Friday, March 31, 2006

Scooterteq Slices

Stopping for an after-Martini Night Martini at Rudyard’s, I met James K Wood, with whom I carefully avoided arguing politics. I did take one of his biz-cards when I left. That’s how I discovered that Jim is President of Scooterteq Motor Corporation – a firm he started to import and market vastly improved electric bicycles.

These, however, are electric bikes that look like Vespas. So the name. They are manufactured to his advanced specs in China. Taking the shortest distance to content, I quote from one of his websites:

Scooterteq electric power assisted bicycles are the only e-bikes specifically designed to meet all North American requirements, from Canada in the North to the southernmost reaches of the United States. We use high power advanced design brushless DC motors and high voltage power systems that will operate at the maximum speed allowed by law. The use of electric bicycles as an alternate method of transportation for both commuting and recreation is widely encouraged by states and provinces.

He’s using the Scooterteq brand to build equity, since the bikes have been imported and sold only in British Columbia, Canada, so far. It’s been his test market. The corporate HQ is here in Houston. But the initial container of Scooterteqs will be shipped to New England, where he’s gained his first US distributorship.

Jim is doubling up by also marketing under another trademark, Eclectic Electric. He has a website for this trademark as well.

From the specifications I can read, and comparing Scooterteq bikes to some of the common-or-garden electric bicycles I’ve found on other websites (here, for example), these are robust machines. And as Jim says, they’re not only legal without licensing (because they’re bicycles, you see); they run at 20 miles per hour with a range of 30 miles. To recharge, just plug ‘em into any wall socket.

Jim has found potentially rich slice of the market, or even two:
  • The ever-growing population of 55-and-up people who don’t want the mess and the fuss of gasoline-powered motor scooters – which do require operators’ licenses in all States.
  • Near-town or neighborhood bicycle commuters who don’t want to get sweaty on a human-powered bike (a genuine problem anywhere south of the Line, minimum).

Fine niches. His challenge is the start-up, the chicken-and-the-egg problem facing every entrepreneur: selling enough Scooterteq bikes to make money and having enough money to lots of bikes for good penetration.

These are not mopeds. Not the electric-powered stand-up scooters that appeal to the young and well-balanced. And definitely not the Segway Human Transporters drive municipal officials batty every time one shows up on a sidewalk.

The product form-factor is familiar. He’s covered his engineering front. These appear to be stout, efficient machines. (Read the specs for yourself on the website.)

Branding? He knows the issues and thinks he can make “Scooterteq” stand for a new, better form of electric bicycles.

Can Jim’s marketing penetrate the right niches? Can he and his distribution channel gain sales? In time to keep the concept and the company riding the steep grade to success? We’ll check in with Jim from time to time and let you know. Who knows? Maybe he’ll even let me try one – as soon as he gets one to Houston for himself.

Photo courtesy of Scooterteq Motor Corporation, Houston, TX.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Stamped “Divorce”

DAVENPORT, WA – One month after issuing the Our Wedding stamps set, the US Postal Service is releasing The Break stamp to commemorate divorce. The 39-cent, one-ounce stamp is being introduced at the Lincoln County Courthouse here on Saturday, April 1. “We felt it appropriate to introduce this stamp here in Davenport,” said Erlenmeyer Flask, Temporary Adjunct Advisor on Consumer Affairs.

“CBS News, in a copyrighted story, noted that Davenport is the quickie-divorce capital of Washington. ‘ It is one of the few counties in the nation where marriages can be dissolved by mail without a court appearance,’” Flask quoted.

“Divorce by mail! What better place for this new stamp to make its debut?”

The rate of divorce in the US continues to climb. As a result, the new stamp is expected to appeal not only to spouses who want to mail in their divorce requests, but want to serve their partners with legal papers and other forms of notification via US mail.

Using Spenserian ornamental script, the stamp features an attractive illustration of the moment a cue ball breaks the rack of billiard balls, scattering the elements of a family across an imaginary pool table. “It’s tasteful, yet it carries an image that will appeal to collectors too,” stated Flask.

The stamp will be formally unveiled on the front lawn of the County Courthouse at one minute after midnight on April 1. Although no US government officials or elected representatives have committed to an appearance, a photographer from Divorce magazine indicated he might attend if he stays up that late.

Current US stamps are available by toll-free phone order at 1-800-STAMP-24. The Break, however, will be available only from divorce attorneys throughout the US, in booklets of 24 and sheets of 100 stamps. Beautifully framed prints of original stamp art for delivery direct to the office, home or temporary abode can also be ordered.

Thanks and a tip of the Hatlo hat to SD Kirkland, Master Designer, for the stamp design. Consider it an early April’s Fool gift.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Wedding Niche

This news should have gotten to you sooner. But I had thought to save the next installment of posts about niche marketing for a more appropriate time. Yesterday, though, I heard that a cousin has gotten engaged. Which means there’s a wedding in his future (Mazel tov!). Now this cannot wait.

