Sunday, July 20, 2008

Celebration Distillation

The last time I had any real truck with Demon Rum was ’63: A post-Marist graduation visit to what was then British Honduras helped me to an acquaintance of the locally produced product which was pretty raw.

Now, thanks to a tasting with Philip Cusimano, I’ve re-made rum’s acquaintance with a higher caliber product. And wandered again into the world of audience-building for artisan products. Here, the heavy lifting’s done by skill and heart and one-bottle-at-a-time marketing.

Phil (and our hosts at Mo Mong) let me taste three different versions of Old New Orleans Rum, from the Crescent City’s Celebration Distillation. The Crystal is your basic light-bodied rum that’s probably good for mixed drinks. The Amber is fine for sippin’. But the Cajun Spice, the one with the red label – it’s just outstanding…like the website says, “with the kick of cayenne & cinnamon…hints of nutmeg, ginger & cloves…”

My but it’s tasty. Every single-barrel rum is distilled and blended the old-fashioned way at 2815 Frenchman Street in NOLA by James Michalopoulos, a well-known local artist.

One of the “country virtues” of marketing artisanal foods and beverages (cheeses and breads, beers and wines, barbeque sauces and handmade pâtés) is that you can succeed without lots of money. You substitute lots of sweat equity and smarts. Boys and girls, Michalopoulos’s marketing the hell out of this stuff, mano a mano.

Michalopoulos doesn’t have the Bacardi USA ad budget, say, or the Captain MorganMorganettes” (Caitlyn, Megan and Whitney, no less).

What he does have is a finely honed sense of local color – the Red Hat Society ladies come to lunch at the distillery, e.g. He manages a comprehensive website and maintains an active blog. Old New Orleans Rum has pages on Facebook (I’ve joined up as a fan) and MySpace. You can purchase bottles online and have them shipped…from New York.

If – or when – Michalopoulos succeeds, he’ll have done it with continuous and clever promotion on a local and regional level, slowly building the rums’ audience through brewery tours, event participation and broadening distribution sites. You can find Old New Orleans varieties in Spec’s here, for example, right along with the shelf-hogging Bacardis and Ron Ricos.

Rum, like wine, is an amazingly available product…it comes from just about everywhere. But hard liquor distilled from sugar cane and byproducts is a genuine New World invention. It played a significant role in the European and African colonization of the American continents.

That these rums remind you of beignets and coffee with chicory is positively part of the brand’s image. The appeal is local (where Elysian Fields crosses Abundance), like Shiner Bock and St Arnold beers instead of Budweiser here in Houston. You gave it up for Tito’s Handmade Vodka, right? Made in Austin, right?

Well, you can buy your rum one of the great big labels and watch your money go offshore. Or you can offer up your drinking dollars and sense of style to NOLA, where artisanal branding is alive and well.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Steen’s Passalong

Yeshiva University decides to field a rowing team. Unfortunately, they lose race after race. They practice and practice for hours every day. Still, they never manage to come in any better than dead last.

Finally, the team decides to send Morris Fishbein, its captain, to spy on Harvard, the perennial championship team. So Morris schleps off to Cambridge, MA, and hides in the bushes next to the Charles River, where he carefully watches the Harvard team at its daily practices.

After a week, Morris returns to Yeshiva. “Well, I figured out their secret,” he announces.

“What? Tell us! Tell us!” his teammates shout.

“We should have only one guy yelling. The other eight should row.”

Thanks for this old goldie to Michael Steen, who writes novels like The Barnabas Nickel under the pen name “Michael Sea.” Good Shabbos.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Guarding Trademarks

For brand marketers, there's a good, quick briefing on the proper selection of trademarks: Read the “What’s in a Name?” article from BevNET Innovation, Issue 2, by lawyer Gregg R Sultan, here.

Long-form, though, it struck me that it’s relatively rare when information technology and copyright protection intersect. Today’s one of those days.

We’re at the dawn of what WIRED is now calling the “Petabyte Age.” That’s when there’s so much information available to us, the sheer mass of data demands what WIRED editor Chris Anderson says is an entirely different approach. He further pronounces: The new availability of huge amounts of data, along with the statistical tools to crunch these numbers, offers a whole new way of understanding the world.

Very cool thinking, yes? Except that one of the examples in the WIRED feature article is a DOD program called Essence – the Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics. Though “100 megabytes of data come in every day,” the government can’t nail down the source(s) of the current salmonella outbreak that’s clobbered 1,000 people.

Big data may well become miraculous. But mistakes will still happen if your project is “untouched by human thought.” So we come back to creating and protecting a trademark and Sultan’s article. Here’re some snippets:

Businesses tend to pick names which describe a product to immediately alert the consumer to the product’s nature (e.g., “Lemon Lime Soda”)…in the long run, you probably won’t be able to distinguish your beverage from others or protect the name.

