Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The “Smalls”

How to enjoy brief visits to unknown worlds? Follow me.

Let’s set the stage: It’s the pleasantly lazy days after Christmas – Happy New Year, BTW. I fulfilled an annual enjoyment this past week, picking up half a dozen magazines at the newsstand and reading them. I do a lot of reading, but dipping into infrequently read publications exposes me to different subjects, unusual ideas, even unlooked-for ads.

This season’s batch includes Foreign Affairs, American Handgunner, Scientific American and Smithsonian. In the back of Smithsonian, I remade my acquaintance with the “Smalls” – those tiny, one- or two-inch adlets that hang out in the final few pages of many magazines.

I admire them. First, they’re a form of advertising that’s been around a very long time. Second, they have to do a lot of heavy lifting for such tiny advertisements. Quite often, these little billboards have been detailed and fine-tuned to the point where they deliver plenty of interested magazine readers to the right websites or the right 800 numbers.

Third, the “Smalls” offer wonderful adventures to unusual places. And I don’t mean the Pakistani hinterlands or Mexican border towns. Just on this page, you can thrill yourself with a drop in at Heirloom Orchards, where “every apple has a story” (
www.HeirloomOrchards.com). Read all about the Albemarle Pippin, the Arkansas Black and…the Spitzenberg, among others.

Shop a hat. How can you resist that photo near the bottom of the page with debonair John Helmer himself sporting the $14 “European Beret” (
www.JohnHelmer.com)? So far, we’re still in Oregon, another virtue of these smaller ads: They come from unexpected places like Portland, OR, and Hopkinton, MA – that’s Upton Tea Imports, in case you didn’t notice; visit www.Uptontea.com and read the latest installment of “Reversals of Fortune in the Tea Industry.”

Men’s wide shoes – who knew shoes came 6E wide? – handcrafted wooden jigsaw puzzles, carnelian-nosed reindeer jewelry, Shaker boxes. Turn a page and drop in on The Bow Tie Club (
www.bowtieclub.com) which is a great brand idea but lacks conceptual support. For really vivid bow ties, swing by Beau Ties Ltd of Vermont (www.beautiesltd.com); if you don’t see something that’ll blind your friends, Bill Kenerson vows to make it up for you special.

From time to time over the years, I have used shops advertised by “Smalls” to find the perfect Christmas or birthday gift, the right business mementos for an overseas agency trip. These micro-adventures engage you in authentic ancient artifacts, museum-quality models or down bathrobes, your choice.

They also serve as continual reminders that effective advertising doesn’t necessarily stand or fall on big ideas and bigger budgets: That’s why I think of the “Smalls” as micro-billboards.

I’ll sign off for 2008 with one of this year’s faves: Athena Pheromones (
www.Athenainstitute.com). Not sold in stores, these “fragrance additives for men and women” promise a bouquet of earthly delights. More important, they come with an irresistible testimonial from Larry in New York: This stuff is like catnip. Too many women come after me. I am looking for a woman my own age but the 10X attracts them all.

Wow – I’m sold!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Juicy Fruity

Thanks to Paradise on a Hanger, I won’t be going into 2009 without a marvelously loud tropical shirt. (Consider it my version of guerilla marketing, will ya?)

The little number you see on the right is a Jams World® special called “Juicy Fruity.” It’s got your super organic pineapple design with unmatched panels of lime green and gray. Jams World makes these shirts bright and smart – which must mean I bought it by accident. The button-ups are made from 100% spun crushed rayon, an unusual fabric that receives a permanent “crush” (not wrinkled) finish prior to printing. So I get these tiny pockets of air between the soft fabric and my tender skin; it’s amazingly comfortable as well as dramatic.

You can poke around in the Jams World…uh…world for yourself – it started as a small surf shop in Honolulu. But I'm not going to make it easy: Search it out for yourself. And if you guess what I covet for my next Signalwrite marketing wearable, I’ll throw a genuine Hawaiian pineapple your way. Ta for the run-up to Nine!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Street Marketing

Cruising the blogs, I found this superbly telling photo posted on the Shiela Edelman blog, without comment. It’s enjoyable in so many ways, I’ll do the commenting while saying “thank you” to Edelman in Pittsburgh.

The grate adaptation goes beyond an imaginative sales message or creative medium (though the street ad for Vijay Sales encompasses both of these). To me, it drives home an understanding that Indian consumer marketing is moving up…it’s already come a long way but its roots are in the street – with the people.

There’s some portion of Indian society that will recognize and appreciate the wry humor behind “Need a New Barbecue?” Thanks to Google, though, we can find out even more. Vijay Sales is (apparently) a very large chain in India, principally known for electronics and appliance sales. It has a large-scale presence on the Internet in terms of mobile phones and other CE goodies.

The telephone number shown in the photo is for Vijay Sales #384, in Prabhadevi, Mumbai; “near Citibank,” says the Yellow Pages. And one additional virtue of the Worldwide Web is the customer reviews: This particular Vijay store gets hammered on customer service. For example:

Cash counter guy not able to give me a receipt, saying that the computers are down, they can’t generate bill. Further, he tells me that credit card slip is sufficient. I DEMAND some valid proof of my payment and purchase. 30K is not chana-singdana. I am given a paltry receipt without any order number to keep.

This shopper advised that buying something off-the-shelf from Vijay (like a barbecue grill) was alright but don’t count on any kind of after-sales installation.

Fortunately, we can just look at the “street art” idea behind this particular sales promotion and be amused – probably the way most non-Vijay customers were. I’ll also drop a line to Sunil Shibad in Mumbai – maybe he knows this campaign or the retailer. Meantime, Merry Christmas Eve!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

…To China

Flying to China, traveling
“Via regions closer to the North Pole,”
You can save three hours.

Dashing through the gemstone sky,
You note, besides the ice,
Some tiny speedy dots in line ahead.

Seeing with a sharper eye than ours,
You will discern the shapes of that odd chain,
The antlers of the reindeer in their harness.

Bringing up the rear, the black stuffed sleigh
And tiny, red-robed figure – infinitesimal:
The sacred Santa weighs the naughty and the nice.

Flying to China, if you’re good,
You’ll see this sight just once in life.
Or roving (very lucky) at the right time of year.

“Flying to China” was created for and first read aloud at John and Susan Reeves’s Christmas Party. Thanks to everyone for giving me a chance to read this – and to Susan, who suggested a poem in the first place. Merry/Happy. Copyright © 2008 Richard Laurence Baron. All rights reserved. Photo by Orin Zebest, San Francisco, CA.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Purple" Bullies

According to today’s Houston Chronicle, the makers of Purple Stuff (Funktional Beverages Inc.) are concerned citizens and reviewing their label – after great big, loud concerns over the drink’s trademarked term, “Lean with it.”

Lean is identified as “a street term for the mixture of codeine syrup with soft drinks or alcohol.”

In the copyrighted article by Jemimah Noonoo, this: Also Tuesday, community activist Quanell X protested Purple Stuff and Drank at a news conference in southeast Houston. “This is a disgrace to our community,” he said, standing in front of a service station where Purple Stuff is sold. “We are calling on the business people of our community to do the right thing by not exploiting the drug culture that has taken so many lives.”

Marketers, CPG firms in particular, are frequently sensitive to community pressure, especially when the manufacturer/retailer is small and local. This may explain why “community activists” are going after Funktional and not – surprise – the Coca-Cola Company.

