Friday, March 27, 2009

Technical Copywriter

Richard Laurence Baron, Technical Copywriter, Houston. A bit of a ring there. But let’s leave aside that, for so many, many years, my slogan has been, “If it smells bad, weighs a ton or is hard to pronounce, I work on it.”

Technical copywriting is one thing I do, though I tend to view this discipline in marketing terms. Instead of writing Feature-Advantage-Benefit (FAB), I generally write Benefit-Advantage-Feature. “BAF” is not nearly as nice-sounding but clients’ customers really do want to read about what’s in it for them, first.

This…identification barrier…is cultural. No matter how often I say I’m a business-to-business copywriter or an advertising copywriter, far more people get “Technical Copywriter” when B2B leaves ‘em dead in the water.

For the longest time, back in my BBDO days, I was “Writer-in-a-Drum.” I created advertising for the stuff that nobody else wanted to touch…like data storage media (3M) instead of the far sexier Scotch-brand video tape. Heavy-duty truck lubricants instead of consumer-oriented gasoline. And massive flour milling equipment instead of baked goods.

There are a dozen or more books under the heading, “So you’d like to be a…Technical Copywriter.” I’ve never written one of these. After three-plus decades, I know that writing marketing copy for complex tools, chemicals and systems is as much an art form as a science.

There’s no cookbook per se. Just a lot of experience with valves (refinery and heart), software (geophysics and RPGs), chemicals (syngas production and beer production) and healthcare (surgery centers and hearing aids). It's all about looking at drill bits, bytes or beam-welders from different angles.

I am Industrial-Strength Writer. I am Technical Copywriting Houston. Right now…I am taking the weekend off.

Propellers, Fernand Leger, 1918.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

“Live Life to the Youngest” with the RealAge® Test? Nah...

I’m on Facebook – some of you know that. I use very, very few of the hundreds of Facebook apps but I confess, for example, to recently nominating my “Top Five Movies.” The rock-bottom fact is, there’s a damn huge amount of personal information about me on the Worldwide Web.

I admit to being an active participant in life online. What I have NOT done is join RealAge and Mehmet Oz so I can “live life to the youngest.” I have not taken the RealAge® Test.

That, in my view, turns out to be a good thing. Mike Damon of Damon Medical Communications sent over a New York Times article, “Online Age Quiz Is a Window for Drug Makers” by reporter Stephanie Clifford. RealAge is fuzzing up the fact that it’s selling participants’ personal, medical information to drug companies…your basic invasion of privacy, not to mention maybe (just maybe) being against the HIPAA rules. Those are the rules that the government has set to protect intimate health-related information.

The article says: RealAge’s privacy policy does not specifically address the firm’s relationship with drug companies, but does state, in part, “we will share your personal data with third parties to fulfill the services that you have asked us to provide to you,” and it adds test results to its database only when respondents become RealAge members. Some critics, however, charge that consumers do not have enough information when they join.
Unlike certain media outlets, I don’t have an automatic bias against pharmaceutical companies. I even wonder if the New York Times would have even looked at this story if it did not involve “drug companies.”

Okay – 27 million people have taken the RealAge quiz. They are (as a group) not very concerned about what happens to their intimate health information. As a marketer, though, I think there’s an ethical problem here. Despite RealAge protestations, my sense is that the website has not been completely transparent in its business relationships with the drug companies.

Will people get upset about this particular issue? I bet not – not when it involves a doctor who regularly appears on Oprah. After all, it’s not AIG bonuses.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

‘Energy Park’

What this is, is a powerplant…a 30-megawatt gas-fired combined-cycle operation that opened last year in Faribault, MN. It’s now known far and wide as one of the most environmentally friendly power plants in the state.

It’s also received a “Best Practices” award from Combined Cycle Journal for environmental stewardship. It’s a fine-looking green-oriented facility that overcame huge local opposition by being sensitive, being community-involved, and being a smarter marketer.

As a marketer, you can truthfully say this is all about the community. The facility is planned to be a “working classroom” to help students and residents from the region understand energy generation, especially environmentally-friendly ways to generate electricity.

What’s even smarter is in the magazine’s award write-up: “Even the nomenclature was important, calling it an ‘Energy Park’ instead of a powerplant.” The write-up points up the fact that it’s not enough to just be the right things in a community. You also have to be known in the right ways.

Like calling yourself ‘Energy Park.’ Remember what Shakespeare said about names? “A rose by any other name still smells as sweet…” So, in the exemplary case of Faribault, is a powerplant renamed for marketing purposes.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sheban’s Artwork

The GoodNites® ad illustrator is Chris Sheban, who works out of Chicago. Check out his booklist on the HarperCollins website.