Sierra Mist for lemon-lime soda…is considered a suggestive mark because it doesn’t describe the product, but conveys the idea that it’s refreshing. Marks like these are easier to protect and enforce…

As I said up top, the entire article is concise; worth your reviewing as a “best practices” reminder. Radio Corporation of America was fine in 1919. Now, 90 years later, it wouldn’t hold up as a corporate or brand name. This is what lawyers are for in our day and age, along with creative people who understand what makes one brand name more powerful, more useful and more protectable than another.

It doesn’t matter how much data you crunch (and there are software programs that’ll invent brand name options by the thousands). Creating a great brand is a human endeavor; guarding its IP value is up to human beings every time. Every time.

Appreciation to Gregg R Sultan, Esq., for his white paper, © 2008,, Inc. Post art by Prism Design, Inc. Many thanks to Susan Reeves and Stacy Allen. The art is the binary (data) form of a client brand name – a free bottle of wine to the first person who identifies it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wood’s Rebuke

I don’t know Bertha Jean Wood of Katy, TX. I’m gonna talk about her, though. First, note what Don Markstein says on his excellent ToonpediaTM website: “There was a time when Americans thought it was okay to poke fun at people about their cultural heritage.”

All too often, this habit took the form of mascots for very well-known brands. Markstein calls them commercial spokestoons.

The clichéd Frito Bandito© brand mascot was created for Fritos Corn Chips in 1967 by ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding. The character, animated by the genuinely famous Tex Avery, lasted about five years. Then in ’71, pressure by Mexican-American groups, accusing Frito-Lay and FCB of playing up racial stereotypes, forced the Bandito into permanent retirement.

Thirty-plus years later, the shoe is on some other foot. Or is it possible you’ve been asleep while the latest Wal-Mart kerfluffle’s been going on in Houston? It’s about the “much beloved” Mexican cultural icon, Memín Pinguín – again.

There’s so many blog posts, so much information on this flap, you can Google it all for yourself. What you do need to know is that Mexico’s past president, Vicente Fox, said back in 2005 that he didn't understand what all the fuss was about over Memín Pinguín. He insisted that Memín’s image was not racist, but a beloved character embraced by all Mexicans.

Out of the smoke of the cultural battlefield comes Ms Wood’s letter to the Houston Chronicle (Saturday, July 12, 2008, page B6). It would be a succinct 44 words if she didn’t have to refer to the paper’s overlong headline. She wrote:

I am glad to read that former Mexican President Vicente Fox sees nothing offensive about the Memín Pinguín character. (Please see “Comic draws charges of racism/Customers ask Wal-Mart stores to remove book,” City and State cover, Tuesday.) The right to free speech should never be compromised. Since we all agree on that, can we have Speedy Gonzalez and the Frito Bandito back? Please?

Thank you, Ms Wood. I hope and expect that you will extend that same incisive judgment to cultural stereotypes, whether they’re good or bad.

When is it time to put aside some beloved icon? Maybe it’s when your stakeholders transform themselves. Or when you’re no longer selling in “your” market. Trick is, discovering when that time comes before everything blows up in your face.

PS: Review some familiar brand mascot makeovers here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Big Show

Brief note on the annual Lawndale Art Center Big Show, which opened last evening; Barbara and I attended. For this year’s event, the organization received 1,014 submissions by 407 artists and showed just under a hundred of them, from Adelman (John) to Zeigler (Paul S).

It was a full house, livened by people we knew: Hugh McDonnold had two paintings selected; the aforementioned John Adelman; Garland Fielder, Larry McEntire, Howard Sherman, Frances Thiel and many more; way more we did not know at all of course.

I thought two Allen Rodewald pieces were particularly fine – similar to the one pictured above. In fact, I thought this year the Show demonstrated a higher level of technical accomplishment overall. Still, with such a crowd, such an array of art, there’s no doubt that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

It’s not comprehensively eye-popping (though some pieces are). It is a damned good overview of the state of art in Houston. I suggest a visit to 4912 Main Street. Then out for a couple of drinks to absorb the images. We did; used a 2006 Argentine Malbec for this purpose. No advertising - lovely evening.

Painting: “White Black,” acrylic on canvas, 42” x 68” – Expressive Design Studios.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

We, together...

Last Wednesday, a colleague of mine was sworn in as a new American citizen. She told me about it on Thursday and I couldn’t have felt prouder at the news. She’s not from around here, you see – and I wasn’t even aware that she was undertaking this step.

Most of us are not “from around here.” That makes me an unabashed fan of the American melting pot. Unless you’re an American aborigine, all Americans come from someplace else, or their ancestors did.

Last Wednesday, hundreds of new US citizens added to the mix that is so uniquely American. In fact, US Citizenship and Immigration officials indicated that they conduct one such ceremony every month – usually about 2,700 people are sworn in as new citizens.

