Sunday, February 27, 2011

Keeping the Record Tidy for Bradford's Kinetic Sculpture (Pre-Art Car Era).

“Scrap Daddy” – Houston artist Mark David Bradford – is being honored with a 20-year retrospective at The Art Car Museum now. Art critic Douglas Britt wrote this past week:

Bradford’s 20-year survey is an unqualified triumph for a master of the art form the museum was born to celebrate — and whose emergence influenced him to increase the scale and ambition of his work. Combining motors with treasures of the scrap heap, Bradford’s art cars depict fantastical creatures and totemic figures with majesty and ferocity.

Bradford’s also known as “prolific.” I bet nobody knows that his scrap art began with different idea forms – including the four pieces in our own collection.

“Hurricane Chimes” here is the largest of the works. Mark told us years back that he imagined the drillpipe sections would swing back and forth in a high wind.

I first wrote about it in the Houston Chronicle Stormwatchers blog, when Rita came our way; the post is still on line here. I am sorry to report that HC never performed as we hoped: It didn’t ring no matter how hard the wind blew, even when Ike came through.

Doing a post about pieces purchased 20-plus years ago has its drawbacks, one of which is that no amount of writing can make these works compare with the fire-breathing motorized dragons Bradford’s been constructing the past decade or two. And even though the outdoor pieces have been repainted, they clearly can use another refurb. We have been thrilled to have them, though – our own showy art for outdoors Spring Branch.

Shown: Mark David Bradford, “Hurricane Chimes.” Steel pipe. Houston, 1989.

Friday, February 25, 2011

From Rome #4: Praying for Another Italian Import.

Herewith, the final post created for PAN in Rome. I re-post it today on Signalwriter because, you  know, we all need more beauty in our lives. The subject matter is much more natural in the Italian version.

Americans are even more aware of another Italian name – or at least a face: Elizabetta Canalis. She is currently George Clooney’s girlfriend* so there’s plenty of envy to cover both sides of the human race, male and female.

Why does this matter to advertising people? Because Ms Canalis is currently starring in ads and videos for fashion designer Roberto Cavalli – her second year in the lead role. Since Italian fashion gets as much marketing attention as Italian cars, the new Roberto Cavalli print campaign, photographed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, has gained celebrity attention worldwide. (If there’s a fashion or gossip blog on the planet that hasn’t already posted about this, it must be in Iran.)

Americans slowly began to learn about this particular cutting-edge campaign from the London Daily Mail, where Italian designer Cavalli said, “For my new underwear collection I chose Elisabetta again, my ideal of a woman…she was perfect in enhancing the spirit of this advertising campaign!”

But we know more about Cavalli since he’s a major presence on a popular US TV program, “America’s Next Top Model,” on the Warner Bros./CBS broadcast network The CW. It is one more demonstration that there are no real borders between marketing, advertising, public relations and entertainment, at least in the consumer marketplace.

The photographs ain’t bad either.

*Are Clooney and Canalis together in a Fiat ad? Perhaps here. Photo of: Elizabetta Canalis © Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for Roberto Cavalli – all rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

From Rome #3: “FIAT Arrives – the Second Time Around…”

In the previous post, PAN had translated the FIAT post I’d submitted into Italian for its clients and prospects. Here is the original…more or less.

One classy Italian that’s coming back to America is the new Fiat 500. The tiny comeback is premiering as part of Fiat’s new alliance with Chrysler Corporation.

The last time Fiat sold cars in the US under its own brand name, Ronald Reagan was President, Terms of Endearment won the Oscar for the Best Picture and Michael Jackson took home a Grammy for “Beat It.” That was 1984.

(Twenty years earlier in ‘64, when I was…younger…a friend and I drove his microscopic Fiat 500 to Seattle, Washington, from Atlanta, Georgia. It was an excruciating round trip for someone my size: 4400 miles or 7000 kilometers. I look forward to discovering if the new 500 is more appealing.)

So in just a few weeks, the first Fiat 500s will roll into the carmaker’s new US showrooms. There’s already one in Austin, TX. The new car is supposed to be priced at US$15,500 for the basic model. For those who enjoy life’s little luxuries, there’s a model with all the premium bits for US$25,500.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, also the CEO of Chrysler, believes that the time is just right to relaunch the Fiat marque. He says in Ad Age magazine, “We want Fiat to be a global brand, and the 500 is the perfect vehicle with which to re-open the conversation with Americans.”

