Saturday, August 30, 2008

Advertising Immaturity?

In case you were genuinely concerned, it’s official (according to author Michael Kimmel and MSNBC): Career aimlessness and beer and porn culture define ‘Guyland.’ Our latest crisis, brought to the nation via smart marketers and advertisers, is men’s failure to launch, to mature, to grow up.

It’s the subject of anguished musings among social scientists. Include parents who are burdened by the sons who either won’t leave home or have moved back in. Include women of certain ages who cannot seem to find a suitable relationship partner. (You can tell that this cyclically historical “debate” is becoming charged again because what one commentator calls pornography may be another’s healthy interest in the opposite sex.)

There are just as many smart marketers and advertisers who long ago recognized that boys will be boys – for as long as they can. Whether the product is beer, hotels or magazines with “mature” content, advertisers go all out to appeal to guys who, goldurn it, just don’t want to take on adult responsibilities. And yes, if you’ve clicked through the links in this ‘graph, you may notice a preoccupation they have in common – why do you ask?

As a marketer, I recognize that there’s significant opportunity to advertising to the guys who don’t want to grow up. As an older marketer, I regret that I didn’t take more time 30 or 40 years ago to delay the onset of responsibility.

Concerned social commentators, this agonized focus is a waste of time – mainly yours at this point, although if it becomes a real crisis like childhood obesity (right), then the government is going to get involved. Wait, that may be a good thing: Special programs for guys who haven’t matured, teaching them how to be responsible adults. Federal funding! I love the smell of Federal funding.

Even Kathleen Parker has waded in on my side of this growing debate, I think. At least that’s one way to read her latest book, Save the Males. Heck, I’d settle for a woman who can tune my Caddy’s 32V Northstar engine. I can barely find the latch for the hood (hence my constant enjoyment of the Brad DeGroot-Toni Daytona plotline in “Luann”).

Advertisers have a job to do and it’s not selling immaturity. It’s to help sell their products and services in a way that creates positive interactions between their stakeholders and the brand. Remember that – and the name of the brewski – every time you laugh at a beer commercial.

“Luann” Cartoon © Greg Evans, 2008. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Spicier Print

When Procter and Gamble added actor Neil Patrick Harris to its list of pitchmen for its tried-and-true Old Spice deodorant, it took the brand makeover one more step onward and upward.

Old Spice has become more hip and more current by enlisting comic actors like Will Ferrell and Bruce Campbell as pitchmen – Harris is the latest with the quite nice TV spots you can watch (carefully) here on YouTube: “You DON’T have to be a doctor to recommend it.” An entire bloat of bloggers have commented on the Harris commercials, not least because Procter has reversed the manly play by adroitly enlisting this particular actor.

Better than the TV commercials, go to the Old Spice website and attend the brand’s TV School of Medicine…really outstanding. You can get your own hospital doctor’s badge by answering just a few questions. (Well, really you only have to answer one question – but it’s sorta hard.)

What’s most enjoyable, though, is the supporting print ad that’s running in leading-edge magazines like, say, WIRED. Most of the time in Ad-Land, the broadcast is hilarious while the print work just sits there. The art director for this ad, though, managed to get the hilarity of the TV spot condensed to a single page and you have time to really look it over. Harris’s casual hand-in-pocket look, stethoscope neatly placed on the patient’s nose – what better way to highlight “the torment of chronic body odor and wetness.”

Harris’s badge reads: Health Center Medical Hospital Center. (It must be a great place.) The Old Spice script is cut off at the bottom of the ad like old Cutty Sark advertising. And the copywriting’s not too bad, either.

The agency’s still Wieden and Kennedy. Want to enjoy the perks of being a would-be TV doctor? This ad’s perfectly tuned to help you get there. Seriously.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Webb Revisions

It’s really too much fun: The graphic designer at Zephyr Salvo who created my revamped Signalwrite website is Michelle Webb. Here’s a shout-out to her, as well as John Philippe and Brian Bearden (prime mover), with my thanks. This new-fangled site came from a lengthy process which involved virtually no work on my part but some solid re-engineering on Zephyr Salvo’s.

