Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Best

Forty-year-old Southeast Asia joke: You know you’ve been stationed in the Philippines too long when you save your best flip-flops to wear on Sunday.

In today’s advertising supplements (the “season’s hottest”):

Reef Krystal
BCBGirls French
Volatile Mimi
Reef Butter
Reef Jet Setter

Kenneth Cole Golden Glam
Volatile Ariel
Tredz Chelsea
Nike Celso
Cobian Zuma

Tredz Snake Print
Sperry Santa Cruz
Tredz Siesta II
Tredz Baja

North Face Base Camp
Teva Bowen Coastal
Camden Nubucks
Teva Mush
UGG Fluffies

Reef Little Ahi
Chaco Flip
North Face Slippy
Sanuk Who’s Afraid
Reef Sweet Pea

Reef Philthy Grom
Havaianas Camuflada
Mossimo Gemma
Chaco Hipthong ($75)
PechePlatinum Crocodile ($400)

We were such trend-setters, back when we’d drop a five-centavo coin (.05₱) on the floor of the jitney and then get down on our hands and knees searching for it. See also jandals.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

“Fellow Citizens”

June must be the month for Frank White the Photographer and history. Yesterday, White and I visited the Museum of Southern History (whose existence we didn’t suspect, so much for advertising!) for a traveling exhibition about Generals Robert E Lee and Ulysses S Grant (which neither of us had ever heard of). No pictures were taken.

But we did see a well-executed traveling exhibition, of quite high quality, in an unlikely place.

The campus of Houston Baptist University is, on the one hand, not exactly the spot for a museum of any kind. It turns out to have…three, the “University Museums.” I wonder, though, if HBU’s Dunham Bible Museum (a pearl of a presentation, BTW) will get the play that this exhibit will generate. Houston doesn’t get much Civil War action, exhibit-wise. It looked to me as though there’ll be steady traffic by people who have done a lot of ACW reading and touring.

HBU Curator Erin Price and her team have done good work fitting the Virginia Historical Society-New York Historical Society exhibit into the Uni’s space. There are some great artifacts: General Grant's handwritten terms of surrender to Lee on April 9, 1865 best of all. (You can read about these here.)

Extra enjoyment: Take advantage of The University Museums docents’ pleasant tour. It’ll give you an excellent overview – even though it’s asking a lot of a 30-minute oral presentation to cover decades of issues and history. Then you can wander the compact exhibition at your leisure.

There’s enough before-and-after the actual battles of the Civil War about each man so you get a sense of the two men as humans, not simply heroes. And there’s a bit of a goal overall. This first exhibition to present Grant and Lee together intends for us to consider how they “became” American ideals. They became fellow citizens and they worked at it.

That 1900 cigar label nails it: A great attempt at marketing a solution to the sectional differences that, 30+ years after the War, were hardly at rest. Look, July 4th is just around the corner of the calendar. See if you can squeeze in a visit to “Lee and Grant.”

“Fellow Citizens,” inner cigar box label with full-color profile portraits of Confederate and Union Civil War generals Lee and Grant; chromolithographed and embossed on coated stock. By Calvert Lithographic Company. Considered one of the icons of Civil War cigar box label sets for its subject matter, artistic beauty and technical merit. From PBA Galleries with thanks.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wright Stop

You won’t find advertising for the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield – the wonderful restoration of a Frank Lloyd Wright home now owned and operated by the State of Illinois itself.

Two reasons for no ads. One. All of the state, and particularly its capital, is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abe Lincoln. Newspapers, travel guides and the Illinois Tourism website are chock-a-block with Bicentennial events. That’s proper. That’s damned exciting. If you have any feeling for President Lincoln, you’ll visit Springfield this summer.

Two. The marvelous Wright-designed and built attraction was closed by ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, whom even the Associated Press credits as being greedy, tactless and hair-obsessed. Our docent, without quite saying so, indicated that Blagojevich hates Springfield…he went out of his way to make closing the beautifully restored Dana-Thomas house part of his budget-cutting program. So Illinois temporarily closed the Dana-Thomas House to the public as of December 1, 2008.

The joke is on Blagojevich. He’s been shut down; the Dana-Thomas House reopened on April 23, 2009.

Here’s a terrific architechtural masterpiece – really does warrant that term – that hasn’t yet been re-listed on the “Enjoy Illinois” website. We found a listing of the house in the AAA Illinois Guidebook as we were driving south from Chicago.

Pre-vacation, when Frank White the Photographer found out we were driving to Chicago, and then home to Houston through Springfield, he kindly (and forcefully) suggested that we stop at the Lincoln house, or the cemetery where Father Abraham is buried.

He was horrified when I told him, after we got back, that we’d toured the classic Dana-Thomas House instead. But for people who love Wright’s architectural elegance (Barbara) or marketers that think a large part of Wright’s creativity is in his attention to detail (Richard), it was natural to pull off the Interstate, drive down the gridded streets of Springfield and find the home. Those red tickets let us into a bygone world.

Tourism advertising is not an established practice area for me. Say that America has 50 retail “stores” (states), each one with dozens or hundreds of “products” (events, attractions, historical sites, reenactments, state and regional parks) – the noise level is intense. With so many demands on our attention, I’m glad we spotted the Dana-Thomas House listing. We made the Wright stop, advertising or not.

PS: See far better photos of the House here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Astronauts? Moon?

May I have 55 words with you? (Or perhaps a few more?)

The New York Times’ Stuart Elliott reminded me today that the 40th anniversary of Americans’ first walk on the moon is July 20. Covering the upcoming event in his column, Elliot collected a number of companies and brands that are celebrating the anniversary to make points and move products.

