Sunday, June 29, 2008

Deconstruction – Good

Deconstruction is not automatically bad (he said, continuing the thought experiment from yesterday’s post).

When should you deconstruct? How about when the brand (or the entire system) has become so unbelievably complex that it’s way past time the brand returned to its basics.

You know what I’m talking about. Think about the brand-name string that sounds like a trunk falling down the stairs. Car-makers are notorious for this; e.g., the Audi A6 Avant Quattro SE Sport 2.5 Tdi.

Talk a walk down the grocery aisles and take a look at the brand extensions…messages growing ever more crowded. Drug stores exhibit the same aggressive shouting matches among shelves full of products. Then, consider that I couldn’t create a better post than Creativity magazine (May 2008, Page 32) has already been written about Help Remedies:

Help Remedies, a refreshingly pared down new line of acetaminophen pills and adhesive bandages, provides a lesson for even the most established marketers: Reimagine what you’re selling, not just how you’re selling it.

A former brand development strategist from London, Richard Fine, came to the US from London and brought a hell of a headache with him. According to Creativity, he was:

…scared off by the chaotic, screaming products….He envisioned a softer, calm-looking option sans abrasive color schemes and shocking copy.

His vision, with help from packaging and graphic design firms (ChappsMalina and Little Fury, respectively), resulted in a new brand by deconstructing old-fashioned ones. The result is simplicity itself, and help I have a headacheTM is one of the brand’s products.

In fact, the entire company – and you can browse the website to your heart’s content – is constructed with this simplicity in mind. Another product: help I’ve cut myselfTM contains two sizes of bandages (and advanced eye relief) for the weary shopper who may have just suffered an injury.

I’d certainly highlight the new brand’s Web 2.0 features, like the simple approach to the Help company blog and the online store.

What Creativity called reimaging I would call deconstruction. True, in the case of Help Remedies, Fine and his colleagues have deconstructed an entire category (over- the-counter healthcare products). When your brand is heavy-laden, when it’s dragging its entire history of massive product/service slates and M&As through the first decade of the 21st Century, this is a good time to return to basics.

Deconstruct what the brand is all about and reimagine it in a simpler, more meaningful form.

Can you do that for your stakeholders? Would you make their lives and their connections to your brand cleaner and more direct? Among the benefits could be a clear, clean view of your business model as well as your brand – supposing, of course, that your company’s business model needs…help.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Deconstruction – Bad

Join me in a weekend thought experiment. Here’s a fairly notorious Nike outdoor board. Note the slogan, lower right: JUST DO IT – now 20 years old. Dan Wieden of Wieden + Kennedy is widely credited with creating this famous theme line, which Advertising Age chose as one of the 20th century’s Top Five ad slogans.

Next, let’s presume that your team is assigned to construct a new Nike corporate brochure. In a creative session, one of the top designers says something like: Why don’t we do a separate two-page spread for each of the words? We could explain each word and detail what it really means. We’d carefully explain ‘JUST,’ then on the next spread we’d say what ‘DO’ really means. And we’d finished up with ‘IT’ as the final piece – then, when you see all three spreads, you’d actually see JUST DO IT.

Would you say – Yes! That’s a great idea. Or would you gently suggest that perhaps this process would destroy the intrinsic integrity of one of the Nike brand’s most critical components?

Deconstructing a slogan or a brand statement that has this much accrued meaning would, IMHO, be quite a Bad Thing. You’d spoil the mystique that the slogan has gained over the years, you’d take away all of the visualized meanings that Nike and its agencies have put into building a crucial brand element. In fact, one of the beauties of a slogan such as this is that it is never deconstructed.

Really, the designer’s suggestion is one legitimate approach to creating new concepts. I propose it’s just not a good idea in the case of a strong brand line that resonates deeply with stakeholders.

Deconstruction – as a tool for literary analysis – has caused much more harm than good since the concept was invented by Jacques Derrida back in the early ‘60s. It has destroyed professors’ careers and been the “philosophy of the moment” on far too many college campuses.

In marketing, I urge caution when you try to extend explanations of your brand elements in public media.

Treat your theme line as a unity, whether you’ve got a 20-year-old stunner like JUST DO IT or a more recent slogan such as KEEP ON TURNING (shown here and my thanks again to Wood Group for maintaining its currency). By deconstructing such a strap line, you could confuse rather than enlighten. When you’ve built a slogan that “works,” let your stakeholders envision what it means for themselves. Let them help you create your brand image and meaning – it’s part of the marketing conversation. No deconstructing here, please.

Above: 2006 Nike outdoor ad featuring England player Wayne Rooney. Everything related to Nike, the “swoosh” and the slogan belongum Nike – no poaching.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Social Control

Despite my best intentions, it isn’t possible to capture everything that was presented this morning at “Demystifying Web 2.0: Using Social Media to Reach Healthcare Audiences.”

