Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Say “Bye” to a Decade of Bovine-Featuring Ads? Have a Cow-less 2010, Man.

When the Huffington Post revealed that new “Happy Cows come from California” ads will be filmed in New Zealand instead of our own West Coast, it became clear that 2009 really has been a year of change, change, change. Maybe it’s time we ad professionals put aside cows altogether – use some other of God’s creatures in the new decade ahead.

It’s going to be tough. One hardly expects Chick-Fil-A to get along without them. The now-iconic nature of this restaurant’s spokes-moos – and one of America’s most enjoyable websites, too – is hardly dented by the odd Chick-Fil-A® Bowl coming in January at the Georgia Bowl, whatever that is.

I’m not precisely guiltless in regards to using cows for advertising purposes, either. I created my first one (an ad with a cow that is) back in the early ‘70s, for Nutrena Feeds. My latest you know about, part of the print series for Lactrol® antimicrobials that I blogged about here.

I guess the Beginning of the Fall for bovines (or cow-tipping-point) began with the UK’s Cravendale Cows a couple of years back – a wonderful series of “TV Adverts for Cravendale Fresh Milk, which has a hint of something sooo good, the Strawberry Cows want it back.” It was a Sixth Sense concept that was suspended because the campaign supposedly frightened children. Wonderfully funny, though.

And finally, today, the real reason is revealed in the cartoon strip “Pearls Before Swine ” by Stephan Pastis. I did NOT expect this revelation at all.

So this affirms my resolution: No cows in ads this coming year! Or at least, not ‘til February. Happy New Year, everyone.

“Pearls Before Swine” © 2009, United Feature Syndicate, Inc. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Season’s Greetings from Signalwrite: Hugs and Kisses Come Standard.

This past year calls for comfort food. Since I can’t package meatloaf, it’s got to be chocolate. That’s why the special Signalwrite Snowman comes filled with chockies to help see this bad old year out and a bright new one in.

I have a real belief that life is sweeter because of good clients, good colleagues and good friends…like all of you. One more time, I’m reminded of the rewards of amiability.

Thanks for making the year more like chocolate and less like, say, spinach. Not that there’s anything wrong with that except how would it look, spinach stuffed in the Snowman Mug? (At least it, too, starts with “S.”)

To the recipients of the actual gifts” “Enjoy!” Eat them up yourself – it’s difficult to ration them this time of year. Or share them with friends if you are feeling especially generous. And thank you most of all for your continued faith in me.

For those who did not, by reason of distance or absence, get their hand-deliver holiday chocolates (Hershey’s Kisses, Hugs and other such-like yummies) – ‘zounds! Just let me know. Like the adventures ahead for next year, there’s more where these came from.

Best of the season from Signalwrite Marketing Communications. (C’est moi.)

Very Merry and Extra Happy all of these: Hanukkah (which began 12/11 – now over); Christmas Eve on 12/24 as usual. Kwanzaa starts Saturday, 12/26. Remember “Festivus for the rest of us” added by Chuck Curtis. And "Merry Chrismakah, Hannumas" from Mark Lipschitz. And another “Thank you” to Prism Design for the this year’s Snowman tag design.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sherman by White: Portrait of the Artist as a Young(ish) Man.

Great minds think alike, I don’t remember whether you said it first or I did, “That’s a photo!”

I’d seen artist Howard Sherman in his working duds. Frank White the Photographer, whose studio is next to Sherman’s at the Docks here, has seen Howard paint-covered as well. Still, when Howard walked out onto the loading dock with us, I guess we had to be together for the idea to pop.

We both knew it. White went on to take the photo:

There are many different approaches to capturing expressions of people. When I shoot people for myself, I go for the toe-in-the-water shot. I have found that if I am ready when the person comes in the studio, and can immediately capture an image, the first shot is usually the best…the cutting edge expression has to be quick.

This was the first image that I took of Howard. I probably shot about 30 images, but after this one, none of the others had this cocky, “Aren't I hot” look. They all looked too nice. We had fun, but those subsequent captures could not compete with the first one.

Photo: Copyright © 2009, Frank White Photography. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Promotion: How Zytrel XP® Becomes the World’s Official Santa-tizer.

Of all the health-risky hands-on occupations during this H1N1 flu season, the top job’s got to be America’s professional Santa Clauses…the Christmas holiday laps for thousands if not millions of kids. That must turn the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention utterly white.

As of today, though, there’s a fun and public-spirited holiday promo, sent as a “special to Signalwriter” from Jack Goldenberg at Biodefense Solutions:

For as long as anybody can remember, Santa Claus has been the world’s greatest gift giver. We think it's about time that Santa got a gift. This holiday season, if you’re a working Santa Claus in the NY tri-state area (NY, NJ, or CT), we’d like to give you a gift, a free bottle of Zytrel XP®, the world’s first extended protection hand sanitizer.

The Zytrel Santa-tizer opportunity came along (like a lot of promo concepts) at the intersection of several events. This is where you envision me holding up my fingers in sequence, right?

One. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been vigorously advising clean hands as one of the best ways to prevent infection in the face of regular flu and H1N1 viruses this year. CDC even says, “Remember: If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based gel to clean hands.”

Two. No less a group than AORBS called out the dangers of Swine Flu at a early-November conference in Philadelphia. The AORBS – Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas™ – is a genuine organization, founded in 1994. In Philly, the professional Santa group lobbied for priority in getting H1N1 vaccinations plus urged its members to use hand sanitizer. Read all about that right here.

Three. Biodefense Solutions thinks those Santas need extra protection and according to everything that Goldenberg has sent me, Zytrel XP delivers exactly that. Traditional alcohol-based sanitizers, like J&J’s Purell product, don’t seem to offer Santas (or other users) long-lasting protection because they only kill germs until they dry, about 15 seconds. The alcohol is part of the problem: Once these older-formulation sanitizers evaporate, they’re done.

Zytrel XP has what its makers calls an “Active Defense Period” of up to four hours – it not only kills 99.99% of germs on contact, it keeps on killing germs for the entire four-hour period.

I’m no Santa. Biodefense Solutions has sent me a bottle of Zytrel XP to try anyway. I’ll report back on my observations, even though there’s a certain amount of faith involved: I’m not going to be lab-testing my hands every day. More important though, the company extended the offer of a free bottle to the pro Santas of the AORBS. The two outfits have shaken hands and Goldenberg emailed me:

I am proud to announce that as of midnight tonight, December 10, 2009, Zytrel XP is the Official Santa-tizer of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas.

That’s a neat seasonal promotion. If Zytrel XP helps keep America’s Santas germ-free and healthy, it’s a gift that’ll keep on giving.

