Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Biscuits and Basketball

Many people outside North Carolina may not know about a particular promotion Bojangle's, the chicken and biscuits fast food chain, does for UNC basketball fans, but I think it's rather brilliant.

The set up is, if UNC scores 100 or more points against an opponent during a game, Chapel Hill area Bojangle's offer 2 sausage biscuits for a dollar the next morning.

At the end of last nights game, UNC was crushing Marshall. With a few minutes left, UNC was within a few shots of the 100 mark. Many fans were on the edge of their seats, in hopes of getting those 50 cent biscuits in the morning. The hopes for biscuits made things exciting during what would have otherwise been an unexciting conclusion to the game.

The marketing scheme is a win-win. It works for both UNC basketball and for Bojangles because fans stick around for the end of a game when they otherwise wouldn't and also get excited about Bojangle's product. The promotion has been going on for several years, so even casual UNC fans know to cheer the team on when they're approaching 100 points. I think Bojangle's sponsorship/promotional dollars are being well-spent on this approach to marketing. The 'Biscuits' promo seems to be much more worth the money than any court-side banner or marquee elsewhere in the arena.

For businesses to make such a promotion work there has to be the right combination of loyal fans, a strong athletic program, and a suitable product. I think Bojangles and UNC have figured out the formula.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

AT&T Challenges Verizon

We've all seen cell phone commercials. There's a multitude of them and it seems that each company has it's own gimmick, theme, or celebrity. Recently I have noticed a couple TV ads that stand out. They're from AT&T and feature actor, Luke Wilson.

I noticed the ads because they are fighting back Verizon's recent claims. Verizon puts great deal of emphasis on their "4G" coverage, and how they out-do AT&T. I noticed (before the new AT&T commercials came out) that when Verizon shows a comparison between the map of their coverage and that of their competitors, they only show 4G. They never compare the total coverage area. In other words, it seems to me that Verizon may have a greater number of super awesome spots, but they have a lot more spots that have mediocre or poor coverage than they're competitors. AT&T has taken to pointing this fact out to the rest of the world.

There are several commercials in the series, but my favorite is the "Postcard" one, which shows Luke Wilson tossing postcards that represent all of the places that AT&T has coverage. I like the ad because the commercial specifically addresses Verizon's claims, it's not an overly complicated concept, it gets its point across visually and it does something clever that I've never seen any other commercial do.

It has a part one and a part two. When you see the commercial, after 30 seconds, it moves on to the next product's advertisement. Then, before you've returned to the program you tuned in to watch, you see Luke Wilson again for a few seconds, continuing to toss out postcards. Brilliant! It reminds the customer about the product without bombarding them. It's pleasantly unexpected and not annoying. It turns 60 seconds of advertising $ into a couple minutes because during those other commercials in between you assume Luke has been tossing postcards the whole time. I think the whole thing was not only clever, but results-oriented. (Too many commercials are neither, but that's another soap box.)

I thought the commercial was great, as well as the other one's in AT&T's recent line up.
What do you think? See for yourself.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Poptarts v. Toaster Strudel

I think Pillsbury's Toaster Strudel should give up trying to directly compete with Kellogg's Pop-tarts. Don't get me wrong, I think Toaster Strudel is delicious, but the strudel lacks many of the main features that make Pop-tarts so great.
Toaster Strudel must be stored in the freezer and then heated and frosted before it can be eaten. Pop-tarts, on the other hand offer much more convenience. They can sit on the shelf right next to the dry cereal and oatmeal, and can be easily taken with you to be eaten at a later time. In fact, when I was in high school, i used to bring the brown sugar ones with me to school and eat them mid-morning as a snack.

The TV advertisements for Toaster Strudel are aimed at kids, the same main target that Pop-tarts are marketed too. Toaster Strudel is never going to be a Pop-tart. They should quit trying to beat Kellogg's and go for a different demographic such as young professionals with "more sophisticated" taste. In fact, they could be marketed as the perfect breakfast food for pairing with a hot cup of joe. We all know that coffee has become a social craze through Starbucks and other coffee competitors.

I think Toaster Strudel is a great product and a delicious breakfast food, but Pillsbury should go for a different market segment rather than trying to take on Pop-tarts head-on.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Are Catalogs Still Effective?: An L.L. Bean Case Study

We're fast approaching the season for holiday shopping. The places I first think to shop are the internet (especially if I need to do some research on a product) and browsing in local brick and mortar stores. However, the current L.L. Bean catalog appeared in my mailbox last week and got me thinking about whether catalogs are still relevant and effective for modern consumers.

L.L. Bean, a well-known company that has been around for quite sometime, started off only selling their particular kind of shoes, ideal for nasty weather and keep toes warm and dry. They have expanded their products over the years to include outdoor apparel and accessories, casual and classic clothing, and are famous for their monogrammed totes and back-packs. Though they have retail stores, it seems that the bulk of their sales, historically, happen through their catalog (and more recently their online catalog option).

I think L.L. Bean is successful because they provide high-quality products and have developed a loyal group of customers. In fact, I know of the company, because my aunt and uncle have always been fans of their products. I also think they maintain their relationship with customers through their catalogs.

