All Marketers are Liars

Besides a catchy name, Seth Godin’s latest marketing book, All Marketers are Liars, successfully outlines a key branding principle:

“All marketers tell stories. And if they do it right we believe them. Successful marketers don’t talk about features or even benefits. Instead, they tell a story. A story we want to believe.”

Markets have ingrained and pre-set worldviews, biases and preferences. Organizations that can adapt and mould themselves to these preconceived perspectives and develop believable product or service stories will win marketshare. When audiences identify with a product or service “story” they become brand consumers.

For example, “…we believe that an $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is vastly superior to a $36,000 VW Touareg, even if it is virtually the same car. We believe that $225 Pumas will make our feet feel better—and look cooler—than $20 no-names, and believing it makes it true.” In other words, Godin is suggesting the market’s perception of a brand is more important than the actual product or service itself in winning marketshare.

Overall, All Marketers are Liars is a quick and interesting read. The book provides information on marketing and branding principles and methodologies while featuring case studies to support Godin’s position.


CaseCamp Benefit – Social Media Event

I recently attended the CaseCamp Benefit in Toronto, an event that features an intriguing list of international speakers with various points of view and future predictions on current social media practices. Here are a few key take-aways from three of the speakers:

Pet Holdings Inc.

Ben Huh, CEO of Pet Holdings Inc.

In less than two years, icanhascheezburger.com has become one of the world’s largest blog networks, with 5.5 million page views per day on sites such as Fail Blog, Engrish, and Rofl Razzi. This blog network caters to “wasting your time five minutes a day”.

* Human nature has a tendency to admire complexity but reward simplicity.

* Don’t start from scratch. Use open software platforms to keep your business costs down and increase your profits.

* If your user has 40 seconds on your site, what would they want to see?

ComeScore Inc.

Bryan Segel, Vice President of comScore Inc.

A global leader in measuring the digital world, comScore enables clients to better understand the growing worldwide web and mobile environment.

* 72% of Canadians use the internet monthly, averaging 43 hours and viewing approximately 4,000 pages.

* 89% of Canadians use online social networks viewing 650 pages per month.

* Canada has the highest per capita online video usage in the world.

Know Your Meme

Kenyatta Cheese, Producer and Co-Creater

Elspeth “Ellie” Roundtree, Producer, Writer, Internet Culture Enthusiast and Host

Knowyourmeme.com is a website documenting internet phenomena: viral videos, image macros, catchphrases, web celebs and more.

* Internet Meme: The propagation of a digital file or hyperlink from one person to others using methods available through the Internet (for example, email, blogs, social networking sites, instant messaging, etc.). The content often consists of a saying, joke or rumor; an altered or original image; a complete website; a video clip or animation; or an offbeat news story, among many other possibilities. Internet memes have a tendency to evolve and spread extremely quickly,

sometimes going in and out of popularity in just days. They are spread organically, voluntarily, and peer to peer, rather than by compulsion, predetermined path, or completely automated means. The term is generally not applied to content or web services that are seen as legitimate, useful, and nonfaddish,

or that spread through organized publishing and distribution channels. Thus, serious news stories, video games, web services, songs by established

musical groups, and the like are usually not called Internet memes. Wikipedia

* Kayne Interupts Example


Who doesn’t love apps?

Every day there seems to be new applications that make the world slightly more enjoyable. Apple even has a program called “Genius” that recommends new apps they believe you’ll love, based on the history of the apps you have already downloaded.

Here are a few of my favourite iphone apps:

Shazam: Identify music tracks, buy them, share the tags with friends and learn more about the artists.

Cleartune: Tune your musical instrument with Cleartune.

G-Park: Tap “Park Me!” Then, when it’s time to head back, tap “Where Did I Park?” and follow the turn-by-turn directions to your vehicle. Oh, and don’t forget if you park at a meter, set the timer on your iPhone—it will alert you when the meter runs out of time.

Bucksme: Find the closest Starbucks, how great is that? Other apps are available for your preferred coffee house.

Facebook: Connect directly to your Facebook account.

What apps are on your smartphone?


When has branding gone too far?

“The Beach” versus the “The Beaches” — When has branding gone too far?

Branding has gone too far when local residents spend time and money arguing about whether the Toronto area should be called “The Beach” or “The Beaches.”