This summer’s seminar, put on by the Healthcare Special Interest Group of the American Marketing Association-Houston, can be briefly reviewed here. However, the event went for two hours solid and could have gone another two – it was a full house listening to challenging speakers (four of them) with every ounce of attention they could muster at 7.30 on a Friday morning.

The basic plot: How healthcare organizations can or ought to use social media, like blogs; Facebook and MySpace; videos and podcasts to build better interactions between their brands (institutions) and their stakeholders – patients, patients’ families and friends, etc. There are already a lot of players in all these arenas: I wish you could have listened to the presentations.

The moderator was Katie Laird, of sunny disposition, an indefatigable blogger who’s Strategic Advisor for Houston-based Schipul – The Web Marketing Company.

Then there were two speakers each from the hospital side and the social media side – and this is really where deep issues could have surfaced, given enough time.

Hospitals? An exemplary case history was presented by Jennifer Texada of UTMDACC – that’s MD Anderson Cancer Center and a mouthful in any conversation. Texada presented an array of current programs and future plans that demonstrated how MD Anderson is building communities of interest among its patients and well as some of its staff. Chris Ferris countered with warm humor how far St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System has yet to go…although his organization is making progress.

From the Social Media Enablers’ side, passionate Paul Griffiths came in from Boston to present the MedTouch point of view – he’s the firm’s CEO and one of the leaders of social marketing for healthcare organizations. Griffiths firmly believes that information ought to be free, free (as in the “don’t tie me down” school of free) – and that no organization needs marketing copywriters to develop content. You understand that I’m not thrilled with this later idea from the perspective of my life’s profession, but he is a true visionary about the immense capabilities of social media and a thrilling speaker.

He was seconded by the compassionate Jay Drayer of Houston, founder of CareFlash. His firm developed and has deployed very successful “community” tools for putting patients and their families on the Web. CareFlash is remarkable story in itself.

In the seams of these presentations, there were several elemental struggles implied but never explored fully.

One is the issue of control. The healthcare facilities’ very real need for professional and legal control of content in social media environments was admitted – and some institutions can change to accommodate Griffith’s conviction that (eventually) the needs of the patient/caregiver community will win out despite legal departments and HIPAA laws. This is partially an issue of “stodge” and partially of medicine’s attention on cures.

Another issue never quite address was the other leg of the healthcare delivery system – the physicians. Many hospitals today are filled with service teams (nurses, techs, swampers, etc.) Doctors are frequently independent contractors and so are often not even billed through the same system. Unless key parts of a specific institution such as MD Anderson are featured in social media, how do you get doctors to be as socially open as patients want them to be?

Some hospitals don’t even allow patients or their families to access the Worldwide Web from inside the facility – there’s no WiFi, no “public computers” available for use.

It is likely that social media for healthcare audiences have developed way faster than most healthcare institutions or practitioners want or desire. These particular stakeholders see their stakeholders as packages to be conveyed through their systems (as Griffiths pointed out in an illustration of “the old way”).

Maybe this cast will be assembled again, for the edification of other attendees. I think you missed the beginnings of an immensely provocative conversation revolving around issues of social control – a tug of war happening now at your nearby hospital.

Thanks to the Healthcare SIG of AMA-Houston and all the speakers. Photograph © Yanik Chauvin from

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pompeiian Correctness

The Pompeii exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston ends in a few days. It’s an enjoyable and often striking collection of materials of all kinds, with lots of visitors. The displays are supposed to help us…connect with the victims whose hopes and fears were not so unlike ours today – that what the Museum’s website says.

After you complete the second-floor exhibit, there’s a short film with voiceover, demonstrating what happens when a volcano like Mt Vesuvius blows up – as it did in the Year 79. After the shots of booming pyroclastic flows and solidified tephra, the voiceover solemnly announces that because so many lives were lost centuries ago in Pompeii and Herculaneum, we (the exhibition’s viewing public) should be careful where we interact with nature.

This is crap. The mountain’s “green, wooded slopes” were home to farms, fields, animals and people for centuries. Until the storied eruption in 79 AD, Vesuvius hadn’t blown in 700 years.

MFAH did a fine job marketing this exhibition. But the victims’ “hopes and fears” are nothing like our own; the eruption caught the citizens of Pompeii completely by surprise.

Frankly, I wished MFAH would go startle somebody else with its witless pronouncements of ecological peril.

Painting: The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, 1777, Pierre-Jacques Volaire.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father’s Day

Rather than blog about the considerable advertising surrounding this “also-ran” day – will Xbox sales get a bump out of the Father’s Day event?, e.g. – I wanted something more personal.

