Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lifeless Snoozers

I’m about to do Korean Air (and other major international companies) a grave injustice – I guess. But the example ad above, featuring KA’s “reclining Kosmo Sleeper,” is ink-on-paper proof that The Economist has the most boring ads of any major weekly magazine on the planet Earth. They’re mostly tedious. They’re dreary, lifeless snoozers.

Please leave aside, for the moment, whether the entire Korean Air ad campaign, with TV spots created by director Michael Buckley, is good or bad. (This particular print ad has been called “Stunning” and “Absolutely brilliant.” Blog-posters say they love flying the airline.)

No, what I’m after is why The Economist, a massively important and very well-written news magazine, has such generally uninspiring advertising, week after week.

Well, I guess I know why, but I sort of forgot, and then the magazine itself reminded me. A recent article, “Heated arguments,” pointed out that attack ads are on the rise – in America. But, oh dear, the rest of the world still doesn’t like them: “Attack ads tend to go down badly in Europe and Asia.” And, “Some governments even ban them.”

The article really isn’t news, it’s observation. I learned about Europe’s unease with provocatively combative adverts at the knees of my Dialogue International colleagues.

So there are like these…rules…for ad campaigns that will run internationally. Outside-the-US Rule 1, no English-language puns – non-native speakers often don’t get the jokes and they can hardly ever be translated into other languages anyway.

Rule 2: Make only claims that can be proven in court – and if in doubt, don’t make them at all. So paging through, say, The Economist, you’ll see terribly boring ads for SAP or Royal Bank of Canada. (There’s often fancy watch ads on the back covers, though.)

“Stop the reader” is my Rule 1. I call The Economist ad slate boring because I don’t think the ads bring readers to a screeching halt. This doesn’t have to be done with funny headlines or provocative pronouncements . Use a dramatic photo once in a while. (What are you people paying your ad agencies for, anyway? Sleep-aid adverts?)

Wake up. Get a life. And only read The Economist for the articles.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Avocado Power…

A letter – via blog post – to Chris Whitley at Wood Group Renewable Energy Services.

Dear Chris: Can you make out the ad at all? For Mexican avocados? I honestly don’t know why I hadn’t suggested this idea to you before now but the new ad caught me by surprise.

Fresh from the back cover of this month’s issue of Cooking Light, I honestly never envisioned using slices of The Amazing AvocadoTM as rotor blades on high-efficiency wind turbines. Nope, not even when we were creating and producing the 2009 Renewable Energy Services print ads.

I also can’t determine if this new ad is part of the campaign that started in January, or the newer, second-half campaign. According to the trade press, the Avocados-from-Mexico Fall/Winter marketing program’ll run full-bore media campaigns in “the top avocado consumption markets” of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Chicago. (I can’t quite figure out Chicago, but there it is.)

According to a news release from Integrated Marketing Works in Newport Beach, CA, though, the “new” campaign won’t start ‘til early November. So maybe this particular ad comes out of the avocado organization’s NYC shop, Lewis and Neale.

In case you can’t read this photo, the headline is, “with nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, it’s nature’s power plant.” I guess it suits the Cooking Light audience. Our headlines are quite a bit better, of course. Still, the Mexican avocado campaign’s slated to reach 99 million consumers and that’s a lot of people, no fooling. So here’s the NEXT BIG IDEA for RES.

Let’s contact the Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association (MHAIA) and do a joint marketing campaign. RES brings its exceptional, global knowledge of, and experience with, turbine MOR and wind farm operations. The importers bring the avocados…and we will find a vendor to supply the chips.

Everything gets promoted with “hospitality events” at the Turbo Show in Houston, as well as Power-Gen 2009 in Las Vegas. Avocados are, after all, a renewable resource. I guarantee – the renewable industry will NOT have seen anything like this!

All the best for a good week…Richard.

Print advertisement ® 2009, Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hardee’s Pottymouth?

Maybe you’d call ‘em “Joy Balls.” Maybe you’d call ‘em “Happy Holes.” Or maybe you would call the Parents Television Council, self-appointed targeter of programs it deems inappropriate for children (uhuh), and complain huffily about a new Hardee’s marketing campaign.

The PTC has called on Hardee’s franchisees asking them help kill the brand new Hardee’s Biscuit Holes TV commercials.