Having a catalog appear in your mail box every several months can be annoying if unsolicited or from a company you have no intention of continuing a relationship with. However, if a company with a good reputation and a more subtle approach seeks your attention, it's not so off-putting. L.L. Bean catalogs have a piece of artwork on the front, rather than a celebrity or star product. They are organized so that you can easily flip to the section you're interested in, and they're not overly sales-pitchy.

I like catalogs because they allow you to browse from your couch in a way that the internet can't. The internet, for the most part, only shows you items directly related to what you typed into a search box. A catalog can put things in front of you that may enhance your daily life, but you didn't know you needed (which is a great benefit to the catalog company). In general, I won't buy clothing items from a catalog, but I certainly have looked up items on the internet for more details, after a catalog introduced them to me.

Catalogs are not dead yet. For certain companies, like L.L. Bean, they have a way of keeping products in the consumer's field of vision and drive loyalty and sales. They are expensive to produce, and not appropriate for every company, but some can certainly still make them work to their advantage.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Party in the USA

When I hear Party in the USA on the radio I immediately change the station. Partially, it's because just don't like the song, but also Miley Cyrus annoys me because of how her fame has been used to create products.

I'm sure I will never understand why anyone finds Miley Cyrus appealing, but she seems to have legions of fans. Personally, I think there are many young women out there who could out shine Miley both in talent and style, but my biggest pet-peeve is how the "Miley Cyrus" brand has been used.

There countless Hannah Montana and more recently her alter-ego, Miley Cyrus branded products. Hannah Montana items include everything from dolls to wigs. Miley has transformed into being a pop star instead of just playing one on TV, and she now has a clothing line prominently featured in Wal-Marts across the country on top of everything else. I can understand using a celebrity name as a branding tool, both for the benefit of the performer or personality and for the retail industry. However, I think there is a line that has been crossed in this case.

I don't think her product lines are simply a part of being a teen pop celebrity. Taylor Swift has been equally successful. However, because Miss Swift's class and wider appeal, I think her career will go much further than Miss Cyrus. I suppose Miley's handlers are trying to capitalize on her boom of pre-teen (and getting older) fans, but I think it may be detrimental to the rest of her career (if she has one). Celebrities that "play hard to get" and seem classier seem to have more longevity in their fan base and successful careers throughout their lifetime. Maybe Miley could try the classier approach, but maybe instead she'll burn out, fans will get tired of seeing her products, and we'll all be spared her musical "genius." Harsh I know, but her over-merchandising and her songs annoy me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pet Fish

Like many people, I enjoy having a pet (even if it's just a plant). It gives me someone to care for and interact with. My pet of choice would probably be a people-friendly feline. Unfortunately, I'm very allergic to cats and don't have a living situation that would fit with keeping a furry pet. The next best option, I think, is having an aquarium.

I know that Betta Fish are popular and I have friends that keep them as pets, but I really don't understand the allure.
They just seem so boring to me. Maybe people are lazy or just don't want to deal with a more expensive tank that requires a filter and other maintenance. But I think if you're going to go for fish, it's much more worth the effort to make an investment in fresh water fish that actually have some life to them.

I've had fish before, but I recently acquired a new aquarium and stocked it with the essentials: gravel, fake and real plants, rocks, decor items with hiding places, and of course, finned friends. I have 3 Pineapple Swordtails (2 females and a male) and 5 Danios. My fish don't have big fluffy tails or aggressive tendencies. They seem to coexist happily in my 10 gallon tank, hide in the "broken pots" tank decor and among the plants, and gobble up the flakes I feed them daily.

Maybe I'm just amused by the simple things in life, but I could sit and watch my fish for hours and not get bored. It seems that they never swim the same path twice, and I can pick out the differences between the personalities of the danios and swordtails. It has struck me how amazing something as seemingly simple as an aquarium is really a complex balance of organisms and chemicals.

I guess my point is that I don't understand why people bother with seemingly lifeless Betta fish, but more importantly, I think we should stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Marveling at life's seemingly simple things, like the fish in my aquarium, can give us perspective on how life is truly complex and beautiful.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Masters of Disguise: Sunsweet Ones

October is the right time of year for disguises, but did you ever think cleverly packaged prunes would be the next "super fruit?"

Though some produce companies have been able to successfully brand their fruit products, such as Chiquita, it's a difficult task to market a commodity item. It seems like a piece of fruit is a piece of fruit is a piece of fruit (as long as it's fresh).

There seems to be some more room for marketing in the processed fruit category. Smucker's Jams and Jellies are well-branded and Ocean Spray Craisins (sweetened, dried cranberries) have a made a few well known marketing efforts. The newest player in the branded fruit game seems to be "Sunsweet Ones," which are p
runes that are wrapped in a pretty package and cleverly marketed.

I saw the Sunsweet commercial recently and thought it was very interesting that not once did they mention the traditional name for their product. The word "prune" is never uttered. Instead they describe all of the wonderful things "dried plums" have to offer. Notice it says "dried plums" at the top of the package. The word "prune" is at the very bottom, softened by saying they're from California (California gives them cool points right?). Prunes are the same thing to plums as raisins are to grapes, but dried grapes don't have the same marketing issues dried plums do. So what's the solution? Apparently, change the name.

I think prunes do indeed have a bad reputation. Prunes are associated with older people drinking it for it's digestive effects rather than it's delicious taste. I can understand the lack of appeal when that is the connotation. Many people hear the word "prune" and automatically think "Oh, disgusting," or at best "I wouldn't go out of my way to get one." They have a foreclosed opinion about dried plums and shut down immediately.

