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” ( 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” ( 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 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 ( which is a great brand idea but lacks conceptual support. For really vivid bow ties, swing by Beau Ties Ltd of Vermont (; 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 ( 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

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 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,”, and appreciation for a job well done to Energy BBDO.