Top photo: “Department Store Santa circa 1956.” A Christensen in Santa's Lap – when nobody had even thought of marketing a hand sanitizer. From Wikimedia.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Clue One: Snow Summons Harbingers of Signalwrite Client Gifts.

How could anyone imagine they’d be lurking in such numbers? Yet at the first sign of snow, here they come, their shining faces ready for the next critical step in the Signalwrite Marketing holiday gift program. Coming soon to a pair of welcoming client hands nearby: Hanukkah a week away and Christmas just around the corner.

What’s this year’s gift? Clue Two will be on Prism’s Use Your Bean blog on Monday. Maybe you’ll guess lucky and get a double helping of Something Special.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Noyu Authentic Asian Tea Brand: Mangling a Metaphor for Marketing.

This isn’t the first time that a Signalwriter™ post has started off in one direction and ended up somewhere else. Not the first time I’ve written about beverage marketing, either. Just let me get the rant out of the way first:

Attention, brand managers: Don’t mix your metaphors. Even if your customers don’t notice, someone will and make fun of you. (Much like this post.)

Noyu Teas has a sturdy concept for a very crowded category – a whole world of ready-to-drink (RTD) teas brought to America from the leading regional source of outstanding tea: “Joyful infusions of Asian fruits and freshly brewed estate grown whole tea leaves from the mountains of Taiwan.”

This one, the all-natural Mandarin Ginger Oolong Tea, is called Samurai Defender. Samurai = Japan. Product source = Taiwan. A mixed metaphor and a cultural mishmash in six words.

No one’s going to realize it. I know this. You have to dig into the company’s website to understand that the “defender” part of the fortified tea comes from 18 therapeutic herbs and other healthy ingredients that are supposed to aid in immune system defense. Maybe this copy is on the reverse of the PET bottle.

But once I get over the huff of the Creative Purist (that’s a laugh, eh?), I’m charmed by the apparent self-mockery of the website’s headline: I Wanna Noyu. The products are not available in Texas. The company appears to have skipped over mid-continent distributors on its way to New York and New Jersey from the Left Coast.

I wonder if Viet Hoang at Yellow magazine knows about this brand? So listen, Noyu founders. You ever sashay into Houston, I’ll rustle you up a tasting panel. Dad-blamed if we can’t turn tea sampling into a multi-cultural brand experience. Sayonara, y’all.

Thanks to Beverage Spectrum magazine for bringing this brand to my attention. Following its beat is always a treat.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

FT Article about Creative Paddy Power Advertising Adds Force to Fast.

The World Cup match was over – France defeated the Irish national team. Two weeks later, on November 25th, Ireland’s largest bookmaker rolled out more than 40 backlit posters in Dublin airport’s baggage hall, each with the headline:

Paddy Power welcomes you to Ireland…unless you’re called Thierry.

(On videotape, it’s appears that French striker Thierry Henry handled the ball which is a major no-no, even I know that. So the Irish feel like they wuz robbed.)

I don’t follow football. I haven’t walked through anything so exotic as an Irish airport. I found out about the campaign in the most neatly crafted seven column inches of newspaper copy I’ve read in years, a small article called “Ad deconstructed” by Gautam Malkani in today’s Financial Times.

Given the author’s writing background, it’s not surprising he’s a fine writer. What I enjoyed was how quickly he pinpointed the main points of these boards’ appearance. First, this is advertising that’s humorous without being bitter – utterly topical and timely. Second, the Paddy Power company got the creative done fast and in place fast: “Following Ireland’s defeat on the Wednesday, the creative was agreed on Friday and the posters were displayed on Monday evening.”

Malkani’s spot-on conclusion is in his article’s last sentence, “…even when dealing with traditional media, advertisers need to quicken their game.”

Quicken the game. Shorten the timeline. Get inside the stakeholders’ decision cycle. All these phrases mean that sometimes it’s critical to get your messages to market faster. Now Paddy Power is a national institution so it’s very well known in Ireland. Still, the nature of its business – sports betting – means attracting topical attention in a big way and right quick too.

We all know creative ought not to be rushed. But once in a while, like at Dublin Airport, there’s an example of nifty creative done really fast. BOOM it’s right there in front of everybody*, even traveling Frenchmen.

I bet you can’t show me that combination applied in our B2B realm anytime soon.

*Average Dublin Airport passengers: 60,000/day. Photo from Betzoo with thanks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Save the Wild Rice – for Thanksgiving 2009 at the Martins’ House.

Happy Thanksgiving. This year, we’ve accepted an invitation to spend the day with David and MaryJo Martin. While planning for this, it struck me that we never see much in the way of advertising for wild rice.

First of all, I suppose, is because it’s…wild. Second, it’s been a cottage industry. Ricing was a two-people-per-boat proposition – poler and knocker. The poler moved the canoe through the rice bed. The knocker bent the stems over and struck ‘em together, so the rice fell into the bottom of the canoe. Some kernels fell into the water to re-seed the rice beds.

That’s the way wild rice is still harvested on certain American Indian reservations – by hand, in boats. In 2001, Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Land Recovery Project wrote:

Wild rice or zizania palustris is actually a grass, sharing only some genetic strains with other rice crops internationally. That special nature is part of what drives its niche market and the millions of dollars now behind the industry. Over the past thirty years what the Creator gave to the Anishinaabeg has become a profit making enterprise for many others.

The $21 million wild rice business is largely dominated by just a few paddy rice firms. Their interest in genetic work on wild rice stems largely from their own economic interests, not environmental, humanitarian, or tribal interests.

Wild rice is Minnesota’s official state grain, with 4-6 million pounds produced annually. Minnesota is one of the world’s largest cultivated wild rice-growing states. But California is now tops in wild rice production. And there is marketing for wild rice: A California Wild Rice Advisory Board; a Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice Council too. Together, they support the International Wild Rice Association. Visit the IWRA website and you’ll find some mighty nice recipes.

Today you won’t have click through. Barbara’s got her pretty-darn-famous wild rice dish ready to take to the Martins’ house for dinner – we’re looking forward to the get-together. The Barbara Nytes-Baron Genuine Minnesota Wild Rice Casserole recipe goes like this.

First, get some wild rice – we’d be glad if you purchased it from one of the tribal stores up north like the White Lake Ojibwe or Red Lake Nation. (“Cultivated wild rice” is an oxymoron.)

