Do Rapunzel and Cleopatra Live Happily Ever After on Amazon?

As if Amazon hasn’t permeated every corner of our lives already, they’ve succeeded again by optimizing the stories from our past. But, will Amazon’s newest ad campaign touting Rapunzel and goddess Cleopatra live happily ever after?

On top of having their delivery vans double-parked and in my way when I’m in downtown Boston, the mega behemoth internet retailer selected a princess confined to a tiny tower and an ancient Egyptian queen for their new ads. Quite a combination. 

The new ads reach far back into the past to put a decidedly Amazonian twist on classic stories. These spots are 30 and 15-second videos featuring the iconic characters Rapunzel and Cleopatra using Amazon Prime to shop their way out of trouble.  

In the Rapunzel ad, the princess is no longer stranded because she can order a ladder with her smartphone. With a snappy hip-hop soundtrack, she escapes from the castle to start her own hairdressing empire. There’s no prince in sight because who needs guys when you’ve got the glitz and glam of running a business? Plus, what’s an ad without booming music? I always have the mute button nearby for solace.

Cleopatra’s ad is similarly light and fun, with the Egyptian queen streaming a popular Eddie Murphy movie, deciding that she wants to help out her erstwhile slaves, then shopping on (where else) Amazon Prime to order them gloves, goggles, and even dune buggies. Who knew caravans could be so fun!

Each spot takes a twist on classic fairy tales — it’s a savvy, applause-worthy move, especially coming from a company owned by a man who recently tied up the priciest divorce in history. It’s hard to believe Jeff Bezos could be so forgiving of the fairer sex, but then again it’s probably difficult to hold a grudge when you’re being blasted into the atmosphere at 2200 miles per hour. And we won’t discuss the symbolism of the rocket or company logo. 

Okay, so let’s talk Amazon. Do they have to be so good at everything? First they turned the book industry on its head, then moved on to home goods — are fairytales next? Should kindergarteners be looking over their shoulders, lest they be ambushed by a gaggle of double-parked Amazon drivers, delivering the latest and greatest storybook endings on demand?  

Of course, one character is from a fairytale and one is torn from the pages of history, but I think you get my point. Who thinks modern audiences will be able to tell which one is which? (Not me, that’s for sure.).

Like almost everything Bezos and Co. do, this is a smart move. In a world of shortened attention spans and a shrinking share of universally recognizable entertainment properties (thanks in part to streaming services like Amazon), Amazon has chosen to fall back on two personalities from the past to help drive more business in the future. Maybe next time they can do that famous Aesop’s fable about Alexa. But do they ask me

Howard Davidson


Brand Boycotting is Popular Now – But at What Cost?

Brand boycotting sure is popular now – but at what cost and success rate? 

History shows that brand boycotting can work. The Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 was an integral moment of the Civil Rights Movement that unambiguously achieved its goal, with the Supreme Court striking down segregation on buses over a year after the boycott started. 

Brands are where companies put their best face forward and connect with customers. But now it seems that we live in times where advertisers are alienating half of their potential customers. Yes, taking stands can connect with customers. Yet, not a lot of liberals are buying pillows from Mike Lindell. Conservatives are planning to boycott Amazon for deplatforming the conservative social media site, Parler. LGTBQ people aren’t buying sandwiches from Chick-fil-A or donating to the Salvation Army, while One Million Moms is advocating a boycott of Oreos for “pushing the LGBTQ agenda on families.” Now imagine that hostility aimed at you or your client’s bottom line. 

Because, really, everybody hates something. From pumpkin spice flavoring to Facebook friend suggestions and everything in between. The problem is that what you hate may be something someone else loves. Even companies that build their business on reaching a market segment may find that their segment limits their ability to move beyond the size of that finite market. 

