Have you seen the recent commercial by Weight Watchers, dubbed My Butt? It’s a beauty. I admit, when I read about it in the USA Today article “Weight Watchers: Butts are in for 2015”, I was male-curious. Sorry, evolution gave my brain an instinctive admiration for the female derriere. But when you watch the ad and read about the strategy behind it, you realize there is much more than meets the eye behind the behinds.

The story of how Weight Watchers came about to run the ad featuring female butts through a woman’s life is instructive of how strategy changes take effect in real life. Weight Watchers was founded on the premise that people who want to diet will find a structured program both convenient and supportive and will therefore be less price-sensitive. That has been true for many years as WW became a successful giant. On the way it used celebrities as the face of diet. That marketing mindset comes naturally to consumer-oriented companies in this field. Nutrisystem did the same with Marie Osmond, and who among baby boomers doesn’t remember Jenny Craig’s Valerie Bertinelli with great fondness?

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When it comes to corporate advertising, being unique creates a competitive advantage. See how these companies decided to be unique, resulting in “the best ad ever.”

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According to Michael Porter, competing effectively means providing some customers with unique value, where “unique” means not offered by competitors and “value” means of worth to some customers. To do that, a company must design its set of activities in a unique way as well, or it will be imitated quickly and its uniqueness will evaporate.

Part of the activity chain, and therefore part of competing, is a company’s message delivered via its advertising. Many advertising agencies just spit out commoditized ads. (Where’s their unique value?) Once a year, in honor of the Super Bowl delirium, they try to be funny. The goal isn’t unique and the formula isn’t unique. Film a cute dog or a cute toddler or a cute dog with a cute toddler, and you have it. The cuteness and humor needn’t have anything to do with the other activities of, say, Budweiser or Pepsi. Or with sales, as Darth Vader can testify against VW. So, the activity chain is not internally very consistent.

They can all learn from Las Vegas and Cirque du Soleil.

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A recent article in The Economist about the private equity (PE) industry brought to light the one unique outfit in this dismally uncreative field: Clayton, Dubilier & Rice.

The PE industry playbook calls for leveraged buy-outs, piling debt on companies’ balance sheets and ruthlessly cutting costs to ensure the piled-on debt is serviced first and foremost. Operations, the debt-paying machine, come next; then, just milk every cent of remaining value. It’s not a going concern; it’s a paying concern, and once the payments are done the concern should be sold off, hopefully at a profit.  The problem is that quite often milking the companies for quick payback results in their operations falling apart. As The Economist says, “Operational improvements in a portfolio company [of a private equity firm] has often meant little more than promising colossal bonuses to sitting chief executives if they meet ambitious growth targets.” The carcasses of companies brought to their knees by PE decay all over the globe.

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