1 cup wild rice
1 can chicken stock
½ cup dried fruit, hydrated in wine
¼ cup dried mushrooms, hydrated in wine
¼ cup chopped onions
¼ cup chopped black olives
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped nuts
Butter or olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak fruit and mushrooms
Sauté the onions, olives, celery and nuts in the butter or oil
Mix all in a 1-quart casserole
Bake with the turkey for 1 to 2 hours (usually at 325°F)
Stir during second hour, cover with foil

Rice should be cooked and liquid evaporated – add more liquid (wine, stock) if the rice needs to cook more. Serve hot. May your 2009 Thanksgiving holiday be blessed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Packaging Sells or Fools? A Good $4 Pinot Grigio Pretends to Be Worth More.

No, that is not perfume there on the right. But in the way-overcrowded world of package goods, packaging does count for plenty. You’ll find one example after another of packaging bravos (eg, Minute Maid) and blow-ups (Tropicana). So when I’m shopping a mid-range supermarket and I run across a bottle of Italian pinot grigio that looks like Voga’s, I’m automatically suspicious that this wine is dressed-up drabble.

Still, we’re currently testing cheap whites so the Pinot Grigio from Voga ICRF in Calmasino, Italy, “fell” into the shopping cart.

One nutshell description: The packaging of Voga Pinot Grigio 2004 caught our attention. Unlike virtually every other wine bottle on the shelf, Voga’s 2004 bottle is a perfect cylinder, with a large vertical logo imprinted on the bottle. Even the closure, which is a bottle neck that accepts a standard cork, is camouflaged by a black plastic cover that matches the diameter of the bottle to extend the cylindrical appearance.

I gotta inform you that the Voga website continues the hype...molto artistico, miei amici. Do visit because I was riveted by the flashy flash with semi-nude people and the home page’s suggestive photo. What do you think?

Today’s Signalwriter™ marketing opinion? The taste of Voga Pinot Grigio doesn’t meet expectation. So it’s a cheap lesson in over-hyping (the store discounted the already low price by 10%), a sort of alcoholic “Where’s the beef?” If anyone’s old enough to remember that campaign.

This interesting and quite comfortable-feeling bottle also presents today’s marketing lesson. Sizzle may sell the steak one time, but a very ordinary vin is no way to gain a repeat stakeholder base. Così spiacente, Voga.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dear $995 is Too Much for this Blog Name – Ya Pirates.

I have missed the opportunity to make a lot of money. Again. Mainly because I wasn’t clever enough to [a] gobble up a bunch of neat url names and [b] hold them for ransom. Here’s what the “About” part of the pirates’ site says:

HugeDomains is a premium domain reseller site that strives to bring you brandable domains for your business at a fraction of the cost.

So this firm not only has Signalwriter (which is a brand name I invented) but also SignalDepot and SignalBay and – oh yes – HowToBeACopywriter. Dot com.

Still, fair is fair. I did create the Signalwriter name – it’s a trademark. But these folks thought hard enough about the subject to scoop it up and purchase the url before I (finally) got around to it. It is the part of the model of capitalism to offer for sale something that people want to buy.

I therefore admit to sour grapes. Arrrh!

(At least does not own – that’s a Warner Bros url.)

Signalwriter Marketing Blog is the property of Richard Laurence Baron. “Signalwriter” and “Signalwrite” are trademarks. All rights reserved. Painting: Muti, jene Trauben sind sauer, Joris van Son, c 1660-1665.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Google (v.t.) Celebrities and Trench Coats – See What You Get.

They’re everywhere – celebrity endorsers for each of us and all of us. Now there’s a fresh Harris Interactive/AdWeek poll that says:

…one in five Americans (21%) say they find athletes to be most persuasive when they endorse a product, followed by 18% who say TV or movie stars are most persuasive, 14% who say singers or musicians and 10% who say former political figures are most persuasive.

When it comes to how other celebrities rank in the category of least persuasive, almost one-quarter (23%) say TV or movie stars are least persuasive, while 14% say business leaders are least persuasive. Just 13% say when athletes endorse a product they find them least persuasive and 11% say singers or musicians are least persuasive.

It’s clear that the pollsters took no account of the “Trench Coat Factor.” TCF ramps up the cool quotient – even for McGruff the Crime Dog. You knew that. Best for Sunday…

Saturday, November 21, 2009

As Advertised, London Fog® Trench Coat Does Not Recall the Western Front.

When I was growing up, trench coats did not look like this. Even London Fog trench coats didn’t look like this. Even so, I was shaken (if not stirred) to discover that the much touted Gisele Bündchen ads for this classic fashion line did not show up on the brand’s website.

Or maybe the print ads made it to mags like Vanity Fair; for general web consumption though, we get Eva Longoria Parker and her spousal unit.

So…it’s March 7, 1954: Saks Fifth Avenue becomes the first store to offer London Fog raincoats, in a New York Times ad. The new line of men's raincoats, from
Londontown Clothing Company, is specifically designed to reflect the style of World War I trench coats – complete with epaulets, sleeve straps, and a belt.

The Saks ad describes the coat as “The perfect answer to everything a man can ask for in a raincoat. Remarkably lightweight and wrinkle-free ... it actually resists creasing even after packing.”

(The Londontown president, Israel Myers, has grudgingly used the brand name London Fog for the new line; he rejected it originally because he didn’t think it would attract customers. Saks’s 100 coats sold out immediately, even though the $29.75 price tag was more than double that of other men’s raincoats.)

Myers didn’t invent the trench coat – that’s down to the Brits in the Great War; as you can see by this 1932 Sears ad, the “durable trench model” retailed for just $2.98. Twenty years and a miracle DuPont fabric later, Saks charged 10 times that.

Today, Dillard’s advertises the woman’s model London Fog “Long Trench Coat” in stone, garnet, chocolate or black, for $99 in The Houston Chronicle. I noticed that, oddly, there was no Bündchen here. (But plenty more of her
here. Ah – advertising!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Frank White: “Did you hear about the forklift that slipped on a banana?”

Frank White the Photographer has spent the past 20 years shooting CAT® Lift Trucks for company marketing and advertising. And having fun at the same time. “You’d be surprised at how creative you can get with them.”

To show off the fun, and as a tribute to a great client, White created this year’s Art Crawl series, “Ten Things Run Over by a Forklift.” Eyeball them this coming Saturday, November 21, at Frank White Studio, The Docks, 1109 East Freeway, Houston 77002. I’m looking forward to seeing them – I gotta believe a banana is one of the things. Will I see you there too?

“Smushed Matte Board,” © 2009. The Houston Art Crawl is the annual tour of downtown’s warehouse district art studios, 10:00AM – 9:00 PM.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Adman Holtzweiler arrives in Houston, takes prompt photo op with US President.

The principal of Hope Communications in the UK, Philippe Holtzweiler, is back visiting with us again. It’s a working trip for our long-time overseas advertising colleague. He’s come over to see the French-American Chamber of Commerce as well as spend a few days with us.

