Saturday, May 28, 2011

Service: May 30, 9.30AM. National Cemetery, 10410 Veterans Memorial Drive, Houston.

“Z” – Signalman Lewis aboard USS Hancock. December 20, 1944, supporting operations at Luzon, Mindoro, Salvador Island, Masinloc, San Fernando, Cabanatuan and Manila Bay, Philippine Islands. and Naval Slide Collection at the National Archives.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Illustrator Elwood Smith Amuses as Mixed-Messaging Parade Magazine Confuses.

Resistance to Elwood Smith illustration is futile for me. He’s been one of America’s leading commercial artists for years – I got to involve him on a strong Baker Hughes print campaign in the ‘90s. His work is so distinctive I couldn’t ignore his cover and text drawings for Parade’s May 22 issue; the magazine makes a usual appearance in our Sunday paper.

The title article was “Hungry? Eat Your Way Across America. The subtitle: “50 states, 50 fabulous food festivals.” Smith’s spot illustrations are wonderful. I began to read through the piece but realized...

Parade is highlighting this compilation of festival food so you can “have it all.” Festivals are indeed for eating; the magazine doesn’t hold back. Sample the world’s largest peach cobbler (75 pounds of butter) in Georgia. The giant strawberry shortcake feeding 15,000 in Oregon. The Fat Elvis peanut butter, banana and bacon biscuit in Tennessee.

The content is all about the numbers – 100 cheeses from 40 local creameries (Vermont), 200,000+ brats (Wisconsin), 100 tons of BBQ ribs (Nevada). It all sounds phenomenal. Don’t you want every plateful?!?

If you are “still hungry for more” the Parade website has plenty. The editors have salted these scrumpdillyicious descriptions with an occasional rarity for the health-conscious consumer:

Go ahead and indulge, then burn off the calories in the polka dance-off.

You press on, I’ll rest here with my buffalo wings (New York). I am amused, though. The magazine page count is 24. There are about 14 pages of ads. Of these, 3 are for fruit and meats; and 6-1/2 pages of ads for…drugs – 4 of those pages are for Zetia and Lipitor.

The Parade summer fun focus is great. But as the Lipitor slogan says, “Don’t Kid Yourself.” Happy Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Tootsie Pop® Role in AMA Deliberations? Try the Banana. No, the Mango!

I didn’t realize: Tootsie Pops come in Wild Mango Berry. The AMAHouston Communications Committee* is sitting around this morning in the Savage conference room, sucking on candy…particularly the headlined Tootsie Pop.

Given our “business” focus today, the fact that some of the confections come from a company called Tootsie Roll Industries is reassuring to those of us who grew up to be captains (or maybe just sergeants) of industry, too.

The source of dentists’ profitability since 1896, you may (or may not) be old enough to remember original Dots and Charms. Or Sugar Daddies – that one drove our parents nuts ‘cause the chewy caramel thing could pull a filling out of your mouth just by taking off its bright yellow wrapper.

There were Tootsie Rolls themselves, naturally (boyhood sniggers continue to this day). Years ago though, the jewels in Tootsie’s crown were the Pops:

What goes into the world’s number #1-selling candy-filled lollipop? Start with a chewy, Tootsie Roll center; cover it with a delicious, hard candy coating; and you’ve got a simple, delicious treat, a Tootsie original that was the first lollipop providing an embedded candy “prize.” And at only 60 calories per fat-free pop, it’s the perfect guilt-free, sweet tooth-pleasing treat that everyone can enjoy.

Like the website says, that chocolaty center was and still is yummy. In my schooldays, the flavors were standard: Orange, Cherry, Grape, Raspberry…and Chocolate, the double whammy of the line-up. Sometime after I stopped being a customer, Tootsie Roll added a “…new sixth flavor that alternates among Pomegranate, Banana, and now Green Apple” but this website bit is misleading because over three or four decades, there were plenty of different flavors added and subtracted from the line-up. (An easy start on Tootsie Pop lore is Wikipedia.)

