This here’s a story …

08/07/06

Canuckflack? A pseudonym created in early days of the internet by Colin McKay. I work in public policy for Google, from an office in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

I’m interested in the intersection between data, social science and public policy. If you dig deep enough, you’ll find ten years of blog entries on PR, marketing, corporate communications, retail, promotion, crisis communications, management and media relations.

I remain supremely disappointed that I never heard my name being called during the closing “mirror” segment of Romper Room.

I have used cassette tapes to record music, store data and attempt to communicate emotions.

As always, this material in no way represents the opinions, views, or policies of my employer.

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WSJ misses the point on BMW and targeted marketing

08/02/06

I really think the WSJ’s piece on the new direction in BMW’s marketing campaign – “promoting a corporate culture of independence and innovation” – would have benefited from a discussion of BMW’s decision to sponsor the audio and video downloads of presentations at this spring’s TED conference.

After all, it’s not like several of the downloads have gone viral or anything.

Instead, they highlighted BMW’s involvement with a new PGA tournament. A good idea to target affluent boomers, but Buick, Cadillac or Toyota already have strong links with golf. What about focusing on the innovative aspects of their repositioning?

The WSJ article is subscription only, unfortunately.

If anything, David Kiley’s piece in BusinessWeek was more detailed.

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When email interviews get messy: the CBC edition

07/24/06

Is your management team considering outsourcing your publicity/public relations function? Were your media mention measurements skewed by the inordinate coverage of your employee lockout? Ever wonder how stupid advertising value equivalency sounds as a measurement indicator in an actual interview setting?

You have to read Antonia Zerbisias’ discussion of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s decision to outsource their publicity machine. Now with added official spokesperson flavour!

Part 1: Profiles in Privatization

Part 2: Viewership sinking

Update: Part 3: I’d like to know where you got the promotion

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Writing copy for the Kiss Army

06/30/06

Asspies.jpg

Rock legend, that’s what it draws upon. Comedy gold, that’s its potential. The Kiss Coffeehouse is now open in Myrtle Beach, people! Promoting the unlikely combination of lifestyle beverages and debauched personal lifestyle would be a dream assignment for any agency type. Your creative juices should flow freely when drawing up these marketing materials. The inspiration is evident from the menu, beginning with the Frozen Roccucino and ending with the “assorted cakes, pies and sweets (as priced)”.

Even for a relatively uninspired public relations flack, this is an opportunity for puns, thinly veiled insider jokes and loaded quotes. Unless, of course, you resort to the dreaded exclamation mark. One is acceptable. One exclamation mark plays the same sort of role as Rod Roddy did on The Price is Right: reminding you that being excited and sweaty is preferable to stone bored and still. Two exclamation marks? Your event better involve large cash prizes or superstar wrestlers. Three? Now you’re in Ron Popeil and Mike Levey territory.

“According to Paul Stanley, “The KISS Coffeehouse is our way of providing everyone with the buzz of great, quality treats and coffee filled with enough sugar and caffeine to get the party started, and keep it going!”

Gene Simmons adds, “Every army needs food and drink and the KISS Army is no exception! Even the non-enlisted will find our treats and java rockin’ good!” (news release)

Want more information? Turn to a member of the Kiss Army for a first-person account of the store opening!

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Social media as a “fashion surfer’s” paradise?

06/27/06

As agencies and consultants rush to establish their online bona fides and publicize their new social media practices, some cautionary words about the behaviour that undermined previous management fads – and the consultancies that tried to capitalize upon them. A study of the 1990s hype behind TQM reveals that inexperienced and bombastic consultants drove experimentation and implementation in the field, but eventually abandoned the specialty, to be replaced by the technical and management experts that had originally championed the idea.

Fifteen years ago, these management fad “fashion surfers” wore power suits, sometimes had a preference for tasselled loafers, carried a Filofax and had never heard of flavoured vodka. They can’t be as easily identified nowadays. Maybe t-shirts from Threadless under the Banana Republic shirts? Suits from H&M? Two MacBooks (white and black) in their carry-on?

What’s certain is that a basic knowledge of design, information management and CSS has never before been leveraged as quickly and as widely. And with as much targeted online promotional copy. In 1995, the competence of your team was demonstrated by the sales of your business book. Today, by the size of your download. (A hint: the more pictures and graphs, the better)

Coverage today in the WSJ, but more details are available from the Academy of Management news release.

” … As a new management approach gains in popularity, large numbers of generalist consultants, expert at recognizing burgeoning opportunities, jump in to advise firms on implementing the new method, even though these generalists may have little knowledge of its intricacies.

This influx of “fashion surfers,” as one scholar called them, produces many program failures, and the practice that not long before was widely viewed as a virtual panacea gets a bad name. This in turn results in diminished demand, and consultation about the practice becomes mainly the province of experts and specialists, much as it was before the boom set in.

In the words of the study’s authors, Robert J. David of McGill University and David Strang of Cornell University, “These supply-side dynamics…help explain why fashion booms are so fragile.” They also “suggest that fashionable practices can return to their technical roots once the hype is over.” (AOM news release)

There’s the rub for actual bloggers, podcasters and online innovators: if you continue to build expertise in the field, your practice will likely survive.

Original pointer from Business Innovation Insider.

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Yoga, retail and public relations; Vancouver style

05/29/06

You’d like Lululemon. It’s a crunchy granola kind of high-end leisure wear chain based in Vancouver. The stores have a nice open design with plenty of piles of warm fuzzy workout clothes to touch, fondle and hold to your cheek. The clothing labels are clear and emphatic. The staff is well-trained and practices what it preaches. In materialistic terms, the chain emphasizes its links to yoga and holistic well-being, all the while charging you $59 for a t-shirt.

Their approach to public relations is refreshing – it’s been dubbed “community relations” inside the company and relies on individual stores managing and promoting local relationships through activities like sponsoring local yoga classes. Promotions are distinctly local – like window displays that make a political statement or encourage you to take up yoga.