We’ve already taken the occasion to drop by David Adickes’s yard at SculptureWorx for an amusing moment with Barack Obama – when asked about our presumption, the President was speechless.

You may already have met Holtzweiler at various events, like the recent AMA mixer at The Gallant Knight. His next appearance with be at next week’s Nouveau Beaujolais tasting at the Hilton, before his triumphant return to Europe. (And thanks, Philippe, for the stopover.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This Veterans Day, “Lets Go” with James Edward Hairgrove, 1945.

When James Edward Hairgrove went off to war, his two first cousins went with him. The boys – James Edward, Billy Wayne and Charles – were all born in 1926 but James Edward was older by a few months, 19 to the others’ 18.

James Edward was the oldest son on a working East Texas farm. He took a six-month deferment on that account; it kept him out of some of the worst battles in the Pacific War. That half-year delay would work in his favor right through the end of World War II.

After basic, Billy Wayne and Charles stayed in Fort Bliss and taught riflery – they’d all grown up hunting. James Edward was in California for additional training, went home to Texas to visit family before shipping out, the only cousin that went overseas. When this photo was taken, he was on his way back to the west coast, to board ship for the invasion of Japan.

He arranged his trip back from East Texas so he could lay over in El Paso for eight hours and see his cousins at Fort Bliss one more time. In their clean Class As, they went down to Juarez – where this picture was snapped, July of ’45.

James Edward’s the one on the right. That’s cousin Billy Wayne in the middle and cousin Charles there on the left.

James Edward shipped out of California at the beginning of August to join Operation Olympic, the initial invasion of the Japanese home islands. He was at sea for a day and a half when the first atomic bomb fell out of the bottom of the B29 Enola Gay onto the city of Hiroshima: August 6, 1945. Eight days later Japan surrendered and World War II was done. (James has always called President Harry Truman “hero” because, thanks to the atomic bombing, he didn’t have to invade the country.)

James Edward completed his service as a basic infantryman in the Okinawa occupation force, guarding prisoners, escorting Red Cross ladies. After the island’s own 82-day-long battle, 90% of its buildings were utterly destroyed. The tropical paradise had been shelled, blasted and burned into a huge expanse of shattered trees, mud and decay.

Then he returned to Texas. The magisterially named Aurora Council Hairgrove, the cousins’ grandfather, had sworn he’d live ‘til the three boys came home from the war. They did, safe and sound, and he was waiting for them. Not everyone came back for this and other American wars. Today’s the day we remember all – including those at Fort Hood.

In addition to James Hairgrove: Paul Hirsch Baron, Emmanuel Katz and Sam Slavik. Tom Ritter. 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. The names from the Gunroom (you know who you are): Paul Johnson, KCMO, and “Charlezzzzz” Muñoz. Charles Rose and Bill Krull. Gary Bearden. Bernard Mazursky. Harold Borenstein and Phillip Becker. Clarence Everett Latham and Irene Helen Phillippe. Meyer Horwitz. And me.

Every year this list grows longer – you’re welcome to add names of your own.

*Thanks to James’s daughter (and my colleague) Kay Hairgrove Krenek for the photo and the story.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Flying Cows! Event-Marketing a Ben & Jerry’s Opening in Prague.

Once upon a time, Graham Rust left England’s mountains green to open an ad agency in Prague, in what would become the Czech Republic. Many years (and a lot of Dialogue International meetings) later, he and his team not only produce great advertising but also fun times down on Wenceslas Square.

Unilever, the corporate owner of Ben & Jerry’s since the turn of the century, picked the capital of the Czech Republic - and Rust, Klemperer sro - for the first major launch of the brand in Eastern Europe: “Vermont’s Finest in Prague!”

Rust staged the initial shop’s grand opening with cows – flying and otherwise. Transplanted pastures. Motorized hay bales. Free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, right in the heart of the city. From this morning’s Dialogue International newsletter, Rust speaks! “A week before opening the first scoop shop we bombarded Prague with stunts featuring the champion cows. Teasing actions like parachuting cows, cows riding Segways and giving away paper cones which could be exchanged into real ones at the opening day.”

On Opening Day, July 30th, Rust brought the party to the people in Wenceslas Square.

Having stood my very own self hip-deep in crowds in Na Příkopě on the corner of that huge open space in Prague, I have to tell you that it takes flying cows to get Ben & Jerry’s noticed. As you can see by these photos (and more here), the peeps are eating it up.

Ben & Jerry’s, despite being owned by Unilever, still has adoring support. As Graham says, it’s “such a special, individual, quirky, passionate, human brand.” Therefore, congratulations to Rust in Prague for being so ice-cream-social. Now close the circle. Post the agency’s opening day photos to the Ben & Jerry’s Facebook site and squeeze just a bit more promo for yourselves out of them cows.

Thanks to Rust and the affiliates of Dialogue International not only for news from abroad, but for the ongoing relationships. Have a scoop of Mission to Marzipan on me.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Driving East to Edom, She’s Going, Going... (Casual Sonnet)

“Traveling to Edom.” Long e, short d-o-m.
A friend is driving there tomorrow,
Going east to see the sights.
Going for the antiques, going for the day.
That part of Texas is more green than red.
Will she find a worker of the ground along the way?
A keeper of the sheep?
Or is an Esau waiting for her?

She may share his pottage at the Shed Café,
A strictly down-home menu, every dish an antique tale.
Birthrights sold up by the register.
And Abraham so recently deceased.
Driving east to Edom, she’s
Going, going, g-o-n-e.

Copyright © 2009, Richard Laurence Baron.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Website Design Houston – Three Words to Spark Some Thinking and a New Site.

Is your website sad? Is your website mad? In your website bad?

I can find real examples on the Worldwide Web – the planet’s smallest website, for instance. Find sites devoted to the worst sites on earth. Discover a website that demonstrates just how bad a bad site can be.

Which is pretty hilarious so thank you, Angelfire. But it’s real, even today.

Just as real, the fact that clients and prospects already use a company’s website as the critical link between them and the products or services they seek to purchase. First-visitors judge a company by its site. A goodly portion of websites are outstanding. Many are sufficient. Unsurprisingly, there are still a lot of frogs out there, websites that are just plain “sad-mad-bad.”

So Brian Bearden and friends (of which I am one) put their heads together – it was a challenge to come up with something different. That led to the sad-mad-bad concept. As of now, here’s this service that delivers effective relief when, for instance, a company website:
▪ Is outdated – and looks it!
▪ Suffers from neglect (it’s been put up and forgotten).
▪ The design or layout is old.
▪ Visitors wait – and wait – for your site to load.
▪ Hotlinks are broken and don’t work.
▪ The type’s too small and the pages are hard to read.