Those of you who are intimately familiar with my old website, created by Paul Leigh, will find the content similar. But the key elements have been redesigned by Bearden and Webb to promote better searchability. At the same time, there’s a new way of looking at my samples which I really like and I hope you do, too: Please stop by for a visit.

Yes: my semaphore guys are still on-site. So is the yellow color, which I’m thinking of trademarking (somehow) – although I like what Michelle did with the subtle patterning at the top. And the familiar smiling face of yours truly – that’s still your basic awkward presence.

Thanks again to the Zephyr Salvo team and everyone else who’s kept the signals flying these past four years. All the best for a great weekend!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Russia? Respect?

My pique at the article in this morning’s Houston Chronicle, “ Give Russia respect it’s due,” has more to do with the Outlook section’s editor or headline writer than with the article’s author, Gale Stokes. Pictured below right, Stokes is the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of History emeritus at Rice University – a long-time observer of Soviet and Russian history and one of its most prolific chroniclers.

Now you know I hardly ever blog about politics – marketing is my life. But this article’s title has got up my nose; and the current condemnations of President Bush’s statements about Russia have reached their tipping point.

First: Dear headline writer, I suggest Russia will get the respect it is due when this “great country with an educated workforce just starting to feel its economic oats” does something worthy of respect. I don’t see Russian ships arriving in far-flung regions of the world with emergency supplies after a tsunami strike; I don’t see Russia stepping up to the plate to halt the slaughter of civilians in Darfur. What I mainly see (through the eyes of the Western press) is Russia being [a] the biggest bully on the block and [b] a thugocracy of the first magnitude.

Let’s see. When did Russia invade Ossetia and Georgia? Oh yes: During the opening days of the 2008 Olympics. That’s right out of the historical poke-them-in-the-eye playbook, isn’t it?

Second, fair is fair. Professor Stokes doesn’t use the “respect” line himself. In fact, his opinion piece offers a proposal that’s reasonable on the surface and that’s all the attention I’m going to give it today.

Third: I do wish the USA was a perfect place with perfect leadership. It is not. But we (as a political entity) come closer, I think, than most others to being the world leader that has to stand up and say things like “Bad dog, bad dog – drop that country right now.”

I’m heartily tired of two methods of condemnation much practiced against America right now: Historical blame-gaming and moral relativism. The first is a great favorite of Islamists; the second a big-time weapon in the liberal arsenal. Right is right – wrong is wrong. If we (America) sometimes get it wrong, I have great confidence that we’ll get it right sometime later down the road…that’s one thing we do really well.

I don’t think anyone else can say quite the same thing about their own track record, in a national, historical sense.

Well – I was wrong to say I’m not paying more attention to Professor Stokes’s article. It seems to bear further thought after all – the role of a good opinion piece whether I like it or not.

Professorial photo: University of Wisconsin.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bottle Mate®

On behalf of water carriers everywhere, thank you, Tom and Nancy Shebesta.

Tom Shebesta is the General Manager of Bottle Mate in Lake Isabella, CA, northwest of Bakersfield. You may not remember as far back as February. I wrote about Ozarka Water screwing up its chance to do a good deed. (Read about that fiasco here.)

But I remembered. And so did Tom, who’s in charge of the “entire” Bottle Mate operation out there in the West.

He called me to ask if I’d ever gotten ‘round to getting a Bottle Mate XL from the Pittsburgh Water Cooler Service. When he found out I had not, he made certain he got one into my hands…and it arrived courtesy of the US Postal Service: Your basic great invention. Patented (1991 317.843). Useful as all get-out. And made to last forever – in fact, it’s guaranteed for life.

Paul L Gagnon invented it back in the ‘70s, from a sand-cast mold…made in his backyard with a hair dryer and casting sand in 1971. His daughter Nancy (see above) used to help him in the product development phase when she got home everyday from high school. The original company was called Port-O-Clamp, Inc.

The original Bottle Mate was made of cast aluminum. The company went to plastic injection-molding in the early 1980s. The Bottle Mate XL, my own pride-and-joy, came out in 2000 because of requests for a larger handgrip.

