Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is Old Crow Really the Bourbon Sam Houston Didn’t Drink?

The Old Crow people, or perhaps I should say their advertising agency, have been trying to convince the public, through the medium of the popular magazines, that the father of this city preferred their whisky to other brands.

Until that recent campaign, it probably had never occurred to most of us to raise the question of what brand of liquor Sam Houston drank. But now this seems to have become a hotly debated subject in our town.

So, seeking competent testimony on the matter, I called on Sam Houston’s grandson, Franklin Williams, in the office of his insurance firm in the Gibraltar Building, corner of Capitol Avenue and San Jacinto Street…Mr Williams is eighty-one, and his hair is white. Let his hair grow longer, take off his glasses, give him a Houston hat and a gold-headed walking stick, and he could almost sit for a portrait of the Liberator of Texas.

“What about this Old Crow propaganda?” I asked the son of Sam Houston’s second daughter. Mr Williams chuckled, opened a desk drawer, and took out a Manila folder. From this he took a page torn from a magazine. Under a reproduction of a life portrait of Sam Houston were printed these words:

Sam Houston, Texas’s beloved hero, knew the glories of Old Crow. He and Daniel Webster discussed problems of national import during a historic reunion over a drink of James Crow’s whiskey.

“Well,” I told Mr Williams, “I see where the Old Crow people claim Dan Webster, Henry Clay, and Mark Twain drank their product too…Do you think Sam Houston did?”

The grandson of the hero of San Jacinto smiled. “Well, there’s no telling what he drank in the public room of the Willard Hotel, when he was in Washington. But in Texas I think Sam Houston drank Bottled in the Barn.”

“You mean ― ?” I said.

“I mean,” he said, “that in General Houston’s time most of the whisky around here was homemade, and it was mighty good whisky. Sam Houston was not the kind of man to drink whisky imported from Kentucky when he could get good Texas-made whisky. Now, was he?”

“From my reading,” I said, “I’d say you’re absolutely correct.”

“What Henry Clay and those other fellows drank, I couldn’t say,” Sam Houston’s grandson concluded.

I excerpted these 11 paragraphs from Sig Byrd’s Houston by Sigman Byrd, Viking Press, New York, 1955. In those days, Old Crow was produced by National Distillers. “The manufacturer actively pursued such publicity: in ’55, they took out an ad in College English, the journal of the National Council of Teachers of English, offering $250 for every literary reference to their product.” [Wikipedia]. Byrd’s writing implies a chronic need for money. It wouldn’t surprise me if he wrote the original column to take advantage of this offer – early “blogging for bucks.”

In a brand reboot of sorts, current owner Beam Global Spirits and Wine/Fortune Brands launched Old Crow Reserve in April, 2010. It’s a nice piece of work by Santa Rosa, CA, agency Armstrong Associates.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ball Watch Website Brand Punch: More Steam, Mad Gleam.

You can read this post or avoid the words and go directly to BallWatch.com for one of the most “atmospheric” websites I’ve run across recently. For brand vision and sheer evocative power, the presentation is hard to beat.

I’m fond of big machinery like locomotives. Especially the steam-powered muscle machines of yesterday. Ball Watch has successfully evoked this yesterday by combining the romance of steam and the love of highly accurate time pieces in a sound-and-sight-show that works superbly on the worldwide web.

Sure enough, Ball watches are expensive. I don’t remember the precise line, but looking at the Ball price list is like hearing a collector say, “Only the really costly ones are interesting.” Ball watches are not, however, the most expensive watches in the world. They do seem to have an intensely loyal following: very few used Ball watches seem to come up for sale on “fleaBay,” for example.

What caught me – catches me still – is the imagery and the scoring. Old black-and-white film footage with evocative music overcomes my sensibility about the amount of time Flash intros normally take. For a brand guy who’s heartily tired of sneering athletes and faux-shock appeals to youth, Ball Watch calls up strong images of a vigorous industrial America. A great branding job.

Unfortunately, that’s not directly apparent in much else the company does. The two-column-by-seven-inch ad that caught my eye in a recent Wall Street Journal is much like other expensive watch ads…except for the “Official RR Standard” line which reminded me I’d been meaning to check the company out for some time. The particular watch, a Fireman B and O “First Mile,” is the kind of historical detail I notice but a third of the ad is dealer listing.

