Sunday, January 27, 2008

Liquid Al

For all my carryings-on about functional beverages, take note of the brand stories in both “Tunguska Event” and yesterday’s “Functional Beveraging.” Next, consider the coincidence that came my way yesterday.

Here’s another. Lauren Rottet curated “Imperative Design” which opened last night at the Barbara Davis Gallery. The most impressive piece in a very good show was the Ross Lovegrove “Liquid Al Bench” you see above – more than 10 feet long, 2 feet high…a brilliantly present example of the industrial designer’s vision and art. (Al in this case means aluminum: It’s a single piece of milled aluminum, polished to a mirror finish.)

What has this bench got to do with advertising and marketing? Because Lovegrove is an industrial designer, he creates objects for companies to sell. But he does it from his own, rigorously disciplined point of view, one he calls “fat-free design.”

Take the time to listen to Lovegrove explain it here and you’ll discover that he articulates the power of organic design eloquently. Credits it as essential to modern creativity: Natural forces take away what they don’t need and deliver maximum beauty.

His life and vision are filled with natural and organic forms (sea shells and elephant skulls). They inform his work all the time. Look again at Liquid Al Bench. It’s more than a cheap seat. It’s a giant dinosaur bone as art. He reveals his growing interest in “single-surface structures and how they flow” in the video I linked above, from February 2005. I am just seeing the real thing now, here in Houston, three years later.

Where this post comes full circle is Lovegrove’s design for the terrific new PET bottle for Ty Nant Spring Water Ltd.

We’re back in brand-land: A water company engaging a world-class designer to create an “impossible to produce” bottle that, in Lovegrove’s words, seems to be utterly insubstantial until you fill it with water. Only then does the bottle itself take on a variety of art forms, depending on the level of the liquid in the container. He’s “put a skin” on water. His design and the production of the bottles is part of the Ty Nant brand story.

It is past proving that great industrial design is critical to great branding, especially on the product side of our business. Lovegrove’s water bottle is a case in point – one you can hold in your hand. More difficult is bringing the concept of design into intangibles (like natural gas) or services (like geoseismic interpretation). But it can be done if you work at it…and great examples are all around us.

What if we asked Lovegrove to design your next website? Besides one hell of an invoice, what do you think he’d deliver?

Liquid Al Bench” photo from Barbara Davis Gallery with thanks. PET bottle photo from Ty Nant.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Functional Beveraging?

In case you’ve been MIA the last few years, functional beverages (often called “neutraceuticals”) are drinks fortified with dietary supplements and herbal medicines. I last wrote about the category in “Tunguska Blast,” a September post.

This multi-billion dollar industry isn’t slowing down. As a branded category, it generates an immense amount of brand work and a lot of attention.

The category as a whole is “swarming with hype.” So I picked one at random, Celsius. An ad for the product appears above.

According to its write-up on Red, this drink: is widely credited by experts and the media with having created a completely new category of functional foods that burn calories without sacrificing taste. Celsius is designed to be a great replacement beverage for people who want to enjoy the taste of a soda and crave the energy of an energy drink or coffee but, don’t want the calories and chemicals that are found in many of these beverages.

Though the company continues to announce distribution agreements, its current stock price is about 11¢, down from a 52-week high of $3.67 – so perhaps Celsius is not performing at its peak.

Functional beverages existed when I was growing up. My first one was Milk, Homogenized, Mark 1. The implied brand promise was, “Grow up tall.” I suppose it worked because I’m six-and-a-half feet tall still. I then migrated quickly to coffee (heavily laced with the aforementioned milk), thereby gaining early experience with caffeine. My daddy tried to introduce me to beer – a functional beverage with centuries of performance data behind it – but it took a long time for me to get with that program.

I also cheerfully confess to being a long-time fan of Gatorade® sports drink – hundreds of miles of cycling proved its value to me.