“There has been endless debate over the official term for the area. While old school Beachers call the area “The Beach,” the uninterrupted stretch of shoreline actually has four different names associated with different sections. Moving west to east we find Woodbine Beach, Kew Beach, Scarboro Beach and finally Balmy Beach, leading many to endorse “The Beaches” as the name for the entire length that runs from Woodbine Park at the bottom of Coxwell Avenue to the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant (locally known as the water works).” http://www.kwadvantage.ca/the-beach-versus-the-beaches

Although the street signs now officially read “The Beach,” I am tired of being corrected by local residents when I use the term “The Beaches.” Does using the singular or the plural make any difference in the overall brand effectiveness? No!

Do you think it is worth investing time and money to argue about brands at this level of detail?


Plugging In…

I came across a very interesting poster recently at the TTC Finch Subway Station. Although not visually impactful, the words “plug in your headphones to hear the secret” caught my attention.

Curious, I plugged in my personal headphones and listened carefully to each of the six audio explanations—Xhosa tribesman, speed-reader, fax machine, 5-year old boy, gentleman with a heavy accent and a whale. Unfortunately, I was not able to understand any of the sound tracks to learn “how they get the caramel into the Caramilk Bar”. Still curious, I went to the advertised interactive website “still wondering.ca”. On this site I relistened to the six audio tracks and viewed the current Caramilk ads.

Although I felt a little embarrassed standing in front of an ad plugging in my earphones with people

constantly staring and walking by, this ad was successful. It made me stop, get engaged and be entertained.

How about you, have any ads caught your attention lately? If so, which ones?

Cadbury Ad


brand makeovers all the rage this year!

When you think of the word “Nike”, do you think of sports? Or perhaps you think of the words “fun” or “active”? Why is that? Well, Nike has—since the 1950s—successfully aligned its brand with its consumers.

How has Nike been able to stay fresh for over 50 years? Simple—they constantly re-invent themselves while staying true to their core values.

Today, many industries are realizing it’s important to redefine the brand’s appearance to remain competitive in the face of a growing global marketplace. Revamping a brand can be as small as a little identity botox or as extensive as neurosurgery, with the brand undergoing comprehensive shifts in image, culture, best practices and personality alignment for maximum desirability.

Facebook enjoys a regular nip and tuck, constantly revamping social network pages and services to reinvirgorate its relationship with existing users and attracting new members. Head and Shoulders recently underwent a major facelift to take its brand from a “dandruff-only shampoo” to a line of complex hair-care products. They stayed authentic to their brand, continuing to offer dandruff protection while attracting a wider demographic with new scents, conditioners, and other hair-care features.

While the core essence of the brand must remain true, its appearance must be both maintained and updated to sustain its relevancy and value, reflecting what is happening in the world today. Ask yourself, are you still wearing your high school hairstyle and clothes? Well? If your brand is—get a makeover, like now!


Be Inspired…

Need creative inspiration?

Our studio recently discovered this eclectic collage of artwork on the Behance Network.

Creative Network

Behance Network Home Page


Taking Ownership of the Toronto Brand…

During the current Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 416 strike, my Toronto neighbourhood came together to mow the lawn at Merrill Bridge Road Park. As a community, it was important to us that our children and dogs have a safe place to play and that we take pride in the appearance of our public space. It seemed innocent enough—neighbours coming together for a good cause and getting to know each other over a free BBQ.

“The city belongs to everybody, not just the striking workers. It belongs to the taxpayers,” said Christine MacLean, the organizer of the Merrill Bridge Road Park mowfest, Toronto Star, July 10, 2009. “We have to stop relying on the city to provide everything. The community has to take some kind of ownership and that’s what we’re doing.”

To our surprise, the press came out to publicize our actions and the President of CUPE Local 416 responded by calling us “SCABS”!

As the days pass into weeks during this strike, I am proud to be a Torontonian. Citizens are taking ownership of our city by actively mowing lawns, cleaning parks and streets, and going above and beyond for no pay and little recognition just to keep the Toronto brand great.

What are you doing to keep Toronto great during this strike?


Oh Canada….

There I am driving in Toronto, south on Yonge Street passing Eglinton, and I can hear police saying “….stand back from the door, stay in-line and off the road…” and I wondered what the heck was going on?! I later learned how the Mandarin brand was celebrating Canada Day! Check this out and let us know if you experienced any great Canada Day brand initiatives?