Can we expect to see the activists picketing the Coca-Cola plant on Brittmore Road because the world’s largest soft drink company is exploiting the drug culture? After all, things go better with Coke.*


*Read all about this famous theme at Some Velvet Blog.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Coffeehouse Christmas

“The world really is our coffeehouse.” Here’s where we meet, talk, discuss our businesses, share one another’s lives. It’s where, when you walk in the door, you will hear me call out, “Merry Christmas!” (or “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy New Year” or many another seasonal greeting).

This year, 2008, has been chills and spills and thrills from the get-go. You should know: You have hung in there with me among all the bangs and blows of a bizarre 12 months. If it wasn’t a family death, it was a great big trade show or a trip to Denver or a hugeous hurricane.

If you’ve had the time, you’ve been able to track Richard-and-Barbara’s travels by the blog posts about coffeehouses: Plantation Coffee in Phoenix, Dalhart’s Superstar Coffee Company, Bastrop’s Coffee Dog. The road traveled has had quite a few caffeinated pauses (a seeming contradiction) along the way.

Despite everything…here we are again in December, at Christmastime. It’s amazing. You’re amazing. You’ve stuck with me through thick and thin this year, as colleagues and kin, friends and acquaintances.

I’m very grateful: My thanks for your business and support, love and kisses. ‘Tis the season to be merry and I hope you enjoy every vivid moment of it.

Also, please accept my best wishes for a fruitful year ahead. We will have many new things to confront together, some to be accepted, some to be overcome. All can be done at our nearby coffeehouse with a fresh cup of java or two or three. I’ll buy.


Merry/Happy all of these: Hanukkah begins 12/21 – the same day as Winter; Christmas Eve on 12/24 as usual. Kwanzaa starts 12/26, which is also Boxing Day (I always thought that was the day you cleared up all the thrashed Christmas wrappings). And “Festivus for the rest of us” added by Chuck Curtis. And "Merry Chrismakah, Hannumas" from Mark Lipschitz. Thank you to Prism Design, Inc., for the holiday coffee label design.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Bratz™ Angst

They have their own channel on YouTube, and their own music videos. They have an “exposé” video courtesy of The Wall Street Journal. They are the subject of blogs coast to coast. What they are is Bratz Dolls from MGA Entertainment, which began marketing them in 2001.

Some consumers just plain hate Bratz and everything they stand for. Certainly, there’s been enough press about how Bratz dolls – and their multiple advertising avenues – are corrupting young girls’ body images, etc. Other consumers believe there’s simply something evil about girls who just want to have fun.

These folks are probably satisfied about the latest news: US District Court Judge Stephen Larson granted Mattel, Inc., an injunction to stop rival toymaker MGA Entertainment from producing and selling the Bratz dolls. This comes after a federal jury found that Bratz dolls were originally conceived by a designer who worked at Mattel and illegally took the designs to MGA.

Advertisers and ad agencies take note: MGA may no longer make, sell, advertise or license products from its core Bratz lineup or any line extensions, such as Lil’ Bratz, Bratz Boyz and Bratz Petz. All this because one company or person wasn’t (apparently) honest.

Bratz fans – passionate stakeholders – either believe that the trial has proven MGA’s guilt, or that Mattel is simply muscling in on Bratz because the older toy company has been losing market share. Do a bit of reading on the Web; you’ll discover just how informed and engaged these fans are.

I don’t much care for the Bratz concept; I’m hardly in the toys’ target demographic. (Have you SEEN the Bratz Boyz?) But MGA has been making quite a bit of money by engaging Bratz fans in all media. Right now, those fans are upset and depressed.

Although it’s far more complex a case history that can be covered in just a few ‘graphs, the owner loyalty elements alone are worth examining in greater detail. Maybe after Christmas. Ta.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Civilization’s End

I have met the enemy – it’s the French. Brown-Forman put out a holiday drinks pamphlet this week, an advertising supplement in the Houston Chronicle, bought and paid for by Spec’s, and a proper promotional piece for the holidays.

Various Brown-Forman booze brands are presents, complete with recipes for a number of different seasonally styled drinks. (I’d like to think the beverage conglomerate is doing something right: In the teeth of the economic meltdown we’re having, Brown-Forman reported a 4% second-quarter operating income growth this week: “Jack Daniels and Finlandia, dey been berry, berry good to us!”)

Any road, on the Chambord® Raspberry Liqueur spread, the top recipe is one of the brand’s standbys, the French Martini. It’s not enough, apparently, that this mongrel uses vodka. There’s also some Chambord for flavoring and it reads like a candy recipe:

2 shots Pravda luxury Polish vodka*

2½ shots fresh pineapple juice
½ shot Chambord raspberry liqueur
1 twist lemon
peel.

Pour each of the above into a tall bar glass. Shake with ice, pour into a cocktail or martini glass and serve.

Friends, the Chambord mixologists have no shame: This French Martini is more like a Mixed Fruit Cocktail. Purists know that the true Martini uses very, very dry gin!

Googling “Chambord French Martini,” you’ll discover dozens of listing and blogs whose readers top-rate the concoction – 540 Drinksmixer.com readers rate it at 9.5 which is disconcerting.

It’s the end of civilization, foretold in the Book of Revelations or Marvel Comics. Still, on your behalf, I will force myself to mix and drink one or two or three French Martini drinks prior to Christmas – perhaps Santa and his reindeer will arrive with salvation before the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse descend.


What can you expect? The Pravda Perfect Martini not only uses 2 ounces of vodka, but 1 ounce of “pure water.” Horror!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Dad Drank..?

Beginning December with liquor ads is appropriate: Christmas is just ‘round the corner. The coming season is filled with opportunities to drink, drink, drink. (But, like, you know, do it responsibly.)

I’ve been reminded of two utterly different ad concepts for brown liquors since I ran across them in one issue of a single magazine: One full-page from Knob Creek (top left) and one for Canadian Club (bottom left). The campaigns couldn’t be more different.

Knob Creek’s ads have been praised as highly designed; the look is metro-modern. This small-batch bourbon’s after the upscale drinker, so maybe it’s not twee* to come up with a slogan like “Drink Life Deeply” but it feels that way. I also would have liked to spend more time hanging over a stylish bar drinking a bourbon by myself. I never looked as good as that model right down to the mildly unshaven look.

So I’m probably jealous to prefer the Canadian Club campaign, “Damn Right Your Dad Drank It.”

It’s a masterpiece of subversion and particularly evocative for me. I can see my daddy in the various photographs. Actually, I can see me because that’s the Dad-Gen to which the CC folks are referring.

I’m enjoyed the daylights out of these ads, even though I’m not in the target demographic. Energy BBDO, Chicago, has nailed the thinking, the styling and the concept.

My daddy, BTW, drank Old Overholt and was proud of it. When was the last time you hear anyone drinking rye?

Both campaigns are heavily covered in the trade press and the blogosphere. Steve Hall, tireless marcom observer who runs the AdRants social network, has portrayed both campaigns – you can read about them here and here.

As a final note, Catharine Taylor, blogging on Adverganza, highlighted the Canadian Club campaign, too. She mentioned the politically incorrect nature of the ads – echoed by one anonymous commenter, “Yes, it’s amazing how the ads demean women and exclude minorities at the same time.” Right!

Dear Whoever-You-Are-Anonymous: It’s liquor advertising, dear. Review the marketing brief and lighten up.


*Close enough: “…affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute, or quaint,” Merriam-Webster.com, and appreciation for a job well done to Energy BBDO.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

None Such®

The most immediate challenge, solved just hours ago? We couldn’t find mincemeat for a holiday pie. The neighborhood’s changed to the point where mincemeat can’t reliably be found.

