Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Finally the April 13 Truth Told, Harry Truman Becomes “My” President.

I spent years (growing up) having my birthday celebrated with a peculiar pronouncement. By my momma, who would say to anybody that was willing to listen, “He was born the day after Franklin Delano Roosevelt died.”

For liberal Dems of my momma and daddy's generation, FDR was the man. For the longest time, that was my reference point as well. FDR...the fixed point on my own biographical compass, the standard reference for all things me.

I didn't realize that it was Harry Truman who was “my” President until I read the superb Truman biography many years later. I was a real Truman baby – he'd been VP for just 82 days when FDR died in Warm Springs, GA.

After being sworn in as Veep, Truman didn't have much in the way of detailed communications about the state of world affairs or domestic politics of America with Roosevelt. He was utterly uninformed about major initiatives about winning of the huge and costly World War and especially about the top-secret Manhattan Project, which would give America the first atomic bomb.

It has been much quoted that, shortly after taking the oath of office, Truman said to reporters (among whom he had many friends):

Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.

It was Truman's initiatives that would affect my personal and professional life for the next six decades, rather than Roosevelt's, everything from atomic-bombing Japan to win WWII to fighting the Cold War to integrating the US armed services. I am certain my momma knew of these things; I never heard her credit the 33rd President of the United States with playing any special part though. It is an easy oversight to correct (and neither Truman's nor momma's fault I have grown up to be a Republican).

If a birthday – especially a magic number-birthday like mine today – has any meaning, it's defined not just by the present but by many pasts too. If you haven't read about anyone truly great lately, let me suggest that David McCullough bio of Truman to you. Think of the recommendation as my birthday gift to you. Thanks for all the best wishes.

Note: Presidential portrait of Truman painted by Greta Kempton from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring Break in New Jersey #4: In Which James V Lafferty Invents Happiness.

Sometimes location is not enough so the conscientious land promoter or real estate developer needs something extra. Back in 1937, an 18-foot-tall statue of Paul Bunyan appeared in Bemidji. The statue was built to promote a carnival. This being Minnesota, contractor Cyril Dickinson didnt think anything unusual about the assignment.

About 40 years before this, Henry Flagler began building an entire railroad, the Florida East Coast Railway, to bring people from the urban East down to Florida, where he was developing resorts and communities all along the states Atlantic shore. The FECRR is still in business (just not that of promoting real estate).

And in 1881 or so, most of the area south of Atlantic City was pretty much dune grass, bayberry bushes and scrub pine...not too appealing for someone wanting to sell vacation lots to serve the increasingly well-off middle classes of New York and New Jersey. This particular “someone” was James Vincent de Paul Lafferty, Jr:

...born in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1856 of prosperous Irish immigrant parents from Dublin, Ireland. Lafferty, who grew up to be an engineer and inventor, came into possession of a number of sandy lots in the South Atlantic City area. They were cut off from the frame houses and mule-drawn street cars of Atlantic City, by a deep tidal creek. Only at low tide could anyone make his way down to the sands of his properties.

Naturally, the idea he lit upon was to build a giant elephant. Wouldnt that be your first thought? According to the good people at (“Lucy” being the giant elephant's name), Lafferty then:

...enlisted the aid of a Philadelphia architect named William Free to design this unusual structure he felt would attract visitors and property buyers to his holdings...Lafferty always claimed that before the work was finished the cost skyrocketed to $38,000.

The United States Patent Office thought this an outstandingly clever idea (and it was!) So the USPO granted Lafferty a 17-year patent giving him the exclusive right to make, use or sell animal-shaped buildings. Which he did at least two more times.

Lafferty could not create his way to real estate success – unlike Flagler, the elephants inventor died broke. But he left behind a happy-making piece of Americana in Margate, NJ, which has been preserved by people who love it...and its just as eye-popping as you think. Sayeth Lucy’s promo flyer:

...Climb up to the museum in her belly on a spiral staircase in her legs!

...View the ocean through her eyeballs!

...Get a spectacular 360° view from her howdah high in the sky!

...See out her posterior window, aka “the pane in her butt!” (Really.)

Everything you ever want to know about one of America's premier early advertising promotions is here. The story of Lucy's great paint job, by Alpine Painting, is here. And consider this: Any real estate mogul can build a great Facebook page. It's not even in the same galaxy as your classic 65-foot elephant.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Force Mobility! Cyberwar! Is Sotera a Re-Brand or a New Brand? Let's Talk...

There are likely to be many reasons why Global Defense and Technology Solutions has changed its name to Sotera Defense Solutions. In the case of this mid-sized defense contractor, though, why would it have called the change it announced on April 5 a “re-brand?”

Milspeak buzzwords aside, let's go back to basics – what is branding? The American Marketing Association says that “a brand is a customer experience represented by a collection of images and ideas; often, it refers to a symbol such as a name, logo, slogan, and design scheme.” So the new Sotera identity is a brand.

