Sunday, December 30, 2007

Triscuit® Romance

A new print ad for Triscuit ‘Rosemary & Olive Oil’ crackers caught my attention and amusement – it’s hard to make out the headline in this scan, so I’ll quote it for you to read:

Jessica opened her box of Rosemary & Olive Oil Triscuit crackers. The aroma instantly transported her to the countryside. One bite, and she’d finally found the complexity and flavor she craved, a combination sadly missing from the pretty boy in the ascot.

This is classy and sassy – just the thing for a brand that’s under reconstruction – and beautifully targeted to its audience. You’d hardly think this cracker is more than 100 years old. You can read even more about the cracker itself here.

But the story is never so simple as that. When you Google “Triscuit,” you’ll discover that in the past year, the brand has been at the center of some remarkable upsets in the ad biz, as well as the subject of dozens of blog posts (like here and here).

Writing in The New York Times last April, Stuart Elliott broke the story that Kraft Foods was unhappy with its biggest ad agency, JWT, and showed its displeasure by shifting six brands (worth $160+ millions) to other agencies. That’s put the hurt on JWT big-time.

It looks like the Triscuit business, worth about $12.8 millions, ended up at Euro RSCG in New York, along with the Ritz cracker assignment ($32.1 millions).

Some dissatisfaction has been expressed about Kraft North America’s customer service. Freshbooks’ blogger also noted, “Nabisco has not domain-proofed their brand by buying” This was back in April; now you can, in fact, type in and go right to a micro-site for the brand.

Meanwhile, new Triscuit flavors have been very popular with consumers, with lots of positive comments (e.g.,

Back to the ad itself, which bears a 2008 copyright. I’d led by this to conclude that the ad is from Euro RSCG and my hat’s off to the creative team. Yes, I know it’s quite popular to slam guys – but for the women in the audience, this execution is laugh-worthy.

I also compliment the team on the human touches which put this ad “in contact” with the audience: a lovely woman but no stick figure, a certain dreamy quality to the execution, reinforced by the tagline, “A tasty romance awaits.”

I expect I’ll be old(er) and gray(er) before I see this kind of advertising for, say, oilfield technology. Try as I might, I can’t ever see any E&P company going with a headline like:

Ray-Bob opened the carton with his new CX-370A drill bit inside. The fresh oil covering the layers of its diamond cutters instantly recalled his glory days on the rig floor – he knew he’d finally found the penetration and the sheer power missing from his life since Norma’d left him for that landman in Lafayette.

Ah, well. There’s always the Triscuits.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Gifts: Armaments

The newspapers are filled with ads for very expensive watches (if you’re a guy) and the latest celebrity brand perfumes (if you’re a gal). The airwaves offer big-screen TVs and iPods.

‘Tis the Season to be buying. If you’re buying big, Neiman Marcus offers its 100th Anniversary Fantasy Gift: An Imperial Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Egg for $3,525 (including shipping).

But what to do if you are confronted on Christmas Day by a Rabbit with Big Pointy Teeth? (This is what comes of watching “Monty Python & The Holy Grail,” a seasonal favorite.)

The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch is available for only $17.95 – an important reminder that comes to us from geek blogs. This plush version comes with critical instructions:

First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then, shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shalt be three. Four thou shalt not count, nor either count though two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest though thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch toward thou foe, who being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.

This is the stuff of legends, friend, even though this model “does not really light up or explode.” Well.

Go up-market if you like to the 50-caliber Barrett M82A1 sniper rifle for something over $8,000 – it puts the Fabergé egg in the shade and offers “unmatched respect.” I kinda like that. This is NOT something you’re likely to see advertised in a pre-Christmas Valassis insert. Think of it as a 30-pound stalking stuffer.

Quite a bit more stress-y on the Visa card, The Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) may or may not be available in time for Christmas; it depends on the success of its testing program. Lockheed Martin promises superior performance and affordable price – plus videos if you visit the company’s on-line shopping site.

Me? I’ll settle for the Holy Hand Grenade. Just the thing for a Big-Pointy-Teeth-Rabbit-free holiday season.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Joyful Year

Thanks to you, I had a ball this year. What Charles Dickens wrote in “A Christmas Carol” is as true for me as he’d have it for the story’s main character:

…He was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter at the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins…and that was quite enough for him.

A year’s worth of joy should not be saved up ‘til Christmas. Fortunately, some of you have kept up with news and adventures in my business, my family, my life. So it’s likely that you’ve seen your names a time or two (or more) throughout the past 12 months and received my gratitude along with it.

It’s time to say “Thank you,” plus sincere greetings for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – and everything else you celebrate during this month.

Because you’ve been part of it, you have contributed so much to me and my family. You are my colleagues, my partners, my friends. I am grateful for the work, the relationships, the collegial enjoyment of many hours spent with you.

You are the ornaments of my life. Best wishes for a world full of joy this season and for the year ahead.

Thanks and special wishes to Prism Design for this year’s illustration.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Risotto Report

Our on-the-scene reporter, Rachel Baron, sends: Here are a couple of photos from the contest. Alison looks super cute…I am excited to see the blog. Thanks for being so supportive. By the way, Alison did receive two tickets to “Les Misérables” and a $50 gift certificate to Quick Chek. And has big plans about how to win next year.

No word on the recipe. Same with after-action PR from Quick Chek. “Maybe tomorrow…”

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Souper Chef

The promotions that occur out of sight – in different regions of the country or other parts of the world – sometimes come into view thanks to relatives. This morning, Alison Bond (friend of Rachel Baron) is participating in the Quick Chek “Souper Chef” finals at the company’s South Plainfield, NJ store.

Quick Chek is a family-owned and -operated chain of 110 retail food store locations that operates mainly in the northern part of the state. Founder Carlton C Durling started it in the 1960s as an outlet for the milk from his dairy business.

That’s one way to begin a convenience-store operation – especially since Quick Chek didn’t start putting in “fueling islands” (that’s gasoline pumps to you) ‘til 2000. In 2006, the overall growth of the C-store industry was 15%. But that same year showed a 23.5% drop in profits, because of shrinking margins on gasoline and higher credit card costs (also associated with gas sales). So [a] Quick Chek’s slow movement toward adding pumps is probably a good thing for its profitability; and [b] its concentration on fresh food is critical to maintaining strong customer relationships.

Unlike the Stripes chain I blogged about in September, Quick Chek promotions seem to be more tightly tied to its products. The winter promotion is based on its fresh soups. It’s been well-advertised in the North Jersey, but there’s nothing about it on the company website. I’d say Quick Chek missed a bet, but not by much given the participation reported by our own team: Alison (chef) and Rachel (supporter).

In her “Food for Thought” blog, Angela Wyatt already noted: If you think you have a soup recipe that’s worth prizes valued up to $750, share it with Quick Chek. Starting today through Dec. 5, Quick Chek customers will have the chance to put their culinary skills to the test by submitting an original recipe that incorporates one of Quick Chek’s 14 fall menu soups as an ingredient to the company's first ever Quick Chek Souper Chef Cooking Contest.

Unfortunately, I have to report that Alison’s recipe, using the chain’s Roasted Tomato & Garlic soup as a basis for a risotto, did not bear away the bell. As a runner-up, Alison received a $50 Quick Chek gift certificate.

But she got chosen as a semi-finalist (out of 65 entrants in the month-long promo period) and had the chance to prepare her “Roasted Tomato and Spinach Risotto” to compete against four other contestants and their recipes on site. The event was previewed in today’s Bridgewater, NJ, Courier-News.