It’s not just customers that are boycotting. Last June, the consumer goods giant Unilever pulled its ads from the equally enormous social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Saying it was worried about hate speech, its boycott lasted just six months: Just last month the company announced it would resume advertising on these platforms in January 2021. A “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign led by civil rights groups prompted brands such as Coca-Cola, North Face, Heineken and Pernod Ricard to also take a break from advertising on social media sites, returning earlier (although not every boycotting advertiser has resumed). Investment site Motley Fool noted Facebook more or less shrugged off the boycott – however did make concessions about managing its content. Similarly, advertisers boycotting talking head Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show may even have helped it perform better. On the other side of the political spectrum, Nike’s affiliation with athletes such as Colin Kaepernick – dumped by the NFL for kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before its games – has led to an increase in its standing in the minds of Americans per a Harris poll. The company still has struggled during the pandemic. 

That said, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey views his platform’s ban of President (former president by the time you read this) Donald Trump as “a failure of ours ultimately to promote healthy conversation.” Perhaps his company’s action has been tempered by the hit its stock price has taken after the action. 

In sum, between pandemics and insurrections and other economic hits and woes, giving customers – whether advertisers or end consumers – a reason to rethink doing business with you carries a huge risk. Understanding what your brand is about and how resilient your bottom line is may be the only thing that helps you navigate through the turbulent waters of these challenging times. Hew to the metrics, and remember, sound brand strategy is now more crucial than ever. 

Howard Davidson


Finally, I Can Taste America from My Couch

Lay’s is targeting stay-at-home COVID travel restrictions by offering the best flavors of the country’s fast food delicacies to enjoy at home. Couch required. Mask optional. 

If I could get a refund on 2020 I would – it hasn’t been a pleasant year for many people, for a multitude of reasons. If the life threatening virus, political unrest, and murder hornets weren’t enough, the travel bans and quarantine requirements have made foodie travel a serious let down. Some might even say (especially the junk-food advocates here at Howard Davidson Marketing) that the lack of travel to some of the United States’ top food spots is by far the biggest drawback of our socially distanced year. 

I may hate country music, but do you know something I do love? Marketing of course,  but also Nashville’s hot chicken sandwiches. My Boston accent is too thick to fit into the boroughs of NYC, but their pizza? Wicked good. And I can’t in good conscience detail the gastrointestinal fallout of the last time I had street tacos in LA, but the flavors were almost worth the distress.


But the current restrictions on travel mean that the options open to me in for these food delicacies are limited-to-none. Arlington MA, is a great part of the city, but it doesn’t offer the junk-food-topia that other US cities can offer travelling taste buds. Lucky for us, Lay’s stepped in with a bit of smart marketing to help solve the problem we didn’t realize we had. 

Here’s a riddle for you: what tastes like potatoes, oil, and the best shaved steak and cheese on a bun you can get? Lay’s new Philly Cheesesteak Flavor Icons chip flavor, inspired by Geno’s Steaks in Philadelphia.

That’s not all they have up their salty, crumb-covered sleeve. Lay’s is taking the all-American route and hitting flavor profiles from 5 of the nation’s top food cities, citing specific flavor profiles like carnitas street tacos from El Torito in Marina Del Ray, CA; Chile Relleno from Cocina Azul in Albuquerque, NM; New York Style Pizza from Grimaldi’s in NYC; and the aforementioned Nashville Hot Chicken flavor hailing from Party Fowl in good ‘ole Nashville, TN. 

We tend to group cities in the US by a few things – attractions, culture, and most tasty; food. Everyone’s feeling the weight of the pandemic, especially wanderlust foodies trying to bring their Instagram to influencer status. And even those of us not just wanting to travel and eat some good grub for the ‘gram are getting a bit tired of the (hopefully) healthier options we can make at home. 

In a time where it’s hard to reach out and feel a connection with the rest of the country, being able to have a quick taste of another region’s local delicacy on the end of a potato chip feels distinctly American – especially since each flavor is the profile of one of the region’s most notable fast foods. 

Lay’s Flavor Profiles are a salty stab at quenching the greasy wanderlust many are facing on their couches today. Even if each flavor doesn’t end up a lip-smacking perfect knockoff of the original, beggars can’t be choosers as they lick flavor dust off their socially distanced fingers. 

Now I’m not saying fast-food flavored chips were ever a thing I asked for, but plopped on my couch and enjoying a bag or three has me realizing this might not be a bad idea. I thought my vacation plans were cancelled in 2020; turns out I can get a full blast of all-American culture from the comfort of my couch, with just a few bags of chips and Tiger King, no hidden airline fees included. I see this as a win-win. 