So I don’t intend to pick on Celsius particularly. It’s one example of the creative branding that’s going on in this category. But nothing drives a brand out of business faster than empty promises. Drinks that offer higher forms of enlightenment or better bedroom performance should be taken with a grain of salt. Admire the brand story and the packaging all you like. Then check out the claims for yourself.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sheetrock® Recognition

Home ownership resonates as deeply today as it did a century ago. Even in a digital age, brick and mortar (or plywood and Sheetrock) are what stabilize us and make us feel at home.

How is it that an 80-year-old economist like Alan Greenspan consciously realizes that a word he’s using on page 230 of his new book is a trademark? And thousands of other Americans don’t have clue that he’s writing about a 96-year-old staple of the US marketing scene? With just an initial capital letter “S” the long-time Fed Chairman simply recognized the trademarked status of USG’s gypsum wallboard in the paragraph above…and passed on to other things.

Too many trademarks are lost through inattention – but USG (formerly, the United States Gypsum Company) has very carefully protected its flagship brands, like Sheetrock panels and joint compounds, for years and years of careful attention. How many years?

Blogger Greg notes here that Sheetrock was invented in 1912: At least that’s the earliest patent date I have on the sheetrock that was used in my house in the late teens or 20s. When they added the bathroom to the kitchen they used sheetrock. On the back of each piece was a sticker with instructions for storing and hanging the sheetrock. At the bottom are a series of patent dates and the earliest one is June 11, 1912. The photo on the left is from Greg’s blog. (Wikipedia says 1916 – so be careful of your sources.)

Sheetrock brand gypsum board didn’t catch on broadly until after World War II, when the demand for housing boomed and labor wasn’t available to do complex lath-and-plaster walls quickly enough. It has been almost literally a foundation product of the American housing industry for the past 50+ years.

As I said, though, my attention was caught by Greenspan’s proper use of the brand name right in the middle of his new opus, The Age of Turbulence. When you read the book, you’ll understand why. He spent his early years as an economist closely studying and reporting on a huge range of industrial statistics – as a consultant for giant US corporations. He’s not simply one of the world’s great economic experts, he’s a living compendium of American industrial history. So he knows his Sheetrock – and it ends up as a proper noun in his book. Good on you, Greenspan.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Noguchi Christmas

Isamu Noguchi produced this “iconic” coffee table in 1944, the year before I was born. I first saw one in 1966 or so, in the home of Bob and Edith Fusillo, in Atlanta – about the same time I was learning other really important stuff like “the Goon Show” and who Barbara Hepworth was.

This table has been written about so much (here, for example), it’s like Googling Shakespeare. It has been on my mind, in my mind, for more than 40 years.

Because the table is still being manufactured by Herman Miller, Inc., in Zeeland, MI – and because I saw one on the showroom floor at Design Within Reach here in Houston – I received it for Christmas.

Thank you, Bob and Edith, for the teaching. Thank you, Barbara, for the gifting.

Friday, January 11, 2008

“Tide” Demo

Stuck for a product demonstration? Tune into YouTube and watch the “Tide” stop-motion TV spot. Already the winner of a bronze medal at Cannes and much caressed by aficionados (here, for example) of fine advertising, it’s a wonderful concept, beautifully executed.

Here’s a spoiler on the off-chance you haven’t seen it: The spot is for a storage company: The Big Yellow Self Storage Company is a UK chain with about 50 locations so far. Being able to reserve a storage space on line is a very nice touch, because one of the firm’s shining characteristics is a strong focus on customer relationship management. (This had been a slow-growth area for far too many companies outside the US – it seems to be paying off for Big Yellow.)

“Tide” was created by London agency CHI & Partners in Rathbone Street, London; and directed by Dougal Wilson, already well recognized for his music videos. He said in an interview that he grew up as part of “a quite practical and technical family;” it shows up in this TV commercial. Drew Lightfoot was the animation director. The stop-motion videography appears so simple in concept, but it’s built up with incredible detail.

Best of all, you can see a three-and-a-half-minute “making of” video here. It shows the waves of dinner services; household appliances and tools; and – eventually – large-scale furniture. As one of the property masters comments, it’s the largest shopping trip he’s ever done!