Those are just a few of the problems mentioned on the new website. Although there are a lot of web outfits in Houston who can fix problems, there aren’t many that can combine great “redesign,” effective web SEO, hard-working content and push-related website marketing activities.

This is a Houston website design solution that promises to make websites glad. I’ve kissed my share of frogs (likely a career record, mine) so I’ll be checking back to see how this works out in terms of SEO and sales activity. I will report the results. “Thank you for your support.”

PS: If you don’t believe, check out similar awful fates from SAP Design Guild. And thanks to Michelle Webb for her hard work.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

“Where is it?” Chevy Advertises Volt but It’s (Still) Not Ready for Prime Time.

It’s been coming for at least two years. It was “formally” announced in a Chevrolet commercial aired during the 2008 Olympics. It became the butt of jokes during the Detroit meltdown – and so did General Motors.

It’s the Chevy Volt. Maybe it’ll get 230 miles-per-gallon-equivalent. Maybe it’ll never see the light of day, although the pre-production test cars have been completed. Maybe I’m being unfair. But you know, a car isn’t a software package – people who want to buy won’t wait on Volt vaporware (remember that term?). American consumers will buy Toyota hybrids and Hondas.

Commenting on Autoblog, “Owlafaye” noted:

The Volt is being designed according to General Motors’ old way of doing business. By the time it gets to market it will be an obvious anachronism. The advanced automotive technology from a myriad of other manufacturers, and due to debut at the time of (and before) the Volt, will bury this foolishness and relegate it to Edsel status.

I normally defend good marketing but it seems like Chevrolet has confused teasing the public with unfulfilled promises, again. Are you a believer? Too bad.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Betting McDonald’s Brand is Recession-Proof despite The Wall Street Journal.

On Thursday, McDonald’s got zinged by Julie Jargon writing in The Wall Street Journal. While admitting that “The recession helped McDonald’s Corp. more than other restaurant chains as consumers traded down to fast food,” the reporter also noted:

Lately, though, the company's same-store sales growth has begun to slow, leading some to wonder whether investment opportunity is shifting to the casual-dining sector…. If US unemployment continues to rise – as it did last month, to 9.8% – it could hamper any broader industry recovery and hurt McDonald’s results in the US, where the company gets most of its profit.

Now I have to say, first, that Jargon’s report is much more balanced than the excerpt implies. But second, the article knocks the company in front of a particular group of McDonald’s stakeholders that may have little interest in the brand but lots in the share price. Jargon raises a question where none really has existed.

I am not a shareholder. I’m not following the charts and the graphs. But I do think that the McDonald’s brand is extraordinarily strong. Unlike the US manufacturers of cars, consumers still love this brand and keep buying its products: It is America.

With McDonald’s, I believe that unique personality that no competitor can claim is the reputation of America’s Restaurant. How do we capitalize on that reputation? By relating McDonald’s to our lifestyle – our own human experience.

Jack Smith, who would retire as Group President and Deputy Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnett, McDonald’s long-time ad agency, said those words in April, 1986, to the company’s franchisees. He said in the same speech:

Reputation advertising is the kind that works very hard on the…long-term sales and top of mind. You (McDonald’s) are America’s Restaurant and nobody’s going to take that away from you.

Over this past quarter-century or so, McDonald’s has, like the rest of us, suffered many slings and arrows, although I can’t recall personally suing the company for clumsily spilling apparently hot coffee over myself. It’s been criticized repeatedly for being too large. Too unresponsive. Too exploitive (of beef, grass lands, workers, plastics, paper products) and too liberal and too conservative. It has been accused, all by itself, of causing Americans to be fat.

Through all this, McDonald’s has hardly ever lost sight of the fact that it is, de facto, America’s Restaurant. That’s how the company behaves. That’s how the company responds to economic crises. That’s how its corporate behavior appears in radio and TV commercials, billboard, print ads, websites, promotions – well, you name it.

Leo Burnett’s Smith spoke 23 years ago about TV commercials that now appear to be old-fashioned. Yet McDonald’s keeps to the same vivid brand theme. And if it’s the World’s Restaurant now, instead of just America’s, I’m lovin’ it. It’s a fine long-term brand ROI.

Thanks to Rob Schoenbeck for the timely sharing of Jack Smith’s 1986 speech.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Borrow an Ad Memory or Two about Armstrong and BBDO.

Such a charming reminiscence came out of The New York Times this week. Ad columnist Stuart Elliot offered a response from an older reader about the “proper” pronunciation of his agency’s name:

When I worked at BBDO, from June 1951 to March 1954, nobody in the agency called it anything other than “BBDO.” The switchboard operators who answered phone calls always answered in a very stylized, “This ... izz ... BBDO!” Outside the agency it was usually called, I guess, “BBD and O.”

One account I worked on was Armstrong Cork. I used to take the Pennsy to Lancaster at least twice a month. Everybody at Armstrong called the agency “Batten’s,” because Armstrong had been a client of the Batten Company for many years before Batten’s merger with Durstine, Osborn & Barton in 1928, which then morphed into Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn.

Elliott thanks the reader and answered:

Although “the Pennsy” – the Pennsylvania Railroad – is no longer chugging, Armstrong, now Armstrong World Industries, is a client of BBDO’s to this day.

Now perhaps it is lazy of me to make a post out of an existing story line, especially one featured in Elliott’s column. Armstrong has been a BBDO client for at least 58 years. I couldn’t track down the exact number (although I bet someone in New York knows it). I couldn’t honestly tell you that Armstrong doesn’t use other agencies of all sizes and shapes, either.

It is always fashionable to feature the medium-of-the-moment and fawn over the edgiest boutique. That is the nature of the new. But I point out that really long-time account retention is not only possible but continuously rewarding for all parts of the client-agency relationship. Frankly, it’s heartening right now to observe this kind of thing. I’m an alumnus of BBDO (though more recently than the early ’50s); I hope it’s true that great shops never die.

Whoever said “nostalgia isn’t what it used to be?”

Thank you for the 1952 Armstrong Flooring ad from Retro Renovation, which notes that the “neutral grey works just fine with the orange and chartreuse paint.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Making the “Winter Hawaiian” Shirt? Start with a Cilla Ramnek Fabric.

I’d give you the shirt off my back but first I want to blog about it. Then, after giving plenty of credit where it’s due, I’d like to wear it at least through the upcoming Houston version of winter. That’s because this is a sort of cold weather-weight Hawaiian shirt. I call it “Stockholm Syndrome.”

I had this made for me – really, I asked Barbara Nytes-Baron to make it for me because she can sew and I cannot. To start with, I’d wanted to get away from run-of-the-mill tropical prints. It’s a good thing I found this interesting fabric at Ikea…reminded me of lava lamps.

