Friday, February 29, 2008

Laptopism Convert

Dammit, Gary, the thing worked just the way you said it would.

Years of resisting the pull of a laptop have disappeared in just a couple of uses, so it’s good thing TFW Computers built it for me.

All its innards appear to be operating. Yesterday, though, was a bit humbling. Meeting with a client in Park 10, both he and I brought our laptops to the conference room – that’s when the room arranger told us the space didn’t have WiFi. , Sure enough, the automatic-wireless-network-seeker or whatever you call it told me in a dialogue box that there was no WiFi capability. The client asked if the company computer specialist could do anything for us – his office was just down the hall three doors.

We powered up the computers and started talking; I could see the computer guy walk out of his office, step up to the conference room door and ask, “Don’t you guys see the cables? They’re right there on the floor.”

While the client and I looked at each other like the instantaneous idjits we were, the computer guy politely picked up the in-room computer cables and plugged one into each of our laptops. While we stammered out thank-yous, he left the room with the kind of over-the-shoulder grin IT professionals reserve for the hopelessly maladroit.

Still, having tested it at Starbucks as well, the talks-into-thin-air business works just fine. The itsy-bitsy picture-taking camera thingy functions as it’s supposed to. And I must say that both the size (12.1” LCD) and the color (mine’s the high-gloss yellow one, remember?) have generated a lot of positive, even admiring comments, especially from colleagues of the graphic design persuasion.

I’m uncertain why I am so pleased that the notebook computer functions as advertised. But I’m a believer now. Thanks to you and the TFW gang for building it so neatly. All the best for Leap-Day…RLB.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Gordon Gorrie

“The only problem with press releases is that they go to the press.”

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Flunking Ozarka

I’m going to ask Ozarka® Brand Natural Spring Water one more time: Please sell me just one of your Bottle Mate® XL water-bottle carriers. Here an extra opportunity to be responsive to your customers (well, me anyway).

I am getting older – you probably didn’t know this. As large as I am, I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t easily wrestle with the 5-gallon bottles (40 lbs or so each) in which Ozarka delivers water to us. The Ozarka routeman leaves them at the front door; our dispenser is at the back of the house.

Yesterday, I saw our routeman, Alex, use this really neat plastic handle to move the bottles. The specialized, easy-to-use tool is made of nylon and glass-reinforced polymers and it slips over the neck of the bottle so someone can just lift it with one hand. The name “Bottle Mate XL” is molded right into the handle. This is some good trick. I immediately wanted one of my own.

I asked Alex where I could buy one; he answered that it was issued to him by the company, it was the only one he had. He didn’t think the company sold them, and the only thing he could suggest was to call Ozarka’s 800 number. (BTW, Alex humped those bottles to the back of the house – the kind of nice gesture I’ve come to expect from Ozarka drivers – thank you.)

Okay, on to the telephone number, 1-800-678-4448. I called Ozarka (it’s one of many water brands owned by Nestlé Waters North America Inc.) and spoke with a very nice woman in Massachusetts. I explained what I was seeking, told her I was a long-time customer – and she replied that the company’s Bottle Mate XL was not available for Ozarka customers. Why not? She didn’t know.

I told her I’d be glad to pay for it...she still didn’t care; just repeated that the Bottle Mate XL wasn’t available for us civilians.

Now, do I waste more of my time trying to get one from Ozarka? Or search the web to find another source? According to the Internet, the Bottle Mate XL, so called because “In response to popular demand,” it has “an improved hand grip 33% larger for big hands or gloves in cold climates,” is manufactured by the Bottle Mate Company – which only sells the items 10 at a time. I’ll keep looking – I’ll find a singleton somewhere.

But right here, right now, there’s an opportunity for Ozarka (which I generally respect) to offer a relevant item, an adjunct to its normal line of products, to fit the changing needs of some of its customers…older guys who’d like to think they can lift 5-gallon water jugs but can’t do it as effortlessly as they used to. Don’t flunk this.

So attention, Kim Jeffery, President and CEO of Nestlé Waters North America. Listen up, Bob Davino, Nestlé Vice President of Marketing. Why not give me a call (713.598.4238)? Tell me you’ll sell one of these Bottle Mate XLs to me. I promise I won’t tell anybody else about it.

PS: If you can’t bend your rules for a good, long-term customer like me, I’ll call Pittsburgh Water Cooler Service in Glenshaw, PA…there’s a Bottle Mate XL for sale right on its website. Then won’t you be embarrassed?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lazy Goldman

For art directors – even whole advertising agencies – see this simple lesson in how to ruin an ad message. The Asset Management arm of Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS), “the world’s most prestigious securities firm” according to, has a new print advertisement.