Very traditional in our household for Thanksgiving, mincemeat pie – Barbara makes a good one. But it’s not generally the kind of thing advertised in the flyers, at least not that we noticed. I asked Barbara what brand she used; I couldn’t remember. But she did: Borden None Such “Classic Original” Mincemeat.

I went looking online; discovered a terrific post by “Pam” at the Nature Woman blog with more than I ever could have expected about the brand and the advertising. It’s the kind of work that’s normal on Signalwriter, but this time from someone else. I’m not going to duplicate it all. Pam wrote,

In the 1920’s...Merrell-Soule’s signature product was None Such Mince Meat for pies perfected by G Lewis Merrell and Oscar Soule at their small canning factory on West Fayette St [in Syracuse. NY] starting in 1868. When Merrell-Soule was sold to Borden Co in 1928 it was one of the largest manufacturers of powdered milk, mince meat and powdered lemon extract in the world.

The ad from around 1937 is just one of a number of photos appearing on Pam’s blog…the classic method of generating readership – a recipe right in the ad – is present and accounted for.

I found None Such products on the Eagle Family Foods website (Eagle being a spin-off of Borden’s now owned by JM Smucker Company) along with excellent recipes for everything from Apple Mince Pie to Zesty Chili.

“None Such” means a person or thing without equal; a paragon…one that is unequalled. It’s a great brand with a long history but I’m not certain that Eagle has ever really fulfilled the long-time goal of turning this holiday specialty into an everyday treat, at least not broadly.

Reading through comments on Nature Woman, it seems like the unavailability of mincemeat pie filling is a common complaint. We did finally find both ready-to-use and condensed versions at Kroger’s. Barbara’s finished with the baking. I’m not certain we’ll take the mincemeat pie with us when we go down to Sugar Land for Thanksgiving with Doug, Donna and Maddy Rose. We will be with the Texas part of the family on Thursday.

Rachel and Alison will be doing the holiday in New Jersey. Most of the Slaviks will be at Nancy and Roger’s in New Prague (though Lynn and Greg will be having the traditional feast with the Hrabe side of the family just a couple of blocks away to start with). The Eisenbergs are congregating mainly at Gerry and Irene’s in Chicago. It’ll be a full day with full stomachs; I am personally grateful for every blessing.

Best wish: May your 2008 Thanksgiving holiday be “none such.”

Thanks to Nature Woman for her great blog post.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Scrubbing Bubbles®

The product was created by Dow Chemical, but Della Femina Travisano and Partners made Scrubbing Bubbles world-famous.

High-energy animated TV commercials starred ventriloquist Paul Winchell as the original voice of the leader of the Scrubbing Bubbles crew. The bristle-mouthed bubbles took the bathroom cleanser segment by storm. Dow itself became famous for an entire range of consumer products from Ziploc and Saran Wrap to Spray ’n Wash and, yes, Scrubbing Bubbles.

SC Johnson purchased Dow’s DowBrands division in 1997, to expand its own roster of consumer brands. Johnson has kept the Scrubbing Bubbles line fresh with product offshoots and extensions…ongoing ad campaigns have played a major role in product sales.

Now new ads are running under the title “SCUBBOLOGY 101” in homemakers’ magazines like Ladies’ Home Journal and Family Circle. They feature a sharply illustrated clipboard – a frame, if you will – holding one datasheet per product, done up with engineering drawings, bits of random Post-It notes and photos.

It’s a mature approach: I worked on a similarly conceived campaign for Honeywell Temperature Control Systems in the 1970s. BBDO Minneapolis created the format; its illustrated frame was a blank piece of paper in an IBM Selectric® II typewriter – that’s how mature it is. Every 60 days, our client-agency team came up with a new HVAC Update No So-and-So. Then BBDO would lay out the ad copy and engineering drawings on the blank sheet as though it had been typed onto the paper itself.

That idea, delivering detailed engineering information to a specific set of engineers, worked like a son of a gun. I remember we regularly had top readership scores in every issue of arcane publications such as Machine Design.

No reason why the same idea won’t work for Scrubbing Bubbles. The executions are fresh and bright. The campaign tag at the bottom of each ad still resonates: “We work hard so you don't have to.” Most important, the ads stand out in the magazines…it’s low-tech but it delivers a lot of visibility.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Arty Terminal

There are styles in illustration that reward visit after visit, maybe for no other reason than “I like that.” The latest piece from Steve Collier is a case in point. He completed the illustration above and sent it out as a promo piece, echoing the VisitHoustonTexas.com website: The Houston Municipal Airport Terminal is a beautiful and rare example of classic art deco airport architecture from the golden age of flight.

The Terminal served Houston during the years when air travelers dressed in their finest and embarked for exotic destinations aboard roaring propliners like the Douglas DC-3 and the Lockheed Constellation.

The 1940 Terminal is in the hands of The Houston Aeronautical Heritage Society, which has been restoring it for the past five years. The illustrator told me he got interested in doing something with it. “The website will give you more details on the establishment of the airport and its development through the years. Great looking art deco building.”

I was entertained by one early-history snippet from July, 1938: After setting a new speed record flying his Lockheed 14 Super Electra around the world, Howard Hughes visits Houston for a 3-day celebration…The City announces that Houston Municipal Airport will be renamed Howard Hughes Municipal Airport. A few months later, it is learned that the airport will be disqualified for Federal grant money if it is named after a living person and the name is changed back to Houston Municipal Airport.

The Feds changed their tune sometime between ’38 and ’97, if George Bush Intercontinental Airport is any clue.

There was a golden age of commercial flight: Classic airplanes and classy airlines. Airline advertising. Even airport humor. Shelly Berman routined in 1959: I never have the slightest doubt about my safety in a plane until I walk into an airport terminal and realize that there is a thriving industry in this building selling life insurance policies. (I think I still have that album somewhere.)

Air travel is nowhere so freewheeling and enjoyable now. Visit the 1940 Terminal at Hobby Airport and you may see a bit of what it was like in the…old days.

Thanks to Collier for sending the art my way; here is what the Terminal looked like on Opening Day:



Friday, November 14, 2008

Idaho Spud®

Older, “classic” brands don’t always represent great products.

That seems to be true of the Idaho Spud, from the Idaho Candy Company in Boise: “Delivering the Finest Candy and Service Since 1901.” Laura Kamrath delivered these treats to Houston; she picked up several at a trade show in Louisiana. Patrick Fisher, writing on FinkBuilt.com, calls it an “old-skool candy bar.”

The Idaho Candy Company started in 1901, built a new factory in ’09 and produced more than 50 different candy bars and many boxed chocolates (including Owyhee Butter Toffee) over the years. The website boasts a fan club with Idaho Spud recipes and not much else.

Like other older candy brands, its fame these days spreads more by word of mouth than formal advertising…enthusiasts who spot it lurking on the lower shelves of smaller grocery stores – or run across it a an oil industry trade show, for God’s sake. We (Kamrath and I) suspect that someone connected the brand name to the oilfield term “spud in” – to begin drilling, to start an oil well – and decided to use the bars as memorable handouts.

Sad to relate, the Idaho Spud is an unusual confection, an acquired taste like a number of regional candy bars. Its flavors…a wonderful combination of a light cocoa flavored marshmallow center drenched with a dark chocolate coating and then sprinkled with coconut (Sorry, no potato!)…are muddled and a bit stale.

There must be some nostalgia, and quite a lot of private-label manufacturing, to enable the Idaho Candy Company to remain in business. I wish ‘em success…but no one’s going to waste a formal marketing campaign on the Idaho Spud.

On the other side of the Spud is the almost equally classic Zero candy bar, created in 1931 by the Hollywood Candy Company in Minnesota and made ever since of “Caramel, Peanut, and Almond nougat covered with white fudge.”