Now before you do anything else, do go to and check out what this is about…I think it’s a clever, silly site supporting a clever campaign idea: Hardee’s is looking for a good brand name. The company’s mildly pottymouthed campaign has upset some family-values people, which has put a major Hardee’s franchisee (Ben Mayo Boddie) on one, offended side of the furball; and the fast-food company on the other. So far, Hardee’s is sticking by its creative, bless you, by Mendelsohn Zien Advertising in LA.

Chain Leader reported on the introduction – and the naming opportunity – quoting Hardee’s VP-Marketing, Brad Haley, this way:

We knew there would be a big market for Biscuit Holes when we learned that some of our biscuit bakers have been making a similar product for the rest of their restaurants’ staff and they loved them.

They really are irresistible and it’s almost impossible to eat just one. But what to call them was a big challenge. One of my favorite options was “Biznuts,” a cross between biscuits and donuts, since the closest thing to them are donut holes. But there were many other suggestions that were very funny. Unfortunately, I can’t repeat them here.

Well, that’s the key, isn’t it. I look at the commercials and think they’re pretty hilarious in a teenage, look-I-pierced-my-eyebrow kind of way. You might also notice that there are equal numbers of guys and gals, young people and old folks…all jumping into the naming fun with “B-Holes” and “A-Holes.” The website is almost brilliant, complete with sound effects and quick naming clips. Oh yes, and coupons!

This mild Hardee’s bathroom humor take is driving the family values set crazy. In a week that filled with over-reactions, the PTC “outrage” just seems to be the icing on the…biznuts.

And way less amusing than “mouthful-of-balls.”

Extra thanks to Dave Ibsen at Five Blogs Before Lunch for the heads-up and Stacy Allen, Prism Design, for the screen capture.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Copycat Palm

What you can’t see in this dreamy commercial still is the 1000+ kung fu artists surrounding that rock. They (and actress Tamara Hope) star in a new 60-second commercial Palm has released for its Pre. Appearing on the PalmInfocenter, “WebOShelp” also posted it to YouTube, calling it:

An impressive new ad for the webOS Palm Pre smartphone, directed by acclaimed film director Tarsem [Singh Dhandwar] and featuring over 1000 martial arts performers (orchestrated by Sun Yupeng), creating an artistic interpretation of unique features such as Synergy and Cards.

I call it a rip-off. While the mass-dancer idea has since appeared in a number of TV spots, the most original execution was the piece done for Turkey’s AKBank, part of a striking campaign that ran in 2006. At the time, this choreographic extravaganza was original and arresting.

Now, an Endgadget post seems to echo most online sentiments about the Palm Pre spot:

You want obsessive coverage eh, well here it is: the latest Palm Pre ad just unveiled on Facebook. No smack-talk, no smarmy reference to the competition, just an impassioned plea that approaches gently upon the pads of kittens, gazes in your direction, and then walks away. If we didn't know better, we'd guess that Pre was a new brand of feminine deodorant. Give it a whiff after the break.

Either somebody sold Palm a bill of goods, or Palm’s target audience has shifted big time.

PS: Palm Pre commercial director Tarsem showed his new feature film “The Fall,” at the 2008 International Istanbul Film Festival – which was sponsored by AKBank. I never found out who actually directed the AKBank commercial. I wonder..?

Monday, July 20, 2009

…and Indians!

A number of recent vacation photos that Frank White the Photographer shared with me enter the realm of that quote by Milton Glaser, “I am still astonished.” (I don’t ever want to be blasé about Indians.) Frank wrote:

Jo-Anne and I are back from our road trip. It was great! We went to Corinth on our way to Shiloh, and of course we had to stop at Elvis’s birthplace in Tupelo. The highlight of the trip was the reenactment at Fort Niagara. This was the largest to date. There were over four thousand re-enactors; soldiers plus wives and children.

J and I had never been to one of these before and were amazed at the attention to detail. They lived in tents for three days, all furnished as in 1759.

There were six phases to the siege, the first being the Wilderness Battle, where the French came out of the fort to fight the British in the open field.
Labelle Famille was an ambush by the British when they discovered that French re-enforcements were on their way to the fort. This battle occurred about two miles south of the fort, lasted approximately twenty minutes and was a massacre.

White’s photos are
here – excellent to see them. This photo of an Indian re-enactor, particularly, stopped me.

Copyright © 2009, Frank White Photography. All rights reserved. See also Niagara's 4th.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pigeons Forward

#1: From “Wonder Weapons Between The Wars,” Army Magazine, June 1984. Copyright renewed. All rights reserved.