In case you can’t read the scan, its headline proclaims, “With more choice, it’s easier to tailor your portfolio.”

To play off this headline, an art director has used eight spools, each with a different colored thread. Eight photos, eight colors; fair enough. If you expect the average magazine reader to look at your ad for, say, two seconds. This art director was lazy, though.

Each of the eight photos is the same – except for the color of the thread. Take as close a look as you can. Each spool is the same as the others, including the printing on top. Each needle is stuck into the thread on the spool in precisely the same place, and threaded identically.

The art director (or production artist, or whoever) simply Photoshopped a different color onto each picture. Job over.

By running this ad, Goldman Sachs demonstrates that it will “tailor your portfolio” with pretty much the identical products they use for every other client. “We believe it’s important,” says the ad copy, “to consider diversification not only across different investment areas, but within those areas as well.”

Because some communications person wanted to cheap out (or sleep in), Goldman Sach’s important diversification consists of…different colors.

How much do you think the multi-billion-dollar outfit paid for this ad?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Donna Giles

Two elements appear today by popular demand. The “Chicken” version of the LACTROL® ad series is one. You can plainly see that this is a chicken. I wasn’t trying to hide it or anything. (This is a follow-up to the post just below.)

The other is the name of the tireless, imaginative CMS executive who spearheads the PhibroChem account: Donna Giles. I hadn’t meant to overlook her contribution to the campaign – which was actually turning it into a campaign in the first place. That’s Donna Giles, with my additional thanks.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


When you haven’t had a chance to use a cow or a pig in an ad campaign for a couple of decades, it’s nice to put ‘em up on the board. So thanks to Houston agency CMS for getting me involved, along with designer/art director Dan Fisler, in creating this new campaign.

Now appearing in ethanol-related publications, the new ads for PhibroChem’s LACTROL antimicrobial gave me a chance focus on consumers: Cows, pigs and chickens. (There’s a third ad with the chicken, that didn’t make it out of the hen house.)

As usual in business-to-business advertising, this wasn’t a straightforward assignment. PhibroChem Division of Phibro manufactures this LACTROL brand of virginiamyacin to effectively control the bacteria that occurs when corn ferments into alcohol. The bacteria reduces the production of ethanol.

At the same time, it contaminates “distiller’s grains” – the afterproduct of ethanol production that is used for animal feeds. Which means that animal feeds could be contaminated as well. Use LACTROL and ethanol producers can produce uncontaminated byproduct, which they can then sell for safer feeds.

Market-proven LACTROL also happens to have a “No Objection” letter from the US Food and Drug Administration. It’s a safety point and a selling point…the reasons behind PhibroChem’s moove into the feed contamination issue. (There’s another one of those awful puns – mark it up to Saturday.)

I’m glad to have had the chance to create the headlines and copy – a well done to Fisler for the art direction.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bat Radarless

The Associated Press wired a story this morning about a newly discovered bat fossil. The fossilized remains answered a scientific question: When did bats gain their radar-like ability to navigate and locate airborne insects at night?

The answer is: After they started flying – as is evident to paleobiologists from this 152-million-year-old fossil.

This is well-known among avionics companies, however. A distant forerunner of existing airborne systems such as the E-10A aircraft’s Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) was ordered and installed in relatively early models of the bat family only as far back as 45 or 50 million years ago, according to Johann Flogl, airborne systems program manager for Raytheon. “The fossil microbat, Palaeochiropteryx tupaiodon, from Germany’s Messel deposits is over 45 million years old – there is an obvious installation, in fact.”

Although early contracts are no longer available for inspection, installations for a number of models of the Vespertilionidae family have been going on for millions of years. No information about the value of the orders for early airborne electronic systems is available.

Current airborne radar systems have far surpassed bats’ echo-location models; modern offensive radar can track evasive cars and wagons through city streets, and simultaneously track low-flying cruise missiles. Bats, on the other hand, have “ceased to be an economic market for most multi-national companies today,” says an anonymous spokesman for the US Defense Consortium.

The very early Wyoming bat lacks the airframe structure necessary to support the emission of “squeaky sounds” and the reception of resulting echoes. “This would have prevented a retrofit program. Too bat for him,” jokes Flogl.

Photo: Royal Ontario Museum and Nature.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Leaving Footprints?

What’s a social networker to do? There’s no doubt that marketers don’t (or no longer ought to) broadcast messages to a massive, passive audience. There’s a reason which the term “opinion leaders” goes back to 1955…but you can contrast this idea to some of the recent Super Bowl XLII – interesting if you have a leading opinion about Dalmatians or Richard Simmons (I was bemused by the Bridgestone commercials, so sue me).