Now along with my blue nylon Bottle Mate came some sales literature. After reading it, I don’t really know why Ozarka (and its owner, Nestlé Waters North America) don’t follow the simple marketing instructions which Bottle Mate has gone to the trouble of including:

What are your marketing tools? One free Bottle Mate handle…Satisfied customers boast to their neighbors and friends for years.

Tom manages the company founded by his father-in-law and he thinks it’s because these large-scale water companies don’t want to go to the trouble. Okay: Lauren Barack of MSN Money says bottled water is one of those “unnecessary necessities” we can live without. You know it’s true; so do I. Maybe – just maybe – the large-scale bottled water companies will do what smaller, local firms are doing to compete more effectively for our increasingly less disposable dollars. A Bottle Mate promotion could deliver a customer-winning edge.

BTW, I have a family member who prefers the taste of Ozarka to our municipal water supply. So we continue to purchase those 44-pound plastic bottles (without the fancy molded-in handles, too). Fortunately, the Shebestas have been there for me. I used the Bottle Mate XL just yesterday to transport those monster jugs from the front porch to the back.

Thanks to Nancy and Tom, I felt the very model of a modern Gunga Din!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Expanding Branding

We could have called it “Manifest Destiny,” I suppose: This upcoming AMA-Houston Healthcare Special Interest Group seminar. We could have stressed the potential value of brand expansion with a title like, “The Promised Land of Brand Expansion.”

Still, here’s your chance to register early for the SIG’s 26 September seminar which is really called, Community Marketing: Expanding your “brand” outside your backyard. (Think of the railroaders and teamsters in this mural as role models – political correctness aside – taking your healthcare brand out into the wider world.)

Look at this from our SIG programmers’ POV.

Healthcare marketers can’t expect patients to come to a central location any more. We’re moving beyond the need for marketers to think outside the Texas Medical Center, to move providers and facilities outside that geographic box. In fact, even “early expanders” are losing patients to sister facilities newly established in farther suburbs, according to gossip heard among professionals in one of the suburban hospitals.

We believe your brand has to be effectively transported as well. The more stakeholders you involve deeply in your brand the better, whether it’s a local, a regional, or even a worldwide effort. Your hard-won brand facets help carry your value propositions beyond your original facility’s doors.

So we’re willing to put our seminar where our thoughts are. A panel of “expansion experts” from three different healthcare practice areas to discuss the marketing value of expanding your brand outside of your own backyard.

Come that Friday morning at The Health Museum (the SIG’s fortunate home base), you can hear from Edgar Vesga, International Attaché at Texas Children's Hospital; Les Mann, US Oncology Vice President of Marketing; and Suzanne Jarvis, Executive Vice President of healing sciences organization Esocen.

Each professional has a different brand; each has a different set of challenges expanding outside their core markets. You’ll have the opportunity to see how each story applies to your own challenges – and how to measure the success of your brand extension efforts, too. Sharon Lore of UTMDACC (which knows a thing or two about branding) will moderate.

Here’s a few good guides to help get you to where you need to go brand-wise…without a lot of mishaps. We aim to help show you the way come 26 September. So sign up now and avoid the rush, because this past year the Healthcare SIG’s managed to pack the trains for every trip. And O Pioneers! There’ll be a light breakfast for you, too.

State Capitol Mural by Charles Banks Wilson. Photo By David Fitzgerald with thanks.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

We're Booking!

It’s really coincidence. Yesterday’s AMA-Houston luncheon (speaker: Karen Hooper, Director, Marketing Communications and Strategy, KBR) was so well attended, it felt like the Houston Rodeo. But I still had time for a short chat with Colin Hageney. His company, Bullpen Marketing, uses advertising specialties to create high-impact marcomm programs for clients.

He asked me if I’d read his latest blog post; I hadn’t. So I went there this morning and discovered he’d put a fresh face on a classic idea: Using books to help send your marketing messages. He calls it, “Something New Is Old Again.”

I can affirm that this kind of program is very effective and said so in a comment to his blog. Then I went to our library shelves and collected the books I used for Sperry Univac Defense Systems (old, old company name) as part of a book-based direct mail series.

