Chinese companies need help with branding

chinese backpack names

Have you ever noticed that Amazon sells lots of cheap stuff with weird brand names?

These goods are shipped from China to you (sometimes direct) without any help from American marketing experts.

Look at the backpacks that were featured in the top eight results from a search on Amazon for “packable backpack”:

  • Zomake
  • Neekfox
  • Venture Pal
  • Hikpro

Only one of those brands would even get close to appealing to an American: Venture Pal. But even the word “pal” is not part of American English anymore. None of those outdoor equipment brands are as attractive to American consumers as:

  • North Face
  • Osprey
  • Herschel
  • Patagonia

Admittedly, several of those known brands have a lot of equity – years of making quality products. But they evoke the untamed destinations, rugged adventure, or at least a feeling of quality.

And the Chinese brands are often very good value for the money. They may even be made in the same factories as the big brands. But those companies are cutting themselves out of a lot of profit that could be realized if they had better branding.

My recommendation to companies that produce products like Hikpro (“hick-pro”) and Neekfox (what?!) – simply hire a group of American teenagers. They can come up with a better unique name within 20 minutes of brainstorming than five hours spent by a team of Chinese nationals sitting in a room in Shenzhen.


You can’t force it

Lincoln Continental print ad

Lincoln bought the emperor’s new clothes.

This ad appeared in the February 2017 Fast Company magazine (in a very high-priced spot – the inside front cover). Lincoln paid a massive amount of money for the ad series, shot by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Agency Hudson Rouge made out like a bandit.

But Lincoln did not think about their real audience. Showing a 20-something person behind the wheel of a $60,000-ish luxury car, newly-minted from a marque typically bought by people above 60, will not make 20-something people want to buy one. Nor will it make 60-year olds who want to be 20-something want to buy one.

No matter how much the critics like the car.

Yes, it would have been appropriate for Lincoln to push the envelope in their marketing – but not so far.

Maybe they should have put kids under 10 behind the wheel – that audience will need to buy cars, eventually.


Conventional wisdom need not apply

alfa romeo quadrifoglio

Many of us are still trying to figure out how Mr. Trump won. Whether or not you like him and what he represents – or the Democratic party and what they represent – one thing is certain – we do not know what tomorrow brings.

Alfa Romeo is trying to make inroads onto our roads. The Giulia Quadrifoglio is a beautiful high-performance four-door sedan. Car critics are praising it from their rooftops.

But American has largely abandoned the four-door sedan. As you know, crossovers (suburbia-biased SUVs) have taken over.

Conventional wisdom from car manufacturers dictates introducing a flagship top-of-the-line vehicle to generate excitement in America about other vehicles they have to offer.

I would like to respectfully disagree with that wisdom.

They should have launched an affordable but exciting small crossover. They will sell a crossover – the Stelvio. But it is priced in a similar range as the Quadrifoglio (more than $70,000) – out of the range of most Americans.

Start at the bottom and work your way up. It worked for Mr. Trump.

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo UK – and used without permission. (If you live in the UK, go out and buy a Quadrifoglio now, and they will be happy.)


Longing for a simpler experience

Hot sauce at a truck stop in Texas

Choice is great. But if there are too many choices, getting to our destination takes longer.

Variety is the spice of life. But too much variety can force a fight with indecision.

I am very decisive and always have been. But sometimes, the sheer volume of choices is overwhelming.

And the mood I’m in makes a vast difference – if I am tired, I don’t want a lot of choices. Since I’m a morning person, facing a lot of choices in the morning is a much better experience than staring down a wall of choices at the end of a long day of work.

I’d love to start a chain of small stores that only have a few high-quality reasonably-priced items in each category. (Investors, give me a shout!)


Can you change a culture?

ad for face masksAny kind of growth for a company or large body of people happens because of culture change. It takes a healthy dose of optimism to start a culture change.

Take MyAir Mask. I stumbled across an ad for surgical masks with printed designs in New York magazine. Their manufacturer would love it if these masks could become part of America’s publicly acceptable sense of style.

The ad touted the masks’ many benefits, including preventing a loss of moisture that is supposed to lessen jet lag. And there is the obvious benefit of preventing airborne infection.

But I just don’t see the USA adopting this sensible fashion accessory.

Though wearing face masks in public is very acceptable in China, Americans are too conscious of wanting to be seen and not have their smiles hidden, even if it means an increased risk of getting a cold.

My optimism would not stretch as far as taking that company on as a client. Would yours?


Do you love that company?

IKEA gift card

“Love covers a multitude of sins…”*

When you love a company, you’ll forgive their little mistakes.

I love IKEA:

  • I love their relatively inexpensive stuff.
  • I love how they suggest doing more things with less space.
  • I love the photo of the old Fiat 500 with a living room being transported on its roof.
  • I love the fresh, healthy and sometimes tasty food options in their cafeterias.
  • I love the style of much of what they sell.
  • I love the exotic-ness of the weird Swedish names for their stuff.

Because of my love for IKEA, I’m willing to put up with the things I don’t like:

  • I hate how they spell their name in all caps.
  • Some of their stuff is poor quality.
  • Since their goods are so inexpensive, workers in other parts of the world are not making enough in their factories.
  • The maze can be annoying, even though I know the shortcuts.

