Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Softness Worth Sharing: It's the Most Genuine Kleenex® Brand Campaign.

As of this morning, my Kleenex Brand Share Package – a small pack of “America’s Softest Tissue” – joined the 718,280 packs already sent free during this outstanding and warm-hearted campaign.

If for some reason (career death, wiping your nose on your sleeve, whatever) you haven’t reviewed this pitch-perfect marketing pitch, start with the TV commercial. Then go on to the Kleenex Brand website.

Note, among other things, the interactive graphics. The charm. The honest smiles. The nod to Norman Rockwell’s “Gossip” – look down there at the bottom of the web page. Check under the hood, too: the detailed operation of the Kleenex brand send-a-pack program is great. You can even track the “Chain of Sharing” online.

The program is also fully supported by print, like the most recent ad I’ve seen – and shown here. When you undertake a justifiably thorough review of the Share Package campaign, you will see that the print executions are not just knock-offs of the TV commercials or adaptations of web graphics, but have a gentle little edge. I’m wishing I had created “Get well, Mr Snufflepottomus.” Honestly.

This is outstanding thinking and outstanding creative. It proves again that you don’t need heavy metal or exploding cars to make a great campaign. This is what being a “Big Brand” is all about and I thank Kimberly-Clark Worldwide for bringing it to us. Gesundheit!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Let the Turkey Drive: Thankful with the Barons in 2010.

Happy Thanksgiving. May today be the start of your own personal trip to a bountiful 2011…Signalwriter.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tricon Precast Gets a “Fighting Grade” Website from Barrett-Wehlmann.

When you pay any attention to it at all, it seems like “bricks and mortar” – the old infrastructure stuff. Precast concrete is nowhere compared to, say, tablet computers and social networks, or sex-appealing wind turbines.

In the NAICS 327390 world of “Other Concrete Product Manufacturing,” it’s an industry that makes its living manufacturing concrete products like barriers and bridges, sound walls and traffic dividers.

Except when highway construction interrupts your commute, though it is effectively invisible.

It’s no invisible business for Tricon Precast or for its web agency, Barrett-Wehlmann. Tricon Precast actively participates in precast concrete products. Its end-users are mainly infrastructure people, from state highway commissioners and roadway engineers to contractors of all sizes.

Whether the economy is hot or cold; whether civil engineering projects are shovel-ready or on hold, Tricon Precast works with professionals all over the region. Tricon Precast is rather like the man behind the man behind the gun and, as a result, its business is far more about technically rich information than brand presence.

That’s how Barrett-Wehlmann created the new fighting grade website for Tricon Precast. “Fighting grade” is a term not much used these days; but a few years back, it aptly described the roll-up-your-sleeves world of products and services whose benefits far outweighed the need for hype…quality-conscious and price-conscientious.

It ain’t fancy, this new website; it is tremendously functional. Barrett-Wehlmann principal Darrell Wehlmann, who’s also responsible for the SEO on this site, names the website attributes:

…in-depth information about its products and services...clear communication about the benefits of its precast concrete solutions….rich with content, technical data and downloads…easy to navigate and use.

On this project, James Grantham is the Creative Director; Carl Glatzel is the designer. Artist Mike Guillory created the 1950s-style illustrations on the HOME page, an excellent touch. And I wrote the copy – I’m always grateful to Barrett-Wehlmann for involving me in clients and projects that are just different enough from the everyday to be completely involving.

In Henry V, Shakespeare described what I take the Tricon Precast site to represent: “We are but warriors for the working-day.”

Thanks to clients B-W and Tricon Precast, I got to be this kind of warrior myself.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

QR Codes for Mobile Marketing on Deck – Extinction of Dinosaurs Continues.

I was struck by the inevitability of mobile-phone access a decade or two ago, in Zurich. I sat with colleagues at dinner (Veltliner Keller in Old Town if you have to know) and a question came up about the cost of a new BMW of some arcane description. The owner of the German ad agency, Karl Woerlen, whipped out his “handi” and called a car-dealer friend in Freiburg, asked a question and then turned to us with the answer – at the time, in Deutschmarks.