It is smart for Sunsweet to re-brand prunes as a healthy, sweet and simple snack and also smart for them to leave the word "prune" out of their commercials. I commend them for framing their product well, focusing on the benefits to the consumer, and taking on the challenge of the fearsome prune. I doubt they will find their way into trick-or-treat baskets, but maybe people will give Sunsweet Ones a try, not realizing they are the dreaded prune in disguise.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Friend Request

I don't know if anyone else develops a list of favorite advertisements, but right now I'm a fan of the commercial that's currently out there selling Dentyne chewing gum.

While watching my favorite TV shows, I often find myself noting not only the goings on of the show's characters, but also the commercials in between. I know many marketing gurus have noted the trend that is steering away from mass media advertising towards direct marketing, but I think that when done thoughtfully and for the right reasons, traditional advertising can be effective.

Dentyne's commercial (if you haven't seen it, here's the youtube link ) plays on the popularity of social media as a substitute for human interaction. I like the fact that the concept for the commercial not only prominently features the product, but shows it in a way that prospects can relate to. Anyone who has ever chewed gum has offered a piece to someone else and perhaps started a conversation that way.

Most importantly, the commercial elevates the gum from being just something your mouth experiences to being a networking tool, a conversation starter, and a bridge between you and the people around you. Though I'm a fan of the commercial, I fear that the brand of the gum is not prominently featured enough to stick in the minds of the viewers. The prospect might be encouraged to buy gum, but not necessarily Dentyne.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Definining Creativity

I consider myself a creative person, but I believe that all people have some capacity for creativity, despite what individuals believe or profess about themselves. I think my opinion about "creativity" is centered in how frame where creative thoughts come from, and what creativity truly means.

To me, no thoughts or ideas are truly and strictly original. There is always a wisp of something that came before, some outside influence, inspiration, or impetus. Creativity is more a unique or new combination, use, process applied to old materials, thoughts, or modes of action. Things can be discovered, as in a new plant in the rain forest or imaging the far reaches of the universe, but creativity is not discovery. The materials of life on Earth have been in existence far longer than I have, but I may find some new way to use them.

Artists, who are usually the first "creative" people who come to mind, use media that generations before them have manipulated. The creativity comes from drawing on inspiration and experience to make something unique. Alternately, artists often take materials that have not traditionally been used to create art, such as lego blocks (that's a topic for another post) and make them into sculptures the same way ancient artists worked in stone.

I hope that the paradigm relating to who is creative and who is not can change, but that will only happen if those who claim to lack creativity allow themselves take the old around them and make something new.

Here's a Stanford Professor who agrees with my point of view. He's talking about creativity as it relates to entrepreneurship.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

It's a Soft Drink

Ever heard of the "Unique Sparkling Soft Drink" commonly known as Cheerwine? If you're not from the South East, you may not have had the pleasure of enjoying this distinctive cherry-flavored soda.

Cheerwine, produced by the Carolina Beverage Corporation, has been in existence since 1917 and has many avid fans throughout the South. In fact, some who live out of the area but grew up in the Carolinas drinking Cheerwine stock up on the soft drink while visiting home. The brand is still relatively unknown outside North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, but their loyal fan base in that region makes the company unique.

The reason Cheerwine caught my attention, other than the fact that I enjoy the taste of the drink, is their website and marketing. If you check out their website, they offer information for distributors and branded t-shirts, but also offer a culture. The quirky set up of the site and the series of videos featuring the product help to position the soft drink in the minds of consumers.

Word-of-mouth is something that could really work to the advantage of such a company. In fact, I heard about the product via word-of-mouth. I don't know what the future plans for Cheerwine include, but the company should take advantage of it's loyal fans and expand distribution. Clearly a nearly 100-year old recipe has worked in the Carolinas. Maybe they can apply that to an ever-widening market.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Keeping Tabs

I have always enjoyed the chance to sit and flip through a magazine. In fact, the content isn't the only draw. I find the ads fun to look at too because they're meant to be eye-catching and attractive.
In a recent copy of Allure Magazine, one advertising page especially caught my attention for it's creativity and interactive element. I have to give them credit for thinking outside the box. The page features pull-off stickers of the lip color products that the reader is encouraged to use as sticky-tabs to bookmark pages while perusing the magazine.

I like the idea because the stickers increase the length of the interaction between the consumer and the advertisement. It takes advantage of the qualities of having print media form, something that's in the hands of consumers.

The idea was great, but the execution needed a bit of work. The stickers weren't sticky enough to adhere well to the glossy pages and fell off easily. Maybe they should get some tips from 3M, makers of "Post-its." Also, the brand name was not a prominent feature of either the ad as a whole or the individual stickers.

So many "creative" marketing ideas focus on being "innovative," without the component of practicality and goal of reaching the hearts and minds of consumers. I give them points for having a creative ad that goes in the right direction, and has the specific intent to increase product interaction with consumers.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Top of the Box

I think the "Box Tops for Education" campaign launched by General Mills in 1996 was a brilliant bit of marketing genius. The on-going Box Tops program helps to create positive brand image for participating brand name products, but also motivates buyers to chose Box Tops products over comparable non-participating brands.

