Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Candle Hats and Christmases: Season’s Greetings from Signalwrite Marketing.

In most self-portraits it is the face that dominates:
Cezanne is a pair of eyes swimming in brushstrokes,
Van Gogh stares out of a halo of swirling darkness,
Rembrandt looks relieved as if he were taking a breather
from painting The Blinding of Sampson.

But in this one Goya stands well back from the mirror
and is seen posed in the clutter of his studio
addressing a canvas tilted back on a tall easel.

He appears to be smiling out at us as if he knew
we would be amused by the extraordinary hat on his head
which is fitted around the brim with candle holders,
a device that allowed him to work into the night.

You can only wonder what it would be like
to be wearing such a chandelier on your head
as if you were a walking dining room or concert hall.

But once you see this hat there is no need to read
any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.

To understand Goya you only have to imagine him
lighting the candles one by one, then placing
the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.

Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,
the laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.

Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house
with all the shadows flying across the walls.

Imagine a lost traveler knocking on his door
one dark night in the hill country of
“Come in,” he would say, “I was just painting myself,”
as he stood in the doorway holding up the wand of a brush,
illuminated in the blaze of his famous candle hat.

This Billy Collins poem appeared in the mid-1990s. Always a great favorite or mine, its message is pointedly related to the holiday wishes from Signalwrite this year.

Its warm-hearted sense of humor, about one of the world’s great artists who was himself known for a sense of self-amusement, is just right for wishing my clients and colleagues, family and friends a wonderful Christmas season and an outstanding 2012.

Signalwrite Marketing’s professional and personal life have been filled with laughter and you have all played a part in it. The number of adventures, conversations, meetings, programs, and visits during which laughter broke out is uncountable…but pretty large.

“Laughing like a birthday cake” has made my professional life wonderful. Merry Christmas to everyone. May you keep it in your hearts all year long. Happy New Year too, when all good things will come to you and bad ones never appear.

Next Christmas, let’s plan on getting together and wearing candle hats. For now, the very best of the holiday season.

Goya: “Self-portrait in the studio” (c. 1790-1795). Oil on canvas, 42 x 28 cm. Museo de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (Madrid, Spain). See No 20 here. Minor photo: Stellan Skarsgård from Warner Bros film “Goya’s Ghosts.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

See Christmas Ads. Buy Christmas Ornaments. May the Force Be with You.

Doing some mild holiday shopping, I note that the Hallmark Star Wars Christmas Ornament Collection for 2011 includes a Darth Vader in Lego version. The mind boggles, for $39.95 especially. Checking online, there’s a more…festive… R2 set: the black and bronze bodied R2-Q5 and red-trimmed R2-A3 from the original trilogy of films, first offered at the 2011 New York Comic Con – the pair’s available for $119.95 via the web.

LA-based writer Kristie Bertucci has a post on the GadgetReview blog wherein she reveals her top 16 Star Wars Christmas ornaments. From 1997 to the present, here they are to liven up your 2011 Yuletide trees. (Not ours, sorry: I was never quite this much of a fanboy.) According to Hallmark itself, though:

Since 1996, both Hallmark and Star Wars collectors anxiously await the release of the new Star Wars Hallmark ornaments. Always some of the most anticipated ornaments released annually…

The company’s advertising continues to be as heart-grabbing as ever – see one spot running now on YouTube. Evocative stuff given our troops are finally coming home, home from Iraq. My favorite isn’t on Bertucci’s list. Hallmark had a rather early 1998 Boba Fett ornament – see upper left. In the words of Stan Hope, “For bounty hunting the Xmas bounty…” Now $25-$40 on eBay.

That was then, this is now: the 8.5” Boba Fett with Carbonite Christmas Statue from Kurt S Adler. C’mon: the gift-wrapped Han Solo carbonite panel. The thermal detonator with the red bow. The candy cane!

Just six shopping days left. Seriously, how does this not say the Spirit of Christmas to you?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Old-Time Charm at Christmas? Leave Out Radios, Telephones and Billboards.