To quote the official Stamp News Release No. 06-008 at

Making it easier to mail wedding invitations, the US Postal Service issued the Our Wedding stamp booklet containing two beautiful new stamps. The one-ounce stamp is intended for use on the RSVP envelope often enclosed with a wedding invitation; the two-ounce stamp will accommodate the normal weight of a wedding invitation with enclosures.

This unique booklet was issued at Kleinfeld, the world’s most famous bridal salon, and featured a live fashion show. The stamps, available only in New York City today, will be available nationwide tomorrow, March 2.

Correctomundo: the Post Office has issued a pair of stamps for wedding invitations. Another phenomenal example of niche marketing – by a pretty savvy marketing organization.

How big is this market niche? Oh, not a niche…a canyon. (Over which, I suppose, is a promontory with a very large sign that says, “Lovers’ Leap.”)

According to one independent research report, circa the Year Three, a domestic wedding market generates about $50 billion in retail sales annually. Every year more than two million couples get married in the US…the 2006 wedding market in America is supposed to increase 1% over 2005 to an estimated 2,271,910 weddings. That’s a pretty specific number.

Couples (and their families without a doubt) will be spending an estimated average cost of $26,800 on their wedding. Not counting the honeymoon. Why? ‘Cause it supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, a major life milestone. Consumers tend to throw big budgets at the wedding and related purchases.

You can buy another, current report covering anticipated growth in the “wedding niche” ‘til 2010 here. You should, in case you need some supportive material for your own impending nuptial plan.

The Post Office, of course, is marketing these stamps as a matter of convenience. The PR release quotes the USPS Vice President of Consumer Affairs as saying, “Planning a wedding is no small task. By simplifying stamp buying, couples can mark off one item on their checklist.”

The USPS intro’d the new stamps at a bash in New York City on March 1 with [a] one of the oldest wedding dress emporiums in the city, [b] the Weddings Editor of The Knot, Inc. magazine; and [c] New York’s “premier wedding cake creator.” That’s an event!

Talk about niches – 2.3 million weddings mean at least 4.6 million brides and grooms. That’s the minimum number of market participants. The US defense industry doesn’t have nearly that kind of buyer population (though the “related purchases” come with much higher price tags).

The two stamps – with lavender and spring green backgrounds – are rather nice. The details:

“Our Wedding”
Pane of 40
$0.39 (one ounce) and $0.63 (two ounce)
Price: $20.40

Keep the guest list to a mild roar and these could be one of the least expensive purchases of the total “marriage buy.” Better wed now, while the postal rates are low.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Lennon Lied?

Robert Fusillo responded to yesterday’s post. He recalls that the song is older. I’m troubled by the same recollection – but Lennon claimed it in the famous John-Yoko Playboy interview in 1981 (though the quote below is from here):

I wrote it during that time [the lost weekend ]. That’s how I felt. It exactly expresses the whole period. For some reason, I always imagined Sinatra singing that one. I don't know why. It’s kind of a Sinatra-esque song, really. He would do a perfect job with it. Are you listening, Frank ? You need a song that isn’t a piece of nothing. Here’s the one for you, the horn arrangement and everything’s made for you. But don’t ask me to produce it.

Robert wrote back: “Jimmy Cox, 1922. Not the Jimmy Cox who wrote some Broadway stuff a decade ago. The latter did a tribute to Eric Clapton with the song in it, so it might be a relative.” His source is here.

While he was doing that, I searched through my LPs and found the album with the Judy Henske cover: Dave Guard and the Whiskeyhill Singers (Capitol T/ST-1728). Here’s the album note:

NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT – Is a fine old Bessie Smith blues, written by Jimmy Cox. Buckwheat [David Wheat] plays the twelve-stringed guitar, Cyrus [Cyrus Faryar] the Spanish guitar, and Judy [Judy Henske] takes the spotlight as a soloist this time. Hi-fi fans will be interested to note that the meter registers 15 db in the end there.

I apologize for the misinformation below – I should have done more homework. So...what’s John Lennon talking about?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Eagle Grins

This morning, I called my bank; spoke to a pleasant woman in Birmingham. I told her I had to transfer some money from savings to my checking account. She said she’d be glad to help me with the transaction. I replied that I had to pay some bills but I’d much rather “hold on to those dollars ‘til the eagles grinned.”

She laughed – and said she’d never heard that phrase before.

I had to set my wayback machine. John Lennon wrote the song from which this line came, although the best cover ever has to be the version by Judy Henske. I still have it (on a Whiskey Hill Singers LP?) around here somewhere. It was such a rough-throated rendition, I felt like it was a Depression-era song. I read somewhere she’s a grandmother now, still singing.

