The first use of “lipstick on a pig” was in 1985 when theÂ The Washington Post quoted a San Francisco radio host remarking “that would be like putting lipstick on a pig” in reference to plans to refurbish Candlestick Park (rather than constructing a new stadium for the San Francisco Giants). In more recent days, it’s an often used line among US politicians (in fact Dick Cheney called it “his favorite line” in a speech made in Colorado).Â Regardless of the situation, per Urban Dictionary, it refers to trying to make something or someone look appealing or attractive when it quite clearly will not.
Is perhaps a fresh coat of paint the new lipstick?
Iâ€™m talking about the â€śnew Americanâ€ť, American Airlineâ€™s rebranding effort in the wake of the USAir merger. Per Americanâ€™s site, â€śweâ€™ve changed our look on the outside to reflect the progress we’ve made on the inside, revealing our new logo and the refreshed exterior of our planes.â€ťÂ The problem is, theyâ€™ve revealed the â€śnew Americanâ€ť with a coat of paint (and a new website), without having done anything to remedy the product and service problems of the â€śold American.â€ťÂ Â Yes, I know itâ€™ll take time, but they boast about all of their new planes, and I have yet to see one.Â And while their website says their flight attendants will have new uniforms, it says nothing about providing a better service experience. In fact, flying from San Francisco to New York last week, my experience of the â€śnew Americanâ€ť consisted of a laughably old plane, torn seat pockets and cranky, disinterested flight attendants.Â Nothing â€śnewâ€ť here.
While I could muse for a while about the deplorable state of air travel in the US, thatâ€™s not what this is really about. Itâ€™s about misuse of brand strategy as â€ślipstickâ€ť or a â€ścoat of paintâ€ť â€“ assuming that if you say you are great, people will believe you. Brand strategy is meant to direct what you do (and what you donâ€™t do) and how you do it.Â A brand is most powerful (and credible) when it is baked into all touchpoints – when itâ€™s real and tangible for your audience. And itâ€™s just so much more powerful when your strategy is the â€śresponseâ€ť you get from your customers after exposing them to the strategy in action rather than something you tell them in words or visuals.
And since we were on the subject earlierâ€¦ Go Giants!
Sara Schor, Sterling Strategy