Snickers-Horace Pigeon Catapult (Great Britain, 1917). Mounted on a Snickers three-tonne, K-type lorry, the pigeon catapult was a natural follow-on to the more common pigeon vans used by the Royal Army Signal Corps (RASC) in World War I. The idea itself was born amid the rolling barrages of the French battlefields, as the RASC suffered increasingly prohibitive losses among its highly trained messenger pigeons.

At the Second Battle of the Somme, the pigeons suffered in in-flight casualty rate of 80 per cent.

Lt Col Vandemere Horace then suggested the concept of propelling the pigeons through the deadly curtains of fire at a higher rate of speed – in effect, a booster system. Several variants were tried, including a pneumatic gun and large rubber bands. But Col Horace, who had taken a second in Classics at Oxford (Balliol, ’01) insisted the Roman catapult was the answer.

Events proved him right. Properly synchronized, the catapult launcher was an amazing success during field trials on Salisbury Plain in 1916, where wet athletic socks were used to simulate the messenger pigeons. The special shields extending from the sides of the lorry (see drawing) protected the RASC crew from pigeons launched with acute trajectories, while padding on the upper shield sides preserved overshot birds from serious injury.

The use of the pigeon catapult was temporarily discontinued when an outbreak of trench molt devastated the entire stock of RASC messenger pigeons in June, 1917.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

CITGO Answer

“I’m Sue and this is my CITGO” is the first line of a new TV commercial from CITGO, one of a finely crafted series of spots from “unconventional agency” BVK in Milwaukee.

The campaign’s matching print ads (like the Key West CITGO execution on the right) don’t deliver the eye-candy enjoyment that the broadcast commercials display.

So, before anything else go to the main engine of the new CITGO campaign – the Fueling Good website – and watch these commercials. Then consider that CITGO and its advertising agency have created a strong, enjoyable answer (or the beginnings of an answer) to the corporation’s biggest challenge: Its ownership by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

The political activism of Venezuela’s president has caused very public difficulties for the company, whose largest retail operation is in the US…and always has been. In fact, it’s the embedded nature of the CITGO brand in America that is its saving grace and the foundation of this campaign.

Listen to the TV spots: “Every CITGO is locally owned.” You can hardly drive anywhere in 27 states without seeing CITGO service stations. Some are large and bright, some are small, even cozy. But every one offers the opportunity of a local story. A great local story.

CITGO’s E-Communications Manager Beth Palmer is also a valued, long-time colleague of mine – she’s the one that introduced me to the new TV campaign. Does “going local” work? I’d have to say that it does. Palmer even mentioned that the spot featuring Salisbury, NC, is being used by the local Tourism Authority (Rowan County, NC) because it is so strongly evocative of the town’s character and values.

That’s what CITGO and BVK have captured in these television commercials. Here are the feelings that have made local CITGO owners important participants in their communities…something that TV does so well. That these spots do so well.

One of the campaign’s lines is, “local and loyal.” I’d have argued about that last word except brand loyalty lies at the bottom of this new campaign and all its accompanying pieces. I think CITGO Marketing’s done an outstanding job. Tune in to these spots as I suggested and see what you think.

PS: You’ll find more details of the CITGO campaign in this BrandWeek article.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Vinegar War

It’s a simple one-page ad. I’d say that brand cant hasn’t been so well executed since the cheese toppings on certain frozen pizzas were accused, accurately but meaninglessly, of including casein (Glue?!?).

And I am particularly grateful to reporter Teresa Lindeman. After I saw the ad in Woman’s Day, I found her extensive article about the new Heinz campaign, “Vinegar wars spark high-octane Heinz ads,” in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette dated June 18. If the Heinz ad and Lindeman’s article aren’t required reading for some uni’s mass communications class, they ought to be.

When a single category’s worth almost $250 million and your price point’s down around your ankles, it’s time to “do something.” Anything. So here’s this Heinz condiment ad – a great example of advertising propaganda – asking homemakers that one provoking headline question:

“What field does your vinegar come from?”

When you decide to take your brand to war, propaganda is a key element. Propaganda goes beyond advertising. It’s “…communication aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause.” The cause, in this case, is the natural organic goodness of Heinz vinegar. The victor wins back lost market share and gets better grocery-store margins.

Lindeman leads with exactly the right touch: The image disturbs. On the one side, stand black towers of an oil facility, and on the other, green stalks of corn plants are seen against a blue sky.