My nutritionist, however, may not agree. Oy, then there’s belly.

Howard Davidson


A Cup of Dunkin’ Marketing To-Go

Of all the madness in the world of marketing, some of the maddest is performed in the service of that deep, rich, dark nectar of the gods, coffee. Just as munificently marketed are those substances that are coffee-adjacent. Bagels. Muffins (regular and Mc). Scones. Oatmeal. Eggs. Avocado toast. My belly hums for it all.  Then there’s the aftertaste of Dunkin marketing, to-go.


Which brings us to Dunkin’. (In the old days, when branding actually meant brands, it was called Dunkin’ Donuts. You may remember that far back — before Snoop hung with Martha, before tv singers hid behind masks, and when Corona was a beer.)  I didn’t have a belly back then. Wait, I think I looked great in corduroys about a decade ago.

Dunkin’ has rebranded in a caffeinated conflict of colossal proportions in order to seize control of the retail coffee experience market. That’s a pretty large hill up which Dunkin’ is looking to push its chain. Globally, it’s got about 8,000 fewer retail units and is outsold about 24 (billion) to one (billion) by Starbucks.

You know that old saying? Go big or stay home? The folks at Dunkin’ seem to have misheard it. In support of their food menu, they’ve gone… er, beyond… normal fare with Beyond Meat. You may have heard of the product, the meat-like food substance that’s manufactured with only plants. Maybe not your favorite kinds of plants, but they say they taste like beef, or chicken… or sausage. Plant-based foods are the future because… reasons. (Actually, they say plant-based foods are good because they help human health, fight climate change, prevent using up natural resources, and engender animal welfare. You know, by not killing and eating them.)

So that brings us to the latest effort by Dunkin’ — its collaboration with the rapper Snoop Dogg. Snoop is apparently now a fan of eating plant-based as much as he is of smoking plant-based, which makes him the perfect spokesperson for Dunkin’. Because who hasn’t already gone to Dunkin’ for one of everything after a night of highbernating. Snoop already helped launch Dunkin’s Beyond Sausage Sandwich by taking a turn at a Dunkin’ drivethrough. But now it all comes together with Dunkin’s Beyond D-O-Double G Sandwich, which is Beyond Meat’s plant-based sausage concoction between halves of a glazed (get it?) Dunkin’ donut.

Dunkin’, you can have it. I’ll stick to Starbucks, where they take care to blend and grind their beans to give me something beyond a mere caffeine delivery system (and your breakfast sandwich isn’t sticky). And whether the sausage or bacon on that donut or muffin is authentic or ersatz, fast-food is no place to go for bacon. (Which we never had in the house when I was growing up, anyway, and I’d argue that not everybody likes the stuff. Besides, pigs are closer to human than you may have known.)

In short, I’m beyond the marketing for Dunkin’. I always add my g in the end of words, I will not eat a to-go bag of something that will get cold by the time I walk out of a place and begin to fill my belly.


Uber Rolls Out Uber Move

Less than three years after rebranding, Uber has rolled out a new logo and typeface called Uber Move that’s designed to evoke safety and accessibility.  I guess Uber has gone all warm and fuzzy.

Uber logo

After kicking Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to the curb, the company is driving to rebuild its reputation. The company has released ads with new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi riding an Uber to spur a fresh start. Now, with the help of global brand consultancy Wolff Olins at the wheel, Uber is shedding its rap for the iconography of Silicon Valley bravado.

In the mist of Uber’s scandal-filled 2017, the powers that be came together to solve Uber’s biggest problem.  Did they address their lack of diversity? Did they fix their internal culture? Did they establish a standard of business ethics?

 No. Uber focused on branding.

Why of course! Why go through the hassle of fixing these minor inconveniences when you can slap a new logo on your service?

Uber discarded the assertive uppercase logo for an approachable lowercase logo. Still feeling iffy? If you look closely, the first letter isn’t a capitalized U. It’s actually a large lowercase U. Why might you ask? Because U matter! Uber’s friendly branding tactics will even make the biggest cynic forget about Operation Greyball.