Zero has a loyal consumer base (including me) and I ran across a fresh box as recently as this afternoon in a Huntsville, TX, Valero C-store. To repeat one candy retailer, I’m comforted that candy bars like the Zero, and yes, even the Idaho Spud, are merely “hard to find,” not “no longer in production.” Since the Zero is produced today by Hershey, I’m pretty certain it gets more channel attention that the stolid Spud.

But hey, you’ll want to taste-test these two traditional confections. Let me know how that turns out. Ta for the weekend.


Photo: Richard Derk/Los Angeles Times

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sherman’s Show

It is hard to know which of the elements contribute to a powerful Howard Sherman opening at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas (AMSET) last Saturday evening. Since, by definition, it is now after the opening, you have to be satisfied by two out of three…but you ought to go.

Start with the most granular: Sherman’s huge new paintings demonstrated an upgunned sensibility. The show’s title piece, Eating Your Friction, is immense but by no means the only striking piece. I’m not a critic, you know that. And the Barons own several Sherman paintings so I’m not objective. Still, this is an amazing new set of works that shows how far Sherman has evolved. Fortunately, the provocative bits – one reviewer calls it “in-your-face art” – are still vividly present. My favorite is shown above: Flea Market Mood Ring.

During the Artist’s Presentation, Barbara Nytes-Baron asked, “Howard, none of our paintings have pink in them. Why are you using pink in these new pieces?” Sure enough, there are pinks and greens – Sherman noted that he’d gone to these unusual colors because they made him feel uncomfortable, they were not normally present in his palette. He’s pushing boundaries (which sounds banal until you see the work). Barbara and I were pleased to have been in on the premier.

Which took place, secondly, in the superb AMSET on Main Street in downtown Beaumont. Before last week, we’ve treated Beaumont as just a place to stop for a bite to eat on our drives to and from Atlanta. We’re going to have to change that – AMSET is a treasure. AMSET Executive Director Lynn Castle has offered a space that’s perfect for Howard paintings; visitors will be amazed, I think, to find this caliber of museum display evidenced by the Sherman exhibition. (Spend time with AMSET’s folk art collection; of its permanent acquisitions, I loved Daedelus by Paul Manes – the subject matter is beautifully handled by the scope of the piece.)

Third, the attendees were invited to a post-opening reception sponsored by major supporters of the arts in Beaumont. I’d like to thank Kim and Roy Steinhagen for opening their home to a rather large gang of art groupies from Houston. The real benefit of this reception was to add a significant new dimension, a personal one, to our Beaumont visit. “The natives are friendly and bright!”

Houston and Beaumont are just 97 miles apart: Not a very big drive for people who want an art adventure. See this show – it will do you so much good and it will change the way you think of Southeast Texas. I promise.

“Thank you,” all who made Opening Night such a treat.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Once a Screaming Eagle: A Veterans Day Post.

Herman L Eisenberg died in Chicago on October 16th, age 90. According to family legend, he served with the 101st Airborne in Bastogne, Belgium, in the winter of ’44-’45.

Perhaps the specifics are wrong but the generality is correct: Uncle Herman was, with my daddy and Uncle Manny and Sam Slavik, part of that particular generation of American soldiers who fought in – and lived through – World War II.

When people’s lives extend for so many years, they become celebrated for their longevity but not often for their long-ago service in World War II. Uncle Herman’s passing reminds me of a line by Canadian poet Archibald Lampman, “They know no season but the end of time.”


Today is Veterans Day. Join me in celebrating those you know who have served and are serving throughout the world, defending our freedoms. As long as we remember the names, they’ll never know the end of time.

In addition to Uncle Herman: Paul Hirsch Baron, Emmanuel Katz and Sam Slavik. Phil Slavik. Norman Sabel and Sherman Sabel. Joel Hirsch Goldberg. Thomas Biddulph, Richard Dailey, Richard Fox, Bill Gay and Richard Sutter. David Starr. Frank B Foulk. Chris Hrabe. AJ Smith and Paul Hoven. John Naumann. George A Schuler, Jr. Alan Vera. Nathanael Charles Yonka, Jr. Hoi Nguyen and Ellis Alexander. And the names from the Gunroom (you know who you are): Paul Johnson, KCMO, and “Charlezzzzz” Muñoz. And me.

This list grows year by year. You’re welcome to add names of your own.

*Thanks to Margie Eisenberg and Miriam Eisenberg for the photograph taken “somewhere in England in ’44.” You can see the caduceus of the US Army Medical Corps on Herman’s lapels. His jump wings are just visible under his left lapel; the division patch on his left shoulder is the “Screaming Eagle” of the 101st Airborne Division.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Warhol’d Up

I can’t paint but I can help make art: Look at the excellent new Locke Bryan Productions house ad. I’ve had occasion to blog about Locke Bryan before (here and here). The reference to the art and style of Andy Warhol couldn’t be more pointed.

In adopting this colorful Warhol homage for their house ad, Camille and Locke Bryan are using its iconic style on behalf of film/video production. Without a willing client, the ad would never run. This one will, in film and video directories nationwide, for the next year.

The ad’s creators are Kay Krenek on art direction, Paul Hera on illustration and me (concept/copy). Being full of myself, I imagine Warhol’s wry nod from the spirit world…he was a marvelous marketer.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Texas Oncology

More than 60 healthcare marketing people turned to at Memorial Hermann yesterday morning. They came from across the street and from as far away as Austin.

The in-betweeners had the toughest time getting into Texas Medical Center today, as usual. Still, despite the traffic, the AMA-Houston Healthcare SIG threw attendees a balanced seminar on Community Marketing: Expanding your brand outside your backyard. (I’m on the SIG steering committee; I’m not disinterested and I previewed the presentation here.)

Appealing to the “ad guy” part of me, the star of the show was Les Mann presenting the rebranding work on Texas Oncology, part of the US Oncology family. An example’s above – and here’s how the website describes the campaign:

The Texas Oncology “I Can” campaign was launched in 2007 throughout the state of Texas. It includes magazine and newspaper ads, radio and television spots, billboards and other marketing pieces. The campaign not only provides thousands of Texans with information about superior cancer treatment, technology and research, it inspires hope.

I’ll make two points about what Mann presented; then I’ll sign off for Saturday.

First, Texas Oncology has been thoroughly rebranded and smartly marketed. The campaign is active, not passive: Its bold but human face portrays a collection of independent medical practices as a coherent, focused assembly of like-minded treatment centers, working with their patients to beat cancer.

The marketing does NOT leave the organization’s brand for various stakeholders groups to define – it is clearly and strategically spelled out. Way to go.

Second, Mann conscientiously credited his advertising agency, HCB in Austin, for its part in formulating new strategies and creating strong advertising. HC&B received plenty of attention during his part of the seminar and rightly so. (Mann also credited his PR agency, Fleishman-Hillard, with vigorous community outreach.)

Good work ought to be recognized. Not every client thinks to do this. Hats off to Mann and his team for the work and for presenting it to us.

That’s my 22¢ (adjusting for 4% annual inflation) - don’t you forget to vote on Tuesday.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Heidi Klum

Always wanted to do a celebrity blog. Now I can. In this month’s Cooking Light ‘zine (among many other places): The new “Got Milk” ad featuring Heidi Klum. Marvelous, witty work from one of the most memorable brand campaigns ever. The secret: Keeping the executions fresh.

Klum also yodels – click here for the “Making of…” video and other details.

