningful and hopefully irresistible to the holder of the purse strings.

Talk to your real customer.  Make your real customer the star.

Personal Branding: What Can You Learn from the Brand of the Year?


Happy New Year!  Welcome to 2011.

What’s ahead for your brand this year?  As you plan your 2011 marketing efforts, consider some valuable lessons modeled by 2010’s Brand of the Year.

  • Accelerate your sales cycle with a powerful introduction
  • Convey style AND substance online
  • Unleash the power of story

International Media Attention

The 2010 Brand of the Year is a story of surprising success.  Over the course of a just few weeks it climbed from obscurity to national and international prominence, attracting coverage on every Canadian TV network, plus CNN and the BBC.

40% Market Share

In a crowded market with 15 competitors, the Brand of the Year claimed 40% market share.  The Brand of the Year triumphed over established and much better known competitors in a realm where conventional wisdom states “name recognition is everything.”

The Brand of the Year had a much smaller marketing budget than its major rivals.  It captured loyal followers based on the strength of ideas.

The 2010 Brand of the Year is a person, a previously unknown university professor, Naheed Nenshi, now the mayor of Calgary.

An Amazing Accomplishment

Naheed Nenshi’s ascent from nowhere to the mayor’s chair is an amazing accomplishment.  Going into the race his only political experience was as a fourth place aldermanic candidate in 2004.  He is now the first member of a visible minority to hold the top elected position in a city with an old west, conservative reputation.

In the mayoralty election he beat a popular TV news anchor, a corporate executive and six candidates with City Council experience, including Alderman Ric McIver, a fiscal hawk who was endorsed by the city’s largest and most influential newspaper.

From Unknown to Mayor in Six Weeks

Six weeks before the election, Naheed Nenshi was an unknown with a name that wasn’t recognized by spell check or by the vast majority of Calgary voters.

When I first saw the name in a newspaper headline, I wondered if Naheed Nenshi was the 2010 version of Alnoor Kassam.  In the 2007 mayoralty campaign Kassam, a businessman from Kenya, poured $1.5 million of his own money into an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Dave Bronconnier.

Despite enormous odds, Nenshi emerged triumphant, due in large part to his ability to create and portray a professional and credible personal brand.

Three Powerful Lessons

Nenshi’s campaign triumph offers three insightful lessons for every personal and corporate brand: mastering the introduction, balancing style and substance online, and capitalizing on the power of story.

A Masterful Introduction

My formal introduction to Naheed Nenshi as a candidate came after a business meeting on the University of Calgary campus.  It was mayoralty forum day so all of the major candidates had displays set up in the student centre.

Sensing a personal branding market research opportunity, I chatted with volunteers of several candidates.  At the Nenshi table I told a volunteer that I had heard about her candidate, but didn’t really know much about him.  She responded with a natural sounding, brilliantly scripted introduction.

The Brilliant Opening

“Naheed was born in Toronto, but grew up here in Calgary.  His family moved here when he was very young.  He was educated here at the University of Calgary where he was Student Union President.  Then he went to Harvard for a Master’s degree in Public Policy, where he was a Kennedy Fellow.  After he graduated he went to work for McKinsey.  While he was on an assignment at the United Nations, his father suffered a stroke.  To help care for his father, he soon returned to Calgary.  He is now a professor in the city at Mount Royal University.”

Leveraging Respected Brands

It was an outstanding introduction.  In less than a minute the script diffused objections, presented positive attributes and leveraged the reputation of respected brands – Harvard, President John F. Kennedy, the U.N. and McKinsey & Company, a top tier, big money consulting firm with a reputation of hiring only the brightest minds from the best schools.

The script established that Nenshi is not a foreigner or an Alnoor Kassam.  He’s a Calgarian, he’s one of us.  He has a long history of contributing and being involved.  He is very bright.  He has the capability to play in the big leagues.  He is dedicated to his family and willing to put family interests ahead of his own career aspirations.

Creating the Desire to Learn More

The introduction elevated Nenshi into a new category – from unknown with a strange name to credible candidate.  The intro script, repeated countless times on door steps and in chance encounters throughout the campaign, set the stage for further discussion.

Every brand needs a powerful opening.  Do you have an introduction that stirs interest for customers to learn more?

Balancing Style & Substance Online

The second branding lesson from Nenshi’s campaign is the skilful balance of style and substance online.

In the online marketing world every brand needs to cater to a customer’s appetite for details and craving for an entertaining presentation.

Depth of Details

In substance, Nenshi had home field advantage.  As a highly articulate professor, and the lead author of a book on the future of Canadian cities, Nenshi had a large volume of clearly reasoned ideas to present.  During the campaign he frequently pointed out that his website had the most detailed platform covering a wide range of issues.

