Latest Jimi Hendrix experience now available in a children's book

By Robert Klara on Thu Dec 9 2010


The name Jimi Hendrix makes you think of a lot of things: Woodstock, tie-dye, his iconoclastic rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner"—and, of course, that neat little trick with the lighter fluid at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, when Hendrix burned up a perfectly nice Stratocaster. But one thing the legendary guitarist will probably not remind you of is ... a children's book.
  But why not? Just in time for the holiday shopping season, author Gary Golio has produced Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow, a 32-page kids' book that evokes the life of the young Hendrix back in 1956, when he was poor, living in a Seattle boarding house and trying to recreate a world "colored with sounds" (and on a ukulele, no less).
  Yeah, we know. A psychedelic rocker who died of a drug overdose is probably not on the A-list for some parents hoping to inspire their progeny. But Golio told NPR that the young Hendrix's story "reflects all the values we want to teach our children," such as persistence and having goals. Meanwhile, the book reflects one of marketing's most durable truisms: Celebs really never die; they just keep selling.

A tribute to American-made brands … in 1,000-word poem form

By Robert Klara on Mon Oct 4 2010


We love our brands here at BrandFreak, but this week's e-mail bag contained a tribute to them that put us to shame. Sure, we've worked hard on the hundreds of blog items and thousands (millions?) of words in service to branding, but never have those words been sculpted into verse. That's right: It's a poem about brands. Robert Barrows, a California-based PR guy who has also run for Congress, was gracious enough to give us permission to publish his work in full. It's posted after the jump. Here's a snippet:

They used to make flags in America
Hooray for the red white and blue
Now the flags come from China,
And our dog food and toothpaste comes
From there, too

  We presume Barrows wasn't writing to get the attention of the Paris Review (or sound like Bruce Springsteen, come to think of it), but his motivation is serious enough. After all, this is American Manufacturing Week (Oct. 2-9), a rather sobering period during which we're not asked to cheer for brands made in the U.S.A., but to contemplate the ones that aren't—and that's most of them, from Rawlings baseballs (made in Costa Rica) to Radio Flyer wagons (made in China).
  Here's one of those instances when being branding's house organ gets a little hard. Foreign manufacture keeps those profit margins looking nice, but few Americans will be able to afford to buy brands at all if they don't have jobs—and this country has lost 3 million manufacturing jobs since 1998, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Well, thanks for the poem, Mr. Barrows. It's too bad you had to write it in the first place.   Click through for the whole poem.

Continue reading "A tribute to American-made brands … in 1,000-word poem form" »

TCBY jets into the future with its own ultramodern interior design

By Robert Klara on Fri Jul 23 2010


Those of you who follow the intersecting planes of cutting-edge interior design and, uh, cheeseburgers will probably remember how McDonald's started redoing its restaurants in 2006 into Euro-chic nooks (see the four images below) with wood-slat room dividers, amoeba-shaped couches and avant-garde muraling (all courtesy of French tastemaker Philippe Avanzi, though executed in the U.S. by Lippincott Mercer). The idea wasn't just to update the look of restaurants that hadn't had a facelift since 1976 but to cater to the visual discernment of the digital generation by creating "linger zones" with puffy couches and WiFi connections to go with those nifty new Asian salads.
  Well, add another restaurant chain to list of those out to woo the eyes and palettes of the digi-kid crowd. TCBY, the brand that introduced the swirly stuff now known as fro-yo back in 1981, last week opened up a new prototype store in Salt Lake City (see above) that's not only based on a self-service model (think of the labor savings!) but has given more work to those Jetsons-loving interior designers—StruckAxiom, in this case—who'll tell you the Atomic era has returned in the form of Saarinen tulip chairs and pink and purple mushroomy things. According to TCBY, the new digs "synch up nicely with a shift in the consumer mindset, particularly among Gen X and Y." And why not? "Y" is already in the brand name, after all.