Then continue your dairy adventures by checking out the Ben and Jerry’s Election Day promotion – a free scoop of ice cream on the Day at your local BJ store. Don’t forget to vote.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Changing Brands

Did I jump ship – or was I pushed? Have I fallen out of love or just found a new object of my affections? Well, you decide, because I did change the brand of car I drive.
I wrote somewhere that I’d call myself “middle-aged” if I planned to live to 120. So it’s utterly wrong to inform you I’m having a mid-life crisis. A couple of photos tell the tale. Okay. So the top photo shows you where I’ve been.
The photo just above portrays where I am now. Heck of a change, isn’t it? This is a 2009 Scion xB in Black Sand Pearl. While I’m typing this, I’m on the Scion website, listening to a remix of Acid Life…not something I expected myself. Still, music (Scion CD Sampler Vol. 22, however techno-funky) makes it a bit easier to tell you why I changed to this oddball, toaster-shaped Toyota sub-brand from a Cadillac.

Reason 1: A change of environmental footprint. I was lucky to be getting 18 mpg in the city with the 2003 Caddy. At a minimum, without mods, the Scion is scoring about 25 in the urb. Even though I’ve purchased the Scion new (and there’s sort of a carbon penalty for that), I feel like I’m not going through as much gasoline with the Scion.

Reason 2: Economic reality. I hope the purchase and operating costs of the Scion will undercut the DeVille – though that’s yet to be seen. It’s early days yet. Still, it’s pretty important given what the country is going through right now.

Reason 3: Life-cycle reliability. The Caddy got old; the older it is, the more expensive it is to maintain. It’s kinda like me (no harm, no foul) so it’s not really the Cadillac’s fault. Still, the Toyotas have quite the rep. Barbara’s Prius continues to hum along getting 45 mpg on the highway with nary a mechanical hiccup. So we became a “Twoyota family” last week when I drove the xB into the garage…and the Scion’s control suite is virtually the same as the Prius. I don’t want to downplay the familiarity factor.

Reason 4: Time for a change. I spotted some fantastic custom Scions at the State Fair of Texas – this visual feast planted the idea in my head. The opportunity, at my age, to get involved with a much younger brand (and the Scion is targeted at a demographic at least one generation younger than me, maybe two) has a lot to do with my purchase decision.

Writing on BrandChannel.com back in May, Nichiketa Choudhary pointed out:

Consumer-brand relationships are less about love and more about friendship. Just like our friends, brands shape our experiences. They show up at work, at home, and everywhere in between. Brand thought leaders often use the language of love to describe the consumer-brand relationship; they compare the relationship to marriage, dating, an infatuation, and even a fling. Brands aspire to build a strong love with their customers. However, love can be very volatile and requires a great deal of commitment. Oftentimes, neither the brand nor the customer have this kind of commitment.

I have spent more than a decade as a Cadillac owner. The brand’s Penalty of Leadership ran strong in my family in the first place – and the mark has been my constant status symbol. To paraphrase the old saying, “I wasn’t born into a Caddy – I achieved it.” The DeVilles are superb road cars, plush as down comforters. Service at the local dealership has been attentive and familiar – I made some friends there.

The Cadillac Motor Car Company (General Motors) never betrayed me. If anything, the mark’s designs have become leading-edge all over again. Still, it turned time to question my commitment.

The Scion xB is younger, edgier – and more economical. Maybe I’m fooling myself. But really, it’s time to make new friends. I’m going to a Scion Fright Night at Don McGill Toyota Friday evening. Take along some trick-or-treat candy for the kids. See how the Houston Scikotics have customized their rides and maybe pick up some ideas of my own.

Events overtook the brand of car I drive. So I changed to deal with it. So far, the new badge feels just fine.

Friday, October 24, 2008

“Lunch Bags”

And not just any old Lunch Bags neither, but a 2003 vintage.

Barbara leaned into the library the other night and said with a big smile, “Want some Lunch Bags?” and held up the bottle – I laughed out loud. We opened it and consumed the whole bottle with relish (really, with hamburgers). I suppose we should be more discerning but we’re laughing and drinking; what are you doing?

Okay. Okay. It reminds me of a joke. I think Barbara will appreciate it ‘cause it’s called “Who is the Smarter Sex.”

A man and a woman get into a car accident, and it's a bad one. Both cars are totally demolished. Amazingly, though, neither of them is hurt. After they crawl out of their cars, the woman says, “Wow! Just look at our cars. There’s nothing left of them. But we’re just fine. It’s a sign from God that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace the rest of our days.”

The man replied, “I agree with you completely. This must be a sign from God!”

The woman continued, “And look – here’s another miracle. My car is completely demolished but this bottle of Lynch Bages Grand Cru Classé didn't break. Certainly God wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune.”

Then she hands the bottle to the man. The man nods in agreement, opens the bottle of “Lunch Bags” and takes a few big swigs. Then he hands it back to the woman.

The woman takes the bottle, immediately puts the cork back in, and hands it back to the man. The man asks, “Aren’t you having any?”

The woman replies, “No. No. I think I’ll wait for the police.”


Philippe Holtzweiler‎ brought our now-empty bottle of Lunch Bags as a house gift the last time he visited Houston. I have to remember to tell him about the smarter sex.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mucinex® Appalling

I’m not the only one who finds Mr Mucus (eeew!), the advertising mascot and chief spokes-thing for Mucinex, to be largely genuinely repulsive. Kimberly Ripley, writing on Gather.com, said in 2006:

The first advertisement I saw had me sitting upright, laughing, and shaking my head in disgust...all at the same time. Mucous has mated. It has procreated, which resulted in little mucous wad children bouncing on their tiny twin beds. Have you ever watched mucous have a pillow fight?

I've complained about the Mucinex ads before. Mucous is personified. It wears overalls and carries a suitcase as it is evicted from some poor slob's lungs after...of course...using Mucinex. In subsequent ads Mucous gets an apartment, marries a female wad of mucous in a white dress and veil, and even visits elderly mucosal in-laws.


Adams Respiratory Therapeutics of Ft. Worth, TX, has itself a family of winners in the Mucuses. The marketing for this product line (Mucinex, Mucinex D, Maximum Strength Mucinex, Musinex DM, etc.) is beating the snot out of every other competitor. Jim Edwards, writing on Allbusiness.com a year ago, noted:

In just three years, Mucinex has come from nowhere and now threatens to end the dominance of the traditional giants of the category. Mucinex’s sales have gone through the roof and currently rival or exceed that of McNeil/Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol and Benadryl, and Wyeth’s Robitussin…The general consensus is that Adams’ success has come from its memorably disgusting marketing. Ads, handled in-house, show Mr. Mucus and his equally hideous family taking up unwanted residence in someone's lungs, and then being evicted by Mucinex. “Mucinex in. Mucus out,” is the tag.

The kicker, according to Edwards, is that Adams may have gotten the US FDA to “help out” with restricting other OTC medicines in this category, giving Mucinex a clear run at the niche lead.

One sidelight is the September story of two 10-year-old Florida boys who used Mucinex tablets to get higher than kites – then sick to their stomachs. This kind of news doesn’t get much play…and probably shouldn’t: If Mucinex does work as advertised, then it’s rightly popular. The manufacturer has outmaneuvered both the competition and the regulators and seems to be delivering an effective product.

Which brings us back to the messages, the media and Mr Mucus. The advertising budget is overwhelming. The copy is relentless – in one current ad, the word “Mucinex” occurs nine times; the word “mucus” shows up six times. (See here, “mucus” seems to be Latin for the noun meaning “slimy, semi-fluid discharge from the nose.” Ripley's “mucous” is supposed to be the adjectival form. Good luck with that.)

