Friday, March 28, 2008

Gecko Gaffe

I’m certain you’ve heard something like this before. It probably happens all the time, in fact. (I’ve never been charmed by the appeal of the Geico gecko – preferring the Neanderthals myself. I don’t buy the rationale behind the Brit accent; but viewers find it…hilarious.) I do know that the real heavy lifting of the brand itself comes from its outstanding customer service. The company really tries to support its stakeholder.

Maybe Geico is trying too hard, because this is hilarious. As some of you know, Barbara’s brother, Jeff Slavik, died this past February. He suffered a brain aneurysm and never regained consciousness. Barbara used copies of the death certificate to notify various companies that her brother was deceased, and that they should cancel various subscriptions, policies, etc. this letter arrived in today’s mail from Geico.

Jeffrey Martin Slavik
2743 Quincannon Lane
Houston, TX 77-43-1602

Policy Number: XXXXXXXXX

Dear Jeffrey Slavik:

This letter is to confirm your written correspondence dates March 14, 2008. We will cancel the above numbered policy as you requested and you will be advised of any refund or premium due.

As you requested, the policy will be canceled as of 12:01 A.M. on January 20, 2008.


We are truly sorry to lose a policyholder like you and hope that your relationship with us was a pleasant one. Thank you for allowing us to provide your insurance coverage. We would welcome your inquiries at any time.

Best wishes for the future.



Debra Benjamin
Customer Service

REMINDER: Please surrender your plates to the Department of Motor Vehicles, if you are required to do so.

Dear Debra Benjamin, I’m thinking, maybe your CRM system could use a bit of tweakin’. Jeff is dead. If he has any inquiries, he’s going to keep them to himself.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Watch Obama

“Time for a change” has taken on new meaning for Jack Goldenberg, long-time AdRants buddy, experienced creative macher and all-round inventive guy.

Jack’s company, Einstein, da Vinci & Goldenberg, has introduced a new line of Barack Obama Watches: High-touch, limited-edition quartz timepieces...just in time for the Democratic blood-letting in Denver. Rather than wearing your heart on your sleeve, Jack is hoping you’ll wear your political convictions on your wrist.

Jack told me, when we had lunch last time he visited Houston, that he wanted to do something like this. Now – like the Illinois senator – he believes this is his time. (Help me, Lord, there are way too many puns available here.)

I was just a bit miffed that I wasn’t offered one of these undoubtedly fine watches in return for some ringing endorsement on this blog. Then I realized that Jack really was protecting me. By altruistically flacking the fine watches and how easy they are to purchase, I wouldn’t be accused by my fellow Republicans of selling out.

No! Unlike Barak Obama and Tony Rezko, Jack has not purchased the house next to mine here in Houston – he’s staying in New Jersey (apparently because he likes it there). I am writing about these watches because [a] Jack is a friend who has a neat line of products to sell; and [b] I believe that a key part of the American democratic process is the chance to make an extra buck or two at election time. If you can’t sell your vote, how about a nice watch? And when you buy one, you will be supporting the growth of e-tailing at the same time.

Look at it this way: If Obama wins the Democratic nomination, these watches will be collector’s items. If he wins the general election – and becomes America’s first black President – Jack’s Obama Watches could easily earn you hundreds, maybe thousands on eBay.

Besides, you’ve got to admit that “Love Your Mama/Vote Obama” is cute.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Swanndri Style

When I heard about this “rural clothing company” way down yonder – New Zealand – I thought, here’s an outfit that ought to have stores in Texas. I guess I got excited about the headline.

Swanndri has been kickin’ it in Kiwi-land since 1913, based on a waterproof work shirt made from 100% New Zealand wool. The company expanded its line over the years; I must have seen some of this stuff when I visited a sheep station above Christchurch area back in 1971.

Because the country was/is so rural (“Lord of the Rings” giving you a good overall glimpse), you can understand that Swanndri became symbolic of a lifestyle – and the company took itself in the same direction that Levi Strauss did here in the States.

Then, in 2005, new owners picked up the company and went to a local ad agency, Simon Inc, to rebrand the firm: to emphasize the position of Swanndri as a great, iconic Kiwi brand, reinforcing its reputation among the core rural market and bringing it to the high street throughout the cities of New Zealand and Australia. Simon did a great job – take a look here.

Nevertheless, as you look through the excellent company website, you’ll notice a growing similarity to other world brands that emphasize the outdoors. I suspect that the new, 2005 owners decided to expand the company’s appeal way beyond Kiwi farm-and-ranch gun-toters.

Then, this past November, Swanndri sold up to Longbeach Holdings Ltd. The outgoing chairman, Bryan Pearson, said in a press release: We all felt the time was right for a company like Longbeach to come in and take Swanndri to the next level.

