Branding pioneers and the way to a dad’s heart (and wallet).

Much has been said recently about dads and there place in the hearts and minds of brands. There is plenty already out there to read on the subject (and very different opinions) so I am not going to rehash the debate, but I wanted to give you guys a peek into a relationship I have had with a brand that is very supportive of the idea that dads are half of the parenting equation. Those who have followed my posts will know that I have talked fondly about Bugaboo on several occasions. One of my very firsts posts in fact was about my beloved Cameleon (aka The Thing-a-ma-jigger) so it was easy for them to start a conversation with me knowing that I was already a fan. Setting aside the pros and cons of their products (I am sure we all have our preferences) I wanted to tell you about something that they shared with me that does not really fall into the product review basket for which they usually contact me. What they wanted to talk about was advertising. Their new campaign – the “all-in-one-and-only” – was about ready to roll out and they asked me what I thought. Now as you may know from my info or from having met me, I am a Brand Strategist by trade, so this kind of opinion is what I get paid to give each day. I was too tempted and intrigued, though, by the possibility of giving my input on a brand that I admire to say no to a simple barter deal. What really got my attention was that Bugaboo presented me with two campaigns and said they felt that one campaign would resonate with men and dads. The other they felt was too “emotional” and had a greater affinity to women. I looked at the two campaigns and shook my head. They didn’t get it.

I was surprised because they had done so well in reaching out to a small, but vocal and growing group of men who they felt could help get their message out there, but the campaign they felt would attract us most to me just fell flat on its face. It is by a famous photographer and it is aesthetically very pleasing, but it is art and a Bugaboo stroller is first and foremost about family life, kids, going places together and doing things together. It is also a well made, form and function piece of design. At least that is my take on the brand.

I then looked at the “emotional” campaign that they felt was more appropriate for women. The first photo was a family with the father holding the kid standing next to the stroller.

The second photo was a family, again with dad in the picture (albeit they look like they live in Park Slope, Brooklyn).

Not until the third image was there a “mommy only” scene. Why in the world would I not connect with seeing a dad included in a picture with the product? Isn’t that the whole point of getting me to want to buy the product? If all I see is an “artistic” portrayal of the product how does that get me to project myself into that scene and find any sort of emotional connection (and subsequent loyalty if the products also performs to expectation).

You are right. This post is not about my son or parenting. It is about marketing. About how we interact with brands (as a blogger and as consumers).

The fact is that Bugaboo shot a campaign that included “dad” in the pictures and if it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words it is true that Bugaboo spoke more to me as a dad with that inclusion than many other brands that say they want to cater to men and dads; and yet, they continue to show only mom with baby and use mom-centric language in their descriptions. There are the pioneers who are willing to take on challenges and beat new paths and there are those who are content where they are safe and sound. One is not better than the other and in the world of marketing it is nonetheless a never-ending debate, but I’ve always admired the pioneers.

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What’s all the buzz about?

A few weeks ago I stepped out of the blizzard that was battering the City and into one of my favorite bakeries on the Upper East Side. Waiting there for me were two delightful ladies who had trudged through the snow with a big black carry bag to show me what was inside. Needless to say, I was flattered.

Before I tell you what was inside, though, I want to give you a little background on why I myself was curious to see the contents of that black bag. When my wife and I were deciding what strollers we thought would be best to push our son around the sidewalks of New York and elsewhere, we had certain criteria that we felt the strollers should meet. We discovered that it was not easy to find one that worked in all categories across the board. I am talking about ruggedness, maneuverability, versatility, reliability and portability. We do not own a car so we decided to go with the Bugaboo Cameleon (see my previous post) because we felt it would grow with our son (bassinet and font/back facing stroller all in one) and felt solid and well built compared to similar strollers. We did not realize, though, being newbies, that even without a car at a certain point portability becomes an issue if you cannot hop quickly onto a bus, the subway or a cab. So we looked around at the “umbrella strollers” category dominated by Maclaren. We loved our Bugaboo Cameleon so we took a look at the Bugaboo Bee among others, but were unconvinced and upon consulting with friends who had Bees we were further discouraged. The complaints ranged from the bucket seat and enormous sun canopy that was claustrophobic for toddlers to the fact that you needed two hands to fold it flat (and you could not close it like an umbrella) to the herculean effort it took to switch the seat from facing forward to facing backwards to the brakes which were recently recalled because they were prone to failing. So it wasn’t even close and it did not take us long to decide to add a Maclaren Volo to our stroller park (which has since required a special recall kit of its own due to the possibility of fingers getting caught in the closing mechanism). We also made the mistake of buying a Bob Iron Man jogger, after talking with many friends who said it was very stable. This is very true thanks to it’s enormous fixed wheels, but we have found that it can really only be used for running – period. It has no maneuverability and the Bob Revolution really makes much more sense if you want to go jogging and still manage to navigate the aisles at the deli on your way home. So in the end we just stuck with our Cameleon as our work horse and the Volo as our “gotta run” stroller. You live and you learn.