This sounds dinosaurial today: an iPhone 4 delivers the world to your hand in about three seconds; price quotes for Beemers from not one but a dozen sources in half a dozen states is dead easy. There’s nothing I can write here that hasn’t been written a thousand times over – about smartphones and netbooks, tablet computers and apps out the wazoo.

Access to info (and gratification) is instantaneous, or at least as fast as your network. And now there are QR codes. See them in magazine and newspaper ads. Business cards. Drums of chemicals (for fast access to MSDS information via workers’ mobile phones).

What are these? Let’s ask QRstuff.com:

A QR Code (it stands for "Quick Response") is a mobile phone readable barcode that's been big in Japan forever, broke into Europe a while back, and is now getting traction in USA. In its simplest sense think "print based hypertext link" - simply encode a URL into the QR Code and then point a mobile phone (or other camera-enabled mobile) at it. If the device has had QR Code decoding software installed on it, it will fire up its browser and go straight to that URL.

Where are you going to put your QRs? (My website’s url, courtesy of QRstuff.com, appears at the top of the post.) As a test, I emailed my QR to my “expert” in this stuff, Barrett-Wehlmann principal Jim Proctor:

I’m not sure the QR is a good thing to use in an email. Might as well use a link to the content you want someone to go to. If I receive the email with an embedded QR on my laptop I have to scan it with my phone and then it’s just little content.

I see the QR making most sense in an offline mobile environment, like tradeshow graphics’ link to more content. Magazine ad links to motion graphics. Brochure links to video. Press release to VNR. It should be a way to bring something to life. The first good use of this I saw was in Golf Digest. It was an article on a certain swing technique and when you scanned the QR, it took you to a lesson with motion.

You and I are going to see a lot more QR codes as the technique makes its way from geek-stream to mainstream.

Most important, for the moment, you better believe that appropriate expansion of this on-demand technology falls right back on the shoulders of “wanna-know-that.” Think [1] fans: QR on a wine label gratifies with winery notes delivered to the mobile platform; QR on a car ad delivers in-the-driver-seat motion graphics. Think [2] information-critical: QR on freight containers sending content descriptions direct to security screeners’ phones.

Think [3] about the only constant: it’s going to be change and every time you laugh at photo of some guy with a QR code on his shaven head, it could be one more nail in techno-dinosaurs’ coffins.

PS: There’s a concise post, with how-to video, from Marion Group Advertising and Marketing – access it here, it’s worth a look. (Thanks to Brian Bearden for this link.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

SunGard Advertising – Wherever You Don’t Care Who Knows What Business You’re In…

I wish SunGard’s new ads told me faster what the business does. I saw a version of this ad in The Wall Street Journal. I had never heard of SunGard.

It’s an arresting photo-illustration, visually faster than the other new SunGard executions. But none of them quickly tell what the company sells. Neither does the slogan, “Wherever the mission is critical.”

In fact, it’s only in the second sentence that I discover SunGard sells software and technology services. That seems to be enough for SunGard and its ad agency, Young & Rubicam.

If you’ve just spent big bucks on creating a new advertising campaign and spiffy new website, with all kinds of customer photography; and you’re running a four-month buy in eight of the world’s broadest business publications, wouldn't you want a more obvious link between brand and business arena?

On top of that, those creative Y&R guys have a little visual letter-play going on the ads – and online, too. Various shapes and alphabetic initials are buried in each of the photographs which, when you know they are there, will enable you to spell out (ta-da!) S-U-N-G-A-R-D. In case you didn’t notice.

This technique is named steganography – writing a hidden message so that nobody, except for the sender and intended recipient, knows there’s a message. It’s what Wikipedia calls a form of security through obscurity. Perfect for expensive advertising, no? Uh…no. (The aggressive website uses Flash to reveal the letters buried in each major photo-illustration to make the gag more understandable.)

There’s a secondary theme: LOOK FOR US. Appearing modestly in ads and far larger on the website, It’s a more directive thought which – I suggest – might have made a stronger campaign, given the visuals with the cutesy code.

To wrap up here, according to that same site, SunGard is:

…one of the world’s leading software and technology services companies.  SunGard has more than 20,000 employees and serves 25,000 customers in 70 countries. SunGard provides software and processing solutions for financial services, higher education and the public sector.