The Mandarin offered an All-You-Can-Eat FREE buffet to celebrate Canada Day between 12 pm to 8:30 pm for anyone who provided proof of Canadian citizenship at any of their 21 Ontario outlets. Mandarin fans started lining-up at 1 am and by noon over 800 Canadians were lined-up around the block at the Mandarin Yonge/Eglinton location which seats 250 guests. The crowds waited over 3-hours in-line and restaurants were forced to bring in extra food and staff to accommodate the growing throng of people.

“Co-founder James Chiu, 61, got the 21 Ontario outlets to celebrate Mandarin’s 30th anniversary and to thank Canada for their success by offering free meals. ‘We are very grateful,’ said Chiu, who emigrated from Taiwan with his family in 1964, became a Canadian citizen five years later and opened his first restaurant in Brampton in 1979. Chiu estimated the event would provide more than 30,000 meals, costing about $500,000.”

Packet & Times Article

Metro News


James Chiu, centre, President of Mandarin, and other staff members hand out spring rolls to some of the hundreds of people that lined up outside the Yonge/Eglinton restaurant. Image: Avid Cooper/Torstar News Service



YAY! Toronto is taking the lead on creativity and bringing the multi-dimensional world of the arts to our city with Luminato, a ten-day arts and creativity festival—fantastic!

Friday night was great, “The Girls and Their Buddy” at Massey Hall: Shawn Colvin, wonderful; Patty Griffin, amazing voice, so Nashville; Emmylou Harris, sweet and reserved; and then there’s Buddy Miller—go Buddy go! Together, they jammed in that old hall with great sound and made you feel like you were hanging out in their barn…a really nice laid-back introduction to the uniqueness of a festival where people want to share their passion and talent.

Next, on to the red carpet for the opening night “parties” at The National Ballet School. The outside of the building was transformed into an engaging visual art/media expression with constant images and messages 5 stories high! Lights, cameras, action—all inside…

The best was on the second floor, hosted by Armani. It was happening. Skipping the name dropping, everyone was happy to be involved with this very cool thing called Luminato. The parties had live, unique and diverse entertainment, late night snacks and tons of people all excited and talking about which event they were going to next, how great it is to have Toronto bringing such talent to the public largely for FREE…so many wonderful offerings, possibilities and OH NO I thought of taking a night off this week—now all I want to know is how do I get tickets for the sold-out Nederlands Dans Theater for Thursday?


Saturday night we joined The Children’s Crusade for the standing and OUTSTANDING performance in the converted old warehouse on Dufferin Street, including Fire Marshals haha, no kidding. It added to the excitement and expression of simply working with creativity in our city. It is a must see—with a wonderful mix of macabre, seedy and terrific acts. Oh did I mention it’s a musical, NOT like anything you’ve ever seen.


Sunday we enjoyed an appreciation brunch at the AGO with friends and those generous Luminaries: gracious founding supporters who helped transform the nothing-less-than-brilliant shared vision of Tony Gagliano and David Pecaut (founders) into reality. A wonderful investment in engaging the city with creativity, innovation and unique festival-only experiences—truly an important initiative for Toronto’s social, cultural and economic development. 

After lunch HA! Mesmerized we were, by the visual and audio works of Tony Oursler in Grange Park, on the corner of McCaul and Dundas and just inside the AGO, past the shop—FREE of charge. Yes, we spotted the RED BALL at Old City Hall which was fun, as hundreds of people snapped photos of family and friends standing beside the massive ball squished into the columns at the front door :-), but the real beauty was at BCE place! It’s brilliant, the “long wave” by David Rokeby—represented by Pari Nadimi Gallery.

Ahhhh, no rest this week: it’s the Tribute to Neil Young tomorrow night—and I’m still seeking tickets for Nederlands for Thusday. Friday, 5 O’Clock Bells; Saturday we’re off to enjoy the “very hot” interpretation and closing night performance of Carmen and a coolio/fresh after-party (tell you all about it next week), and Sunday—a special 25th Anniversary of Cirque Du Soleil event at Harbourfront—FREE.

How’s your week shaping up? See you at Luminato


Hey Boss, One Sugar or Two?

Interning, regardless of where you’re “placed,” is marred by a certain stigma.  Essentially you’re the coffee guy, the photocopier, the gofer. If you’re lucky, the other employees actually know your name.


My time at belladonna communications  has been nothing short of…well let’s say pretty darn awesome. Not only have I been fortunate enough to be given my own email address, desk, computer and extension number, but actually being called Hussein and not “Intern,” “You There” or “Kid” is actually quite liberating. Bosses take notice: we interns are simple folk. We appreciate the luxury of being treated like a human being, it gives us a sense of…belonging.