No matter that the oilfield’s 1940s-era rigs comes from some deep photo archive, maybe an Andreas Feininger shot from Life. No matter that it’s difficult to find petroleum-distilled table vinegar in any US supermarket.

No matter, in fact, that it’s neither illegal nor unhealthy to use vinegar distilled from hydrocarbons. The creative does a heckuva job for Heinz, which clearly wants careful homemakers to react strongly to the imagery of the ad. (The full-page advert is supported by a handful a handful of other fine executions under the general campaign theme, HEINZ. GROWN, NOT MADE.TM)

The need for campaign is covered in delicious detail in the Lindeman article; the most telling point invokes the commoditization of vinegar.

Private-label vinegars are cleaning up. Collectively, they’re outselling the Heinz products more than three-to-one. Heinz lost 10%-plus share in unit sales last year. That’s a lot of millions. That’s worth a small war and Heinz has chosen its ground. Every label I read at Kroger’s and HEB says the store brands are made from natural products, too. But Heinz is planting doubt and doing a damn fine job of it.

The first volley of the war, this ad campaign is brand-building on a narrowly focused but national scale. Not to mention propagandizing at the same time.

I’m counting on Lindeman to let me know how the battles go.

The blog post headline is taken from the article by Teresa F Lindeman first published on June 18, 2009. All rights reserved and a fine piece of business journalism, too. A concise post on the “Tiny Choices” blog by Karina Tipton and Jenn Sturiale has outlined the issue of natural- versus synthetic-based vinegars.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Parrot’s Joke

Two old guys, Abe and Sol, sat on a bench in a park feeding pigeons and talking about baseball, just like they did every day. Abe turns to Sol and says, “Do you think there's baseball in heaven?”

Sol thinks about it for a minute and replies, “I dunno, Abe. But let’s make a deal: If I die first, I will come back and tell you, and if you die first, you come back and tell me, if there is baseball in heaven.”

They shake on it and, sadly, a few months later poor Abe passes on. One day soon afterward, Sol is sitting there feeding the pigeons by himself when he hears a voice whisper, “Sol... Sol....”

Sol responds, “Abe! Is that you?”

“Yes it is, Sol,” whispers the spirit of Abe.

Sol, still amazed, asks, “So, is there baseball in heaven?”

“Well,” says Abe, “I got good news and I got bad news.”

“Gimme the good news first,” says Sol.

Abe replies, “Well...there is baseball in heaven.”

Sol says, “That's great! What news could be bad enough to ruin that!?”

Abe sighs and whispers, “You're pitching on Friday.”

I cribbed this from the Galveston Parrot, “the Gulf Coast’s Favorite Newspaper.” It was too good not to share, so thanks to the Parrot.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fish “Exits”

The intersection of branding and the ease of taking offense happens a lot more often than you think. So I simply laughed out loud when I read a quote attributed to New Jersey Turnpike Authority spokesman Joe Orlando: “…it’s a bad idea to associate a highway with alcohol. Flying Fish has answered the authority’s concerns with disclaimers that the beer isn't endorsed by the authority.”

See, Flying Fish is naming a limited series of new beers after infamous New Jersey turnpike exits. In fact, the brewery (which was named 2009’s Top Beverage Artisan in the state) has gone so far as to [a] trademark the “Exit Series of beers” and [b] establish a nifty sub-site with an interactive map of the exits themselves. Take a look at this in case you are driving through the Liberty-and-Prosperity State.

The NJ Turnpike people are upset. So are the Mothers Against Drunk Drivers – normally a worthy organization but now a little too strident for its own good. This geographically isolated uproar reminds me of a verse I read years ago:

Hide, hide, Witch,
The good folk come to burn thee.
Their keen enjoyment hid beneath
The gothic mask of duty.

These days, brewers and vintners have more opportunities for “branding fun,” and Flying Fish has managed to stir up a lot of press for a little beer brand. I say, more power to brewery president Gene Muller and his gang – and will some kind Jersey Devil please pick up a few bottles for me before the next Exit SeriesTM beer is sold out?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Niagara’s 4th

Happy Independence Day.

Twenty years before the American Revolution, Britain and France fought for control of North America in a conflict known as the French and Indian War.

In July 1759 a British army, accompanied by almost 1,000 Iroquois allies, laid siege to French-held Fort Niagara. After 19 days, the fort’s walls had been breached by artillery fire, and a French and Indian relief column was defeated just a mile from the fort in a bloody morning battle. On July 25, the French surrendered the fort, ushering in an era of British control of the Great Lakes.