So for the lady in that Birmingham call center, here are the lyrics:

Once I lived a life of a millionaire,
Spend all my money, didn’t have any care.
Took all my friends out for a mighty good time,
We bought bootleg liquor, champagne and wine.

Then I began to fall so low,
Lost all my good friends and nowhere to go.
If I get my hands on a dollar again,
I'll hang on to it ‘til that ol’ eagle grins

Because nobody loves you,
When you’re down and out,
In your pocket not one penny,
And as for friends you don’t have many.

When you get back on your feet again,
Everybody wants to be your long lost friend.
I said it’s strange without any doubt,
Nobody knows you when you’re down and out.

The song is sad. The memory is laughter.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Javed’s Screed

“First, let’s kill all the logos.” (If you’re going to paraphase somebody, make it a big somebody like William Shakespeare.)

At first glance, that’s what branding expert Naseem Javed seems to be saying in an article here – which you might want to read if you use a logo, want a logo, create logo for other companies or manage the logomarked assets of a business.

He starts his article on this UK business website with the headline, “Is your small business logo that important?” He continues:

Corporations, which have heavily relied on graphic design, logos and too many colorful themes while ignoring the real names, are facing some new challenges. As the logos have lost their power, the companies now have to reinforce their ignored name as a solo warrior. Previously, names were basically seen in print; today they are mainly typed in cyberspace.

Your logo is not that important these days, as most customers have no motivation to remember the subtle intricacies or bizarre approaches to logos that are intended to stimulate demand. They are already flooded with colorful graphic look-alikes and continuously regenerated blasts from every corner.

Javed then goes on for another half dozen paragraphs with his rationale for using (essentially) a simple typeface treatment of your company name instead of attempting to create the next BMW propeller or Nike Swoosh.

According to the article’s tail-end ‘graph, Javeed is the author of several books and “is recognized as a world authority on global name identities and domain issues.” He is also credited with founding ABC Namebank a quarter century ago and conducting executive workshops on image and name identity issues.

I was tipped to this by Susan Kirkland who, as a Master Designer, was upset about Javed’s article: “Some days, I just don't have what it takes to speak eloquently. I don't think he knows much about what bad advice he's giving. I went to his link for his corporate communications website and there's only a home page, nothing else.”

True enough, at the url in Javed’s contact address listed in the article, there’s nobbut a Home Page resembling the “blue screen of death.” Susan warned me to be careful that this isn't an experiment to test word-of-mouth or see just how much publicity he can get for being ridiculous.

Yet he does own ABC NameBank. The company has offices in New York and Toronto.

Criticism’s no new experience for Javed. He’s been nailed a number of times the past few years for silly-seeming pronunciamientos. Wordlab just about lost its mind about something he wrote back in the Year Three (here, about midway down the page). Look for the ‘graphs that starts:

Idiot wind: It's
commentary like this that makes the whole naming and branding profession look bad. No, worse than bad: downright idiotic. This screed by “naming expert” Naseem Javed is appalling in the depth of its wrongness. At first we just threw up our hands (Where to begin?), but now we feel compelled, in the interest of our profession, to debunk this bunk point-by-point.

Which the Wordlab article proceeds to do at great length.

I use the word pronunciamientos advisedly. It’s Spanish for “authoritarian declarations.” Javeed is an authority, even if self-declared. The way he says things apparently raises hackles all over the English-speaking world.

Despite such reactions (The horror! The horror!), the issue he is trying – unsuccessfully – to address is that few companies, especially small businesses, have the marketing dollars to make their logomarks as familiar as Coca-Cola’s and Mercedes Benz’s.

Yet I bet you’ve heard at least one client say, “We want to be the Mercedes of this industry” or something similar. Javed is suggesting – again, unsuccessfully – that businesses should be careful how they spend the dollars they’ve got.

There’s room in the marketing communications industry for a lot of viewpoints – even screeds. I only wish that Javed had made his viewpoint a little more clearly.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Rushing Roulette

Suggestion for certain clients.* Type “instant gratification” into Google. In .31 seconds (that’s three-tenths of a second), an ad will appear on the right-hand margin of the screen: “Instant Gratification…you can get it on eBay.”

Now you know. If your advertising agency, PR firm, design studio or freelancer can’t give you solutions overnight, the next day, this afternoon or by the end of the week for EVERY project, you’ll…you’ll…you’ll just find somebody who can. Perhaps on eBay.

When one of your vendors is away from the computer for a couple of hours, you resort to e-mail: “Why haven’t you answered my request?” “I sent you the copy draft this morning, didn't you get it?” “My boss doesn’t like the direction you showed us this morning! Can I have another idea before the end of the day?”

And the worst threat of all: “I can get someone else to do this if you can’t get me something by Friday.”