“We’ve decentralized marketing,” says community relations manager Sara Gardiner. “The emphasis is on stores being active in their communities.” Every two weeks, community relations director Eric Petersen hosts an hour-long conference call with each store’s community relations representative on the line, in order to share best practices and ensure everyone is on the same page.” (Canadian Business)

Stores feature a rack of corkboard displays for local holistic practioners, fitness coaches, yoga instructors and others to post information – as well as personal collages prepared by each member of the store staff.

My only complaint? It’s hard to shop there if you’re not a fellow traveller or true believer. The pressure gets to you. Paco Underhill has discussed the effect of the “butt brush” factor on browsers in a store – if displays and merchandise are packed so closely that shoppers have to brush against each other to pass, shoppers will leave the store.

Well, I think the “butt brush” factor can also be applied to the feeling you get just milliseconds before an eager (and hot) Lululemon employee approaches you to preach the gospel according to Luon fabric, or the benefits of soy. The problem isn’t the first time you’re pitched the product benefits – it’s the second or third time. They’re that engaged in the product and the brand.

But I’m not. I just like the clothes.

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Online communities, bikers and the 1% rule

05/05/06

Loyal. Dedicated. Vocal. Eager to win new converts and open up new territories. Am I describing a valued customer and contributor, or a hardcore biker? A theory is developing that many online communities depend on that one in a hundred user to populate and popularise the site. Just like the larger biker gangs fascinate and attract that one percent of bike riders.

Ben at Church of the Customer pulls together some disparate metrics to make the point. Wikipedia, he points out, depends upon 1-2% of users to contribute and edit content.

“… If we also add evidence from Bradley Horowitz that roughly 1% of Yahoo’s user population starts a Yahoo Group, we seem to have The 1% Rule: Roughly 1% of your site visitors will create content within a democratized community. (Horowitz also says that some 10% of the total audience “synthesizes” the content, or interacts with it.) …

It would appear that small groups of people often turn out to be the principal value creators of a democratized community. Over time, their work fuels widespread interaction that engages the non-participating community and attracts new ones. If continually nurtured, the community can become a self-sustaining generator of content and value.” (Church of the Customer)

Okay, I guess there’s a difference. It’s evident from definitive sources like the movie Hell’s Angels on Wheels: Eat my Angel Dust! that biker gangs tend to carry a lot of baggage with them to a new community – not to mention warrants. Still, as the movie’s radio promo (WFMU) promises, “when you see a Hell’s Angels wedding, you won’t believe it!”

“They’re not bad guys, individually. I tell you one thing: I’d rather have a bunch of Hell’s Angels on my hands than these civil rights demonstrators. When it comes to making trouble for us, the demonstrators are much worse.
Jailer, San Francisco City Prison” (H.S.T’s Hell’s Angels)

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CSR: pity those poor multinationals

04/29/06

French fries and sneakers: pure evil” – that’s the title of Steve Maich’s column in the latest issue of Macleans. In his analysis, the corporate social responsibility efforts of the world’s biggest consumer brands contrast with their continuing poor showings in pubic CSR polling: Nike, Coca-Cola and BP all suffer at the hands of activist groups, and are affected by the public’s myopia for much more harmful activities by less profiled corporations.

After all, it’s hard to get your community group riled up about picketing a two story building in a corporate business park.

” … What started as a well-meaning movement, aimed at getting business to promote the greater good, has morphed into an industry unto itself: it’s the discontent industry, and it’s driven by image consultants and professional lobbyists, none of whom can present a coherent vision of what it means to be ethical. Instead, the public is fed a constant diet of anti-corporate polemics like The Corporation, No Logo and Super Size Me, all painting business as a hostile force, warping society into a bleak dystopia driven by endless greed.

… The result is a world in which arms manufacturers do brisk business with regressive dictators while tech companies eagerly assist autocrats in squelching democratic rights, and yet an entire generation of supposedly intelligent people seriously believe the world’s most unethical corporation sells hamburgers.”

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Airports, communities and San Diego: a public relations campaign

04/14/06

San Diego may need a new airport. Or maybe not. The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority is well into implementing a community outreach and consultation campaign on future growth plans for the facility. Some details about the campaign’s tactics are discussed in an article posted on voiceofsandiego.org: “Ghostwriting the Airport’s Story.”

As most PR pros would expect, the Authority isn’t working alone. It has brought on a local public relations firm that won a tendered contract worth up to $3.8M. GCS Public Relations has even won a Bronze Anvil for some of their work for the Authority.

An online investigative paper, voiceofsandiego.org has examined two years worth of the firm’s invoices, originally obtained under a California Public Records Act request.

One example: GCS Public Relations billed the Authority $3,140 for 16.5 hours labour helping to prepare an ostensibly third party op/ed published in the Sand Diego Union-Tribune in December.

“… Not all of GCS’s efforts happen behind the scenes. The public relations firm has pitched speaking opportunities to groups ranging from the Black Contractors Association of San Diego to the Borrego Springs Republican Women Federated. Staff members have e-mailed every Rotary Club in San Diego County. They convinced Vista school officials to allow students to earn credit for attending a local town hall meeting.

Airport officials and authority board members typically attend the meetings and hold question-and-answer sessions. The town halls feature a three-minute, 40-second video that explains the need for a new airport.” (voiceofsandiego.org)

This isn’t your traditional slapdash story demonizing the large public organization for wasting money and blindsiding the public. Instead, Rob Davis, the author, casts a careful eye on the way the authority and its public relations agency (and partners) have approached their shared goals – and how some members of the community have reacted to their solicitations of support. It’s well worth a read.

For more information, a year-old article from the San Diego Reader discusses GCS work in support of the Authority, and looks into the activities of the Alliance in Support of Airport Progress in the 21st Century, a lobbying group promoting the relocation of the airport.

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Ice Cream Truck tracks

03/05/06

Remember my ice cream truck post? Prompted by the WFMU post?