The not so good thing: It’s an upholstery fabric, which means it is quite a bit heavier than shirting. Still, Barbara had the sewing pattern and the patience – that’s how we came to invent this shout-it-out cold-weather camp shirt.

The fabric was created by a Swedish fabric designer, Cilla Ramnek. She’s said she doesn’t see any conflict between design, craft and art; but then, maybe she hasn’t found out yet what one of her fabrics has been turned into…not my own line of tropical wearables per se but an adventurous addition to the celebrated Baron collection of bold, bright tropical shirts. (I’m ready for my close-up, Mr DeMille.)

No brands were hurt during the production of this winter/tropical camp shirt. Eat your hearts out, Mad Gringo and Hilo Hattie.

And if designer Ramnek throws up her hands and swears off fabric art forever, well, I’m heartily sorry. This shirt IMO makes a statement and it is not “Attention – this guy needs taste replacement surgery stat!” Be sure to look for us on the runway in NYC next Fashion Week…La Guardia 31.

Shirt: “Stockholm Syndrome.” Fabric: Saralisa Collection. Designer: Cilla Ramnek. Pattern: Simplicity #3852. Crafter: Barbara Nytes-Baron.

Friday, October 09, 2009

If a Better Boeing Brand Bombs, It’s Not So World-Ending.

Big is back. That’s the word from The Economist. The August 29, 2009 number even has a whale on the cover to emphasize its story, “The return of the corporate giant.” Big’s beautiful again even if for some of us the beauty part never went away. And The Economist mentions Boeing in the same sentence as Yahoo (in terms of 1998 capitalization, the nod went to Yahoo).

Coincidentally, in the 9/15/09 Marketing News, Elisabeth Sullivan wrote a three-pager about Boeing’s recent brand developments – her “Building a Better Brand” case study is available here. As a survey piece it’s not so bad but it leaves a couple of questions hanging around.

The how-it-came-to-be article trumpets a cohesive brand identity story, carefully quoting Boeing’s Fritz Johnson and Jim Newcomb; Boeing’s ad agency Draftfcb; corporate design firm Methodologie Inc; and (wait for it) an aerospace and defense industry think tank exec, Teal Group VP Richard Aboulafia.

The narrative gravely mentions “brand DNA” and “triple helix” and “design roadmap.” All good things, all quite contemporary. “Everyone should be managing the brand,” Newcomb says, adding that every employee now is interested in Boeing’s branding process.

For public consumption, though, it seems like the Boeing brand is constantly being reinvented. Whatever happened to the Horizons Global Advertising Campaign that Draftfcb launched for the company at the very end of 2001?

Was that the same introduction as the much-touted $50-million “Boeing: Forever New Frontiers” global television and print advertising campaign? Boeing’s brand management VP Anne C Toulouse said at the time (January 2002):

This campaign captures the spirit of Boeing, celebrating the power of human imagination and technological achievements…the Boeing brand is one of our most valuable intangible assets. Our investments in the brand help strengthen the company's long-term business position.

Now the company’s apparently gone back to the drawing board. It’s possible that the spirit of the big company changed in the eight or so years since “Forever New Frontiers” went public. Eight years is a long time in major corporations these days. (It’s also like the sign I once saw in a 3M conference room, “We’re going to keep having meetings until we find out why there’s no work getting done around here.”)

More telling to me is the hesitation Marketing News attributed to Aboulafia, the defense industry think-tanker. He’s wary of endorsing any external manifestations of the Boeing “One brand, One company” strategy discussed in the Marketing News article. Maybe he suspects that a new mega-branding effort on the company’s part will have little if any impact on its military and civilian customers and prospects.

Boeing isn’t just a mighty big company, with more than 158,000 employees in the US and 70 countries. It’s a mighty big brand, too. It’s been the world’s premier manufacturer of commercial jets for 40 years and arguably the most influential producer of warplanes for, like, forever. Despite the company’s participation in a wide array of other industries, from finance to software, it is principally viewed as an ironmonger.

So it probably doesn’t matter if the corporate people are tinkering with the cohesiveness of the company image. Boeing’s products…fly. That’s a great brand.

PS: I spent a large part of my military service time with aircraft produced by McDonnell-Douglas, now a key part of Boeing: A-3s and A-4s, and the propeller-driven C-47s, C-54s, C-117s. I’m a long-ago member of Mach Nix, which may explain why I’m slow on the uptake: Why didn’t I write this blog post back in May, when Boeing per-share price was $29? Photo: USAF.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Darden in BrandWeek: “No discounting.” But if the menu’s big bucks...

It is the convergence of events that’s arresting, rather than the events themselves. As with the feature article by Elaine Wong in BrandWeek yesterday, combined with today’s arrival of The Capital Grille promotion from American Express that you see above.

BrandWeek is interviewing Drew Madsen, Darden Restaurants’ president and COO; the piece is titled “Why ‘Deep Discounting’ Is Not Always the Winning Recipe.” In the second paragraph, Darden goes on at length:

We’re also seeing a [bit] more pressure on our higher price, higher check [restaurant dining] concepts, so brands like The Capital Grille—a fine dining steakhouse that’s priced at $90 or so a person—have seen a bigger impact than Olive Garden, which is [around] $15 a person, and we’re seeing a little bit of a decline in the overall check…a big part of the check erosion is due to all of the deep discounting that’s going on with competitors trying to get more people [eating at restaurants]. That discounting is essentially sacrificed per person per check. That’s not the case at Darden.

There you go: No deep discounting at Darden Restaurants. It’s holding the line, maintaining “the integrity of our brands and the strength of our business model long-term.” Unless the menu’s so expensive that half a C-note doesn't count as...deep.

This is a company with great brands, but Darden [NYSE: DRI] is only performing “fair” in the current economy. The company’s seen negative EPS growth this past year; it’s just reported a decline in same-store sales in five brands in the quarter that ended August 30, 2009.

Maybe there was a timing gap between the actual interview and its publication. Maybe it’s just an oversight; or the difficulty of knowing about single little promotion. I really did have to laugh, though, since the AMEX $50-off postcard arrived in the mail just 15 minutes after I read what Madsen had to say.

Give the interview a look. Madsen talks a good brand-value game. But he concludes his interview this way: Everyone can talk about having value and do what’s right or wrong when times are growing, but when things are tough, that’s when your values are put to the test.

I won’t be testing The Capital Grille’s values even with my “$50 gift certificate” promo – the menu’s still too pricey. Barbara has coupons for Red Lobster instead.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

“Jesus is the Sticker on the Bumper of My Soul” Gets Real Lyrics.*

When your engine’s barely pulling
And the ride is kinda rough,
When your life is really feeling
Like it might be getting tough.