Some of you may have noticed that Signalwrite Marketing sent out old-time, small-town Christmas scenes this year. There were several different cards with paintings by a Wisconsin artist, Mary Singleton. Her artworks are “filled with details and vivid colors of everyday life in simpler times and friendly old fashioned places.” Yet at the same time, her website admits:

Mary Singleton's paintings bring us into an idealistic vision of the it could be…

These visions are popular today. Many of us remember growing up in just such idyllic towns and villages. (Me? No – I’m a city boy. Barbara Nytes-Baron was born and raised in New Prague, MN; she enjoyed Christmases much like this one…but with newer-model cars.)

In the painting there are no billboards and no telephone wires: the “good old days.” Still, Singleton envisioned this scene somewhere around 1925 or 1926, judging by the cars and trucks on her Main Street.

By 1925 there were millions of radio receivers in American homes, according to one source. The modern world had already arrived – just not washed into small-town America yet.

By 1925, radio programs had already become inextricably connected to major American companies; the first radio ad appearing in 1922 costs $100 for ten minutes of air time. By ‘23, brands like Eveready Batteries were sponsoring radio variety shows.

America, in its first giant step down the road to the future, became a consumer society even though you can’t see it here in Singleton’s “After Choir Practice.” Mid-1920s, Americans spent $430 million on radio products which was real money in 1925.

Telephones? The beginning of social interconnection? No sign of them in this little town. But in 1925, the telephone was already 50 years old. There were 12 million phones in American homes and business – one-and-a-half million of these were the new-fangled dial models. (The “First Internet,” the telegraph, was even more embedded in the US.)

How about billboards? One of the best known billboard companies, Foster, began in 1898. Lamar in 1908. In the case of this wistful wintry town, though, it’s more likely drivers would have seen the outdoor boards on the highways outside of it. Burma-Shave’s famous outdoor campaign started in…1925.

You can’t escape the people who send you collections of “the way it used to be” photos and gags on the Internet these days. Yet embedded in the nostalgia of Singleton’s paintings is today’s America, waiting to spread itself nationwide…even in the forms of advertising and social media.

Charles Kettering, inventor of the electric starter for automobiles, said, “You can't have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time.” Whatever’s next after YouTube corporate videos and company Facebook pages and interactive billboards, I say bring it.

Painting: “After Choir Practice,” 16x20 inches. Copyright © Mary Singleton 2002-2010.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Maker’s Mark® – the Bourbon in the Red (Trade) Dress – Still Defending the Wax.

Trade dress – a product or product package’s non-functional physical details and design identifies the product's source and sets it apart from others’ products.

I love trade dress. For many companies and their products, it’s a crucial component of their successful marketing and key to maintaining a competitive position. Think McDonald’s Golden Arches. Think “The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hands” – the candy’s trademark double-M shape began in 1941. Think Yellow Freight, whose ubiquitous trucks are painted Swamp Holy Orange.* In previous Signalwriter posts about trade dress, such as here, I haven’t much changed my position over the years.

One seven-year-long trade dress war ended in 2010, so everyone thought. Maker’s Mark won an order in 2010 awarding it exclusive rights to the dripping wax seal. Maker’s Mark gained an injunction prohibiting any other company from using a similar seal and look. US District Judge John G Heyburn II said that the bourbon maker held a valid trademark. End of story? Nope.

This past Thursday, the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday stepped into the long-running argument over whether Maker’s Mark owner, Beam Inc, can keep the trademark on the wax seal and enforce that injunction stopping any other liquor company from using a similar top.

It’s clear that a lot of people – even many marketers – don’t completely understand the value of trade dress. When Dennis Yang reported in April, 2010, that Judge Heyburn ruled the dripping red wax seal can only be used by Maker’s Mark bourbon, I was fascinated by some of the comments appended to his post.

ElijahBlue: “How many great ideas are abandoned, bursts of inspiration are extinguished because of these abusive (and stupid) copyright, patent and trademark lawsuits?”

Jedidiah: “This sort of BS makes me want to go to my favorite purveyor of strong drink and buy some of this Maker’s Mark crap (never bought it before actually) just so I can have the pleasure of smashing the bottle in protest.”

ABC gum: “Maybe others think wax is a big deal ... I cannot envision why.”

