Friday, July 29, 2011

Would You Buy a Tincture from This Man? How About a Cure for the Common Cold?

Yes – that’s His Royal Highness, Charles, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, etc. And unbeknownst to me, he’s been in the business of creating and marketing sustainable products for years. They’re sold under the name Duchy Originals from Waitrose, “A partnership preserving our heritage.”

Waitrose acquired the organic range a couple of years ago. It then relaunched the products in its own retail locations exclusively. The Duchy got additional new products and all-new packaging too. The mostly organic, “good food” products range from black pepper wheaten biscuits to Old Ruby Ale, beetroot seeds to herbal tinctures. It’s these tinctures that keep getting Duchy Originals into trouble.

In 2009, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in Britain forced Duchy Originals to change wording on ads for the Duchy Herbals Echina-Relief Tincture and Duchy Herbals Hyperi-Lift Tincture – the marketer couldn’t prove efficacy, yet kept promoting it. In the same period, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority was “investigating claims made on behalf of the Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture which said it can rid the body of toxins.”

Now – Extra! Extra! – Britain's leading alternative medicine researcher, Edzard Ernst, has “re-ignited a public row…by branding the Prince of Wales a ‘snake oil salesman’.” Read all about this latest brick-toss in the Guardian here.

I brought the affray to the attention of Becci Himes, Executive Director of the British-American Business Council here in Houston. She said, “I only found a few tinctures that Duchy sells. Nothing outrageous. The bulk of their products are organic foods and a portion of their sales goes to charity.”

With her note in mind, I’m re-centered about the whole, distant thing. Waitrose was much praised originally for rescuing the Prince’s product lines. More important, it has done a good fair job carrying on with the Duchy Originals brand theme overall. Whether you like the Royals or not, there’s real value in putting Prince Charles’s prestige behind “natural, organic, sustainable.”

I would buy a cold remedy from HRH. The Duchy Herbals Echina-Relief Tincture, intended to relieve “the symptoms of the common cold and influenza-type infections,” gets a pass from that same vocal critic, Ernst. He claims there’s real evidence that echinacea helps against colds.

Waitrose could even get a bump in sales Duchy-wise because of the renewed attention. Ta for the weekend.

Photos: HRH Prince Charles by Matt Dunham/AP. Duchy tincture from the company website. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

To Fight the Brand Bandits – in the Front Lines and Online – Become a Whistle-Blower.

Chinese officials have found five fake Apple stores in the southwestern city of Kunming,” reads one article lead, in stately fashion. (Reuters has done a spectacular job of documenting the brand theft in photos like the one above.)

Isn’t it shocking. The Chinese caught stealing brands. Again. In case you missed the last time I blogged about this (“Ripped Off” here), let me remind you that there is little respect for the sanctity of brands in “Land of the Big Exports.”

There’s also little enforcement inside the country. And apparently little punishment to “evil-doers” in this connection. Not terribly surprising when news covers human tragedies on a Somalia or even Norway scale.

Still, maybe you care enough to ask yourself, “What can I do to help stop brand theft? How can I help preserve the value of a brand that I love – or at least respect?”

Well, you could start by reading the “Brand Counterfeiting” blog post by Lee Grayson. Make a new career of it by attending the next Anti-Counterfeiting & Brand ProtectionTM conference – that would be in NYC at the end of September.

Or you can simply out brand thieves by taking it to the Internet, whether you see something major like a Chinese retailer skanking the Starbucks brand or a neighborhood video dealer with a hand-painted Mickey Mouse. Drop a dime (email a photo of the offending store or label) to the legal department of the brand owning company. Do your duty as an advertising person, as a brand marketing, as a corporate communicator. Blow a whistle.

Each of the US brand names in this post is protected by one or more trademarks. All rights reserved. “Land of the Big Exports” is a favored nickname invented by Mshimwoman on – other options include “The Middle Kingdom” and “Sleeping Dragon.”

Friday, July 22, 2011

Google+ and 10 Million+ Testers: Signalwriter Catches Bleeding Edge by Fingertips.

The Google+ project aims to make sharing on the web more like sharing in real life.

That’s what Google says in its new social site meta tag. Now’s my chance to offer a more public “thank you” to Rachel Parker of Resonance for inviting me onto Google+ to share in the latest social media experience. Since a marketer or advertiser can’t walk out of a fern bar or a brew pub without tweeting about it, the value of constantly advancing social media cannot be overlooked.

