Monday, July 26, 2010

Southern Comfort: Oh Lord, Won't You Buy Me a Brand Revamp.

This coming October that semi-famous imbiber of Southern Comfort, Janis Joplin, will be dead 40 years. I suppose Brown-Forman, the brand's owners, felt that a brand redo was overdue.

The distillers tapped a great Minneapolis design shop, Cue, to execute the rebranding campaign; it's an evocative and colorful job. Leaving aside the sheer fun of working on a liquor brand as filled with consumer history as Southern Comfort (Joplin aside), the design house filled out the new brand vision from labeling to activation elements – all intent on capturing the “vibe of New Orleans.”

The brand's even more Créole now...styling, illustrations, the lot. At the same time, the brand website states that for every bottle of Southern Comfort sold, the company will donate a quarter to the Gulf Relief Foundation through the end of October 2010. It's trite to talk about “giving back to the community,” but two bits here, two bits mounts up.

No matter what, though, this is a way-back brand. (“Take another little piece of my heart,” Janis!)

Brown-Forman suggests that “Southern Comfort, or SoCo, as it is known to a new generation of consumers, has become a fun choice when good friends create legendary nights together.” IMO, blogger Christopher Null said it way better on Drinkhacker:

Let's be frank. Southern Comfort has a difficult reputation. Everyone I know has a story involving the peach-flavored liqueur, and it usually ends with the blackout or someone's head being shaved against their will.

I wonder how many Cue designers' shaved?

Previous Brown-Forman blog posts appear here and here.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

BE the Subscriber. Getting Signalwriter by Email Is Just a Click Away.

I am spending time today working on the Signalwriter blog instead of working in it. And trying to make it easier for you (thousands of faithful readers globally) to subscribe to it.

Now just mouse over to and click on the words at the top of the right-hand column: “Subscribe to Signalwriter by Email.” According to all the best minds, this will get you notified when a new post is up. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants here – the legion of Blogger/Feedburner users who have already done this. And they’ve done it, apparently, far more easily than I have.

Don’t delay – subscribe (via email) today!

PS: thank you for reading…RLB.

Friday, July 23, 2010

“CMO’s Guide To The Social Media Landscape” a Primer for Site Choices.

I wish I’d gone to this year’s Houston edition of the Online Marketing Summit. I have attended OMS each of the past four years, had to miss this one. The event has become such a magnet for marketing professionals and here I am in the “absent” column.

Brian Bearden of Upstream Marketing has been there all day. One of his texts says, “I’m surprised by the caliber of the speakers – and I know only a handful of…attendees. Attendance is very low.” The first part is great news: past years’ OMS speakers have been outstanding. Though there was some concern expressed over this year’s slate, OMS has definitely delivered the mail today on this score.

The event has been promoted heavily by AMAHouston, the BMA chapter of which Bearden is outgoing president, Energy People Connect and many others. But there are a surprising number of people who’ve told me that they couldn’t get away from the office today – I’m one of those. Everyone’s busy. (So this is actually good news too.)

For you and you and me – the ones who didn’t make it, take a look at this great chart from – 10 social network choices with green-yellow-red choice points. Sites from Facebook to Digg are graded in four areas – Customer Communication, Brand Exposure, Traffic to your Site and SEO value.

Read this Guide. Print a copy for yourself. Use it to impress your colleagues...and your bosses. Best for the weekend.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Napoleon’s Underpants and More Fun Hermann Historica Ads. Aus Deutschland!

Nifty creative. Very layered. It’s hard to know where to start. But really, how often do you get to see an Emperor’s muffin-top?

The science of advertising – metrics, pay-per-clicks, performance – is often dismal. This ad campaign from Hermann Historica is not merely refreshing. It is hilarious in a geek-inside-joke sort of way.

The specialized German auction house makes it plain that it is willing to sell you the clothes off the backs of military figures from all periods of history. Arms and armor. Greatcoats. Military uniforms. Medals. Firearms and swords. Trousers! Every great execution, from this Napoleon painting through the late 19th Century German Imperial Court to Washington crossing the Delaware River, pays off the simple framed headline:

What once was theirs can now be yours.