Well, over at Lil Mike’s you can find an armfull of ice cream truck related music:

Ken Nordine – Emperor Of Ice Cream
Pharell – The Ice Cream Man
Van Halen – Ice Cream Man
Satanicide – Pussy & Ice Cream
Smokescreen – Buttermilk Sundae
Quix O Tic – Ice Cream Sundae
Trout – Ice Cream Man From Hell
Stephen Lynch – Vanilla Ice Cream
Mac Dre – Ice Cream II

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Starbucks: it’s all still marketing, with a side of cherry wood

02/24/06

Brandweek tells us that the PR manager for 1-800-Got-Junk scored a coup when she landed founder Brian Scudamore’s quote in the Starbucks “The way I see it campaign” – where various trite/profound quotes are printed on the side of the coffee chain’s ubiquitous takeaway cup.

Forget all the left versus right outrage about the campaign that popped up last year. What about brand dilution? Starbucks certainly derives some added value from the aspirational qualities implied by these lofty-sounding quotes from well-known authors, philosopers and activists.

But junk entrepreneurs? Even extremely successful junk entrepreneurs?

I’m not naiive enough to believe that Deepak Chopra and others featured on the venti lattes simply sprang forth into the world, fully developed intellectuals and savants. There were publishing house publicity folks involved. There were literary agents by the shrimp rings at the holiday parties. They were all kids at one time, fighting to monopolize the pages of their college literary journal. They submitted rants to the City section of their local paper. They thumbed through the sale racks at Banana Republic and J. Press, buying corduroy jackets in the spring when they were on sale. They went on and on about Bjork.

As a consumer, though, how much advertising will I be willing to tolerate before I give up on Starbucks as a treasured “third place?” It’s supposed to be a hidey-hole, a meeting place where I can recharge.

Will I turn when I realize the latest aspirational quotes are really a call to action for a promotional campaign? “Wait a second! Does this really say Pepsi Points?”

Or will it be something far more blatant, like seasonal holiday music samplers on 2″ CDs “brought to you by Volvo.”

Nonetheless, kudos to the 1-800 PR team for figuring out a way to land that half a square inch of valuable retail packaging space. The Vancouver based company certainly knows how to market and press the flesh. (PR Week, reg. req.)

Technorati: branding public relations

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How GSK is mobilizing a community outreach program to improve pharma’s image

02/21/06

GlaxoSmithKline, the pharma behemoth, became convinced over the past two years that it needed to do a better job establishing a relationship with its community: its customers, its users, the public in general. It needed to counter some of the negative impressions of big pharma with practical and personal commentary that would resonate with the public. The best vehicle? GSK’s 8,000 sales reps in the United States.

    “… Armed with salient talking points and answers to tough questions, the sales force is out speaking to Rotarians, Elks, Lions Club members, senior-citizen groups, weekly newspapers, schools and every community group they can think of. And Mr. Pucci [the GlaxoSmithKline VP responsible for External Advocacy] said GSK has enough sales reps to cover every county in every state in the country.

    … He said the majority of questions the reps receive revolve around pricing, and he has given them what he calls a “learning system” that takes 50 minutes to master and will enable the rep to satisfy queries about the company and the industry. GSK reps made 15,000 presentations last year, Mr. Pucci said, reaching 1.8 million people.” (AdAge)

Wondering how Glaxo’s community outreach program, “Value for Medicine,” might be structured? Here’s the fundamental outline, straight from the pen of Mike Pucci :

    Corporate Image Enhancement Strategies to Ensure Clinical Trial Success

    In recent years, there have been a host of reasons that have led the general public to view pharmaceutical companies negatively. This has caused tactical troubles for pharmaceutical companies, one of the major problems being an increased difficulty in recruiting patients for clinical trials. Recognizing this, pharmaceutical companies are now realizing they need to create and sustain a positive corporate image to gain the respect, acceptance and assistance from the public for their clinical trials to succeed with an appropriate patient population. This workshop educates attendees on the top methods to improve corporate image, which helps the pharmaceutical company as a whole, as well as the public’s willingness to participate in clinical trials and gives insights into what clinical personnel can implement specifically. A case study on empowering rank and file employees to engage in positive negotiations about the Value of Medicine Campaign that was implemented at GlaxoSmithKline, is also discussed. This campaign was implemented to enhance corporate image and also to increase patient awareness on clinical trials.

    I. Initiate a Value of Medicine Campaign to Enhance Image and Increase Patient Recruitment and Retention

    – Understand the impact that industry reputation has on patient recruitment and retention
    – Learn why clinical employees are more influential than corporate communication departments
    – Define the impact corporate enhancement strategies, such as the Value of Medicine Campaign, can have on clinical trial recruitment

    II. Action Items to Implement a Value of Medicine Campaign in Your Organization for Optimal Clinical Participation

    – Set up a volunteer network to implement strategies
    – Learn how to respond and not to respond to current events and issues
    – Use positive clinical experiences to position your company

    III. Core Clinical Messaging that Impacts Perception

    – Hear the 3 universal key messages that assist clinical trial recruitment and retention (or see them further down in this post)
    – Explore the delivery channels of corporate image campaigns based on clinical trials.

That’s from the agenda for the pre-conference workshop being led next month by Mike Pucci, GSK’s VP of External Advocacy.

Even more detail on GSK’s campaign is available in this month’s Medical Marketing and Media:

    “… The foundation of any good PR campaign is a good narrative. GSK has been hammering on three themes: how today’s miracle drugs finance tomorrow’s, the risk of developing medicines and how R&D costs drive retail prices, and acknowledging and expressing concern for the obstacles many face in obtaining the drugs they need. That last one, says Pucci, has proven the most potent. “We’ve come to find out that what resonates is acknowledging access and affordability issues and letting them know you care.”