There’s a fine hands-on solution
Sure to ease the way you go:
Let the Lord be your mechanic!
He’s your all-time maintenance pro.

Well now Jesus is the sticker on the bumper of my soul.
He’s my whole trip’s ambition, the sum total of my goal.
And I’m getting better mileage from every tank of fuel
‘Cause my chassis’s free of evil and I know that I’m no fool.

Your lower tailgate panel
Could be dragging in the dirt.
You might find that some corrosion’s
Eaten out the engine skirt.

And that fender’s gotten dented
From your sinning, straying ways.
It is time you drove your spirit
To the good Lord’s service bays.

Well now Jesus is the sticker on the bumper of my soul.
He’s my whole trip’s ambition, the sum total of my goal.
And I’m getting better mileage from every tank of fuel
‘Cause my chassis’s free of evil and I know that I’m no fool.

Oh yes Jesus is the sticker on the bumper of my soul.
His Gospel is my owner’s guide, his Book my holy scroll.
He has polished out the wrinkles so it’s mighty clear to see
That I’m driving straight to glory, that my trip is heavenly.

*The song title was one of several created by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett for their novel Good Omens, published originally in 1990 and later updated. So the title is their property. However, these lyrics are ©2009, Richard Laurence Baron.

**Of the hundreds of related bumper stickers on the Web, I picked the
one above because I’m tickled by the two-sentiment combo. Don’t get excited – it’s just a blog illustration.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Vegemite Brand Struck with Major Silly Extension – Gets Hammered.

Hurry before Vegemite in Australia takes down its “new” home page, with the new brand extension name that just about every living human being Down Under has crapped all over. Go there – see the picture.

Hard on the news that original Monty Python member Terry Jones confirmed he became a father again this month (age 67) has come the shockin’ announcement of this branding failure in Australia – or maybe I’ve got these two items switched around.

Nevertheless, the makers of the salty, Brit-world-famous veggie spread (Kraft Foods Australia) attempted a bit of a brand extension. The new name is right on the label – slogan: “It’s Vegemite, but Different,” offering a more creamy, cheesy Vegemite. Stunning, really: The name choice did not resonate with outspoken brand loyalists in Oz. The Beeb reported:

It was never going to be easy tampering with a food spread considered iconic by some in Australia and New Zealand. But when Kraft, makers of Vegemite, chose a name for a new variation – iSnack2.0 – public distress forced an embarrassing U-turn.

The rumpus has continued to reverb worldwide; pundits are comparing it to the “New Coke” branding disaster. Mike Damon of Damon Medical Communications sent me the news – he knows I collect oddments like this. He said, effectively, what were those Aussie marketers thinking? With this bizarre attempt to make the old brand…relevant?

This much is true: When you mess with a cultural icon, you damn well better find out if the culture’s going to let you make a mess. This is a key part of the Stakeholder Rule and Signalwriter has had something to say about this.

Vegemite is multi-generationally familiar – even passionately loved. The salty-tasty spread was invented in 1922 but it was the Aussie soldiers in WWII that really made the product a critical part of life Down Under.

The shaken reactions to iSnack 2.0 are a caution to branders and brand marketers. But I believe this misstep can be fixed if Kraft Foods Australia and the Vegemite brand managers are quick and smart. Australians and New Zealanders have enough of a sense of humor so that they’d accept an apology, a straightforward “Sorry, we mucked this up” from Kraft. Right, you guys?

Kraft is re-starting its clever public-picks-the-name campaign (yes, the one that yielded the really awful new name). For sure, the firm’s going to get a lot of grief, like iFumbled 2.1; and the jokes have been popping for days. But the brand is well-loved. Aussies are nice people. Everyone will get over this fast and I bet the sales won’t be at all hurt. If Kraft does issue a real apology, the brand will recover even faster. Now please – pass the Veeta-Vita-Vegemite.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Houston Copywriter Does Not Shy from New Self-Promotion Tactic.

Subject: Urgent Business Diversification Request

First, we must solicit your strictest confidence in this transaction. This is by virtue of its being utterly confidential and very “top secret.”

Second, your ability to consider the matter of this great opportunity involving a pending transaction requiring maximum confidence is recognized by all the nations of the world, so then naturally we must write to you.

We represent a top website writer of the nationwide business community who is interested in doing business with your company utilizing talents when are presently spellbound in a relationship with a single client. In order to commence this business I solicit your assistance to enable this copywriter to diversify with work on your account, liberating the aforementioned trapped writer.

The source of this capability is as follows. The present civilian government having emphasized “shovel-ready projects” as a top priority, so we have identified a lot of writing opportunities which are presently floating in the national business community ready for proceeding.

However, by virtue of the admirable person’s position as a copywriter of excellent magnitude who is closely involved with a client no matter how estimable, he cannot solicit business in his own name. We have therefore been delegated as a matter of trust by this worthy copywriter to look for business relationship partners outside the boundaries of Spring Branch, USA.

We have agreed to share the capabilities of this writer with you thus: 30% for the new account owner, 93% for us (the senders of this letter to you), 42% to be used in settling taxation and all local and foreign expenses, and 95% for the esteemed writer himself.

This transaction is 100% safe. We hope to commence this transaction with your fine selves latest seven (7) banking days from the date of the following information from you, namely, your company’s signed and stamped letterhead paper – it will enable us to write letters of claim and job description respectively. This way, we will use your company’s name to re-award the contract to the copywriter and apply for payment.

We are looking forward to doing this business with you. Please acknowledge the receipt of this letter – we will send detailed information about the copywriter when we have heard from you.

Yours in friendship international,

Dr Aron Bachir


Note: This is a parody but the “Nigerian Scam” is no joke. It is named after the number of the article in the Nigerian constitution that deals with this fraud, 419. These scammers cheat more than 50,000 people a year out of their hard-earned savings. Get smarter: Read all about 419 here. (And thanks to Susan Reeves for the graphic.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Asked and Answered: Blausen Medical Closes the Loop.

Is a couple of billboard executions all it takes? Apparently so. Three weeks or so back, Signalwriter asked:

Coming to the AMA Healthcare SIG event, [Bruce] Blausen and [Mike] Hensgen have a slightly different challenge. Can they envision (and communicate to SIG attendees) how an institution might combine its use of the Human Atlas with its hospital-wide iPhone platform – and then market the combination to its stakeholders?

The SIG event went off yesterday (at the Houston Zoo, thank you very much) with more than a hundred healthcare marketing professionals in the audience. During this extensive, five-speaker seminar, Bruce Blausen answered the question I posed above. The key to his presentation, “Driving Business with Mobile Apps,” was identifying what today’s most effective patient education tool is, in his view: narrated animation on a mobile phone platform.

Then, for the close of his talk, he created and displayed a quartet of speculative billboards (two shown here) that tie “Human Atlas” mobile app and iPhone into single, brand-oriented messages on behalf of prospective hospital users.

That famous “picture worth a thousand words” thing can hardly be demonstrated more clearly than these boards: the answers to my questions, at least. Well done, Blausen.

Concepts courtesy of Blausen Medical. Some elements may be properties of stock photo houses – all rights reserved to element owners.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Part 2: A 2009 Letscher Collage Made for Richard’s Big Surprise.

It was like opening a giant box of Cracker Jacks.You’ve seen the “jaw-dropping effect” in cartoons (like this Roger Rabbit), but hardly ever in real life. My case offers the most important visual concerning this big surprise; no one was at the McMurtrey Gallery to capture it with a camera.

You’ll have to imagine it. I go with Barbara Nytes-Baron to pick up the large new photo discussed in the previous post. While the new piece was being wrapped, Liz Ashabraner casually handed up this jewel of a collage – above – and Barbara says, “Happy birthday. Happy anniversary. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year.”

Barbara smiles this big. Liz smiles this big. The penny drops.

Barbara has not only purchased the Lance Letscher piece “Duck Walk” for me as a surprise; she’d been secretly planning it for months with Liz and gallery owner Roni McMurtrey. The conspirators dropped this excellent bombshell right on target.

My intrigue with Letscher’s work started because he’s a cut-up – of books. The Austin Chronicle described what the artist has been doing for years:

…poetic collages concocted from “found” papers – album covers, books, handwritten recipes, notes, and magazine clippings among them – which are meticulously cut and arranged into intriguing patterns and textures that open up worlds of thoughts and associations.

I have been admiring Letscher’s work for a long time. I examined his work repeatedly, not just here but in Galveston and Austin. I window-shopped his collages over and over again at McMurtrey Gallery, the artist’s Houston presenters since 2002. I wanted one of his pieces. Barbara got it for me. I do say my jaw dropped to the floor. And stayed there until I picked it and “Duck Walk” up and took everything back to Spring Branch.

Look closely at the piece and you'll see the illustrated yellow duckie walking on the bottom layer of board. Thank you: Roni, Liz and especially Barbara. How wonderful.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Part 1: New Doherty Photo Finds a Home in Spring Branch

We collect a photographer who combines art and science. It looks like a view from monochromatic kaleidoscope, but it’s a collaged photo…of an x-ray of…seeds. The artist, photographer Dornith Doherty, titled it “May.” (Barbara Nytes-Baron is in the middle here; art’s on your left and the photographer’s on your right.)

The piece did not arrive in our collection in the title month, the same May 2009 in which the photographer had her new show. We purchased it on a late spring evening at the McMurtrey Gallery, but did not bring it home until now. Which gave Barbara time to plan a bit of a surprise as well, for me. (You’ll be able to read about that in Part 2, ‘kay?)

Barbara has admired Doherty’s work for years – we have her “Apache Plume” in the living room; as you can see here, it’s completely different than “May.”

In fact, the entire “Archiving Eden” show demonstrates Doherty’s continual engagement not only with nature, but with technology too. The artist herself has written, “Eden” is a…photographic project that takes tiny forms of life – seeds – as its most basic subject.” And so it does: All the subjects of her new pieces come from the 500,000-seed storage vaults at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, CO. This is where the stuff of life (ag division) is kept safe, to preserve diversity; although a less involving website than that of the USDA/NGCRP would be difficult to discover.

The basic technique is x-ray photography – x-rays of bean sprouts, the seeds of ash trees and bananas and capers. While Doherty appears to focus narrowly on the tissue samples and the germinated seed varieties, viewers (like us) can’t ignore the technology she’s used to make art. She photographed the biological materials with the Center’s compact x-ray equipment and then aggregated those images into photos with singular images and collages.

We’re faced with (and charmed by) visions of literally seminal plant life moderated through Doherty’s “technoscopic vision.” An inch-long banana seed clone takes on a different meaning when it’s 15-by-15-inches square. Her pictures swirl about it in the printed spaces or collect in patterns in the middle of the photographic paper. It’s just odd to me that Wired magazine hasn’t featured Doherty for her convergences of life, art and technology.

Thanks to the artist and the McMurtrey Gallery for the chance to own a piece like “May.” Our new archival pigment photograph is not as big as “Apache Plume,” but measuring a yard square, it’s a whole lot larger than life.

PS: Watch of “Richard's wonderful surprise” coming in Part 2 of this story.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Upset at IKEA Logo Change? Get a Life.

Did IKEA really change its logo? Not as far as I can tell – can you? It’s weird, you know – talking about a Japanese logo one day, and stumbling across an apparent change to the IKEA logo type font that “erupted into controversy” – according to Houston Chronicle reporter Mary Tuma – the next.

Tuma poses an interview with Rice marketing prof Vikas Mittal: “…about ways companies can prevent brand blunders.” Mittal’s main point is that companies changing their logos really ought to consult with their customers first:

A typical redesign can take up to two years and cost $15 million to $20 million for a large company. Yet, there isn’t too much research done on how it affects their customers. Anything from size, typeface to color can trigger different associations…A lot of customers against this change see themselves connected to what IKEA represents – progressive, modern style. Changing the font jeopardizes all of those associations.

Fine except that it doesn’t appear IKEA changed the type font of its well-known logo. The company changed the typeface used in its catalogs, its corporate typeface, to Verdana from Futura.

Not logo change - body copy style change. Big diff – and virtually no difference at all, not in the grown-up world of life, the Universe and everything. It may be that some type designers and fans are strangely upset – one blog respondent said, “IKEA should change to Verdana. Futura is too good for IKEA, and they don’t really deserve to use it.”

There are several insightful explorations of the IKEA “font fiasco” online. Read the coverage provided by Jennifer Farley of Laughing Lion Design for a more complete review of what’s what. (The IKEA catalog cover images come from Brandacadabra’s Marius Ursache, who writes that “…as a designer, I feel betrayed.” Read his comments next.)

Gracious. I missed this minor outbreak of brand silliness amid the media’s far bigger reporting screw-up of the US Coast Guard’s Potomac River exercise yesterday. So, first, thanks to reporter Tuma for getting this “backlash” in front of me, even as I seriously question just how serious a problem IKEA really has.

Second, as even designer Ursache admits, “…this isn’t world hunger.” It’s not even worth a puff piece in the Chronicle. Ta for Saturday...