Bob Schwartz

Category: Marketing

When Nokia Ruled the Mobile World

Nokia 1110

Microsoft is reportedly killing the Nokia brand, after having spent billions to buy the iconic company in hopes of boosting its stalled Windows Phone presence.

We are not surprised. Microsoft is the all-time tech accidental/incidental behemoth. Right place, right time, a few fortuitous decisions, strategic appropriations rather than innovations, and the next thing you know, we’re living and working in a mostly Microsoft world. Which is why Microsoft is constantly fixing what isn’t broken, and annoying and frustrating millions of users every second of every day.

The Tech Advisor article on the Nokia move led to one on the Top 10 Best Selling Mobile Phones in History.

Of those best selling mobile phones, 9 of the 10 are from Nokia (the Motorola RAZR V3 comes in at number 8). You may be used to what you think are big numbers, but at the top of the list—maybe forever—is the Nokia 1100:

The best-selling mobile phone ever is believed to be the Nokia 1100, which was released in 2003 and sold more than 250 million units. That’s more than any iPhone model. The success of the Nokia 1100 was not down to its features – it didn’t have a camera or even a colour display – but it was cheap, durable and did the jobs any mobile phone should.

Depending on your generation, you may not recognize the form factor of these Nokia phones. It was called a “candy bar” for pretty obvious reasons. If you were around for these, you also know that these were some of the most stylishly functional tech gadgets of all time: strikingly beautiful, naturally comfortable, reliably useful. Nokia did not sell over a billion and a half of the phones on the list because they were the only ones around; they sold them because they were the best and the coolest. (If that sounds like the iPhone story, it might a little, except that the Nokia phones were way cooler than any iPhone.)

Time does pass, and best is not biggest forever. Nokia’s big mistake was sticking to its proprietary operating system, Symbian, rather than adopting the then-nascent Android. If Nokia had gone Android early, it is possible we wouldn’t be talking about Samsung or Apple mobile the way we do. What later ended up happening was the marriage between a number 3 operating system, Windows, to a long past noble brand. It was a union that was never going to last.

In that box over there, though, are a couple of gorgeous Nokia phones that carried me into the mobile age and that I relinquished with great reluctance. A few years ago, when smartphones were still using the old, bigger SIM cards, I even switched SIMs and fired one of those Nokias up when a smartphone went temporarily down. Sure the Nokia seems rudimentary now. But I could still talk and listen, and still caress that Scandinavian beauty in my hand. Something Microsoft would never understand.

The iBrain and gBrain Devices

My Favorite Martian

With the release of the iWatch, both Apple and Google realize a challenge they face. There has been a bit of pushback to Google Glass, and there will no doubt be a similar issue for the iWatch. Even the most avant garde people may have second thoughts about just how cool they don’t look wearing and using those devices.

Which is why Apple and Google are working on devices that are innovatively powerful but completely inconspicuous. These are brain implants that will function as smartphones—and more. Working names for these devices might be iBrain and gBrain. No one will know you are wearing them. No more pulling your smartphone out of your pocket, or putting on a pair of glasses, or bringing your wrist up to your face.

Ironically, the problem that Apple and Google have is precisely that: nobody will know you are using it. That is, there is no badge. Which is why, on a parallel track, marketers are working on an actual badge that tells the world that you are wearing an iBrain or gBrain. Another thought that marketers have is to encourage jewelry or tattoos that bring attention to the implant site. One product manager has even suggested a non-working antenna that could attach to the implant, giving the user the look of an old-fashioned Martian. Futuristic glasses and watches might not be cool, but that sure would be.

Honeywell Kitchen Computer and the Delights of Old Tech

Kitchen Computer - Menu Selection

Some people love old cars. Others of us delight in old digital tech.

We are not alone. The latest episode of Mad Men on AMC includes the installation of a computer at the agency. And the new AMC series Halt and Catch Fire is (coincidentally?) about the early days of personal computing. (Halt and Catch Fire is a real/apocryphal/funny code instruction that might send a computer into an endless loop, resulting in its ultimately stopping or bursting into flames.)

This is a page from the Neiman-Marcus Christmas 1969 catalog. The impeccably dressed N-M housewife is standing next to what appears to be an unusual table, but is actually the Honeywell Kitchen computer, which can be purchased for $10,000. (The apron will cost you another $28.) “If she can only cook as well as Honeywell can compute.” Indeed.

Kitchen Computer

Here is something completely different from the era, prophetic rather than silly. It is Isaac Asimov, a science fiction great, advertising Radio Shack’s TRS-80.