Relax – I’m not going to quote John Ruskin about making something a little worse or selling it more cheaply. Leave price out of this – that’s not your issue. I recognize you’re under a lot of pressure yourself: the project that has to launch by a certain date, the supervisor who’s never satisfied, the division VP who can’t tell you what he or she wants but will know it when he or she sees it.

You’re rushing the creative process. One of these days, it’s going to put a hole right in your career.

If you get what you think you need, when you think you need it, time after time, you’ll end up with something merely good enough – instead of the potential breakthrough your project really deserves. You demand instant gratification and you can get it. What’s the cost?

Author Susan Kirkland says, “It’s all about standards.” How long can you survive in your job when you force your vendors to deliver shoddy work? (Or maybe it’s not always shoddy…but you’re driving some of your best resources to madness? That will lead eventually to bad service. Which you don’t want and neither does your vendor.) You may not even care right now, but “a happy creative does excellent work,” according to Kirkland (and me), and you should aspire to it. It’ll make you look better than getting something overnight and then having to get it redone the next night.

Let’s look at it from your side. A consultant and former Director of Marketing for Doskosil, Grant Bergman, wrote:

Years ago I worked with a small design firm that was extremely responsive when needed, and also extremely good about laying out project timelines and estimates so that I could manage budgets.

We had a fantastic relationship and tremendous mutual respect. When I asked for things in a hurry – which often happened because my own management was unmanageable – the first thing I got back was a revised estimate with “rush charges” factored in. Of course, this used to be commonplace in the print industry as other more straightforward “vendor” relationships as well, but I’m not sure how many agencies are doing it.

I try to be a good client and avoid pulling agencies through unnecessary knotholes – especially the small ones with less flexibility – but knowing that rush charges were being incurred was a useful tool for me to manage my own internal management's expectations. Often enough I could say, “That timeline incurs rush charges and the budget is already tight. Do we really need it that fast and, if so, how should I handle the budget implications?”

You say it’s not your job to keep your vendors (even your creative vendors) happy. Or is it? Instead of acting like a client, think of your role in terms of…service.

In 1989, Ron McCann, the President of Service Management Systems, suggested something different: “The way to answer the question ‘Who do I serve?’ is to ask yourself a different one: ‘Who benefits from my work?”

Certainly, your company does directly or indirectly. Your boss does. And so do your vendors. Your designer, your publicist, your copywriter, your printer…all of them benefit from your work. So they’re your customers too. Are you serving them best by jerking them around?

To paraphrase McCann, a manager who serves his vendors is “one who performs the functions of a good coach – he doesn’t play the game for the players, he simply sees that everyone has what they need to play.” (Do you give your creative vendors everything they need to play the game for you? Including enough time?)

I particularly like McCann’s last line in the section – again, paraphrased: “You don’t get paid for what you do, you get paid for what your vendors do.”

Stop playing Rushing Roulette. Give your vendors a chance to make you look good. You could end up looking terrific.

* Thank goodness, not a one of them mine.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

"Accidental Tourist"

One privilege of blogging is taking national columnists to the woodshed (even when you're a small fish). I did that here with Kathleen Parker. One obligation is to offer a compliment when it's due.

Parker's latest column appeared in the Houston Chronicle Saturday. I send her my appreciation for writing it; for being in the wrong place at the right time and making of this accident a story worth reading.

Despite the best attempts of Left and Right, the world is never black and white. Light is composed of all the colors. Parker's column about Paul Wolfowitz sheds light. Thank you.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Cigarette High

Two voices, one male and one female, overheard on a plane: “I think everyone's asleep, let's go.”

“This one's empty ... no-one’s looking... you go in first.”

“It's a bit cramped - let me sit down.”

“Have you got the condom? Quick - put it on!”

(Sniff, sniff) “Ah, perfume…you think of everything!”

“This is great...” (long sigh)

Static on the loud speaker, then a new voice: “This is the captain speaking, to those two people in the rear toilet. We know what you’re doing and it is expressly forbidden by airline regulations. Now put those cigarettes out and take the condom off the smoke detector!”

Courtesy of NSMA.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Bugler RYO

Circumstantial evidence keeps illustrating the tenacity of brand life. An empty packet of Bugler® roll-your-own cigarette tobacco blew underfoot today during a neighborhood walk. Even after all these years, the three-quarter-ounce blue pouch, with “Ever-Fresh Papers Included,” is still around. You can buy it at most any store.

There is a superb webzine, RYO Magazine, from which some of this information comes.

Compared to machine-made cigarettes (called “tailor-mades”), traditional RYO brands like Bugler, TOP, Bull Durham and Drum have had a very long life. But in the opinion of the magazine’s editor, these brands are far less inviting and romantic in nature (and probably less well thought out) than their packaged counterparts:

TOP does convey quality as an adjective and Durham does place location within tobacco country, but what the hell Bull, Drum or Bugler have to do with anything remains esoteric to most. Now I happen to know some of the history of these names. For instance, Bugler refers to a time during the FIRST World War when our servicemen were introduced to handrolling in Europe and developed a real taste for it.

