Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Oreo, the 100-year-old cookie

It's not a corporate or product anniversary, because that might sound too serious. It's a cookie having a birthday, and we're all invited to the party. Celebrate the kid inside: That's how Nabisco has positioned the 100th anniversary of Oreos. And why not? The birthday Web page features games and invitations to upload your Oreo-eating moments to Oreo's gallery and Facebook page. (Note to Nabisco and its parent company Kraft: Don't hold your breath waiting for my pix.) That's a good variation on the usual About Us page. My preferred activity is to actually eat an Oreo, ideally crumbled onto vanilla ice cream.

In a good piece in The New York Times about Oreo's corporate history, Stuart Elliott observes the following (italics added): "The campaign is indicative of two trends reshaping consumer marketing. One, referred to on Madison Avenue as authenticity, involves responding to a growing interest among consumers seeking value in the provenance of brands as they search for products whose quality has been tested over time. The other trend involves efforts to present those heritage brands in updated ways to reassure consumers they can still meet contemporary needs."

Monday, February 20, 2012

“About Us” Evaluation: Subway Gets a B

Subway, founded by Fred DeLuca in 1965 and headquartered in Milford, Connecticut, has over 35,000 restaurants in 98 countries, making it the world’s largest single-brand restaurant chain. Privately owned and operated, it is one of the fastest-growing franchises in the world. Subway’s About Us page is here.


Subway’s main About Us page is nicely laid out, with a quick summary of the company’s strengths: fresh ingredients, customer service, innovation. We love that instead of offering us the choice of history, social responsibility, FAQ, or current news stories via tiny words on a navigation menu, Subway gives each of these options its own section of the main page, with enticing headlines and graphics.

Accessibility: B+

Kudos to Subway for giving us multiple ways to reach them. At the lower right of the main About Us page are the mailing address, phone, and email. There’s also a Contact Us tab in the top navigation bar and a Contact Us link in the footer. Customer feedback clearly matters to Subway: they make it easy for us to do it. (Of course, we always wonder what the company actually does with it. We hope they reply with more than just a boilerplate email.)

One minor suggestion: On the Contact Us page, some of the fields could be arranged side by side to make the form look shorter. It currently runs to two full pages on a laptop screen and begins with the earnest but daunting request that we fill in as much information as we possibly can.

Personality: B

The history is brief but well told, with archival photos that make the story even more interesting. We’d like to have more information on the founder, Fred DeLuca, who’s apparently still in charge. What are his values and goals? How do they drive the company? This omission is particularly odd given that (according to the company timeline) Mr. DeLuca published a book, Start Small Finish Big, on how to run one’s own business.

We applaud the timeline for including fascinating tidbits such as we see all too seldom on company websites. Who knew that Subway was featured in The Simpsons, that they have a branch in Qatar, and that their float once won a trophy in the Tournament of Roses Parade?

Products/Services: B

Subway’s pages are often mouth-watering. We started to feel hunger pangs while reading about the introduction of various menu items in the timeline. It would be an improvement, though, to have images of these rather than verbal descriptions.


Subway’s pages are well designed, but since they can’t convey the smell, taste, or texture of the products, they should include more photos of Subway’s food and of customers enjoying it.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). Contact us if you’d like to have your site evaluated—there’s no charge and no obligation.

Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mad Men: It Never Goes Away

Perusing the The New York Times Sunday Review for February 12, I was amused by two observations about "Mad Men." First, Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia cofounder: "It's hilarious, you know, it's such a portrayal of a period in history which probably never was like that but matches our preconceptions." Then, three pages later, the suddenly ubiquitous Mimi Beardsley Alford, JFK's intern and self-proclaimed mistress: "God, I love 'Mad Men.' All of it is exactly what was going on."

Not that Ms. Alford ever actually worked in an ad agency, of course. Neither did Jimmy Wales, but I cast my "Mad Men" vote with him because all my old-time ad agency friends tell me that the Manhattan ad world in the 1960s was a whole lot more fun than "Mad Men" makes it out to be.

But if you want a credible workplace drama, get to the Mint Theater on West 43rd Street in Manhattan for "Rutherford and Son." Written almost 100 years ago, it's about a family business in industrial England. Particularly, it's about how the sons of the tycoon can't edge out from under his shadow. Meanwhile, the scion casts out his only daughter, who is smarter than them all. My corporate history work brings me in contact with many family businesses, and many of them (thankfully not all) still share these traits.

Monday, February 6, 2012

“About Us” Evaluation: Hilton Gets a B+

Conrad Hilton bought his first hotel in 1919 and rapidly expanded acquisitions after World War II. Hilton Hotels became the first coast-to-coast hotel chain in the United States, the first to install televisions in guest rooms, the first to build an airport hotel, the first to offer multi-hotel reservations …. The list goes on. Today there are more than 530 Hilton-branded hotels in 78 countries, on six continents. Hilton’s About Us page is here.


Accessibility: A

The footer of every page has a link to a Customer Support page with separate contact information for comments on a recent stay, reservations, rewards program, travel agents, and so on. As always when faced with an online form for email, we wish the page included an option for sending a copy of this message ourselves, in case we need to follow up.

Products/Services: A+

Hilton’s About Us page offers one the best summary of a company that we’ve seen. The first paragraph states the size of the company and emphasizes the quality of its product. It ends with a great description that will appeal to almost everyone, at some point: “Hilton is where the world makes history, closes the deal, toasts special occasions and gets away from it all.”

The second paragraph, under the heading “The Industry Standard,” summarizes Hilton’s innovations: first hotel to install televisions in guest rooms, first airport hotel, etc. The next two paragraphs briefly cover Hilton staff and philanthropic activities.

The hierarchy and the amount of space devoted to each topic on this opening page are perfect. Even better, the information fits on a single screen. The only improvement we’d suggest is having links in the text to further information, such as news stories on inaugural balls held at the Hilton or specific philanthropic activities. This would give readers the option of learning more, and would also visually break up the dense block of text.

Personality: D

We like that the About Us page has a menu with links to each of the Hilton chains (Conrad, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, etc.), and that the page for each of those chains has its own distinctive look and a satisfying number photos.

On the down side, it’s a pity that Hilton’s many awards are buried in a Fact Sheet that’s only accessible via a link in the Quick Facts box at the right side of the About Us page. For a prize-winning company, a separate awards page would be reasonable. Likewise, a company that’s been around for nearly a century could appropriately have a separate page for the timeline that’s also now buried on the Fact Sheet.

But these points are minor compared to the single glaring omission on Hilton’s site. Only one time (on the Fact Sheet) does the Hilton site mention its founder, Conrad Hilton. Hilton was a pioneer in the hospitality industry and one of its dominant figures for decades. His autobiography, Be My Guest, is still recommended reading for people in the advertising and hospitality industries.


Even when a company goes global and nears its centennial, it should remind clients of its roots—especially when the fame of its founder reaches far beyond the industry.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). Contact us if you’d like to have your site evaluated—there’s no charge and no obligation.

Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.