If other such buyouts (e.g., Mambo Loud Shirts) are any example, the quality of Swanndri clothing will maintain its high level – I hope – but the brand’s going to go broad and urban in its appeal. That Texas-style headline is just a vestige of its past. Too bad.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Barilla Condemns

It must be true, because I finally read the words of Guido Barilla himself. He’s the Chairman of the 130-year-old Parma, Italy-based company that happens to be the world’s largest producer of pasta. And if I get him in trouble with the US side of the firm and its ad agencies, hard wheat.

Referring to a box of the company’s penne – and responding to an immense outcry among the Italian people over the in-store price jump of pasta throughout the country – he noted that one of the reasons that prices are going up is because of the growing use of agricultural crops to make…ethanol. “Agriculture for energy is an extremely stupid thing.” (You can read more about the outrage in Fortune.)

Here’s total disclosure: I work for clients in both the hydrocarbon and ethanol sectors. But having a wide variety of resources available for review, I have to say that using American corn to produce ethanol for our vehicles is precisely what Barilla says it is.

Our food prices are going up. And every bushel of corn that’s diverted from our food chain to make ethanol means that our food is going to cost more. Yep – it’s very admirable that the gas pumps in Bellaire, TX, dispense E85, the “magic” mixture of hydrocarbon-based gasoline and corn-based ethanol. Yep – it’s terrific that there’s an entire energy sector out there in the heartland, represented by blenders like POET LLC that have devoted themselves to alternative energy.

Ethanol is a poor energy source – it doesn’t come close to providing the power of hydrocarbons. And even though it burns poorly, it consumes other natural resources really well. An ethanol production factory requires huge amounts of water; a new one being planned for Tampa, FL, is on record requesting the use of 400,000 gallons of city water per day.

Ethanol is only an alternative energy source only because you and I are paying for it through the nose.

My colleague Rob Schoenbeck is preparing an area51 insight – I’ll let you know when it’s up. He notes: Follow the money. Huge subsidies, huge profits, lots of votes. The politicians (Dems & Republicans alike) are all for it. They’re doing the math. In 2006, the Feds paid ethanol blenders $2.5 billion and ethanol corn farmers $0.9 billion. We paid an extra $3.6 billion at the pump. The total was $2.21 extra per gallon of gasoline replaced. Of all that, $5.4 billion went for windfall profits, creating what USDA’s chief economist called ethanol euphoria.

I have been marketing in the energy sector for years; It is difficult to make any kind of case for food-based alternative fuels.

Some industry marketers have suggested that a balanced approach to future energy sufficiency is critical. I agree. But not perched on the back of everyone who benefits from our food chain – and that would be...everyone. No matter how much of a glow you get from the ethanol alternative fuel concept, I’m on Signor Barilla’s side: Pasta to the People!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Silly Kohler

I’d meant to write this post when this new appeared on the back cover of Wired but events intervened…some of them related to personal plumbing. It's appropriate.

Plumbing fixtures are necessary component of Western civilization that some companies have turned into art forms. So have some ad agencies.

There’s no doubt that the creative done for Kohler Company by GSDM deserves all the awards and the fame it’s gained over the past few years. In broadcast alone, GSDM has set a very high bar, featuring “The Bold Look of KOHLER®” in some of the most marvelous commercials. You can watch them on the company’s website here (click on the TV Ads tab) – I’d direct your attention to “Dilemma” especially which for some reason I find hilariously funny.

The same has mostly applied to the Kohler print advertising over the years. The company and the agency have used some of the world’s most remarkable and imaginative photographers to create downright funny or highly provocative visualizations of Kohler bathroom fixtures – and you can see many of the executions here.

In fact, there’s a significant lesson in this creative for other advertisers: with these executions, Kohler has drawn a bright line between its products and all others. If you’re hip enough, in this case, you will be using Kohler.

[Many homeowners and plumbers prefer Toto – its creative is focused on product. I’ve been told that they rather have quality than quirkiness.]

Nevertheless, there’s funny and there’s silly. The first image in the new, 2008 “As I See It” Kohler ad series, an imaginative photo by Mark Holthusen featuring the MargauxTM faucet, is silly.

Holthusen is much caressed for his imagination and his style. It’s also appears (as many of Wired readers will know) that this execution was inspired by the failed 2004 Kerry Conran film, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” – a great cast and a terrific CG effort wrecked by a piece-of-crap script.

The ad, which envisions the little Margaux faucet handle as the control stick of an aircraft, falls into the Steampunk category – nothing wrong with that. But doesn’t anyone at the agency have a shred of sense? Steampunk systems are supposed to be workable in theory. Portraying faux combat jets with fixed landing gear (no matter if they’re wearing spats) is silly.

