Horny for Linguistic Disasters

August 10, 2017

Marketing and branding can be silly. But we give them a ton of power to shape how we see the world.

So we made a podcast to talk about how this stuff really works (how do businesses become “brands”?), make fun of the super stupid stuff (like when brands get “woke”), and trash the really ugly stuff that businesses use their brands to hide.

And we’ll try to understand the biggest question of all…


Join us in The Brand Hole to find out.


Rachel Bernard, VP of verbal strategy at CBX, joins Caitlin to talk about one of the most important parts of brand naming: making sure it’s not incredibly offensive. We get into why we check for linguistic issues, what we look for, and, most importantly, we tell tales of all the ridiculous disasters we uncover (or create).

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Editor’s blog: Kroger-Lidl Dispute a Good Sign for Private Brands

August 1, 2017

Brand expert Todd Maute says lawsuit shows how far store brands have come

Brand expert Todd Maute says the lawsuit that The Kroger Co. filed against Lidl, which goes to trial in January, is a good sign for the private brands industry.

In July, Cincinnati-based Kroger filed a federal lawsuit against Arlington, Va.-based Lidl claiming that the German retailer, which at the time had just opened its first U.S. stores, was infringing on Kroger’s well-known “Private Selection” store brand with its “Preferred Selection” store brand. Last week, a U.S. district judge denied Kroger’s request for an injunction that would have forced Lidl to stop selling Preferred Selection. The judge noted that “private” and “preferred” have different definitions and set a Jan. 11 date for a bench trial.

The lawsuit has created much attention and drama in the private brands industry. It is the new kid on the block (Lidl) taking on the veteran and venerated grocer (Kroger).

Maute, a partner at New York-based CBX, a brand agency and retail consultant, says the lawsuit reminds him of years ago when the owners of top consumer product brands always went after what they saw as trademark infringement on the part of private […]

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Brands IRL: How Brands Are Experienced in Real Life

July 6, 2017

Branding Roundtable 32

Our original intent was to make this Roundtable about a particular type of experiential branding, environmental branding, the kind that brings brands to life in physical spaces. But the topic of brands and experience refuses to be neatly contained in any kind of space, physical or conceptual, and so you will shortly discover the wide (and still only partial) range of what is involved in strategizing, activating and communicating brands as they learn to thrive across an ever- expanding landscape of touchpoints.

Read the full Roundtable discussion here.

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What does Amazon’s Acquisition of Whole Foods Mean for the Future of Grocery Shopping?

June 29, 2017

You’ve probably heard this piece of not-so-little news: Amazon has acquired Whole Foods. And while the prospect of having fresh foods, specialty cheeses, and flax seeds delivered straight to our door sounds pretty amazing, we also wanted to dig a little deeper to learn what this acquisition might mean for the future of grocery shopping. We spoke with retail and branding experts Gregg Lipman and Todd Maute, Partners at CBX to gain more insight on what consumers can expect.


Gregg: Amazon is continuing to expand its reach and ubiquity as a supplier in all aspects of a consumer’s life. They’ll continue to lead with their disruptive model—using and creating progressive technologies to make services and products that will further entrench themselves into a person’s life and transform not only the way people shop but how they live.

Todd: Amazon’s goal is to be the world’s foremost customer centric company. Its muscle has always been its well-oiled logistical operations powered by the most sophisticated of data mining capabilities. With the acquisition of a 430 retail-location strong behemoth that has mastered […]

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Amazon’s Whole Foods Acquisition is a Big Deal Indeed

June 16, 2017

For Immediate Release

Massive transaction could have far-reaching effects—some with a dark side—on retailers, brands, suppliers and more, according to executives at New York-based branding consultancy.

NEW YORK, N.Y. (6/16/17)—Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods Market is a bombshell with potentially massive reverberations for both food brands and the world of brick-and-mortar retailing, said branding and retail experts at CBX.

“For starters, this acquisition promises to shake up pricing, the ecommerce space, the trajectory of retail automation in the United States, and the already considerable competitive pressures faced by existing food retailers,” said Todd Maute, a Partner at the New York-based brand agency and retail environments consultancy. “When it comes to making bold moves aimed at disruption, Amazon never disappoints.”

Amazon, Maute noted, has already dipped its toe into brick-and-mortar retailing with the likes of its Amazon Books bookstores and ongoing experiments with small-format grocery stores. Snapping up Whole Foods, however, marks its most serious commitment to date.

“The possible effects on Whole Foods alone are interesting to contemplate,” said Maute, a nationally known expert on private label products. “For example, the consumer perception of Whole Foods is that it is overpriced. But given its massive buying power, Amazon […]

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Don’t Worry, You Really Can Build A Crisis-Resilient Brand

May 8, 2017

Brands are more susceptible to catastrophe today than at any point in modern history.

“With the rise of social media and the 24/7 cycle of media today, news spreads faster than ever,” said Nick Bell, vice president of marketing communications for Cision. “In times of crisis, this quick dissemination of information can add fuel to the fire and amplify negative news in a matter of minutes.”