Asimov - TRS-80

Note that in the spirit of what goes around comes around, this is a pocket computer almost exactly the size of a smartphone—or is a smartphone a pocket computer exactly the size of a TRS-80? Either way, Neiman-Marcus and Honeywell were clueless, but Asimov and Radio Shack were not.

That would be a pretty good close for this post. Except that the following ad is irresistible, telling us something else about the early days of computing.

TSP Plotter

Just as cars were, and to some extent still are, sold by using sex, sometimes so were computers. This is an ad for a plotter, possibly the least sexy of all peripherals. The copy is mostly bone-dry and technical. But then there’s the trio of the model with her dress open to her navel, the headline “New, Fast, and Efficient!”, and the lead “The TSP-212 Plotting System is a real swinger.” $3,300 COMPLETE. Well, almost complete, as the model is presumably not included. But you know, that cool plotter just might attract one.

Rethinking Wireless: Why AT&T CEO is Right and May Be Wrong

AT&T is again rethinking wireless service. At an investor conference on Tuesday, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson spoke about changes in how the company provides devices and services to its customers.

“When you’re growing the business initially, you have to do aggressive device subsidies to get people on the network. But as you approach 90 percent penetration, you move into maintenance mode. That means more device upgrades. And the model has to change. You can’t afford to subsidize devices like that.”

To unpack and analyze this, a little history, wireless and otherwise, is in order.

AT&T has been at or near the forefront of changing directions in the industry. It successfully moved large numbers of its customers away from unlimited data plans, with more than 70% now paying for a fixed amount that they can use. Without the simplicity of unlimited bundling of voice, data and text, AT&T has still tried to simplify by grouping those formats in shared plans.

But then there were the devices to deal with.

The mobile device industry is out of control, which is what you would expect in a free market for an exploding technology. Manufacturers can do more and more, more quickly, asking more or less for it, depending on the configuration and profitability demands. The upshot is that smartphones are on an annual improvement cycle (the typically-used 18-month cycle is just bandied about to make it seem a little less crazy). And those smartphones are genuinely expensive, befitting miraculous pocket-sized computers, which they are.

This is where wireless providers like AT&T came in and how it became such a mess.

As the gatekeepers of wireless service, providers find themselves playing two supposedly synergistic roles. When you get to the gate, they sell you service and devices to use the service. One of those roles is relatively simple and straightforward. The other—as a reseller of hardware—has become the problem.

Back in the day, before changes in telecomm capped by the breakup of “Ma Bell” in 1982, it was this easy for AT&T and its customers. You leased a phone from AT&T and you paid whatever regulatory bodies allowed for your service. The attempt to inject the free market into this process more or less worked to radically reform that. You could get your service elsewhere and you could get your phone elsewhere and ultimately anywhere. Pricing for service and devices dropped accordingly and precipitously. AT&T and its emancipated children did not have to be in the business of selling phones, though particularly in the business sector, they still did.

Then came wireless and all bets were off.

Networks and devices came in pairs: if you want AT&T service, these are the cell phones that work on its network. AT&T did not want to be in the device-selling business, but as Stephenson pointed out, that was how you get customers on the network, where you sell your actual moneymaker.

The evolution to smartphones and data seemed on its face an opportunity. Those devices would be hungry for exactly the sort of meal that AT&T cooked up. AT&T would make the devices relatively easy to own. It was Business 101: Give away the razors, sell the blades. Manufacturers devised really nifty devices, applications for those devices proliferated like rabbits, and all should have been right with the world for AT&T, even if it had to subsidize those devices.

But few could foresee the frenetic hyperspeed at which devices would develop. A smartphone barely two years old could become a technological and experiential antique—or so it was made to seem to consumers. AT&T and others always had appropriate upgrade paths, still predicated on the seductively-priced device model.

When the tenability of that model came into question, the industry looked over its shoulder to another industry that has long had to deal with expensive devices: automakers. While the idea of owning a telephone would have seemed strange to consumers in the 1960s, so would the idea of leasing a car. But when money became tight for car buyers, that is exactly what the auto industry turned to. And when wireless providers decided to no longer deeply subsidize $600 smartphones, they came up with the same solution. For the moment AT&T is still offering smartphones at a somewhat reduced price with a two-year contract, but not as reduced as it once was. AT&T would love to leave that model behind and it may well disappear entirely. Instead, you can pay full price for the device or bring your own (with a small monthly service discount if you do), or you can pay on installments. After 20 months, the device is yours, but as with a car lease, you will owe the entire residual amount if you end paying installments early.