I wish the company website delivered more business detail about the company itself. You need to burrow deep into the Internet to discover that, as of 2007 at least, Ball Watch USA “incorporated under the laws of New York and our major investor is an American citizen.” (This is from Jeff Hess, self-identified president of the firm. “Owners are an investment group. CEO is Francisco Harreraa formerly of Citibank. Two of the main investors are a Swiss guy and an American citizen. VPs are a guy from Kansas City and a guy from Canada.”

No precision there. Still, it’s not the first time that we have looked deeply into the eyes of the watch business and seen the mad gleam of great brand development driving the…train. (Remember the Flying Tourbillon and Watch Obama posts.)

Return to the main point: Ball watches appear to be quality goods. Trend-wise, they look fine. Plus its Explorers Club idea, which could be hackneyed, isn’t because this particular web segment is beautifully scored with a haunting version of “Amazing Grace.” Way more evocative than the sonically ugly Youtube version, by the way.

Though I do not own a Ball watch and am never likely to, I’m calling the website a great branding job. For this could-be consumer, more Americana please, mad gleam and all.

Main photo: Wikimedia.org and US Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division, npcc.32807 digital ID. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Think Marketing to Physicians Was Complicated Before..?

Friends – and you are all friends – you need to be at “Marketing to Physicians: Winning Game Plans for an Industry in Flux” on September 24. [Just click right here for details.]

Because you’re trying to market to medical and dental practices, or the physicians and dentists themselves. Because your CFO or CEO or Practice Director demands that you show measurable, dollar-delivering results from the marketing/communications budget.

Because – as the handy visual above demonstrates – our healthcare markets have become more puzzling, confusing and baffling than ever.

AMAHouston’s Healthcare SIG has announced the seminar at HBU this way:

More rigorous government regulations, practice changes, financial concerns and shifting demographic dynamics have all dramatically changed the health care game.

You think? Almost every element of a medical or dental practice is no-more-business-as-usual. So things are pretty tough at the “marketing rock face” these days. One active Healthcare SIG member, Winnie Hart of The H Agency, just returned from the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development Conference in Chicago. This conference, too, focused on the “tactics, and solutions you need to successfully navigate today’s complex and complicated environment.” Hart listened closely to Conference presenters and told me:

The question was what brings in more money – marketing to the consumer or marketing to the physician? Several hospitals presented and shared percentage changes in consumer-vs-physician marketing, from 90 (consumer)/10 (physician) to 60/40, and from 70/30 to 50/50. All reported higher marketing dollar percentages dedicated to physician marketing. So many hospitals are reorganizing departments and reallocating resources to focus more on physician marketing.

On 9/24 you get your own panel of experts in practice marketing and business development, all ready to share information and ideas – their organizations’ hands-on experience.

Your choice. Come to the seminar and help yourself develop best practices for the hard(er) marketing and communications work ahead. Or stare at the chart until your Medicare coverage kicks in. Really, signing up for the seminar is better. Ta…

NOTE: Today’s visual is “the first chart illustrating the 2,801 page health care law President  Barack Obama signed into law in March.” Although it “displays a bewildering array of new government agencies, regulations and mandates,” it in no way reflects Signalwriter’s opinion – at this time. Check back with me in a couple of years to see how everything has worked out. Special thanks to the H Agency. Ta…

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Locke Bryan House Ad Returns – This One Channels Lichtenstein.

The last time Kay Krenek and I created a house ad for Locke Bryan Productions, the LBP gang ran it in every production directory in America for two years. Then printed it on t-shirts. Made posters out of it. And mouse pads (I’m on my second or third one.)

This year’s edition should be called a Bryanstein, maybe. Nevertheless, the Locke Bryan Productions ad concept has returned in a new 2010 version and it forms the second entry in the Houston production company’s “Art of Making” series house ad series.

The now-iconic visual of Principal/Director Locke Bryan (standing) and Producer/Director Mike Patterson (behind the camera) has received a new art treatment at the hands of Houston illustrator Mike Dean, in the style of American painter Roy Lichtenstein. Dean told me:

I read what Lichtenstein said about art. It doesn’t feel like the artist took himself too seriously so I had fun myself. Whether you consider the Locke Bryan assignment a homage or not, I got a kick out of doing the illustration.