It’s a continual wonder to me and I don’t take the commitments of a US citizen lightly. Neither, I think, do new American citizens. Each of us, in our time, has the opportunity and the responsibility to make our nation better, to enrich the lives of our fellow Americans through good citizenship and good works.

You may or may not believe that the French cynically gave our nation Bertholdi’s Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World as a tourist promotion. To imagine seeing it for the first time from the deck of an immigrant’s ship is spine-tingling. To actually visit it is humbling.

If you read history, you are not necessarily condemned to repeat it – yet that’s what’s happening in today’s divisive debate about immigrants. Yes, the US ought to secure its borders. Yes, many immigrants are here illegally.

But so many are not – and so many take up citizenship and responsibilities which many “born-here” compatriots do not. This is one thing that makes us great: This amazing nation, this melting pot of cultures and languages and rancorous wrangling among left, right and center.

On this day after the 4th of July, remember the arresting sonnet penned by Emma Lazarus in 1883, which appears on a bronze plaque inside the Statue’s pedestal:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Here at our sea-washed, sunset- gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome, her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin-cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she,
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

On Wednesday, in Houston alone, several thousand people became new citizens. They’re joining us – or we are joining them. Together, we make up everything that is America.

Instead of complaining, what have you accomplished that is good for your neighborhood, your city, your country? Have you lifted your lamp beside our golden door lately?

Since I was on this particular kick, and because Glitzy has such an arresting collection of jewelry, I took the liberty of using another photo of an Amazing Adornments brooch – a 1940s-era Accessocraft pin made for the Kay Dunhill dress company. It bears the Latin motto E Pluribus Unum: “Out of Many, One.” That’s what the melting pot is all about.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Silson’s 4th

After various, more somber 4th of July posts (here, for example), something lighter’s in order. There’s always time for splashing your feet in the backwaters and bayous of History.

You could call today’s post Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Jewelry.

“Glitzy” writes the Amazing Adornments blog. If Glitzy were writing this, you’d probably be able to find who really designed the brooch pictured above, which came up immediately when I Googled “Independence Day Pins.”

In a US patent (#D124416) granted 31 December 1941, Victor Silson portrayed a pin with the Declaration of Independence, Independence Hall, an inkwell and a goose quill pen:

Be it known that I, Victor Silson, a subject of the King of Great Britain, residing in the city of New York, county of New York, and State of New York, have invented a new, original, and ornamental Design for a Brooch or Similar Article…

The pen I mentioned is present in the Silson patent drawing; it’s missing from the pictured example.

I thought the timing was important (just after Pearl Harbor) until I started digging. Silson, it turns out, was a prolific 1930s-40s producer of brooches and pins, military and otherwise. He designed, patented and produced hundreds of brooches, including a handsome series of three locket-pins – one each for the Army, Navy and Air Force – and received patents for these, #D124114-116, in 1940.

The Army pin features a canteen in front of a crossed sword and musket. The locket is inside the canteen. The best views of these are at the N&N’s Vintage Costume Jewelry website.

It’s Silson’s name on the patents. But among vintage jewelry enthusiasts, William Spratling was a well-known Mexican silversmith who was employed by the Silson firm, a “very esteemed jewelry company.”

Glitzy, I’m curious: Is it Silson’s 4th of July design or Spratling’s?

I’ll drop a line to your blog and ask you straight out…I think there’s a neat story here somewhere. Happy 4th of July, y’all.

Photo courtesy of Amazing Adornments.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Lord love the English language. It’s one of the most entertaining things in the Western world. John A Sagerian of Pasadena, TX, wrote a letter to the editor in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle (29 June 8, Page E2). A firm and righteous letter, it contains the following sentence:

If syndicated columnist EJ Dionne thinks the Supreme Court is cow-towing (sic) to the right wing, I want some of what he’s smoking.

Now I’m no Bill Safire (who is?). But I’m thinking that what Sagerian intended to use is kowtowing – a quite classic word of Chinese origin, brought into English in the very late 18th Century, that means to act in an obsequious or servile manner. More directly, “to touch the forehead to the ground while kneeling as an act of reverence, etc.”

Sagerian couldn’t have created such a wonderful case of miswording by intention. It has to be a psychological slip. Simply stated, I can’t visualize the Supremes ever using a stock trailer to deliver anything to conservatives, even cows.

If I were cow-towing to hard right-wingers or intransigent leftists, I’d certainly use the 2009 “Silver Star” pictured above by Wilson Trailers, available through Andres Trailer Sales in Alberta – it has exclusive aerodynamics that’d help me cut through the hot air generated by pundits of both parties.

Nevertheless, a tip of the Hatlo hat to Pasadena’s Mr Sagerian for the wonderful slip-of-the-keyboard, or pen or whatever.