A very illusive goal for any company is to make it onto someone’s loved companies list. And it’s easy to get off that list. (Hello Chipotle and VW.)

Homework for my marketing friends out there: brainstorm with your team ways your company can get on your customers’ loved companies list.

* 1 Peter 4:8b.


Emperor’s new clothes

Spark - © Graham, Creative Commons licensed, via LfickrMarketing these days seems to be in a rut. I am amazed at the ideas some companies use to represent their goods and services.

Lexus, for example, has a new crossover vehicle that they are trying to sell with the slogan, “Go Beyond Utility.”


The closing line of their ad says, “”Once you go beyond utility, there’s no going back.”

What does that even mean?

Lest you think I am saying that I’m a creative genius, I don’t have a quick and easy suggestion for a better campaign to sell the new Lexus NX crossover. And I understand that true creativity is an art more than a science. Great ideas don’t come always quickly to even the most creative person.


  1. The Emperor’s New Clothes is a wonderful story from 1837 that illustrates how the ruler of a large land is swindled into believing nothing is the best something ever.
  2. The sparks photo is courtesy of Graham on Flikr, and is used through a Creative Commons license.
  3. The new NX is a repackaged Toyota RAV. Car and Driver magazine gives it 3 out of 5 stars. Maybe that’s why the creatives had a hard time coming up with a good idea to sell the car.

It’s not worth it

nature box snacksFree is something that sometimes motivates me. Who doesn’t want to get something without paying for it, as long as it’s not stolen?

But few things are really free.

I subscribed to the snack service Graze for free. The snacks were OK, but were priced far more than the tastier (and less healthy) snacks I buy at the grocery store. Also, more than one-fourth were not tasty. So I unsubscribed before the trial period ended.

An ad for Nature Box on This American Life*motivated me to visit their site. I concluded that it was too similar to Graze to make me want to hassle with unsubscribing later.

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If you are a frequent reader of Shiny Bits of Life, you know that I love cars. And since car manufacturers have deep pockets, they throw the occasional free promotion at people like me. One of my favorite free things was a test drive of the latest 3-series, when BMW was doing a national promotional tour. No sales person sat next to me while I pushed the car to its limits. A free cap was waiting at the end of the ride.


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* This American Life is a podcast and radio show on National Public Radio, for people outside of the USA.


Artisan lip balm and whiskey

Burt's BeesBurt’s Bees was sold to Clorox. Small distilleries may be selling you whiskey that was mostly made in a giant factory.

You already know that all is not as it seems. But we are susceptible to good marketing.

The Denver Post reported on September 28th that many craft distilleries are using whiskey that is made in giant factories.  It may be a little disappointing to someone who spends $65 for a bottle of “hand-crafted spirits” to find out that they have bought something made in a massive factory.

People with chapped lips wanting something better than Chapstick have turned to Burt’s Bees for a long time. They have (and do) buy that brand because of its more natural ingredients and the company’s environmental responsibility. But did you know that Burt’s Bees was bought by Clorox in 2007? That’s probably not surprising to you. But we still like the idea that our purchase will be healthier and more responsible than something we buy from a big corporate global manufacturer. We also like the idea that our product is made in a small facility by local humans, rather than on some anonymous assembly line.

The only way to truly buy local and artisan may be to visit the factory to see how they make what you want to buy. And be prepared to pay double (or more) than what the national brand might cost.

Healthy and responsible is not cheap.


I’m just glad it exists

The Vertu Signature Touch smartphone costs $14,100. It’s incredible that such a thing even exists. But I’m glad.

Vertu Signature Touch featureIt’s comforting to know that a few people in the world can experience Vertu’s largest ever ruby button. (I am not sure what it controls – maybe the ejector seat?) And it’s reassuring that one craftsman carries each object d’art from start to finish. (Their signature is on the inside of the battery cover.) However, vegans would not be happy with the seaspray lizard skin and black alligator skin cases. Vertu’s “focus on performance extends to the range of stunning ringtones performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.”

I am not being sarcastic when I say that I’m glad that such a thing exists. Though I honestly think a $649 (£549) iPhone is better in almost every way,* the fact that people are willing to spend their excess funds on such an obsessed-over creation is amazing. Somehow the ultra-fringe is appealing to me. Though I would not want a Vertu Signature Touch, even if it were given to me, I’m glad it’s out there. I picture a Vertu craftsman working away in a dim-lit basement in the depths of rural England, smoking a Meerschaum, whilst listening to Benjamin Britten. It’s comforting.

* 1) I think the Apple OS ecosystem is better than the Vertu’s Android ecosystem. 2) Even though the per-unit expenses involved in the Vertu Signature Touch project are far more than that of the iPhone, the amount of development hours and design time that went into the iPhone is vastly more than what was invested in the Vertu. This is similar to why the navigation system on a Ferrari is not nearly as good as that of a luxury Toyota. 3) An object’s rarity does not automatically equal it being the best in its class.

If you want to learn more, you can download the brochure.