A soup-powered promo for a C-store makes a nice change from the ordinary gas and credit card activities. Quick Chek’s PR people ought to be able to get some winter-time mileage out of this

I also hope Alison will share her recipe with Signalwriter’s readers. More of this anon.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Pearl Morning

“Inside one hangar twenty-one Hawaiians were fighting fire. Planes roared hoarsely, machine guns stuttered overhead. In the middle of the smoke-filled hangar, Solomon Naauao, 245-pound athlete, trained the water from his fire-hose on the fuselage of a four-motor flying fortress, pushing back the gasoline fire that leaped out from the fuselage onto the wings.

“Solomon is a giant Hawaiian, a true son of a warrior. Short, thick, black hair fits his massive head like a fur cap. He was hoping the Chief would come soon with the foamite. Water was not much good against gasoline.

“One end of the burning hangar fell through to the floor, revealing a sky dotted with three approaching Japanese bombers. They were flying just a few feet above the hangar. The first one passed directly above Solomon and his fellow-fighters. Solomon heard an explosion and felt hot pain.

“‘Lord help me!’ he prayed, falling to the concrete floor. The whole inner side of his right leg was blown away.

“With his arm and sound leg he crawled through the smoke, away from the flames. When two soldiers picked him up, he learned that five others with him had been wounded, three more blown to pieces. They left him in the doorway to wait for the ambulance just coming in. As he lay there, Japanese planes flew slowly above, just clearing the hangar, and strafed the men running to carry him to the ambulance. Others quickly picked him up and sped him to the hospital.”

From Remember Pearl Harbor, copyright 1942 by Blake Clark. Of the Honolulu Fire Department personnel fighting the fires at Hickam Field that Sunday morning, Capt Thomas S Macy, Capt John Carreira and Hoseman Harry Tuck Lee Pang were dead. Lieutenant Frederick Kealoa and Hoseman Moses Kalilikani were critically wounded; and three others – Hoseman John A Gilman, Solomon H Naauao, Jr, and George Corren – were also injured. The wounded firefighters received Purple Hearts. From 7 December 1941: The Air Force Story, pages 160-161. See also today’s California Fire News blog.

Poster designed by Allen Sandburg, issued by the Office of War Information, Washington, D.C., in 1942, in remembrance of the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Wobble Tales

After blogging about Wobble Wedges®, I had the chance to talk with their creator, Robert Bellows. Here’s such a marvelous story about small-business triumph, I asked him if he’d write about it. He agreed to do it in the form of lengthy answers to six questions.

It’s a long read; I haven’t edited it much. Bellows said, “I had a great time looking back at the magical evolution of the Wobble Wedge.” See if you agree.

1. What made you decide that you wanted to become an entrepreneur?

I never decided to become an entrepreneur in the start-a-business-and-sell-it-for-millions mold. Perhaps I’m an entrepreneur in the sense that my work choices have been consistently driven by a deep desire to explore the realms of my own creativity while maintaining independence, the most precious resource of all.

The trick, of course, was getting paid in the process. If the business earned millions or if it earned just enough cash or somewhere in between that would be fine. Following that path by both intent and accident I have been a school teacher, carpenter, ranch hand, welder, tutor, artist, copywriter, publicist and a marketing/sales director in several businesses.

So how did Wobble Wedge come about? In my early 40s, I lost a business that I had expected to pursue for many more years. The demise of the business came from multiple forces much larger than our small company could counteract. To be frank, I was disillusioned by what came down. Taking a total break from business was the perfect solution. In the following months I began introducing myself to the world as an artist.

Over the next few years I made well over 100 sculptures and sold them through galleries and shows – a good living and a total blast. But the cash flow came in an uncomfortable boom and bust cycle. My business head popped and said, “Hey, why not start a really small business that will provide a steady cash flow but won’t require much daily office work?” That was the seed that sprouted into the Wobble Wedge.

2. How did you decide on the wedge? And what steps led to its engineered qualities?

For as long as I can remember I have always had a scrappy-looking 3-ring binder titled “Ideas.” Every time I had a business or product idea I had a habit of writing it down in the notebook: ideas of who needed the thing, who might buy it, and what it might take to make it and what it would take to distribute it.

Then reality would set in. Do I want to sit at a desk, manage a pile of employees, raise money, be responsible to bankers or shareholders, manage field reps and on and on? The answer was no….already done that. The ideas that required complex marketing and production were fun to dream about. The mere act of writing it down allowed to me let go of the idea so a new one could come in.

The question gradually changed from, “What business could I create that would be successful?” to something more like, “What business will support what I want to do with my time?”

What did I want? Simplicity. The product had to be simple. It had to be easy to understand. It had to be universally needed. It had to be cheap to make and cheap to buy. It had to be well made and very cool. It had to be fun to sell. And most of all, it had to have a “Wow, I wish I had thought of that!” factor.

How could I find that? Simple again. State the question as clearly as possible then forget about it.

One day, sitting at an annoying wobbly restaurant table, my wife (Terry Cohen) asked the magical question: “Think you could figure out how to fix this?” Whoa, that ain’t rocket science, it’s not even high school algebra.

All it takes is a small wedge. It could be used for all sorts of things...wait, that’s it: this is what we need to invent.

The first wedges were hand carved from a plastic block and from scraps of wood. I used my funky models for everything I could think of from stabilizing wobbly tables to leveling fountain sculptures.

Experimenting with them made it obvious that each wedge had to relate to the other...they had to nest to prevent slippage. They had to be stackable to fill large gaps. They had to be easy to trim. They had to be easy to retrieve even if they were inserted too far.

I showed my hand-carved wedges to an 80-year-old tool maker that had been making injection molds for years. With my samples in hand and a few pencil sketches he began machining some very precise samples. A few models later we had a perfectly simple but very functional design.

3. Would you expand on the (years’ long) marketing efforts you put into the product?

In the original vision, the product had to be “universally understood.” To be honest I didn’t know the full meaning of those words at the time. But their meaning is clear now. If anyone sees a Wobble Wedge, it takes only a fraction of a second for them to say, “I know where I could use one of these.”

We create literature, but really Wobble Wedges don’t need explanation. As such we didn’t have to go to the hefty expense of trying to educate or convince people to buy these.

Instead, we had the less expensive task of just letting them know that at long last here was a solution that they had been looking for all their life: handing a consumer, a contractor or a restaurant owner a couple of Wobble Wedges is in itself a complete marketing message.

Our primary marketing message is that Wobble Wedges are universally needed. That statement generated this line: Everyone needs Wobble Wedges. Now we needed to simply remind consumers of why they need Wobble Wedges. Everyone knows that most things are far from plumb, smooth or level. Everyone knows that almost nothing in the world is truly flat. So, why not just say what they already know. Hence the line: Because the World Still Isn’t Flat.

4. How critical is the “Wobble Wedge” brand name to your marketing efforts?

Wobble Wedge is a fantastic named coined by my brother Warren. The beauty of the name is again its simplicity. It describes the problem and the solution in one very memorable name. But even more than that, the name allows for universal application. It is not limiting in any way.

A contractor can relate to a Wobble Wedge as quickly as a waiter can. If we had called the product a Stable Table, for example, we would only appeal to restaurants. Contractors would have nothing to do with it.

So yes, Wobble Wedge is and excellent name, but not absolutely critical to the success of the product. We sell Wobble Wedges under many names targeted to many very specific markets. Our brand name is well known, but the quality, superior functionality, and readily available inventory of our Wobble Wedges is what keeps us in the game.

While we stimulated many PR stories for Wobble Wedges in the early years, the product itself stimulates its own story now. You see one, hit yourself on the forehead and say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Then someone like you writes a blog about it. That is the magic of Wobble Wedge.