    That was the message at press events in Springfield and Kansas City. Featuring a PhRMA-sponsored bus promoting the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), the events proved surprisingly successful, as local newspapers, TV and radio turned out in force (a Springfield radio station even brought along a giant inflatable bear). Area residents heard reps, joined by patient advocates from local hospitals and the president of the Missouri Pharmacy Association, speak about the value of medicine and the PPA while touting the program’s 800 number to reporters. The company aired radio ads from its “Scientist” series in advance of the events-netting 2.5 million media impressions-and got the state legislature to declare December Value of Medicine Month. Calls to the PPA 800 number jumped by 50% as the campaign ran into November, and 91% of callers were matched with a discount or patient assistance program. “That tells us that not only was information getting out there, but the right information was getting out there,” says Pucci. “And the result speaks for itself. We got a wonderful response in smaller markets, where it’s more of an event than in the larger markets. They were very interested in the fact that we were there and fired up to talk about how we were helping and what we were doing.” …

Technorati: branding pharma GSK Glaxo CME community relations

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Divine pitch: from a servant of God to your PDA

02/13/06

The Guardian tells us of Opus Dei’s preparations for the film adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which portrays the Catholic organization in a negative light:

    “”There’s a huge contrast between the way we’re portrayed and the way we are in reality,” says Brian Finnerty, director of media relations for the United States division. He is one of two full-time staff who run the communications office in New York.

    A former journalist with the Los Angeles-based Investors Business Daily, Finnerty has been a member of Opus Dei since 1985 and has overseen the organisation’s increasing embrace of the media since 1995. “We consulted with various friends and experts in PR who were willing to help us out. They told us how to show the world that Opus Dei is about ordinary Catholics trying to get closer to God in their daily lives, and that we’re happy to share that with people.”

    However controversial Opus Dei’s vision of religion may be – it promotes the principle that holiness can be found through everyday tasks – it now comes complete with all the trimmings of 21st century marketing. The fact that it even boasts boasts a press office may come as a surprise to anyone whose first impression is derived from Brown’s story.”

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Smash Hits: it’s PR driven homogenity wot done it in

02/10/06

David Hepworth, a former editor of the British pop magazine Smash Hits, comments on its demise:

    “… There had previously been a singles chart that provided a weekly drama. Records went in at 34 and then agonisingly, enthrallingly climbed their way to the top. … These days hits are records that go in at number one. All the rest are disappointments. [Record companies] invented bands aimed at teenagers who were inevitably not as interesting as the ones aimed at everybody. The PRs moved in and did what PRs always do, which is make the world slightly duller and more congenial for PRs. Pop had previously been an alternative to reality. Now it was an alternative reality and people were taking it worryingly seriously. By then the magazine was a huge business asset that had to be protected.

    … What we do know is that the liberal application of all the following failed to save one of the biggest brands in British media: money, market research, cover gifts, brand extensions, TV exposure, sponsorship, expensive redesigns, gondola ends, retail promotions, endless conferences and all the experience in the world. (Guardian)

BBC online has comments from former readers (many thirtysomethings who haven’t bought the mag since Rick Astley went underground)

A note on Hepworth’s time as editor:

    “In 1981, Smash Hits editor David Hepworth sent a memo to record company press departments that read: “It is my intention to reverse the entire direction of [popular music publishing] in favor of entirely trivia…. We want to know the colour of your artists’ socks.” And he succeeded. In the first six months of 1979, Smash Hits drew an audience of 166,000 to NME’s 202,000; but by the end of 1984 Smash Hits’ readership had swelled to over half a million, while NME’s had dwindled to 123,000.”(The New Republic)

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I didn’t really mean THAT KIND of community relations

01/31/06

Over at Boxtank, Geoff and Emily point out that opponents of the new Wal-Mart in Lincoln, Nebraska have some concerns about what those damn kids will get up to in the yard:

    “If you have never lived close to a large retail establishment, you cannot possibly imagine all the problems that would be coming your way. Don’t ever expect to have a yard free of trash again. Don’t forget to plan for the after-hour parties that develop in the parking lot with noise, fights and empty beer bottles and cans. Plan for the cars that will park in your drive or in the street when the party group starts dividing up to make out in their cars.“(Letter to the Editor, Lincoln, NB)

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Really? I’d be more worried about the retirees setting up camp in the parking lot.

Not only does Wal-Mart’s open welcome for campers to spend the night undermine local campgrounds, it encourages septuagenarian intercourse right in front of the garden centre.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not see Ralph Furley’s “o face” – especially through the back of a shaggin wagon covered in two tone siding.

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Politics is retail – and you may just take a puck in the mouth

01/21/06

Given a choice between a politician and a hockey player, most Canadians will make a move for the guy with less teeth. Politicians who try to weeze da juice of the national sport usually end up looking out of place and decidedly unathletic (unless they’re Ken Dryden).

One candidate in the current national election found a way to marry the two at last night’s Ottawa 67s game. Out in front of the arena, a young volunteer was handing out brief flyers explaining the Conservative Party’s proposal for a tax credit based upon the registration fees paid for youth sports activities like hockey, swimming, soccer and skating.

A message that should resonate, aimed at a potentially receptive audience. Sitting directly in front of us was a complete PeeWee hockey team and their parents. Families could be seen throughout the arena. The 67s are a minor hockey team that emphasizes entertainment and links to the community.

There aren’t any $2 million contracts for naming rights for the arena. The place is full of ads for sub shops, accountants and construction companies. Sure, minor hockey still comes up with the occasional embarassing promotion. On the whole, however, these teams survive by selling space for targeted messages by local companies.

This was a political message, but it was squarely aimed at the people who normally attend minor hockey games, and promised real benefits.

Oh yeah – of course the flyer included a picture of the smiling Conservative candidate as well.

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Starbucks – one step closer to being a straight up multinational pimp

01/15/06

I was puzzled by the news that Starbucks had struck up a distribution deal with Lions Gate fims – as was Church of the Customer.

The marketing strategy associated with the deal seems suitably low-key for the coffee chain, but I can’t help but think the growing number of ancillary products sold at Starbucks – cds, dvds – will erode the admittedly false atmosphere of calm reflection currently valued by authors, bloggers, self-employed professionals and the status-conscious?

    “… Starbucks baristas will get to preview the film in hopes they will create buzz among customers. In early April, the chain will begin in-store promotions, ranging from advertising on cup sleeves to spelling-related trivia games on its chalk boards, and pastry case displays featuring words spelled in the film. (Globe & Mail)

How long until Starbucks offers movie promo items (organic, made from recycled products and fair trade) with every seasonal special?