I didn’t know that. Probably would have enjoyed learning it. But not from these ads – even if the fire scene got me looking. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Harold Borenstein in North Africa: A Veterans Day Post.

I was…invited to join the Army on December 2, 1941. The draft was already going and my number came up. From Madison, I went down to Fort Knox, Kentucky, with a bunch of other guys. I took a draft into the 1st Armored Division and I’d never heard of them before. I was born in 1916 so I was already 26 when I shipped out.

Harold Borenstein, 94 this year, served with the US 1st Armored Division in North Africa and Italy.

We left Fort Knox, April 5, 1942 for Fort Dix, and left there on May 10 for Northern Ireland. I’d been to New York and of course, Sioux City, Iowa – for a whole day – but not any further. Sailing across on the Queen Mary, I was numb: seasick as could be, couldn’t eat a thing. I was one of a million guys…to the Army, I was just another piece of equipment.

After Ireland, I was loaded on another boat, Durban Castle. I didn’t know where I was headed so I thought I was going to France – that wasn’t it, thankfully. I never thought about North Africa ‘til I was on that ship and I landed in Oran as part of Torch.

The 1st Armored was part of the Allied invasion of North Africa - Operation Torch – on November 8, 1942. Division units met unexpected resistance from Vichy-French units, but invasion forces suppressed all resistance in the beachhead area within three days.

We landed at Oran and drove 700 miles east to Tunisia. I was with Combat Command B headquarters, a driver of a White half-track (see photo). I greased that half-track, changed the oil, everything.  When we first landed, we went ashore and drove inland, past an airport. I thought the French would turn their guns on us because they knew where we were…either we’re going to get it or we not going to get it – it was out of our hands.

I was at Kasserine Pass and I was lucky, I got through it without a scratch. We spent a year in North Africa, two years in Italy. The best part was demobilization – I came back from overseas, through New York, trained to Chicago and then I was home.

You know, I traveled up and down Tunisia, many a night ride I had, trying to stop the Germans. And I went through dive-bombing in Tunisia. I said, Harold, if you live through this you’ll be the nicest person in the world for the rest of your life.” That was the biggest lie I every told.

Today’s the day we remember: Paul Hirsch Baron, Emmanuel Katz and Sam Slavik. Tom Ritter. Phil Slavik. Norman Sabel and Sherman Sabel. Joel Hirsch Goldberg. Thomas Biddulph, Richard Dailey, Richard Fox, Bill Gay and Richard Sutter. David Starr. Frank B Foulk. Chris Hrabe. AJ Smith and Paul Hoven. John Naumann. James Hairgrove.

Herman L Eisenberg. Phillip Becker. George A Schuler, Jr., Alan Vera. Nathanael Charles Yonka, Jr. Hoi Nguyen and Ellis Alexander. The names from the Gunroom (you know who you are): Paul Johnson, KCMO, and “Charlezzzzz” Muñoz. Charles Rose and Bill Krull. Gary Bearden. Bernard Mazursky. Clarence Everett Latham and Irene Helen Phillippe. Meyer Horwitz. Irving Kaplan. Columbus D Reeves and Jimmy Reeves. And me – USN, ’68-’72.

Every year this list grows longer – you’re welcome to add names of your own, so we’ll always remember.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Non-Profit Marketing Dance: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.

Every non-profit has a story. But is anyone listening? There’s a great pair of opening lines from the Chairs of the AMAHouston Non-Profit Marketing SIG…part of the announcement about its special seminar coming up on November 16. That would be, “Say It Strong: How to Tell Your Non-Profit Story.”

Some non-profits have more socially compelling stories to tell: quite important ones about hungry children or entire hurricane-whipped populations.

But what about the non-profits whose operations and goals are not “difficult social problems?”

I asked Leigh McBurnett, Executive Director of Dominic Walsh Dance Theater (DWDT). This is a Houston-based contemporary ballet company that aims to “inspire and entertain audiences and artists with visually stunning performances.” It offers innovative, even thought-provoking modern work by founder Walsh and other leading US and international choreographers – but not exactly world peace.

We’re in a different situation – we not only have to tell an engaging story, but we have to build the vocabulary. “Contemporary ballet” is a new term. We want to explain dance and the choreography that supports it. Using this kind of story, we’re trying hard to reach out to non-dance audiences, well beyond our own supportive core group.