What could be better than having a charity program that is tied directly to the product packaging and supporting a cause dear to the hearts of target consumers? The Box Tops products are ones that families buy, and improving schools and education is a cause that has wide appeal.

I think the Box Tops program also functions as a tool for product differentiation. Everyone has walked down the cereal isle at the grocery store. More than many other isles in the super market, it's marketing that makes one product in the cereal isle seem vastly different than the other. It's amazing we're not all overwhelmed by the bright colored boxes and seemingly endless number of choices we have. In the end, most cereals serve the same function. The taste and sugar content may vary, but they're all essentially dry chunks of processed grains. Clearly, I don't have detailed marketing research on the subject at my disposal, but I think the Box Tops may persuade a indecisive shopper to choose a General Mills box over a similar cereal. That little $.10 tag psychologically makes a difference. You think you're getting more for your money than just sugary grain puffs.

The company is required to redeem the usually 10 cent value of the labels submitted to participating schools, and while the cost of millions of Box Tops adds up, the face value of them is negligible compared to the cost of the products. The Box Tops website notes that more than $250 million-worth have been redeemed to date, but I can't even imagine the gross profit margin of the products that those tops came from. That doesn't include the value of those that went into the trash with the rest of the cardboard package. I've even collected them myself, and thrown them away simply because I didn't have a convenient place to donate them.

The Box Tops program has been expanded to include many other products and brand names outside the cereal isle, but the tops seem to serve the same function. They make that Box Tops brand a little more appealing than the one next to it on the shelf, and more likely to end up in the a basket waiting in the checkout line.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Thrift Store Chic

Wine glasses are for much more than drinking grape flavored alcohol. I was recently in a creative mood, but not wanting to spend a lot of money on indulging my urge to make something. I came up with this project. Pictured below.

Wine glasses from a thrift store, with votive and tea light candles and decorator gravel found at a discount store came together to create what I think is a beautiful centerpiece or decorative element, even when the candles aren't lit.

This post (or my little project, for that matter) is not profound or deep or terribly insightful, but I just wanted to share. It's fun to create something, rewarding. Even if it's only a couple wine glasses that found a new purpose.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NASA: Then and Now

The current media attention being given to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, more commonly known as NASA, led me to consider how and what Americans think about space exploration.

NASA programs, and NASA in general have a fascinating brand identity because it seems to have a general appeal; people think positive thoughts about NASA. However, unlike many brands, they're not really selling a product and they're thought of differently by different generations. Also, as a government agency, their public relations and marketing is important, but not as key as it is for private industry.

I'm too young to have experienced what I consider the golden age of space exploration, the space race of the 1960's, but I still have a sense of what it meant to Americans. Still, because today's youth didn't experience the excitement of the first man on the moon as it happened, instead learning of it in history books, younger generations have a different perception of what the space programs mean. To young American's astronauts and space exploration are largely something to be taken for granted, accepted as "nifty," but not a truly thrilling subject.

Granted, NASA is far from the only brand name that suffers from a generation gap. However, it seems that for NASA, as an agency that is meant to perform a public service and also being on the cutting edge, the generation separation has more significance. How are NASA researchers, scientists, and astronauts going to continue to be innovative and continue to widen the bounds of human knowledge and experience without enthusiasm from the youth?

I think the recent highlight of the Apollo missions, among other space exploration milestones, may pique the interest of a few. I don't think that's enough though, considering America's collective attention span. Maybe NASA needs to put a few pennies of it's budget into the marketing side and try to make space exciting again. After all, image is still important, even if you managed to put a man on the moon.

History of the NASA logo:

Friday, July 3, 2009

Convertible Furniture: More than Meets the Eye

I recently came across a website called Yanko Design that includes new, interesting, or innovative designs for everyday objects. It included everything from a salt and pepper shaker made from legos to adaptable modular lighting fixtures. The design that piqued my interest, however, was a pair of chairs, very innocent in appearance. They look very sleek and modern, but did not look like they'd be too comfortable to sit in for any length of time because of their straight lines, 90 degree angles, and lack of curves. What makes these chairs unique can be seen by scrolling down to the next photo which shows that the chairs are not only meant for sitting. When tipped forward and interlocked, they can be converted into a table of the appropriate size for holding magazines and coffee. The website doesn't give much explanation for the origin of the chairs other than giving their designer's name: Joel Hesselgren.

There is a particular reason why I chose to focus on this particular design of all the ones I viewed while browsing the website. The chairs/table are very modern and contemporary in appearance, but they are not actually using an innovative or new concept. The idea of creating convertible furniture has been around for decades. Convertible furniture can be as simple as that hide-a-bed your aunt has you sleep on when you visit, or the futon your college buddy had in his living room. Many people have done something as simple as re-purpose an old trunk or luggage as a coffee table or end table.

Furniture that is more than what it seems can also take the form of a true "murphy bed," A bed that is hidden in upright form as part of a wall. There are of course ones that look like they appeared magically out of a solid wall or set of bookshelves, but murphy beds also exist as pieces of antique furniture. My parents, in fact, have always had one. It looks like a fancy cabinet (pictured below), but has false drawer-fronts that allow you to pull the entire front panel forward. The gingerbread-like wood detailing that appears to be simply for decoration swings outward to become the legs for the foot of the bed. It may not be the most comfortable bed (because of the age of the mattress), but it proves that modern Americans are not the first to try to save space and get the most out of their furniture. My grandparents have even more examples of the piece-is-not-what-it-seems concept. Their home is full of antiques including a tall door-ed cabinet and a table that both convert into beds, though they're rarely used as such.