Yet these brands live on, despite everything that the anti-smokers and their allies have done to kill them dead. Bugler’s still available in the pouch or in the tin, with the familiar blue background and the WWI scene on the front: the lone Army bugler standing before a row of Army pup tents, a small flag flying in the background. If you’ve never noticed it, I bet your fathers have, and your grandfathers.

Anti-smoking, litigation-heavy pressures have taken their toll, though. You won’t find the manufacturer’s name anywhere on the pouch (it’s Brown & Williamson, a division of British-American Tobacco – and you won’t find it on BATUS’s website either). Just the words “Turkish & Blended Cigarette Tobacco” underneath the soldier boy.

An interesting brand hint on the back, though, a line of copy: “A quality smoke since 1932.”

Wall Street crashed in 1929. By 1932, the number of unemployed Americans reached 13 million (10% of the total US population). Wages were 60% less than in ’29. At the end of July ’32, after camping for two months near the US Capitol in Washington, thousands of American military veterans demanding a bonus were attacked by police and US Army units commanded on the spot by General Douglas MacArthur. Two members of this “Bonus Army” were killed.

Times were tough. Men still wanted their smokes. If they couldn’t afford tailor-mades, they’d roll their own, and a tobacco whose name harked back to the glory days of the Doughboys, camp life and “Lafayette, we are here!” was sure to get their attention.

That’s one way brands get born. Who cares if it’s a cheap smoke: this one’s been around for almost 75 years.

PS: Click here to see a superb collection of old cigarette package art. It’s worth the visit.

RYO Magazine™ is a trademark of The Andromedan Design Company, and its contents are protected under all applicable copyright laws. Photo: Roll Your Own Tobacco Store.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Square Donuts

Over the pasture and cross the road, there’s an outstanding little example of trade dress in action.

Square Donuts opened a shop on Clay Road, on the corner of Westway Park. The donuts aren’t the only thing that’s square. The CEO, Thai Klam, even extended the corporate graphics to his fleet of delivery vehicles: a half dozen Toyota Scion xBs. These square, boxy shapes are a great extension of the corporate logo. They really caught my eye and underscored the complete design approach.

Large firms are extremely conscious of trade dress, the “distinctive, nonfunctional feature, which distinguishes a merchant's or manufacturer’s goods or services from those of another. The trade dress of a product involves the ‘total image’ and can include the color of the packaging, the configuration of goods, etc. Even the theme of a restaurant may be considered trade dress.” (In the UK, it’s called “livery.”)

What’s remarkable – worthy of notice – is how thoroughly a tyro firm like Square Donuts has carried its trade dress into just about every element of its sales arena.

Thai Klam didn’t invent square donuts. Depending on what you read, that honor probably goes to Richard Comer of Terra Haute, IN, circa 1967. Square donuts have shown up in New Orleans and New York City as well. But Klam has run with the idea. He and his wife, Ann, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy, also designed the lunch menu. The restaurant serves nine blends of coffee, produced at a roasting plant in Austin (PRDA).

Klam’s graphic designer is Chan Do. Between them, they have mounted a serious claim to the square company logo concept as a unique trade dress. In a Wolff Companies press release, Klam has said, “Our plan was to create the image – square donuts in a square car with a square driver. We worked with a local Toyota dealer and do a lot of promotions with Scion. We have used our Scion show car for corporate functions and school events. Sometimes, we’ll take a motorcade of Scions to an event as a cross-promotion with Toyota.”

Trade dress is a crucial part of your corporate graphic efforts, especially if it uniquely identifies your business, your product or your service. Since it becomes part of your brand, you ought to nurture it and protect it like crazy. A name like Square Donuts could be what the US Supreme Court calls a “suggestive mark.” But there is no TM or ® on the Square Donuts logo – only a copyright on the design. It may be that the words “square donuts” can’t be trademarked…but the trade dress can definitely be protected.

In addition to creating an individual neighborhood eatery, then, the owners and designer have begun to build something just as distinctive in the Square Donuts trade dress. It’s not only good creative, it’s good thinking.
And the donuts are fine.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Court’s Loss

In last Tuesday’s primary race for Harris County Probate Court No 4, Georgia Akers came in second, while the incumbent finished next to last. Well, no matter what gloss I put on it, Georgia didn’t win. Here’s what she wrote to her supporters:

Dear Friends: I did all I could but it was not enough to overcome an entrenched incumbent. Five days prior to the primary, he sent out five mailouts – one a day – one was very uncomplimentary toward me, basically saying I was a “political hack.” There was not time to overcome this. I tried to keep all mailouts positive and focused on me. He did not.

