Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The “Smalls”

How to enjoy brief visits to unknown worlds? Follow me.

Let’s set the stage: It’s the pleasantly lazy days after Christmas – Happy New Year, BTW. I fulfilled an annual enjoyment this past week, picking up half a dozen magazines at the newsstand and reading them. I do a lot of reading, but dipping into infrequently read publications exposes me to different subjects, unusual ideas, even unlooked-for ads.

This season’s batch includes Foreign Affairs, American Handgunner, Scientific American and Smithsonian. In the back of Smithsonian, I remade my acquaintance with the “Smalls” – those tiny, one- or two-inch adlets that hang out in the final few pages of many magazines.

I admire them. First, they’re a form of advertising that’s been around a very long time. Second, they have to do a lot of heavy lifting for such tiny advertisements. Quite often, these little billboards have been detailed and fine-tuned to the point where they deliver plenty of interested magazine readers to the right websites or the right 800 numbers.

Third, the “Smalls” offer wonderful adventures to unusual places. And I don’t mean the Pakistani hinterlands or Mexican border towns. Just on this page, you can thrill yourself with a drop in at Heirloom Orchards, where “every apple has a story” ( Read all about the Albemarle Pippin, the Arkansas Black and…the Spitzenberg, among others.

Shop a hat. How can you resist that photo near the bottom of the page with debonair John Helmer himself sporting the $14 “European Beret” ( So far, we’re still in Oregon, another virtue of these smaller ads: They come from unexpected places like Portland, OR, and Hopkinton, MA – that’s Upton Tea Imports, in case you didn’t notice; visit and read the latest installment of “Reversals of Fortune in the Tea Industry.”

Men’s wide shoes – who knew shoes came 6E wide? – handcrafted wooden jigsaw puzzles, carnelian-nosed reindeer jewelry, Shaker boxes. Turn a page and drop in on The Bow Tie Club ( which is a great brand idea but lacks conceptual support. For really vivid bow ties, swing by Beau Ties Ltd of Vermont (; if you don’t see something that’ll blind your friends, Bill Kenerson vows to make it up for you special.

From time to time over the years, I have used shops advertised by “Smalls” to find the perfect Christmas or birthday gift, the right business mementos for an overseas agency trip. These micro-adventures engage you in authentic ancient artifacts, museum-quality models or down bathrobes, your choice.

They also serve as continual reminders that effective advertising doesn’t necessarily stand or fall on big ideas and bigger budgets: That’s why I think of the “Smalls” as micro-billboards.

I’ll sign off for 2008 with one of this year’s faves: Athena Pheromones ( Not sold in stores, these “fragrance additives for men and women” promise a bouquet of earthly delights. More important, they come with an irresistible testimonial from Larry in New York: This stuff is like catnip. Too many women come after me. I am looking for a woman my own age but the 10X attracts them all.

Wow – I’m sold!

1 comment:

Karen Blanchard said...

Richard you are actually ahead of the curve in a 2009 social media trend called slow blogging. It's the blacklash to mindless twittering in which people want thoughtful, well-written content. Namely, your blog.

All the best and Happy New Year!