The point of this post (unlike many another comment about “Tide” going around the Web) is that this commercial is a product demo, with a wise look at our culture built into it. If you’ve ever believed that the last one with all the toys when he dies, wins, then this spot will resonate: What do you do with all the toys once you’ve got ‘em?

Many companies do product demos: Cars, appliances, consumer electronics, offshore oil rigs, you name it. The trick is to create a difference in the minds of your viewers. “Tide” succeeds in this very well. I’d like the chance to make it work for business-to-business clients – especially heavy industry.

Great spot, guys!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Watch This

Already nominated by some as the “cool compass watch,” you could have checked out the Tissot T-Touch (Reference: T33.7.8.92) in print ads featuring MotoGP World Champ Nicky Hayden.

It’s more than a titanium watch with a black carbon face, according to Tissot – not news – but it does have this analog compass feature, which Hayden points to in print and on the Tissot website, in an LED screen.

It took me back, I tell you. When I was stationed at Cecil Field Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, FL, back in the day, I used to hang with a group of guys, among whom was “Dave.”

Dave was cool when I didn’t know what cool was, or a geek of the first water prior to the arrival of “geek.” The rest of us wore wrist watches but Dave wore an olive-drab plastic wrist compass. It became not unusual (indeed, common) for us, upon exiting one of many bars in Jax, to ask him, “What direction is it, Dave?” He’d peer down at his Compass, Wrist, Liquid-Filled, made of Bakelite, and tell us. Most of these were made by the Superior Magneto Corporation of Long Island City, NY.

You could pick up your own OD wrist compass in any Army surplus store, but Dave had his from his World War paratroop daddy. I can tell you, though, that there were no full-page ads in Wired featuring rockers and motor sports stars.

Today, Swiss watch manufacturers advertise in both old- and new-fashioned ways: in print or out-of-home media with beautiful photos of their time pieces plus various movie stars; and carry them over to their up-to-the-minute websites.

If you haven’t looked into the Breitling website, take a quick, visual peek: It’s cutting-edge and fun, especially if you like go-fast airplanes. Omega, Tag Heuer, the Armitron Automatic – it’s hard to keep ‘em straight, even if you remember which movie star is flacking which timepiece. Which one is cooler than the others? Hard to say, though some brands do go on: Rolex for one; and Patek Philippe for another, currently running a very nice ad campaign called “Generations,” which you can see here under its Communications button.

So back to Hayden and the Tissot T-Touch in titanium – with compass. If you’re tempted, you can shop on line; on it’s $795 plus shipping. Or $596 on Amazon. The Breitling Navitimer Heritage, on the other hand, tips the scale at $20k. Coolness costs.

But remembering when we asked Dave what direction it was? That’s priceless.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Nepal Publicity?

It’s been all over the Internet already – but I couldn’t resist (since I just ran across this).

As reported by Reuters here, officials at Nepal Airlines sacrificed a pair of goats to help solve a technical problem with one of its Boeing 757-200 aircraft. (The national flag carrier has two of these.) “The snag in the plane has now been fixed and the aircraft has resumed its flights,” according to an airline official quoted by Reuters. No one has revealed the nature of the technical problem.

It’s important to note that Nepal Airlines was propitiating Akash Bhairab, the Hindu sky god, by sacrificing the goats. Because it has been so widely reported as a news oddity, why am I bringing this up now, four months after it was originally reported?

I haven’t seen that the goat sacrifice has had much of an impact on the brand itself. (Well, aside from the reaction from PETA.) On the other hand, it isn’t what you’d call a major brand – not with just two B-757s and seven DeHavilland Twin Otters.

Still, it’s a 50-year-old brand. It deserves some respect. If I had any connection with Nepal whatsoever, I’d pitch in. Why? Because there’s an opportunity to create a cross-cultural experience that has been ignored by the bloggers and the news bureaus.

Think of this, then, as a PR test case. Perhaps the Nepal Airlines people felt that this kind of religious practice is so common that it didn’t deserve notice. But the story’s obviously made its way around the world – and has had a modest but still negative impact on the airline’s reputation.