5. The Wobble Wedge solves for a specific kind of problem. But Focus 12 itself doesn’t seem to have a problem now. If, after 20 years, you were asked what problem the company itself faces, what would that problem be?

Our Mom & Pop business is doing great. It is small and simple as we created it to be. It has provided very well for us. At this moment, we it looks like we’re going into a very exciting period of growth. That growth is already bringing in a level of complexity in our business that is taxing our small staff….that’s just Terry and I.

We have new products and new molds and new customers that will drive a whole new part of our business. But the coming complexity challenges our core mandate of simplicity. Both of us are getting older. As much as we love our business, we’re beginning to think of other things we’d like to do. Maybe a bigger business isn’t what we want. Maybe it is.

We’re still working on that question. Perhaps writing this response to your questions will stimulate that process. It is always amazing to me how we touch each other’s lives.

6. Last question: do you read Mother Earth News?

Yes, I was sort of an idealist. Perhaps that has eroded with time. It’s funny that you mention it. I haven’t seen that mag in years. Last month my wife brought one home to show me an article on gardening. Gardening sounds good to me these days. There is nothing like dirt under your fingernails and a freshly picked tomato to remind you of what is real.

Good storytellers are few and far between. Thanks to Robert Bellows for sharing this one. And for the fun of it, get your hands on a Wobble Wedge.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Hanukkah Truckin’

I was set to blog best wishes for Hanukkah – simple, straightforward, sincere. But I ran across the Disney “Fire Truck Menorah” in one of Barbara’s catalogs and it threw me off track. The bizarre idea that Mickey Mouse may be Jewish after all, circumsized at birth in 1928, has taken on a life of its own. At 79, I’d say he’s a little old to be driving around on a hook-and-ladder but maybe not. It’s said that 70’s the new 50, etc. And he’s got the other alte kochers with him: Minnie, Goofy. Donald. Even Pluto.

This is the first night of Hanukkah, during which we celebrate a successful rebellion. (Another curious fact, in this day and time.) A small, outnumbered band of Jews waged battle against the armies of the Seleucid Greeks, and drove them out of the Land of Israel.

When the Jews reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem, they wanted to re-light the Temple’s menorah, but the priests discovered that the Greeks had contaminated almost all the oil. There was just enough pure oil to last one night – and it would take eight days to produce new, pure oil.

Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil lasted eight days and nights. The holiday of Hanukkah was established. So we commemorate and publicize this miracle by lighting our own menorahs on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah – adding another candle every evening.

On the other hand, what if one of the younger Jewish insurgents came running into the Temple back in 166 BC, crying out to the Levites, “Wait! I just got this FedEx from Mama in Brooklyn!”

In one hand, he’s waving this Disney fire truck menorah; in the other is a box of Hanukkah candles from the Discount Candle Shop. “We can use these until the oil is ready.” History could have been changed at that very moment – the miracle would have been getting anything FedEx’d to Israel in time for Hanukkah. That’d be truckin’.

Tonight’s the beginning, whatever menorah you use. I wish you all hag orim same'ah. Happy Feast of Lights! Happy Hanukkah!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Wobble Wedges®

If one of us in the “Thursday Night Martini Gang” has jammed a book of matches or a wad of napkins under our cast-iron table at Mo Mong once these past 10 years, we’ve done it a hundred times. With the passing of matchbooks, leveling an awkward table became more of an annoyance.

Shift scene: a pub in the Brookhaven section of Atlanta, where four of us had just sat down for a couple of pints and burgers…a pleasant patio lunch on a beautiful day. And the table wobbled. Teeter. Totter. Teeter. Totter. While I was looking around for a napkin to wad up, the ever-resourceful Edith Fusillo reached into her purse and pulled out a small white plastic shim. She lifted the table slightly and shoved this thing under the leg. No more teeter-totter.

“It’s a Wobble Wedge,” she proclaimed and she and Bob beamed at us. “Every table in Venice wobbles. I found these at The Container Store and we always carry them with us.”

Sheesh! Of the hundred or thousands of useless knickknacks and gadgets in the various catalogs of the world, here are these Wobble Wedges – complete with registered trademark. So the first thing we do is go off to the nearby Container Store and pick up a couple of packages. Barbara stashed hers in various compartments of her purse. I stowed mine in…well…my man-bag. Map case. Alright, dammit, my purse.

This is word-of-mouth marketing in action. Only after I got back here to the home computer have I gone to the website; you can read all about Wobble Wedges, “the tapered plastic shims that do it all.” You should look at this site: simple, homegrown, but with all the information you’d need to realize why this is one of the world’s great inventions.

And it’s only a million or so years old. Stone Age (though I’m told that the Association of Social Anthropologists is not happy with this term). After all, the reason we’ve used matchbooks to level the damn table is because they’re wedge-shaped.

Our modern, purse-carried Wobble Wedges are made of polypropylene, tapered at a 5.75° angle with some extra features like nesting ridge teeth that make it adjustable – and so awfully handy. The Wobble Wedge is patented and manufactured by Focus 12, Inc.; conveniently packaged; it even comes with a small hole so you can tie a string to it. “Everyone needs Wobble Wedges ‘cause the world isn’t flat.” Nice line.

The only problem: you tend to forget about the Wobble Wedge when you leave the restaurant. Edith says she and Bob left dozens of them in restaurants all over Venice (the paving and flooring are so out of true, you see). Still, they’re cheap enough, three bucks per six-pack. You can get ‘em in jars of 300 in case you’re truly into leveling.

So this today’s WOM contribution: Wobble Wedges. Pass it on.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Door Prize

Ye don’t think we’d have a St. Andrew’s Day Party without an appropriate door prize, do ye? When you drop by the Stag’s Head Pub this Friday, you can register for our “Pairty Giveout,” a 10-year-old Black Bottle Scotch Whisky.

It wouldn’t hurt if you took a quick, visual peek at the brand’s neat, interactive website. You can even pull down a menu or two and take a look at some of Black Bottle’s advertising, though it’s a bit hard to read with its bitty type and all.

Fact is, Scotch whisky’s one of the Worldwide Web’s favorite subjects. Do a bit of Googling and find out more about Black Bottle than I could fit in half-a-dozen blog posts.

I’m going to make it easy on myself. Spirits writer Michael Lonsford jotted a column in The Houston Chronicle a couple of weeks back. The highlights:

It’s black and green, and it had a red-letter renaissance. It’s a blended Scotch whisky called Black Bottle, and its history is fascinating. Most scotch drinkers start off with the classic, popular blends — Johnny Walker Red, Dewar’s, J&B.

I did, too, later segueing to the single-malts and finally the shores of Islay, the island off the western coast of Scotland famous for its heavily peated whiskies.

If Scotch whisky aficionados fall into two camps — single-malts and blends – Black Bottle might appeal to both sides.

Where did the name come from? In the mid-1800s, the three Graham brothers of Aberdeen launched the label, a blended whisky sold in a pot-still-shaped bottle made of black glass from Germany. When England and Germany fought in World War I, the glass became unavailable. So the Grahams switched to green, which is still used.

Black Bottle is a blended whisky, but with unique Islay attributes. It makes you think of the heather shivering in the North Sea wind and wisps of smoke lifting out of Islay village chimneys.

Poetic enough (shivering North Sea wind and all) for me to steal for this post. But it’ll give you an idea of what the whisky is all about…should you happen to carry off the 10-year-old prize Friday evening. You might get away without giving everyone else a wee dram before you go.