Fiat is going to have to prove that its new car is not just fun to drive – the brand’s got to overcome American resistance to small cars. (BMW’s Mini Cooper brand has lots of cool but not a large market share.) There’s also the reliability challenge – quality became a major problem with the old Fiat models back in the early 1980s.

The ad industry’s waiting to see what the new US ad agency for Fiat, Impatto, is going to do. Run by Italian-American Michael D’Antonio, it’s a boutique shop that’s been selected to handle creative duties and event strategy for the new car launch. The Michigan-based agency has created the car’s slogan for America, “Life is best when driven.” (See above.)

According to MSNBC, Impatto and Fiat will use both traditional marketing channels and “alternative methods” for the introduction, including event-based “graffiti walls” being set up in key US markets; and social media. The alternatives sound like the same kinds of tactics used by BMW Mini and its first ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

PS: Want to see the new FIAT in southeast Texas? Initially, Northside FIAT of Houston will get the first cars. The dealership will start off sharing space with Spring Chrysler Jeep Dodge at 21027 Interstate 45 North, exit 70A.

Monday, February 21, 2011

From Rome #2: “La piccola Fiat arriva in America…”

Un classico italiano che ritorna in America: la nuova FIAT 500. La piccola di casa FIAT è la “prima assoluta” della nuova alleanza con Chrysler Corporation.

L’ultima volta che un auto è stata venduta in USA con il marchio FIAT il presidente era Ronald Reagan, “Voglia di tenerezza” vinceva l’Oscar per il miglior film e Michael Jackson portava a casa un Grammy per “Beat It.” Era il 1984.

Vent’anni prima (1964), quando io ero ancora più giovane, un mio amico ed io guidammo una microscopica Fiat 500 da Atlanta a Seattle. Fu un viaggio andata e ritorno straziante per uno della mia taglia: 4400 miglia, circa 7000 km. Non vedo l’ora di scoprire se la nuova 500 è più attraente.

Così, fra poche settimane la prima FIAT 500 entrerà nei nuovi showroom USA della casa italiana. C’e n’è già uno ad Austin, Texas. Il modello base sarà venduto a 15.500 dollari (11.500 €), ma per chi ama i piccoli lussi, il modello superaccessoriato sale a 25.500 dollari (quasi 19.000 euro).

Sergio Marchionne crede che sia il momento giusto di rilanciare il marchio FIAT in USA e ha affermato sulla testata AD Age: “Vogliamo che FIAT sia marca globale e la 500 è il modello giusto per riaprire il dialogo con gli americani”.

Ma FIAT dovrà dimostrare che la nuova 500 non è solo divertente da guidare, - FIAT deve superare le resistenze degli americani verso le auto piccole (la Mini Cooper è considerata molto cool, ma ha una piccola quota di mercato). C’è soprattutto la sfida dell’affidabilità, visto che la qualità era il problema maggiore dei vecchi modelli FIAT degli anni ‘80.

Il mercato della pubblicità è curioso di vedere cosa farà la nuova agenzia USA di FIAT, Impatto, una boutique creativa guidata da un italo - americano, Michael D’Antonio, che è stata selezionata per gestire creatività ed eventi per il lancio della nuova auto. L’agenzia del Michigan ha già creato lo slogan per l’America : “Life is best when driven.”

Sembra che FIAT utilizzerà sia i canali di marketing tradizionale che “metodi alternativi” per il lancio, compresi eventi basati su “muri di graffiti” che verranno organizzati nei mercati chiave e nei social media. Una tattica che sembra simile a quella già usata da BMW.

THIS PHOTO: New Fiat 500 and old model from – all rights reserved.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

From Rome #1: It’s a Post, It’s a Blurb – and There Will Be Italian...

The next few Signalwriter posts come from content specially created for PAN Advertising in Rome. Gianfranco Vallana, Managing Director of the long-time Dialogue International affiliate, wrote:

In PAN we are sending e-mail news about the agency work to clients and prospects. They have good opening rates, but to be honest we need to raise the interest and the impact.

We don’t want to offer boring news, and we don’t want to compete with professional editors, but we noted that Italian specialized press usually don’t publish a lot of news from abroad. So we think we could get the attention of our targets sending a short list of news, opinion or curiosities about marketing and communications in other countries, written by our Dialogue friends.

As one of our major objectives is to highlight Dialogue and internationality in our positioning platform…bingo!

And the kindliest note of all, sent to me as a Chairman Emeritus of the organization:

We suddenly realized that we’d like to have also you on board. We cannot forget USA and Texas!