What would a good PR practitioner do? What would you do (instead of making fun of the Nepalese) to help build the brand with this goat story? Any answers from public relations professionals would be welcome – because, as the airline’s slogan says, “there is no place on this Earth like Nepal” and it deserves a fair shake.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Green(er) Cup

If, with three sentences on a slip of paper, I could help you turn your company just a little “greener,” would you be interested?

You can do it if you make insulated travel tumblers available to your employees and customers as one of your corporate ad specialties. The one in the photo above is a stainless steel model…but after all these years, there are literally hundreds of styles, all built on the same general principles: a hand-sized container with [a] double-wall vacuum insulation and [b] a firm-fitting, non-spill top or lid with [c] a slide opening.

Here are my three sentences (and see four spiffier options below):

Use this insulated mug next time you visit your favorite coffee shop or convenience store, instead of taking your beverage out in a disposal cup. And keep using it again and again: You could save your local landfill – and the environment – a lot of waste. Thanks from the green-thinkers at XYZ Company.

Think of this as the ad-specialty version of repurposing content if you like. Truth is, our environment could use a little help on the to-go cup front. Writing in the November 2007 issue of Fresh Cup, Lois Maffeo makes a couple of telling points.

First, the standard paper-and-plastic go cup is a key part of the retail coffee biz. You know it – everybody knows it. You only have to look around at how many people are carrying Starbucks go cups into meetings…and just about everywhere else.

Second, the “average American office worker’s annual consumption of 500 beverages in disposal cups” means that trash baskets, garbage trucks and landfills are overwhelmed with the things. These are objects made of paper or plastic (or both) that are put to use for an estimated 20-30 minutes. Maffeo says that the conventional go cup is one of America’s quickest paths to the waste stream: buy it, use it, throw it away. In half an hour tops.

One answer that’s being stirred (not shaken) by the cup industry…uh, the paper product manufacturers…is creating go cups with renewable resources, or post-consumer recycled content. And this is a good one, even if it means that retailers who offer compostable cups will pay two or three cents more per cup than for a paper cup. We’ll end up paying for that, but it’s worth it for the benefit.

The better, greener answer is the insulated travel cup or tumbler – the one that you’re likely already making available to customers and prospects. (And no, I am not being paid by the Advertising Specialty Institute for this post…no promotional fees for me, thank you. Although I am open to discuss…)

No one but you and I will know if you start putting a bit of paper inside each of your company’s promotional tumblers; and add a little extra environmental messaging to your corporate brand platform.

I asked some of my colleagues if they could make my own sentences sharper or wittier. They did. With thanks to each, here are their suggestions.

1. “I cut the word count by 37% but don’t think it’s any more provocative,” Graham Rust of Rust2 in Prague said. His option:

Use this insulated mug every time you visit your favorite coffee shop or convenience store (instead of taking yet another disposable cup) and you’ll cut local landfill, and help our environment. Thanks, from the green-thinkers at XYZ Company.

2. A different take from long-time Houston copywriter Bill Holicek goes like this:

Call me Max the Mug! Use me again and again at your coffee shop and carryout. You save our trees and landfills. And show eco-friendly clout.

3. From “New Jersey Jack” Goldenberg on the East Coast:

Adding waste to the environment? Stop! Littering Earth with disposable coffee cups? Stop! Start using this insulated mug ever time you drink a cup of Joe! From the Green Thinkers at XYZ Company.

4. The principal of Simply Communicate, Jamie Roark, sent this one:

Enjoy this insulated mug instead of a disposable cup each time you visit your favorite coffee spot. Know that every time you sip, the environment sighs. Thanks from the green-thinkers at XYZ Company.

However you say it, you can help save the planet – one cup of coffee at a time.

I owe the idea of this post to Bobbie Ireland and Fran LaGrone at Wood Group (who sent me the photo); and Maggie Seeliger at KBR. All of them, at various times, have given me one or more insulated travel tumblers with their corporate logos on them. I use these tumblers a lot…just the way I describe in this post. And thanks to everyone for participating.