“The Cluetrain Manifesto” was written almost 10 years back and it is now accepted that markets are conversations. I won’t even put that in quotes, it’s becoming a bit tattered.

More and more new mechanisms – like Facebook – are being used for marketing. More social conversations. More prospective marketing interactions. So web marketers are hoping that social networks like Facebook will take Internet advertising into its “fourth phase,” beyond search advertising. Marketers not only want to observe consumers’ conversations (via tracking), they want to participate in those conversations.

Okay – social media is on the right path. One possible challenge, though, is that you may not be able to leave the party once you’ve joined it – I mean like the Communist Party, not the St. Andrew’s Day bash at your local.

Too long a lead? Apparently, you never actually disappear from Facebook. Even if you opt out of sharing information. Even if you deactivate your account. According to a copyrighted story by Maria Aspan in yesterday’s New York Times, “Some users have discovered that it is nearly impossible to remove themselves entirely from Facebook, setting off a fresh round of concern over the popular social network’s use of personal data.”

As Aspan says, disenchanted users can’t disappear from the site without leaving footprints unless they rigorously delete their data, line by line, and then deactivate. (You can read more, by blogger Steven Mansour, in his own dramatic post here – which is also mentioned in the NYT article…very in-your-face.)

So it’s social interaction vs personal privacy. On the one side, you ought to be responsible enough to realize that your personal stuff is, like, on billboards where everyone can see it, right? Yep, you may very well regret showing off those tattoos (or body parts) at some future point in your life. But there’s no 1984 here, no way to go back most of the time and erase those embarrassing – or even worse – items. So social interaction websites ought to be touched with some human thought…yours.

On the other side, (most) marketers don’t really want to know in detail what you did after leaving the bar with your work buddies Friday night. Marketers normally want “you” in specific portions, not you in particular and personally. Why? Principally, I think, because they don’t have the time for one-to-one selling, though this does occur. I choose not to speak for the government.

I was just invited to join the Only in Houston group on Facebook and since I use the site, I thought, “Why not?” Maybe Ann Iverson will buy me a Martini. I don’t believe any information I have on Facebook will horrify anyone, I don’t care about that. Maybe I’ll have more conversations this way.

But do consider that every participant in a conversation leaves footprints (I know, it’s a mixed metaphor). A talented marketer, advertiser or publicist will follow those footprints and, perhaps, try to engage you in additional conversations. That’s what we’re paid to do, we want to involve you somehow in the brands we represent. The real trick is to make the action – and the conversation – meaningful to both parties in the conversation. How come? The Internet is a two-way street. The person leaving the footprints can easily track yours as well.

If you want to stop leaving footprints altogether, it’s going to you take a lot of work.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Big Read

I meant to write about the Big Read on Sunday but I was involved with a “big read” of my own, trying to finish The Age of Turbulence. It’s not exactly portable. Plus, this post is meant to be a preview; something fun’s coming later in the year.

The idea that reading needs to be marketed is a little strange to me – but then I remember Woody Allen saying, “I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It was about Russia.”

The Big Read is “an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts to restore reading to American culture.” I’m in favor of it and there’s a strong push nationally for the program.

Our First Lady, Laura Bush, has been touring the country about The Big Read – good PR for the initiative from the nicest First Lady (so I hear) that’s been in The White House since…well…her mother-in-law. Maybe nicer. The most significant promoter of reading in this country is Oprah Winfrey and more power to her (although she seems to be doing fine even without my best wishes).

What are you doing to help? Suppose you’re an ad agency, or PR firm, or graphic design outfit – and you think reading is vitally important not only to America but to democracy as a concept.

And you want to do some pro bono work that’ll get you more noticed? (Most agencies have to turn this kind of thing away ‘cause it eats their lunch, right? This is not a topic I want to get into right now.) You go to The Big Read website, maybe read some of the very good blog by David Kipen. And you’re inspired to find out where in your neighborhood, city or county you can lend a hand…as a professional marketer and communicator. Go ahead. I think it’ll be a great idea. Plenty of books to choose from, too.

Some advertising agencies get publicly involved in promoting The Big Read but they’re hard to find. White Light Advertising in Bridgeport, CT, worked on the media plan for The Big Read initiative in the southwestern part of the state – the agency used radio, cable TV ads, bus wraps and grassroots programs. The news is on the agency’s website, which is where the ad above came from.