The art of Mr Mucus, though, is admirable. TV commercials are consistent and the website nicely interactive. There’s even a segment for kids. I’d never have come up with Mr Mucus…I am too Victorian. But the creators of this set of spokes-things clearly have a nose for it.

In fact, the Mucus Family’s originators follow in a long line of ad-guys of the type that brought us halitosis, BO and “the heartbreak of psoriasis.” I want our American Marketing Association chapter to invite this team to Houston for a case history presentation right now!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

$3 Belgians

This is worth knowing: Blue Moon™ Belgian White is available at the Fox & Hounds restaurant, 11470 Westheimer, every Monday afternoon. Price: Three bucks a pint.

It’s what I was drinking at yesterday’s meeting of the “Selling Circle,” with Brian Bearden, Wes Lichtenstein and Joe Fournet. We don’t do it very often, which makes the get-togethers even more enjoyable.

It’s a casual sort of networking; on a pleasantly warm Monday afternoon like yesterday’s, we could talk and watch the home-bound traffic stack up in the westbound lanes.

For $3, Blue Moon is just fine. The name “Belgian White” refers to the beer’s cloudy white, opaque appearance. It’s a style of beer brewed in Belgium for three centuries. The Blue Moon brew is lightly spiced with fresh coriander and orange peel for a pleasurable and complex taste and a smooth finish.

A slice of orange compliments the Blue Moon witbier; it brings out the natural spices and fruit flavor…and makes it taste more like a fruit juice – you know, healthy. It’s unfiltered as well: Protein and yeast remain suspended in the beer and create the cloudy appearance. This all adds to the smoothness of the beer and appears to aid digestion. That is, it goes down easy on a hot day.

The Blue Moon brewery started in Denver, CO, and is now part of Coors in Golden. I think this is what happens to “good beers in neat niches” – they get bought out by giant brewers. And that’s how a pretty good craft-brewed beer gets onto the table in front of me, at three buckos per Belgian. A votre sante!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mixed Fruit

How very odd, the plumicot!
A lot of flavors, this fruit’s got.
Now what about the
aprilum?
They’re really much the same, in sum.

Barbara brought these home, had ‘em for din tonight. I wondered if we’d had these before, this funny cross between the plum and the apricot. Barbara said, “I think they’re also called pluots.”

“Why not aprilums?” I laughed (it’s easy to entertain myself.) So the verse above was invented on the spot – about the plumicot, you see.

As usual, I’m the last one to get the word about new fruit hybrids. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Factory, a blog about “the world’s two best ingredients,” posted an article on the same topic: A Pluot! Er…Plumicot! Or is it an Aprium? Conclusion: this fruit hybrid has too many names. It’s part of a tasty recipe involving peanut butter (naturally) and cocoa thingies.

According to Digitalseed, all these names are valid – and describe different hybrids. (Digitalseed uses “plumcot” rather than “plumicot.” Tough.) It’s worth noting, though, that this site identifies the various hybrids by some pleasant varietal names: Plum Parfait (plumcot), Flavor Delight (aprium) – and my fave, Dabble Dandy (pluot interspecific, whatever that is).

I’m not finding these hybrids advertised in the HEB flyer. You’ll just have to go to your nearby supermarket and see if they’re available: For once, advertising is really POP (uh…Point of Plumicot?).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Demonic Security

This is our new house demon. Bhairav is the “fierce manifestation of Shiva associated with annihilation.” Hinduism has many gods and goddesses, each one with its own legend…and I’m not about to go into Bhairav’s backstory here. As additional protection for the home, though, he’s the bomb.

We decided to add something to our new gate, the one that our neighbor next door put up for us. (Carl Atkins wanted more privacy so he raised the north side fence between our properties to an 8-foot height. Very nice work from the back; the fresh wood is real pretty.) We found Bhairav at the State Fair of Texas…just hanging around…hahaha.

“Bhairav” is also the title of an ancient raga, a Hindu song that could be a homecoming prayer: You are always on my mind. Your image lies captured within me. I long for your return. Waiting for you, day after day, I am depressed and disenchanted. Would you please return home?

That part about “depressed and disenchanted” – I’m not too thrilled about it, makes Bhairav sound like a gloomster. In fact, his nasty disposition is legendary. After researching him I think this is exactly the right approach against “ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night,” to mix mystical traditions.

Before I begin marketing Nepali demons as home security systems, though, let’s see how Bhairav stands up to a few months of fierce Gulf Coast sun and pouring rain. Meanwhile, he’s kind of attractive in a fierce, glowering way; his dark-green skin glows against the background of the cedar fencing. Here’s marketing to you, kid.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

“24HRWebmaster.com” Begins

John Phillippe will attempt to provide one more answer to a (relatively) ageless question: Can you successfully market a service that’s hardly been thought of yet? I intend to help out with the answering process so this post is NOT disinterested. No atheists in foxholes here.

A plunger sparkler is a toy with a ratchet-driven spinning disk that shows sparks behind red celluloid windows. Phillippe is like that sparkler only he throws off ideas. Sometimes, one catches fire.

I think that’s what’s happened with 24HRWebmaster.com, the new Internet-delivered application that’s up and running now. This is an on-demand website maintenance service, a fix-it bureau for companies who either don’t have their own webmasters in-house or keep these professionals busy on more critical activities.

Around the clock, US website owners (of any size, shape and description) can log into their accounts online and request help changing their sites. Because of Phillippe’s long experience with websites, he makes sure that the services – fixes, changes, additions, deletions – are completely secure and done on time…within 24 hours, in fact.

Even large-scale organizations with in-house web pros sometimes have difficulty adding the name of the most recent sales manager in Des Moines, or the latest press release from the Florida operation. For companies and organizations without their own webistas, change represents even more of a challenge.

In Phillippe’s vision, 24HRWebmaster.com is there to quickly and efficiently execute content updates, database changes, graphic adds and deletes, FLASH animation revisions, site restructurings, feedback form modifications, even upload. The web service bureau can also troubleshoot coding problems.

All of these elements can be accomplished at one low hourly fee – a good deal given how much a real web professional can can do in 60 minutes.

He make it easy to maintain a fresh, relevant website. If I were writing sales copy (and this post is practice), I’d point out 24HRWebmaster.com is perfect for marketing and corporate communications people who live at the beck and call of their organizations 24 hours a day.

What’s with the coffee cup? Famous web-geeks are famously fueled by Jolt cola and Snickers bars. What powers this new web service bureau’s 24-hour-a-day activity could be that same chemical in coffee form…so Phillippe portrays the concept graphically by using this funky cup, soon to appear on the site.

A cuppa joe is probably the right metaphor for Phillippe himself. Author Honoré de Balzac said, “Coffee plunges into the stomach...the mind is aroused, and ideas pour forth like the battalions of the Grand Army on the field of battle.”

Here’s a fresh battalion for the wired battleground. Send a report from the front: If you try 24HRWebmaster.com for yourself, let me know if it delivers on its promises. I’ll faithfully report user experiences.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sclerotic Tex?

In the 24 years I’ve lived in Texas, I have not been to the State Fair. I remedied this yesterday, having seen an article in the Houston Chronicle about low attendance at this year’s event. I imagined, “Here’s an opportunity to show support for a long-time institution.”

No. I really thought, “Great! Small crowd, Monday visit: Terrific time to visit Dallas and see Big Tex without a huge crowd of pesky people.”

Today, the State Fair of Texas® is more myth than reality. Its marketing has outrun its appeal. (Great graphics, in fact.)

After so many, many years of attending the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, I found our State Fair shopworn; not at all the marquee event our state deserves.