Nenshi was the leader in substance.

An Approachable Style

But substance is only half the battle.  Good ideas poorly presented never get the attention they deserve.  Nenshi’s ideas took the spotlight because of his presentation skills and his skilful use of online video.

Skillful Use of Online Video

The featured videos on his campaign website ( gave Nenshi major points on style.  The lead video, recorded on the steps of City Hall during the summer, set the tone.


Outlining Nenshi’s main platform, the opening video was positive and approachable.  It positioned Nenshi as solid, reasonable, strong and most importantly, likeable.  He focused on constructive campaign themes while still including enough edginess to make the case for change and differentiate himself from other hopefuls.

The video was a professional production, but it did not come across as overly slick.

Conversational Delivery

Nenshi’s delivery was conversational not authoritative.  His verbal tone provided a sharp contrast to the speaking style of his main rivals, Ric McIver and TV anchor Barb Higgins.

During the campaign, opposing candidates frequently questioned how 20 years of reading TV news qualified Higgins for the mayor’s chair.  Perhaps to reinforce her credibility, she rolled out her polished, authoritative newscaster speaking style.  This verbal cadence with predictable downward inflections, is very effective in the broadcast realm of traditional media, but is a major turn off in the YouTube era.

The Language of We

Nenshi understood this.  He didn’t speak from on high.  His tone was inclusive.  He used the language of we rather than I.  His video was more of an invitation to participate, than a proclamation from someone with all the answers.

How Do You Say Naheed?

Nenshi also used video to overcome the strange name obstacle and to demonstrate he doesn’t take himself too seriously.  The third of the featured videos on the website is a fun exploration of the topic: “How do you say Naheed?”  It stars more than a half dozen citizens representing various ethnic groups, all with exaggerated facial expressions and differing opinions on how to say the candidate’s name.  It is peppered with appearances by Nenshi himself gently correcting mispronunciations and adding moments of levity.


Like the Nenshi introduction and other videos, it is both strategic and brilliantly scripted.  By repeating Naheed Nenshi over and over again, the video builds familiarity with an unusual name.  At the end of the three and a half minutes, the name doesn’t feel quite so peculiar.  The video also includes a variety of faces suggesting widespread support.

A Page From Obama’s Playbook

How do you say Naheed? was likely inspired by the opening video on the website when another candidate with an odd name was seeking political office in 2008.  And for the record, the correct pronunciation of his first name is NAH-hehd.  The second syllable has a short “E” sound and rhymes with red rather than reed.

The Power of Story

The final branding lesson from the Nenshi campaign is the power of story.

According to Nenshi’s website, his campaign organizers were surprised by the number of questions about his family background.  Rather than just post a webpage that stated the facts – Nenshi is single, was born in Toronto and raised in Calgary – the campaign launched a new video that harnessed the power of story.

Naheed Nenshi: A Family Journey stars the candidate’s older sister, Shaheen Nenshi Nathoo, a mother of two young daughters.

The Classic Immigrant’s Story

It is a personalized portrayal of the classic immigrant’s story – a young couple, desiring a better life for their children, takes the courageous step of leaving their home country of Tanzania and moves halfway around the world.  Faced with significant challenges, they work hard to make ends meet and give their children the support they need to succeed.

Personal, Conversational & Heart-Warming

The Family Journey video is personal, conversational and heart-warming.  Filled with pictures from the Nenshi photo album and shots of Naheed interacting with his two young nieces, the video does far more than just present the facts.  It gives the viewer the opportunity to get to know the candidate as a person through the eyes of a proud and appreciative family member.

The video provides some inside information that would never make it onto a fact sheet.  When Naheed was with McKinsey in New York, he tired of having a cramped apartment with only ketchup in the fridge.  He paid off his student loans.  He serves as baby sitter and chauffeur to his nieces.  Naheed’s parents live half time with him and half time with his sister.

Family Values & Dr. Seuss

The video capitalizes on a story’s ability to create rapport, hold attention and engage emotions.  It models family values, an appreciative spirit, respect for parents and community service.  It closes with Nenshi reading Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat to his young niece.  How can you not like a university professor candidate who takes time to read Dr. Seuss?

The Family Journey video was designed to build an emotional connection between voters and the candidate.  After viewing the video, voters ended up liking Nenshi as a person.

An Example Worth Emulating

The Nenshi campaign did a phenomenal job of building and presenting a credible and appealing personal brand.  It is an example worth emulating whether you’re trying to sell widgets or ideas.

Implement these ideas from 2010’s Brand of the Year for your 2011 success.  Happy New Year!