Another forum commenter, Stephen, tells why. Identifying himself as a Maker’s Mark Ambassador, he properly noted:

It’s the basis for their brand’s recognition, like Tiffany blue. A representation of the wax in that particular shade of red adorns all the things they put out, whether it be note cards or golf balls, so that when you see the red wax you think MM. While it’s hardly a novel idea to seal a bottle with wax, the tequila company is clearly trying to glom onto Maker’s Mark’s high-end symbol for their own game, a symbol the bourbon has developed over 50 years.

When clients say they want to be the Mercedes-Benz of their particular industry or – right now – look like Apple, it’s touchy to remind them that many of these highly identifiable companies have spent many years and millions of dollars establishing their trade dress. (Maker’s Mark spends about $22 million annually to market its bourbon whereas would-be infringer Cuervo has spent only about $500,000 of its overall branding budget on the Reserva tequila it was going to “wax.”)

Tamara Miller, an intellectual property lawyer at Leydig, Voit and Mayer, encapsulated the massive value of trade dress in a single paragraph:

When my little boy sees a red box with a girl on it, he knows the “Sun-Maid” raisins he likes are inside. My husband knows that any black, dome-topped grill is a “Weber,” and that the goldfish-shaped crackers in our pantry come from Pepperidge Farm. In order to find my “Cheerios” at the store, I look for the yellow box with the big red heart on it. Without a doubt, my family relies on trade dress to recognize our favorite products, and so do countless consumers every day.

Red wax seal equals Maker’s Mark. This is the business of marketing. Cuervo and brand owner Diageo should spend their time and money on their own creative trade dress. Not stealing someone else’s.
*Yellow has changed its brand to YRC – I understand what economics drove this transformation but regret the passing of a super trade dress. Bottom photo credit: © Shannon Graham.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

At Farmers® University, We All Know Prof Burke. Don’t We? Then Who’s Prof Allen?

An RPA press release announced last March that Farmers Insurance was going to launch five new TV spots and eight new print ads to build on the successful University of Farmers campaign. John Ingersoll, Farmers Group VP-Advertising was quoted:

We've found that consumers are remembering the University of Farmers campaign and it is bringing the brand to life for them. Consumer response to the icon, Professor Nathaniel Burke, has been very strong. They like him from his other film and TV roles but also feel his character is a good fit for the brand.

Prof Burke is the classroom character developed for Farmers by its ad agency, RPA. He’s portrayed in commercials, print and website by J K Simmons – you've seen him in “Burn After Reading,” “I Love You Man,” “The Mexican” and “Spider-Man.” A terrific character actor, he carries the role even in the print ads photographed by Nadav Kander.

That’s Burke. So who’s this Professor Miles Allen I spotted in the print ad you see, second above, in yesterday’s Black Enterprise magazine? The African American version?

Of course. It’s the first execution from multi-cultural agency Muse Communications which launched new ads for Farmers Insurance. Chairman/CEO Jo Muse noted in a press announcement:

The brand campaign continues the University of Farmers theme while targeting an African American audience. The commercials introduce the newest faculty member, Professor Allen, played by actor Orlando Jones.

I can’t think of better casting, since Jones is also an accomplished actor although it took me a while to match him up with a recognizable face. The entire African American story in re Farmers is all over the Web…but in bits and pieces.

So here’s additional thanks to the outstanding photographer involved with the Muse version of the UF campaign, Matthew Jordan Smith. He keeps a blog. His details about the assignment, about Jones and the photoshoot are right here.

The story’s fun reading, rare even in our biz where everybody talks about everything, because most of us like nuts and bolts, the how-to. (Possibly that’s more of a creative’s thing versus a marketer’s.) Press releases inform. Participants’ blogs and posts really give a story like this texture.

Maybe because it caught me by surprise, the Prof Allen “Home Insurance Quiz” ad also caught my attention, even though it builds on the existing RPA/Prof Burke campaign. There are new perspectives to it – like the chalkboard maze’s visual reference, perhaps, to the challenges African Americans face in buying a home in the first place due to redlining or subprime loans.

A couple of additional thoughts occur. First, by casting Jones in the African American print campaign, Farmers and Muse are clearly setting the stage for Jones-as-Allen in TV commercials.