Just like Uber takes inspiration from their competitors, Uber found new inspiration from public transportation branding. Their app now includes certain shades of orange and brown to indicate important Uber information. Uber’s app also features a blue “safety” symbol that highlights “safe spaces” in the area. Sure, maybe Uber employees used their technology to stalk reporters and ex-girlfriends, but blue symbols make me feel safe.

That’s ultimately what matters. Feeling.

So when your company unleashes chaos throughout the nation, don’t panic. Just rebrand.

-Howard Davidson Arlington, MA



Branding À La Mode: Target and the Museum of Ice Cream

The Target sponsorship of the 2018 installation of the pop-up Museum of Ice Cream in New York is branding à la mode – something good on top of something good!

Branding À La Mode: Target and the Museum of Ice Cream - Howard Davidson

The social-media friendly “Museum” of Ice Cream was first unpacked in 2016. It’s a selfie-taker’s dream. Its elaborate ice-cream-themed sets allow visitors (at $38 a pop) to photograph themselves in their sundae best, then post to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Except this experience is a brand experience.

Minnesota-based Target has always been an experience-friendly retailer, building events around new fashions by designers such as Missoni and Lilly Pulitzer. But its younger-moms-with-money audience is hip to posting pics of themselves and their kinder all over social media (or sharing them by text). So Tarjay-ing young Jackson and Zoe just puts the cherry on top.

Now add Museum of Ice Cream at retail. First, there’s tasty apparel and accessories like gummy bear graphic tees, banana-patterned separates, and pastel roller skates. Of course there’s ice cream, with flavors like Nana Banana, Cherrylicious, Chocolate Crush, Churro Churro, Vanillionaire, Piñata, and Sprinkle Pool.  (No, not strippers. Ice cream flavors.)

Meanwhile, The Museum of Ice Cream is just the latest in what seems like 31 flavors of giant-photo-set-slash-ersatz-museums that are clicking with millennial consumers. There’s CADO, the “avocado-based pop-up art experience.” Some are sweet on Candytopia, a “sprawling sanctuary of confectionary bliss.” Funko, the manufacturer of funky licensed dolls, lets visitors to its Everett, WA headquarters photograph themselves in a Funko Batmobile or with a Funko Godzilla while lining up to buy.

It’s a strategy that works – the Museum of Ice Cream is a Webby winner. And it lets customers interact with brands in a fun and sharable way. (Sort of like unprotected sex.)

So – what’s next? What will Kotex photograph visitors walking through when it opens a Museum of Feminine Hygiene? On which cuts of beef will visitors sprawl at the Cattlemen’s Beef Board? Will traditional museums make themselves more social-media aware, mocking up Munch’s “The Scream,” Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” or Leonardo’s “The Last Supper” for selfies? Can music stores regain relevance in rooms where customers are photographed with Lady Gaga or a Coldplay album (I kind of see myself on Viva La Vida)?

The social media environment is the perfect place for brands and customers to meet. All you need is a brand, a story, and a customer with a camera.

Howard Davidson


On Target with Howard Davidson

I’m fired up and hopefully on target today with my thoughts about gun violence. A growing number of companies are rethinking their connection to the firearms industry after what seems to be an endless fusillade of stories of shootings at schools and elsewhere. The target most often seems to be the National Rifle Association, the interest group for gun enthusiasts.

Facebook is the latest to score a bull’s-eye in regard to a corporate stance toward weaponry. It just started to limit ads for weapons accessories (rifle scopes, holsters, and that sort of thing) to its audience over age 18 (about 30% of its audience).

The Facebook algorithm enables advertisers to target their audience in any number of ways. Howard Davidson clients ask me about members of certain groups, readers of certain publications or websites, demographic breakdowns (sex, age, geography) – and Facebook can do that.

Where Facebook may have difficulty is where other companies are going to encounter problems – politicizing their revenue stream. Well-known companies like Delta, United Airlines, Symantec, MetLife, Hertz, and First National Bank of Omaha have ended their (primarily affiliate) relationships with the NRA. NRA members are angry and threatening boycotts, and there are quite a number of them – 4.5 million. And they can hit what they aim at.