I will be spending the weekend learning about Circles, Sparks and Hangouts. The fact that the Google+ dashboard looks like the control panel of a spacecraft from Remulak is no excuse. I’m certain I’ll get used to it.

One thing I’d like to experiment with is making my Google+ appearance a Signalwrite Marketing presence now, instead of waiting a few months. Writing on, another Parker (Debbie Parker) says:

Google hopes to make Google+ available for enterprise users later this year. It will feature rich analytics and the capability to connect a Google+ identity to other services that businesses use, such as AdWords. Google ask businesses not to create consumer Profiles for Google+.

First, though, I’m going to do what “my” Parker’s already done: work through the ins and outs of this new thing. If I’m not back by Monday morning, you guys can have my Starbucks card.

Photo adapted from – thank you.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Celebrate (and Support) Texas Film Production with TXMPA This Week.

You do know that “The Alamo” is not the only movie ever filmed in Texas? We’ve got all kinds of movies in production here, plus commercials, industrial films, interactive and digital projects. You name it, we do it right here. Don’t you want to keep on doing it? I sure do.

A lot of the industry people who make this happen will be in Houston starting tomorrow, lining up for the annual meeting of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance on July 23rd.

This TXMPA is an advocacy group that supports our film, video, interactive and digital media. It lobbies the Lege in Austin. It’s been pretty successful in getting incentives passed by state legislators that’ll bring even more production to Texas, including funding for the Texas Moving Image Incentive Program.

Why’s this get-together important enough to warrant a Signalwriter blog post? Not to mention events and parties here in the Bayou City all week long? Because video media production means work. That counts my own.

Working for and with Locke Bryan Productions I have had the chance to do video and TV projects like this. I’ve worked on client audio projects with Audio Bob. I’ve worked with Zephyr Salvo on website creation and content development. Participants in the TXMPA are an integral part of my work-life.

When colleagues like Locke Bryan, Bob Vance and John Phillippe (among others) tell me they’re hosting a party for the industry and TXMPA attendees on Friday, July 22, I’d kinda like to be there to say “I appreciate your work.”

Becci Himes, Executive Director of the British-American Business Council Houston, also sent the TXMPA schedule over – she wants me to attend the luau the following evening, after the membership meeting. She noted, “Richard, I see a new Hawaiian shirt in your future!”

I’ll start by wearing an extra-loud one to this Margarita Madness lash-up on Friday. I’ll try to drop some memorable lines like, “You shoot off a guy's head with his pants down, believe me, Texas is not the place you wanna get caught.”

That’s from “Thelma and Louise,” 1991. Not filmed here. Maybe one of those TXMPA-ers will be able to use it in marketing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Let There be a Sonic in Sonic’s Future and Vice-Versa: A Made-in-Detroit Promo Dream.

The upcoming new Chevrolet Sonic is the only real subcompact that’s being built in America – says so right here in The New York Times…the first since the Chevette back when Gerald Ford was President. Including “destination charges,” the 2012 Sonic will start around $14K with the most standard safety equipment in the sub-compact class, according to General Motors.

So attention, GM: What could be better than putting the new car together with America’s Drive-In: Sonic® restaurants. Look – it’s America’s largest chain of drive-in restaurants, more than 3,500 of them in 43 states. It touts that some 3 million customers eat at its stores every day. And it has a powerful local base of franchisers to support all kinds of coop initiatives with Chevy dealers and fan clubs.

(I am kinda partial to the new Baja Dog myself right now – not that I’m busting my South Beach Diet for ‘em.)

Shucks, it’s even got the old “…hot dogs…and Chevrolet” jingle ready-to-serve. Remember, you heard it from Signalwriter first. So I hope to receive a new Chevy Sonic – the hatchback, I think; or a year’s worth of free eating at America’s Drive-In. Or both.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Set the Wayback Machine (Again): “Celebrating 50 Space Travel Yrs.”

In new advertising for the Houston Museum of Natural Science, by Creative Director Kim Bloedorn, you can see the difference between satire (bad) and homage (really, really good):

When I was asked to create ads to run in the anniversary section of the Houston Chronicle Space Shuttle tribute, my immediate inspiration was retro-styled art. What better way to celebrate 50 years in space.

Our hometown paper’s made room for major efforts commemorating NASA, the last shuttle launch and the milestones of space flight. The museum’s strong connections with NASA via its education and planetarium programs spurred its participation in the special Chronicle section published today.