So first a tip of the bearskin cap (French Old Guard or British Grenadier) to the company itself. While I wish that some of the charm of the ads had been added to Hermann Historica website, advertising and web are fulfilling two different functions.

Second, a hand salute to Heye and Partner in Munich. Peter Hirrlinger and Zeljko Pezely (CDs), Florian Binder (AD) and Christoph Gahwiler (Copywriter) delivered wonderfully funky and involving visualizations of the concept.

Example? Napoleon packed on the pounds over the years – 90 kg or 198 pounds by 1820, according to scientific investigation. That’s a lot of weight on the Emperor’s five-and-a-half-foot frame and, as you can see, he looks properly porky in this ad illustration.

That great detail, and so many others in the ad campaign, are the contribution of Kunstsalon Posin, a German art studio specializing in fake paintings and operated by three talented Russian brothers: Eugen, Michael and Semjon Posin. You have to see them…go on, check out their website…to understand that this ad campaign was probably (hopefully) a knee-slapping fine assignment from the agency.

Please note that I have refrained from saying anything about Napoleon’s “plumber’s crack” or more politely, “buttock cleavage.” Even though it seems like Marshal Joachim Murat (the other guy with the funny hat) can’t keep his eyes off Bonaparte’s backside.

Well done, Germans. Talking frogs may work fine on TV but this level of wacky detail is the geek-stöffe that print ad dreams are made from.

“Napoleon’s Underwear,” Kunstsalon Posin, Berlin, for Hermann Historica, Linprunstraße 16 D-80335, München. After “Bataille d'Iena. 14 octobre 1806.” by Horace Vernet, Musée national du Château de Versailles.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Girl Scouts of the USA: What if they gave a new campaign and nobody came?

Consider the Girl Scouts’ new marketing as an argument for intelligent renovation of an old and valued brand. On the plus side, the headline on each new ad (and on its website) is the truest component of their revamped marketing campaign:

What did you do today?

One of the first sentences of the first chapter of the Girl Scout Handbook, 1940 edition, asks:

Do you even wonder what to do with your free time?

There is a clear brand line reaching from the Girl Scouts’ past (1912) to its present and prospective future. Executive VP and Chief Marketing Officer Laurel Ritchie is trying to follow the line, at least in outward-facing communications. Ritchie comes with heavy-duty marketing credentials – Ogilvy and Mather – and a lot of transformative branding experiences, from Huggies to Kotex.

The Girl Scouts need that kind of transformation because, from the outside looking in, it appears that modern life is overwhelming the ability of the Girl Scouts to continue to serve American girls of all ages. Ritchie herself has said, in a press release, “"What we’re doing with this initiative is repositioning Girl Scouts with a message that is relevant to girls and the lives they lead today.”

Well, maybe. The Girl Scouts intro’d a “striking new visual identity” from brand/design agency Original Champions of Design in New York. The press has spotlighted the OCD-refreshed Girl Scouts logo, an iconic graphic created in the 1970s by designer Saul Bass. This is…not an entirely happy…revision with perkier noses, longer, straighter necks and modern hairstyles. You can read one example of logo-related blogospheric chit-chat here.

Logo-jiggering aside, though, the design firm and the Girl Scouts have rolled out a comprehensive new visual identity package with a great eye to contemporary photography, revised color palette and additional fresh uses of the Girl Scouts trefoil badge. In fact, “Brand New” blogger Armin has truly covered all the aspects of the design project and contributed a headline of his own:

This in not your mom’s Girl Scouts.

That’s the challenge. The almost-100-year-old organization is your mom’s Girl Scouts; perhaps it is even your grandma’s. Can an organization headquartered on 5th Avenue, NYC, make the brand changes stick across America, and use them to propel the Girl Scouts into greater girl involvement over the next decade, in the face of members with (very) long memories?