On a day like today, I can be as old-fashioned as I like – say, quoting the Earl of Chesterfield’s continual advice to his son. There’s a marvelous Father’s Day column about Chesterfield by Eric Ormsby, in which Ormsby observes: Inattention, for Chesterfield, was a profound flaw and the one from which all others proceeded. “Want of thought,” as he put it, “is either folly or madness.” Why? Because success in the world depends upon quick and meticulous observation.

Or I can take you modern. Contemporary cartoonist Dan Piraro has said, You kids today have it easy. When I was a kid everything was HUGE. My dad was nearly four times bigger than me. You couldn’t even see the tops of counters...Then gradually everything became smaller until it was the manageable size it is today.

Dads don’t get a lot of credit, except when they do – and that’s when we appreciate it the most. (I’m speaking for all the dads ever now.)

There’s a photo that accompanies this post, of Brian Sabel helping son Matthew prepare for his bar mitzvah – by tying his tie. Maybe not the most profound picture ever taken…but utterly and completely true in the moment. There is no inattention here. And even though Brian is “nearly four times bigger” than Matthew now, Matt’ll will discover that things become more manageable as he grows up.

I had time to enjoy my daddy but not enough. I miss him to this day.

(BTW, it was Brian and Joel Sabel’s father, Sherman Sabel, who came to tell me of my father’s sudden and early death. It was Joel who took the father-son photo you see here, last month in Denver. I hope he won’t mind me using it here.)

To dads: Remember if you can that your futurity is in your hands. There’s often more than one kind of tie involved. Happy Father’s Day to you all.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Wind Power

Marketing and advertising folks presume it is self-evident that marketing is essential to organic growth. That’s not a universal truth, or even a revealed one, as far as many engineering and sales professionals are concerned. But if it’s true, some people at Wood Group Gas Turbine Services are getting it right, IMO.

I did attend WINDPOWER 2008 last week to visit what is now Renewable Energy Services – a new business unit for client GTS. This part of the global energy services company maintains and repairs all types of turbines and generators, from aviation engines (smaller) to heavy industrial units (much, much larger). And effective power generation from the wind depends on…turbines and generators. So Renewable Energy Resources is taking its extensive MRO experience into the wind energy sector.

Prism Design created a booth and handout materials specifically for this new unit, and for this trade show. I’m glad to have participated in it all – particularly since this was another opportunity to adapt the KEEP ON TURNING brand I helped GTS create and maintain over the past two years.

It has also meant that the company can market its brand (as well as its services) much more strongly to an up-and-coming industry sector, like wind energy.

Now, recall what we said here about brand consistency? It’s a good idea (and a good return on investment) to build on elements that are already in the client’s brand vocabulary.

The branding challenges for GTS at WINDPOWER 2008 were graphic – all wind turbine pictures look the same. Susan Reeves, Terry Teutsch and Stacy Allen turned what could have been an ordinary photo into a landscape artfully fitted to the 20-foot-long booth space.

Take a close look at the top photo – a lot of art went into that horizon line. It stretches from one end of the booth to the other and reinforces the KEEP ON TURNING line beautifully.

By using the GTS brand elements in the handout materials, and ensuring that everyone who staffed the booth was fitted out with the distinctive Wood Group “gold” long-sleeve shirt, this new Renewable Energy Services group accomplished two marketing goals.

First, it picked up a bit of a…tailwind…from the Offshore Technology Conference, where Wood Group had a strong presence. Second, it introduced its targeted services to the wind energy market in a targeted – and branded – way. Think of this, then, as brand power.

The real compliment goes to the client, for recognizing what needed to happen at WINDPOWER 2008.

PS: Susan suggested I label this post “Show Turn Two” because it’s a look at another Wood Group Gas Turbine Services booth effect. Cute headline fer shure. But Signalwriter headlines are two words long and I try to stay consistent – even if I don’t always achieve the ideal.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Nail Gun

Do not try this at home – though George Chandler did. A nail gun “accidentally” fired a 2-1/2” nail into the top of his head. Uh-huh.

According to KCCT-TV (Kansas City, MO), this particular mishap occurred last week while Chandler, in Shawnee, KS, and a friend were doing a backyard project: The nail gun hose became tangled, causing the tool to fire one nail. Chandler said Monday he told his friend he didn't know where the nail went, but he felt a sting on the top of his head.

Thinking really, really hard, they soon realized that the nail was driven into Chandler’s head. So they called an ambulance and he was rushed to a hospital. An ER doctor used a common claw hammer to remove the nail.

He’s quoted as saying he feels “very lucky, very, very lucky” to have escaped serious injury. This unusual incident caught my eye because it doesn’t speak very well for the nail gun itself.