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The Mannheim Steamroller School of Marketing

12/21/05

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We’ve all heard Mannheim Steamroller at some point in the last 24 hours. Chip Davis, the music and business genius behind Steamroller, has sold 27 million Steamroller albums – many of them Christmas-themed. Davis moves product by making shrewd marketing decisions:

    ” … I asked Davis to explain the theory behind his marketing schemes, and he told me a story about the release of “American Spirit,” a collection of patriotic songs “done Mannheim style.” Just before Memorial Day in 2002, the CD went on sale in several stores at a busy Omaha intersection, including a Super Target and a Baker’s supermarket. The Target store, where the discs were discounted to $12.98, sold just a dozen copies, but the supermarket, which priced them at a full $15.99, “blew through 60 pieces.”

    Why? “We put the CD’s next to the hot-dog buns, where everyone was going for their holiday barbecues,” he told me. “We weren’t sitting in the music department with some big display saying, ‘Mannheim CD’s.’ We have a slogan around here: we try to put our music in the path of what people do everyday.” (NYT Magazine)

BTW – Davis was a key player in one of the tech booms of the 70s. As a copywriter in Omaha, he wrote the jingles that helped fictional trucker C.W. McCall to pimp for a local bakery. McCall, a regional hit, grew into a national singing sensation – remember Convoy? – that prompted thousands of teenagers to run out and buy whip antennas, CB radios and 30 watt amps for their AMC Eagles.

(Here’s McCall doing a 1974 radio promo for Great Country KSO, a Des Moines radio station. RealPlayer file courtesy of Desmoinesbroadcasting.com)

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Audibile’s new campaign is mean to child literacy

12/14/05

I’d just like to throw a shout-out to Audble for their new promo campaign: Don’t Read. It’s a horrible idea, and I have to wonder whether the creatives who thought it up secretly feel some shame everytime they sit down, bedside, to read a book to their kids.

It misappropriates the American Library Association’s long-standing “Read” campaign to push the Audible service. There’s nothing like taking a well-intentioned and well-respected public service campaign, and stomping all over it for commercial gain.

I can’t quite decide if this is a weak attempt to generate interest by drawing upon our shared memory of the ALA campaign materials, or is it meant as an attempt at po-mo irony?

Or, in the most ironic twist of all, do the copywriters who thought up the campaign actually want to discourage people from reading?

Congratulations, agency.com. The campaign comes across as poorly intentioned and intellectually lazy. Is there no better selling point for audio books? Or did you just have something more fascinating to do than actually be creative? Let me guess – the XBox 360 came in early?

Technorati: advertising audible agency.com ALA library marketing

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Blogs, malls and holiday co-op advertising

12/04/05

Anyone know of a mall property that’s using blogs to support its holiday co-op advertising?

It seems like such a simple concept to me: inexpensive and easy-to-use software, local or enterprise installation, single or multiple authors, and easily customizable templates.

It would be a low-cost solution for independent malls, regional concerns and national REITs.

And it could easily be worked into the existing co-op advertising program – with the added benefit that store operators that didn’t want to chip in pricing cuts or discount coupons could still be featured in brand-building articles.

A blog would also provide a flexible community relations tool for the mall manager. Charity promotional campaigns? On-site fundraisers? Local events? All could find prominent placement in a well-designed template.

Best of all? The mall’s underpaid marketing assistant would find a mall blog easy to administer.

Technorati: marketing advertising co-op community relations

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Perhaps the biggest downer on Christmas morning

12/03/05

Nothing like running down to the tree, grabbing a 6″ by 6″ box and giving it a little shake. Feels hefty. Could be interesting. You eagerly sit down to rip open your first present – and discover a box of … giftscriptions … ?

New, from Time, Inc. A gift certificate for a free magazine subscription and a catalog describing the 50 magazine choices available to you. Oh – and a postage-paid envelope to send your subscription in.

Doesn’t that really shout “I couldn’t even bother about your present, and I found this box at the checkout beside the Maglite flashlights and leatherette bookmarks”?

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Pharma Sales – she scrips, and she just may strip too

12/02/05

HEY! HO! HEY HO! LET’S GO! The new big thing in pharma sales? Hot cheerleaders.

I swear to god, I don’t make this stuff up.

    “As an ambitious college student, Cassie Napier had all the right moves – flips, tumbles, an ever-flashing America’s sweetheart smile – to prepare for her job after graduation. She became a drug saleswoman …

    … Known for their athleticism, postage-stamp skirts and persuasive enthusiasm, cheerleaders have many qualities the drug industry looks for in its sales force. Some keep their pompoms active, like Onya, a sculptured former college cheerleader. On Sundays she works the sidelines for the Washington Redskins. But weekdays find her urging gynecologists to prescribe a treatment for vaginal yeast infection.” (NYT)

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Christmas, mail order and Toughskins

11/30/05

Over at Flickr, the entire 1979 Sears Wish Book.

Remember the days when the Sears Wish Book used to be delivered in the mail? The only link between you and the holiday to come? The entire range of gifts available to you, wrapped in plastic?

And your mom always pointed out things like these cute cowboy/cowgirl outfits to your grandmother?

You’d fill out a form, send it off in late October, and wait until your package arrived at the local dry cleaner/Sears mail order outlet in late November.

Ahh. The bliss of delayed gratification. Even if it meant wearing Toughskins jeans for the next eleven months.

(By the way – have you noticed that the Sears mail order outlet is dying a quiet death? I’ve only seen in them in very rural areas over the past few years.)

Technorati: promo marketing

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Dunkin Donuts, flackery and messaging

11/24/05

Is the old school “black with two creams” coffee making a comeback? Looking at the expansion plans for Dunkin’ Donuts in the Big Apple, New York magazine plays up the contrasts between Starbucks and its downmarket competitor. Along the way, author Stephen Rodrick hits some points about:

Overeager Flackery

    “Imagine my surprise when I was met by not one, not two, but eight Dunkin employees. There was the flack, the outside-agency flack, three executives, the franchise owner, his son, and someone to drive the trail vehicle. Soon, I was deluged by a shower of business cards, fair-trade beans, and Coffee Coolattas.”