Second, when you look at the RPA website, let me know if you find the Farmers Insurance campaigns under “Our Work” because I can’t. Kind of a shame, that.

It looks like the Allen print campaign’ll be running in Essence, Ebony, Jet and Black Enterprise. An online banner campaign will be geographically targeted in key markets in addition to running on top Web sites such as, and

So third, why isn’t Farmers Insurance running these ads in their general rotation? That way, the rest of America could meet Prof Allen.

FYI: Ads © Farmers Group, Inc. I’m sure all rights are reserved. And many thanks to photographers Kander and Smith for their print-shooting. The polished apple on Allen’s desk is my fave touch.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Meme of Your Own: Ban Corporate Tentacles? Octopi Wall Street, etc.?

Octoponder this: just how many people want a piece of the “Occupy Wall Street” brand? Would-be leaders for a movement that continues to say it has no leaders. Political pundits of a particular slant. Anti-consumerists and other would-be ideologues. And the turnabout T-shirt merchants.

The Occupy movement has become a world-recognized meme – “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” (Thanks, Wikipedia.) I’m thinking you can hardly throw a stone without hitting some marketer who claims to have invented or branded the whole idea; or who’d like to. According to the The New York Times this past week:

Kalle Lasn, the longtime editor of the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters, did not invent the anger that has been feeding the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations across the United States. But he did brand it.

He’s just one. AdAge Mediaworks ran a great set of social media-related charts about Occupy in October. And blogger Scott Gibson more recently wrote:

As the activists behind OWS began their anti-capitalist demonstrations over a month ago, no one could’ve predicted that they would be fighting for the right to their own name and stop people from cashing in on their movement.

So many people want to grab hold of the “change-the-balance-of-economic-power-in-America meme,” it’s a very powerful drive to ownership. I don’t think that Occupy is ready for prime time, though. Trends and memes are tidal, sweeping into and through and out of our culture at an increasingly faster pace. Sustaining this pace is hard in the face of competing news and events, including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the upcoming Christmas holiday, the next Kim Kardashian wedding, the next Rose Bowl – you name it.

While we’re all waiting for some definitively sticky Occupy brand, feel free to use mine, above. Or create your own. It’s a free country, innit?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thinking Truffle Advertising in 2012? I Bet 248 Million Turkeys You Won’t See Any.

Having just finished off more turkey-and-dressing leftovers, a look ahead to the hot food trends of 2012 is worth a post. Trendy foods that catch on may result in beyond-local marketing and advertising a year or two later.

Hmmm: how about the opinion of Loni Kay Stark from the West Coast? In ”The Hottest Food Trends for 2012,” she’s pointing to gourmet French fries and savory flavors; those’d be vegetable and bacon and lobster. Grilled cheese sandwiches are the new burgers. Hand-pulled noodles and vegetable desserts. Breakfast favorites re-purposed – consider savory-grilled waffle with artisanal cheese. And red hot chili peppers.

Writing for Forbes, Andrew Bender is betting on mead and charcuterie (artisan-cured meats); botanical ice pops and, yes, truffles. (I am not giving him any credit for Brussels Sprouts which ”have made it to the delicious list.” I think not!)

What’s attractive about these look-ahead, often-locavore kinds of food and drink, is that some will be taken up by major food producers or retailers and you’ll see ad campaigns to support them. Kraft Cracker Barrel’s already begun to push ”aged” cheeses into the big, broad middle market. Botanical ice pops are strictly local now – how long before one of the bigs picks up the idea for a ”healthy” treat line? Chaucer’s Mead from California is already available at 70-plus locations of Total Wine and More. Keep your eyes peeled for trendy food adverts in 2012.

On the other hand, I saw hardly any turkey ads around Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s because this time of year turkeys are...everywhere. If there’s any new trend in turkey, it’s the many fresh, even unusual ways the bird can be prepared for Thanksgiving.

Trend-wise, though, it’s a no-brainer: the number of turkeys expected by be raised in the US this year is 248 million. Hard to beat that with your hand-pulled noodles.