Elliott highlights Louis Vuitton luggage as one of these celebrants – in which the company uses the Annie Liebowitz photo above as part of a print ad campaign. It's a superb picture. Even more enjoyable: Louis Vuitton Journeys is now running a purpose-built video tribute, featuring the same three astronauts as in the Liebowitz picture: Sally Ride, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell.

In 1969, I was already in the service. I recall feeling pretty proud that Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon, was a former Navy officer. It’s a thrill to see the anniversary roll up on us, even if I wasn’t paying proper attention.

I have to laugh about what might have caused Elliott to inquire about Tang, though.

His column ends with a comment about the famously connected breakfast drink, which NASA started using for space flights in 1965: “We in fact have no plans” for ads about the moon landing, said Bridget MacConnell, a spokeswoman for
Kraft Foods, which sells Tang. “The focus for our powdered beverages right now is on Crystal Light and Kool-Aid.”

Does Elliott have a lingering ritualistic attachment to “Coneheads,” the 1993 Dan Akroyd-Jane Curtin movie? One of its most famous bits starts with the Coneheads’ daughter (played by Michelle Burke):

Connie: I think I'll have some Tang. Prymatt Conehead: Ah Tang, the drink astronauts took to the moon. Beldar Conehead: Astronauts to the moon? [Beldar and Prymatt laugh]

Forty years back, Tang’s connection with the US space program was being advertised to sell product. What’s different now? Well, our astronauts could take along a better brand of luggage today.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Dumpling Dynasty

Welcome glorious, beautiful and esteemed web visitor, may your stay at the home of Wu and Wu be full of double happiness and splendid astonishment.

This is the greeting you see first on the Dumpling Dynasty website – a remarkable voyage into one woman's self-proclaimed dream to be the Queen of Asian Kitsch. And boy, does she succeed!

I have to mention that (once again) Rachel Elizabeth Baron and Alison Bond brought this line of products to my attention, having purchased the astounding travel bag you see above. Made of cheesy but durable industrial plastic, the New Jersey roadtrippers purchased this marvel at Pearl River in NYC's Chinatown.

Note the darling, wide-eyed Asian sailor girl on the bag. The equally wide-eyed fawn. The mysterious lantern with its smiling face (which appears as a striding radish on the reverse side of the tote). These are continuing characters in the stock company created by “super-talented Brit illustrator Fiona Hewitt” and her husband, Andy Tainton. Certainly, the products are made in China but created, illustrated and joyously promoted from East Sussex, UK.

Dumpling Dynasty's “petite delights” are a world all their own – a retro range that's as quirky and charming (and oddly functional) as anything I've seen in a year. It's very sophisticated, possibly the kind of visual humor that takes a sense of humor born and bred in the land of the Monty Pythons.

The illustrations are flawless, one of those excellent adventures in cultural referencing that can be so wryly the Chairman Meow work of Kevin McCormick.

Go the the Dumpling Dynasty product page, check out the Bunny Kit as a worthy example: This is a brilliant, brilliant kit with everything you need in it (including the stuffing) to make your own bunny. Plus, to prove we are totally in tune with the needs of the world's greatest creative minds, we have included a beautiful 'the adventures of my bunny' notepad and pencil set.

I suppose marketing a product line like this is classic word-of-mouth, a leading-edge-cool thing that attentive kitsch shoppers like Baron and Bond pick up on without conscious thought. Review the products and purchase them for yourself. Become the first one on your block to visit the “Wu and Wu Wonderland!”

Monday, June 01, 2009

Schell's Blonde

About 150 years back, Augie Schell started a brewery in New Ulm, Minnesota. It was just one of hundreds of breweries in the state. I recall being told that, as late as 1950, there were more than 200 independent brewers still operating in Minnesota; by the time I moved to Minneapolis in 1972 there were just a handful left.

August Schell Brewing Company was one of them; the outfit keeps on keeping on. Now that I'm 1300 miles away in Texas, it's hard to be certain just why Schell has survived and thrived, but I put it down to good brewing – and hanging on 'til the micro-brew trend caught on. (In this regard, it's acting like Shiner's in Texas.) Today, the New Ulm brewery lists two “original” brews, five year-round craft beers, two Grain Belt brand beers and seven – count 'em – seven “seasonals.”

So here I am in Minnesota on during a gorgeous, completely unseasonal early summer week. Sure enough, the craft-brew culture is alive and well here. I stumbled onto Schell's blonde double-bock, Maifest, and I gotta say it's outstanding. I'd asked about what the restaurant was offering and when Nick-the-Manager said he had this seasonal from Schell so I had to sample it – it's part of my job, right?

Smooth as smooth and malty sweet (a “unique” taste), Maifest is a seasonal specialty beer offered in the spring months. It is brewed with a blend of three different specialty malts and the finest imported and domestic hops. It's a Helles Bock-style beer from Staatliches Hofbräuhaus in Munich, classic “May beer” and ohboyohboy it is tasty!

I hereby report that this is fine beer* on a Monday afternoon at the beginning of June. If you don't believe me, double-check with Barbara who helped me sample it. Years ago, Ranier Brewing in Washington state made a hit of advertising “the beer here.” Today, in rural Central Minnesota, Schell's is still showing why that counts.

As nearly as I can tell, the advertising is word-of-mouth big-time. So here's the word. Try Maifest before its season is over. Ta from the road...

*Served and consumed at The Fishtale Bar and Grill (no “e” on the end, bless 'em), New Prague, MN.