I submitted several items which Gianfranco and his team combined with many others from Dialogue members throughout Europe and the US, under the title Blurb. Pan is using this word (which doesn’t exist in the Italian language) to draw attention to news that’s interesting to its clients and prospects, from the world of communication beyond Italy’s borders.

Dear readers: there’s more to come. Watch for my posts (in Italian and English). They’re re-posted here on Signalwriter courtesy of Vallana; long-time colleague Giorgio Bonifazi Razzanti, PAN’s Creative Director, and the rest of team in Rome. May all your emails have superb open rates!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Important, Concise…Best of All, New Oil & Gas Bumper Sticker is Yours for Zip.

Winter NAPE begins today in Houston – a conference at which millions of dollars’ worth of oil and gas deals are going to be made. Maybe more than that. Maybe billions. Life in “the bidness” keeps on being exciting.

So today, just in time for NAPE, this spiffy bumper-decorator is formally available. Revisiting an idea portrayed here in December, it seems too…adventurous…to leave behind.

This official “God Loves Hydrocarbons” bumper sticker has your name on it (in a figurative sense.) Thanks to major design help by Ken Bullock of Bullock Studios, it looks significantly better than December’s rough version. Now a strong black on provocative yellow, the thought-sticker is flexible, long-lasting – and sure to generate countless discussions in what I am certain will be a civil manner.

It’s even free, as the headline notes. Send me a note, I’ll try to get you one by mail. Perhaps I can collect a stamp or two from you later.

Or just ask for one when you see me. I’m happy to share.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down, What Drives a “Gnomeo and Juliet” to Market?

The newest animated film, “Gnomeo and Juliet,” is described this way:

An animated version of Shakespeare’s play, where Gnomeo…and Juliet…are would-be lovers from rival garden-based families.

Sure, it’s the “Disney version.” Some people out there seem to love it. New York magazine online announced that this animated film grossed $25.5 million. Already. And Variety’s Justin Chang wrote last week that the romantic comedy restaging – Shakespeare with lawn ornaments – is a winner.

I love animation and I looked at some trailers online. I have watched at least 18 minutes of musical and non-musical trailers, posted to and YouTube, more than 20% of the movie. Based on this viewing alone, the new movie is…awful.

So am I a snob or a marketer? (Okay, DON’T answer that.) But I’m going to put on my pointy marketer’s hat and suggest why these things come to be. First suggestion – that $25.5 million I mentioned earlier. There’s big money in kids’ animation, doesn’t matter how awful it may appear to adults. If the star-crossed garden gnomes are at all popular, the producers are going to make a bundle.

Two, follow the money which leads to adults. They will continue to take children to these films because tragedy’s turned into comedy…even when the comedic vision is itself a tragedy. Families seek out innocent-ish entertainment that will keep their children’s eyes glued to the big screen and their mouths mostly closed. (And families really do enjoy laughing together, which is a Good Thing.)

Third, keep the factory busy. Animation has gained so many great moments in the past few years – thanks to Pixar, for example – that animation studios worldwide have millions of bucks tied up in computer power to produce this high-end stuff. “Computer farms” are, in a word, huge! Nobody wants that investment to sit idle.

These thoughts are conjectural, Honestly, I wish someone out there in Hollywoodland would stumble across this post and set me straight.

Meantime, we’re going to make judgements. The principal at Full Tilt Communications, MaryJane Mudd, wrote after taking her children to see it:

Sitting through dreadful “Gnomeo and Juliet” with the kids, made worse by the fact that my beloved Elton John has sold out…Dreadful, dreadful I tell you.

And because my own appreciation of the film is already influenced by people whose words I trust (e g, Mudd), I am not going to see it until I can watch it for free.

As marketers, though, we ought to keep a sharp eye on what happens because this film is exactly the kind of product where the “people” will vote with their pocketbooks on whether it’s good or bad…and pretty quick, too.

Thanks to MaryJane Mudd for sharing her post-initiating review and note that the gnome photo is by Wikinoby from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

CIA 21st Century Re-Brand Avoids Controversy, Uses No Black Helicopters.

To see an article about “rebranding” the Central Intelligence Agency – right out there in front of God and everybody – I admit it’s a shocker. America’s first formal civilian secret intelligence service is now otherwise. The CIA has a Facebook page. The CIA has a YouTube channel.

It’s discussed in yesterday’s article by Sheila Shayon who wrote, “…the CIA is keeping up with the times, and presenting a new image to the public with a digital facelift – a prerequisite for any brand presence in the 21st century…”

Discussed but not revealed: the CIA itself exposed its new brand initiatives in a press release.