Ads themselves have been sparse. There was the Carl’s Jr, ”Turkeyburger” commercial – starring Miss Turkey! That was back in the Spring. Plus plenty of ”Go Vegan” messages this time of year…not really the same. Nope. Aside from grocery store supplements, most Thanksgiving turkey messages come from the cuisine and homemakers’ magazines.

In the midst of our holiday-induced turkey torpor, it doesn’t hurt to see what’s going to be hot, food-wise, in the coming least in ”parts of the United States and Canada where cooking is treated quite seriously,” to follow an argument by novelist Neal Stephenson. He contrasts this with a ”midwestern/middle American phenomenon” of which traditional Thanksgiving is a part.

One thought more: trend-setting friends and colleagues, writing on Facebook the week leading up to Thanksgiving this year, unfailing mentioned...turkey as the key item of their feasts. Not tofu-turkey. Not gourmet boar meat or wild Alaska Chinook salmon. Turkey.

It goes so well with beer.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Baron Turkeys! A Powerful Thanksgiving Idea Whose Time Has Come.

Here’s a great big Happy Thanksgiving wish to all of you…and specially to Jim and Ann Baron of Thatched House Farm, Dutton, Warrington, Cheshire. Which is not around here but 4,705 miles across the sea…as the turkey flies, so to speak.

They produce Baron Turkeys, the kind of thing one discovers surfing the web, searching for this year’s Thanksgiving blog topic. I hope that the Barons of Cheshire don’t mind a modest invasion of their privacy. I think it’s in a good cause.

First, let me point out that the UK mainly doesn’t appear to do Thanksgiving. Turkeys are a Christmas item over there. Baron Turkeys “…specialise in supplying turkey growers to be reared on for Christmas.” That is (as I understand it), the Barons don’t actually sell you oven-ready turkeys, but ones that you can raise yourself to full-fledged…uh…turkeyness and then take care to prepare it – yourself, again – for your feast.

I found Baron Turkeys on the off-chance, Internet-wise. Theirs is a functional website with just four pages; straight enough. Oh – and just two photos of the poults – the young domestic turkeys they offer for raising. The human touch is provided by a single paragraph on the HOME page:

Our business was founded in the '60s by Ted Baron, an experienced poultry farmer and continues in the family today being run by Jim and Ann Baron. The main delivery driver Peter has worked here for 26 years.

I wish I had discovered these Barons earlier, so that I could invite them to join us here in Texas for our family Thanksgiving. The finishing touch: I could have had some Baron Liberator Doppelbock shipped down here from Seattle.

Perhaps if I let them know about this post, though, they’ll send a few snaps over for an American (me) who shares a name if not an actual as-it-were family relationship. Now Barbara Nytes-Baron and I hope the UK Barons will have a great Holiday season. As well as the American Barons, Slaviks, Murphys, Eisenbergs, Bonds, Sabels, Musils, Hoffmans, Nyteses, Kaplans and Yonkas; our friends and colleagues near and far. Starting today.

NOTE OF FOOT: I’m trusting that the roadview photo of Thatched House Farm, from, is correct. Wouldn’t I feel like Mr Turkey my own self if I’d got it wrong?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It’s Catalog Season and e-Commerce Has Slowed It Down Not At All.

They come from everywhere, addressed to Barbara Nytes-Baron, as well as B Nytes Barton, Ms Barbara Baron and virtually every other combination you can make with nine different letters. We used to laugh about it – now it’s hardly worth a glance. Yet 20,000 American catalog companies form an industry whose economic value is north of $270 billion (the last estimate’s from 2006) and includes both catalog and online sales.

That’s right, catalogs…the multi-page books-of-dreams that fill mailboxes at home and at work every year, all year…and especially in time for the holidays. Ink-on-paper catalogs that in theory should not exist in today’s remarkable e-economy.

Yet over and over again, starting with Montgomery Ward in 1872 and then Sears, Roebuck in 1888, they are marketing mechanisms and sales tools that have been adjusted and perfected for more than 100 years in America. (I grew up waiting for and spending hours poring through the toy and then the tool sections of the Sears Christmas Catalog. Every year.)