You should thank my colleague, Rob Schoenbeck (good Scot that he is) for anointing this brand as the door prize.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Corrigan Christmas

My God, it’s good to be back in Texas.

The past week was uproarious. Glorious. If there’s anything better than being invited to the 80th birthday of one of your oldest friends (Bob Fusillo), it’s having a groaning-board Thanksgiving with him and his family the following day. Edith Fusillo kept feeding us, feeding us. Dylan Fusillo and Janis Shen came in from New York City. I got to spend more time with him and his brother, Neil Fusillo, than at any time in the past…decade? Two decades? More?

Atlanta itself was all about shopping. Every news medium was filled with stories about “Black Friday” and “Super Saturday.” Shoppers local and national lining up at Best Buy (e.g., which is also advertising a “Cyber Monday” in the event shoppers missed their opportunities over the previous weekend) the night before stores opened, wanting to be the first in line for flat-screen TV sets and other gadgets.

Number Two story on the national TV news programs was about all the Made-in-America toys people could buy. No fears of heavy-lead paint if you buy American instead of Chinese. This is particularly piquant since Barbara finally tracked down a pair of size-15 flip-flops that was waiting for us on our front porch when we arrived home last evening. Made in China, natch: a potential new meaning for the term “leadfoot,” I suppose.

Widely remarked upon by Talking Heads – and much in evidence in stores and lots all over Atlanta – is the deceitful attempt to avoid calling those seasonal, decorated evergreens Americans enjoy buying by any other name than Christmas Trees.

It seems to have started with the Lowe’s Holiday Catalog, in which the big-box chain cravenly referred to these items as Family Trees.

In an effort to avoid the use of the term “Christmas tree,” Lowe's has renamed their Christmas trees and are now calling them “Family trees.”

In their Holiday 2007 catalog, containing 56 pages of Christmas gifts, Lowe’s advertises hundreds of gift items, including scores of “Family trees.” In fact, the word “Christmas” only appears two times in the entire holiday catalog. The ads mentioning “Christmas” cover only 12 square inches of the 5236 square inches available.

I saw signs advertising Holiday Trees, Seasonal Trees and – on one corner of the Perimeter Shopping Mall – a lot with a huge banner announcing the sale of Tradition Trees. (I’m pleased to report the apparent absence of marketing for the Hanukkah Bush, though some are available for Jewish shoppers on the Worldwide Web.)

Yesterday, we battled our way west across Interstate 20 on the drive back. Rain, more rain. Massive rain. Spot showers. Heavy misting. Plus traffic diverting from I-10 because some of this major highway is closed – see the post below. Leaving the Interstate, crossing the state line on US 79 and switching to US 59 to bring us to Houston was a wonderful relief.

Even better, we drove through the tiny town of Corrigan about 8.30 PM. There’s a lighted signboard in front of the City Hall. It announced:

Christmas Tree Lighting
& Chili Cookoff

God, it’s great to be home.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Blowouts Happen

The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.

And so Barbara and I expected it to be when we left for Atlanta last Sunday, from Houston.

The rain was a nice surprise. Our unexpected event was the total closure of Interstate 10 from Lafayette to Baton Rouge, LA. A 55 mile-stretch of a major interstate corridor from Houston to New Orleans will remain closed until at least December 4.

Now you know what we know: I-10 will be closed because a fire at a Bridas Energy USA natural gas well erupted last Thursday evening, before we left Houston. Bridas workers were drilling a new well and the pressure blew the line, which then burst into flames. The well is about two miles west of the Ramah/Maringoin exit on the Atchafalaya Basin floodway side – you could see the flames from the causeway.

I missed this important bit of information and so did a few thousand other holiday travelers. It may even have been in last Sunday’s Houston Chronicle, which we didn’t read before we left the house because our copy was soaked from all the rain.

You know the area, right? That long, long causeway across the flood basin, where cellphones don’t work and there’s just one or two places to stop…we’ve been taking this route to and from Atlanta for years.

Without knowing exactly why, we followed the quickly revised Louisiana Highway Department/US DOT alternate. With all the rest of the eastbound unfortunates, we went northward onto Interstate 49 at Lafayette, then east on U.S. 190 at Opelousas, through Livonia, to Baton Rouge.

This part was not an adventure: Livonia, LA, has two traffic lights and Sunday afternoon traffic was backed up for miles while the good folks of the Livonia police department tried to cope with five times the normal traffic.

Backups aside, we really had no other problems. With no loss of life that I can find, though, it’s typical that Louisiana’s governor, Kathleen Blanco, would use words like ”appalling” to describe the incident. The Gov’s hindsighted comments notwithstanding, my hat’s off to Louisiana state and parish officials and DOT for organizing the best possible solution around an awkwardly placed incident.

It’s also given “over the river and through the woods” to the Fusillos for Thanksgiving a completely new meaning. We’ll be taking another highway home to Houston this weekend.

The Advocate photo by Richard Alan Hannon, with thanks.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Andy’s Pairty*

Inspired by actual events! Sanctioned by law! Well, not our law, but still...

Join us November 30th for what might well be Houston’s best celebration of St. Andrew’s Day, as officially enacted by The Scottish Parliament just last year. A real party – and we’re counting on real Scots (as well as Anglophiles, Beer Lovers and Party Goers) to come down and help us out.

“Us” includes Cameron Wallace of Helix ESG; and Rob Schoenbeck and Richard Laurence Baron (operating under the guise of area51, our strategic marketing consulting firm). We’re setting the stage, you buy your own beer.

Party, party, party. “Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled?” or in this case, “drink?”

We’re gathering at Houston’s Stag’s Head Pub. A wonderful location, Michael Holliday himself has set us up in a nice area of our own – thanks for that. There are ales and stouts, porters and ciders, lagers, even light beers. Rob’s turned Old Speckeld Hen into something of a favorite; Cameron’s likely to start with Stella Artois, the creature.

Now get this: The party’s actually on St. Andrew’s Day, Friday, November 30th, 2007, from 4-8 PM or later. Come on, it’s after Thanksgiving, no excuses and no fooling. Celebrating on Saturday wouldn’t be right.

We invite you to take advantage of your legal rights on the very St. Andrew’s Day honoured by custom and practice: Workers will be allowed to take the day off if they can swap the day for one of their existing public holidays: the most likely option is the autumn holiday in September or October, which varies from region to region.

(However, the day off will not be made statutory and it will be up to employers to decide whether they want to give staff the time off. There has been considerable doubt as to how many private companies will do so.)

But the confusion as to who would benefit from the holiday did nothing to curb the enthusiasm of MSPs [Members of the
Scottish Parliament] for the plan – all of whom will get the holiday, with the rest of the public sector.

Do NOT let this opportunity get away from you over some company quibble or more ordinary (mundane) commitment that can be fulfilled on any other day. We’re talking about the majesty of the law here. We anticipate that the beer will flow and the food will be eaten, to honor the Patron Saint of Scotland.

Spouses of all sorts entirely welcome. Scottish National Dress encouraged – sporrans optional. Designated drivers are also, perhaps, a good idea. That address again: 2128 Portsmouth, Houston 77098 – the Stag’s Head Pub, one block south of Richmond Avenue, one block east of Shepherd.

Come early. Stay late.

*According to The Online Scots Dictionary. Perhaps you would prefer the word “foy?” Our thanks to the owners, managers and staff of the Stag's Head Pub for their enthusiasm.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Krafty Publishing

We all know technology rushes things to death…but some things don’t die so easily.

Last week, one senior ad agency told Signalwriter that printed magazines were dead; that they couldn’t deliver the audiences any more. Felix Dennis, the Brit entrepreneur who publishes titles like Maxxim, was quoted in The Economist (September 29, 2007), saying, “It’s a long, slow sunset for ink-on-paper magazines…”

Technology is banging the business model for consumer magazines pretty hard. Print magazines are increasingly more expensive to publish (there’s only so much tech can do for printing presses and the cost of newsprint). And a lot of publications that have expanded to the Worldwide Web aren’t coining money from their sites, either. Mostly.

Still, print magazines have been in the hot seat before. Mass-circ mags seemed to be dying off – then along comes something like People and changes the model. More exhaustive databanking has meant that dozens of specially targeted niches deliver profitable audiences that could be identified and persuaded to subscribe, or buy the products advertised in these specialty magazines. F’rinstance…

We get a free magazine from Kraft Foods called Food & Family. It’s a substantial, attractive publication that involves its readers in a range of subjects revolving around “delicious ideas.” Everything in it is a Kraft brand.

By publishing and sending the magazine to homemakers without charge, Kraft generates both tactical and strategic benefits for consumers and for itself.

First, the magazine stays near to hand around the house. CPG companies learned a long time ago that recipes are ever-popular and attention-getting (that’s why you see so many recipes in magazine food ads). All the recipes involve Kraft products as ingredients: a key sales driver.

Second, Kraft gets to use its huge ad bank in the magazine: it’s filled with advertising for various Kraft brands. How many print ads do you think Kraft and its business units generate in a year? I don’t know – but it’s a lot! So in addition to running the ads in other magazines, Kraft gets extra mileage from them when they appear in Food & Family.

Third, Kraft has tied the magazine to an inviting, involving website that doesn’t simply duplicate the content of the magazine. It has promotions (of course); it also has a terrific “Welcome to Our Community” section where recipes and other household tips are shared – there’s quite a bit of sharing and it’s valuable for stakeholder involvement. All in all, the package is a good one in terms of branding, content and product sales programs.

This is hardly the only example of a magazine published for and distributed to product consumers. Car companies like Ford and Chrysler, published “owner’s magazines” for years. There’s a big difference, however, between the cost of a box of Jell-O and the price sticker on a car window…and the combination of Kraft brand ingredients makes for effective cross-selling.

Magazines’ fires are only smoored, not completely extinguished. Publisher Dennis completed his Economist quote thusly: “…but sunsets can produce vast sums of money.”

They can also generate an startling amount of reader responsiveness, whether they’re highlighting a busty starlet or a breakfast omelet that the entire family will enjoy.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Gittelsohn’s Sermon, 1945: A Veterans Day Post.

The first Jewish chaplain the Marine Corps ever appointed, Lt Roland B Gittelsohn, ChC, USNR, was assigned to the Fifth Marine Division.

When the US Armed Forces invaded Iwo Jima in February, 1945, Rabbi Gittelsohn was in the thick of the fighting, ministering to Marines of all faiths in the combat zone. His tireless efforts to comfort the wounded and encourage the fearful won him three service ribbons.

When the fighting was over, Gittelsohn was asked to deliver the memorial sermon at a combined religious service dedicating the Marine Cemetery. Unfortunately, racial and religious prejudice led to problems with the ceremony. What happened next immortalized Gittelsohn and his sermon forever.

The Division Chaplain and Protestant minister, Cmdr Warren Cuthriell, originally asked Rabbi Gittelsohn to deliver the memorial sermon. Cuthriell wanted all the fallen Marines (Protestant, Catholic and Jewish, black and white) to be honored in a single, nondenominational ceremony. However, according to Rabbi Gittelsohn's autobiography, the majority of Christian chaplains objected to having a rabbi preach over predominantly Christian graves. The Catholic chaplains, in keeping with church doctrine, opposed any form of joint religious service.

To his credit, Cuthriell refused to alter his plans. Gittelsohn, on the other hand, wanted to save his friend Cuthriell further embarrassment and so decided it was best not to deliver his sermon. Instead, three separate religious services were held.

At the Jewish service, to a congregation of 70 or so who attended, Rabbi Gittelsohn delivered the powerful eulogy he originally wrote for the combined service:

Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors generations ago helped in her founding. And other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores.

Here lie officers and men, Negroes and Whites, rich men and poor, together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed.

Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy! Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery.

To this then, as our solemn sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: To the right of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of White men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price.

We here solemnly swear this shall not be in vain. Out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.

Among Gittelsohn’s listeners were three Protestant chaplains so incensed by the prejudice voiced by their colleagues that they boycotted their own service to attend Gittelsohn’s.

One of them borrowed the manuscript and, unknown to Gittelsohn, circulated several thousand copies to his regiment. Some Marines enclosed the copies in letters to their families.

An avalanche of coverage was the result. Time published excerpts; the wire services spread the sermon even further. The entire sermon was inserted into the Congressional Record; the Army released the eulogy for short-wave broadcast to American troops throughout the world; and it has been read on many succeeding days that commemorate our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines..

It’s Veteran’s Day today – 62 years after Iwo Jima and the Rabbi’s sermon. Join me in thinking about those you know, who have served and are serving throughout the world, defending our freedoms. As long as we remember the names, they won’t fade.

Paul Hirsch Baron, Emmanuel Katz, Herman Eisenberg and Sam Slavik. Phil Slavik. Norman Sabel and Sherman Sabel. Joel Hirsch Goldberg. Thomas Biddulph, Richard Dailey, Richard Fox, Bill Gay and Richard Sutter. David Starr. Chris Hrabe. AJ Smith and Paul Hoven. Alan Vera. Nathanael Charles Yonka, Jr. Hoi Nguyen and Ellis Alexander. And the names from the Gunroom (you know who you are): Paul Johnson, KCMO, and “Charlezzzzz” Muñoz. And me.

Special thanks to Rabbi Leigh Lerner of Montreal, Canada; and the American Jewish Historical Society. Photo: Fifth Marine Division Cemetary, Iwo Jima.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Information Mismanagement*

The belt had broken on the household vacuum cleaner. The Husband knew that the part number was listed in the cleaner’s instruction manual.

Simple enough: find the manual, copy out the part number, and order it. The result would be a delivered part and a repaired vacuum cleaner. QED.

He looked for that manual in all the places where the couple filed paperwork; he was certain it was near to hand but couldn’t find it. He flipped through more files. When this failed, he called to his wife in the next room. “Dear, where’s the manual for the vacuum cleaner?”

The Wife responded, “Did you look in the file cabinet?”

“I’m in there right now.”

“It should be right in front of you,” said the Wife. “Did you look under ‘H’?”

“Huh?” The Husband shook his head. “Why not under ‘V’ for vacuum cleaner?”

“‘H’ – look under ‘H’,” the Wife called back.

The Husband wondered why the vacuum cleaner manual would be under ‘H’ - and then realized the Wife had filed the booklet under ‘H’ for ‘Hoover.’ And sure enough, he plucked out the ‘H’ file and found the manual.

He was quiet for a moment. Then: “Dear, you do realize that our vacuum cleaner is a Dyson?”

The withering silence was no more than he deserved.

*As told to Signalwriter. The Husband remains anonymous for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Elephant Brand

One of the world’s most famous brands – or mascots, take your pick – was born 133 years ago today. The Republican Party was symbolized as an elephant for the first time. (I have been from time to time associated with it myself.)

“The Third-Term Panic” by Thomas Nast originally appeared in Harper's Magazine on November 7th, 1874. You can read all about it on the magazine’s website. Most people won’t recall that America’s then-most-famous political cartoonist was commenting on the possibility of a third term for President Ulysses S Grant.

Depending on your POV, it’s still going strong. Check it out: CaféPress says it has “over 2080 unique, Republican elephant designs on more than 51100 T-Shirts and Gifts.” That’s a plethora of pachyderms.

Conjecture: Another way to build the strength of your own brand is to found a political party. Win elections. Don’t forget to involve the public by establish a “netroots” organization – a fine new term that’s rapidly replacing “grassroots.” Put Presidents in the White House.

The American press (including cartoonists) will do the rest. Honestly, there are some days when I think it has to be easier than marketing.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Database Synonyms?

Your help is urgently needed.

Semanticists, IT types, even followers of William Safire are required: Signalwriter seeks a synonym for “database.”

You can’t bend your elbow without smacking it on the word “database.” It occurs 12 times in an article in The Economist’s 29 September number; my favorite’s a paragraph about the emergence of a “database state.” In another case, one client’s rough draft used the word four times in two short sentences.

The lack of a synonym threatens us all (except, apparently, The Economist writers: The article actually reads extremely well and contributes the alternative “databank”).


No, you cannot offer “information silo.” It ain’t elegant. Unless I’ve missed a major source, I reckon a euphonious (nice-sounding) synonym seems to be among the missing.

I’ve trolled the Internet, wandering among online thesauruses – no luck to speak of. Try out The Visual Thesaurus (which is a mighty cute gimmick) and what you get is “database” surrounded by a modest galaxy of adjectival modifiers such as “computer” and “online.” Little help there…though it does take you from “information” to “skinny.”

Fingering through the modern mish-mash, I Googled up the National Science Foundation: One of the recent visions is that of Semantic Web, which proposed semantic annotation of data, so that programs can understand it, and help in making decisions. Right.

I even went to The Source: Mary Jo Martin, Database Goddess. After a long period of grappling with this major mystery, she asked: “Ummm, can I use two words? If I can, then I’d say Information Repository.” But, of course, observed Martin: “Richard would say that I couldn’t do that.” So the principal of Cynapsus, the marketing research firm, gave it her best consideration. After deconstructing the word and consulting with Bill’s Thesaurus in MS Word on the pieces, she offered three possibilities: The first is “factcenter.” This one is very to-the-point and descriptive, but boring. Then “statisticsource” – I love the alliteration with all those Ss rolling around. Of course, it would not be good for those with a lisp. Finally, there’s “figureheart” for the sentimentalists.

I’d enter the last one into the competition, for fun. Otherwise, can we hear a shout-out for “infosource” or “bytebank” as alternatives? Ought we to give “databank” a renewed push? I’m willing to take up the cudgels for a neologistic, pleasant-sounding synonym or two, to give doughty “database” some blessed relief.

We need the gifted Seamus Heaney, his art with “swan’s road” and “frothing wave-vat,” his supple word-hoard. A poet who can whip Beowulf into shape would be my perfect synonym-generating hero.

On the other hand, honest Anglo-Saxon may be helpless in the face of 21st Century complexity. What would Beowulf have made of “laptop?”

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Odile’s Mosaïque

For the American cousins of Odile Suganas, there’s good news and bad.

The good news: Suganas has begun a blog about what happened to her family (plus some of our) and French Jews generally during the years of the Holocaust. She, who spent so many years with UNESCO traveling the world, now travels to Poland and Lithuania, searching out the stories of our European family.

She has published a book, Mosaïque, about some of these travels and researches, with photographs of family members never seen before here in America, except perhaps by some of our very elderly relatives. Suganas visited with the Chicago part of the family last year, researching additional information. Several of us have a rough English manuscript of the book.

Now she continues to travel and lecture about the Holocaust. She’s a member of the French Committee of the Days of the Memory, which was founded on the 50th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto in 1943. And she blogs.

Oh – bad news. It’s in French. Some of the blog, also called “Mosaïque,” can be machine-translated; other parts are pdfs of articles and documents. But Francophone or not, check into this new blog. I think you’ll be able to get a flavor of what this very able relation of ours has to tell us and the world about a specially provocative and saddened part of Europe so many years ago.

Friday, November 02, 2007

DrillingInfo’s “Waltz”

Every year, DrillingInfo takes its show on the road and I got a chance to see one of the Houston iterations of its “Waltz Across the Patch” yesterday. As the company’s Director of Marketing would say, it was a good ‘ern.

It really is a form of dance, organizing a 10-city tour with a two-and-a-half-hour show twice a day at each stop. But as a talking platform of a particular type, getting the latest word about the company and its data products out to its customer base, it was also a neat, compact example of its type.

Doesn’t matter if you’re a large-scale exploration services company or a small G&G firm, you know that you have a stake in the usability of the products and services you work with.

You are stakeholders in the company(s) behind those products and services.

DrillingInfo has a superb open-source delivery platform for its extensive collection of land, well and production data. Director of Marketing & Planning Roger Edmondson made it clear at the outset that it was encouraging its users – landmen, exploration team members and deal-makers – to be “missionaries” for its subscription-based services. The audience responded in kind, with plenty of interaction with the speakers.

Then DrillingInfo’s CEO, Allen Gilmer, waltzed us through the company’s DI LandTrăC Unified Land and Exploration Suite and its Virtual Scout utility (which I think is particularly clever); and gave us a glimpse of the company’s forthcoming new DNA product. He tells good stories – which made it even more entertaining.

Gilmer made a significant point about oil and gas exploration: explorationists don’t take a second look at their existing properties because they’re too busy chasing new opportunities. Which means that, potentially, there’s a whole lot of production left on the table.

Well, this is really about stakeholder involvement. It’s clear that the DrillingInfo team has taken this to heart. Gilmer, Edmondson and the rest of the Austin-based team conducted a credible and well-organized event, putting their customers first on the dance card. Way to waltz, guys.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Chevron’s “Energyville”

“This is your city. How will you power it?”

A brief morning post, this, but Energyville came up in a discussion yesterday. Chevron introduced its online energy game, developed by The Economist Group, this past September, supported by a portentous two-and-a-half minute spot on the CBS star-spot, “60 Minutes.”

According to a Chevron news release: The “Power of Human Energy” campaign is an evolution of Chevron’s “Real Issues” campaign…a Web site…to raise awareness and encourage discussion about the major issues facing the energy industry.

The Washington Post also points to efforts by other “Big Oil” companies like ExxonMobil and BP, wondering if any of these efforts to involve publics in a world-encompassing energy dialogue will work. It admits: But few have matched the new Chevron campaign for polish or emotion, or for its ambitious bid to recast itself as an environmentally responsible corporate citizen. Its creator said it was more of a “rallying cry” than an advertisement.

I call it an outstanding effort to engage and interactive with all the stakeholders. A similar note can be read on, pointing to the “online gaming space.”

Even if there is an occasional kink in the system (Energyville won’t let me register with my real name, for example), the ability to involve yourself and your colleagues in juggling the energy demands of an entire city is pretty cool. Even better, there is already plenty of back-and-forth activity about various kinds of energy from a wide variety of people.

So, as the ads’ tagline reads, “Play it. Power it. Discuss it.” This is one online game that could make a believer out of you when it comes to stakeholder involvement.

More to come on this one, I think.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Baltika WOM

You’re gonna start thinking that Signalwriter is a beer blog – back-to-back posts about the world’s oldest beverage and all. Sue me.

This is really about word-of-mouth, WOM for the uninitiated.

I ran across and sampled Baltika (“The famous beer of Russia”) when Barbara and I had dinner at a new Houston restaurant, Bohemia. Don’t rush, despite the B4-U-EAT reviews; but it had several varieties of this Russian beer. I had the Baltika No. 9. It turns out that [a] the number on the label indicates the alcoholic strength of the beer and [b] the Baltika line includes 2-9. No. 9 was a fine pale beer…and strong like bull. Reminded me of a Bulgarian beer I had in Athens last year, but crisper.

Last week, we attended the birthday party of artist Howard Sherman, at his Commerce Street Art Warehouse studio. We brought some beer along for the party and gifted him with a smuggled-in bottle of He’Brew Monumental Jewbilation beer.

He pulled out a couple of bottles of Baltika No. 4 which is a dark beer with 5.6% alcohol: very tasty. I like a dark beer. He said a friend of his turned him on to it and he’s been drinking it for the past few weeks. There’s a No. 6, a porter that I’d like to try, and No. 8 is Baltika’s wheat beer. (Jewish beer, Russian beer...maybe we can have a progrom.)

Off I went to the website (by Web Design New York), which has a pleasant Flash opening with balalaika music. Along with Baltika Beer history and descriptions, there’s a long segment from CNBC’s “Lunch Break.” Somebody really did a great PR job on this: the talking heads taste-tested Baltika against Heineken and Beck’s on camera and had some fun doing it.

So here’s this broad line of beers from Russia. I get the impression that its US marketing is mostly WOM, backed up with a good website and some decent public relations activity. There’s an opportunity for premium imports here in America, though beer sales are “sluggish” domestically, according last week’s Wall Street Journal. The same article (October 18, 2007) notes that Baltika could end up being owned by the giant Danish brewer Carlsburg, because of consolidation efforts.

How come? Economics. Jean-Francois van Boxmeer, Heineken’s chief executive, said in an interview last month that the beer industry today takes so much capital, it isn’t worth the expense being in many of the world’s markets unless your company is either the No. 1 or No. 2 player.

Baltika is the No. 1 selling beer in Russia. Its website proclaims, “…the OAO Baltika Brewery is in no way inferior to the world’s leaders in beer production.” I suppose the question is, will WOM be enough to make Baltika Nos. 2-9 a bigger player in our market? Likely not. But if the brand gets big-brewer horsepower (and advertising) behind it, there’s no reason why it can’t be right up there with the other premium Euro-imports. Besides, it’s good beer.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Orange Miller?

Signalwriter thought it was a Halloween promotion: the Miller High Life beer can in orange and black. It feels like Halloween, complete with the famous “Girl in the Moon” symbol; she looks somewhat like a witch sitting on the crescent, that age-old symbol of the Old Religion. This is actually a very attractive can in traditional trick-or-treat dress.

It’s really all about this year’s hunting season, part of a special promo for hunters, announced back at the end of August:

Since its introduction in 1903, Miller High Life has joined countless hunting trips throughout the United States, providing high-quality refreshment as hunters swap stories after a day in the woods, field or marsh. This fall, Miller High Life is donning its own blaze orange attire and hunting-themed packaging to make sure consumers are properly equipped for their post-hunt celebrations.

To this day, I’m more familiar with the clear glass bottles (my daddy used to drink Miller High Life, way back before “Miller Time.” Miller Brewing Company of Milwaukee was a house staple in those days, a regular part of the Paul Baron Saturday lunch.)

Any road, Miller intro’d a complete package for hunters – the carton has a hunting motif and the cans are supposed to be blaze orange. Interesting, because the photograph Miller itself released makes the can look golden.

According to High Life senior brand manager Kevin Oglesby, quoted in the company news release, “Miller High Life has been closely associated with the outdoors and hunting for more than 100 years, so this initiative is truly a reflection of many of our consumers, and a way to acknowledge their support of Miller High Life.”

“Plus, now it will be even easier to spot a can of Miller High Life in a hunter’s crowded refrigerator.” That’s one option, though it wouldn’t have occurred to me…I’ve never had any trouble locating the beer on any hunting trip I’ve ever been on.

Better yet, because the orange-and-black cans really do carry the Halloween spirit forward, I’m thinking I’ll get a couple dozen and use them as handouts when the little Britney Spearses and Spider Men come ringing our doorbell on October 31st.

“Trick or treat,” they’ll say. And I’ll deposit a beautifully themed can of Miller High Life in every sack and bag. Conscientious parents, checking their kids’ take for the evening, will appreciate that – for them – it really is Miller Time.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Tree Assignment

This is a test of the Emergency Poetry Writing System.
Your assignment is “Tree,”
The thing you never hope to see
Something more beautiful than.

You plain don’t see a tree the way you see a cloud.
You’re never on your back beneath one
Thinking of the leaves’ mast: There’s a rabbit.
There’s a running man.

You do hear it warning, though, on windy days.
Shaking its head to slip the blow, it hopes.
What can it do but stand tall, take it
As only a big tree can.

If this had been an actual emergency, your assignment would be “God.”

Copyright © 2003, Richard Laurence Baron. Photo courtesy of University of California at Santa Cruz, with thanks.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Bean Price

“I hear you have a potent magic,” Shabaka finally said to the far older man in front of the hillside cave.

Shabaka was dark; the ancient darker still. By firelight, half their bodies were in shadow but their faces gleamed as they drank beer and made polite conversation. There was silence for a time. Then: “If I had such magic,” answered the old man, “would I reveal it to every traveler who passes by?”

Long before he was King of Nubia, Shabaka walked the length and breadth of Kush, from Abu Simbel to Meroe. He met many people and listened carefully to many tales, always enjoying a good one himself. “I just wondered if there was a story in it.”

“Well. A good story is a different matter. I do have a powerful magic,” the old man began. “I have it from my own travels across the Sunrise Sea, in a land where the men and women take small berries from trees.”

“A magic plant then?” asked Shabaka. “Not the plant, but the berries of the tree – the beans,” replied the oldster, turning his face away from the fire. “They are much stronger than this beer we have been drinking.”

“You have shared your beer with me,” replied Shabaka. “Will you share your magic?”

The old man sighed heavily. “It will take some time to prepare. Tell an old man a story and you will get your magic.”

So while the oldster puttered about in the cave, Shabaka told about the women of the Lower Nile and their strange ways (one woman in particular). As the man filled a pot with water and put it on the fire, Shabaka described the unsettling animal-headed gods of other lands.

Finally, the old man threw out Shabaka’s beer and filled the cup with a hot, dark brew. “It will at first seem bitter, but then you’ll know its magic,” he said. Shabaka sniffed the cup and a wonderful smell filled his senses. Before he took his first sip, he poured a tiny quantity on the ground – “For our own gods,” he said.

Then he drank. The liquid was bitter alright, but not unpleasant. Being young, though, he drank off the entire cup. The old man refilled it and Shabaka drank more. “I can feel it! I can kill a lion tonight – maybe two!”

“The bean gives power indeed,” cautioned the old man. “But it comes with a price, youngster. Two prices, really. Two curses.”

“What are the curses?” asked Shabaka, who could feel the effects of the brew in his fingers and his toes. His senses were suddenly sharper. “Have you poisoned me, a guest at your fire?”

“No, no – no poison, but there are curses nonetheless,” answered the man. “It is late. We should sleep now and soon you’ll see what I mean.”

The two men lay on the ground near the fire and closed their eyes to sleep. Shabaka turned on his side. Turned back the other way. Moved a small pebble from under his back. Rolled over on his belly, then on to his back again. The moon rose and set and still Shabaka could find no rest, no sleep. He sat up suddenly, realizing that he’d been restless and wakeful through the entire night. In the gray of dawn, he could see the old man resting on an elbow, staring at him across the dead fire.

“I didn’t sleep.” I found no rest,” Shabaka mumbled.

“That’s the first curse,” said the old man. “The beans rob men of their sleep. Come, we will find something to eat and welcome the new day. You’ll feel better with something besides my magic in your belly.”

As Shabaka groaned to his feet and tried to shake off the effects of a sleepless night, he asked. “That’s quite a price to pay, old man, to have my sleep so disturbed. Can the second curse be worse than the first?”

“Oh yes,” replied the oldster with a tiny smile. “In all your travels, have you ever heard of a cardiologist?”

“Coffee Cup II” by Mary Beth Zeitz, from All rights reserved.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Spice Islands

I’m a fan of companies who use their own products in creative ways. I wasn’t aware that Spice Islands was doing this ‘til Barbara showed me one of its new ads in Cooking Pleasures magazine. The company has launched a fresh print and online campaign targeting “consumers who love to cook,” according to Amy Corr, writing for MediaPost.

In the ad above, Ed Tadiello used Spice Island products like curry, turmeric, cumin and mustard to create “Curry Heat,” complete with palm trees, sand dunes and a pair of tiny camels. (You can see a video of artist Tadiello at work on the current Spice Islands website.) The copy is punchy-quick: “Spices so intense you can taste the world in a single teaspoon.”

The advertising campaign was created by a great, long-time agency, Cramer-Krasselt in Milwaukee. It’s supposed to drive traffic to a redesigned website that’s set to relaunch 15th October.

I hope they hurry: two years back, brand blogger Robert Roth nutshelled his thinking about the then-new company tagline, “What the world tastes like.”

So why do I like their tag line so much? First, it elevates the Spice Islands brand position, differentiating Spice Island spices from commodity spice brands. Second, it delivers the Spice Islands brand promise in a smart way. Third, and perhaps most important, the tag line is clever without being corny or awkward.

But he hit one nail on the head when he wondered why the heck Spice Islands didn’t use the tag line anywhere on its website. So far, it still doesn’t.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Paul Progresses

After years in the Houston market, art director Paul Leigh has progressed to the Northeast:

Here's a photo of me in front of the Total Wine sign outside my office door. I’m loving my job. Don’t mind the early morning (point me to the nearest Starbucks) or the dressing up part. People are really nice. Very diverse group.

He’s moved to the Washington, DC area and gone in-house, putting his creative talent to work for Total Wine & More.

Until he took the job, I hadn’t heard of “America’s Wine Superstore.” It doesn’t have units in Texas yet. But that’s what it is: a big-box operation with each of its stores carrying approximately 8,000 different types of wine, 2,000 types of spirits and 1,000 different beers. You can imagine that the last part caught my attention, but the retailer really does have a handle on grape products: their wine consultants are knowledgeable and passionate about wine. Opinion: Leigh will add strong talent to the superstore’s bench.

Having been in Houston for so many years, Leigh was (and still is) one of my favorite art directors. For those of you with good memories, he and I created the award-winning ad campaign for Aquila Energy pre-crash – he’s the one that talked us into using an outstanding German illustrator for the ads. We branded, re-branded and marketed a lot of companies when we worked at The Quest Business Agency together. He created a dozen logos that generated high visibility and more awards. I’m grateful to have had him batting art director and designer for me.

He’s spent the last several years working on Mister William, a children’s character with a rich sense of learning and childhood wonder (if I do say so); and at other design firms here in town.

It’s hard to write an au revoir (not a goodbye) that doesn’t sound like a puff piece, as you can read. I don’t mean to do him that disservice. Paul has been a friend as well as a colleague. His recent note to me concluded with the best line of all:

What’s the best way to ship a case of He'brew beer?

Keep in touch, Paul: live long and prosper.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Purina® Diet*

I have two dogs and I was buying a large bag of Purina at Wal-Mart and was in line to check out.

A woman behind me asked if I had a dog.

On impulse, I told her no: I was starting The Purina Diet again, though I probably shouldn’t because I’d ended up in the hospital last time, but that I’d lost 50 pounds before I awakened in an intensive care ward with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms.

I told her that it was essentially a perfect diet. The way that it works is to load your pants pockets with Purina nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry. The food is nutritionally complete so I was going to try it again. (I have to mention here that practically everyone in the line was by now enthralled with my story, particularly a guy who was behind her.)

Horrified, she asked if I’d ended up in the hospital in that condition because I had been poisoned.

I said, “No. I was sitting in the street licking my balls and a car hit me.”

I thought one guy was going to have a heart attack – he was laughing so hard as he staggered out the door.

Stupid lady...why else would I buy dog food?!?

*This is a true story, according to its contributor. He has asked to remain anonymous. See how urban legends get started?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

WEDGE Revamped

The new website for WEDGE Group has just gone live. It’s handsome and, if I do say so, elegant in form and simplicity. (I’m the co-creator and copywriter.)

Napoleon’s epigram about time is quoted often: “Ask me for anything but…” It’s sadly and particularly true of the investment business, especially in publicly held companies. For these unfortunates, the next quarter’s performance is far more important to the stock analysts on The Street than long-term returns.

Privately held WEDGE Group uses time to distinguish itself from other investment firms. It constitutes a unique selling proposition, a rarity in today’s financial world where millions of dollars are spent on hammering common-or-garden brand statements onto customers’ mental church doors.

To realize WEDGE Group’s USP, we combined outstanding input from the company’s management and transformed the brand presentation – while maintaining the brand itself.

“Time is the most valuable asset,” according to WEDGE. “Time enables its companies to gain noteworthy competitive advantages and achieve strong returns.”

Together, designer Kay Krenek and I created a high-concept website that relies on clean white space, dramatic visuals and stately copy that continually reveal brand attributes in layered detail, a scalpel instead of a hammer. It’s the kind of brand image quite a number of companies would like to have but don’t always achieve…because they’re rushing to sell something.

WEDGE Group’s “gift of time” is an unusual characteristic, a terrific contrast to the ordinary pace of commerce.

Krenek, whom I am fortunate to have as a design colleague, found the most marvelous clockwork photograph for the home page (as you can see). Her sensibility carries the website through a set of pages wherein we concentrate on imagery and brand-related text instead of overwhelming details and tricks. Bob Marberry is the web developer. The result is a purposeful re-presentation of the WEDGE Group.

Please: Review the new site and tell me what you think it does for the WEDGE brand.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

“Tinieblo” Explained

The Starbucks prize for uncovering the meaning of tinieblo goes to NYC’s Peter Yonka – my brother-in-law, no less. Congratulations!

Jose Jaramillo Mejia is a columnist for the Colombian newspaper La Patria. I get the impression he’s this paper’s version of William Safire, writing about the meaning of words and phrases.

His article covers the meaning of tinieblo in detail: “a furtive lover of a lady” according to my machine translation. Señor Jaramillo calls it a neologism – a new coinage – with roots in the Latin word for “darkness,” the dark, lack of light.

Paraphrasing his column, ordinary lovers and young men are different from this guy: El Tinieblo does not fall in love with anybody; nobody falls in love with him. It is a pastime, a resource for sexual gratification without roots or commitments.

Unless Mexican Spanish is wildly different than Colombian Spanish – which it may well be – we’re drinking a mezcal whose brand name implies a Don Juan, a Casanova….perhaps a little bit more. (No, I don’t feel any different, thanks.)

Señor Jaramillo nominates tinieblo for the Royal Academy’s official dictionary of the Spanish language with the meaning of the occasional lover. Uh-huh. Peter deserves today’s award for “best research.” Happy drinking.

Photo by Corazón Girl with thanks.