Clearly people have always been trying to make the best use of their space (and maybe accommodate unannounced guests on short notice). It takes a little creativity, but it can be fun to find new ways to use the things that surround us. If you have one item that does two jobs or even just saves some space, maybe it will help clear some of the clutter.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Flo vs. the Gecko

I can't possibly be the only one who makes note of which commercials grate on my nerves when they appear on my tube. Everyone probably notices the annoying aspects of TV ads such as loud celebrity spokesmen, irritating jingles, or even just the amateur nature of local ads. I hope I'm not the only one, however, who takes notice of good commercials, or at least favorite ones (determining "goodness" is subjective).

Everyone remembers Mastercard's "priceless" commercials. I consider them to be among the classiest commercials: simple, classic, adaptable, and most importantly, memorable. I would imagine that few people have a bone to pick about those ad campaigns. Based on my own informal research, (discussions with family and friends) I have found that there seems to be some polarization over recent commercials created by the big insurance companies.

The insurance industry seems to be more drawn to creating series of commercials with well defined characters and themes. A few come to mind. Metlife has adopted Charles Schultz's Snoopy. Allstate has a trustworthy-looking African American actor giving their pitch. Insurance giants, Geico and Progressive have the cavemen an
d the gecko, and Flo. The first two of these companies may have a good product, but don't seem to attract loyalty for their ad campaigns. In contrast, Geico and Progressive have created followings for their characters. My informal research shows that those who are fans of the Geico commercials dislike the Progressive ones and vice versa. Personally, I'm in the Progressive camp.

Maybe I'll discuss each of the campaigns in more detail later. I wish I had access to metrics detailing the success of each campaign, or just to be a fly on the wall in a marketing meeting at one of the companies. For now, I just wanted to make note of the interesting trend. Maybe I'm in the correct market segment to be a Progressive fan and Geico people have different characteristics. I'm not alone, however, in being a fan of Flo. There's even a facebook group for her following, not that there isn't a facebook group for anything and everything these days.

What commercial characters do you find yourself becoming attached to, or even just simply not finding yourself annoyed by their interruption of your favorite program?
I think it's worth the time to appreciate good marketing, even if it's just to keep from being frustrated by the clutter ads can create.

Progressive Commercial featuring Flo

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New Image for the Golden Arches?

I don't know about you, but I've noticed their commercials for fancy coffee and the recent addition of stone fascades on their buildings. What is McDonald's trying to do? Are they becoming Starbucks?

Apparently they are putting a great deal of time and effort into revamping their image. New commercials that tout their new coffee line play with the accented "e" of café. (Americans don't seem to understand accented letters anyway, so it's a good opportunity to further confuse them. That, however, is a discussion for another day.) I've noticed include a heavily flash-based website redesign that matches the commercials.

Micky D's is also spending a sizable amount of money on changing the appearance of their restaurant locations, inside and out. They've removed some of the worn out plastic parts and added contemporary elements. The new design even includes a change to the roof structure of the franchise locations. Though I'm not a frequent McDonald's customer (I'm just not a fast food junkie), I have always thought McDonald's regular coffee was delicious and a somewhat hidden gem. It is fantastic source for a decent and inexpensive cup of coffee. The newfangled coffee products seem to be the McD's answer to Starbucks' line of over caffeinated beverage. While the extension to their product line may boost sales, I wonder whether it will provide any long term growth to their sales or customer base.

I think that McDonald's' effort to make their restaurants and company feel more upscale is admirable. They have clearly thought through and are carrying out a strategy to reposition the company's brand and identity in the eyes of their customers and prospective customers. However, one major problem I have with what I've seen of the McDonald's campaign is inconsistency of message. They have the fancy new website and locations, and clever commercials with their more sophisticated McCafé products, but they still seem to have some advertising out there that I would consider less than classy. Maybe it's just my taste, but their current commercial promoting their filet-o-fish sandwich strikes me as rather tacky.

Again, I admire McDonald's commitment to revamping their image, but they need to find some consistency with their message and make sure their marketing sticks. McDonald's has to overcome decades worth of opinions about their company in the minds of American consumers in order to create any significant break through.

My challenge for you: Bypass the new "McCafé" products, and try a cup of regular McDonald's coffee for that caffeine fix.

BizBash Article

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Crochet: Not Just for Grandma

When many people hear the word crochet, or picture someone knitting, images of grandma sitting in a rocking chair with her hook or needles and a ball of yarn may come to mind. Yes, crocheting with thread (referred to as floss) is how doilies come to exist, and that old afgan throw on your grandparents' couch is made up of appropriately named "granny squares."

A lot of time, patience, and a strong wrist goes into creating intricate or extensive crocheted projects. Though afgans and doilies are the tradition,
a modern crochet aficionado can create scarves, bags, hats, and baby blankets. However, there's something that can be crocheted that may not come to mind immediately. When you're used to making hats, scarves, and blankets, most who crochet wouldn't think they could wear a crocheted project during the height of summer. Ever thought you could crochet swimwear?