Both the original Warhol-style house ad and this new version were conceptualized just for the gang at LBP. (We promise not to use this idea for any other client!) Krenek of course did the art direction. I did something swell; I’ll let you know what it was as soon as I find out. Meantime, I’m tickled to see this year’s new concept in print. And on posters. And mouse pads.

Thanks to everyone for the enjoyable project!

PS: Spiffy new logo, too - also by Krenek.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Naked Women, Fandango Dancers, Bullfighters and Beer Signs…

Thanks to serendipidy and an old book, today’s post is for Will Rust, ECD at Ogilvy in Budapest:

     The Laredo is a pleasant, restful place, known to only a few Anglos. The walls are painted a kind of smoky aquamarine and are hung with many fine commercial lithographs, of such subjects as horses, bullfighters, naked women, fandango dancers, vaqueros swinging their reatas at stampeding cattle, and scouts in charro dress following Indian sign across the llano.

The most spectacular print is a large calendar from the Tecate Cervezaria of Cuidad Mexico that hangs over the back bar. It represents, in brilliant color, an Indian youth bravely mounting the stairway of an Aztec pyramid to become a human sacrifice, while a beautiful maiden crouches at his feet, imploring him to save himself – presumably for her.

So after he hung the calendar, Don Antonio decided to remove it. It was too pagan, too dolorous. But several patrons protested and so he left it. Now three signs tacked to the wall overlap the edges of the print, and so it has become a permanent part of the Laredo’s décor. The signs are in Spanish and, translated literally, say: WE DO NOT SERVE MINORS OF AGE; A PEARL, AS A FAVOR (which refers to another brand of beer); and BARBECUE, TRIPE, AND TRIPE SOUP.

Sig Byrd’s Houston by Sigman Byrd, Viking Press, New York, 1955.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

New Wheaties Fuel™ Intro Features Grim-Faced Guys for Man-Marketing.

They’re back – frowning athletes who seem to reflect the idea that sport is serious business. The cop-an-attitude that turns sporting events into gang rumbles or combat maneuvers is now on every box of Wheaties Fuel, the newly evolved “delicious honey cinnamon crunch!”

General Millis is rolling out the new generation of Wheaties, the first cereal admittedly marketed to men. This probably explains why the creative consultants for the new breakfast yummy* are high-performance celebrities from a variety of sports...all men.

As a marketer, I get the need to evolve the Wheaties brand. I love niche-marketing to men after decades of skewing in the other direction. And I cheerfully admit that the cereal-maker is making a valiant attempt to capture the macho/humorous appeal of the light beer advertisers – for this, watch the videos on the website.

I think what I’m reacting to, since a sample box arrived with my morning paper, is the imagery of the frown. I’ve been watching it grow for years, infecting first the photos of high school footballers who, at 16 or 17, keep glaring out of the newspapers like they’re carrying pistols in their pockets. This has shaded over into the current iconography of some women’s teams, too, from fast-pitch softballers to high-school lacrosse players.

Prospectively, there were other avenues the Wheaties product-line people could have explored (there’s an admittance of experimentation in the marketing materials). But the “brooding look” created by Minneapolis ad agency Boom Island goes beyond the joy of winning into the dour realm of do-or-die-trying.

Now I put an asterisk (*) by the word “yummy” above because, when I finish this post, I’m headed to the breakfast table to try the latest version of The Breakfast of Champions, wherein the third listed ingredient is…sugar, the sixth is honey and the 11th is brown sugar syrup.

Hell, no wonder these guys are glaring. Their teeth hurt.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Pour Your Way to Event Marketing Success? It Works for Me.

I presume that my enjoyment of Saturday’s 250-beer list at the Brewmasters knees-up in Galveston is evident from the photo above. Now I want to look at the entire event from a marketing perspective.

First of all, what is “it?” Saith one of the early event press releases:

This Labor Day weekend Sep. 3-5, Moody Gardens will host the first annual Brewmasters International Beer Festival – an event that promises to become one of the best and largest beer festivals in the nation.