I could show you examples of the CIA’s videos; or the recruitment ad campaign that the agency’s has been running for the past couple of years. (They’re creatively pedestrian but hey, it’s a clandestine government organization.)

It is hardly a Wikileaks coup, though: you can see all of these for yourself on the agency website’s “View Our Advertising” page. Families welcomed; kids, have a great time with your very own US intelligence apparat…hosted by a friendly black Labrador named Bradley.

The dissonance of the thing is galling, though these community-embracing efforts aren’t actually so new. One would like a bit more of an edge, though, for a government outfit that’s routinely accused of black helicopters and blacker operations.

That’s why I was thrilled to find a 1998 article written by a former CIA officer who declares, “…the Agency is just no good at what it's supposed to be doing.” This is 13 years ago, mind you...ancient history as far as Facebook initiates are concerned. Yet it makes interesting reading and it has finely pointed illustrations by Ross MacDonald (see one above). He’s one of America’s great illustrators, as well as a writer of children’s books and a maker of movie props.

Signalwriter is as much public entertainment as brand insight. This post gives you the critical data you need to [a] review MacDonald’s 1998 illustrations which the CIA ought to have used in its rebranding effort; [b] read Atlantic Monthly’s “ancient history” article as a go-around-come-around piece.

And [c] examine the CIA’s brand activities with a view toward picking up some pointers for your own practice.

NOTE: Illustration by Ross MacDonald, copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved. The Atlantic Monthly, February 1998. “Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?” Volume 281, N. 2, pages 45-61.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Amid Funny Super Bowl Commercials, WD-40 Reminds that Print Still Rocks.

Just a note sayin’ “Thanks” to Rob Paek for his Infotainment Empire post of the Hispanic WD-40 ad. I missed in when it appeared – I think last November; it also gained a highlight on the Making a Difference blog out of the UK.

It comes out of agency McCann Erickson in Puerto Rico. Art directors Jason Seda and Manuel Torres, and copywriter Juan Santiago, are credited; along with Say Cheese Studio for the photography (in Cerritos, CA – can that be right?).

So while we’re all squabbling or scoring the TV commercials from yesterday’s Super Bowl XLV – say, like McKee Wallwork Cleveland’s annual AdBowl – let’s not forget great print. Ta for the week ahead…

Thursday, February 03, 2011

No “Global Warming Is for Real.” Orbital Stretching Is the Real Real Problem.

You have heard me say it before: celebrities like Charlie Sheen and Al Gore have a lot to answer for. At best, their drum-beating about so-called global warming has distracted all of us from the real problem our planet faces: orbital destabilization – or as the talking heads would say, “orbital stretching.”

At worst, Lindsay Lohan and Madonna and their ilk are guilty of knowingly profiting from a serious problem, in which Earth’s orbit decays and we go spinning (eventually) into the sun. Aaaaah!

Ignore scientific facts for a moment. Focus your attention on Panel No. 1 of the Scientific Diagram above, which clearly shows Earth’s stable orbit around our sun.

As you see, the Earth orbits the Sun in an elliptical path which has been unvaried for millions if not hundreds of years. Just as naturally, this elliptical orbit means that our Earth’s position vis-à-vis the sun changes throughout the year. Normally, Earth is closest to the Sun (147.3 million km) at perihelion; and farthest from the Sun at aphelion (152.1 million km). notes, “…this phenomenon is not responsible for the Earth’s seasons!” This is clearly incorrect. Isn’t it obvious that the further we are from the Sun, the colder we’ll be? And the closer we are, the hotter? Duh!

Now consider Panel No. 2 which slightly dramatizes the terminal danger of orbital stretching. This is what we are experiencing now. Earth’s orbit is straining like an elephant’s BVDs. Our old aphelion’s stretching out farther and farther to the left. Because there is a limited amount of elastic available in the universe (see A Einstein on warping of space here), our planetary orbit’s beginning to look like that same elephant’s underwear after too many wash cycles.

Nobody knows what’s causing this terrifying out-of-waistband experience. Everyday orbital decay doesn’t explain it satisfactorily. And while you can read about stretch marks all you like, medicated creams WILL NOT cure our planet’s orbital degradation problem – trust me.

So never you mind what so-called scientists like Michael Mann, the director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, say about so-called global warming. Do your own thinking about what’s going to happen when our planet’s stretchy orbit plunges us all into the Sun. That’s SZZT! for us.

Someday you’ll thank me for letting you read about orbital stretching. In a million years or so, we’re going to need way more than five tubes of SPF 3000 sunblock. And it’s now on the Internet so it must be true.