Aimed right at the System Project Officers (SPOs) who were managing US defense and weaponry programs in those days, we chose books because we could send them to the officers but position them as donations to their units’ libraries. As I commented in Colin’s blog, we sent a series of books. One was a terrific coffee table tome about antique scientific instruments. There was a detailed historical examination of fast torpedo boats published by the US Naval Institute. And one I am surprised to find still in print: A biography of Elmer Sperry by Thomas Parke Hughes from Johns Hopkins University Press. (My original copy has a green rather than this blue cover.)

Sperry was one of the great turn-of-the-century US inventors, that tranche of original American tinkers that included Thomas Alva Edison, Henry Ford and Hiram Maxim…you probably don’t recall more than a couple of these names. I grew up with their stories.

A quarter of a century back, we could send books about these geniuses to people who still remembered who they were and what they contributed to America’s growth.

I’m guessing here – but Colin’s examples are, perhaps, a bit more timeless. Thanks for the reminder, Hageney. Ta for Thursday.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

“Streisand Effect”

From today’s The Gazette (Montreal): Reporters are still chafing over the issue of blocked websites, only two weeks after Beijing and the International Olympic Committee went toe-to-toe over the issue and the Chinese seemed to back off.

Plenty of websites are still blocked, such as Amnesty International, Free Tibet, and a YouTube video showing the 1989 protest and aftermath at Tiananmen Square.

Aren’t the Games going swimmingly? Seen the nice commercials, have you? Notice how the sports reporters refer to the “haze” in Beijing? Catch the announcement by the officials of the International Olympic Committee are giving China a pass on this one?

Don’t mean to be political, but still, I wonder if China’s blocking action will come back to bite ‘em. It’s been generally proven that trying to block access to information on the Worldwide Web is self-defeating (at least most of the time.). This has been called the Streisand Effect, after an attempt by Barbra Streisand to get photos of her Malibu, CA, mansion removed from the Internet. There’s even a website devoted to the concept now.

William Shakespeare said it first (or best): “Truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long.” You can certainly count on the IOC to avoid offending totalitarian regimes. Let’s wait for a bit and see if the Games’ advertisers pay the piper, eh?

File photo by Frederic J Brown.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Telling “How”

Clients have wanted to tell a variety of stories recently. I’ve had the chance to help them identify those stories, trying to come up with new ways to tell their stakeholders about various facets of each brand.
We learn by example. Click on and you can find out how one major corporation is doing it…online, with video, with TV commercials. (Not each one is equally successful: The “Environment” commercial doesn’t measure up to the company’s far more interesting story; its print advertising is consistent but not as compelling.) Every element of Lockheed Martin’s “How” campaign is structured around 12 words.

Between the idea and the achievement, there is one important word: How.

One of the site’s newest videos explains the development of the F-117A Nighthawk, the world’s first operational stealth fighter….again, based on the word “How.”

I know not every company has Lockheed Martin’s wealth of stories, especially about things that go bang. I also know Lockheed Martin has been in the news lately in a not-so-great way. Still, weapons systems are hardly the only arena in which Lockheed Martin is involved and branding efforts are even more critical when other, more positive stories need to be told.

For a large company like Lockheed Martin, it doesn’t matter whether the focus is on it first-class environmental efforts or US military airpower research. What’s key – from a marketing perspective – is consistency of brand messaging and story-telling style.

It is observable that the company has kept to an unswerving brand story. (And the stock price is up about 20% in the past year, too.)

So: How do you marshal your own brand stories? How do you commit to presenting them in a variety of ways? How do you keep the pressure on your own organization to help you deliver the many facets of your own corporate narrative?

Lockheed Martin notes: It is the how that makes all the difference.

Nighthawk photograph © 2008, Lockheed Martin Corporation.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Keep Emotion

By accident, I’ve ended up with a neighbor’s magazine. Have to say, though, I’m not really getting much out of the August number of Journal of Accountancy. What I learned is that there’s a dichotomy between what CPAs might want to sell me and how they intend to sell it.

Take the case of a perfectly nice, competent accountant like Theodore Sarenski, pictured at right. In the publication, he’s bylined a short article about “Taking Emotion Out of the Decision” to purchase long-term care insurance.