Is anyone listening to the Dominic Walsh story?

We worked inside our little bubble – how do we go about bursting out of that? We know we have to get beyond ourselves, to focus more on engaging the fun.

Part of what’s driving DWDT today is market research. Surprise! People go to the performing arts for entertainment…not because it’s socially correct, or they’re supporting the arts, or even a particular organization.

These days we story-tell diversion. We know we need to engage the public with fun pieces and witty headlines, like “Not a tutu in sight!” We’re making small but significant steps.

We made a real leap – no pun intended – by forming a marketing committee, which automatically increased our number of community advocates. Our marketing Chair has kept after us to keep telling a cohesive story. And we’ve boosted our use of social media because we couldn’t afford to get louder. We got smarter instead.

So even though we know we’re still only reaching a quite small percentage of the population, we’re focusing on trying to tell those more engaging stories, with new audience-reaching methods.

Whether the story involves an art form or a social challenge, generating audiences and raising funds have never been exactly easy. Even when an organization makes real progress, it can slip backward when the next recession comes along.

Well, the AMAHouston Non-Profit Marketing SIG aims to help sharpen the tool set with “Five secrets to creating an engaging narrative.” Our five-member panel includes the founder and CEO of Recipe for Success, Gracie Cavner; and one of her leading Board members,  Monica Pope, executive chef and owner of t'afia Restaurant.

You will also learn from Ashley Latham Dennis, development associate at the Houston Zoo; Living Forward Alliance’s CEO/founder Maria Francis; and Eric Roland, senior director of marketing for Legacy Community Health.

Join us by clicking here to reserve a spot for Tuesday, November 16. I say “our” and “us” because I will be the event moderator, thanks – I promise there’ll be no dancing around the tough parts of this subject.

Thank you: Photo by Amitava Sarkar, InSight Photography. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Post-Election, Signalwriter Celebrates the Amazing United States of Everyone.

Ever since I woke up this morning, I have been trying to parse just why I’m loving this post-US-election day feeling of exhilaration. (Parse = “to examine in a minute way, to analyze critically…”) Fortunately, I was Skyping with Swiss Dialogue International colleague Peter Thoma and he came up with the answer.

Regardless of my own political leanings, I have always considered that American politics is a raucous blend of punch-‘em-up claims, reasoned analyses and strong emotions. Anybody who doesn’t get this is sort of ignoring 200+ years of American history, as far as I can tell – it’s been going on that long.

Just a couple of days ago, I heard that blogger John Podhoretz called US politics something like the greatest public theatre in our nation’s history, bar none. (Podhoretz himself’s no wallflower, with published comments like, “…the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino, went out with a concession speech for which the word “psychotic” would seem to be an understatement.”)

Newspaper commentaries with screaming and yelling in them have been hard to ignore. I have listened to radioheads being alternately exuberant and abrasive; and TV talk-show hosts have used language (about political candidates) that my momma wouldn’t have put up with for a minute. What a ride…and there’s almost nothing to do with advertising and marketing in it. Well, some.

The amount of cheering and weeping, gnashing and wailing on Facebook is equally daunting, especially since so many of the comments come from colleagues and friends in other parts of the world. I thought, “Come on now, I don’t post nasties about the election in Spain, say; or the recent changes in EU laws.” What gives all these people the right to criticize us?

Then Thoma repeated a different conversation he’d had, in which he replied, “America’s not our country.”

I realized (again): America is!

American is – absolutely – Peter’s country and Alison’s in Cambridge; Tom’s country, even though he’s in Prague, and Graham’s (same locale) and Abdol’s in Jeddah. Heck, it’s even the country of people like RL Stine, who’s just been quoted saying, “I’m so glad I live in New York City and not in the United States.”

Everyone feels free to say what they like about America right out loud because it is everyone’s country. No other nation I can think of gives the entire population of a whole planet the freedom to say whatever it likes about how America looks, how America acts, how America worships – and so on. Amazing.

Happy just-after-the-election day, everyone. It’s your election, too.

PHOTO: Conceptual American Flag Maze © Suljo | Dreamstime.com