Second, marketing-wise, who benefits? In this case there’re a lot of “whos.” Clifton and Constance McDerby of Food and Vinetime Productions are the producers – they credit their own enjoyment of food and wine with leading them to do these kinds of events. They conduct them all over the area, often for fund-raising. In this instance, there’s a stated desire to build something for the future, this “world class beer festival in Texas.”

Fair enough. Having attended just part of the festival (the BrewHaHa Grand Tasting), I can now identify anywhere from half-a-dozen to thousands of beneficiaries – a substantial marketing target. Spec’s is a big sponsor; the large-scale liquor/wine/beer chain gets even more “beer props” for its active role in these events. Then there are dozens of breweries large and small, from the international monsters (Budweiser, Heineken, and so on) down through the regional, state and local beer-makers – think Saint Arnold’s and Southern Star.

For smaller brewers, distinctive branding is one element of aggressive marketing – hustling being the other. Some brewers have now-quite-recognizable personalities. One of my favorite pitches comes from California’s Lagunitas Brewing Company:

Hop Stoopid is an American Imperial (or Double) IPA. ‘Give it to Mikey... He’ll drink anything..!’ Up the bomber went in toast, then to his lips, and what happened next could not have been foreseen. Hop Stoopid, a slick re-animator green fluid oozed from the bottle. When it crossed his teeth and came in contact with the bitterness flavor receptors on his tongue, his eyes rolled back in his head, he did a sort of death rattle, a cloud crossed the Sun, and all his hair fell out…Cheers!

Galveston benefits big-time during the final stage of its Hurricane Ike recovery, bless ‘em. The Festival has brought people to the island who might not have come otherwise, like the three young men from Atlanta who looked for a weekend getaway, spotted the Festival online, and flew over to Texas for the long schedule of events. (Enjoy, you guys!)

Finally but never lastly is the people. Beer is intensely democratic. Everyone says so and who am I to differ? Remember, we’re talking about 250-300 different beers here; there were pours for every taste. That means some bottle or can was being served during BrewHaHa that pleased every one of the attendees.

We the people are the ultimate marketing targets. On my way back from the event, I stopped at a Spec’s store and purchased “bombers” (large 22-ounce bottles) of Great Divide Espresso Yeti (a stout) and Lagunitas Hop Stoopid Ale, so it’s obvious the Festival worked its marketing magic on me.

Ronnie Crocker, who writes the Beer, TX, blog, said:

It was a very, very well executed event and I would imagine a revelation to a lot of folks about what beer can be like.

I believe there are three kinds of beer in the world. One kind, the least numerous, are the beers I’ve sampled. Two, the beers I’ve yet to try. And three, the beers I’d like to try and market. Given all the stakeholders it reached, the first-ever Brewmasters International Beer Festival is a great example of event marketing. I’m taking notes.

PS: Boulevard Brewing Company is in Kansas City, MO.

Friday, September 03, 2010

TxDOT Labor Day Push is Black and Yellow and Creative All Over.

It’s only taken me a couple of weeks to notice a provocatively fine public advocacy campaign by TxDOT.

Sorry. I suppose it’s a sad state of affairs that I first learned of it on the Houston Chronicle’s Beer, TX blog. (But not too sad – beer is good.) Well, the fully realized “Choose your ride” campaign is worth the wait.

You can read all about the total TxDOT Labor Day effort here. And review its various components here and here. The entire effort gets an “A+” because it is so rich in concept, execution details, components and media mix. I’m really writing to show you some of the stuff, and to underscore the eye-grabbing power that black-and-yellow visual “Choose your ride” concept: the combo Yellow cab and police unit is (pardon me) arresting.

For all the marketers and creative people who are tapped into State of Texas marketing and advertising, you won’t be surprised to discover that this program comes out of the Sherry Matthews agency in Austin. But I was surprised by just how much imaginative work has been done by the Matthews shop since the last time I looked at its website.

Honestly, “Choose your ride” is sharp, interesting creative that fulfills an important advocacy function at the same time. Congratulations.

Now I’m just that much more aware of the need for careful driving to and from Galveston this weekend. And you are too.

PS: Thanks to Tracie Mendez of TxDOT’s Traffic Safety Office for extra information.