What does it stand for? The company's press release notes:

...the name Sotera is derived from Greek mythology and represents the spirit of safety preservation and deliverance from harm. Officials said the new name reflects the company's focus on meeting national security needs.

That's what the company's new website says:

We deliver Technology and Intelligence Services and Field Mobility and Modernization Systems to protect the safety and economic well-being of our nation.

So it is not a re-brand but a new brand. Analyze it and we'll get to the core of the company's revised position. (In fact, Soter is an ancient identifier of Zeus as protector; more recently, Sotera is a Greek girls' name, and both forms mean savior.) Consider that Sotera has just been purchased by a private equity group for about $315 million, and that the purchaser is an affiliate of Ares Management LLC, it looks as though the new owners are going to go through the entire Greek pantheon eventually.

Despite the generic logo and color scheme, there's good news: Sotera's stakeholders are so defined, so focused, that there's little chance the company will ever be a strongly branded player even in the defense industry – an arena whose players are rarely noted* for strong public brand awareness. Sotera will simply continue to be a good source of highly specialized military/intelligence services and a good money-maker.

Let us merely hope no one ever calls for a cyberwar scenario analysis and ends up with a hospital patient vital signs monitor...from Sotera Wireless in San Diego.

*For this post, put aside the “classic” defense contractor brands such as Boeing; as well as the politically notorious ones And clearly, Signalwriter would like to hear what the company's Loren Peduzzi and Ares's agency representative, Bill Mendel, say they're going to make of all this. Thanks in advance for the blog fodder, you guys.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Spring Break in New Jersey #3: Start Industrial Advertising History at 16 Spruce Street.

While visiting this part of the country, it's easy to see plenty about Broadway and the arts. Even immigrant history is a hot ticket – one insider's tip is the Tenement Museum in Orchard Street, NYC.

Across the river in New Jersey, though, there's B2B adventure if you're open to it.

In 2004, when Rachelle Gabardine wrote about industrial-era Paterson, she managed to sound disapproving, as New York Times writers often do when portraying America's Machine Age. At least she was descriptive:

In Paterson's Great Falls Historic District, the top of No. 16 Spruce Street has white letters, 2 to 3 feet high, march 170 feet across, announcing the Paterson Silk Machinery Exchange. The building, which is now transitional housing, was a 19th-century factory that was home to the exchange from 1928 to 1956, and earlier housed the Rogers Locomotive Works. The exchange reconditioned machines key to the city's textile industry, which at its height comprised 800 silk operations...

In fact, from an industrial perspective, Paterson's got a bad reputation – strikes and factory closures and company failures make for grim reading. Still, for business-to-business marketers and advertising pros, there's formative stuff. Samuel Colt's Paterson experience, where he first invented and produced revolving pistols, rifles and the early advertising that went with it – that's here in Paterson.

Rogers locomotives, among other Paterson-built steam engines, wandered in and out of American history (the Transcontinental railroad, the Panama Canal).

How about the birth of Big Pharma – especially in OTC? Here's Unguentine ointment (remember that one?) and Fungacetin (really) and Phor-A-Sole and – wait for it – Suavinol! It's a brander's heaven or hell.

Wright built aircraft engines here, including the one that powered “The Spirit of St Louis.” Wright's marketing and sales helped build America's reputation as the world's preeminent industrial power.

Paterson has big, dark spaces. Another Times writer described the city in 2002:

...this bleak but battling community, hard by the Passaic River, that was forged by the Industrial Age, ruined by its demise and is still reeling from a century of labor strife, racial tensions, high crime rates and joblessness...

It has plenty of creativity in its bloodstream too. Welcome to Paterson – home of the Silk Machinery Exchange and other links to the history of Industrial Advertising.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Spring Break in New Jersey #2: Staying with Family, We Avoid Problems. Outstanding!

Thanks to Rachel Baron and Alison Bond, we’re able to take a complete pass on certain kinds of vacation challenges.

I’m talking about the challenges of having to stay in a bad motel. How do I know? I have researched the “10 Warning Signs of Motel Misery.” Let me list ‘em for you:

  1. The free mint on the pillow starts moving when you come close to it.
  2. The “complimentary” morning paper tells you that President Kennedy has died.
  3. The bed’s Magic Fingers® vibration is supplied by a foot-powered bicycle pump.
  4. You have to wait ‘til the guy next door is done with the towel so you can use it.
  5. There is still some yellow tape on the doorway – the kind they put around nuclear accidents.
  6. The pictures are artfully placed to cover up recent earthquake damage.
  7. There’s a chalk outline in the bed when you pull back the covers.
  8. You have to move the body in order to plug in your phone charger.
  9. The only TV station you can get is a current events talk channel hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt.
  10. The wake-up call comes courtesy of a great big guy with a shaved head.
Seriously, we’re looking forward to the visit – going to enjoy ourselves big time. Thank you in advance to everyone in North Bergen…