I have never recognized the intricacies and manpower required to launch a website, and the amount of time and effort that goes into designing a website is unbelievable. Not to mention the amount of paper used to create layouts, which are tacked up all over the wall, only to be ripped down, drawn on and thrown on the floor.  Yup, I said it, paper is involved in creating something digital (talk about irony). Who would’ve thought you go through tons of paper when creating a website? Not just any paper mind you, there are hundreds, no thousands, actually I would say there are at least 6 bagillion different combinations of paper stocks, weights, colours, and textures.


What I learned: White is out, off white is in, and recycled paper is the new cool. I experienced this first hand when we met with a paper representative from the U.S. Watching Angela and Sam’s faces during the meeting was like watching kids at Christmas. They smiled, they laughed, heck I think they even cried a little. They were overcome with joy, while I sat-in on the meeting trying to comprehend where this sense of euphoria came from. I guess either that it further emphasized their passion for quality work or that their lives are actually quite dull, but either way, thanks to that meeting, I can never look at paper the same way again. It’s actually quite disturbing.


I have to credit the belladonna team though. They are treating me like a human being and not a human coffee maker, plus they actually know my name…score!


So for now, I will go back to my research, my marketing magazines and my desk by the window…for an intern, I sure am living the good life.


Great City Chicago!


What a GREAT weekend, give yourself a gift—go and visit a GREAT CITY, CHICAGO! That city is a GREAT inspiration for transforming Toronto!


Mmmmmmm, Millennium Park—it surrounds you with its magnificence, with the brilliant design features of our Canadian, Frank Gehry…we need more of his work here in Canada! “Millennium Park honors and builds on several proud Chicago traditions at once—beautiful architecture, landscaped and protected parklands, and the ongoing celebration of the arts.” said Mayor Dale



You soooooo must do the new Modern Wing at The Art Institute…to frame Millennium Park from another perspective and let the daylight touch your soul while absorbing the most incredible collection of 20th- and 21st-century art in the fabulous new wing designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano. Kudos to Piano!




Don’t forget the culinary haut design, Chicago is for foodies! Awwwwwww, Charlie Trotter’s never disappoints: Chef Trotter is devoted to divine dining and spoiling yourself rotten, I deserve it! It’s a not-to-be-missed experience at one of the world’s finest restaurants, don’t you agree? 


Tell me, don’t you just love Buckminster Fuller?! “So I said, call me Trim Tab.” Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago has the best Buckminster Fuller exhibit on right NOW…what a guy, so smart, empowering and achieving of greatness. Who is Canada’s Buckminster Fuller??


Buckminster Fuller is often cited for his use of trim tabs as a metaphor for leadership and personal empowerment. In the February 1972 issue of Playboy, Fuller said: “Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, call me Trim Tab.”



Just sayin’! Have a GREAT time in Chicago! Toronto has huge potential, what will it take to make Toronto the inspiration for Chicago?


Brands Misbehaving…

After much internal debate, belladonna has selected the 3 companies below as some of the worst brands. What brands would you nominate?


Coffee Time


“The crack house of coffee shops. At least they are consistent at being bad.” Coffee Time recently relaunched with a new messy logo and identity platform that could be reminiscent of either the smell of coffee or more likely the strong odor of cigarette smoke that still permeates their retail locations. Consistent in poor marketing and brand experiences, Coffee Time delivers an overall dismal coffee shop encounter.



The little engine that could not deliver—union strikes, cancelled service, late trains, “cattle call” packed trains/buses and increased pricing all leave GO as one of the worst brands to deliver on its brand promise of safe, convenient, and efficient transportation to the communities of the Toronto area. As a clear monopoly they win by default, not by design.



“It takes years of neglect or mismanagement to destroy a strong brand, and even longer to rejuvenate a brand that has fallen into disrepair,” Alan Middleton, Professor of Marketing at York University. Years of bad service, late flights, government bailouts and other frustrating experiences have left a mark on Air Canada’s brand. Regardless of what new marketing tactics Air Canada tries, its consumers will always remember that their experiences were inconsistent with the brand’s promise.


What we’re reading

What are your thoughts on these major brands—Apple, Tiger Woods, Nike and Scrabble—making headlines this week?





Was Avatar Just The Beginning?

During my weekly scan of the New York Times I came across an idea that I haven’t been able to shake. To be honest, it’s something I’ve been thinking about since my second screening of Avatar… I’ve been quietly pontificating but now I’m going to wonder out loud, with you.

