Saturday, March 27, 2010

Just another cruising brand: Op is cool – says so right on the label.

Op also says it is “The Original California Lifestyle Brand.” When I realized that the brand on the swimsuit I bought at Walmart for the Panama Canal cruise comes from a familiar company, I felt, like, all mellow. Dude.

I closely non-resemble the brand demographic, representatives of which appear in the Op ad on this page. In fact, check out the Op brand site and you’ll see just how non-similar these happy youngsters are to moi.

That’s okay – there’s room for a lot of brands in the world. I’m just intrigued that Op is owned by Iconix Brands. The last time I wrote about one of this company’s brands, it was London Fog® trenchcoats.

This post’s about cool-dude-beachwear branding and I’m proud to have the chance to re-examine the brand-holder. Inconix bought the Op brand – Ocean Pacific – about four years ago for $54 million and has revived it rather nicely. But then, that’s what Iconix is famous for – being a licensing dynamo and all. The company has a whole bunch for great and busy retail marques, including the Joe Boxer®, Badgley Mischaka®, Mossimo® and Candie’s® brands – the current “Candie’s Girl” is Britney Spears.

The self-proclaimed Iconix biz-model is using licensing to generate predictable revenue streams (thanks to contractually guaranteed minimum royalty payments) combined with trendsetters in aggressive advertising and promotion. Good, bad or ugly, the beautiful people – Spears, Eva Longoria Parker, Madonna, etc. – do generate attention.

Iconix Brands also seems quite smart about keeping certain brands in strict channels and mindsets. Op is for Walmart. Mudd® apparel is available only at Kohl’s. Rocawear, per the website, “was established…off of the meteoric success of co-founder Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter…to fit the urban lifestyle and…street-savvy consumers.”

What happens in most all of the Iconix brand demographics hardly ever touches me and my life. And any suggestion that my Op swim trunks are too young for me will be met with knee-slapping, laugh-out-loud agreement.

For a marketer and advertiser, though, I applaud what Iconix Brands is doing at both wholesale and retail – you might want to look into just how brand-savvy the company really is. And cool or not, I’m running away to sea. Later, dudes…

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

On Friday, AMAHouston Seminar Shows Intangibles Strategies.

When it comes to marketing and advertising intangibles there are several flavors. Services is one - banking services or accounting services. There are intangible products too; employee healthcare insurance, for example. Your written policy is a form of physical proof that you are insured; you can’t buy insurance by the pound.

Marketers have spent years, decades, transforming intangibles into various forms of reality so that a wide variety of stakeholders can grasp them. In these cases, it’s not about the purchase but the buy: Stakeholders buy into these intangibles in a number of ways, accepting them into their businesses and their lives. There is a requirement for mental acceptance which is, or should be, brand-driven.

“Selling the Intangible: B2B Service Marketing Strategies” is quite tangible: Three hands-on experts are going to make everything real for you at Friday’s B2B Special Interest Group seminar, from our chapter of the American Marketing Association. Just click here to register if you haven’t already.

Join us at the House of Blues and get fresh insights about bank marketing from William Trout, BBVACompass Director of Internal Communications. Hear about thought leadership as a marketing tool for employee health benefits from Katrina Drake Hudson, Regional Marketing Leader at Humana. And see a first-hand how-to on rebranding accounting services from Christa Gerlovich, Practice Growth Manager for Weaver, LLP.

Oh - you can market insurance by the pound, sort of, with commodity futures contracts*. One particularly successful example (if I say so myself) is this three-dimensional direct mail program sent to hundreds of US ingredients buyers. The campaign promoted commodity contracts on the Chicago Board of Trade. Of course, a futures contract is only mostly intangible. If you screw up the “virtual” becomes intensely physical and you could enjoy 5,000 bushels of soybeans delivered to your driveway.

There’ll be no soybeans at the House of Blues’ Bronze Peacock Room this Friday morning. Just successful strategies from Trout, Hudson and Stranhoner. Since I will be the moderator, I hereby offer you tangible benefits (including a light breakfast) and say “Come on down!”

*Commodity futures are agreements of contracts that are used to purchase or sell a specified amount of a given commodity – in the case of this campaign, corn, rice, soybeans and soybean oil which are used as ingredients in various food products. The Chicago Board of Trade – CBOT – is now part of CME Group. Direct mail campaign created and produced “back in the day” by The Quest Business Agency, Houston, TX. Creative Director/copywriter: Yours truly. Art Director: Jim Prejean. Production Manager: Beth Palmer.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

When the Consumer is an Individual, Travel Marketing Has More Moving Parts.

This Panama Canal cruise I’m taking, I never waited for Princess Cruises to market it to me. I reached out and selected the destination and the means of getting there.

Maybe it’s because I’m on the leading edge of the famous Baby Boomer generation. Or I’m one of the group that broadly wants to keep learning, connecting and engaging with the world. Maybe I’m an individual and not really part of a group at all (though I find this last bit hard to believe).

