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...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Yamato Transport One More Exercise in Japanese Branding Power.

Can a giant corporate brand deliver real warmth and charm?
Where do the great brands come from? Lots of iconic brands and their logos arrive from countries outside the US. Although there’s a strong slant to European firms, Japan’s brands are easily as strong or stronger in most market segments and ought to be highlighted more frequently. (I bet they’re even better known on the West Coast.)

Depending on your age, marital/family situation or even industry, you probably recognize the Toyota brand logo by now, if not exactly how it came to be. Honda. Shiseido. Sony and Nintendo are just as well known. On the other hand, you may not immediately identify Sanrio though everybody knows its corporate symbol, Hello Kitty® - now 35 years old.

Another cat-using approach is even more evocative and extremely effective: The mother cat carrying its kitten carefully between its teeth. This is the very familiar logo of Yamato Transport, visible on thousands of trucks all over Japan. It was introduced in 1957. It turns its back on the circles-and-squares school of logo design and graphically symbolizes the careful and efficient handling of goods.

It works as hard in B2B branding as it does B2C branding. And I ought to note than you need to be a frequenter of docks and commercial office parks to see it in this country; in the US, Yamato is focused on international freight shipping and does not compete directly against FedEx or UPS.

Like any great logo, it has a great story. “Yamato” itself was the name of ancient Japan and it founded private parcel delivery there 90 years ago…a long-lasting brand in the Japanese market. Looking at sites online, you can see that the delivery trucks are everywhere.

The mama-cat logo, though, only dates back to 1957. It’s a vivid example of the Japanese ability to see things – read brands – from angles that don’t quite match the sometimes gray-suited reputation of large Japanese corporations. On that note, comparing the Yamato brand to Nippon Express is worth doing.

The black cat trademark is immediately recognizable and people love it: There is no cultural baggage about black-cat-bad-luck in Japan. In Miyazaki’s animated film “Kiki’s Delivery Services,” about a young witch who leaves home to become a delivery girl, her familiar is a black cat. The original story was written in 1985 – I wonder if the cat – Jiji – came from Yamato Transport?

Corporate brands sometimes have difficulty expressing humanity, presuming they even want to do so. With “Black Cat Yamato,” this outfit started out there, achieving brand power over time.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Petrophysical Solutions’ New “Discoveries Drive Value” Brand Comes True

A new brand look - and words - for Petrophysical Solutions, Inc., starts with a map.We started rebranding Petrophysical Solutions – PSI – this past spring. You may have read this post about early phases. Now the Houston-based consulting firm’s just-launched website puts the cap on its public presence.

Wikipedia points out that petrophysicists help oil and gas engineers and other geoscientists understand the rock properties of the reservoir. PSI is clearly in the value-add business, though, and there’s more to the PSI brand than the basic nuts and bolts of petrophysics:

In every Age of Exploration, discoveries drive value. Even if these words never appeared in ancient maps or Renaissance geographies, they’re what PSI petrophysicists do today and every day.

We used antique maps to connect with value-driving discoveries. Watch this new site – every month, PSI’s president will create a new post about a particular map and its impact on the Age of Exploration. We’re calling this blog section CARTOLOGY.

I’m grateful to have helped invent it and write it. But even more: Thanks to Kay Krenek for the outstanding conceptualization-and-design partnership that has led us to this unusual visual approach. Thanks to Brian Bearden and Michelle Webb of Zephyr Salvo for the web development work.

Above all, thanks to the client for a chance to bring something special in the way of a marketing approach to oil and gas consulting.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Blausen Human Atlas – Next Step in Intimate Medical Marketing?

Today we consider a dramatic iPhone app from Balusen. But can it be marketed?There’s probably no conscious connection between the next American Marketing Association-Houston Healthcare SIG event and its venue…the Houston Zoo. Still, synch up your calendars now for Friday, September 25 – the SIG presents “Healthcare Marketing via Emerging Technologies.” Read all about three-hour event (including networking and a bite of breakfast) right here.

To be clear, this seminar’s not about those technologies themselves, which I am sure are quite excellent. This group of people will talk about how you might use some of the technologies to market to broad groups of customers – patient groups, physicians, nurses and so on.

The presenters will cover the marketing capabilities inherent in data analysis software (which should be challenging), and how hospitals are using e-marketing. Since I’ve helped create the program, I hope to hear some fresh ideas.

I have the biggest expectations of all for the Blausen Human Atlas and its iPhone application, especially after talking it over with Blausen Media CEO Bruce Blausen and Account Director Mike Hensgen. Blausen will be doing the presenting.

Why the high hopes? Well, who do you know who doesn’t have an iPhone yet? (Besides me, I mean.) According to blogger Greg Kaiser at the end of April, Apple had sold 21 million of them and that was before new models caught on. Big deal stuff, especially when you consider the iPhone can be a pretty amazing marketing implement.

But it’s not about the smartphone, it’s about the Blausen app on the smartphone. The “Human Atlas” lets users manipulate superbly detailed medical illustrations and animations at the touch of a finger. There’s a zoom feature that provides the ability to explore different body systems.

Blausen points out that a click of a button helps explain a complicated medical problem or diagnosis. Seeing the problem in pictures helps doctors (for example) relieve fears and concerns for all kinds of patients. Hensgen says that the individual experiences with the application are stunning: Learning and understanding are speeded up dramatically.

In selling the application, Blausen wants to leverage both the iPhone and web-delivered versions to give hospitals a competitive advantage in terms of communications. The hospitals’ medical and nursing staffs can take the educational opportunity right to the point of care, and deliver a patient experience that’s superior to any other.

Hensgen demo’d the Human Atlas on his iPhone for me; it’s dramatic. The tool also just got a perceptive nod from iPhone Medical App Review: …this is an app that could change the way physicians and providers communicate with patients. We've been using this application on a daily basis with our patients.

Coming to the AMA Healthcare SIG event, Blausen and 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?

To paraphrase Harvard professor Theodore Levitt: Marketing is different than selling. Marketing views the entire business process as a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse and satisfy customer needs.

The implication (to me) is “user intimacy” – the inherent opportunity to bring customers much, much closer to a brand. Register for September 25. We’ll find out together how “technologies” like the-palm-of-your-hand Human-Atlas-plus iPhone combination will take us to the next level of healthcare marketing.

A big thank-you to Bruce Blausen and Mike Hensgen for helping me think ahead on this topic. Photos courtesy of Blausen Media.