Eventually each of you will get a personal thank you from me but for right now I wanted to reach out to all of you and say thank for your endorsement, your support, your volunteering to help with my campaign in any and every way you did, from lending your name, to sending out emails, to working the polls, to putting up signs.

THANK YOU. I would not have gotten as far as I did if it had not been for you help. I think to get 42% against a 20-year incumbent is not too bad.

The calls and emails and visits I have received this week encouraging me to think four years from now have really helped to sustain me and make the loss not so hard to take.

Thank you again. You all are very special to me. Georgia.

Georgia is a terrific and positive campaigner. In the end, she proved herself a better, nobler human than her opponent, the incumbent judge. Until the end, she empowered dozens (if not hundreds) of supporters to work hard on her behalf. Each one of us felt a special connection with her. Her loss is Probate Court No. 4’s loss, too.

If Georgia runs again, I’ll be out for her. Perhaps you’ll join me.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ego Game

A colleague sent me a game called One-Word Play last week. (Played this game before? It already may have appeared on Bzoink. Heck, it may have started in the 19th Century: I’ve found references to it from the 1850s.)

It was tantalizing enough, so I followed her instructions, responding to her with a single word.

Then I sent out my own e-mail: Dear all: you know I do not usually forward this sort of thing. However, this was sent to me by a colleague and I found the idea tantalizing.Please play. I think this will be fun. Describe me in ONE WORD...just one! Send it to me only, then send this message to your friends and see how many strange things people say about you! This could be fun! Just hit reply and send my ONE WORD back to me. Then, forward this message to your friends (including me) and see what they say about you!

I e-mailed the request to half a dozen or eight friends – and to the same number of family members. Two different audiences. Even while I hope my family members are friends too, the groups should approach my one-word description from alternate directions.

I have occasionally used this technique for developing a new identity or market position. It’s part of branding, right? In this case, the method is self-administered, using friends and family to generate key words.

Friend-wise, I have to report that my brand appears to a bit odd. I got back “erudite” and “fanatic.” Another sent back “Masterpiece Theatre,” insisting that as far as I was concerned he considers this one word. I can envision a connection between these three ideas.

But one friend sent back “Huh!” and another sent “( ).” Not helpful – but fun anyway.

Some of the family responded, but not many. I don’t take it personally. I received “bumptious,” “polished” and “big-hearted.” My sister, bless her, also included “handsome.”

Not much to go on. But it’s Sunday. I’m a branding expert. I have therefore carefully evaluated all these words and, by applying arcane methodologies, have come up with a couple of possible answers.

Either I am Louis XIV (Le brand – c’est moi!). Or a circus tent. Happy Sunday.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Red Ryder

It didn’t take a village to remind me that another, classic American “weapon system” is still going – but it did take a cousin, Joel Sabel. He sent the above photo and swears it’s real. (Thanks and a tip of the Hatlo hat but see PS below.)

The Daisy story's got everything: advertising, licensing, adventure and real shooty things. The memories are rosy. My Daisy BB guns were among my most treasured possessions back when.

Maybe yours, too. It was definitely a boy thing in those days. Girls had cooties. You had your Schwinn, you had your Red Ryder and you were set to go. And we did go…all over Atlanta it seemed like, up and down Peachtree Creek, over to Piedmont Park, out to Chastain. There were never enough Yankees, never enough Indians.

Those really were the thrilling days of yesteryear. You could feel it in the ads. Daisy co-opted the Red Ryder cartoon character, a match made in heaven for kids growing up with Johnny Mack Brown, Bob Steele and Lash LaRue. (Can hardly believe I thought the The King of the Bullwhip was so cool.)

I still recall Daisy’s ads: you can see them here. I had that very one, the famous Red Ryder 1000-shot Western-style carbine. I also had the pump-action model that looked about as close to a Model 1897 Winchester shotgun as a BB gun could get – and about as much imagination material as a kid could handle.

The Red Ryder was one of the most successful licensing arrangements ever. According to Daisy, “By 1949 it had become so popular that more than one million units were sold in a single year.”

Daisy Outdoor Products is alive and well and living in Rogers, Arkansas. The company turned 120 this year. Today it’s the world’s oldest and largest manufacturer of airguns, ammo, and accessories. Every year, the company manufactures more than 5 million items. Most of those are airguns, the firm’s specialty.

But don’t read Signalwriter about BB guns. Click right here. Spend a little time with a few old friends…and with some of the advertising that made you absolutely have to have a Daisy BB gun.

If only to hear the words from your own Momma that were on every American mother’s lips: “You watch – he’ll put somebody’s eye out with that thing!”