When you're on the beach or at the pool this summer, you might see someone in a crocheted swimsuit or bikini. They're really out there. They range from modest tankinis to a little too risque for public (be careful if you do a google search). Crocheted swimwear can be purchased online or there are patterns available for do-it-yourself-ers.

You'd be surprised where crocheting can show up. It's the detailed patterns or lace on many things you wouldn't expect. I challenge you to rethink things that you think are old-fashioned or out-dated. It doesn't just apply to yarn crafts.

Crocheted swimwear: LovetoKnow

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dressed for Success: Caps & Gowns

T'is the season for graduation ceremonies. Around the country graduate candidates are putting on traditional regalia, listening to the wisdom of scholars before them, and celebrating with friends and family.

Personally, I think the outfits worn by graduates look at least a little out of place in modern society. It seems a bit silly to be wearing an over-sized robe and a hat that is essentially a square stuck to your head with a tassel that smacks you in the face everytime you turn to talk to someone. Of course, there are other traditional elements of academic regalia including hoods, cords, stoles, pins, and more that are applicable to different occasions and distinctions.

Academic dress, though it seems strange today has both a historical tradition and a modern purpose.
The program given out at my university’s graduation reads, “The wearing of caps, gowns, and hoods at college and university occasions dates back to the formation of universities in Europe, beginning around the 12th century. The ordinary dress of the scholar, whether student or teacher, as the dress of clerics, Historians suggest that gowns and hoods were the simplest and most effective method of staying warm in the unheated, stone buildings that housed medieval scholars.” Whatever the origin of traditional academic dress, today we still don caps and gowns for special occasions. People like tradition, doing what has done before them. By wearing clothes that are not everyday attire, we help give rituals such as graduation ceremonies the feel of being a very special occasion.

On a side note, personally, I do not like the common self-impressed nature of academic ceremonies, especially graduations. It should indeed be a celebration of the accomplishments of the graduates, but shouldn’t be taken quite so seriously. It seems to be the faculty and speakers not the graduates who may need to “lighten up.”

I think that graduation regalia is important and meaningful, but not to be taken too seriously. It is a bitter-sweet occasion marking the end of an academic career, but one that merits wearing a baggy robe and a silly hat.

American Council on Education: Academic Dress

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Everyone encounters clutter somewhere in their lives. Sometimes it’s a long looming to-do list or the constant bombardment by advertising messages, but many times it’s simply the volume of things, objects, items that surround us in our lives.

Cars, bedrooms, tables, and floors become the convenient storage place for things that we’re too busy to deal with at the time. Eventually, things that were significant are forgotten and insignificant things that we shouldn’t keep never get thrown away, such as a receipt from long-ago night. A duplicate item might be mistakenly bought because the original was forgotten.
Some people are very organized and almost obsessive about maintaining a clutter-free space, while others allow things to pile up until there’s no more than a small path through the mounds of stuff. Most of us are somewhere in between.

Thinking about how the things we own affects our lives makes me wonder where we each get our clutter-gene. I’m sure part of it is what we grow up around and how are parents treat the physical things in their lives during our childhoods. It is probably also influenced by our personalities. I often lament the inaccuracies of poorly crafted and applied stereotypes, but they do exist for a reason. Accountants are known for being organized because their jobs require it and artist are stereotyped as scattered and unconcerned with maintaining orderly workspaces.

For me, the fight against clutter is a constant battle that goes back and forth. My stuff will start to take over when I least expect and then I get into a cleaning frenzy to beat back the clutter than keeps creeping up. Certain spaces I tend to keep very clean, but others deteriorate rapidly, filling up with items that I use on a regular basis. It’s a personal battle. I know I function better when my environment is clean and uncluttered, but I can never seem to keep it that way. It’s hard to find the motivation to get moving and tackle the mess.

Clutter is a part of all of our lives and we each have a different comfort level when it comes to the amount of clutter we can stand. Finding that balance between doing important or enjoyable things and combating clutter is the hard part. I encourage you to evaluate the amount of clutter in your life. Maybe it’s time to de-clutter your life and relieve some stress by de-cluttering your space. It can be therapeutic. I promise I’ll join you in the effort.

Declutter 101

Friday, May 8, 2009

Frightening or Funny?

When most Americans today hear the word “clown,” if they’re lucky they think of Ronald McDonald or Bozo. If not, images of demented and horrifically disturbing clown characterizations such as those in the movie It come to mind. Many people claim to be terrified by clowns, even though they don’t even know the official name for their irrational fear. There’s also the connotation created by local party clowns who may be untrained and unwanted at a children’s birthday party.

What has twisted the image of a clown into commercialism and fright?

Clowning has a long history and tradition, but in recent decades the image of a clown has morphed and been warped. Clowns such as Emmett Kelly and Lou Jacobs are a bygone breed. They were clowns of the great tent-circuses known as “mud shows.” However, these are not the clowns that today’s public recognizes.

Modern clowns wear less make up that does not hide their faces, but simply accentuates and exaggerates their features. They engage their audience in a way that pokes fun, but are not seeking to be threatening or humiliating to the spectators.
In my view, truly good clowning uplifts people. The clown is the butt of the joke and makes their audience triumphant through the clown’s bumbling failures and successes. A clown pokes fun at humanity and general and rather than claiming victims who become the object of laugher, invites the spectators to laugh at themselves.