Perhaps in your crowded day as a creator of marketing programs for natural gas or machine tools, or commercials for the trendiest beer, you don’t give them a much of a thought. But if you are a direct marketer or a catalog marketer, I bet you’ve seen mail-order catalogs as the  wellsprings of business-to-consumer sales and even dramatically useful adjuncts for B2B marketing for decades.

Catalog marketers’ profitability generally averages five percent of sales – like much of retail, it’s a high-volume but low-margin business. And its heavy petting relationship with the US Postal Service is widely known: catalogs contribute nearly 10% of USPS volume

Catalogs can inform, can open up entire vistas of highly focused products like specialized modeling tools and machines or gun parts; they even entertain 3,000 feet in the air – I wrote about the SkyMall Shopping catalog here several weeks ago.

Even before the Worldwide Web and e-commerce, catalogs offered remarkable advantages: 24/7/365 availability, great portability, high frequency of sharing, warehouse-direct-to-end-user, reduction of gasoline usage. And now, thanks to the Internet, almost instant gratification. Catalog advantages fit Internet marketers (and vice versa) to a T: today, most catalogers have substantial web presence and gain 20% to 50% of their orders from the Internet. After all, mail-delivered catalogs drive web traffic. Isn’t that what web marketers of all stripes tell us to aim for?

This post was stimulated by today’s arrival of a Victoria Trading Company Holiday Catalog, which is at the same time terribly frustrating and endlessly fascinating.

I’m no great fan of the Victorian era which, despite its marvels, only charms if you were well-off. Queen Victoria ruled England and the Dominions from May 24, 1819 to January 22, 1901. Life for many people in many of those years was, to use a phrase out of context, “nasty, brutish and short.” It’s the period which contained the Crimean War, the Great Cholera Outbreak of 1854, the American Civil War…you get the idea.

At the same time, it’s also the period in which the West recognized both the force of empire-building and the Industrial Revolution. Great designers delivered wonders of design and painting and plastic arts – mostly (but not always) a little frou-frou for me. And do NOT get me started on Jane Austen who overlapped the beginning of the Victorian Era and who appears to have been poisoned. With arsenic. Good.

The huge sweep of Victorian history gives the Victorian Trading Company plenty of romping room and I do confess some partiality to Steam Punk. Their catalogs offer up everything from paper products to Arts & Crafts leaded glass lamp reproductions to peppermint pigs.

Prefer to shop the MoMa Store catalog (for something completely different)? The Museum of Modern Art, NYC, has its holiday catalog coming out soon. And there’s always Cabela’s. You can enjoy many choices – and lots of marketing and advertising savvy – with 20,000 catalog companies and more mailing full-time.

Merry holiday shopping season ahead – don’t forget to do your part. And note that this post’s facts and figures come from the Catalog Industry Fact Sheet courtesy of the American Catalog Mailers Association, for which I am indebted. The ACMA website offers mucho useful thinking if you feel like looking into one more fascinating facet of American marketing practice.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Paul Baron’s First Letter to His Son, 1945: A Veterans Day Post.

In April, 1945, S/Sgt Paul Hirsch Baron deployed to the Marianas with the 501st Bomb Group, US Army Air Force. I have eight letters he wrote back to his wife Sarah and new son Richard. He wrote one of these specifically to me. It’s dated May 11, ’45 – I was 29 days old:

My Dear Son Rick – Forgive me for not answering your letters – but as Mommy has explained to you I’m pretty busy. Now don’t misunderstand – I’m not winning this war by a long shot, Rick – but maybe what little I’m contributing is helping.

Let me tell you about it.

In Germany we would be known as Hitler’s Labor Battalions – you know as well as I what they were; and you know as well as I the difference there is that indefinable Something, which you’ll learn about at some future date…that knows the true meaning of the words “Right” and “Wrong.” And eventually justifies its meanings.

But enough of that. Golly, son, I surely would like to see you and you take good care of Mommy till I get back. You know, son, between you and me, I kinda like the idea of you coming to live with us. Your Dad, Paul.