There are a lot of us whose awareness of “the final frontier” predated Sputnik. We grew up with Double Star (Robert Heinlein, 1956), “Forbidden Planet” (MGM, same year) and the omnipresent rocket engineer of the 20th Century (Wernher von Braun, 1912-1977). For hundreds of thousands of us, manned space exploration was a no-brainer; has been, in fact, a constant presence in our lives.

For some of us, it has fueled careers that have lasted through today – in media broadly, in PR and advertising specifically. From campaigns for companies like MBDA to ongoing enthusiasm for the imagery of old Soviet rocket programs in modern marketing illustration, there’s an undying meme that feels distinctly American but has spent half a century transcending borders.

Today here’s Bloedorn in full (funky) color, spacing me out with her finned rocket ships and scuffed planetary rings and the bucktoothed kid in the zip-up spaceship suit.

For her, it’s a…jubilee of memory: I hoped it would spark an emotional connection with those of us that remember the days when the space program began and celebrate the fun that can still be had from learning and exploring space right here at HMNS.

Culture infects advertising. Advertising infects culture. In case you don’t believe that the new HMNS ads aren’t channeling meme-makers like Kelly Freas, take a quick visual peek at one month in one year of fantasy and science fiction: January 1954. Better yet, drive by the Planet Ford dealership in Humble. Or the Flying Saucer shop on Crosstimbers: “Our Pies Are Out of This World!”

So are Bloedorn’s adverts.*
*I bet Bloedorn would like me to note, 2011 © HMNS. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

What Will Really Happen to Signalwriter’s Blogging Platform?

The word’s out – Google will “probably” rebrand the Blogger platform it bought along with previous owner Pyra Labs in 2003. Reader comments to one CNet report are mixed, but generally positive…some respondents rightly see the value in concentrating more attention in the overall Google brand.

That’s important to me because Blogger is where Signalwriter has been since I began writing it in 2005…it’s a long time in Internet years. I have been grateful to Blogger for a long time for enabling me to practice my craft (writing) and promote my brand (Signalwrite Marketing) in such a well-supported way. And did I mention, without cost?

The universe of blogging has grown so complex since I began, it’s unlikely if not impossible to have it neatly summed up. I won’t try, though I am considering a raucous beer bash for my blog’s 10th Anniversary. So just you stick around to see what happens in the next four years…it looks as though Google is going to keep changing everything, but I’ll keep the beer cold.

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Civil War’s First July 4th: Lincoln and Congress.

In his message to an extraordinary session of Congress 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln built his administration’s case for going to war against his own countrymen. Presenting these words – if you haven’t read them in a long time, you ought to read them now, today – is no different than other American Presidents in other national crises. This, however, was the first time.

Lincoln reviewed the circumstances leading up to his post-Inaugural decisions. He recapped the surrender of Fort Sumter to elements of the rebellious states. He pointed out: In this act, discarding all else, they have forced upon the country, the distinct issue: "Immediate dissolution, or blood.’’

He said to the US Congress:

This issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy – a government of the people, by the same people – can, or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity, against its own domestic foes. It presents the question, whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control administration, according to organic law, in any case, can always, upon the pretences made in this case, or on any other pretences, or arbitrarily, without any pretence, break up their Government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth.

He said to the US Congress, and to the free people of this nation, that the war is:

…a People’s contest...a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men...”

Although much has been written about this message, the great commanders and the great battles have gotten far more ink. Also, 6,500 words long…it’s not going to be recapitulated here, on this 4th of July.

Yet Lincoln’s message is as detailed and layered a presentation of US government aims as has ever been presented. Never let the fact that this message is a century and a half old blind you to the facts of its sophistication, its nuance and its sheer argumentative force.

The President calls for the enlistment of 500,000 men – Congress authorizes that call. Seventeen days later, Confederate troops defeat the Union Army under Irvin McDowell at First Manassas southwest of Washington. Federal troops fall back into Washington and Lincoln realizes the war will be a long one: “It’s damned bad,” he comments.

This brief series of initiating events is hard to think about today. In wishing you the best possible 4th of July, after a tumultuous year in our country (and a redeeming one, in my opinion), I ask you again to read Lincoln’s 6, 500 words. They are about freedom, about the preservation of our way of life. They are about (in Lincoln’s fine turn of phrase), “the unanimous firmness of the common soldiers, and common sailors.”

The message is, most of all, about “the patriotic instinct of the plain people” of America. Happy Independence Day.