Like any modern CPG outfit, Tootsie Roll keeps on changing its line-up. Recently I’d heard there’s a Peanut Butter Tootsie Pop – that turns out to be wrong. Tara Johnson told me this morning that there’s a Caramel Pop, which I discover is a “Limited Edition.” I’d like to try one of those.

In the mixed bags on the conference table this morning were also some of the Banana sort plus these bright orange-and-purple Pops titled Wild Mango Berry. It turns out this one’s part of the company’s “Wild” series…currently with five flavors.

I like Mango. It’s amazing what you can learn from a dedicated group of professionals.

*This subset of AMAHouston volunteers must not remain nameless: Marketing Communications VP Johnson I’ve already mentioned. Also out for the workshop this morning were Jen Pearsall, Michelle LeBlanc, Robin Tooms, Tillie Nutter, Tom Richardson, Allyson Bandy, Amy Dionne, Erika WatersShanthi Subramanian, Jared Houser…and me. Now somebody please pass the Whoppers.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cliffs Natural Resources: The Case of the Bush-League (or Incompetent) Ad Agency.

As an advertising professional, I'm not happy with “lazy.” Especially when you're going to run your campaign as full pages and digital placements in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Globe and Mail and other business and trade media across at least four continents.

Read about this new “Together. It Starts Here.” ad campaign for yourself online. In a nutshell, though, it's announcing that Cliffs Natural Resources has completed its immense expenditure in acquiring Consolidated Thompson Iron Mines Limited:

The advertisements feature a dramatic photo of two identical mining trucks, one bearing the Cliffs logo and the other bearing the Consolidated Thompson logo. The advertising campaign is designed to reinforce Cliffs' brand as a growing, dynamic global industrial company supplying raw materials to steelmakers around the world...

Now here's the sloppy part: The trucks are NOT identical, they're the same truck – the same photo of an immense mining dumper that's been flopped – reversed – and incompletely retouched.

Look closely, starting with the backwards image of the badge on the trucks' grills. Even though the company has spent $4.9 billion Canadian dollars on this acquisition, it apparently decided it couldn't stretch to a few hundred C-bucks for its ad agency to get the retouching job done proper. Or maybe this campaign is the production of an in-house marketing unit?

As was said in The Princess Bride: “Boo. Hiss.” Send this outfit back to the bush league where it belongs.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

We Don’t Need No Trademarked “Seal Team Six” – We’ve Got Gurkhas.

Reality comes to the rescue of blogging again, even about advertising. So, first, if you didn’t share a huge guffaw over Disney’s application for a trademark on “Seal Team Six,” you missed a great chance to laugh at the company…again. And the company did this the day after the Abbottabad raid.

(Honestly, some days they’re worse than D Trump.)

Now you cigar smokers, current and reformed, will recognize the ad format here. It’s from the latest Thompson Cigar catalog and it’s touting Gurkha Special Operations Churchills. Since I’m certain that the catalog was in production before the US raid, serendipity is obviously at work. In fact, the king of mail-order cigars has had this offer floating around since last year:

The Gurkha Special Ops Gift Set takes Gurkha brand-owner K Hansotia’s support of our men and women in uniform to a whole new level. The Gurkha cigars are full bodied, but surprisingly sophisticated and employ a top-secret blend of well aged Dominican long fillers finished with a zesty Dominican wrapper.

On the one hand I’m charmed by the coincidence. On the other, Thompson (Since 1915) is  presenting its own special blend of silliness, starting with the inclusion of a 12-inch long knife instead of the kukri, the traditional long knife of the Gurkhas and other Nepalese hill people.

Even considering the historical use of Gurkhas as a special unit of the British Army (to this day: the Royal Gurkha Rifles); and their fearsome fighting reputation; the last time I can recall any sort of special operations being undertaken by the Gurkhas was in Hollywood’s “King of the Khyber Rifles,” in 1953.

So it goes: marketing will find a way. This is what drives the creator-cartoonist of “Dilbert” nuts. Plus the cigars are good, insofar as I remember them. Anything is better than one more over-reaching Disney exploitation.

Remember what these monsters did to “Winnie the Pooh.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From GE Trolleys to METRORail Trains, “Carfare” Is Still Required.