Just as ridiculous: The missing cockpit canopy. Without a canopy, what keeps the pilot from sticking her elbow into the stream of fire from the rifle-caliber machine guns mounted behind her? (As she appears to be perfectly capable of doing, thanks to the easy, one-handed control of the faucet handle.)

Altitude? Forget it. No cockpit canopy, no pressurization. Streamlining? Add all the gear spats you like, what about the open cockpit as a wind trap? And speaking of the open cockpit, check out the pilot’s all-white flying leathers. Perhaps no JP-5 fuel residue or hydraulic fluid afflict the aircraft; nor, unless it’s heated, will the fancy costume protect the blonde from the chill of zooming around the sky at 300 or 400 mph.

Silliest of all, the pilot isn’t strapped into the cockpit. There doesn’t seem to be any flight harness. Now you can look this up here: “The aspiring fighter pilot is taught basic air combat maneuvers, some defensive, others offensive…the Break, the High-G Barrel Roll…the Vertical Rolling Scissors…the Immelmann.”

The first time Blondie pulls an Immelmann, she’s coming right out of that cockpit.

I presume the spiffy Margaux faucet and the stylish Undertone® sink are under warranty. This is one dogfight Kohler isn’t going to walk away from; but don't worry. As Rob Schoenbeck says in his comment, the company is bulletproof.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Medtronic Customer

I’d like to report that I chose the ICD (Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator) that’s currently in my left “subclavian” space. I did not.

That task fell to Alex Drtil, the cardiologist who installed it this past Thursday morning, Of the “Big Three” companies involved in cardiac pacing and defibrillation, Medtronic was his choice...probably because it was before noon and the weather was cloudy. (Medtronic, like the others, doesn’t much advertise to its prospective patients except in the vaguest ways.)

Woowhee! I got me a Medtronic VirtuosoTM tachyarrhythmia management system complete with ConnexusTM wireless telemetry – so many trademarks on the Medtronic website you’d think every Tom, Dick and Harry was in the pacemaker business…and that cardiologists actually remember all these trade names. I doubt it.

I did work on Medtronic business years and years ago, in Minnesota. Then the big problem was getting cardiologists to select a brand name out of the (then) dozen or so pacemakers available. Now, there’s even a Medtronic sales technician in the cath lab with the implantation team, monitoring the performance of the ICD over what I suppose is Connexus wireless.

This same, very pleasant young woman became a little confused when I asked her if I could use the ICD’s WiFi capability for my own laptop. When she confessed that the Virtuoso unit did not allow for this, I asked about the coupons.

“Coupons?” she responded blankly. “Yes,” I replied strongly. “I’m sure I read that Medtronic was offering its customers half-price dinners and suchlike in coupon booklets if they had one of its units installed. Don’t you know about the coupon program?” She admitted she didn’t know anything about coupons and retired to her console in confusion. (I apologized to her the next day when she stopped by my palatial medical suite to check the unit – again via the Connexus system. I’d like to think she’s checked with the Medtronic marketing people about the coupon book.)

I was pretty much awake during the entire procedure though I couldn’t see anything – they’d draped my head in a tent-like structure. Possibly so I couldn’t see that the doctor was actually implanting a used crankcase cam from a 1948 Chrysler boat engine in my chest. At least, that what I thought he told me. But the procedure went smoothly. I’d like to thank everyone in the room (including me for not screaming like a little girl). The procedure went smoothly – despite the fact that I was wearing a strobe light on my head throughout the entire procedure.

You see, I attended the Subsea Tieback Forum in Galveston earlier in the week. While visiting with Esmeralda McLeane and Tom Taylor at the WellDynamics booth, they gave me this nifty, hang-around-your-neck colored strobe light with the company name on it – I told them I’d wear it for the operation.

So I did. Barbara attached it to my forehead with a piece of tape and I switched it on while the nurses were wheeling me into the cath lab. I told them, “It’s my connection with the higher ethereal plane – I won’t need anesthesia, you see.” I could tell this wasn’t entirely believed. But the cardiologist took one look at it, burst out laughing and told me I had to wear it throughout the entire procedure. Afterwards, he took a cellphone picture of it and if he shares it with me, you’ll see it here eventually.

So extra thanks to WellDynamics for the laugh – higher plane or not, it works just as well as the Medtronic Virtuoso ICD with Connexus wireless telemetry. And I bet it cost a whole lot less.

Next post: “Exploring Subclavian Space with Captain Kirk and the Crew of the Starship Enterprise.”

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

More Hardware

Kind of Susan Reeves of Prism Design to protray “What every great ad man needs” when he’s going in to have a defibrillator installed. More information to come after I’ve had my session with the cardioelectrician – I wonder if he’s a member of the IBEW? I’ll report on the brand, of course. Thanks to all for advance good wishes. Ta for Thursday…Richard “Three Stents” Baron.