Writing and Marketing

Category: Articles and Reports

This category is for longer form copywriting, or portions of these writings. For those interesting in having freelance copywriting work done, these are just a few examples of projects I’ve contributed to.

Brand Analysis: Old Spice

Old Spice is, to me, a fascinating paradox of a brand. As not one who pays too much attention to the deodorant I wear, but who knows many people who swear by the product (or swear by other people using the product) I was able to collect many enthusiastic comments regarding the product. What was interesting to me was that there was two distinct lines of praise for Old Spice. One was how the brand was “mature” and “classy”, specifically in comparison to rival brand Axe – the general consensus being that Axe was appropriate for teenagers, while those over a certain age should be using Old Spice instead. At the same time, Old Spice has a reputation as a brand associated with humour and irreverence, with many people often bringing up how they enjoyed how Old Spice was never too “serious”. A quick look at the FAQ section of their Canadian website (where, in between explaining their products, a ‘short-necked giraffe’ tried to get me to look at his screenplay), confirmed this to be the case. Old Spice has a brand then, it seems, that is carefully designed to be mature – but not to mature. To be more specific, it seeks to be associated with a degree of class, but doesn’t want its target market of younger men to feel that it is too full of itself or being too serious, thusly their brand constantly having its tongue firmly in cheek.

Looking purely at their products, I found that their branding, in store and on the website, tended to follow these general trends. I soon began to come up with a variety of brand associations, settling on “fun”, “irreverent”, “masculine”, “(playfully) classy”, “’tongue in cheek’”, and with a unique blend of “mature yet silly.” This is visible not just in their famous advertisements, but all over the website and the packaging itself. For example, many of their bottles features a ‘classy’ style of writing – elegant cursive within a gold frame, or other ornate lettering. At the same time, the same packaging will features fanciful and fun artwork and designs, and even messages similar to the ones displayed on their website. Perhaps this was best displayed by their cologne packaging. A simple red design with the branded text on front gave a classy appearance – with the word “classic” itself prominently featured. On the back of the box however, was a message informing me that “If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t be here”. This is clearly having some fun with the customer, while still reminding them of Old Spice’s heritage and reliability as a brand.

From the branding, I believe we can pull out the full value proposition of Old Spice. Firstly, and most obviously, would be the tangible benefit of making you smell nice, and to keep you smelling nice. While this might seem a little bland for such a colourful brand, it should be remembered that for many, Old Spice is simply a practical product – to expand upon simply “smelling nice” I would say that Old Spice’s general tangible benefit, through deodorants to shampoos and soaps, it to make you more presentable throughout the day. Of course, there are plenty of emotional benefits as well – scent based brands, I think, have to lean heavily into their emotional value due to being so subjective. Axe, for example, has the emotional value proposition of making one attractive to women. Old Spice, in a subtler vein, is more about selling confidence. Partially this is obvious (many Old Spice produces use the term “confidence” directly in their descriptions) and partially it is seen in a more pervasive manner throughout their entire brand. The brand itself is confident enough to be playful with its own image, not being concerned at all what others might say about it. At the same time, its scents tend to have a lot of “masculine” branding  – references to the outdoors, high seas and hard work. No matter what confidence means to the consumer, Old Spice is providing a variation.

