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 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, 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 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
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

“” 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, 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, 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 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 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?