In an outfit like the Girl Scouts, balance of power becomes a key issue. New blood’s attempts to get jiggy with contemporary styles and messages often will upset the multi-generational members who have a years’ long commitment to the way the organization was when they were, say, girls.

Prism Design principal Susan Reeves, with a lot of experience in the service-organization arena, points out:

The “power balance” is always top of mind in a women’s organization that’s 100 years old. The early volunteers sank their heart and soul into the org – to build, nurture, and grow it – so younger women could have an equally profound experience when they join.

As the new generation rises to positions of authority they still practice the core values, but also adapt events and traditions to their changing environment. Or they risk becoming irrelevant. The org must constantly question what relevance it brings to members of all ages, but it's the newest members they must attract or they fail to grow.

Even the oldest members realize this. They adapt slowly, which isn't a bad thing.

Girl Scout CMO Ritchie, along with CEO Kathy Cloninger and hundreds of staffers and volunteers, will foster the adoption of the revamped branding efforts within more than 100 councils nationally (including Girl Scouts of San Jacinto in Houston).

GSUSA will have make these brand changes acceptable, even comfortable to girl-scouting participants of all ages and extend the organization’s mission to millions more American girls. Even better, it will want to drive enthusiastic uptake of the revamped brand at the local level and nurture long-time adaptation to America’s changing demography.

Someday, somebody’s going to ask CMO Ritchie, “What did you do today?” Market-speak aside, what do you think her answer ought to be?

NOTE: The Girl Scouts of the USA is a long-lived organization with many components, features and benefits. Review its websites in detail to begin grappling with its complex offerings. Or just watch for new additions to its brand development campaign on the Girl Scouts blog.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

New "Free Internet" Overview Gives You the Ammo – You Ask the Questions.

Consider the discussion I occasionally address as not only an Internet user but as a marketer and ad-guy: the anti-consumerist demonization of Internet users. I first mentioned it in the post about “Data Hogs” here.

Cruising for books at the county library, I picked up a new volume for Young Adults, Should the Internet Be Free? Now that I've absorbed it, I recommend it to you for background reading.

I wasn't aware of the series from Greenhaven Press (which is part of Gale). This volume delivers just what the At Issue series is supposed to deliver:

...a wide range of opinion on a single controversial subject. Each volume includes primary and secondary sources from a variety of perspectives ― eyewitnesses, scientific journals, government officials and many others.

I presume you have opinions on the subject of Internet access and usage, just like I do. But I hadn't made a study of the subject myself; well, since Big Media's propaganda effort landed in front of me, I'm trying to catch up. Should the Internet Be Free? Is a good place to start and it's punchy quick reading.

Now a word about the time span of the articles selected by Book Editor Roman Espejo. Though this volume has been published this year, some of the articles go back a bit: 2007, 2003, even 2000. In the life of the Internet, a decade's a century so several of the articles are dated. Some companies mentioned haven't been in business for quite a while, having be eaten up by larger outfits. Government initiatives have come and gone.

Nevertheless, historical perspective is a key strength. So I am (age-wise, at least) way beyond high school but it's never too late IMO to learn more. Especially about a socio-technical phenomenon that's grown into an essential attribute of civil society ― and marketing in the 21st Century.

BTW, Gale books of any type are expensive. You can order this book on Amazon but better yet see if your library has a copy. Mine did.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

At the End of World Cup 2010, the Most Memorable Brand Image...

Presuming that you haven't been staying in South Africa for the past several weeks, what will the world (and you) remember as the brand-mark of this great World Cup series? The FIFA-copyrighted “Zakumi?” Or the amazing, colorful, noisy vuvuzela?

When it comes to judgment calls, you won't find me blowing my own horn. (But let's hear it for the loud voice of the masses, eh?)

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Formal Surrender of the Confederate Fortress City of Vicksburg,

Mississippi, occurred on this day 147 years ago. Happy 4th of July.

General Ulysses S Grant, USA, to General John C Pemberton, CSA:
     …the useless effusion of blood you propose stopping…can be ended at any time you choose, by unconditional surrender of the city and garrison. Men who have show so much endurance and courage as those now in Vicksburg will always challenge the respect of an adversary, and I can assure you will be treated with all the respect due prisoners of war.