Tiffany and the Luxury Market in Canada

Before you even open the small box, in Tiffany Blue – before you even see the gift inside – there are immediate associations that come to mind, an immediate expectation of what might be inside. With decades of cultural impact behind it, Tiffany’s is a brand that is fitted tightly into the public consciousness. To the average consumer, these associations are automatic – but to anyone interested in branding, there is an entire market and branding strategy to unbox. Tiffany Canada is in the Broad Market of selling jewelry. This is the main product that the company sells and is a distinct market within Canada. The jewelry market is an interesting one, with a wide variety of sellers and buyers. Firstly, and most importantly, it is a retail industry, selling finished products directly to customers. It depends mainly on a variety of resource gathering secondary industries, mainly the mining of gold, silver and, of course, jewels. This industry has a few key economic drivers, the most noteworthy for this assignment being that even the cheapest of jewelry is something of a luxury. This means that this is a market that is closely tied to the changing tides of disposable income within Canada, something to keep in mind. Price fluctuation in the precious metals required to manufacture the jewelry is also a concern. The industry is of course affected by consumer demand, but also in some cases by department store demand and, increasingly, of e-commerce sites. While these are general industry trends, they affect Tiffany less, as it operates its own stores. (Indeed, as discussed later, the Tiffany stores are a key part of the Tiffany experience). It is a large industry even within the relatively (on a global scale), Canadian Market, with the most recent data from the summer and spring of 2018 showing total sales worth about $300,000,000. Within the Canadian market there are two large conglomerates of jewelry sellers that between the two of them control about 15% of the market, these being the Zale Corporation and the other the Birks Group. Out of these two, Birks tries to target the luxury market more, moving towards Tiffany’s position while Zale (through its People’s Brand) advertises itself more on its deals and affordability. After these two, Tiffany’s is the third largest jewelry brand in Canada with a Market Share at about 4%. Behind Tiffany is retailer Michael Hill, who has been shown to have fast growth in the Canadian market. Indeed, he competition between established players in this market is apparently fairly lively, as it is not a market where there any many new entrants per year. Those who do want to get into the jewelry manufacturing business are normally very small and not a direct threat to the existing blocs or are looking into other ways to crack the market.

These new forms of selling are one of the factors that are going to influence market growth in the future, and the general health of the market. Perhaps a bit ironically, forecasts estimate that it is going to be this outside competition that will pose the largest threat to established jewelry companies. Firstly, online purchases of jewelry are estimated to increase in the future, as are the jewelry products offered in department stores, who are seeking to tap into the market. These methods of selling hope to appeal to millennial buyers, who have generally declined in their jewelry purchasing. Partially this is because of the bad press the diamond industry has earned (think of ‘blood diamonds’ from Africa, and the revelation of the price controlling that the industry does), and partially because this generation is known to be low on money and time. The speed and convenience of having their jewelry be delivered, or be accessible at a central shopping location, all appeal to people who have less buying power and convenience. As well, while I mentioned that the industry was a competitive one that was difficult to break into for newer players, that does not mean that international competition might not be a threat. For example, industry operator Michael Hill international has been aggressively expanding within Canada over the past few years. This shows that despite challenges and changes in demographics, the industry is a live one, and it does not pay for any brand to fall asleep at the wheel. As can be seen, Politic, Social and Economic factors are some of the key modifiers in the Canadian jewelry market to consider as part of PESTLE.

There are also some more positive opportunities, along with the threats, to the industry. While the current generation of millennials might not be big purchasers, there is hope that this might change in the future, and that the following generation might be larger spenders. A general recovery in the economy is always good for disposable income, which is likewise good for the jewelry industry. Also to be considered is the point that technology need not only be a threat to the established jewelry industry. Branding that will set individual companies apart from competitors, both new and old, will be key, and newer technologies can be leveraged to better reinforce a brand. Tiffany’s has already shown that it understands this with how it connects itself, celebrities and consumers through social media such as Instagram.

The Risk of “Games as Service”

The service model is an interesting one, to be sure, and holds a wealth of promise for revenue, and flexibility in game design. The service model allows for monetary value to be extracted over time, rather than in unreliable bursts around release of main products and expansions of those products. Exactly how this is done varies. Previously, games as services preferred the subscription model, seen in popular games such as World of Warcraft and  EVE: Online, with a payment given per month. Current models often do something similar, but attempt to offer more flexibility in payment, in exchange for the possibility of greater payment. This can involve slowly releasing more content in downloadable packages that are purchased individually, or, increasingly, simply having digital ‘goods’ that exist within the game cost additional money. Sometimes these models are mixed, like in the case of a “season pass”, where a one-time amount of money is paid with the promise that later on the purchaser will receive those “digital goods” as the season unfolds. All of these are in general known as “microtransactions” – often the total microtransactions a game will offer over its lifespan will add up to be more, sometimes significantly more, than the original game. Microtransactions are not without controversy, however. Many support them under the idea that by dividing up the cost of the game, players have more power to pick and choose what content they get, allowing them to not purchase a piece of content they feel would not suit them. On the other hand, many game studios take the model of “having their cake and eating it” releasing the game at a full price as well as offering microtransactions at the same time, citing extra costs, despite the cheapening of technology[1]. Some controversy was raised when it was revealed that certain companies were creating finished games, then purposefully removing content to sell it back to players separately for more money, rather than developing this content over time.

