Commentary by Rance Crain


Plus, Good News and Bad News From McDonald's

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Although it didn't do them much good at the end of the day, the New York Giants' head coach, Jim Fassel, turned the season around when he took over calling the
Rance Crain, editor in chief, 'Advertising Age'

Previous Columns.
offense and simplified things by relying on a handful of tried-and-true plays.

OK, the Giants did go on to suffer the most ignominious defeat in their long history when they blew a 24-point lead in the National Football League playoffs. But let's blame the Giants' loss on the officials, who missed a penalty call at the end of the game that would have given the Giants one more play and another chance to win.

Simplify the playbook
The point is the Giants almost salvaged the season by simplifying their playbook. That's a good lesson for marketers, too, as they plunge headlong into the new year.

Your own marketing playbook is easier to implement if it's simple and straightforward, and that includes the advertising. Campaigns don't work if the experience consumers have with a brand doesn't match what the ads promise.

The major airlines are a textbook case of a strategy that is far too complicated. From their fare structures to their complex hub-and-spoke route systems and fleets of different types of planes, the big airlines' economic and marketing model was busted from the beginning. Over their long history, the airlines in the end have never made a dime. So it rang hollow when United Airlines used that "Rising" slogan a few years back because everyone knew it couldn't get off the ground.

And now, in bankruptcy, United can't even come up with a workable game plan. In development is a new cut-rate line, but the bankruptcy judge, according to Crain's Chicago Business, repeatedly criticized United for coming up with a business plan that is either unrealistic or short on specifics.

Too many products
McDonald's could use a little simplification, too. It has too many products and too many locations, and it's difficult to keep the help smiling and chipper when they have to figure out how to make all that stuff. Its ad campaign used to be "We love to see you smile." But I've often thought I wouldn't mind a smile from them once in a while.

I read in this World's Greatest Advertising Journal of ours that McDonald's is trying out ads that tout improved service. "We're working hard to bring you cleaner restaurants and friendlier service," the radio ads proclaim. But when you have to prepare 22 different kinds of sandwiches, keep the floors mopped and clean out the refuse containers, it gets difficult to remember everything.

Good news, bad news
For instance, the McDonald's I usually go to has refuse containers that say "thank you" when you put your wrapper and drink cup into them. But they also say words like "Please empty me. I am full" when you can't cram anything else into them. The good news recently was I got my order promptly. The bad news was the trash containers were loudly complaining they needed to be emptied. When I had to leave my tray on the counter, and mentioned to the server that the containers needed attention, she seemed surprised. She was probably too busy making the newly arrived McRib sandwich to have noticed.

So if you're in a service business, don't give your people on the front lines more than they can handle. You want friendly and efficient service? Keep it simple.

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