Good clowning can certainly be an art, though a vastly underrated one. Circus giants such as Ringling Bros. and Cirque du Soleil are continuing the clown tradition, but adapting it to the needs of their productions. Small outfits such as Vermont youth circus, Circus Smirkus are bringing young people into the artform.

The public paradigm about clowns may be a difficult one to change, but if shows such as the Greatest Show on Earth continue to monitor and craft the interaction the clown performers have with the public, ideas may change, even if it’s only one person at a time.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Derby Hat Day

Today is Derby Day. The infamous Kentucky Derby seems to still attract some of the biggest hats imaginable. It seems that hats have always been associated with a day at the racetrack, but they creep into the rest of our lives too.

Hats can have great symbolism and can express individual personality like no other piece of clothing. They can be functional or decorative. They help one fit in or stand out. They can mark a milestone or achievement. They can even be a symbol of shame.

Hard hats, base-ball caps, and wool stocking caps can keep you safe or keep you cool or warm as weather dictates. Some stunning chapeaus often adorn the heads of women heading to church on Easter Sunday. Picture a sea of graduates wearing mortar boards with tassels and everyone’s heard rumors of the shame of wearing a dunce cap.

Some people wear the same hat all the time, or never wear a hat at all. Some hats are compulsory such as those worn by the military or employees in other industries such as foodservice or construction.

There are even figures that are famous for their hats. Who hasn’t heard of Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat? Images of Uncle Sam always include a hat. And who would Charlie Chaplin be without his derby? Could you picture an old western movie with John Wayne hat-less?

Different types of hats go in and out of fashion, but they will be around forever. I’m going to pull out one of my favorite hats in honor of the Kentucky Derby and continue the long tradition of fancy hats.

Want to see some fancy hats? Check out the ones that this lady makes:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Good News

In a world where there's talk of economic crisis, failed bailouts, crime, and destruction, it's hard to watch or read the news. While there are occasional news stories that are hopeful and uplifting, they seem to be few and far between.

Today, a day when Christians around the world are celebrating good news, I am encouraged to look for the good news in my own life. This morning, my attention was called to a website,, that only reports encouraging and uplifting stories. I think I'm going to make it a habit in my daily web surfing to check out positive news stories. proclaims: "We believe virtue, goodwill and heroism are hot news. That's why we bring you up-to-the-minute news, geared to lift spirits and inspire lives. Add in a diverse team of Citizen Journalists reporting positive stories from around the world, and you've got one happy place for news."

We can't forget all of the negative things in the world, because they affect our lives, but maybe we need to spend more of our time and energy focusing on the positive. It's all in how you look at what you've been given. I plan to find the joy in my cluttered life.

Friday, April 10, 2009

More than just cookies.

We all know and love the Girl Scouts of America for their cookies, and actually, the cookie season just ended for the year. Everyone has their favorite flavor. Personally, mine is the Samoa. I should know, because I sold them myself for many years growing up. I made it all the way from Brownies to Seniors and got my Gold Award (Eagle Scout equivalent). I want to make clear that while I had a good time with my friends who were a part of my troop, I was not excited to have to go to meetings and earn patches. My parents were the force behind me staying a member. I’d like to address the cookie sales arm of the organization at some point because they’re a great example of a non-profit fundraising, but I’ll save that for another post.

The subject here is brand image. I think it’s safe to say that as far as the Girl Scout Brand is concerned, most Americans identify “girl scouts” with selling delicious cookies and little girls knitting and sewing. While those pursuits are admirable (I enjoy needle craft and cookies myself), that’s not really what the organization has to offer to young women and adults. I know from experience that selling cookies and doing crafts are indeed a part of what it is to be a Girl Scout, but there’s so much more that can be gained. The organization has a rich history and has had an influence on the lives and self-esteem of young women for many decades, but they have to find their place in the crowded, busy, cluttered lives of 21st century girls.

It turns out that The Girl Scouts of America is trying to change their brand image. The have a plan at least with a whole new section of their website set up.

The FAQ on the Girl Scouts’ website lists the question “Why does Girl Scouts need a new image?”

This is the answer they supply: “Though the public’s perception of Girl Scouts is overwhelmingly positive, our image (often associated with cookies, camping and crafts) does not clearly reflect what Girl Scouting is really about—offering an array of enriching experiences to help girls develop leadership skills that will serve them immediately and all their lives.”

They have developed a new "Core Business Strategy" and even use that corporate, business school term to characterize it. I think it is going to take more than a spiffy new website to convince the local Girl Scout Councils and the American public as a whole that the organization is indeed more than just a cookie-selling machine. I hope the Girl Scouts succeed in their new mission to change the why their brand is viewed. However, it will take a lot of effort, clever marketing, and a fundamental change in the fabric of the organization, how members perceive and present themselves, in order to achieve the brand image they are seeking.

Want to get involved? Volunteer

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Save money. Live better.

Yes, Wal-Mart is the topic of discussion. Personally, I am a Wal-mart shopper and I imagine that a lot of people are with the current economic situation being what it is.