He carefully cites numbers to reinforce the fiduciary benefits of this kind of insurance (which the Lord forbid I’ll ever need, uhuh). He’s all about facts and figures in this short piece, reinforcing the emotionless approach – until he comes to the last sentence:

Isn’t it worth the peace of mind to know that a lifetime of work and saving will be preserved to benefit future generations?

In trying to eliminate sentiment from a buying decision, Sarenski falls back on “peace of mind” at the end. Life is emotion. Attempting to wall yourself off from it – making a logical buying decision – only works if one is a stereotypical accountant (I suppose there are some) or a machine. And as WALL-E has proven, even machines can have souls.

I don’t know the writer. He doesn’t know me. Without any prejudicial intent at all, I say, TAKE IT ALL WITH YOU, Sarenski! Don’t leave a sou for anyone.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Railean™ Rum

The end of 5th Street in San Leon, TX, is about as far as you can go before you run out of solid land. Beyond it sail shrimp boats and freighters. This is where Matt and Kelly Railean founded their distillery. This is where they make “original” Handmade Texas Rum™.

I wouldn’t blame you if you think I’m a sot, not after writing about Louisiana rum in a previous post.

In the blogosphere, though, one thing does lead to another. So I found myself with an invitation to visit one of the two rum-makers in Texas. Railean Texas Gulf Coast Rum is hand-crafted in a different style than Old New Orleans Rum and the brand is marketed differently, too. (Yes, there’s been a certain amount of tasting going on – this helps me differentiate among brands. Really.) Why miss a chance to observe this brand effort on the basis of the Four Ps* of Marketing anyway? And it’s just down the “Highway of Death,” I-45 South.

These Texas rums are new. The Raileans got their financing in the Year 5 and their permit in the Year 7: Their clear White Rum came out in December last year, the first marketable liquor off their shiny German-made column still. Railean Reserve XO (the amber rum) has just been introduced. Matt Railean is the distiller; in fact, he’s Texas’s first “Master Distiller.” Kelly Railean is the marketer – her background as a First Level Sommelier, with more than a decade’s experience in wine and spirits, means she knows how to go door-to-door.

The initial, Four-P decisions, though, have been joint ones.

One: Product. They wanted to match their product – the rums – with the audiences they saw on the horizon. They believe there will be a market for fine-tuned, hand-crafted rums just as there is for single-barrel bourbons and aged tequilas. In creating the product, they went for “dry” rum recipes. There’s no sugar left in the specially created 720 molasses when it goes in the still. The two varieties are less sweet than most rum – the flavors are rich though not syrupy (the Reserve XO has some sherry-like overtones). So far, bartenders and restaurant owners say they like the Railean rums because they’re different, with an up-market feel and taste that’s distinct from mass-produced rums.

Two: Positioning. The brand name – Railean – is the family name. The makers experimented with different name options, using both friends and liquor-industry colleagues as sounding boards. I’d say there’s no more vanity here than any other entrepreneurs; and a good deal of realism. If you can’t have the brand equity of a Bacardi or Captain Morgan, you have to build your own. They also understood from the get-go that San Leon doesn’t have quite the throw-weight as New Orleans. Rather than load up the rums with pre-conceived notions, “Railean” is neutral…so Matt and Kelly are willing to let their stakeholders help build brand loyalty and image. (I think the jury will be out for a while yet on their brand positioning effort.)

Third: Presentation. In this case, that’s the label design. Look behind any well-stocked tavern bar, or the “Rum” section of a good liquor store. You’re going to see a lot of labels showing black bats, pirates, sugar cane and more pirates. After considerable thought and a huge number of designs, Matt and Kelly looked out the window of the Buccaneer Tavern in San Leon and saw the hundreds of monk parakeets flying around the power poles and palm trees – the little green parrot ended up as the Railean mascot and the anchor of the product labels.

Fourth: Promotion. Kelly Railean is convinced on-premise sales will build the Railean brand and that’s where most direct tasting and promotion efforts are concentrated. I wrote in a previous post about “marketing one bottle at a time;” bars and restaurants are where the 30-to-50-year-old professionals nurture their liquor brand devotion. The company wants to foster this personal relationship with the brand; admits it’s hard work and intends to follow through with it all the same. In the absence of a million-dollar budget, the Raileans will use word-of-mouth to foster brand loyalty.