The reviews have been good. Example? Mary G, writing on
Judy’s Book, said: Wow what a venue! This state fair is unlike no other state fair in the world, why you ask??? Because it’s TEXAS! Put your best pair of walking shoes and come with an empty stomach! So much to see at this fair, from freak like shows, the midway, animals, shows, people, retailers and so much more.

The State Fair
blogger of The Dallas Morning News, Eric Aasen, praises the food to high heaven. And so he should. While eating at the State Fair is the fastest way to a coronary, it’s difficult to resist the overtly sinful temptations you only get once annually when you attend the Fair (or twice if you also include the Rodeo). Sadly, I’m alive in the Age of Angioplasty.

I ’fess up to sausage-on-a-stick and fudge; I shared these with Barbara. We drew the line early, though. We did NOT sample…candied apples, caramel apples, “All-American” fried grilled cheese sandwiches, fried banana splits or fried chocolate truffles. Neither did our lips touch the deep-friend s’mores, funnel cakes or chicken-fried bacon (named “Best of the Best,” for God’s sake!).

No. In the end, I judge our State Fair to be…less…than the hype. Even undeserving of its marketing.

The iconic Big Tex doesn’t feel right – and frankly appears to have severe orthopedic challenges. Corporate names endorse everything that isn’t nailed down and many things that are, from the Coca Cola Food Court to the Chevrolet Main Stage. Although I’ve seen this coming for years, it still seems subtly wrong.

Want a challenge? The State Fair makes it really, really hard to avoid the
Kitchen Craft hucksters. I admire them for raising the art of the pitch to undreamed-of levels of wonder – but there must have been three dozen or more of these scattered throughout the Fair grounds. Really, $1,400 for a six-piece set of pots and pans? And those quite small? On top of all this, the company sponsors the Fair’s “Starlight Parade.” (TXU underwrites the “Energy Arena.”)

There were plenty of blue-ribbon arts and crafts and canned goods but most of the animals seem to have come and gone the first week of the Fair. Possibly there’s something I don’t quite understand about how a State Fair ought to work. But the sense of closeness to the agricultural side of Texas life is so diminished there on the old Dallas fairgrounds.

The commercial hype now overwhelms the idea, the mission of a State Fair founded in 1886. Since the Fair is a private, non-profit organization, it has to generate its own funding, after all.

Still, it’s the people in Dallas who make the State Fair of Texas worthwhile – we always got a big smile from every worker, every volunteer. So I repeat what Pat Kochan wrote on the Dallas Historical Society
blog about it:

Loved the bird show. Fascinating. Just walking the fair on a fall evening with lights and sounds and smells of good fun, was so much excitement for me growing up. My son and his wife had their first date to the fair and go every year after.

There is hope for this event. It’s buried somewhere in the hearts and minds of Texans, though – not necessarily to be found at the Fair itself.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Inflatable Gorillas?

I can hear Oz’s Wicked Witch now: Don’t make me send my inflatable gorillas. My outsized Elvises. My fat yellow duckies. Nevertheless, while we’re trying to recover from the effects of the Ike, so is Jim Purtee.

A Sandra Bretting article in today’s Houston Chronicle, identifies Purtee as the owner of Houston Balloons & Promotions LLC. And sure enough, there he is on the company website.

He’s the marketer who makes certain there’s an inflatable pink gorilla or an immense Yosemite Sam-like figure on top of every car dealership, tanning salon and independent insurance agency between Texas and Florida. (You can see the full line-up, gorillas, ducks and all, here – hurry before they’re gone.)

As the article points out, Purtee’s company earned some $1.2 million from 400 inflatable balloons and banners – all in support of small businesses. Purtee makes a good point about it: Small-business owners can’t afford to create and run radio or TV commercials. But for about $1,200 they can get four weeks’ worth of drive-by attention with, say, a 30-foot luchador complete with mask.

While the Ike cost Purtee about a million bucks worth of business, the City of Houston would like to cost him his entire livelihood. It wants to ban the entire category of cold air inflatables from our highways and byways. So this is a billboard controversy…only with really strikingly ugly (or charming) balloons.

It’s no secret how Houston feels about large-scale outdoor advertising: Utterly indecisive.

No matter what side you take – beautification of our city’s highways or freedom for free enterprise – someone’s going to be upset. Is the government right to ban this form of outdoor?

Professionally, I wonder about the medium’s effectiveness. According to the only US trade group, the Inflatable Advertising Dealers Association, “The products of IADA members command attention, standing out in the crowd of other advertising messages. They increase the visibility of your business, promote name recognition and aid in brand awareness.”

Absent real metrics (documented increases in walk-in traffic, for example), I take the IADA claims with a pound of air. Furthermore, most of the inflatables are so…banal. (That’s one of Purtee’s appeals, I think: Generic inflatables that are cost-effectively repurposed from real estate agent to discount furniture store.)

While seeing a big blue elephant on an NTB store is whimsical, I confess to being puzzled by the large purple coyote (I think) appearing for CITGO. Appearances by a random selection of generic critters, all 20-30 feet tall, is silly.

When an inflatable is strikingly designed or fits an unusual purpose, I know it can have a heck of an effect. Swiss ad agency ET&H created a giant, three-dimensional inflatable of its client Tilsiter Cheese’s logo years ago: Two dairy cows side-by-side. Quite striking and much used throughout Europe. it rightfully generated a huge amount of attention. (The cheese company has since turned to an ordinary hot air balloon, something of a letdown.)

Since Purtee is litigating with the City, I wonder how the courts will rule. Purtee maintains that it’s his right to deliver an advertising tool like his giant inflatables “as long as it’s not vulgar or untrue.” I suspect – no, I damn well know – that we’re into the realm of the subjective. As the article inquires, how will the green gorilla atop a cellular telephone store be perceived?

Is beauty, or cleverness, in the eye of the beholder? Or the inflator?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Novopelle’s Lip

Now appearing in the Houston edition of Envy: A sharp ad for Novopelle® laser hair removal clinics. Using a stock photo, an ad agency named C&G has taken credit for the work. Those initials could stand for “Carlos” and “Glen,” since an adsoftheworld.com website posting credits Carlos Cortinas (art director) and Glen Day (copywriter). What attracted me, an occasional reader of this hip lifestyle magazine, was the careful, sans serif type across the upper lip of the attractive young woman in the photo:

A closet full of low-cut blouses. Countless hours at the gym. A small fortune in pushup bras. And he can't stop staring at my upper lip.

What an excellent, contrasty way to direct attention. The stock photographer’s shot helps: The young woman’s eyes looking up and to the right. In its cleanest version, there’s no more than the photo, the lip-contoured headline, the Novopelle logo and website. In the version pictured here, jpegged from the magazine itself, you can barely see Novopelle’s services: Fire, Air, Water and Earth. These packages describe the body parts from which hair would be removed and range from the under arm, bikini and upper lip ($587) to the “full” deal – arms, legs, face ($1,945).

In a magazine like Envy, wherein there’s plenty of food/drink/expensive fashion accessories, the C&G ad stands out big time. So you may or may not need hair removed (I could benefit from some transplanting myself). But you’d have to be blind if you don't “get” this one.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Restoration

Praised be forever the Lord of heaven, who onely dost wondrous things, because thy mercys indure forever. That's what John Evelyn said when Charles II regained the throne of England. Royal Charles himself never said anything like, “Whoa! Really glad I've been restored to power – thanks, Centerpoint!”

But we, whose electricity was restored yesterday, feel like a king now that our air conditioning is back on and electricity is flowing to vital systems like freezer and refrigerator. Now this doesn't mean that there's connectivity – the electric's back but the Internet isn't. I hope Comcast comes through with the cable connection real soon.