So now back to the bakery and the black carry bag. The ladies in question were from Bugaboo (I must admit I felt very ungentlemanly for not insisting on visting them and not vice-versa!) and as I was listing the complaints and problems that had put us off from buying the first iteration, they unzipped the carry bag (also redesigned to stand on its own – a problem that we have with our current carry bag which always tips over) and opened up the new Bugaboo Bee to show me the improvements and how they had integrated customer feedback.

The first thing I noticed was that the stroller seat was much more “open” (i.e. straighter and wider backrest) so a toddler would be sitting up straight and not “stuck” like in the previous version. The sun canopy no longer reaches all the way down the side to the corner of the L-shaped seat and the top sits farther up “away” from the child’s head (definitely less claustrophobic than before). It is very similar to the Cameleon sun canopy that my son prefers because it does not obstruct his lateral view completely (he is constantly craning his neck and pulling himself up if anything block his lateral vision from the stroller so the old sun canopy on the Bee would have driven him crazy). The seat still reclines like in the past edition, but when sitting straight up I find that most kids (my son included) are much happier to be “included” in their environment when going around in their strollers rather than stuck in a “hole” where they cannot see and be seen.

Another major improvement that was often lamented by our friends who had the previous Bugaboo Bee was the mechanism to flip the seat to face forward or back. Something that is truly a cinch on the Cameleon was described as a struggle on the old Bee. With a few quick movements you can detach, flip and reattach the seat on the new version. This is such an invaluable tool when your child is in the transitional phase between facing you or the world and in a fairly blustery city like New York it also helps to quickly turn and shield your child from the elements (especially when they cannot stand the rain cover). They also assured me that the brake problem which required a recall had been fixed with a complete redesign of the brake mechanism.

Only one doubt remains in my mind (the Urban Dad hemisphere) as far as whether or not – if I had to do it again – I would, for my case specific needs, choose the Bugaboo Bee and that is how the stroller folds. The Bugaboo Bee (and this was true of the first version) folds flat like a folding chair. This in my mind places the Bee squarely in it’s own category between the more rugged strollers (like the Cameleon) and the umbrella strollers (like the Maclaren). It is not a very public transportation friendly stroller (at least not in New York), but it is certainly very car friendly and taxi friendly compared to the larger strollers, but since it offers a more complete stroller than the more portable umbrella strollers it is a tough call.

One feature, though, really caught my eye and tips the scale back towards the “I want it” side. The seat back and bottom slide back and forward to an almost flat position turning the Bee into an infant stroller (with the addition of a special foot muff accessory). This for me bumps the Bee closer to the Cameleon, but with the addition of the portability that the Cameleon lacks.

Other small adjustments have been made to the existing adjustable height seat back and the telescoping handle bars to make them that much better. The wheels and shock absorption have been remodeled and improved and accessories are will be available that are interchangeable across the various Bugaboo product line.

As always, it really boils down to your own list of criteria. What do you need your stroller to do? The new Bugaboo Bee strengthens Bugaboo’s position as a stroller market leader and has possibly found a previously unfilled niche stroller segment. That is the kind of innovation I love to see from a company because it shows that they are keeping their ears open and eyes peeled to see what their users need and want. The Bugaboo Bee would be back on my short list should I have to go through the decision process again.

This is the way I roll…

I know, I know – Everyone has a Bugaboo. So who cares about my review.  Well I doubt anyone has really put this ruggedized stroller to the test! It’s all fine and dandy when you are pushing your Bugaboo along with one finger while chatting on your iPhone or BB sipping your latte in Manhattan, a completely different scenario to push this bad boy through the narrow, cobble-stone streets of the Eternal City – Rome.

I have tacked on numerous miles in Rome over the last two years and our Bugaboo Cameleon had no problem handling the devastating terrain. The shock absorption is phenomenal. It turns on a dime even on cobble-stones to avoid the oncoming scooters that ignore all traffic rules. It did however suffer the double and triple parking that is standard throughout the city!

Most of you Bugaboo owners know, of course, all the “not-recommended-by-Bugaboo” functions that it can perform in your day-to-day lives. Grocery cart, coat hanger, crowd parter etc. So I really have to say that I would definitely do it all over again, despite the hefty price tag.