Friday, August 19, 2011

When Your City Rebrands (like Ames, IA), Don't Take Umbrage. Take Advantage.

I wouldn't have paid attention to the Ames Patch post by Jessica Miller if I hadn't stopped in this Iowa college city on Monday for supper . (Sure enough, we pulled into a parking spot opposite Olde Main Brewing Company to see Michelle Bachmann for President 2012 campaign posters in the storefront windows.)

It turns out that the City of Ames hired Des Moines's PUSH Branding & Design to revamp the existing multi-green-colored logo. The experienced agency appears to have executed its usual job of creating a completely new look and approach for the city of 60,000....that's the red version on the left.

The City Council has asked the citizens for their opinions in a posting to the Ames municipal website, where you can see other versions of the new brand, as well as a proposed theme line: Heartland's Leading Edge.

These variations present Ames's biggest challenge – change. Asking citizens to comment, well, I realize it's right out of the “Big Book of City Council Things To Do.” But perhaps they shouldn't have.

Example: one commenter to Miller's blog post notes:

It's the old “If it ain't broke don't fix it!” The current logo has more impact, straight forward, bold, and fully understandable. Why spend thousands of whose money?? [sic] on something abstract that only a few understand. I used to design logos for local small businesses and never charged a dime. The same designers may be found here in Ames that would just take pride and not laugh all the way to the bank. Also, not appreciative of the costs involved in changing letter heads and other signage. What a waste for Ames.

I do not quote “Jo” in full to be patronizing. Having reviewed a couple of dozen city-rebrand stories over the past several years, though, I suggest that these posted comments encompass most of the complaints I've seen in other civic branding challenges – nothing wrong with the existing logo; new logo costs “thousands” of taxpayers' money; design too abstract/obscure/doesn't fit the civic persona; why go out of town for a design firm...and so on.

Yet whether the new brand proposed by PUSH is awful or awesome, look back a couple of paragraphs for that magic word, “change.” Properly, the City Council of Ames has decided that the 15-year-old green logo (on the right) is...dated. It is broken. It's the Council's job to fix that problem – without even reading the city charter, I am as certain as the Straw Poll it's charged with promoting economic and cultural growth. A new brand of any flavor ought to push in that direction.

It's also the City Council's job to spend money. Not foolishly, not wastefully...but productively. Generally, we pay taxes so that our governments can get on with the job of providing for life, liberty and the pursuit of spending that tax revenue on a wide variety of projects and services.

It's a recurring fallacy that governments should not spend our money...or refuse to make decisions that cause change. Transforming the Ames logo mark to RED from GREEN is, I suspect, a really big one.

I leave aside the observation that someone might design logos for businesses and never charge a dime. Any good worker is worthy of his hire. Without knowing the parameters of the RFP, maybe PUSH Design could fulfill the terms and Ames agencies could not. Or PUSH brought a level of branding experience to this project that local outfits couldn't match.

So take another look at the Des Moines design firm and decide for yourself if it has the chops for the Ames rebrand project.

Feel free to weigh in on the Ames City Council request for feedback by emailing – today's the last day the Council will accept your thoughts; or comment at the bottom of the Miller blog post.

I'll say this: the proposed Heartland's Leading Edge line (leave out the article, please) makes good sense when I read how much research and development, agricultural and otherwise, goes on around this 60,000-people city. And as with every brand change, the more you promote it, advertise it and take advantage of it, the better off you'll be.

First, though – go with it!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

How Rachel and Alison Help Make Up for Missing International Pickle Week.

Keeping an advertising blog while traveling is highlighted by happenstance. Today's post is powered by the appearance of a jar of Gedney State Fair Baby Baby Dills in our rooms here in New Prague. I had forgotten that Minnesota is so much of a “pickle state.” Wisconsin gets cranberries; the Land of 10,000 Lakes gets kosher dills.

Among many other varieties and circumstances. You can eat your way through the State Fair on pickles as Baking Junkie blogger Aimee demonstrates, “...a Pickle Dog. A pickle spear wrapped in cream cheese and pastrami. Absolutely fabulous and just like eating a giant pickle roll-up (another typically midwestern appetizer)”

International Pickle Week was last May, according to Minnesota Monthly writer Marie Flanagan, who also offered the classic Deep Fried Pickle Recipe...from Gedney. Which is why it's a pleasure to note that constant exploration and food purchasing by Rachel Baron and Alison Bond is such a great payoff for a marketing blogger like Signalwriter.

Not only didn't I remember the pretty darn famous Gedney Pickle Company from up here, but I didn't know that the...pickle giant...had been marketing a perfect peck of pickle products for this part of the world: its “State Fair” line-up.