Packaging, Design and Self Identity

    “Unlike Starbucks, whose mermaid-logoed paper cups scream I am a person with some design sense and an environmentally raised consciousness, Dunkin serves its coffee in Styrofoam containers emblazoned with the companys cheerful puffy-fonted pink-and-orange trademark. Viewed through an upmarket lens, Dunkins cups suggest landfills and Gymboree classes. Theyre fine in the car up to New Hampshire, an Upper East Side publicist told me, but not so much on Madison and 52nd.

The Value-Added Menu

    “Starbucks cellophane-wrapped $6 sandwiches are a crime against commerce and fairness in pricing, but its unlikely those products will kill you. I feel fairly confident, on the other hand, that Dunkins new steak-egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich is what the Grim Reaper packs in his lunch box.”

Retail Merchandising

    “Despite its aesthetically pleasing location and floor-to-ceiling windows, members of the ocho mumbled obscenities and rolled their eyes. Apparently, the promotional posters were not up-to-date.”

The Uselessness of Controlling the Message

    “On my officially sanctioned guided tour with the Dunkin boys, all the stops were spacious, airy locales, clearly chosen for their PR suitability. Alas, these turned out to be Dunkins Potemkin Villages. Many of the other stores I visited had all the ambience of a Texaco outside El Paso, resplendent with interrogation-quality fluorescent lights and pee on the toilet seats.”

Oh – and Rodrick works in some commentary on the Dunkin’ Donut’s customer segmentation from John Moore of Brand Autopsy fame.

Technorati: public relations

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Arch Card – PR that can be measured

11/23/05

McDonald’s rolled out their Arch Card gift card in style today, launching a major PR and marketing push for a product that’s been in some restaurants for months. The impact of the card on the corporation’s bottom line is immediately measurable:

The stock’s gone up 2.2%, to close at $33.71. That’s something you can email to the Board of Directors tonight. From the limo. Or the helipad.

The cards are being supported by a huge promotional campaign:

    “McDonald’s will give away $22 million in promotional Arch Cards starting Tuesday to make a splash, including 5 million $1 cards handed out to Southwest Airlines customers at 61 U.S. airports through Dec. 13 and on board Southwest flights from Dec. 14-28.

    Customers at McDonald’s restaurants can receive a $1 Arch Card from Nov. 29 through Dec. 5, while the cards last, with the purchase of Chicken Selects strips or a Premium Chicken Sandwich.” (AP/Chicago Sun-Times)

Does that mean McDos* has customer segmentation data that indicates Southwest fliers are also hamburger afficionados?

Or did they just notice that a lot of the people shown flying Southwest on A&E’s Airline seemed to be the fast food, low taste preference type of consumer?

*(McDos is a french nickname for the burger chain)

Technorati; promo branding public relations

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Retail work and Christmas cheer – can they coexist?

11/22/05

There’s a shop in my building’s retail mall, they jumped on the Christmas bandwagon last week. Garlands, wreaths, Chicken Little advent calendars. You know – things that keep in the Christian spirit and encourage a lighter pocketbook.

There were probably two triggers for the store reno: the seasonal promo package arrived from head office, and the building’s landlord had already decorated the common areas of the mall by November 2nd.

Chatting to the manager, I pointed out one of the most irritating promotions in the store (other than the muzak): a four foot statue of Jolly Old Saint Nick, red suit and all. At his feet is a red button: you press it, and he starts to sing Tinpan Alley Christmas classics, all the while dancing some sort of demonic and robotic Chubby Checker twist.

The statue, I believe, was programmed and choreographed by Harold Wormser, the youngest of the Tri-Lams from “Revenge of the Nerds.”

“I bet you’ll take the batteries out of THAT in a week,” I said.

“Actually, we only turn it on during peak hours … To set the spirit, you know …” she replied.

And thus a compromise was struck, a compromise that allowed a velvet jacketed, left-footed crooner to work his seasonal magic … without fear of violent retribution from the store’s employees.

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Kurt Busch: one step away from meeting Sgt. Stedenko

11/13/05

upinsmoke_sergent.gif

How do you undermine your personal brand equity? Say you’re the reigning Nextel Cup champion, have just managed to negotiate your way off one racing team, and will be driving the #2 Miller Lite Dodge in 2006. Oh, and that your move to Penske Racing was likely the reason Miller Lite extended their sponsorship agreement through 2010?

Miller must be counting on the cross-promotion opportunities normally accorded a major NASCAR sponsorship:

    “[Kurt] Busch will participate in a number of personal appearances at bars, retail outlets and events on behalf of the brewer. In addition, his likeness will be featured on Miller Lite s retail and on-premise merchandising materials, promotional programs and on the companys web sites. (Paddocktalk)

Too bad Busch got pulled over for reckless driving last night. And we’re not talking Cole Trickle street racing, either.

    “Busch was stopped Friday night after trying to avoid another car and running a stop sign about two miles from Phoenix International Raceway … As a result of the roadside investigation the deputy did take Mr. Busch into custody for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol,” said [Lt. Paul Chagolla], a Maricopa County sheriff’s spokesman. (NASCAR/AP)

I bet that news is going over well in Milwaukee.

While Busch hasn’t had his day in court (or his day with NASCAR execs, which is worse?), he will be feeling some retribution for this. Somewhere, there’s a brand manager who’s had to come into the office on Sunday to work “court-ordered public service” into his Miller/Busch media plan.

“If we pick the right schools – like an inner-city school – we can work some extra media out of this! Does the Bondurant School count for public service?”

While this was no drug bust worthy of the fearsome Sgt. Stedenko, Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke” probably had an accurate account of Busch’s police stop:

    Arresting Officer: [to Man] Sir, what’s your name?

    Pedro: Whut? I told you my name, man!

    Arresting Officer: [to Man] Sir… what’s YOUR name?

    Pedro: [to Man] Hey man! The dude wants to know your name, man!

    [Man vomits onto the floor of the car]

    Pedro: Uuhhh – His name is RAALLLPH, man!

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Hookers and blow, or teenage street team members?