Nevertheless, taking the Princess cruise ship south and west to the Canal is a personal choice that’s years in the making. When I was growing up, the Panama Canal was heroic – in many ways it still is.

When President Jimmy Carter signed the 1977 treaty which agreed to return 60% of the Canal Zone to Panama two years later, I was against that action, not because Panamanians didn’t deserve to control their own territory but because the Canal was so much a part of my historical understanding of America’s manifest destiny. And after all, I wasn’t against it that much.

In the middle of that now-foggy set of events, in ’78, David McCullough published his superb study, The Path Between the Seas, about the creation of the Canal. I read it immediately and it’s been in my bookshelves ever since; I re-read it every couple of years: Such a very American story.

Traveling to the Panama Canal hasn’t been all that difficult in the past century. But mental barriers exist, or used to: Time, location, affordability. Mentally, the Canal has come more and more within my reach.

I’ve seen enough jungles. There’s a limit on the number of on-the-water adventures I want to have. But this event comes down to imagination. Pictures like those above, by Argentine photographer Edgardo Balduccio, mean far more to me than eco-tourism (a merely trendy appeal).

Look closely at the date on the Miraflores Locks Control House…1913. It’s the year President Howard Taft said the Canal would be completed, the year that the US started paying Panama for its lease of the Canal.  MV Island Princess is really a time machine. One with a lot of very moving parts.

Photographs © Edgardo Balduccio, 2008. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Copywriting for Wellness: Turning Whimsical Makes a Winner for BP.

Few marketing copywriters ever get to write a line like “Listen to your inner asparagus.” Even fewer see the line in print. But I’m the lucky one thanks to an outstanding wellness marketing program at BP.

Among other projects, I was tasked to write the 2010 BP Wellness Calendar, in support of this year’s “Becoming a healthier you” employee benefits campaign.

The campaign itself is spearheaded by Janelle Ewing, who is Manager of Benefits Communication at BP America; and seconded by Bonnie Hargett, BP Benefits Communication Consultant. It’s been supported on the graphic design side by Prism Design – the Prismatics created the look for the internal campaign that includes this terrific 13-month calendar.

I created a “voice” for the calendar that went outside the lines a little – taking the month-after-month appeals from the pretty ordinary self-health advice column to the somewhat provocative, maybe-even-laugh-out-loud category. So, March, for example, starts off with “Get around to eating smarter” and continues:

Come on, you’re smarter than that pizza. Start cutting the intake of “stupid” foods while you build up your intake of smart foods like fruits and vegetables. Fact: Most women who eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day can cut their risk of developing cancer by up to 50% compared to those who only eat two or three servings a day. Fact: Men can use at least nine servings to reduce their risk of cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

We backed up month-fulls of wellness tricks and tips with our sources for that data. We included appeals to participate in health advisory programs and earn reward points every month from the beginning of 2010 through the first month of next year. The calendar became a thorough compendium of wellness support, from the health benefits of working out to stress relief to back-to-school immunizations (“Invaders from inner space,” another great line.)

Look, wellness is a product: A proactive and preventive approach designed to provide optimum levels of health, emotional and social functioning. But selling wellness has been overlooked by common marketers. The “approved” definition of marketing itself leaves out a major group of stakeholders that’s hugely influential on each major corporation – the company’s employees.

In terms of their effect on revenue, profitability and long-term customer relationships, it has been proven that the improved physical and mental health of employees has substantial positive impact on both the cost of healthcare provided by the employer and the cost of doing business generally.

The BP benefits team fulfilled this marketing-inside function, along with the insight that a successful Employee Wellness Program has to be broad enough to meet the needs of all employees, regardless of their current level of health.

Ewing’s and Hargett’s more-than-ordinary communication effort has been crucial to getting employees to participate in greater numbers in the BP wellness program. The calendar is one component of a tight mixture of communications pieces and appeals – an internal marketing program which has been successful in generating high numbers of sign-ups.

Pretty cool that I got to participate in this, along with Prism designers Terry Teutsch and Stacy Allen. Thank you, BP, for the opportunity to deliver great work – with whimsy added.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Stand by, Panama. I’m Wearing “Las Señoritas” on the Island Princess Cruise.

Last year, Bill Barrett of Barrett-Wehlmann and his wife took the same Panama Canal cruise, on the same ship, that we’re taking end of March. After talking with him and seeing some of his photos, the need for a new modest (fashion) statement seemed evident to me.

I needed to go far beyond the mundane cruisewear of yesteryear (such as displayed in the ad, bottom right). After all, some agency CD might want to create a more vivid advertising campaign for Princess. I want to be ready for my close-up, Mr DeMille.

I was aided and abetted again this time by the Amazing Seamstress Herself, my traveling companion, Barbara. I got to select the fabric and it was something of a struggle, you know how timid I am about colors and patterns.

Fortunately, the Folkorico section of the Alexander Henry Fabric Collection (gots to be a California company!) yielded “Las Señoritas” in the right summer-cruising weight. The colors have the kind of understated approach you all know I favor. And even though this collection has similar patterns with island girls and aloha girls, these are pale by comparison.