BA's new business service evokes Concorde luxury, if not speed

By Robert Klara on Thu Jul 15 2010


Come September, the venerable British Airways will inaugurate a new, all-business service from New York to London City Airport. (That's the airstrip favored by the private-jet crowd because it's only about seven miles east of downtown, not 45 minutes in the limo from Heathrow.) The new service is plenty nice, using Airbus A318s that will feature cuisine developed at London's acclaimed Roast restaurant. But it's a small detail in the press release that makes us slightly nostalgic. The jets will use flight numbers BA001 and BA004—designations once assigned to the Concorde. 

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Sony, News Corp. extend tradition of watching the news in public

By Robert Klara on Tue Jul 13 2010


At a time when millions of New Yorkers prefer to listen to their news (or news podcasts) within their own personal digital cocoons, it's worth remembering that the biggest media events of the 20th century were consumed collectively, in crowds, while we stood on the sidewalk. 
  When Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, thousands of people found out by watching the famous "Zipper" in Times Square. And in February 1962, when John Glenn became the first human to orbit the Earth, 4,000 people packed the floors of Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street to watch the event on a 12-by-16-foot screen that CBS had set up over the ticket counter. People could just as easily have gotten this news from newspapers, radio or (in Glenn's case) TV, but there's something about sharing the news with a crowd that helps to stamp it on our national consciousness.
  Technology usually does a great job of killing tradition, but it's nice to see the old days aren't quite over yet. Sony and News Corp. just announced they'll partner to mount a massive 35-by-40-foot digital LED screen in the middle of Times Square at Broadway and West 43rd Street. Sure, the high-resolution color monitor is a commercial venture—it'll show movie trailers and commercials, no doubt for murderous rates—but the programming, we're told, will also include news. Even better, the response on the street won't be limited to muttering and elbow jabs. Viewers below will be able to reply to poll questions via text message, with the results displayed overhead in real time.
  One can only wonder what those responses might have looked like for an event like D-Day or the Cold War marvel of a space orbit. Well, Sony, while we know you did this to make a fortune, thanks for carrying on a tradition just the same.


Babycare products doing just fine in stinky economy, thank you

By Robert Klara on Tue Jul 13 2010


Here's a recessionary factoid for your next cocktail party. In 2009, the inflation rate pulled a U-turn and turned into the deflation rate, falling by half a percentage point. Meanwhile, between 2005 and 2009, the retail-dollar compound annual growth rate of babycare supplies grew by 2 percent. Which can only mean one thing: Diapers and butt-wipes are in better shape than U.S. currency.
  Hey, we didn't make this up ourselves. You'll find it on page 7 of the latest report from the indefatigable number crunchers at Packaged Facts, who've stumbled on a number of other interesting tidbits in the just-released report, "Babycare Supplies in the U.S." Go ahead and make fun, but this seldom-touted segment of the economy is worth a staggering $7 billion. What's more, not only has a (forgive us) poopy economy done little to stem the brisk sales of diapers and such (the highest performers were actually wipes and bodycare goods, which grew by 17.1 and 10.1 percent, respectively, last year), Americans plunked down more money on baby stuff even though they're having fewer babies. The U.S. birth rate stood at just 13.7 percent last year, a 43 percent plummet from the 1950s.
  Which, if anything, shows that while adults may be skimping on themselves in this still-rotten economy, they're still shelling out plenty of money for Junior. And when it comes to having fresh diapers on hand, that's a thing we should probably all be thankful for. Photo via.

Wieden ads put Old Spice back in touch with its seafaring roots

Posted on Wed Jun 30 2010

If you've seen the Old Spice ads featuring a swarthy and shirtless ex-football pro Isaiah Mustafa, you've seen the latest hot dude sending the message you can blame Axe for telling not-so-hot dudes back in 2005: Psst, dudes, if your armpits smell good, you'll get some. But enough of that. Look a bit more closely at these spots from Wieden + Kennedy and you'll see something else at work: The crafty return of a device that built Old Spice into one of the first dude brands of the 20th century: the ocean.