Briefly, the first Gedney pickle factory opened in Minneapolis in 1881. A hundred or so years later, as a Minnesota State Fair sponsor, the company began packing and marketing top-prize-winning pickle recipes from ribbon winners there in 1991 with the Kosher Dills of Genevieve Spano and the Bread & Butter Pickles from Nita Schemmel. (The present jar of Baby Baby Dills is a prize-winner from Kathy Earnest, Lindstrom, MN.) And the locally famous jingle, “Get me a Gedney, it's the Minnesota pickle,” created by freelancer Sandy Buckholtz, grabbed hold up here.

Gedney has grown far beyond selling pickles from the back of horse-drawn wagons – it expanded by buying brands like Cain's to capture New England; and produces pickles for both Del Monte and Target's Archer Farms brand lines. Most important: Gedney's State Fair line maintains a resolute local focus, the “pickles here” of grocery marketing and promotion. For a company like this, thinking local continues to pay off, whether local equals Massachusetts or Minnesota.

Travel broadens one's view of advertising and promotion, alongside regional foods and events. Good to pick up a little fresh knowledge (and some pickles) while on the road. We'll be trying out these at the Slavik family reunion. Maybe I can tell you how Kathy's recipe has turned out.

PS: You betcha – that's Kathy right there on the label.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wichita Ale Tales: The Brewer Polishes Old Snortin' Norton.

In Wichita, Kansas, Dan Norton is the Head Brewer at River City Brewing Company. We've been stopping here every time Barbara and I drive to Minnesota...for years. This time, though, Maria (our server) offered something different: Old Snortin' Norton, a beer created by the brewer to celebrate his 1,000th beer. It is...fine. Said the same in an email to Norton; asked for details. And you know, sometimes you just can't beat other people's stories. Here's at least three – from the brewer's mouth.

Thank you for the nice comments on my 1,000th batch. A lot of times for commemorative brews, I’ll brew something very big, add some crazy ingredients, age it in some kind of barrel with tons of dry hops, push the limits a little.

I have been researching my family history quite a bit this year, and I thought for my 1,000th batch that I’d keep it simple with a straightforward style, but a style that is “all there” when it comes to flavor. My grandpa Bob taught me how to homebrew when I was 18 and stumbled upon his batch of Pale Ale that he brewed in the basement fridge.

Grandpa Bob was a strong-willed, some say stubborn guy that loved his family and grandkids very much! He was an engineer for the Grand Trunk Railroad in Battle Creek, Michigan, and was known at every bar that was on his route home from work, as Old Snortin’ Norton, or sometimes “Snort” for short. He was also on the USS Reid in Pearl Harbor, and when you look at records online of who was on that ship, it lists the crew with a column for nicknames. Sure enough, it says Snortin’ Norton next to my grandpa!

I never got to sit at a brewery with Old Snortin’ since he passed when I was 20, so I wanted to honor him with this beer, and every glass I drink of it, I raise it up for my grandpa!

Since we all hail from England, I decided on an English Old Ale. My version is on the dark end of the spectrum for this style, but within range. The 7.7% alcohol Is also towards the top range, but that’s what I wanted. I used Maris Otter as my base malt for this beer, which adds a little more grainy-biscuit flavor and a little more body than our standard 2-row Pale Malt.  Some Caramel 80, a mid-range Caramel malt adds a little toasted toffee-like flavor, Chocolate Malt and Black Malt add to the complexity by adding their dark color and sweet roast flavor.

But hold it to the light and the deep amber color of the Caramel malt will shine a nice garnet color. East Kent Goldings, and Fuggle Hops add their spicy English Hop character, then I fermented with a English yeast strain, which adds that signature flavor. All in all, I think it turned out really good. It will age nicely, so I am stowing two kegs away for a rainy day, possibly for our 18th Anniversary Party (which is a can’t-miss event!)

If you and your wife were to only have one day a year to stop into the brewery the first Saturday in March would be it!  We pull out all the stops and release some really nice beers that day.  Plus, they are all $2.50, you can't beat that!

Cheers to you and your exploration of good beer, Richard.

Companies, brands, products (such as RCBC's handmade beers) – they're all burnished by good stories. Big-time thanks, Dan Norton, for sharing these. The photo of the brew pub (top) is from the Wichita Library, thanks very much. In the smaller photo, the glass on the right contained the Old Snortin' Norton. Barbara's Emerald City Stout – same brewer – is on the left.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sunday Supplement Advertising: Envy is Pink on Deer Leases This Season.