Here are items that Stephenson did not account for or disclose, at least publicly at the conference.

By pulling away from its role in the device distribution chain, AT&T will not curb the device development madness or the consumer desire for the latest and greatest, which is always a few months around the corner. Stephenson’s taking a stand is completely bottom-line rational, but is likely to prompt a new dynamic, in which synergy diminishes, replaced by some still-to-be-determined forces.

In essence he has said: This is nuts and we are not playing this game anymore. But if he thinks that the other players—consumers and manufacturers—are about to adapt to AT&T’s direction, it may not be that easy.

Manufacturers have been granted extraordinary freedom by the subsidy-model, freedom which certainly contributed to the accelerated upgrade cycle. They have developed expensive devices that they knew would be discounted and therefore more accessible to consumers. But they are in the business of innovation, and they can’t and won’t just stop. Either they slow down innovation, or they make devices more affordable, or they expect people to shell out big bucks every couple of years. This may or not be what Stephenson had in mind to do: shift the onus, get out from the tight space, and put the manufacturers between the rock and the hard place.

Consumers also don’t want to be left behind. The only thing moving faster than smartphone development are expectations of user experience. A good part of that is software-based, not necessarily requiring a newer or better device. But some of the most appealing and desired features and functions are device-bound. In keeping with Stephenson’s comments, the free market conclusion is that if customers want something, they should be willing to pay for it, if they are able. People might want to drive a Lexus or BMW, but some are just going to have to settle for a reliable Chevy. But that doesn’t mean customers are going to be happy, no matter how rational it is, when they’ve been driving the best for less up to now.

That isn’t the biggest question or unspoken prospect.

Consumers may not want or need as much service as AT&T has prepared to provide and plans to sell. It is evident, from research and from the rise of non-phone tablets, that this is now a Wi-Fi device world. The expense of data drove consumers there, and once they discovered that most of the capability of their smartphones could be accessed via free or cheap, and nearly ubiquitous, Wi-Fi, data and even phone service became the sometimes necessary sidekick turned to if and only if there was no Wi-Fi available. Which other than travelling, is increasingly rare.

All of us—manufacturers, providers and consumers—are rethinking the possibilities.

Familiar Faces and Founders Who Flee

George Zimmer
George Zimmer, founder of Men’s Wearhouse, has been terminated from the company he grew—on the day of its annual meeting.

He moved (was kicked upstairs) from CEO to the position of executive chairman in 2011, and he still has a 3.5% stake in the company. It is thought that he may have had some trouble letting go of the reins—a not unusual circumstance—and his firing is the result of the attendant conflicts.

Everyone with a television knows the bearded Zimmer, and has heard him promise that when you wear one of their suits, “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.” And with 1,239 stores in the Men’s Wearhouse family, many have seen one of its outlets.

There are shareholders to please, a different situation than with Zimmer’s first store in Houston forty years ago. Times are changing for suits, ironically the very fact that Zimmer highlights in the latest series of ads. So if a fresh take was called for, both in the business and the marketing, he may have been seen as standing in the way.

You know George Zimmer. But do you know John Sculley?

Everybody who studies or practices big business does, but few others any more. In 1983, Steve Jobs recruited Sculley from Pepsico to run Apple. Differences almost immediately began cropping up about exactly how Apple was going to reach the next level on its way to make money (Sculley) or make money by changing the world (Jobs). It is reported that Sculley wanted to emphasize the Apple II until the Macintosh was powerful enough to fulfill its promise. No doubt where Jobs stood; just watch the historic Macintosh “1984” ad that ran during the Super Bowl that year. Jobs was demoted in 1985 and quickly left the company. Sculley would leave Apple in 1993, after a few successes but mostly under a cloud. Jobs would, of course, return to Apple—demonstrating in the long run just how potent a founder’s combination of entrepreneurship, vision and hard-nosed business can be. Today, practically everybody on the planet knows Steve Jobs.

It’s sometimes true that founders get it, but can’t take it to the next level. It’s also sometimes true that those outsiders who think they can take it to the next level can’t because they don’t get it.

George Zimmer didn’t sell the world’s most popular and powerful digital devices, actually changing the world. He sold men’s suits. Getting that isn’t so very tough, so he may be expendable. On the other hand, he has proven that over the course of four very tumultuous decades, he did know how to sell those suits.

Sometimes founders really can’t be trusted to evolve themselves or their offerings for a changing market and world. But the possibility that they can shouldn’t summarily be dismissed, and neither perhaps should they. George Zimmer may not be back. But we know who he is, to the benefit of Men’s Wearhouse.

Do founders sometimes know what they’re doing? George Zimmer? Steve Jobs? John who?

Citizens United Lives: Money Will Still Buy Elections

Thomas Nast
In the aftermath of the election, a certain joyous complacency has set in regarding Citizens United and the impact of Big Money on the electoral process. A derisive attitude of “epic fail” has attached to Sheldon Adelson, Karl Rove and all the others who seemingly wasted their billions (or other people’s billions) on influencing the results. Some have wondered out loud about how much real good those billions would have done for a country and world in need.

In fact, the money was merely mismanaged, channeled into outdated and ineffective strategies, and thereby wasted. But that will not last. There are plenty of talented operatives and strategists out there, even now working on better ways to address electoral problems using modern means. Yes, they are outnumbered by old school consultants relying on some combination of charm, reputation and useless technique, but like the blind squirrels, even Big Money will find the acorns sometimes.

And when the billionaires do find the operatives working on the cutting edge of 21st century electoral influence, what many feared would happen in the 2012 election—but didn’t—will eventually happen. Elections will be bought, even on behalf of those candidates who appear to some as unqualified and even clownish.

It’s time to stop laughing at Karl Rove’s misfortunes and start doubling up on the efforts to neutralize the impact of Citizens United. Proposals are out there, ranging from enhanced disclosure to a constitutional amendment. Whatever the approach, pursue it now. It’s the only way to avoid the Wednesday morning in November we didn’t have, the one where we wake up shaking our heads and asking: How in the world did that happen?

The Pet Rock and a Party “Branding Problem”


If you want to get involved in a drinking game that is certain to end in alcohol poisoning, take a shot each time you hear partisan politicos say that their party has a “branding problem.”

The Pet Rock is one of the most remarkable stories in modern marketing history. In 1975, an ad executive sold a rock in a box as a pet. It was a sensation, and more than 1.5 million were sold. In a matter of months, the phenomenon faded and became a “what were they thinking?” curiosity (though you can still buy a new one).

The rise of the Pet Rock may have been the result of clever marketing. Or maybe it was just life in the mid-1970s. Either way, the precipitous fall was not a marketing issue or a branding problem.

The Pet Rock stopped selling and ultimately became a joke because in the end, it was nothing but a rock.

Marketing To “The Gays”

In the 2005 comedy The Family Stone, Sarah Jessica Parker plays an uptight New York businesswoman. She is at a family dinner with her fiancé’s gay brother, who is planning to adopt a baby with his partner. Trying to prove her open-mindedness, she says every wrong thing, and finally blurts out: “I love the gays. Gay people. They know that.”

This article appeared in a recent Billboard:

Why The Wanted Play Gay Clubs: Marketing, Music And The LGBT Community’s Mainstream Music Clout

When the Wanted was looking to book its first major U.S. gigs in January, the British pop group didn’t just call up Live Nation or AEG to reach the tween- and teen-girl fan base courted by the generations of boy bands that had come before them. Sandwiched in between 10 midsize-club dates, the group made a quintet of special appearances booked by a boutique PR and events company called the Karpel Group to help reach what has arguably become an even more powerful audience when it comes to modern pop stardom: the gays.

The article is a straightforward business and marketing story: here’s an identifiable market, here’s how the artists and labels are marketing to it. Among the reports:

For music, bloggers like Perez Hilton, Andy Towle (Towleroad) and Jared Eng (JustJared) wield a lot of influence and Sirius’ Out Q (hosted by former Billboard editor Larry Flick) has been a satellite-radio mainstay since 2003. Even Clear Channel has a Pride radio network that serves 19 markets with gay-friendly pop music as well as across iHeartRadio’s digital network.

And this:

Gay buying power, often touted for the consumer group’s supposed affluence, remains a bit of a misnomer. “There’s no data that suggests gay people are wealthier than anybody else,” Witeck Communications’ Bob Witeck says….

They also not only appreciate being marketed to directly, they expect it — particularly when it comes to music. Labels are starting to develop dedicated gay-marketing strategies for certain artists, much as they already have for reaching Hispanic or African-American audiences.

And this:

“Five or six years ago it was almost uncomfortable. Now I sit in label meetings and someone in the room will say, ‘We really have to drill down on this market,'” says Scott Seviour, senior VP of marketing and artist development at Epic Records. “On a business level and an industry level, there’s a greater respect for that consumer. You’ve seen them break an artist and make names. They’re passionate and they can move the needle.”