There’s even more fun: Charley Parker wrote a great post on the Lines and Colors blog, about Sheban’s homage to Vermeer (above): Just one reason he’s received both Gold and Silver medals from the Society of Illustrators.

If you love illustration, seeing fine work like “Jungle” in a print ad is a real pleasure – and an excellent change from stock photos.

Thanks to Alyson Valpone and JWT for sending along Sheban’s name. Illustration: All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

GoodNites® “Jungle”

Kimberly-Clark’s ad agency, JWT, has fielded a new ad for the company’s GoodNites brand sleep pants. What makes this ad different from a decade or more of GoodNites advertising? Maybe it signals a change of conceptual direction for this particular product line. (This is the same JWT that created the funny “Geyser” spot for Huggies brand diapers.)

Tim Witheroe was one of several reviewers who commented on GoodNites campaigns over the years. In 2002, he wrote:

This ad catches our emotions instantly when we observe the young boy huddled against the wall. Ending with their catchy slogan (“Goodnites mean good mornings”) in bold type insures that readers will recall the product name if this problem affects their family. In addition, the picture of the product’s packaging is another memory aid that will be recalled if a parent is out shopping for products of this type.

The print ad he showed, like many others in a similar vein, featured a forlorn child. Print and broadcast executions had a powerful appeal to women (and they’ve been lampooned as well).

This new 2009 print ad lightens things up a lot. Maybe it’s designed to appeal to men since it features a young father reading a bedtime storybook (The Jungle) to his son. Speaking of lighter, there’s a new, equally positive tag line: “GoodNites lighten the night.TM

The most fun of all, though, is an imaginative illustration that evokes the mood of the story. The Mesoamerican jungle night with its moonlit Mayan temple, the animals…it’s eye-catching. (I forgive the non-native elephant since it’s a kid’s book, right?) I don’t know who the illustrator is but will send a note up to JWT to see if a name can be credited. I wish Kimberley-Clark would migrate this to the Goodnites website.

Good advertising tells stories – to me, “Jungle” is a good ad.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dancing Lesson

Jim Tidwell is not only the President and CEO of WEDGE Group. He’s also the largest individual fundraiser for the BP MS 150 Houston-Austin bike event (which is itself the largest Bike MS event in the US.

So – start with that. Contribute money to MS. At the same time, you’ll join the huge community of friends and colleagues which applauds Tidwell’s over-the-top antics for this good cause.

Once a year, every year, Tidwell makes a spectacle of himself…for fundraising. One year, he shaved his head for MS – and he’s kept it that way every since. He’s constantly trying to top the previous year’s clowning around.

Graphic designer Kay Krenek aids and abets this behavior by creating Tidwell’s annual flyer and – as you may note – this year they’re “Dancing with the Stars.” That’s Tidwell on the left. KTRK Channel 13 personality Dave Ward contributes to the star turn.

What I learned (again) from this year’s flyer is how critical attention to detail is to the concept. This could have been a hokey shot, played broadly…lotta laughs there. Instead, Krenek rounded up rather an impressive group, including photographer Mark Green and make-up artist Rebecca Stacy, to make Tidwell’s drag performance come off looking good.

The team shopped for Tidwell. Clothes. Shoes. (You’ve heard of Jimmy Choos? These are Jimmy’s Locomotives.) There were tryouts and fittings. Hours spent in the makeup chair. Until the new, remarkably classy Tidwell stood revealed as a terpsichorean eyeful. Tastefully done and just enough beyond a joke to make a bigger impact.

Coming to Houston – or starting from here – 18 April: the BP MS150. Get involved and do your part to keep Jim Tidwell off the dance floor. (No, Tidwell will NOT wear this outfit for biking.)

Krenek would want me to credit not only the photographer and the make-up artist, but also the retoucher (Ann Derby), the viedographer (Andrew Olson), the video editor (Shari Blakemore) and “the only place for ladies size 13 platform shoes” (Erotic Cabaret Boutique, Houston). Fun stuff.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Jelly Babies…

For those of us of a certain age, Jelly Babies are the unlikely signature of the fourth and greatest Doctor Who of all time, Tom Baker. To this day, no other ‘jelly’ candy (say, your Gummi Bears and Swedish Fish® candy – A Friend You Can Eat – yuck!) come anywhere close to them.

Bassett made the first Jelly Babies and introduced them in 1919, to celebrate the end of the First World War. They were known as “Peace Babies.” The candies were out of production during World War Two; Bassett brought them back to the British market in ’53. Do read all about here; and in this blog post by Carlos Nash.

While there are other manufacturers of JBs, Bassett (now part of Nestlés) makes the best of ‘em, I think. There are six different flavors/colors.

I bring all this up because Jelly Babies are not easy to come by here in Houston. The Brit community here seems to like Maltesers better so the few stores that might carry them are frequently out-of-stock. Just last week, thanks to EMS USA’s Trevor Eade, I managed to score a bagful. He asked, “What can I bring you from the UK? I’m flying back for a weekend visit.” I asked for JBs…Eade delivered. Thanks very, very much.

I’d love to ask you, “Would you like a Jelly baby?” the way the Doctor did. Sadly, this lot’s gone. Ta.

PS: “Swedish Fish” does have a neat website, though – and more than one slightly weird TV commercial.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fruitocracy’s Footsoldiers

Here’s a bottle of Fizzy Lizzy Yakima Valley Grape soda – eight flavors all in neat glass bottles that the FL website calls “soldiers of Fruitocracy.” Well known in among modern foodies, the NYC company’s been around for eight years. Naturally (when it comes to “natural”), I’ve been behind the curve: Barbara and I finally selected a test bottle at Phoenicia on Westheimer.

The beverage is carbonated water and fruit juices, which have been empirically balanced to get the flavors that the brand owners like. I hadn’t seen any advertising in Houston.

I’m in it not just for the taste but for the quite neat website.

I recommend it to your attention and you can read the entire story of Fizzy Lizzy right there. It is a fine blend of art and message that conveys the hand-crafted nature of the products. There’s more scattered in various corners of the Internet like; if this is the kind of product you like and aren’t already sucking down, check out Ms Lizzy and her products.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Slate Failure

Richard, don’t buy Slate cologne again.

You paid way too much for 3.4 ounces of “Eau de Toilette for Men.” (If you really want more, you can buy it online for, like, 40% less. Doh!)

You know Banana Republic, the retailer, made the sales experience very nice. The guy in the Rice Village store was engaged and professional. You’re the one who decided to buy it. One, ‘cause you needed more foofy water and were trying to find some. Two, ‘cause you were in a rush and Banana Republic was right there.

To be sure: It’s 100 milliliters of charming “fragrance notes,” citrus, silver sage and ginger root. But any claim of scent life that touts anything length of time over an hour is a foul canard – no pun intended. (That one website, saying scent life is 6-10 hours, well that stinks.) Slate smelled really good on you right out of the spritzer but it faded, it faded fast. After 50 or 60 minutes the stuff is unsniffable.

Packaging? Well, you fell for that. The 3.4-ounce bottle is heavy glass with a heavy silver-coated stopped that you’ve already dropped in the sink twice because of its unaccustomed weight. The box? “Natural wood box packaging,” according to Banana Republic, deeply black and also really heavy, with magnetic closures. Magnets. Case, bottle, cologne – the total weight of the thing is one pound.

A reviewer on one fragrance website mentioned the packaging specifically, thought it was great for collectors. In fact, like so many product classes today, you could have read the online reviews first: Fragrances, for men and women, is so fraught with science and art, it’s a special realm all its own. You’d benefit from guidebooking, dog.

To be fair, Richard, Banana Republic is guilty of nothing more than good merchandizing. You’d have been smarter to have purchased a Slate “mini” and tried it out first. Caveat emptor is the Latin you’re looking for. Sucka.

PS: The Banana Republic brand owner, Gap Inc., turns 40 this year. It’s just been ranked #1 Retailer among the 100 Best Corporate Citizens for the fourth year in a row. PPS: Do NOT buy this for yourself for your upcoming b’day!

Friday, March 06, 2009

T-Mobile Demonstrates…

Interested in guerrilla marketing? The recent ish of Marketing News features staff writer Elizabeth A Sullivan’s take, “Guerrillas in the mist” – about how this kind of thing is “made for tough times.” It’s a nice article. It doesn’t describe guerrilla marketing.

If you haven’t seen the T-Mobile Dance activity yet, look here on YouTube. It’s how T-Mobile in the UK puts its “Life’s For Sharing” brand to work

Brittany on already brought the word: Kudos to T-Mobile, and agency
Saatchi & Saatchi, for giving us something to laugh at and talk about . . . which was probably the point. I also love that they thought outside the silos…and instead focused on building a connection between the experience and the brand, using all the relevant tools at their disposal.

That’s guerrilla marketing.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Bacon Chockies!

We’ve been talking about healthcare and – possibly – living a long time. Let’s kick that idea in the head and move on, thanks to Susan Kirkland, Master Designer. She called my attention to a chocolate-covered bacon confection created by Roni-Sue Chocolates in that pleasure dome of culinary creation: New York City. Called Pig Candy, it’s crispy fried bacon strips, dipped in either milk or dark chocolate. (There is also a devilish item yclept Bacon Buttercrunch.)

This is in addition to the collections of truffles and other goodies which you can browse right on Roni-Sue’s website. ‘Course, this being NYC, there’s already an argument in print about just who makes the city’s “best” chockies. Along with the seven highlighted by the New York magazine article, a dozen or more people have pitched in with their choices…all scrumptious.

You can do this kind of word-of-mouth stuff in the City where there are ever so many glitterati and literati and cuisineers and just-plain opinionaters.

Kirkland points specifically to meat candy, though – and in this particular category, Roni-Sue doesn’t have an exclusive. For example, let’s look to the forums on and discover that Snowangel “Recently made Bacon Candy with bacon from Lenny’s meat market in New Ulm, MN. Also made some with ‘thin’ bacon ends from Hackenmueller's meat market in Robbinsdale.” Goodness, that’s tasty!

And then, from Vosges Haut Chocolat, there’s Mo’s Bacon Bar: “Applewood smoked bacon + Alderwood-smoked salt + deep milk chocolate, 41% cacao.”

Enough. Enough. My cardiologist(s) will see far more of me if I keep this up. I can’t read Kirkland’s mind; maybe she’s reminding me that all work (healthcare, e.g.) and no play (say, chocolate bacon bark – what a lark!) makes Ree-shard a dull boy. Thanks, Susan! The next box of bacon chockies is on me.

Photo: Hannah Whitaker, New York, with appreciation. It appears in the copyrighted article, “Cocoa Locals,” February 8, 2009.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Knowable, Noble

Three days after an outstanding AMA-Houston Healthcare SIG seminar at Rice University, Houston pediatrician Dr Ana Malinow wrote in the Houston Chronicle about treating a six-year-old girl in a public clinic:

When I saw her, her hand was swollen to twice the normal size, purple, tender and warm to the touch, with a red streak (signifying an extension of…infection…to the bloodstream)…she was uninsured and had been sent home with a prescription that her mother tried to fill but was unable to afford. How much did the antibiotic…cost? $500.

The four speakers who addressed “Marketing Healthcare under a New Administration” were effective and humorous. Passionate. Completely engaged with almost 100 attendees. Each one lit up a different facet of the American healthcare system in crisis…a phrase that’s still stabbingly relevant as Malinow’s op-ed letter makes clear.

The nature of this blog makes it difficult to condense two hours of presentations and QAs into a few paragraphs. Still, I’m revisiting the event because of the high quality of the presentations.

Dr Lewis Foxhall, President of the Harris County Medical Society, delivered the overview and laid the foundations of the case, quickly but effectively covering present circumstances.

Memorial City Medical Center’s Tim Schauer addressed policy issues and made the case that pay-for-performance will never work because medicine is still a “practice.” He also spotlighted the nature of special interests.

Houston Wellness Association president Jonathan Lack portrayed wellness as key player in prospective solutions, emphasizing that workplace wellness is a productivity tool. He vividly revealed portrayed the challenges of community and public health. Lack contends that today’s medical center is a sick-care model and it’s considerably overburdened.

Yaffe Deutser’s President/COO, Brad Deutser, concluded with what might be called the “capitalist model” of marketing healthcare: The state of the economy isn’t going to change the number of affluent people but will change what the affluent people buy from doctors and dentists. He suggests that marketing effectiveness will still be an organizational survival mechanism, targeting more profitable prospects.

In presenting, Deutser unconsciously set the tone for my morning. One of his premises was, all target prospect information can be found – “Today, everything is knowable.” What I heard the first few times Deutser said this is, “Today, everything is noble.”

Compared to healthcare in some parts of the world, America has arguably progressed only slowly to noble. The most valuable transformation under the new administration in Washington, then, is redefining how our people deserve and receive healthcare.

My big takeaway from Thursday’s marketing seminar is that marketers can take more of a role, a noble role, in fostering improved healthcare access.

In an issue with so very many stakeholders (doctors, community activists, “ordinary” people, to name only a few), I want us to make it more. Don’t ask me how, yet. It can’t be just about the ads – or the brands. It’s can’t be just about knowing.

A survey’s being conducted now – if you’re invited to participate, fill it out please. I’ll report the results. Extra thanks to the quite large number of people who made this SIG event a success. Event photos by Suzanne Jarvis at Shutterfly. Graphic courtesy of Aceofhearts1968, Wikimedia.