Monday, November 28, 2011

A Meme of Your Own: Ban Corporate Tentacles? Octopi Wall Street, etc.?

Octoponder this: just how many people want a piece of the “Occupy Wall Street” brand? Would-be leaders for a movement that continues to say it has no leaders. Political pundits of a particular slant. Anti-consumerists and other would-be ideologues. And the turnabout T-shirt merchants.

The Occupy movement has become a world-recognized meme – “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” (Thanks, Wikipedia.) I’m thinking you can hardly throw a stone without hitting some marketer who claims to have invented or branded the whole idea; or who’d like to. According to the The New York Times this past week:

Kalle Lasn, the longtime editor of the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters, did not invent the anger that has been feeding the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations across the United States. But he did brand it.

He’s just one. AdAge Mediaworks ran a great set of social media-related charts about Occupy in October. And blogger Scott Gibson more recently wrote:

As the activists behind OWS began their anti-capitalist demonstrations over a month ago, no one could’ve predicted that they would be fighting for the right to their own name and stop people from cashing in on their movement.

So many people want to grab hold of the “change-the-balance-of-economic-power-in-America meme,” it’s a very powerful drive to ownership. I don’t think that Occupy is ready for prime time, though. Trends and memes are tidal, sweeping into and through and out of our culture at an increasingly faster pace. Sustaining this pace is hard in the face of competing news and events, including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the upcoming Christmas holiday, the next Kim Kardashian wedding, the next Rose Bowl – you name it.

While we’re all waiting for some definitively sticky Occupy brand, feel free to use mine, above. Or create your own. It’s a free country, innit?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thinking Truffle Advertising in 2012? I Bet 248 Million Turkeys You Won’t See Any.

Having just finished off more turkey-and-dressing leftovers, a look ahead to the hot food trends of 2012 is worth a post. Trendy foods that catch on may result in beyond-local marketing and advertising a year or two later.

Hmmm: how about the opinion of Loni Kay Stark from the West Coast? In ”The Hottest Food Trends for 2012,” she’s pointing to gourmet French fries and savory flavors; those’d be vegetable and bacon and lobster. Grilled cheese sandwiches are the new burgers. Hand-pulled noodles and vegetable desserts. Breakfast favorites re-purposed – consider savory-grilled waffle with artisanal cheese. And red hot chili peppers.

Writing for Forbes, Andrew Bender is betting on mead and charcuterie (artisan-cured meats); botanical ice pops and, yes, truffles. (I am not giving him any credit for Brussels Sprouts which ”have made it to the delicious list.” I think not!)

What’s attractive about these look-ahead, often-locavore kinds of food and drink, is that some will be taken up by major food producers or retailers and you’ll see ad campaigns to support them. Kraft Cracker Barrel’s already begun to push ”aged” cheeses into the big, broad middle market. Botanical ice pops are strictly local now – how long before one of the bigs picks up the idea for a ”healthy” treat line? Chaucer’s Mead from California is already available at 70-plus locations of Total Wine and More. Keep your eyes peeled for trendy food adverts in 2012.

On the other hand, I saw hardly any turkey ads around Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s because this time of year turkeys are...everywhere. If there’s any new trend in turkey, it’s the many fresh, even unusual ways the bird can be prepared for Thanksgiving.

Trend-wise, though, it’s a no-brainer: the number of turkeys expected by be raised in the US this year is 248 million. Hard to beat that with your hand-pulled noodles.

Ads themselves have been sparse. There was the Carl’s Jr, ”Turkeyburger” commercial – starring Miss Turkey! That was back in the Spring. Plus plenty of ”Go Vegan” messages this time of year…not really the same. Nope. Aside from grocery store supplements, most Thanksgiving turkey messages come from the cuisine and homemakers’ magazines.

In the midst of our holiday-induced turkey torpor, it doesn’t hurt to see what’s going to be hot, food-wise, in the coming least in ”parts of the United States and Canada where cooking is treated quite seriously,” to follow an argument by novelist Neal Stephenson. He contrasts this with a ”midwestern/middle American phenomenon” of which traditional Thanksgiving is a part.

One thought more: trend-setting friends and colleagues, writing on Facebook the week leading up to Thanksgiving this year, unfailing mentioned...turkey as the key item of their feasts. Not tofu-turkey. Not gourmet boar meat or wild Alaska Chinook salmon. Turkey.

It goes so well with beer.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Baron Turkeys! A Powerful Thanksgiving Idea Whose Time Has Come.

Here’s a great big Happy Thanksgiving wish to all of you…and specially to Jim and Ann Baron of Thatched House Farm, Dutton, Warrington, Cheshire. Which is not around here but 4,705 miles across the sea…as the turkey flies, so to speak.

They produce Baron Turkeys, the kind of thing one discovers surfing the web, searching for this year’s Thanksgiving blog topic. I hope that the Barons of Cheshire don’t mind a modest invasion of their privacy. I think it’s in a good cause.

First, let me point out that the UK mainly doesn’t appear to do Thanksgiving. Turkeys are a Christmas item over there. Baron Turkeys “…specialise in supplying turkey growers to be reared on for Christmas.” That is (as I understand it), the Barons don’t actually sell you oven-ready turkeys, but ones that you can raise yourself to full-fledged…uh…turkeyness and then take care to prepare it – yourself, again – for your feast.

I found Baron Turkeys on the off-chance, Internet-wise. Theirs is a functional website with just four pages; straight enough. Oh – and just two photos of the poults – the young domestic turkeys they offer for raising. The human touch is provided by a single paragraph on the HOME page:

Our business was founded in the '60s by Ted Baron, an experienced poultry farmer and continues in the family today being run by Jim and Ann Baron. The main delivery driver Peter has worked here for 26 years.

I wish I had discovered these Barons earlier, so that I could invite them to join us here in Texas for our family Thanksgiving. The finishing touch: I could have had some Baron Liberator Doppelbock shipped down here from Seattle.

Perhaps if I let them know about this post, though, they’ll send a few snaps over for an American (me) who shares a name if not an actual as-it-were family relationship. Now Barbara Nytes-Baron and I hope the UK Barons will have a great Holiday season. As well as the American Barons, Slaviks, Murphys, Eisenbergs, Bonds, Sabels, Musils, Hoffmans, Nyteses, Kaplans and Yonkas; our friends and colleagues near and far. Starting today.

NOTE OF FOOT: I’m trusting that the roadview photo of Thatched House Farm, from, is correct. Wouldn’t I feel like Mr Turkey my own self if I’d got it wrong?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It’s Catalog Season and e-Commerce Has Slowed It Down Not At All.

They come from everywhere, addressed to Barbara Nytes-Baron, as well as B Nytes Barton, Ms Barbara Baron and virtually every other combination you can make with nine different letters. We used to laugh about it – now it’s hardly worth a glance. Yet 20,000 American catalog companies form an industry whose economic value is north of $270 billion (the last estimate’s from 2006) and includes both catalog and online sales.

That’s right, catalogs…the multi-page books-of-dreams that fill mailboxes at home and at work every year, all year…and especially in time for the holidays. Ink-on-paper catalogs that in theory should not exist in today’s remarkable e-economy.

Yet over and over again, starting with Montgomery Ward in 1872 and then Sears, Roebuck in 1888, they are marketing mechanisms and sales tools that have been adjusted and perfected for more than 100 years in America. (I grew up waiting for and spending hours poring through the toy and then the tool sections of the Sears Christmas Catalog. Every year.)

Perhaps in your crowded day as a creator of marketing programs for natural gas or machine tools, or commercials for the trendiest beer, you don’t give them a much of a thought. But if you are a direct marketer or a catalog marketer, I bet you’ve seen mail-order catalogs as the  wellsprings of business-to-consumer sales and even dramatically useful adjuncts for B2B marketing for decades.

Catalog marketers’ profitability generally averages five percent of sales – like much of retail, it’s a high-volume but low-margin business. And its heavy petting relationship with the US Postal Service is widely known: catalogs contribute nearly 10% of USPS volume

Catalogs can inform, can open up entire vistas of highly focused products like specialized modeling tools and machines or gun parts; they even entertain 3,000 feet in the air – I wrote about the SkyMall Shopping catalog here several weeks ago.

Even before the Worldwide Web and e-commerce, catalogs offered remarkable advantages: 24/7/365 availability, great portability, high frequency of sharing, warehouse-direct-to-end-user, reduction of gasoline usage. And now, thanks to the Internet, almost instant gratification. Catalog advantages fit Internet marketers (and vice versa) to a T: today, most catalogers have substantial web presence and gain 20% to 50% of their orders from the Internet. After all, mail-delivered catalogs drive web traffic. Isn’t that what web marketers of all stripes tell us to aim for?

This post was stimulated by today’s arrival of a Victoria Trading Company Holiday Catalog, which is at the same time terribly frustrating and endlessly fascinating.

I’m no great fan of the Victorian era which, despite its marvels, only charms if you were well-off. Queen Victoria ruled England and the Dominions from May 24, 1819 to January 22, 1901. Life for many people in many of those years was, to use a phrase out of context, “nasty, brutish and short.” It’s the period which contained the Crimean War, the Great Cholera Outbreak of 1854, the American Civil War…you get the idea.

At the same time, it’s also the period in which the West recognized both the force of empire-building and the Industrial Revolution. Great designers delivered wonders of design and painting and plastic arts – mostly (but not always) a little frou-frou for me. And do NOT get me started on Jane Austen who overlapped the beginning of the Victorian Era and who appears to have been poisoned. With arsenic. Good.

The huge sweep of Victorian history gives the Victorian Trading Company plenty of romping room and I do confess some partiality to Steam Punk. Their catalogs offer up everything from paper products to Arts & Crafts leaded glass lamp reproductions to peppermint pigs.

Prefer to shop the MoMa Store catalog (for something completely different)? The Museum of Modern Art, NYC, has its holiday catalog coming out soon. And there’s always Cabela’s. You can enjoy many choices – and lots of marketing and advertising savvy – with 20,000 catalog companies and more mailing full-time.

Merry holiday shopping season ahead – don’t forget to do your part. And note that this post’s facts and figures come from the Catalog Industry Fact Sheet courtesy of the American Catalog Mailers Association, for which I am indebted. The ACMA website offers mucho useful thinking if you feel like looking into one more fascinating facet of American marketing practice.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Paul Baron’s First Letter to His Son, 1945: A Veterans Day Post.

In April, 1945, S/Sgt Paul Hirsch Baron deployed to the Marianas with the 501st Bomb Group, US Army Air Force. I have eight letters he wrote back to his wife Sarah and new son Richard. He wrote one of these specifically to me. It’s dated May 11, ’45 – I was 29 days old:

My Dear Son Rick – Forgive me for not answering your letters – but as Mommy has explained to you I’m pretty busy. Now don’t misunderstand – I’m not winning this war by a long shot, Rick – but maybe what little I’m contributing is helping.

Let me tell you about it.

In Germany we would be known as Hitler’s Labor Battalions – you know as well as I what they were; and you know as well as I the difference there is that indefinable Something, which you’ll learn about at some future date…that knows the true meaning of the words “Right” and “Wrong.” And eventually justifies its meanings.

But enough of that. Golly, son, I surely would like to see you and you take good care of Mommy till I get back. You know, son, between you and me, I kinda like the idea of you coming to live with us. Your Dad, Paul.

Germany had surrendered unconditionally on Monday, May 7, 1945 at Reims in northeastern France, four days before this letter was written. Victory in Europe (VE) Day was celebrated on May 8. I don’t know how much of the awful story of the Third Reich was yet known to Daddy on Guam, on the far side of the world. The Empire of Japan – the Axis power Daddy was fighting directly in the Pacific – surrendered September 2, 1945.

Veterans Day is when I recall that my father served, along with 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. James Hairgrove. Irving Kaplan. Columbus D Reeves and Jimmy Reeves.

Herman L Eisenberg. Harold Borenstein. Phillip Becker. 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. Clarence Everett Latham and Irene Helen Phillippe. Meyer Horwitz. And me – USN, ’68-’72.

Every year this list grows longer – please feel free to add names of your own, so we will always remember.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Boston Delight #4: Harpoon Beer Makes “Local” Look Great, Wherever You’re From.

Howdy from Boston. Harpoon Brewery may not be a beer leviathan yet but it’s already part of a whale of a tale.  Despite the fact that locally brewed beer – craft beer – is trendy like crazy today, Boston has already had at least one great beer era with great brands now faded into a vague past. In the early 1900s, with a total of 31 breweries, Boston had the highest number of breweries per capita in the US. Twenty-four of them were located so close together (within a mile-and-a-half circle) that the fragrant aroma of slowly cooking grains, smoke from wood and coal, and horse sweat from the delivery wagons defined the neighborhood by smell alone.

Vienna Old Time Lager. Rockland Ale. Burkhardt’s Old Stock Porter and India Pale Ale, Elbana Irish Ale – all these brands and more suffered death by Volstead Act. They’re called “Boston’s Lost Breweries.”

What once was lost is now found: the new craft beers that have burgeoned across America. Today, when you think Boston beers, you’re probably imagining the makers of the many varieties of the Sam Adams brand. But I have to confess: I planned pretty carefully to visit the Harpoon Brewery, 306 Northern Avenue, Boston, MA. That this beer-ventureland is near the original, 94-year-old “No-Name” Restaurant on Fish Pier is icing on the crab cake (or a full growler of Harpoon Chocolate Stout, take your pick).

Before I go further, then, learning about Harpoon and unfiltered-label UFO beers and how they go to market started with Chris Derr, Harpoon’s Area Sales Manager for Texas and Louisiana. He introduced me to the Harpoon IPA in Houston last year; he made certain the visit to Harpoon in Boston had more planning to it than a glass or two in the tasting room. The Visitor Center (brilliant) is managed by Aaron Bishop and most of the tasting spiel was courtesy of Cassandra Tice – great time. Then Tice introduced me to Amanda Fakhreddine, who’s Harpoon’s Online Content Manager – between the two of them, they then toured me and Barbara Nytes-Baron through an exceptional brewery. Thank you right now to everyone there on Northern Avenue.

The brand, with Harpoon IPA and UFO Hefeweizen* beers leading the way, has become increasingly popular and increasingly available through a combination of social media marketing and distribution. (Classic advertising is rarely involved in locavore beer marketing because it’s wasteful of precious capital to target urban or even regional craft-drinking populations.)

Distribution is most important as the beers achieve new retail venues. Tom Pirko, president of food-and-beverage consultancy Bevmark was just quoted in a Convenience Store Decisions article proposing that craft beers give C-store owners (a huge market usually dominated by the national brewers) a chance to build a new profit center: “They are the future. There will be more of them, and they will be better. As time goes by, prices will modify so that they are a little bit more affordable. You’ll have great variety, with the category of beer once again becoming exciting. These are all good things.” I suspect Chris Derr was assigned here in Texas and Louisiana to grow the market for Harpoon products through more focused distribution efforts.

Whereas the role of online marketing – Amanda Fakhreddine’s assignment – is being even more strongly developed because Harpoon, like Great Divide (Denver) and St Arnold (Houston) and SweetWater (Atlanta), among others, recognize an absolute need to build and maintain community ties. Which means more tours, more events, more charitable participation, more Facebook and Twitter time on the local level.

Local. Local. Was it Rainier Beer that used to say it’s all about “the beer here?” So Boston’s Harpoon has successfully refocused on participating in and with its communities. Just like in the days of the now-lost German lager breweries, you create your products for what the neighbors want; and create a market for your neighbors. What more can I say than “Try these beers?”

*Of these, the Raspberry Hefeweizen is fresh and tasty - RLB.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Boston Delight #3 (c1870): Union Oyster House is First Guerrilla Marketing Target.

Howdy from Boston. Somewhere back five or six years ago I heard from colleagues at Ware Anthony Rust in the UK that they were introducing a revolutionary new robotic vacuum cleaner called the “Trilobite.” My specific recollection is about a guerrilla marketing event in which pairs of young women in pubs throughout England get into a mock argument about the Trilobite and end up demonstrating it – in the bar, in front of all the patrons. This was far enough back that this kind of marketing tactic was new to me. I thought, that’s damned clever. And a great example of a new 21st Century social sales technique. This was before I realized this idea had been used before.

I just didn’t understand just how much before until today when I was lunching in the Union Oyster House here in Boston. It turns out that the mass-produced toothpick was first used in America at this same Union Oyster House. (There’s a sign on the restaurant wall that proclaims it.)

Charles Forster of Maine had first imported these toothpicks from South America. And in fact, Foster is credited with the development of the world’s first toothpick-manufacturing machine, around 1869. It’s more than simply a point of interest that Foster was not an inventor. He was an entrepreneur with an idea and some real live marketing smarts. But he couldn’t get his new toothpicks into retail outlets because people were too used to carving their own out of whatever was convenient.

So to promote his new business he hired Harvard boys (Harvard boys!) to dine at the Union Oyster House and ask for toothpicks. This they relentlessly did until the restaurant owner sensed there was something he was missing – and started ordering supplies of the new-fangled toothpicks from Forster. It began a social phenomenon that was adopted by both men and women.

Today, Forster’s mass-produced toothpick is held up as a model of the remarkable American “can do anything” spirit. In fact, it’s Forster’s home state of Maine that is the country’s biggest toothpick producer; about 90% of the country's toothpicks are made in this state.

I’m just as glad to be reminded that there’s little that’s new under the sun in terms of marketing and advertising – except maybe Facebook and YouTube. Forster would have found a way to make these work for him too.