This will sound so last century but I do remember when Atlanta replaced its streetcars with trolley buses. The electric trolley supplier, which happened to be GE, advertised about it in magazines like The American City.

My granddaddy, Max Baron, took me on at least one remembered ride on the streetcar that ran down Piedmont Avenue near our house of the era. So there was a jolt of flashback after I climbed onto METRORAIL at a parking lot at Bell and Travis, headed to OTC 2011 at Reliant Center.
I started riding the cars again last year for events in the Medical Center and in Reliant Center. Taking the train down to the Offshore Technology Conference this year (as in 2010) was a doddle. (That’s an informal British phrase meaning easily accomplished, a piece of cake.) Drive downtown. Find an easy parking place. Walk half a block to the METRORail stop, get your ticket and climb aboard. Fifteen minutes or so later, get off just 100 yards from the door to OTC. To get back, simply reverse the process.

It’s a buck-and-a-quarter fare one way. And that’s where the flashback comes: I wrote the $2.50 total cost into my expense-tracker as “carfare.” Even when you Google this phrase, you won’t find much about it, or its forebear “streetcar fare.” And I have no idea what mental attic corner I pulled it out of.

I do know that streetcars and trolley cars are gone (mostly) with the wind. Richard Layman, whose blog also supplied the photo of the ad above, is a bit whiny about the subject of public transportation but enough of a good sport to say:

I wrote recently…about how GM, Standard Oil of New Jersey, and Firestone led a conspiracy to replace streetcars with buses. The fact is it’s way more complicated and nuanced than that – just how history most often is, nuanced and more complicated than at first glance.

Whatever all the reasons for America’s cities eliminating seemingly more efficient means of mass transit, advertising about it was a staple of certain trade magazines; 50 and more years after the GE ad appeared, I was still creating print campaigns for transit bus motor oils like Exxon’s…and running them in American City and County…the modern name for The American City.

Subways and trains are fun, flashbacks and all. I wish we had more of them. Because despite downtown Houston’s empty buildings, riding the train to and from the center of our city is exciting and easy too. Even a little sexy. Just remember to bring carfare.

Friday, May 06, 2011

R&B@OTC: Along with 78,000 Other People, We Came to See and Be Seen.

We forget. We all forget – and fast, too. When I wrote here about the 2008 Offshore Technology Conference, oil was $128/barrel. Today, after the close of this year’s OTC, the price is $97.30 – down from a high of $113 a month ago. In the middle, there have been ups and downs, spills and chills and drilling moratoria. Plus constant predictions of “the end of civilization as we know it” in terms of a bleaker, far more expensive energy future.

So why, in the face of so much negativism and angst, did more than 78,000 of us go to OTC 2011, generating another record-busting year? One reason is our recognition (at least as far as I can tell) that oil and gas aren’t the end of us; but rather, they’re Western civilization’s guarantor.

That’s a big word but no less true. Hydrocarbons not only fuel our present lives, they assure the quality and durability of what we have achieved financially and culturally.

This is not to say our industry doesn’t have its tin ears and big mouths. Transocean’s boneheaded safety bonus announcements a month ago are just one example of how to make an entire business segment look real bad.

OTC is energy – the thrilling buzz of making things happen, of participating. It only took me and Brian Bearden sitting together in the PSR Group booth for five minutes, getting this caricature drawn, to also draw a cheerful crowd of lookers…and sitting ducks for the PSR people working the booth. (Thanks and you’re welcome to the PSR gang!)

George Foster of Foster Marketing answered me this: “What’s the marketing value of exhibiting at the Offshore Technology Conference?”

Trade shows are the last bastion of building personal relationships in this digital age. The opportunity to reacquaint with clients and prospects from all over the world at OTC is  phenomenal. Not only the relationship-building, but to know that making one sale pays for the show makes OTC well worth the expense.

I have pushed the same query to other colleagues, veterans of working in or visiting clients at this year’s OTC. When I get more answers, I’ll post them and let you know. Meanwhile, newly headlined Barrett-Wehlmann-Proctor principal Jim Proctor splits being seen five ways:

From the optimist’s perspective, it’s keeping your brand relevant in the context of the global industry’s biggest event of the year.

From the pessimist’s point of view, it’s not being conspicuous by your absence.

For the salesperson: “I can see 40 customers in a day, not get on a plane and it only costs $1.7 million.”

For the marketer, it’s accumulating those pesky exhibitor points and improving location – year after year.

And from the CFO’s perspective: “What else are we going to do with all these profits?”

Thank you to Tuesday’s wingman Bearden, principal of web design consultancy Upstream Marketing. Thanks to Signalwrite clients here and abroad, and to everyone who made a great OTC 2011 possible…nothing cartoonish about any of ‘em but great colleagues all.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Out of Australia: How the Beer There Becomes (Briefly) the Beer Here.

The opening line of Wikipedia’s Beer in Australia entry makes joyful reading: “Beer arrived in Australia at the beginning of Western colonisation.” Kind of reassuring, too. In fact, the first paragraph neatly outlines the relationship of Ozites and their beers, like Australia’s ranked fourth worldwide in per capita beer consumption – though far lower in terms of alcoholic consumption. Like Aussies like lager best.

When Yanks think of Australian beer, it’s likely to be Foster’s because it’s a brand much advertised here, on and off. But the lager is made for this market by SAB Miller, Foster’s US licensee. And even though there are, in Australia, a huge number of different beers, they have all tended to be lagers as well…celebrated in song and story and even Mambo Loud shirts like the Reg Mombasa item above.

New Oz-beers and brands do make it across the Pacific, even though they’re more likely to be available in closer-to-Australia markets such as Portland, Seattle and San Francisco. Harder to come by in Houston although one brewery in Melbourne, Barons, caught my attention for name-related reasons. I’d mentioned it a time or two on Facebook…but no distribution here. I have wondered what its signature beer, Barons Black Wattle Original Ale (an “herbed, spiced beer”), tastes like since Rachel Baron and Alison Bond brought us some wattle seed from their last visit to Australia.

Everything is so connected – as you will see in just a moment.

Comes a ringing at the front door, which I posted to Facebook:

An AMAZING package from Susan Tapper, from Australia: four beers! By mail. Shipped end of February. Susan wrote: “So glad you actually got them — Who? What? Beers from Australia?? You would love it here — beer is the beverage of choice of Aussies young and old! The national ‘water’. (I actually travelled to Melbourne where I found those...)” What a gift - thank you, Susan. I swear to drink them only for good. Watch for reviews...

It’s a miracle, this gift from this long-ago Quest colleague who went off to Australia, married and raised a wonderful family while keeping in touch from time to time. Email, and then Facebook, made it even easier…especially in the shipping-of-the-beers department. Susan’s card also noted:

I so enjoy your beer reviews! I hope this (shipment – ed.) encourages you to look at some Aussie brews! A country filled with beer drinkers!

The miracle: four glass bottles of beer came regular post, all the way from Australia, without losing a precious ounce of beer through breakage. Susan used bubble-wrap (wonder what that’s called in Oz?) and foam rubber – even our postal person was amazed that the beers arrived intact.

What did Susan send thisaway? Not one but two bottles of Barons, one the Black Wattle Ale; the other the brewery’s Lemon Myrtle Witbier, 5.8% and 4.5% respectively. There’s a single bottle of Pale Ale – 4.7% ABV – from Kooinda Boutique Brewery (Kooinda means “happy place”) also in Melbourne. And one bottle of 6% Temptress Chocolate Porter from Holgate Brewhouse (think “brewpub”), out of a beautifully maintained 19th Century commercial hotel in Woodend, Victoria.

In the past year, we have heard from a lot of people who would like us to visit Australia. Susan Tapper’s tempting us with actual beers is the best offer we’ve had so far. Note the use of the word “briefly” in the headline: the Oz-beers won't last very long here in Spring Branch.  

NOTE: Thank you so much, Susan. Thanks as well to Australia Post and the US Post Office for getting these beers to Houston.