Old Fort Niagara is a National Historic Landmark and New York State Historic Site that welcomes more than 100,000 visitors every year. It offers a unique collection of original military architecture and fortifications from the 18th Century and the 19th Century, as well as living history events and programs, historical exhibits and collections, archaeology, and education.

Six years after Fort Niagara fell some citizens of Boston created the first Liberty Tree. Farmers going to market discovered that an effigy had been hung a big elm tree in Deacon Elliott’s grove. The hanged figure represented Boston merchant Andrew Oliver who’d agreed to collect a new “Stamp Tax” levied on the colonists by Parliament to pay for that war.

American colonists really, really resented having to pay the Mother Country for warring on their behalf (this kind of thing probably sounds familiar to you). That Liberty Tree was the first sign there was going to be trouble between America and Britain. It was one of the earliest conceptual expressions of liberty itself.

Thinking liberty led to independence and the document with the word in its title. As soon as it appeared in 1776, the talking heads of the day started arguing about what liberty, freedom and equality really meant. But the writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was typically ambiguous – he wrote that the text was intended “to be an expression of the American mind, and to give that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.”

Now it’s two-and-a-half centuries since the siege in upstate New York. Jo-Anne and Frank White the Photographer are in Youngstown celebrating the 4th of July and the 250th anniversary of the Fort Niagara battle. Frank has promised to send holiday snaps. Meantime I’ll sponge the ones you see here. And Barbara and I will be celebrating with Sam and Georgia Akers in the Heights.

Whether you’re in Houston or Youngstown or Paris or Baghdad, let’s join in observing the 4th. Listen to the Declaration of Independence, that “expression of the American mind,” right here. Let it stir you up.

We have the liberty to enjoy the widest range of freedoms in the world. Today, we commemorate the independence that gave us that liberty.

Happy 4th of July.

Vacation photography by “Klare and John” Shober posted on Panoramio, from whence I borrowed them.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

King? Partner?

I’ve been reviewing the new article Lee Hayden just published, “Customer Feedback: the Key to Stable Growth.”

Hayden’s a colleague from the AMA-Houston Healthcare SIG so I was anxious to see what he had to say. Which is, customers are now at the top of every business’s organizational hierarchy. If they’re not, they should be.

Perhaps you’ve read articles or even books on the subject. So you already know that this king-of-the-hill model is strong. Just a couple of reasons? One, Hayden says, “Smarter use of customer feedback can differentiate your brand, products and services in a tough market.” Two, “It is likely the best opportunity to gain stable growth while competition experiences massive customer losses.” Good thoughts for bad times.

But maybe you haven’t read all those business books. Maybe you’re involved in a company whose customers are not treated like royalty, like this joke from the fast food business:

What’s the difference between customers and vegetables?
Customers have arms and legs.

Start changing this attitude by reading Hayden’s piece – download it here. Then see how you can make learning about your customers pay off.

Listen, though. At the end of this new century’s first decade, what if customer-on-top is just an intermediate stage? I’ve chatted in a number of posts about “stakeholder management” and making certain that your customers become part of two-way (or more) conversations.

This is the distributed model. The customer’s not king of your heap but a partner in your brand and your business. The newer representation is one where customer potency isn’t royal privilege but power-sharing agreement.

Think about the several hundred million Facebook users who stopped the company’s attempt to change the platform dead in its tracks. Without realizing it, Facebook had given its user-fans enough power so that “customers” have a significant say in how this company operates. And there are no shares of stock in sight.

That’s where Hayden has led me with his article, which I haven’t given enough space to. But it has certainly steered me in some interest stakeholder directions. Thanks, Lee.

Charts from David Armano, L+E blog, with appreciation.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Bean Blog

True confession: I am associated with the firm responsible for a new blog, Use Your Bean. It’s the new online thing from Prism Design here in Houston. Principal Susan Reeves says it’s “evidentiary.”

I take that word in several different ways, presuming that I’ve spelt it right from the starting blocks). It’s evident that the Prismatics are interested in fresh ideas. More important, in the “worth a thousand words” category, the blog posts offer photographic proof of Prism’s design thinking.

Now that Sister Mary Ignatius explains it all for you (with apologies to Christopher Durang) I’m certain you’ll just rush right over there…to the blog. It may be even more compelling that one neat idea coming out of this idea blog is the swag offer, “Want to trade?” It makes me feel a bit sad that I already have this stuff. If you don’t though – and have something you want to barter – check it out.