Often, a client comes to me and asks, “Howard, can I benefit from taking a political stance in my marketing, or will it hurt me?” The answer is – yes. Both. Taking a political stance is no different than any other target marketing. Your product line also can mean it makes sense to ignore particular groups. A pharmaceutical company marketing contraceptives can easily afford to speak out in favor of birth control and take pro-choice positions. A women’s clothing manufacturer can easily speak in favor of women’s empowerment. What a guy like Howard Davidson thinks of their product isn’t important. (And, really, I don’t like very good in a chemise.)

Cause marketing is a tool for marketers aiming at a broad audience. That was why Marriott and the March of Dimes teamed up in the seventies, why so many companies team with the Olympics, and why Susan G. Komen for the Cure clicks – those audiences aren’t primarily political. But choosing to affiliate – or loudly not affiliate – with a cause also reduces your audience. Dick’s Sporting Goods no longer sells assault-style rifles. It will lose customers who shopped there not just for rifles, but other items. Bake shops that won’t bake cakes for gay weddings may gain some customers, but will also lose customers.

As always, know your audience. That’s what the guy at Howard Davidson Marketing would tell you. Wait – that’s me. Well, I’m on target.

Howard Davidson


Howard Davidson Marketing, Formerly HoDaDingoBingo

Here’s the latest on company branding from the more-properly named Howard Davidson Marketing Consultant (formerly HoDaDingoBingo, and almost named Zzyxx, except it turns out that’s a shoe company).

Weird names are gone. No more. Ceased to be. Expired and gone to meet their maker. Stiff. Bereft of life, resting in peace. Pushing up the daisies. History. Off the twig. Kicked the bucket, Shuffled off their mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible.

This is an ex-trend.

You remember the good old days of funky new tech company names. Yahoo! Mozilla. Ask Jeeves. KaZaA. Ruumi. Peeple. Airbnb. Uber. Heck, we’ve only gotten used to Google, but it was as weird as your Uncle Ernie when we first heard it. (Of course, BackRub would have been odder. And maybe actionable.)

What America knew first about tech companies was that, while their owners and employees might have been geniuses, they were terrible spellers and had limited vocabularies.

The graphics are changing, too. Yahoo! and Google used to have funkier typefaces. They were disruptors before disrupting was a Thing. The latest? GoDaddy – a company whose name had nothing to do with what it did and whose logo employed both funky lettering and a weird graphic of a mad scientist (or geek meth head?) – has sans-serifed itself into blandness.

Companies used to have reliable names. Solid names that told you what they did – International Harvester. General Motors. General Electric (sorry about that Dow Industrial thing, by the way). Or you knew who was running them, and that you could rely on them. Young & Rubicam. Ford Motor Company. Boeing Aircraft Company.

I actually blame advertising for this. We’ve gone from NW Ayer & Son to Razorfish, Wexley School for Girls, and G&M Plumbing. It’s as if everyone in the communication business wishes he had started a band. Drummers get all the chicks. (Except the ones who spontaneously combust.)

So yes, during this time, I must confess, I considered branding my consultancy as HoDaBingoDingo. Wait. HoDaDingoBingo. Or was it DingoBingoHoDa? HoDa Kotb?

In the end, I settled for Howard Davidson Marketing. But I’m toying with camel-casing “Davidson.” Or maybe just putting “Howard” in all caps. Or replacing all the vowels with their Greek counterparts and the consonants with hashtags. But then you’ll be able to figure out my password.

Howard Davidson


Be Fearless Or Be Forgotten

Advertising isn’t for the faint of heart. Ad people need to be fearless or be forgotten.

Think about everything you know about advertising. We wage campaigns; so did Caesar and Patton. We invade homes like cat burglars and plan like Hannibal Smith (and don’t we LOVE when a plan comes together!).

And none of that does any good if we aren’t being seen.

According to (and we FL!), 2.5 quintillion bytes of content a day is posted to the Internet. How much is that? Well, 90% of the data humans have ever generated has been generated since 2016. Shakespeare? Thomas Jefferson? Erica Jong? Pfft.