Business is business, markets are markets, and if you can identify and reach consumers who might buy and promote your products, that is the game. As is pointed out, the practice of marketing to all sorts of groups is common. And in a consumer-driven economy, being recognized and courted is at least a show of economic respect, if not of social acceptance.

But there are caveats too. Being targeted is not necessarily a sign of enlightenment, though it is better than ignorance, invisibility or hate. There is also a general challenge with identity marketing. It’s a thin line between identity and stereotype, a line that’s always in danger of disappearing—if it’s there at all. It can be legitimate and effective to target consumers on the basis of what you know about them and how that works with the products you are selling. But it is easy to fall unwittingly into treating people of any kind as a market and not as people.

The proposition “If you are a (fill in the identity), then you will/must like/want this” is problematic. That’s why “the gays” and “they” and even “gay-friendly” are so cringeworthy. Substitute your own or anybody else’s identity there—woman, black, Jew, etc.—and you’ll see.

We’ve come a long way culturally, moving closer to seeing and treating all people as individuals. It’s too late to turn back or slip back now.


Sometimes you stumble upon an item that perfectly embodies America, the 21st century, and America in the 21st century. All in a good way. This is from a company called Crave:

Our first product – DUET – was submitted for pre-release funding on international design funding platform in August 2011 where it raised $104,000 from over 950 backers – 694% of the original target. Word of DUET consequently spread across the web, which has effectively raised the profile of the product even before its official release, while also providing a springboard for further CRAVE products and developments.

Crowdfunding. Check. Design. Check.

But what exactly is Duet?

In a world where high technology and luxury design seem to touch every corner of our lives, the most intimate experiences should be no exception. The dominating culture in adult products often feels cheap and sleazy. We were craving something better: something beautiful, something discreet, something environmentally friendly, and something sophisticated. After all, if anything deserves good design, it’s the things we bring to bed with us.

Design, again. Check. Sex. Check.

But what exactly is Duet?

With dual motors and a V-shaped angle, DUET delivers powerful and precise vibration for external clitoral stimulation. The tip, inside edges, and outside edges provide slightly different intensities, while the flat surface is ideal for massaging the area around and on the clitoris. The dual motors’ unique ‘split at the tip’ combines with the four vibration patterns to enable a variety of sensations for you to explore…

Duet will let you how much charge remains when you turn it on. It will pulse one to four times – one pulse meaning 25% full, and four pulses indicating your DUET is 100% charged. When plugged into a USB port, a light indicator will blink to let you know your DUET is charging. The intensity of blinking will change depending on how close to being fully charged. With four vibration modes and four power levels, DUET gives you flexibility to find the perfect intensity and pattern. The settings have been designed to be easily altered at whim, but won’t accidentally change on you in the heat of the moment. Vibration modes include steady, dual pulsing, circular pulse, and wave.

Sex, again. Check. USB port??

Yes, this is Duet. A vibrator and a USB flash drive.

This is, without irony, the sort of creativity that makes America great. Purse-sized vibrators have long been around, as have flash drives. But this story that combines cutting-edge financing through crowdfunding, high-level design, digital capability, and, of course, sex goes well beyond bringing together chocolate and peanut butter. This is American genius.

Logo of a Lifetime

The image above is not the new Lifetime Network logo, launched on May 2 as part of the network’s rebranding. Instead, it is from the Sci-Fi Channel, which rebranded itself as Syfy in 2009. But for a brief moment, from November 1998 to March 1999, it asked to be called SF until it could decide what it wanted to be when it grew up. This is that interim logo.

Here is the new Lifetime logo, designed by Leroy+Clarkson:

Designing logos, while it may be well-compensated work, can be a thankless job. No matter how much sophisticated research goes into the process, it is art for commerce, but definitely art, and opinions vary according to taste (even when the discussion is seemingly objective, scientific and market-based). Add to that the creation and integration of a tag line and it is amazing that the process ever ends.

In 28 years, Lifetime has had 11 logos. You can see them on parade at Logopedia.

Elsewhere you can read explanations of what the new logo and the tag line mean relative to Lifetime’s strategies and its audience. Here and now, the logo can speak for itself…though it might have been worthwhile for A&E (owner of Lifetime) to consider reaching out to NBCUniversal (owner of Syfy) to see if maybe, just maybe, the old SF logo might still be available. Not nearly as subtle, Eastomystical, or feminine as the new logo, but it would be tons of fun: