Thursday, March 22, 2007

Blood Treasure

See the ad above? It just appeared in Medical Journal Houston. It announces the upcoming AMA Healthcare SIG event, April 4th, 2007.

This case study is so good, it’ll make the blood rush to your head. (Sorry, couldn’t help it.) So make your reservation now – don’t be put off by that bland online title. You are going to have fun!

Our speaker is a treasure: Annetta Morris oversees The Blood Center’s successful Commit For Life blood donor program. She’s one of the most engaging people I’ve ever met.

So you’re going to hear about the Commit For Life program, that uses [1] regional marketing research to develop The Blood Center’s integrated marketing plan, and [2] a series of tactics that has boosted the number of donations and prompted current donors to donate more.

If marketing’s in your blood, you’ll find out how The Blood Center keeps on persuading donors to help people throughout the region. You’ll discover how to “envision” a comprehensive marketing approach to a core audience, whether it’s for external (public) or internal (employee) use.

And you’ll learn more about executing such a marvelous integrated marketing plan.

Morris has 15 years in the blood-banking industry, including experience in donor collections, donor recruitment and information systems. She’s using this experience to help The Blood Center increase the retention rate of donors…and she’s going to share her story with us on April 4th.

Morris’s department is responsible for recruiting and educating donors, volunteers and donor groups: a huge job. Under her team’s direction, The Blood Center partners with businesses, religious organizations, community groups and educational institutions in the Gulf Coast region to permanently increase the blood supply in more than 220 health care institutions in a 25-county area. It’s an award-winning marketing program that’s being copied all over the country.

I alerted you last month that this was coming. Now I’m throwing some red-blooded promotional language at you, so you’ll make your attendance April’s don’t-miss thing.

(And I’m not even close to running out of bad puns.) So come on down to Trevisio’s in the Texas Medical Center on Wednesday, April 4th. I’ll see you there.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Weightlifter Bob

We spent the weekend visiting with Bob and Edith Fusillo in Atlanta. He is the “Weightlifter Bob” of song and story. We spent much of the time sitting on their back porch, talking and eating and drinking…a real getaway.

If you haven’t been following this particular story line, Weightlifter Bob will travel to Kazincbarcika, Hungary in August for the IWF-World Masters Weightlifting Championship:

At 80 years old, I’m reportedly the oldest super-heavy weightlifter in the world. I didn’t start lifting until I was 67. Since then I’ve won dozens and dozens of medals in competitions all over the US. In 1999, five years after taking up the sport, I won a gold medal in the World Masters Championships competition, in Glasgow.

Now I’ve qualified for the World Championships to be held in August, 2007. Few 80-year-olds compete. It’s traditionally dominated by Russians, Hungarians, Cubans and Chinese, but I think I can bring back both a gold medal and a new world record. I already hold three Pan-American records and five American records. To win a Worlds at 80 would be a major thrill.

Read the entire “Weightlifter Bob” story here – it’s a blog we keep up to pass the word about Bob and Kazincbarcika – this oddly named city of 32,000 in the far northeast of Hungary. Barbara and I had a terrific visit with them…always do.

Bob’s wearing a special T-shirt, obtained since the last time we went to Atlanta. Missed out on Nempnett Thrubwell? The entire silly story is here. (Edith is the one not wearing the T-shirt.) Thanks so much to both of them for a wonderful time.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Old Forester

Is this brand story true? Brown-Forman Distillers Company of Louisville, KY, has been running an advertising campaign for Old Forester, which the company says is “America’s First Bottled Bourbon,” complete with a trademark.

The company has got this story behind the campaign: In 1870, George Garvin Brown, a young pharmaceuticals salesman in Louisville, Kentucky, saw the need for a consistently high-quality whisky that met medicinal standards. With $5,500 in saved and borrowed money, Brown and his half brother started J.T.S. Brown and Bro. They sold Old Forester Bourbon Whisky exclusively in sealed glass bottles to assure its quality.

It’s the kind of classically designed campaign that has come to characterize the upscale liquor market – lots of emphasis on heritage and purity and very nice looking with it. Brown-Forman is working on the brand. But…is the claim factual? I seemed to recall seeing Civil War-era engravings with bottles of bourbon (so labeled) on shelves – that would pre-date the foundation of the Old Forester brand story.

I tried contacting Brown-Forman…got nothing.

Fortunately, the people at my own favorite bourbon company, Jim Beam, were much more attentive. They asked their PR agency to work the problem and I got an outstanding call from Layton Meng, one of the Directors at Qorvis working on the Jim Beam account. (She left a message that I didn’t get immediately, driving through the middle of southern Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Swamp at the time as I was.)

Meng had spoken with Jerry Dalton, Jim Beam’s Master Distiller. His research says that Abram M Bininger & Co. was actually the oldest known source of bottled bourbon: he started doing it in 1848. Nevertheless, it is Brown that’s recognized in the industry for being the first distiller to mass-produce and sell branded bourbon in bottles.

So the answer is, yes…Old Forester is the first bottled bourbon brand. Brown-Forman is correct and the story on the Old Forester website is a good one. (Always tell good stories about your brand.)

For me, though, the stars of this one are Jim Beam and Qorvis – so my special appreciation to Dalton and Meng: more responsive to customers, thank you very much. It’s way early for a drink, but mine will be Jim Beam when the time comes, not Old Forester. Maybe I should have used a photograph of a Beam bourbon bottle instead.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Pumpkin Centrism

“Baptist Pumpkin Center” is today’s subject. I’m not the only person to notice the sign on I-12, the one that Barbara and I pass once or twice a year going around the New Orleans area, on our way to and from Atlanta. Thousands of drivers see it coming and going and it’s too much fun to pass up. Bill Rempel posted about it briefly here.

That would be Exit 35 on this short “intrastate” Interstate. It really does mark Pumpkin Road on the west side of Hammond (or Ponchatoula, depending on your point of view. Whatever.) It’s likely there are Baptists on Pumpkin here – although you’re more likely to find a bunch of them on Pecan here; Immanuel Baptist Church is on Pecan Street in Hammond.

Friends, I think today’s text is about opportunity. The Exit 35 sign is pretty specific: this here’s a Baptist Pumpkin Center. Not your Methodist or even your high-church Episcopalian Pumpkin Center. Certainly not your namby-pamby, ecumenical “Christian” Pumpkin Center. Down here north of New Orleans, there’s room in folks’ hearts for just one center of squash fruit, or Cucurbita Cucurbitaceae as pumpkinados persist in saying, and that’s the Baptist Pumpkin Center.

(Sigh. A pumpkinado is a person who’s a squash enthusiast – a fan – but that’s for another post.)

Other religions could have the own pumpkin centers. I’m surprised that the Catholic Church hasn’t already established its own pumpkin centers on a worldwide basis. There’d be a good deal more ceremony attached to these. Perhaps Brandeis University has established its own pumpkin center, a Jewish pumpkin center; or, since there’s already been a considerable effort to plant trees in Israel, a global effort to establish pumpkin centers in the Holy Land will soon appear in synagogue religious schools throughout the US. Then the issue of whether the patches would be Orthodox or Reform pumpkin centers would rear its unattractive head…pumpkins are kosher for Passover as far as I know.

Muslim pumpkin centers might suffer from the same kind of doctrinal split: Sunni or Shia? Buddhists might welcome the peaceful nature of their own pumpkin patches, wherein the Eight-fold Way could be contemplated.

I do not advocate proselytizing insofar as pumpkins are concerned – no. A person’s pumpkin preference ought to be his or her own, I say. So really, Pumpkin Centers could be like those all-faith chapels one sees in airports (praying that you aren’t trapped on a delayed flight can address any form of deity…and pumpkin).

It’s possible to blame this all on Charlie Brown and Linus’s search for the Great Pumpkin. But I’m thinking that “Pumpkin Centrism” is older than that, rooted deeply in America’s spiritual reawakening in the early 19th Century. And the Baptist Pumpkin Center in Louisiana is one of the last visible remnants of this nationwide urge toward gourdish worship practices.

Well, I thought this would be a good day to bring it all to your attention – and my thanks to “Lyria” (T A Noonan) for the photo. May the Great Pumpkin watch over you and keep you, no matter in what Center you worship.

Friday, March 09, 2007

American Chocolate

“Say, do you have a Chocolate cell phone?” You bet, buddy. Just click here and Creative Chocolates of Vermont will have one delivered – no contract, no hype:

This cellular phone is solid milk chocolate with white chocolate buttons (with all your basic keys). Designed to look just like a real cell phone, this delicious electrical wonder is the same size as a normal cell phone (5 inches x 2 inches x 1/2 inch; with an additional 1 inch antenna).

Please note that it was originally designed to compliment the company’s Roadside Construction Cone Basket – I gotta get me one of those. The company was created in 1982…so it’s safe to say it’s found a sweet spot in the choco-biz.

Still have a yen for a chocolate phone (aside from LG’s fancy model)? Just click here (see No. 17) or here. Personally, I think the Vermont company has the tastiest-looking technological treat. Personally, I think the Vermont company has the tastiest-looking technological treat.

Think of this post as an expansion on the recently expressed idea that someone may look at your cell phone and say, “Wow! That’s chocolate!” LG isn’t the only chocolate phone provider in the market. Think American: there’s a whole…candy store…out there for you to explore.

Coming soon: chocolate skulls! Ooooh!

Photo courtesy of Creative Chocolates of Vermont, with thanks.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Thermos® Lives

The Thermos brand lives on, registered trademark and all.

In Sunday’s post, I began talking about brands – and the possibility of losing them. I mentioned escalator and cellophane. Tim Orr, principal of Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc. in Nashville, wrote, “One was Thermos. In fact, Thermos deliberately tried to make its trademark a noun, synonymous with vacuum storage bottle. When a challenge finally arose, in another manufacturer's wish to call their product a ‘thermos’ bottle, it went to court, and Thermos lost.” More than a few authorities consider the trademark vacated. But it seems to have more lives than one.

When a brand is more than 100 years old, compressing its ups and downs into a few ‘graphs is daunting. The company, the brand and its products have had a varied history – not least of which was seeing the “Thermos” brand become generic.

Just Google up the name and see how many references you get using “thermos” with a small “t.” The company has also changed ownership more than once.

For example (to quote the United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit): In January 1989, Household International, Inc. (“Household”), decided to divest certain assets, either in spin-offs to shareholders or through outright sales to third parties. The Thermos Company (“Thermos”) was one of the subsidiaries formed as part of Household’s reorganization plan…In June 1989, after an intensive weekend negotiation, Household entered into a 139-page purchase agreement (“purchase agreement”), to sell Thermos to Nippon Sanso K.K…(the latter two entities collectively “Nippon”).

Here’s where you can find a goodly part of the company’s history, which started with the invention of the the “vacuum flask.” It was first manufactured for commercial use in 1904, when two German glass blowers formed Thermos GmbH. They held a contest to name the vacuum flask and a resident of Munich submitted “Thermos,” derived from the Greek word therme meaning “heat.”

The company, based in Rolling Meadows, IL, is still part of Nippon Sanso Corporation and operates as an LLC. A relatively new management team has been working overtime not only to modernize its product lines, but to vigorously re-establish the brand. (The company has five lines, under Thermos®, Thermos® NissanTM, Element 5®, Raya® and Foogo®.)

Wheatley & Timmons, a brand-oriented PR agency in Chicago currently handles the Thermos account. Rich Timmons, one of the principals, told me, “The current management has done an absolutely stellar job of reinforcing the brand strength and building relevance in terms of the contemporary relevance.”

As demonstrated over the last five years particularly, the Thermos management team, led by Rick Dias, is extraordinarily brand-conscious. They understand the company’s point of difference in being the leaders in insulated vacuumware*.

Timmons says that Thermos has dominant awareness in the category and a leading market share. You’ll find a case history of what he calls “brand recharge” on the Wheatley & Timmons website, under “Case Studies.” You want to see outstanding brand revival in action, click on “Watch the Video.” Outstanding work. (And no, I don’t think it’s a sin to applaud a job well done.)

Another correspondent, marketing manager Ryan Libson in Minnesota, wrote about the previous post, “The greatest aspiration of a brand should be to become a noun. What a problem to have.”
I don’t think the Thermos LLC management team agrees with him.

*Interesting word, “vacuumware.” Google it and you’ll find that the Top 3 mentions are attached to Thermos Nissan. At the bottom of each web page, Thermos LLC notes, “Thermos is a registered trademark in over 115 countries.” Special thanks to Rich Timmons and Bob Wheatley; and Abbie Knoepfler at Thermos LLC.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Free Chocolate

I suppose it’s inevitable that Barbara and I would be exposed as the older-than-Pizza-Hut’s-Market people that we are. We both misunderstood the flyer that came attached to the pizza delivered to our door last night. A bright green oblong was titled thusly in great big red letters: TURN THIS CERTIFICATE INTO A FREE* CHOCOLATETM by LG.

A great big Pizza Hut logo was right underneath, followed by tiny little type with double asterisks that said, “See back for details and restrictions.”

Both of us thought there was some sort of chocolate candy on offer. Being fond of it, I read a bit further and discovered that Pizza Hut was promoting the new cellphone by LG, in conjunction with Verizon Wireless. If you buy a “Cheesy Bites” or any large pizza, and if you activate a two-year customer agreement with the aforesaid wireless service provider, you can get this neat new gizmo.

Two challenges confront me about this. First, I was hoping for chocolate, the real stuff, sweet and likely not good for me. I’m not the only one who misunderstood this offer right off the top of the box:

“I didn't see the Verizon part of the title at first which led me to believe that Pizza Hut was unveiling a new telephone-shaped dessert,” posted by mst3kzz on Fat; and “I thought at first I was getting a chocolate phone I could eat,” posted by BoNg420, same place.

Okay – I’m out of the swim when it comes to new technologies and forgot that “Chocolate” is one of the new, cute brand names that are floating around in the marketplace. (One look at the people pictured on the Pizza Hut website assures me that I am at least 30 years outside Pizza Hut’s demographic.)

Second, though, I wonder about trademark issues. I have always been taught (and have therefore generally practiced) that a trademark is an adjective, to be used when defining a noun. Here, “Chocolate” – even when followed by a TM – is used as a noun. A careful reader would discover the adjectival usage only in the fifth line of extraordinarily tiny type on the back of the flyer: “Get a free LG Chocolate phone…”

“Escalator” and “Cellophane” lost their trademark status because these words became so well known that they were universally used as nouns. Johnson & Johnson almost lost “Band-Aid” the same way, and went to extraordinary lengths to begin protecting the trademark, even changing its wonderful jingle at the time.

Today, J&J carefully refers to its product as BAND-AID® BRAND ADHESIVE BANDAGES.

J&J does it; Coca-Cola doesn’t. Neither does LG or even Pizza Hut, itself a registered trademark. Who’s right? Well – of course it’s the lawyers…whom in 30+ years of advertising experience I’ve never known to be consistent.

The Federal government, which grants trademarks, doesn’t appear to issue a standard in this regard. But the HTML Writers Guild does state, “A trademark or service mark is always an adjective – never a noun or a verb – and always begins with a capital letter.” And the danger of misuse is worth quoting from this website:

While these distinctions may sound like insignificant details, consider the plight of Otis Elevator Company. Years ago, that company produced an advertisement with a similar error in the copy, certainly a detail nobody deemed momentous at the time. However, that one sentence in that one ad helped Otis lose its trademark: Escalator. (See my mention above.) So now any manufacturer of moving staircases can call their products escalators. You’ll want to avoid making this costly mistake with your trademarks, so if in doubt, err on the side of over-protection.

So I ask LG, Pizza Hut and Verizon Wireless: What’s your thinking here? Any answers? I’d appreciate hearing the rationale for presuming that “Chocolate” is anything other than a sweet.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Cigar Rhymes

Way back about 18 months ago, I ran across some verses I’d written during one of my cigar phases and published them here under the title “Stogie Limericks.” I found a couple of more today, so they’re my last burnt offerings from the old days. I promise.

The “doper” tribute:
Said an aficionado named Stilla,
“Cigar-smoking’s really a thrilla.
I get a big rush
From my head to my tush.
At this rate, who needs sensimilla?”

And the “racy” one:
An I-talian Miss known as Mona
Dated only big wheels from Verona.
Said, “In choice of erection,
I’ve got a selection:
Demi-tasse – Robusto – Corona.”

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ashby’s Joke

A couple made a deal that whoever died first would come back and inform the other of the afterlife. Their biggest fear was that there was no afterlife.

After a long life, the husband was the first to go. True to his word he made contact, his ghostly voice whispering in her ear: “Mary. Mary.”

“Is that you, Fred?”

“Yes, I've come back like we agreed.”

“What's it like?”

“Well, I get up in the morning, I have sex, I have breakfast, off to the golf course, I have sex, I bathe in the sun, and then I have sex twice. I have lunch, another romp around the golf course, then sex pretty much all afternoon. After supper, golf course again. Then have sex until late at night. The next day it starts again.”

“Oh, Fred you surely must be in Heaven.”

“Not exactly. I'm a rabbit in Suffolk.”

With thanks to Paul Ashby in the UK, whose blog is about a completely different subject (mostly).

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Monika Maeckle

Ha! Thank you for the kind words – and for sending it to me in a very Web 1.0 email format! Why didn't you use my picture? ;-)

That’s the note from Monika Maeckle responding to yesterday’s Signalwriter post about the Business Wire seminar (see immediately below). It’s a fair cop: I “shoulda, coulda, woulda” included Monika’s photo.

She’s a great story-teller and she should be…prior to joining Business Wire, she spent more than 20 years in media and marketing; had her own PR shop, the Brava Agency, in San Antonio; and before that she was a reporter in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Mexico City.

Story-telling runs in the family. More than a decade ago, in December, 1998, San Antonio Express-News reporter Philip True vanished during a solo backcountry trek in western Mexico’s Twisted Serpent Canyon, a 150-mile long gash that twists and plunges through the heart of the Sierra Madre. The story of True’s disappearance was followed as closely from Houston as it was from San Antonio.

Five days later True’s editor, Robert Rivard, was part of a small search party that, nearly miraculously, tracked a trail of feathers that had leaked from True’s sleeping bag to find his hidden grave. Rivard is Maeckle’s husband; his book about True’s disappearance is a real-life thriller.

Ms Maeckle, my apologies. Your picture appears upper left.