All the above is a preamble to the fact that I believe that the games as a service model is an inherently risky one, and Canadian developers for large ‘game service’ companies should keep an eye out for possible shifts in the market. There are a few reasons this is risky. Most dramatically, there may be legal difficulties as far as microtransactions go. The idea of microtransactions was already somewhat controversial due to, critics argued, often mimicking the tactics used by casinos to extract the maximum amount of money from customers who are particularly prone to gambling addiction behaviours, known in the industry as “whales”, with players with more self-control being known as “minnows”[1]. This set up became even more controversial (if possible) when companies began to sell microtransactions in the form of “lootboxes” – where the content provided was unknown and randomized, thus encouraging players prone to gambling to continue to input money in the hope of getting a good result. The straw that broke the camel’s back was likely the inclusion of the lootbox system in the new Star Wars and FIFA soccer games, franchises traditionally popular among children.[2] Already some American states and European nations are making movements towards classifying this kind of monetization as actual gambling, and regulating it as such.[3] Many companies have decided to fight these decisions, and how it players out remains to be seen, though Europe at least is not exactly known for its good feelings towards large American tech companies. Just how much of an impact these kinds of regulations can have remains to be seen – but many of the companies at the heart of the controversy, like Star Wars and FIFA licence holder EA, have significant investment in Canada. If they are forced to make an immediate change to their monetary model, there may be significant disruption in the Canadian market. So far, EA has indicated it wants to fight for its rights to operate as a gambling company without being referred to as so, which may indicate a lack of plan if its investment in this strategy does not pay off.[4]

However, there are less obvious threats in the move towards microtransactions and the live service model. The problem, as mentioned in discussions in class, is that of “service saturation”. Essentially, those interested in the entertainment business tend to seriously look at the growth of video streaming services and question as to what the limit of subscriptions is, as more companies such as Disney throw their hats into the ring. Any given customer will only feel that a certain amount of these services is returning any real worth to them – there is only so much time and money. However, companies in the interactive media seem highly confident that their live service games will not suffer from undue competition, even though certain companies are, indeed, competing with themselves. EA once again makes a perfect example here, where their much lauded launch of Anthem had its thunder stolen by their other product, Apex Legends. Many of the live service games are becoming almost like second jobs, with the most value extracted by the player through daily play. As more and more companies move to this model, players have to increasingly decide which of these services are worth their time and money – and with multiple companies making multiple such services, they are going to reach their limit much quicker. These companies often word the service model as something that will save them from the unpredictability of the “blockbuster to blockbuster” model, where games must gamble on their opening months. However, there is no indication that the service model is any more reliable. Ubisoft, for example, had a great success with one of its Tom Clancy licenced service titles, Rainbow Six: Siege, which started slow but eventually won over a large fanbase. On the other hand, another Tom Clancy service, The Division, was considered much less successful, and instead of continuing, a sequel was made as a second chance to “get it right”.

The thing is, this has all happened in the gaming industry before. The gaming industry is nothing if not a trend chaser, especially in the larger company space. The most similar experience it has gone through previously was the “Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game” craze, based around games where a larger number of players could be active on a single “game world” at once. Running servers is expensive, of course, so the companies operating these games would often ask for a subscription fee per month. Blizzard Entertainment gained a smash hit in the genre with their “World of Warcraft” MMORPG, and a multitude of companies scrambled to copy its success. Barring a few niche examples, they mostly failed. The fact of the matter was that players often already had World of Warcraft, or their differentiated niche of choice. It was not until companies started to offer another a differentiated model (normally microtransactions) that people could be lured away from their subscription games or tempted to play others. In the end, engaging in industry rushes turns into competitions to seize time, attention and money from a demographic increasingly beset by options. These services will have to be significantly different from each other in order to grab attention – but the trend is going towards homogenization, rather than towards differentiation of offerings. Companies copy other companies, with EA’s Anthem release seeming very similar to the earlier Destiny 2 release by Activision[1]. Ubisoft ran into this problem with themselves with the aforementioned Division and Rainbow Six, two tactical military services based on the works of Tom Clancy.