Continue reading "Wieden ads put Old Spice back in touch with its seafaring roots" »

AirTran's Harry Potter plane, the next best thing to a broomstick

Posted on Thu Jun 17 2010


You don't need to be a Harry Potter fan to wish you could take a ride in a cushy compartment on the Hogwarts Express rather than, say, a commuter train or the family Chevrolet. So, perhaps the folks at AirTran are hoping a little magic will rub off and you won't notice you're stuck in coach. The discount carrier has just unveiled a Boeing 717 that it's christened the Harry Potter 1. The twin-engine aircraft features a magic wand emblazoned across the lower flank of the fuselage, pointing to the highly recognizable lightning lettering from the Potter films—only this time there's marketing alchemy at work. The plane touts the June 18 opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is the latest tract of scream- and profit-generating acreage at Orlando's Universal theme park complex. No doubt Potterites in full withdrawal (the final book in the series exited J.K. Rowling's computer back in 2007) will be waving their own magic wands—or at least their credit cards—to get into the new park. But will they be clamoring for a ride on the Harry Potter 1? Well, maybe if they serve butterbeer.

—Posted by Robert Klara

Cameron International: the silent brand in the BP oil-spill debacle

Posted on Mon Jun 14 2010


Thanks to the (still out-of-control) oil spill sullying the Gulf of Mexico, a Google search under "BP" now yields 200 million hits. BP has, of course, become synonymous with this real-life ecological horror movie, and it's anyone's guess what the ultimate damage to its brand will be. (That's assuming it survives. Analyst Matt Simmons told the CNBC show Fast Money on June 8 that BP "is not going to last as a company more than a matter of months.") But while BP takes an hourly battering over the spill, one brand with nearly as much involvement in the incident has hardly been mentioned.
  That would be Cameron International, the Houston-based company that made the blowout preventer (BOP) that was supposed to seal the drill pipe on the ocean floor with hydraulically powered "shear rams" in the event of an emergency. News reports following the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig said that workers had tried to activate the BOP manually before abandoning the drilling rig, but to no avail. BOPs are very complicated, very expensive pieces of machinery (we found one for sale online for $7.3 million—used.) While a hearing last month determined that the BOP for the Deepwater Horizon had been "modified in unexpected ways" by BP prior to the accident, that might not clear Cameron of its share of responsibility for the disaster. (Cameron is named as a defendant in the shareholder suit filed on May 7 against BP, alleging in part that the BOP "failed to function properly.")
  Amid all this, Cameron corporate has been utterly silent on the issue. The press-release section of its Web site contains only three releases for all of 2010—one dealing with the award of a contract from Chevron and two announcing (you guessed it) quarterly earnings.

—Posted by Robert Klara

The Art of Shaving simplifying stores for confused, hairy patrons

Posted on Fri Jun 11 2010


Some brands do a great job turning a mundane task into a status-driven event. Take The Art of Shaving, the clubby, 39-store empire devoted to the elimination of whiskers. Ancient cave paintings tell us that man has been removing hair from his face since roughly 100,000 B.C., but only since 1996 has AoS given us guys a way to do it that includes Sandalwood Essential Oil Shaving Cream (5 oz., $22) or a Bocote Wood straight-edge razor with a cabon-steel blade imported from France ($225, in case you were wondering).
  But the trouble with turning a simple thing like shaving into an elaborate ritual is that most dudes get confused and freak out when presented with a store full of colognes, oils and emollients. This month, AoS has settled on a way to simplify all that with a new display format that breaks shaving into four easy steps—Prepare, Lather Up, Shave and Moisturize. The store's core products are clustered according to step number on both a marble-topped table just inside the entrance and within a shelf-lined cabinet sunk into the wall.
  We should mention that this eminently sensible setup is not new to retail. In fact, it reminds us of the way you should order a cheesesteak in Philly if you want to avoid getting yelled at. (1. How many hoagies you want? 2. Specify kind of cheese. 3. With onions or without? 4. Pay and get the hell off the line.) The bottom line, brand fans, is: Keep things simple. It's easier to make money that way.

—Posted by Robert Klara



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