The line in the New York Times read, “Put on your 3-D glasses — What isn’t in 3-D these days?”

So I ask, are you with the pictures—have you made the switch to 3-D?

Are the classic and modern ideas of simple, clean lines becoming blurred, maximized and digitized? If more and more directors, executives and influential companies are getting on board with this techno-trend, is this a shift, does 3-D really have legs?

I might be able to get used to seeing the world in blue and red but on the flip side, I am not willing to sacrifice image/picture quality and refined brand iconography for what may just be a passing fad. Design innovation is great and I love how 3-D bends traditional in-the-box concepts and ideas. I confess, I did see Avatar not once, but twice and loved being taken into the picture in a whole new way but that doesn’t mean I want to see any old rom-com in 3-D. There is a time and a place for this technology—in the coming months how many marketing departments, designers and branding professionals will implement this technology.

…And for all you golf fans with a 3-D capable box, you might want to mark you calendars and stay on the look out: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118017118.html?categoryid=3764&cs=1&nid=2562&utm


Holiday Branding

Another consumer holiday has passed—Valentine’s Day. Grocery stores, drug stores and big box retailers alike were stalked up on Valentine’s Day treats. Everywhere I looked, love slogans and warm pink hearts—in my face. Are holidays such as Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Easter being over marketed and turned into consumer nightmares? I think it’s fair to say that most holidays have become a brand.

Many companies have hopped on the holiday branding-wagon, and why not? There is a market for these branded holiday products after all… But how far have these new “brands” strayed from the original holiday spirit? Does it matter?

With my belly full of chocolate—‘tiss the season, I’m curious to know, which holiday has been branded the best? Which brand do consumers spend the most money on? Personally I would say Halloween has developed into a strong brand over the years. The costumes, the parties… I can’t even begin to count the number of events that are centered around Halloween, it’s out of control! Who wouldn’t love a holiday that allows you to change your identity if even for just one day? The costume options are endless these days—from the always-traditional Witch, to the famed personas of Marilyn Monroe or Elvis. After all, it’s Halloween the normal rules don’t apply. Young or old, single or hitched Halloween is fun for all and definitely one holiday I’m excited to spend my money on. But have we lost sight of the true meaning of All Hallows Eve?

Likewise, Valentine’s Day seems to have lost that, “love will conquer all” feeling and replaced it with the pressure of picking out that perfect diamond bracelet, playing the best (but not too clichéd love songs) for the evening’s candle-lit dinner and a movie. Where did all this stress come from? Is it the brand that now puts pressure on consumers for the best and most outrageous and original costume or romantic evening? The evolution of these holidays has been a long time in the making and while it’s interesting and a fresh take on an old concept has it gone too far? Or, are we comfortable allowing these holidays the opportunity to become even larger brands?


Design Copycats: Inspiration or Theft?

As I walked along Spadina, I stopped in my tracks when I came across this small travel agency called “ G.A.P. Adventures”. Their company logo almost identically resembled the M.A.C. Cosmetics logo, even having the periods in between the three letters. The only differences were that the spacing between the letters was wider and a line went below the word G.A.P. While this was perhaps a bit of inspiration, I feel a bit of plagiarism may also be involved in this case. It’s true it is difficult to reinvent the wheel since almost everything you think of or see these days has been done before. The art is to take the best of everything you see or hear and put it together to create a new piece of art and give it your own personal touch and style.

Another copycat scenario that a friend who lives in New York brought to my attention is the exact likeness between a TTC poster in Toronto and the MTA ( Metropolitan Transportation Authority). Although the TTC received permission from the MTA to use the same creative concept, it is very unoriginal on the TTC’s part. I find the whole structure and look of the design to be weak so why copy a poorly designed concept instead of strengthening it?? The two look almost identical, even having the same placement for the text and imagery. My friend, who had been in Toronto before, thought at first it was the same poster she had seen back home. However, upon closer inspection she noticed the small differences such as the statistics and the TTC logos at the bottom. The TTC poster states the source of the poster, written in very fine print and positioned at the bottom left of the poster. Yes the TTC got permission from MTA but it’s pretty pathetic that the TTC funds and licenses existing designs from other transit authorities instead of coming up with their own. I personally would rather they used someone else’s design (at a much lower cost to them) than paid someone else big bucks to say the same thing.

Can you find other places where you think something has been too closely copied from the original? Do you consider it to be an inspired or a stolen design?