I would have liked to see some results of this particular campaign – but maybe it shows up with kids checking out more library books…or adults getting turned on to something they would no otherwise have even considered. (“I only read the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue for the articles!”)

Maybe this is a good time to get the Houston chapter of the American Marketing Association involved…an organization filled with enthusiasts! Any road, keep an ear cocked for the next Big Read initiative that comes your way. There are plenty of worthy causes but this one won’t force you to pedal 180 miles to Austin.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Daughter Downunder

A quick Saturday note: I’m directing you to the “Australia or Bust! ‘08” blog (remember, just click on that word and you’ll go there). Over the next four months, it will describe the adventures of Rachel Elizabeth Baron and Alison Bond in Oz, where they’ve traveled to work, hang out and get away from the New York winter.

First, there’s the obligatory joke; you know, the one that starts with the Texan rancher who goes to Australia for a vacation – and because a little “bidness” never hurts, he drops by a National Farmers’ Federation party.

There he meets an Aussie farmer and they get to talking…which leads to a visit to the Australian’s farm – called a station down under.

Followed by the Aussie’s faithful bluey, they stroll around the station and the Australian shows off his extensive wheat field. The Texan says, “Oh! We have wheat fields that are at least twice as big as that.”

They walk a little further, and the Aussie points out his herd of cattle (no sheep on this station). The Texan immediately says, “Well dang, we’ve got longhorns that are at least twice as big as your critters.”

The conversation is, pretty obviously, dying out when the Texan sees a herd of kangaroos hopping through the field. He double-takes, then asks, "What are hell are those?”

The Aussie replies offhandedly, “Don't you have any grasshoppers in Texas, mate?”

Now Rachel and Alison are a long way from home. I know they’d appreciate hearing from you, especially since it’s so easy. Under any particular post, click on the word “comments.” That’ll take you to a fill-in-the-blanks area in which you can…uh…comment.

They’d appreciate hearing from you, I bet, especially with the size of them grasshoppers.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Coffee Plantation

Before there was Starbucks in Phoenix, Arizona, there was Coffee Plantation. I met an elderly medico, Dr. Joe Kennedy of the VA, in the chain’s Biltmore Fashion Park store on East Camelback Road. “You used to come in, it would be crowded, and you’d hear every language on the planet!”

It’s still popular but to a visitor, it has the feel on an also-ran – Starbucks in the measuring stick now, the brand to which other coffee chains are compared. The fact of the matter is, Barbara and I were in Phoenix for family business, weren’t really out to enjoy ourselves – and could hardly find a good cup of coffee. (We stayed in the McDowell & 32nd Street area…not much around there.) First, anybody who thinks Dunkin’ Donuts is a challenge for Starbucks needs to drop into one or two of the DDs in Phoenix: Yuck. Second, even McDonalds coffee didn’t seem to have a good taste.

Yes – I’m a coffee snob. Then somebody told me about Coffee Plantation and I thought riding the brand would be worthwhile. I ought to be clear: the cup of “Ethiopian” coffee I had at Coffee Plantation was as good, as fresh and powerful as any African I’ve had. Thanks for that.

On the other hand, this isn’t a chain that goes (or has gone) out of its way to make itself more competitive, at least not based on my single visit. Because of the ubiquitous nature of Starbucks trade dress, this Coffee Plantation store looks similar, but a bit bigger. It offers a couple of computers and plenty of seating. There are fresh pastries available.

But there’s a real sense of has-been to the Coffee Plantation store. (As far as I can tell, the chain was once owned by Diedrich Coffee, but no longer – perhaps some managers bought it out?) No billboards I could find. No strong brand merchandizing, no back-story material. None of the customer involvement devices for which Starbucks is famous. Presuming I’ve even got the right website, Coffee Plantation is stuck in the last century electronically. There’s worse, and I’m not alone in perceiving it.

Take a look at the store reviews on Scottsdale’s Christy L noted, “As I approached the counter the employees were bent over by the milk cooler, so engrossed in a conversation that they failed to notice my presence.” Thomas S of Phoenix chimed in, “Just because you have the word Plantation, implying old Southern American charm, in your name doesn't mean you can’t provide modern services like clean restrooms? Perhaps you could sweep the floor. And wipe down the counter. Oh, I know, maybe the pigeon poo could be scraped off the tables.”

The feeling of the store is cheap goods and cheap labor– the polar opposite of bustling, smiling Starbucks baristas. And yes again, this is based on a single visit.

Bad service drives out good customers. No matter how popular the chain was once upon a time, it seems as though Phoenix’s Coffee Plantation brand could use a double shot of espresso right about now.