I’m having a hard time with the Academy Sports + Outdoor “Hunter’s Headquarters” supplement today…putting that pink pistol under the headline STOCK UP FOR HUNTING SEASON. On the other hand…
“Dang,” Big George Ardmore pronounces to Boy-John Jones when he finally gets up to the top of the deer stand. “I do not recall ever seein’ you or anyone else I know carry a pink gun on this deer lease.”

Boy-John turns right into that. “Big George, this here is a Taurus PT 22 automatic pistol, which I have acquired for the everyday low price of $229.99 from the fine folks at Academy up in the big city.”

“That’s a mighty small hole in the front of that pee-sto-lay,” Buddy Rounds advises, sneaking in a comment from his seat on top of the beer cooler. “Still and all, that hot pink grip sure makes a statement.”

Boy-John is known for a bit of a temper but keeps his feeling damped right down. “I’ll have you know that this ain’t pink. It’s rasberry – said so right in the sales flyer.”

“Yeah, well, I saw that flyer too,” Buddy says. “First off, they done misspelled ‘rasberry.’ They’s a ‘p’ in that word and the advertiser left it out. Second pretty important point – the flyer says it’s Caliber .45 ACP which is plain wrong.”

Buddy reaches into the cooler for an early-AM beer and hands another over to Big George. “And finally, you coulda got that same firearm from Shermbob’s Guns in Pennsylvania for just $190 plus shipping.”

Without one more word, Boy-John turns his back on his buddies, clambers down the ladder and wobbles his way over to the four-wheeler which he fires up and roars off on in the direction of the cabin.

Big George turns to Buddy and says, “I am sorry he got all heated up – I was just gonna tell him how well I thought that ‘rasberry’ pistol grip matched his Jimmy Choo whipstitch ankle boots today.”

That’s it for Sunday. Don’t forget to stock up for hunting season your own self: Jimmy Choo fashion footwear available at Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

From Rome (and Signalwriter) #5: In America, Vespa Lives and Rides On…

The latest issue of “Blurb,” the electronic newsletter from PAN Advertising in Rome, was sent out in the middle of the second quarter. There are neat articles from PAN’s Dialogue affiliates in the Aprile-Maggio 2011 number.

PAN’s General Manager, Gianfranco Vallana, sent us all a nice email: “With the second issue we got a significant improvement in the opening (58%) and the number of unique visitors (+22%). About 1,000 marketers in Italy now are becoming aware of Dialogue. We are sure that this is a good first step to market Dialogue in this country.”

Here is what my contribution had to say:

It is not likely that much will change America’s gasoline consumption level (and the free-range lifestyle that goes with it) anytime soon. At least one company is trying, though – another Italian classic brand called…Vespa.

The terrific, iconic motor scooter company, part of Piaggio, opened up a new pitch in 2008, complete with fresh website and advertising. Paolo Timoni, President and CEO, Piaggio Group Americas, said at the time, “It’s the practical side of Vespa ownership, such as the ability for every consumer to save $6,000 per year by reducing their wheel count from eight to six, that this campaign focuses on.”

This push is ongoing – the current website edition stresses VESPANOMICS – THE ROAD TO SAVINGS with plenty of room left over for the snappy models. (A personal favorite would be the GTV 300 model which seems to have enough muscle to overcome my fears about looking dorky.)

It will take a Superman to change enough American minds to make a difference. Sheer numbers are a big problem. There is poor market penetration here. One overviewer, Motor Scooter Shopper, notes:

There are many reasons for the scooter market being the way it is, but for the most part it’s due to the American scooter market being but a small fraction of the overall world scooter market (as opposed to the American automobile market being a large chunk of the world automobile market). In 2007 there were only 1 million registered scooters in the US, compared to over 30 million in Europe alone. How many scooters are being used in Asia is unknown…but it’s safe to assume the total number in Asia far surpasses even the Europe number.

Also, attempting to control accident rates, state and local jurisdictions have begun strengthening motorcycle laws to include the milder-performing scooters. Vespas and other motorini used to …drive under the radar, so to speak: riding one around town was pretty casual. Now there is a growing “hassle factor” involved in owning and operating a motor scooter.

Vespa is working on these challenges and change is coming. Still, appealing to economic sense seems a less likely pathway to success than pushing harder on the neat, cool and fun aspects. Check back with us in a decade to see how Vespa’s brand share is doing here.

Thanks to my excellent PAN colleagues and their audience throughout Italy. For previous “Blurb” posts – in English and Italian – type From Rome in the search box, upper left and press Enter.