Company leaders used to worry about Mike Wallace, of “60 Minutes” fame, walking through their front doors with an allegation and a camera. “Now everyone walking into your building has a camera,” said Kelly O’Keefe, professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Brandcenter. “This makes businesses incredibly vulnerable.”

Couple that with all-time low levels of public trust in corporate and governmental institutions, and you have a veritable recipe for brand disaster, added Dustin Longstreth, chief marketing and strategy officer at branding agency CBX.

Assessing The Damage

The failure to control organizational crises in the earliest stages can cost companies dearly—impacting value, revenue, and long-term reputation. Yet many businesses fail to respond quickly enough to brand-damaging issues. More than a quarter (28%) of crises reported spread internationally within an hour, according to a worldwide survey […]

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Breaking Category Conventions to Remain Relevant

May 1, 2017
By Gregg Lipman

Today’s drug store looks nothing like the drug store of your parents’ youth.

Once upon a time, I was able to have neighborly banter with Stan, the local pharmacist, who greeted me warmly and actually knew all about me. Stan freely handed out community news, bad jokes and even a bit of innocuous gossip along with my prescription. Now I get it, things change, and I’m OK without Stan, but as both a consumer and a consultant, I wonder if the changes are for the better.

Today’s drug store, if the word even applies anymore, is an eclectic assortment of allergy medications, cleaning products, packaged food and beverages, candy, “As Seen on TV” gadgets, toys, beauty, you name it. The operative idea is to create a one-stop shop for all things you need (and perhaps some that you don’t). The only item you can’t get these days in most drug stores? A personal relationship with your pharmacist.

The progression from mom-and-pop shops to mass chain stores has been the catalyst for the sector’s evolution. However, it’s important to examine the ways this has affected consumers. After all, the entire industry is working hard to leverage size, capture more market share […]

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A Balancing Act: Does getting acquired tarnish the health halo of better-for-you brands?

April 24, 2017

As major manufacturers add smaller brands to their portfolios, they can either use them to boost their potential or contribute to their demise

It’s long been considered smart business practice to surround one’s self with people who make them look good.

Many food and beverage manufacturers are applying this philosophy to their portfolios by aligning themselves with brands that appeal to today’s health-conscious consumer. These better-for-you companies benefit from strong “health halos,” or consumer perception that they are more authentic and nutritious than other companies.

Many legacy brands are angling to capture some of that halo for themselves, sparking a wave of natural and organic brand acquisitions by industry power players. Dr Pepper Snapple recently acquired enhanced water manufacturer Bai Brands. In 2015, Hormel Foods bought Applegate Farms, a leader in natural and organic meats, and General Mills picked up Annie’s Homegrown the year before that.

Chris Konyk, business consultant at Salient Management Company, believes that it’s pivotal for major food and beverage brands to change their image because many consumers associate these companies with unhealthy, sugary products.

“These companies finally got the message that people are looking to improve their health and are monitoring what they purchase for their […]

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How Wawa’s Canopy Took Wing

March 17, 2017

The story behind the iconic shape that came to symbolize the c-store chain’s brand promise

The angled, wing-shaped canopy that covers Wawa’s fuel islands is as powerful a branding tool as the price sign—if not more so. How it came to be an iconic element of the chain’s sites is a story about how design can elevate a brand.

In the mid-1990s, the Wawa, Pa.-based chain was looking to enter the gasoline business and wanted to make a statement with its fuel island. Mariellyn Zeock served as Wawa’s manager of architectural design at the time. She had never designed a fuel canopy before but was tasked with coming up with design ideas for that first fuel site in Millsboro, Del. So she drove around the area to look at local examples.

“I noticed that they were all the same—all really heavy on top,” Zeock, now retired, told CSP Fuels. “What if we just made it lighter, thinner and exposed the structure?”

The architectural team—which included Zeock and the late Jim Dodrill—got the go-ahead to pursue the idea from Peter Gilligan, then director of construction and engineering (and the recently retired vice president of real estate for Wawa). Dodrill worked with […]

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Should Brands Get Political?

March 14, 2017

At least six major brands ran ads during Super Bowl LI that addressed political or social issues such as immigration and gender equality.

At an average cost of $5 million per 30-second spot, those were some pretty expensive statements to make. Budweiser, Airbnb, 84 Lumber, Google Home, Audi, and Coca-Cola might have been lauded or jeered, depending on one’s personal point of view, for delivering those messages, but did the brands get their money’s worth?

It’s a difficult question to answer, and it raises even more questions about if and when brands should speak out about policies or proposed laws, the challenges involved in doing so, and the risks of not speaking up on issues that are important to their customer base.

On a pragmatic marketing level, there is also the question of whether issue-oriented spots provide a worthwhile return on investment. The weekend after Super Bowl LI, Saturday Night Live ran a skit depicting a fictitious ad pitch session for Cheetos that lampooned the agencies that create activist ads and the marketing managers who buy them. It was exaggerated and satirical, of course, but it likely had a lot of marketing folks talking about the underlying issues that Monday.


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