11/11/05

Toronto’s NOW Magazine on the breakthrough by the Arctic Monkeys:

    “What makes the Monkeys’ feat even more impressive is that their quick rise to the top occurred without the conventional “hookers ‘n’ blow” promotional strategy or having hordes of street team members buy up mass quantities of their single from chart-reporting shops.

    The press, radio and television were almost circumvented entirely in the group’s audience-building process. MuchMusic recently declined an offer to interview the band. The Arctic Monkeys are the first real breakthrough act of the download era.”

As befits any “breakthrough act,” Arctic Monkeys are on MySpace.

Technorati: Arctic Monkeys myspace marketing promotion

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Stock photos, MS, and Long Duk Dong.

11/08/05

The stock photos used to promote Microsoft’s latest launch, for Visual Studio Express, are doctored by Joey deVilla.

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Just back away from the marquee, son!

10/10/05

Well, I don’t know if this was a DQ HQ-approved cross promotion, but it is remarkably tasteless considering the tragedy in Pakistan – let alone that people are still recovering from Katrina and Rita.

The takeaway? Try and test your micro promotion idea on a group larger than the teenagers on the late shift.









Armand Frasco noticed it a few days ago.

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Retail: Shiny Happy People

10/03/05

“I’m a happy worker” – that’s what the button said. In an arc, around a yellow happy face. There were two people working the toy store yesterday. Only one was wearing the button. My first thought was: which one of you hates their job more?

Turns out the button is a promo piece for a line of Happy Worker dolls (or is that action figure?). I wouldn’t have known that, since the dolls themselves were buried on a shelf, not featured on an end cap or in the window. (Judging from the stale company website, the dolls lost their buzz about a year ago).

So- was the employee attempting to be ironic? Was he dissatisfied with his job? Or did he just have a thing for “flair“?

Oh – and this store was selling the Livestrong bracelet for $2.95 – and touting that $1 went to the Armstrong Foundation! Thanks for caring … about your bottom line.

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Unilver, tea houses and old bags

09/29/05

You wouldn’t know it from the varieties of flavoured, steeped and blended tea being hawked by beverage companies on this side of the Atlantic, but the market for instant coffee is starting to percolate in the UK – at the expense of the traditional tea bag. (/rimshot)

There’s still hope in the market, though. A new innovation – PG-2-Go – a packaged tea cup with a retractable tea bag (so you can select your own strength) is apparently building market share. The other, more traditional, tea companies are being squeezed between a growing preference for instant coffee and suicidal price wars with grocery companies’ house brands.

The Guardian covered this seismic movement in the British cultural landscape earlier this week. Deep in the piece, an admission from Unilever that their previous attempt to shore up their tea business in the UK had failed:

    “Five years ago Unilever boldly tried to resurrect the Lyons spirit and challenge the espresso bar culture by piloting four teahouses under the Cha brand. They have since closed but a Unilever spokesman said: “The experiment taught us a few lessons – one of them was that we are definitely not a retailer.”(Guardian)

What? Does this mean Unilever – with their horde of consumer good products and marques – doesn’t know how to build from hundreds of millions of pounds’ investment in promoting benefits and attributes into a sustainable consumer experience?

Advertising minty-fresh goodness, new cleaning power and ultra lemony sparkle will move individual boxes off the shelf – but now that grocery stores have figured out the tricks behind house branding and discount pricing, are brand-building marketing campaigns strong enough to stop market share erosion?

It seems like the tea companies already know the answer – and they could draw upon a hundred years of emotional and cultural history tying them to their customers.

More details on Unilever’s attempts to diversify into personal services and retail. There’s also a Cambridge case study in the failure of their myhome services.

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The solution to declining newspaper readership?

09/26/05

Free CDs (and flexi-discs, if you’re old enough). They’re a well-established marketing gimmick in the U.K. As North American papers and magazines struggle with declining subscription rates, I have to wonder why they aren’t throwing more freebies our way?

I mean, even the magazine distributed by the homeless is moving product!

    “I thought it was a joke pitch from the Big Issue vendor: “Free CD with every copy!” But no, the paper set up to help the homeless has joined the game. Twenty-six tracks, poly-bagged with the mag, pounds 1.40. And yes, it made me buy it.” (Guardian)

Here’s a pipe dream: an enterprising indie music promoter finds an MSM conglomerate that’s willing to pony up the money to produce 100k compilation CDs in return for free distribution in papers and online – as a marketing tactic.

Chances are, P&G will do it first, and the CD will have music aimed squarely at the female 25 to 49 segment.

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This here’s a tale for all the fellas …

09/11/05

Stereogum dredges up memories of an old Pepsi promotion – “Cool Cans” – which featured Young MC desecrating the lyrics to his hit “Bust a Move” as part of the 1990 campaign.

    “Cool cans are coming so don’t be afraid / If you get lucky then you might get paid.”

    “To be cool and be somewhat respectable / Pick up Pepsi in these hype receptacles.”

Young MC was no fool. In fact, he was a business grad, so the ancillary tie-in with Taco Bell made perfect sense:

    “Three cups in all/So Don’t Stand Still/And If you have an empty cup you get a free refill/Go to Taco Bell and place your order/Take my advice you’d better run for the border.”

Tangentially related – who in the world needs an acoustic guitar overly-sensitive version of “Bust a Move”? Really? Is there no boundary to point out your “creative and alternative interpretation of B-list cultural touchstones” is really just a lazy-ass attempt at irony? And poor-sounding at that?

You really want to play the cross-generational hipster advertising game? Four words: William Shatner for Priceline.

Or an in-movie ad for “Noah’s Arcade” from Wayne’s World:

    “Come bust a move where the games are played/it’s chill, it’s fresh/it’s Noah’s Arcade.”

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Car Whispering: privacy threat or marketing opportunity?

08/05/05

Martin Herfurt discusses how hackers could exploit poor passkey security to beam information or viruses to some Bluetooth-enabled cars. (via Jeremy Wagstaff)

Or maybe beam context-specific advertisements from equipment mounted on roadside billboards?

Think of the marketing opportunities! All you need now is a marketing agreement with a car company to legitimize the practice!