PS: The billboard is a fake. The photo is from Its search engine is disabled and I can’t source the board. Please help identify the computer artist.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dueling Keywords

Is it ethical? Is it legal? The president of an interactive marketing firm, Jonathan Trenn, has posted a pretty important question in one of my discussion groups. Since it involves brands and the Internet, I am repeating his post for you:

I’m contemplating spending a significant amount of a media buy on Google AdWord and I’d like some input or your take on something. The client is a mid-sized player in a niche market of a major industry. The product is a mix of a B2B (meaning small business) and B2C.

The client has several competitors, including a Major Player – a company you all have heard of and whose product line is almost synonymous with the product itself. On the keyword buys, we want to develop mini-sites that compare the client vs. competitors, so we’re thinking of purchasing competitor company names as keywords so it will look like:


Our client’s product is top-notch in quality but costs less than others. And we figure that a lot for people will be putting in competitor’s names – especially the major players in keyword opposed to the generic product category.

Yahoo! just banned purchasing copyrighted company names of competitors as keyword. Some think that doing so is “unethical.” I don’t. Especially in a direct comparison type of advertising scenario. I don't really agree with that. Your thoughts?

Keyword searches can yield attention and awareness, valuable leads, good sales. At the same time, using some kinds of keywords to help position a product competitively confronts potential ethical and legal issues. Advertising and marketing people should look at the thread he started here. You’ll get a good opinion sample from a range of industry professionals on brand offense/defense.

I defend the practice of competitive advertising, so I posted my opinions as well. I also recognize how many of my own clients would view this issue: there are situations/market considerations that militate against comparisons in marketing communications. You owe it to your brands to defend them against all comers…which may demand a more competitive stance. Where do you take that stance? In the trade magazines? In the courts?

You can let me know what you think, or plug yourself into Soflow and join the discussion. (Remember to read all the way to the bottom.) It’s good to stretch.

Photograph © Mailis Laos Agency:

Monday, March 06, 2006

Ingenious Monkey

A small, neat book on classified advertising, Strange Red Cow is a compendium of “curious classified ads from the past” by Sara Bader. A researcher and producer, Bader adventured among classifieds from the 1700s to the present while working on a documentary about the Declaration of Independence. Since, in her own words, classified advertising is US newspapers was worth $16 billion in 2004, it’s another slice of the ad marketplace that’s worth at least a book – so she wrote one. You should buy a copy for your own library. The title comes from the May 1, 1776 issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette:

Came to my plantation, in Springfield township, Philadelphia county, near Flour-town, the 26th of March 1776, A STRANGE RED COW. The owner may have her again, on proving his property, and paying charges. PHILIP MILLER.

Now you know the cliché: those who don’t study history are condemned to repeat it.

Apparently, even those who do study history are going to suffer repeats. The first compendium (to my knowledge) that covers classified advertising is A History of Advertising from the Earliest Times, published by Chatto and Windus, Piccadilly, London, in 1874. The author was Henry Sampson.

It’s Number 13 on the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School reading list (thank you, Internet). It was reprinted by Gale Research Company in 1974, though it is no longer in its catalogue. Even more amazing, you can get a fresh copy as part of a recently published eight-volume set for just $895. (See the four-color frontispiece from Sampson’s book here – along with publication details.)

I have an original copy, a stunning gift from Mark Self many years back. It’s quite an old-fashioned sort of book and a ponderous read, especially since old Henry felt a bit censorious about our profession: “Advertising has, of course, within the last fifty years, developed entirely new courses…its growth has been attended by an almost entire revulsion of mode…” Gimme some ‘tude there, Hank.

I’ll match Bader’s cow with one of my favorites in Sampson’s book, from the March 1, 1681 issue of an English paper called Heraclitus Ridens:

A MOST ingenious monkey, who can both write, read, and speak as good sense as his master, nursed in the kitchen of the late Commonwealth, and when they broke up housekeeping entertained by Nol Protector, may be seen do all his old tricks over again, for a pence apiece, every Wednesday, at his new master’s, Ben. Harris, In Cornhill.

A Restoration-era classified ad – actually political satire. Do, do write if you’re unclear about Nol.

Book cover © 2005, Clarkson Potter/Publishers.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Rescue Service

What happened was, the cable went down on me yesterday. Or maybe it was my modem or my router. Over an hour’s time, I got a good lesson in service – plus a reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing now, instead of what I was doing a year and a half ago.

First, here’s the shortest possible way to explain the cable outage and its solution. I got back to the computers in the late afternoon. Discovered that my access to the Internet was out. Called Time Warner technical support and spoke with a very nice young woman (I’ll call her “Zelda.”)

I explained my problem (a recurring one) to Zelda. She took me through the steps. You know: unplug this, replug that, restart your computer. Nothing came up. I was pretty angry because this is a difficulty I’ve had before. But I maintained my politeness and Zelda was constantly helpful. In the end though, we couldn’t get the modem back on line. Zelda scheduled a service call for this coming Monday, four days away. Phone call ended.