Alexander Henry is the self-proclaimed industry leader in cutting-edge, conversational print design. It’s quite clear that “he” created this particular pattern for someone who carries on a conversation at the top of his lungs. Like yours truly.

“Las Señoritas” isn’t the only loud shirt I’m packing but it’s the newest and I’d like to thank the Members of the Academy for not hiding their eyes in shame as I travel to and from the Canal in a few weeks. If advertising is life, then self-promotion is…me!

Pattern: Simplicity #3852. Crafter: Barbara Nytes-Baron    . Thanks and much more to Frank White the Photographer for the excellent photo (top). Older travel photo (bottom) published on by Gene Gable, February 19, 2010.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

When a Brand Turns Bad: Nature Valley® in the Candy Biz.

Attention brand-foodies. General Mills is sampling (and couponing) its Nature Valley Sweet and Salty Nut Granola Bar. Since the sample and 75¢-off manufacturer’s coupon came with the morning paper, it caught my attention. The Nature Valley line is a long one with lots and lots of “wholesome and delicious” product line extensions. Says so right on the website.

Never had this particular granola bar before. But you know, it looks like a rip-off of the PAYDAY Peanut Caramel Bar, now a part of the Hershey’s® line-up. I am an unabashed partisan of PAYDAY candy. Have been since the 50s, as far as I can recall. That’d put my introduction about 20 years and a complete World War after Frank Martoccio produced the candy – he went on to found Hollywood Brands, which also manufactured and sold the great ZERO candy bar. Liquor may be quicker but when you’re a kid, candy is just dandy.

I don’t know how much Hershey’s spends on PAYDAY advertising. I do know that the General spends plenty on Nature Valley, which is today synonymous with granola, all-natural ingredients and healthy eating habits.

Except when it’s candy, too. Which this particular product from Nature Valley is. Just like PAYDAY. Honest. I compared the labels. I adjusted for the fact that the Sweet and Salty Nut Granola Bar sample is 1.2 ounces and a standard PAYDAY is 1.5 ounces. Considering the serving size difference, the Nature Valley product has more calories than the PAYDAY, slightly more total fat and 2.5 grams more saturated fat. Its sodium level is higher than a PAYDAY; it does have 3 grams less sugars, but also less protein.

Candy bar. Candy bar. Candy bar. The same or candier than PAYDAY, which straightforwardly claims “sweet caramel and tons of salty peanuts.”

These Nature Valley bars average about 50¢ each online, while PAYDAY’s running between 63¢ and 71¢. With the coupons (75¢ in the sampler, $1 online), you could do better money-wise with the supposedly “perfect heart-healthy” treat. And, given brand loyalty, maintain your right-thinking relationship with this granola-bar line at the same time.

It is just a candy bar. But a candy bar by any other name still tastes as sweet, no matter how you advertise it. Now, which brand is the most honest advertiser?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Can I Do Better for Kraken than Blogger Rachel? I Don’t Think So.

A brander’s delight, “...Kraken™ is imported black rum from the Caribbean and blended with over 11 secret spices.” You can watch the overheated commercial on the brand’s website.

Wish I could say something positive about the site’s functionality. But I couldn’t do better in the way of a whiz-bang-design reaction than blogger Rachel in Atlanta. Read her post to get the spirit of the thing.

Hundreds of booze-brands are introduced yearly - see what I wrote about Railean Texas Gulf Coast Rum. Fighting for shelf space would be an awful chore if it weren't for wonderful imagination and empathic design. The right combo can pay off on the shelf.

Monday, March 01, 2010

30 Days from Now, We’re Taking to the Water – Don’t Wait Up.

Those rumors you’ve heard, they’re true. We’re shipping out, cruising to the Panama Canal and back for 10 days. We sail on March 30 from Fort Lauderdale on a large and (sinfully) luxurious vessel, MV Island Princess. With 90% of its staterooms designated as “ocean-view,” there’s a wrap-around Promenade Deck and more more than 700 balconies. One of those – squint and maybe you can see it – is reserved under Baron.

I’ve been following cruise-ship advertising for years. But the decisions made about this particular 10-day adventure into Central American waters come from a chain of impulses and events that run from the overnight Baltic cruises Barbara and I took in Dialogue days through the enthusiastic endorsements of colleagues and friends.

Certainly it’s not because I feel deprived of cruise experience during my own military service… no Med Cruises, no WestPacs. All those service years were Naval Air. No real sea-time for this Airedale, except for the occasional Mike boats in Manila Bay.

Coming up, between the end of March and April 9, look for online posts about Caribbean adventures, cruise-related advertising and other marketing-related high points. Presuming we're not eating, drinking and doing other typical tourist things. It’s our own Panama Canal Cruise. We’re outahere end of the month.

Thank you, Stacy Allen of Prism Design, Inc., for the cruise poster - look for it on T-shirts and other swag, coming soon (or not).