:-)

Eric Eggertson has a comment after the jump:
(…)

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You mean people play Celine Dion without payola?

07/26/05

As a records promotion person, you know your career has gone to hell in a handbasket when you’re threatening radio station program directors over the playtimes for a Celine Dion song – one that is running concurrently in car ads. Just take a look at this example cited by Eliot Spitzer in the Sony payola scheme:

    “A promotion employee unhappy with the times assigned for spins of the song “I Drove All Night” by Celine Dion wrote this internal email:

    “OK, HERE IT IS IN BLACK AND WHITE AND IT’S SERIOUS: IF A RADIO STATION GOT A FLYAWAY TO A CELINE [DION] SHOW IN LAS VEGAS FOR THE ADD, AND THEY’RE PLAYING THE SONG ALL IN OVERNIGHTS, THEY ARE NOT GETTING THE FLYAWAY. PLEASE FIX THE OVERNIGHT ROTATIONS IMMEDIATELY.”

What sort of a dj looks for a flyaway to a Celine Dion show anyway? They should have their thumbs removed, so they can never use slide switches again.

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Whole Foods and the Soup Nazi

07/21/05

I wonder: in New York, is it a positive brand attribute for Whole Foods to have food demo staff that are knowledgeable but irritable?

    “Whole Foods: We particularly like the one in Union Square … You can always count on the fish griller to be lining up plastic ramekins filled with swordfish or wild salmon. But we warned. If you take seconds, he will hate you. Really, with him you can do no right. If you ask what he’s cooking he’ll grumble the answer.

    If you cower in fear, afraid to ask what you’re eating he will say accusingly, “Don’t you want to know what you’re eating?” We recommend that you keep a low profile, take your sample, give a nod of thanks then go.

    However, you will want more than one sample. With this in mind we suggest that you show up with a few disguises. Hats, sunglasses and wigs are recommended.”(Cakehead.Com)

No, really? If there was an effervescent ray of sunshine handing out the carp on a stick, would New Yorkers feel poorly served? Is there a place for the Soup Nazi in NY’s retail food experience?

For more information on moving the samples off the shelves and into the carts:

Retailwire hosted a valuable discussion on “dazzling them with demos.”

As Cooperative Grocer tells us, an effective sampler should have these qualities:

-Is friendly and outgoing
-Has good appearance (no faux Elvis)
-Has good health (*cough*cough*)
-Speaks the language (whaaa?)
-Can memorize three paragraphs of information
-Has stamina
-Is attentive to details
-Is a teacher and a booster — has a positive attitude
-Can effectively promote foods the sampler does not eat (have you tried the jalapeno poppers in aisle 23?)

(Thanks to Free Williamsburg for the Whole Foods link)

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Pitching the principled influencer

06/28/05

Nic Harcourt is the host of Morning becomes Eclectic on KCRW, an LA listener-supported radio station. The show has long been a platform for emerging and aspiring musicians, but elements of Harcourt’s playlists have increasingly found a home in more mainstream music.

This, the NYT Magazine notes, makes him an influential (and much pursued) element in LA’s music industry:

    “Harcourt, whose show is broadcast daily from 9 a.m. to noon, has a knack for finding interesting new music ahead of everyone else: he was the first in America to play Norah Jones and Coldplay on the radio; like Jesca Hoop, the platinum-sellers Dido and David Gray were unsigned artists whose demos Harcourt originally spotlighted on his show; and more idiosyncratic unsigned acts like Damien Rice, Sigur Ros and Jem have all also become the object of record-company bidding wars as a result of Harcourt’s championing.”

At first glance, Harcourt may fall squarely under the marketing tag of an “influencer.” But, as he told Frontline last year, ”

    “I’m apparently unworkable, is what I’m told by various people …”

The usual promotional efforts, side deals and exclusive releases don’t seem to work with KCRW. Surprisingly, it seems that traditional PR tactics may be the best approach: study your audience, target your pitch, and demonstrate relevance and benefits. Harcourt again:

    “I’ve worked in the commercial world as well, so I understand that side of it. But I think what I found is that people in the business who understand what KCRW is, and what “Morning Becomes Eclectic” is, and maybe have a sense of who I am, realized that if they’re smart and they’ve got good music, and they’ve got an artist who deserves to be heard, then this is a place that they can launch that artist. And there’s numerous examples of that.” (Frontline)

A side note: I highly recommend the podcasts for KCRW’s The Business (with Variety’s Claude Brodesser) and The Treatment.

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How to pull Mr. Softee out of the cooler

06/09/05

What’s better than pictures of ice cream trucks? How about MP3s of Ice Cream Truck Music!

I know some people don’t like the music – but it’s an essential part of summer! To paraphrase Eddie Murphy: “Mr. Ice Cream Man! Mr. Ice Cream Man! … I got some ice cream, and you dooon’t …”

Roc-A-Fella records capitalized on the urban desire for ice cream last summer, wrapping six ice cream trucks to draw fans and promote their artists and tours.

Need nutrition for your soul, not your stomach? What about the Dub Reggae Ice Cream Truck?

Maybe you’re in the market for a truck?

Most unfortunate blog comment on the subject: “Not all Mister Softee trucks try to stiff small children and adults.” No. Just some of the drivers.

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How NOT to staff an info booth

06/09/05

An information booth is not an inspiring 100 square feet at the best of times. The worst of times? Take an organization from inside your company, hand them a bunch of promo literature, and point them to the building’s atrium.

Here’s some pointers for the people working that gig in our atrium today.

Don’t:

– fan all your corporate brochures out flat on a folding card table.
– use corporate brochures (they’re very boring)
– spread your card tables out so they take up more space
– use folding card tables (they’re too low!)
– set up your booth in the traffic flow between the ATM and the food court
– have the hot guy and girl on your team standing at the back of the booth
– let the hot girl – or anyone – eat while on duty. Especially not a sub!
– stare blankly at everyone walking past.
– forget to do ANY in-house promo. Nary a peep in support of the booth today.
forget ROI.

3M’s hints on how to present at a trade show.

Setting up a booth at a trade show.

Peter Shankman’s Talking Smack About Trade Shows.

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