Germany had surrendered unconditionally on Monday, May 7, 1945 at Reims in northeastern France, four days before this letter was written. Victory in Europe (VE) Day was celebrated on May 8. I don’t know how much of the awful story of the Third Reich was yet known to Daddy on Guam, on the far side of the world. The Empire of Japan – the Axis power Daddy was fighting directly in the Pacific – surrendered September 2, 1945.

Veterans Day is when I recall that my father served, along with 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. Irving Kaplan. Columbus D Reeves and Jimmy Reeves.

Herman L Eisenberg. Harold Borenstein. 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. And me – USN, ’68-’72.

Every year this list grows longer – please feel free to add names of your own, so we will always remember.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Boston Delight #4: Harpoon Beer Makes “Local” Look Great, Wherever You’re From.

Howdy from Boston. Harpoon Brewery may not be a beer leviathan yet but it’s already part of a whale of a tale.  Despite the fact that locally brewed beer – craft beer – is trendy like crazy today, Boston has already had at least one great beer era with great brands now faded into a vague past. In the early 1900s, with a total of 31 breweries, Boston had the highest number of breweries per capita in the US. Twenty-four of them were located so close together (within a mile-and-a-half circle) that the fragrant aroma of slowly cooking grains, smoke from wood and coal, and horse sweat from the delivery wagons defined the neighborhood by smell alone.

Vienna Old Time Lager. Rockland Ale. Burkhardt’s Old Stock Porter and India Pale Ale, Elbana Irish Ale – all these brands and more suffered death by Volstead Act. They’re called “Boston’s Lost Breweries.”

What once was lost is now found: the new craft beers that have burgeoned across America. Today, when you think Boston beers, you’re probably imagining the makers of the many varieties of the Sam Adams brand. But I have to confess: I planned pretty carefully to visit the Harpoon Brewery, 306 Northern Avenue, Boston, MA. That this beer-ventureland is near the original, 94-year-old “No-Name” Restaurant on Fish Pier is icing on the crab cake (or a full growler of Harpoon Chocolate Stout, take your pick).

Before I go further, then, learning about Harpoon and unfiltered-label UFO beers and how they go to market started with Chris Derr, Harpoon’s Area Sales Manager for Texas and Louisiana. He introduced me to the Harpoon IPA in Houston last year; he made certain the visit to Harpoon in Boston had more planning to it than a glass or two in the tasting room. The Visitor Center (brilliant) is managed by Aaron Bishop and most of the tasting spiel was courtesy of Cassandra Tice – great time. Then Tice introduced me to Amanda Fakhreddine, who’s Harpoon’s Online Content Manager – between the two of them, they then toured me and Barbara Nytes-Baron through an exceptional brewery. Thank you right now to everyone there on Northern Avenue.

The brand, with Harpoon IPA and UFO Hefeweizen* beers leading the way, has become increasingly popular and increasingly available through a combination of social media marketing and distribution. (Classic advertising is rarely involved in locavore beer marketing because it’s wasteful of precious capital to target urban or even regional craft-drinking populations.)

Distribution is most important as the beers achieve new retail venues. Tom Pirko, president of food-and-beverage consultancy Bevmark was just quoted in a Convenience Store Decisions article proposing that craft beers give C-store owners (a huge market usually dominated by the national brewers) a chance to build a new profit center: “They are the future. There will be more of them, and they will be better. As time goes by, prices will modify so that they are a little bit more affordable. You’ll have great variety, with the category of beer once again becoming exciting. These are all good things.” I suspect Chris Derr was assigned here in Texas and Louisiana to grow the market for Harpoon products through more focused distribution efforts.

Whereas the role of online marketing – Amanda Fakhreddine’s assignment – is being even more strongly developed because Harpoon, like Great Divide (Denver) and St Arnold (Houston) and SweetWater (Atlanta), among others, recognize an absolute need to build and maintain community ties. Which means more tours, more events, more charitable participation, more Facebook and Twitter time on the local level.

Local. Local. Was it Rainier Beer that used to say it’s all about “the beer here?” So Boston’s Harpoon has successfully refocused on participating in and with its communities. Just like in the days of the now-lost German lager breweries, you create your products for what the neighbors want; and create a market for your neighbors. What more can I say than “Try these beers?”

*Of these, the Raspberry Hefeweizen is fresh and tasty - RLB.