I stewed about this for half an hour. There’s a variety of work I have to do Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Need the Internet access. Gotta have it. So I called Time Warner tech support again and this time got a nice young man: “Arthur.” I explained my frustration (and kept my temper). I asked him if there was anything at all he could suggest that would get me back on line. Patiently, Arthur took me through the same steps. They didn’t work. Then he suggested that I unplug the modem from the router and plug it directly into one of the computer. Then reboot the machine. It’s the older of the two computers; it took several minutes. During this agonizing period (too used to instant gratification…a couple of minutes, right?), Arthur hung in there with me. I plugged the modem back in. And the computer came up.

I was drowning and Arthur got me a lifeline. (I honestly believe Zelda would have done the same thing if I had given her the time to do it.) I was relieved, grateful, and thanked Arthur a lot. I could get on with my connected work life.

I realized then that Arthur did for me what I try to do with clients: maintain a helpful attitude and offer service, service, service. There’s a joy in giving service that is the key to building and maintaining relationships. That’s the rationale for the “customer-centric” philosophy (although it’s honored by most companies mainly in the breach).

This is what I was driving at when I added the word “amiability” to my blog and my web site. I feel better when I am offering service – and as Ron McCann says in The Joy of Service, there’s genuine pleasure in offering service. It’s what I wasn’t able to deliver the past few years in the agency business. It’s what I aim for now and always try to deliver. You may not always be up to your neck in the water, but I feel great about standing by with the life preserver.

That’s my little morality tale. Have a great weekend.

Karsten image provided by

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Freiburg Fresh

This just in from Philippe Holtzweiler, Managing Director of HOPE International Communications in Freiburg, Germany, and occasional champagne-bearing guest with us in Houston. So I pass it along because it’s got some European and Dialogue news (and a compliment or two about me).

Hello, Richard, I read about your new venture into podcasts – there has started to be some talk about them here. But again, you are impressively cutting-edge.

We finished our fiscal year 2005 with a heavy workload (i.e. a nice amount of billable hours), but with neither the opportunity to revel in ‘La trève des confiseurs*’ nor to send out any seasons greetings: I'm afraid that the ho, ho, ho tune will have to uttered by the ‘Osterhase.’ Our 2005 net profit rose tremendously. (You probably know the joke about Skoda back in Communist time: Skoda has achieved a 300% increase in production – instead of producing 10 cars a month, they are up to 40). Yet the shadow of two fairly disastrous years (2003 and 2004) still loom in the background.

We have won an interesting new account, in Paris of all places (for the national French association of heating systems professional). In parallel, we are developing our internet expertise, going increasingly from concept and screen design all the way to programming. These days maximizing the added value is the name of the game – at least in Germany or France where morale and poultry sales are low and falling further (with swans dropping dead by the dozen as well as erratic ducks and a whole turkey farm in France proving to having been infected by the H1N5 virus in the last days.

More awful yet: a cat died of the bird flue according to today’s broadcasts. With the number of cats statistically dying on any given day, I just wonder how they singled out this one, but that’s another story).

By the end of March, we will have the next Dialogue meeting in Gdansk. I just hope more ideas will surface than was the case in Budapest. Wining and dining is nice (especially when part of it is deductible from German taxes), seeing old friends too (but I think that Timo Kivi and I are the sole survivors of times gone), and going to nice places is indeed pleasurable.

With the price wars raging between low cost airlines, it has got easy to go anywhere in Europe for around US$100 return – and cheap enough to go there on one’s own. I had my last pack of beef jerky yesterday, reason enough to go to the US to replenish the stock. But it’s not yet the time. All the best to Barbara, hoping she (and you) are fine. Viele Grüße aus dem kalten und verschneiten Freiburg…Champagne Phil.

*Something to do with candy-makers – which I think means whoop-it-up-time. I have got to get better at my European languages. Meantime, Philippe, congratulations on the new business, and have a great time in Gdansk. RLB.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Afghani Chestnut

Barbara Walters of 20/20 did a story on gender roles in Kabul, several years before the Afghan conflict. She noted that the women customarily walked five paces behind their husbands.

She recently returned to Kabul and observed that women still walk behind their husbands. From Ms. Walters’s vantage point, despite the overthrow of the oppressive Taliban regime, the women now seem to walk even further back behind their husbands and are happy to maintain the old custom.

Ms. Walters approached one of the Afghani women and asked “Why do you now seem happy with the old custom that you once tried so desperately to change?”

The women looked Ms. Walters straight in the eye and without hesitation said, “Land mines.”

Moral of the story: Behind every man is a smart woman.

Thanks and a tip of the Hatlo hat to Roberta Lewis.