General Grant to General Henry W Halleck, USA:
     The enemy surrendered this morning. The only terms allowed is their parole as prisoners of war.

General William T Sherman, USA, to General Grant:
     I can hardly contain myself. Surely I will not punish any soldier for being “unco happy” this most glorious anniversary of the birth of a nation whose sire and father was a Washington…This is a day of jubilee, a day of rejoicing to the faithful.

General Grant to General Sherman:
     When we go in [to Vicksburg] I want you to drive [Confederate General Joseph E] Johnston from the Mississippi Central railroad; destroy bridges as far as Grenada with your cavalry; and do the enemy all the harm possible.

General Sherman to General Grant:
     Already my orders are out to give one big huzza and sling the knapsack for new fields…Sunday and July 4 are nothing to Americans until the river of our greatness is free as God made it.

Admiral David Porter, USN, to General Grant:
     I congratulate you on getting Vicksburg on any honorable terms.

General Grant to Colonel James B McPherson, USA:
     I want the Negroes to understand that they are free men.

President Abraham Lincoln to General Grant:
     My Dear General, I do not remember that you and I have ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgement for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do, what you finally did – march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the…expedition…could succeed. When you got below, and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join Gen [eral Nathaniel P] Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black [River], I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgement that you were right, and I was wrong. Yours very truly…

NOTE: Passages appear in Grant Moves South, Bruce Catton, 1960. Painting of the 4th Minnesota Regiment by Francis D Millet, in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

New Mobile Retail Report Rolls Out Minus Surprises. But Watch Out for Cramming.

On the same day I had to call my wireless carrier to complain about cramming, results of the first-ever SORO Survey were released. That would be today.

SORO – stands for State of Retailing Online – comes from the Digital Retail Industry and, a forum that gives retail executives a place to share information,insights and intelligence about online and multichannel retailing. SORO 2010 covers interactive marketing, social media and mobile.

Join the group here, get access to the study. It breaks out results not only by category (apparel, accessories and footwear; beauty and personal care; general merchandize; home; and sporting goods and accessories); but also by company type (multichannel vs pureplay), size and Web selling tenure. However, a membership costs 2,750 smackeroos. Frankly I think you get as much help from the HiMA if you're really on the cutting edge of retail marketing.

I have now read various reports about SORO 2010 on the Web and the topline results don't appear surprising to me. For instance, US retailers implemented social marketing initiatives that included social network pages, microblogs, and customer ratings and reviews, among others. The industry's “anticipated investments going forward center on further leveraging customer/user generated content.” Whoa! Big news if you've been lost on a desert island for the last few seasons.

Yet there's a slight rumble for the attentive: mobile retailing is another significant focus for online sellers. Lots of companies are still developing their mobile strategy but the survey respondents have big plans for “functionality” for this emerging channel. I think this means retailers are going to be adding mobile capability.

Which brings us to cramming, “a major rip-off in the 1990s that involved placing unauthorized charges on telephone bills” (according to Consumer Reports). Cellphones are increasingly used as payment devices – think charitable contributions for Haiti relief. Look crosseyed at your phone and you can end up with all kinds of little charges on your bill, from “apps” such as voice mail and charges for online games to service subscriptions for services you never ordered.

You'll not have a clue these are on your bill unless you check it every month. Neither of my two cellphones have ever been used for any kind of online app, yet three little monthly charges appeared on this month's invoice as if by magic. (Fortunately, my carrier is extremely helpful in getting rid of these damned things.)

SORO 2010 affirms that cellphones will be increasingly used for retail purposes. So advancing technology fuels marketing programs. Which power more technological applications. Which then leave us open to increased fraud, of the death-of-ten-thousand-cuts variety.

While I'm pushing my colorful virtual shopping cart down the crowded virtual aisle of my virtual classic aloha shirt store, I won't know whether to laugh or cry or text a complaint to the FTC.