That being said, many many thanks to Centerpoint and all the other people who worked so hard getting out Spring Branch neighborhood restored to civilization. It was easy to lose one's cool in the two-week interval between The Ike and yesterday's re-electrification. But anyone with a brain can work out how well off our area has been compared to so many others throughout Southeast Texas.

Coming soon: More blog posts about genuinely interesting subjects, including marketing Commie cats (I swear). Meanwhile, here's to...The Restoration!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Ike

“I survived the Ike!” That's what I'd put on the t-shirt if I really got into the t-shirt thing. Which I don't – but if I did I'd sign on to CafePress to create what's on my mind – then sell it. Or perhaps not: Coming soon is a post about someone who's marketing via CafePress. This past week, my own marketing and advertising work has come to a standstill due to disconnectivity issues.

Meantime, perhaps you noticed the article? Not just plain Ike but “the Ike.” The article elevates the tone of the whole thing, don't you think? We have a dry roof and good health, even if we're headed into our second week without electric power. Electricity outages also make me forget what a calendar is for; and who's running for (what is it?)...President. I hope to be restored to power soon – my followers are getting restless.

To press on, I'm not going to duplicate the thousands and thousands of words that have been written about the recent hurricane's impact on Houston and Southeast Texas. You've seen the photos and the videos, listened to the commentators and the storm victims – so much, so much.

Instead, here's a public appreciation after “the” Ike. Mostly too many to name individually, but you've supported us in so many ways: Gasoline, foodstuffs, connectivity (well, Panera Bread's free WiFi and fresh coffee deserves a spotlight). A generator, courtesy of Doug, Donna and Maddy Nytes in Sugar Land – quite a gas-powered hoot after posting about the same subject before Hurricane Ike arrived in town; see below. The many, many smiles and – above all – patience!

Many thanks to everyone who helped us “survive the Ike.”

Friday, September 12, 2008

Generating Awareness

There’s nothing like a walloping great hurricane to generate awareness. It’s like your impending execution: “The unusual thing about the headsman’s ax is that it focuses the mind wonderfully.”

Yesterday, Alison Bond went to the nearby Home Depot to pick up a few things. She saw an extraordinarily well-dressed couple who, she could tell, had never, ever been in such a store. In their lives. They were shopping for emergency supplies against our coming Hurricane Ike. The man had the most expensive flashlight stocked by Home Depot. He held it gingerly, like it might explode and get…battery stuff…all over his nice suit.

He and his wife stopped by the largest portable generator on the floor, perhaps this AC Delco Model AC-G0005 with electric start. It’s 6,500 watts, “a real warrior,” according to the website write-up. (All Alison remembers, in passing, is that it was big and blue. She herself was not in the market for a generator.)

The man asked his wife, “We should buy this? Is this what we need?” His lady shrugged her shoulders. Looked totally blank.

Clearly, had there been time, the couple would have called someone to select an auxiliary generator for them, a professional generator picker of some sort.

Ad guy Tom McElligott told me once that people don’t notice advertising for tires until they need a new set. That’s when they finally see those newspaper ads. I know the same thing is true for what’s needful during hurricane season.

Proving once again that people do plan ahead – just not far enough. And when they do begin to pay attention, they have to repeat their climb up the learning curve. Or, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him water-ski,” as Roger Edmondson says.

Knowing now that Home Depot will still be stocking generators in October and November: $199 (Sportsman) to $4,200 (Xtreme Power 5000 Watt Professional).

Knowing the same thing last June? Priceless.

PS: Who manufactures these AC Delco portable generators? The brand name’s on the equipment, but the equipment’s not on the brand website. Just wondering.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hurricane Waiting

“Hurricane Ike poised to slam into the Gulf,” in case you’ve missed this. As a good blogger, I should help you understand that it’s entirely motivated by politics. True fact. Otherwise, why would the liberal-leaning media label this 100-mph blast of hot air Ike? Remember? Dwight Eisenhower, 34th President of these United States? A Republican. Well!

The timing is dadgummed suspicious: Right before the presidential elections…okay, not right before, but really, really close. And let’s not overlook Ike’s target which is Texas, a Republican stronghold if there ever was one (not counting The People’s Republic of Austin, which I don’t). Well.

I don’t want to add to the general ruckus. It’s the car manufacturers who will benefit most from this season’s string of “uncontrollable” hurricanes and tropical depressions. Toyota has already started its guerrilla marketing campaign with a Bizarro cartoon – I noticed the company’s promoting its Prius, of course, for gas efficiency in case you are evacuating the area. (Thanks to Barbara, we’re already covered there, don’t you worry about us.)




Well. We’ll just have to see who’s laughing on Sunday, eh?

Cartoon © 2008 Dan Piraro. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

LifeFormulae™ Brandwork

Today’s horrid cliché: There are no small clients – only limited imaginations. Exceptions, though, disprove this rule; Lee Jones, Executive Vice President of LifeFormulae LLC, is one of them.

Thanks to Jones, I’ve been working to establish a brand around a software-as-a-service – called SaaS – for the third time in as many years. SaaS is a delivery mechanism for software, more efficient in many ways that purchasing a software package and installing it on your computer. In this case, the effort is for LARTS, the LifeFormulae ASN.1 Reader Tool Set. (In the world of bioinformatics, it’s safe to say LARTS is delivered by SaaS. Got that?) LifeFormulae is a new company…but that isn’t holding Jones and the rest of the team back.

With Jones’s encouragement, a brand has been built around the company itself, rather than its products. Seems straightforward: LifeFormulae, the toolmaker for life-science researchers worldwide, helps investigators shorten the time from research to results.

It’s really not so simple, not when it comes to the complex and challenging world of life sciences. The principals of LifeFormulae have built a better computational mousetrap that speeds up the unraveling of the secrets of life. Outside any perception of brand is a metaphysical platform captured in part by Jay Lake in his latest book:

And so Creation worked, the planet spinning like the hands of a watch, meshing with the ring of its orbits as it transited through the sky. Everything danced around everything else, advancing in a mechanical sarabande that told the story of God’s craftsmanship more eloquently than words in any book to talk…

At its most abstruse, LifeFormulae software aims to help life scientists breach the wall of God’s craftsmanship at speed: To provide them with the quickest route to the genomic and proteomic answers they need.

Beyond any brand communications the company is likely to develop, the motive for the stopwatch visual (discovered and deployed by website development manager Rachel Sandrock) is the intricate construction of life. What lies beyond this boundary, for researchers, “is another Creation.”

Whoa! All the foregoing is way too philosophical.

Look: There’s a new logo for LifeFormulae, created by Griffin Creative. The new look for this small bioinformatics company is provided by Sandrock. Her stopwatch visual could stand for “nonstop solutions;” instead, it emphasizes the time-sensitive deconstruction of life’s secrets.

And the new branding, from brand story to words, comes from me: LifeFormulae is the resource for researchers – the one that can deliver what they need for a shorter time to a result, a critical product…a cure. Everything’s on line to support Jones’s forceful sales and marketing initiative.

A small company may not have the time to explore every possible interaction with its stakeholders. It might have to start from scratch, inventing a position based on product attributes. Despite all the theory in the world, that’s not a bad place to begin branding. And it’s going to show up first at the Cambridge Healthtech Institute’s “Data-Driven Discovery Summit” in Providence, RI, September 21-25.

There’ll be more to this story. I’ll feed it to you as we go. Meantime, thanks to the LifeFormulae team – Ira Crain, Bill Eaton, Pam Culpepper, Jones and Sandrock – for the opportunity to help build another Creation.