Interruptive safety note, via the Compliance Center: Nail guns have the capacity to fire several nails per second at a velocity over 1,000 feet per second. Although these physics will allow a nail gun to fire a projectile almost 4 inches into fully stressed concrete, when accidentally applied to the human body, the resulting damage can be severe…injuries to more critical areas of the body, such as the head, neck, and chest may occur.

That being said, this is a blog about marketing and advertising. Look at for this helpful article: If you're in the market for a nail gun then you've either been watching too many B horror flicks or you've decided that an upcoming project is going to have too many nails for you to hammer in by hand. Choosing the right nail gun…and going to the hardware store or shopping online will be a much better experience for you if you go prepared with a little bit of knowledge.

I love the article – it’s helpful; very clear about choosing a nail gun based on building bird houses or barns – a hundred of ‘em a year. Which leads back what brand we’re dealing with here. It is unknown.

The news article didn’t identify the brand. Was it the Bostich 2-1/2” coil siding nailer (say, the well-known Model N66C-1) or the Max CN565S Coil Siding Nailer, selling new for a pricey $378 from

(I hope it wasn’t the new Makita AN922 because I had a torrid but very brief relationship – about 55 seconds – with Señorita Makita 2004…the 2008 models are lovely but whew!…this is advertising the old-fashioned way. I swear, though, the poster was for my son Doug, not me.)

Chandler wasn’t killed, thank the Lord. Still, the nail gun doesn’t seem to have done a very good job – or have I been watching too many B movies? The world doesn’t need another ineffective nail gun, you know.

On the other hand, imagine the ads you could do for this particular nail gun. I see a Chandler testimonial as merely the starting point.

PS: Note the last line in the Ezine article: Be safe, have fun - in that order! The x-ray above is not that of handyman Chandler. RLB.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

“Poopzapper” Portrayed

Second installment, also from Graham Rust, is an “advanced technology” answer to the Fedog bag set I posted about yesterday.

The most effective solution, Graham wrote, is a team of helmeted guys riding along the pavement on quad bikes equipped with long vacuum cleaners, zapping (rather than “scooping”) the poop, a triumph of form over content.

Then: Rich! By an almost unbelievable coincidence, on the square below our office, Prague’s waste company is running a PR event, and so I have a photograph (above) of the poopzapper to add a multimedia dimension to your blog!

You have the thanks of the world, Graham. Nowhere else (not even on the Prague Municipal Waste Management website – I looked) has this powerful secret weapon in the war against dog poop been revealed. And Prague is doing PR events about it!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Prague Bag

This is a simple post about dogs and the people who love them. Sort of. It’s also a post about cities. Human ingenuity. Advertising. Let’s start with the fact that Rob Schoenbeck brought me a pass-along souvenir from his recent trip overseas: a Fedog bag (that’s it on the left).

In Czech, this is papírové sáčky na psí exkrementy – a paper set for dog crap. It was invented in 1995 because, “The daily amount of dogs’ excrements comes up to 20 tons in Prague alone.”

It’s a combination unit, the paper bag plus scooper plus advertising.

See how it works on the website – it offers an animated demo. “The paper bag is easily degradable in the nature. The scoop minimizes the aversion to pick up the excrement. The bag together with its content can be composted. The full bags can disposed of by burning, depositing in dumping grounds or recycled by composing.” I’m not making fun of the English writing here – I couldn’t even start in the original tongue.

I went straight to my long-time Dialogue International resource, Graham Rust, the great and powerful principal of Rust2 in The Czech Republic. He ‘splained:

Prague is plagued with dogs. It’s not like Bucharest which apparently has packs of feral dogs roaming the streets, but like citizens of all around the world, Praguers just don’t see the problem with keeping a huge animal in a fifth floor apartment in the city centre.

Some time ago the city installed special litter bits with bag dispensers (left) and sometimes you even see them being used.

The other glut we suffer from is advertising, on anything which stays still long enough, so it’s no surprise to see someone trying to sell space on this sharply targeted medium. Not sure there will be many takers. Public opinion on advertising is pretty low, but things are not so bad that we deserve a literal interpretation of McCluhan’s “the medium is the message.”

The engineer in me (of which there is precisely none, really) is intrigued with the concept of putting the carboard scooper inside the bag and putting the whole set in a handy dispenser. The city-dweller in me wishes to see this in the US, though we seem more conscious of the effect of many dogs on local sidewalks – and more willing to do something about it at the moment of generation.

The ad guy says, “This is outstanding – for somebody else’s clients.” And actually, I could see some real value if an entire city program was underwritten by a major veterinary clinic in the area or even a dog food manufacturer like Purina®. I can see Nestlé Purina PetCare underwriting an effort like this.

As Graham notes, the Fedog set is a precisely targeted medium – the smart advertiser could use that to its advantage and add a bit more environmental shine to its brand.

As I said, go to – Czech it out for yourself.