So knowing that, you will be heartened, as was I, to learn about Jade Delaney, also known as #FearlessGirlBristol. Delaney, you see, was fearless in her quest to find employment fresh out of school as an ad copywriter.

So she did what no copywriter had done before. She painted herself up like Jill Masterson in GOLDFINGER and sent a LinkedIn message to McCann Bristol managing director Andy Reid advising him to look out his window for a fearless girl (like the statue in New York’s financial district) “adorned in gold” who would make a difference in advertising. It worked. She got the interview. Then her portfolio got her the job.

In advertising, we make pitches, we cold call prospects, we go to ad functions, we buy email lists. It’s all for naught if we don’t get the prospect’s attention. The great advertising copywriter and creative director, Bill Bernbach explained it plainly: “In advertising, not to be different is virtually suicidal.”

The worst that could have happened to Jade Delaney is that nobody at McCann Bristol would have seen her. But you know what? Nobody had seen her, anyway. She had nothing to lose. Frank Miller, the creator of SIN CITY and 300, once wrote the following advertising line when he was creating comic books: “If you intend to die, you can do anything.” Not getting a job? That’s like dying. Not selling a product? That IS dying.

So when I start to work on a project, I remember first and foremost that I have to break through in order to have a chance. Yes, it’s true that, if you don’t ask, the answer is no. But it’s more true that if you don’t get anybody’s attention, you won’t have a chance to achieve your goal. There’s a reason we have lighthouses and not just a small sign at harbor entrances.

Big gestures break through. Even people who never saw SAY ANYTHING remember the image of John Cusack holding a boombox over his head to win back the woman he loved. Even people who never watched a baseball game know Babe Ruth, who pointed to centerfield in the World Series to tell the opposing pitcher where he was going to put the ball. Actresses show up at the Academy Awards dressed to stand out, not fit in. That’s for seat-fillers.

(Hey, sometimes rich guys even shoot sports cars into orbit.)

In advertising, be fearless. Break through the clutter. Because if you’re going to avoid winding up in the email junk box with the other 269 billion emails sent today, being lost among the 656 million tweets, or unwatched among the nearly 6 billion YouTube videos looked at today, you have to stand out. As Seth Godin points out, “By definition, remarkable things get remarked upon.” In advertising, if you’re not remarked upon, you don’t exist.

Jade Delaney, if you’re out there reading this, best of luck (not that you probably need it). And that goes for the rest of you, too. After you read this, do something to stand out. Paint your front door purple. Wear a suit made out of duct tape. Turn your online portfolio into a game show. Do what David Bowie did and promise to not be boring.

Howard Davidson


It’s A P&G Ad! (Or Is It?)

When you’re a ten-and-a-half-billion-dollar gorilla like P&G, you pretty much get what you want.

The ultimate goal of this patchwork thing will be to increase the percentage of P&G advertising outlays for creative work by reducing the spend for everything else on the account. (So, really, fewer dinners.)

The component limbs and organs will be directed by Saatchi & Saatchi New York CEO Andrea Diquez. Everyone will work out of P&G facilities in either New York or Cincinnati. Perhaps it’s like the United Nations, where major powers get together for the common good. Or maybe one of those joint military operations – heck, D-Day worked for the Allies.

Or is it more like when the FBI sends Clarice to meet with Hannibal Lecter?

Inspiration for this type of conglomeration comes from Johnson & Johnson, which has consolidated its work with WPP and Omnicom, having them assemble whole teams in New York to work solely on Johnson & Johnson. McDonald’s did this about a year and a half ago, pulling together two all-beef The Marketing Stores, Alma sauce, IW Group lettuce, T Brand Studio cheese, Facebook, Google, and Twitter pickles, Burrell Communications onions, all on an Omnicom-seed bun.

So, will this trend continue? Will companies that utilize service providers demand they all work together like the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy uniting to battle Thanos? And will the synergy be great, or will we get AOL and Time Warner?

Where will this trend lead? Could Google force McDonald’s and Waste Management to work together to feed its geeks? Could Apple put Kaiser Permanente and Bayer together to keep its employees healthy?

Remember, the customer is always right. Don’t get me started, please.

Howard Davidson