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Off Brand

Brands rush in to help end the pandemic with vaccine doughnuts and other marketing stunts

A promotional graphic with a partially eaten Krispy Kreme doughnut above a Covid-19 vaccination card, next to the text “Show your Vaccination Card, get a FREE Original Glaze Doughnut”
A promotional graphic with a partially eaten Krispy Kreme doughnut above a Covid-19 vaccination card, next to the text “Show your Vaccination Card, get a FREE Original Glaze Doughnut”

Skeptical about the Covid-19 vaccine? Or too lazy to get jabbed even though you’re eligible? Well perhaps you can be persuaded by… free doughnuts. This is apparently the thinking behind a new promotion from Krispy Kreme: Present your vaccination card at its U.S. locations, the Wall Street Journal reports, and you’ll get a glazed doughnut on the house.

The Journal suggests this may mark a new phase in brands’ attempts to find the right pandemic-era tone. The time for caution and concern is fading into a mixture of optimism and cajolery — get your shots, consumers, so we can all…


Off Brand

An angsty public is turning the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines into a dangerous brand battleground

A photo illustration featuring a shopping basket filled with vials of Covid-19 vaccines and shots.
A photo illustration featuring a shopping basket filled with vials of Covid-19 vaccines and shots.

Worldwide, there are 11 vaccines available to combat Covid-19. And according to some observers, this has led to a problem: “People are doing what they do with cars and peanut butter and Tinder profiles — comparison shopping,” an On the Media segment this weekend declared. Host Bob Garfield noted that among his friends and family in Serbia, where people apparently have access to options from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca as well as Chinese and Russian vaccines, some choices have more “status” than others. “It’s conspicuous vaccine consumption,” he said.

Similar thoughts have been burbling around social media, suggesting “people are…


Off Brand

Why one of the most important technological objects in a democracy — now at the center of every conspiracy theory — has been such a sleepy industry

A photo collage of a man driving a horse-pulled cart, with a voting booth on the cart.
A photo collage of a man driving a horse-pulled cart, with a voting booth on the cart.

Before the most recent presidential election, companies in the business of voting technology were hardly household names. That changed as the various wild and unfounded claims (lies) by Donald Trump and his allies about the vote being “stolen” were amplified by pro-Trump media outlets.

Thus the names Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic did become recognizable in plenty of households — and these companies have lately launched aggressive lawsuits to defend their brands. Dominion has filed separate $1.3 billion defamation suits against pro-Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, as well as MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. Separately, Smartmatic filed a $2.7…


Off Brand

The chain continues to deliver in hurricanes, pandemics — and now energy grid disasters

H-E-B Grocery Store and parker cars in front, Texas
H-E-B Grocery Store and parker cars in front, Texas

The recent Texas weather disaster and subsequent energy grid meltdown left many losers in its wake: residents, power companies, government regulators, and Ted Cruz. But the tragedy also produced at least one clear and unabashed winner: H-E-B, a 116-year-old, family-owned regional grocery chain based in San Antonio and already popular throughout much of the state.

At a moment when Mother Nature offered peril and institutions seemed helpless to respond, the mainstream grocer was open for business with stocked shelves, serving as an anchor of basic competence — and received glowing coverage for doing its job. It’s a halo effect most…


Off Brand

In recent weeks the stock trading app has been in reputational free fall. So why is it more popular than ever?

An illustration of a green Robin Hood cap (the bycocket) with the Robinhood company’s  feather logo placed four times along the cap.
An illustration of a green Robin Hood cap (the bycocket) with the Robinhood company’s  feather logo placed four times along the cap.

One company’s misery is often another’s opportunity, and that certainly seems to be the story of Public, an under-the-radar stock-trading app that’s lately gotten hot in large part because it is not Robinhood. Just as the #DeleteUber moment boosted its rival Lyft, the Robinhood backlash that kicked in after the app temporarily halted trading in GameStop shares at the height of stonk-mania — resulting in one-star app store reviews, social media outrage, user vows to dump the app, etc. — has sent Public a flood of new customers, and fresh investor interest. But the ultimate winner of the Public vs…


Off Brand

The oat milk brand played meta-level advertising jujitsu

Oatly CEO Toni Petersson playing the keyboard in the middle of a field with a cup and carton of Oatly oat milk to his side.
Oatly CEO Toni Petersson playing the keyboard in the middle of a field with a cup and carton of Oatly oat milk to his side.

Ads are annoying. And every year a surprising number of Super Bowl ads are super-annoying. This weekend’s game was no exception, but one of the most annoying ads took things to a new level — by commoditizing everyone else’s annoyance.

The ad consists of Oatly CEO Toni Petersson playing a keyboard alone in a field, singing a ridiculous ditty about his company’s oat milk. “It’s like milk, but made for humans,” he sings. “Wow, wow, no cow.” Petersson has a kind of annoying alt-dad look, and an undeniably annoying singing voice. So the ad is very annoying, seeming to last…


Off Brand

Silicon Valley’s new favorite social platform just had a breakthrough moment

Sorting out winners and losers in the GameStop spectacle and the related meme-stock market mess is getting confusing. Is the little-guy investor crushing the Wall Street establishment? Is Robinhood still a villain or more popular than ever? Will any of this affect GameStop’s actual future as a business?

Who knows? But amid the absurd chaos, one unexpected winner managed to sneak through with a slam-dunk self-branding moment: Clubhouse, the invitation-only, audio-centric social networking app.

Previously known mostly to the rarified tech elite and investor class — who seemed to like it, but for reasons that eluded many mainstream observers —…


Off Brand

DoorDash, Triller, and Robinhood are taking the field, while Budweiser and Pepsi sit it out

Logos of Fiverr, Coca-Cola, Doordash, Pepsi, Triller, and Budweiser as O’s and X’s on a football play
Logos of Fiverr, Coca-Cola, Doordash, Pepsi, Triller, and Budweiser as O’s and X’s on a football play

Super Bowl LV, coming this Sunday evening in Tampa, Florida, is going to be weird. Partly that’s just because everything has been weird for months, including sports events that are now an uncanny mix of fake crowd noise and cardboard-cutout fans, with players sidelined and schedules rejiggered by Covid infections. It’s particularly hard to imagine how this ultimate spectacle of togetherness — not just in a crowded stadium but in many thousands of crowded living rooms — will translate to this endless and isolated Covid-19 winter.

All of which is making things complicated for the real stars of Super Bowl…


Off Brand

The rebel boot persisted — even when no one was wearing shoes

A hip, young marketer at a hip, young agency once admitted to me something memorable. Getting a cool new brand off the ground wasn’t really the hard part of his job, he told me. What was hard was making that coolness sustainable. He compared it to opening a trendy restaurant: What happens when the trend fades? “There are always lots of new places, and people love to try them out,” he said. “But what you really want to be is the one they keep coming back to, year after year. …


Off Brand

Corporate America’s sudden change of heart has less to do with politics and more to do with chaos

A big mat with a photograph of United States president Donald Trump
A big mat with a photograph of United States president Donald Trump

We appear to be living through an unparalleled moment — a turning point, perhaps — in the relationship between business and the political system. The big social media companies de-platformed the president; Apple, Google, and Amazon effectively crippled the hard-right Twitter knockoff Parler by taking away its access to app stores and web hosting; and payment processor Stripe has pulled its service from Trump’s campaign website. And that’s just the beginning.

This goes beyond the imperative for companies and brands to leave behind the usual stay-neutral, apolitical business tradition and articulate a point of view that I discussed mere days…

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