[1] https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2018/06/10/anthem-preview/

[1] https://www.gamesbrief.com/2011/11/whales-dolphins-and-minnows-the-beating-heart-of-a-free-to-play-game/

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2018/02/13/ea-activision-and-others-should-be-afraid-of-hawaiis-new-loot-box-bills/

[3] https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2018-04-25-now-belgium-declares-loot-boxes-gambling-and-therefore-illegal

[4] https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2018/09/ea-defies-belgian-loot-box-decision-setting-up-potential-gambling-lawsuit/

[1] https://gamerant.com/video-game-prices-breakdown-514/

Canada Within the Digital Media World

It would  be disingenuous to treat the Canadian video game industry as one that began in splendid isolation, only later being taken over by foreign invaders. In many cases, the rise of the Canadian video game industry in the 90s and early 00’s hinged on the support of these companies entering the Canadian Market. Being from British Columbia, I am well aware of the importance that Electronic Arts plays in the economy of Burnaby, for example. However, many Canadian based developers who are now part of larger American companies did start off as successful companies in their own right; Relic, Radical and especially Bioware are all companies that were successful on their own terms before eventually going for the American merger. By the same token, many studios that are subsidiary to foreign companies have begun to develop their own identities – the Canadian offices of global video game giants EA, Rockstar, Microsoft, Capcom and Ubisoft, to name a few, have all earned themselves recognition for the products they make independently of their parent corporations[1] – if sadly perhaps not enough recognition outside of those who closely follow the industry and keep aware of who actually makes their games.

Mergers with global publishers made sense during these eras. Mostly American (or in some cases Japanese or French), these companies had the edge in the start of the industry, with greater resources and the first mover advantage. Many Canadian studios had talented developers who felt it was in their best interest to get global partners for distribution, as they often struggled to balance costs with sales. On the other hand, there was a healthy innovation community within Canada, particularly in Montreal, that these foreign companies wanted to tap. This lead to the situation of today, where there are essentially two “levels” of the Canadian video game industry – the entrenched large studios that are immersed within the global framework, and the rising tide of independent studios, normally making smaller scale ‘indie’ or mobile games. The assumption has been that the money has been, and will be, within these larger studios. The smaller studios are supported not because they are seen as potentially lucrative, but rather because it is believed that they could not support themselves in the business of creativity without help[2]. They are the small Canadian independent films to the American Hollywood of the global game studios. And yet, the Canadian video game industry is the third largest in the world, behind America and Japan – but it is being treated, both internally and externally, as if it is a bit player in terms of actual cultural impact. Canadian workers make the games, but their foreign producers reap not only the financial rewards, but also the cultural coinage.

This situation parallels many other concerns in other art forms as to the relationship between the American and Canadian cultural landscapes – that being so similar, while also smaller to America, Canada is doomed to be lost in the shadow of its neighbour. This is especially prevalent in discussions about the film industry, but Canada is not nearly the world influencer in film as it is in interactive media. This is something strange, given the wealth of talent outlined above – and also only true if a very “zoomed out” look at the games industry is taken. Indeed, looking at the “video game market” as a whole is something of a fallacy. The consumer markets for games as competitive activities, for games as hobbies and for games as art, while often overlapping, are distinct entities in their own right, and I feel it is an oft repeated mistake to try and view the games industry as a single entity, in the same way, at least in the same way as the film industry. So too, the industry should be seen as occupying different levels, including a growing “indie” game market – traditionally, the “indie” game market referred to those games made for the smallest budgets and teams, but increasingly the divide is more clear in the industry with the “AAA” space and the indie market both growing to encompass most discussion. The importance of this is that the indie game market is where Canada earns much of its respect, with titles such as Don’t Starve, Cuphead and the Long Dark being well received.

[1] https://www.windowscentral.com/here-are-top-canadian-video-game-companies

[2] https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/the-evolution-of-video-games-in-canada-1.914304

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