Forty-plus years back, John C Aspley wrote about the advertising manager of a large manufacturing company who said: Sales promotion moves the product toward the buyer, while advertising moves the buyer toward the product.

The Raileans are using sales promotion – and sweat equity – to construct their brand’s success. Their achievement will be handmade, for sure.

*There are about as many “Ps” in marketing as there are markets – three, four, five, seven…you name it. One 4P set (not mine) can be found at The ABCs of Small Business. I’m grateful to the Raileans for the great chance to see a new consumer brand take its first steps. Their brandsite also features plenty pix.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

No Joking

Let’s turn to the not-so-ordinary-people category. There are probably a few (hundred) CMOs and Sales VPs shaking their heads right now about the boodle being generated by “The Dark Knight.” The actors’ names alone seem to be key drivers.

Why can’t you spend six months or so creating a product; hype it for six months or a year, and then generate $314 million in just a couple of weeks…wouldn’t that be one spectacular sales trophy to hang on your mantelpiece?

Writing in the current Entertainment Weekly, Mark Harris is pretty certain that, despite the exceptional magnetic performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker, the latest Batman installment may be top of the world right now. But it will never beat “Titanic” for long-lasting financial performance:

People kept going. And going back. And then more people went. The movie, which opened at No. 1, stayed there not for weeks but for months…In the decade since “Titanic,” studios have just about perfected their ability to get masses of people into theatres for the first weekend or two of a movie’s release…But staying power? A three-month run at the top? That’s so 1998.

This is no movie review – it’s a review of marketing performance. As far as its stakeholders are concerned, “The Dark Knight” has quite a limited record so far. As Harris notes, in a decade “Titanic” has earned $1.8 billion…no other film’s coming close to that number so far. And “The Dark Knight” has a lot of stakeholders.

There isn’t a marketer that wouldn’t like a slice of “The Dark Knight” magic for his or her product/service. One option: Since your stakeholders aren’t always the most patient of souls, use short-term marketing feedback and/or sales performance as a benchmark, a set of early indicators.

Then think about what impacts this early performance (good or bad) will have on the returns you’ll get from a long-term marketing run. Staying the course may not always be the right answer…but you could end up with “Titanic” gains in the end.

The Heath Ledger/Joker photograph is copyrighted like you wouldn’t believe. I acknowledge its ownership by Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Films, DC Comics and Syncopy – all rights are reserved and likely engraved on steel plates.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Ordinary People

Here it is Saturday and I’m wondering if business-to-business advertising is the last refuge of normal human beings? Unless you’re looking at a trade magazine, you’re seeing handsome, cool, good-looking people flacking products and services these days.

‘Course, this has been going on for years and years: Mary Pickford, one of the most famous movie stars of her day (which would be about 90 years ago) appeared for Everywoman’s World in 1919.

Celebrities both are and are not what they used to be. You can see one of the world’s largest advertisements for Maxxim featuring Eva Longoria here. Form-wise, this is a substantial mental distance from the famous Ms. Pickford; functionally, it is the same.

Reshaping spokes-celebrities continues among the brand icons, too.

Writing in Funny Times several months back, Lenore Skenazy bemoaned the glamorization of our advertising icons: “In Mr. Whipple’s day, there was no shame in being paunchy or plain or punching in at the kind of job you get straight out of high school.”

Another example: The old Dunkin’ Donuts guy is gone. But the younger, cuter, phenomenally richer Rachael Ray is gone as well – she was removed from the Dunkin' Donuts website some months back; her endorsement TV spots are off the air. For why? It seems she didn’t like the famous Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and wasn't shy about saying it out loud.

Fortunately, there’s Oil & Gas Journal or Offshore – just to name a couple of “regular” magazines. There’s nothing overtly glamorous about seeing a West Texas tool-pusher in these pages, an Asian pipeline engineer or a Scandinavian ChEng. None of them are too likely to let their star turns go to their heads, either. Still, I live in hope: “I’m ready for my close-up now, Mr. deMille.”

The classic Chevvy-Mary Pickford ad is from with thanks.