Everyone seems to have their own opinion about Wal-mart’s business practices, but that’s not what I’m interested in. I am far more interested in their recent change of slogan or tagline. Most people remember Wal-mart’s ad campaign that involved the “Always low prices” phrase. I don’t know the statistics on how effective their marketing was with that slogan, but apparently someone felt it was time for a change.
The “Save Money. Live Better.” slogan has appeared in the last year. I think as a marketing tool, it may be more effective. It doesn’t simply emphasize the fact that they are a price leader. Though most consumers who are not interested in the intricacies of marketing would not notice, the slogan also includes a benefit. It shows how those low prices can do good things for the consumer. I think their new slogan is a smarter one. Regardless of their business practices, it tells the final consumer that Wal-mart, because their products cost less than competitors, can help consumers afford to buy more and live better lives because of it. So, three cheers for Wal-mart? Maybe. Maybe not. But I have to give kudos to whoever decided to change their tagline.

Urban definition of marketing

As someone who has been involved in the marketing field, I find marketing-related humor particularly amusing. There’s a lot of junk on, but whoever posted something for “marketing” has the right idea.

If you look up “marketing” on this is what the first entry says:

You see a gorgeous girl at a party. You go up to her and say, "I'm fantastic in bed."
That's Direct Marketing
You're at a party with a bunch of friends and see a gorgeous girl. One of your friends goes up to her and pointing at you says, "He's fantastic in bed."
That's Advertising
You see a gorgeous girl at a party. You go up to her and get her telephone number. The next day you call and say, "Hi, I'm fantastic in bed."
That's Telemarketing
You're at a party and see a gorgeous girl. You get up and straighten your tie, you walk up to her and pour her a drink. You open the door for her, pick up her bag after she drops it, offer her a ride, and then say, "By the way, I'm fantastic in bed."
That's Public Relations
You're at a party and see a gorgeous girl. She walks up to you and says, I hear you're fantastic in bed."
That's Brand Recognition

This humorous comparison between marketing and trying to pick up a girl does also point out the differences between the different “fields” that all have an influence on how a product (or person) is viewed. Everyone is trying (some trying harder than others) to get you to see them in a favorable light.

I find it interesting that professionals consider themselves to be in one and only one of those fields (direct marketing, advertising, public relations, etc), but really all of those things are just “marketing.” They all have the same end goal: to get the girl. The whole idea is to get her in bed, it doesn’t much matter how you go about it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What is your business card saying about you?

Most business cards that I’ve seen are on boring white 2” x 3.5” cardstock, have the boring company logo in the corner, and black text listing the name, title, and phone number of the card’s owner. They all look the same. I have a collection of my own and they all fit this description. I suppose for most of us, a stack of plain white business cards is all we can afford or all that our employers are willing to provide. However, there is hope for standing out in the business card crowd.

I found an interesting stack of business cards on flickr.

I highly recommend sifting through them (fair warning: there’s a lot of them). Some of them include a simple gilded edge while others are different materials and shapes. Many are for design firms or for professionals involved in photography, art, or advertising, but I don’t think creativity should be limited to those fields. Everyone should have the opportunity to stand out. I can’t help but also make the point that the purpose of the card should still be paramount: to be a convenient, portable, usable source of contact information for a new acquaintance. I think some of the flickr business cards miss that mark and put form before function, a big faux-pas in my book.

These are extreme examples of creative business cards, but I plan to take some elements from what show and incorporate them into my own personal statement on 2x3.5. Rather than going with the plain black and white landscape-oriented business card, include some color or change the orientation to upright.

Even if you don’t have the luxury of changing your call-me-back card, pleased-to-meet-you, stay-in-touch card, it’s still valuable to see what others have done to think outside the business card box.

For more creative business card ideas... 10 Creative Business Card Ideas

Monday, April 6, 2009

Clutter: My Two Cents

What is clutter?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary...

noun: a collected mass, a collection; a crowded and confused assemblage;

- the crowded confusion of movement and business; turmoil, bustle, stir

verb: to run together or collect in knots or heaps; to crowd together

- to heap or crowd together in a disorderly way

- to throw into mental confusion and disorder

- to utter words confusedly and hurriedly: often, as a habitual defect of utterance

According to Wikipedia

Clutter (advertising): “a term used to describe the phenomenon of a marketplace being full or even overcrowded with products. It also refers to the extreme amount of advertising the average American sees in their daily lives.”

Everyone’s lives have become overrun by clutter. So many things vie for our attention each day. The definitions above emphasize confusion and disorder, but clutter is not always bad. The problem is in wading through the clutter we’re given.

Paradoxically, even though I’m talking about clutter here, this blog is a contribution to the clutter. Is this yet another thing on the web trying to get a piece of your attention? That is not my intent.

I suppose the best way to describe why I’m writing this blog is through a quote I remember from elementary school. “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros features character is celebrating her eleventh birthday and says, “Only today I wish I didn’t have eleven years rattling inside me like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box.” Somehow that image, the visual and audible clatter of pennies in a tin band-aid box, stuck with me. For me the pennies aren’t years, but thoughts and ideas. I have so many small copper coins that run through my head, a strange confluence of all the things I’ve seen or studied or dreamed about. I need to have someway to share those pennies before they threaten to overflow my tin. I suppose the fact that it’s a band-aid tin is symbolic too, but you draw your own conclusions on that one.

For what it’s worth, I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts and musings that center around my own personal perspective and perceptions of the world.

Read “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros.