In new study, brands say getting social means getting screwed

Posted on Tue Jun 8 2010


Pretty much any brand will tell you that social media is marketing's Next Big Thing—the perfect way to snare the attention of younger shoppers, at least for the half-second such a feat is possible. But a new study out of the U.K. reveals that some—nay, most—companies harbor serious reservations about the social Web, even as they look for new ways to tap its marketing potential.
  Sixty-nine percent of companies participating in a new study by London-based intellectual-property firm Marks & Clerk said they regard social media "as the next big threat to protecting their brands online." In particular, 73 percent said that being online today risks exposing a brand to "unfair or inaccurate treatment"—largely via the unrestricted commentary that dominates online—and 81 percent said the Web fosters a culture in which a brand's intellectual property is likely to be exploited. What's more, respondents directed most of their ire at Google (shock of shocks!). Some 58 percent said the search engine had grown too powerful. And asked whether, in the name of healthy competition, it was fair to be able to buy a rival's trademarked brand name as a keyword in online search marketing, nearly 63 percent answered "not at all." In fact, more than 70 percent were uncomfortable with the business ethics of Google's AdWords.
  So, maybe brands should just abandon the Web altogether, huh? Not likely. Asked whether they felt the Web is becoming a "primary driver" of business growth today, a little over 94 percent said yes.

—Posted by Robert Klara

A perfect choice if you need a new swing set and/or guest house

Posted on Thu Jun 3 2010


Remember when a swing set was a dinky, galvanized metal contraption that your friend's dad bought at Montgomery Ward? Assuming you didn't come down with tetanus from cutting yourself on the rusty screws, the sets were good enough for we progeny of the pre-Web age. But these days, if you honestly expect to lure your kid away from the Xbox 360 and into the wilds of the back yard, you'd better have something that suits the times. Enter the Patriot Wood Gym Set from Backyard Discovery. Hewn from Pacific-Northwest cedar timbers, this swing-set extraordinaire (starter condo is more like it) comes with a picnic table, sandbox, climbing wall, spiral sliding board, triplex clubhouse (complete with sun porch and ornamental end gables) and—oh yeah!—swings. Only $1,299 plus an afternoon with your ratchet set, and Junior can enjoy the great outdoors in style. The only thing missing is a jack in the clubhouse for high-speed Web access.

—Posted by Robert Klara

New marketing spin for washing machines: They're cat-friendly!

Posted on Fri May 28 2010


Straight from Sydney, Australia (and via Reuters, no less), came Thursday's news that a kitten named Kimba had miraculously survived an entire cold-wash cycle in the washing machine of one Rogers family. The cat, a gray Persian, had apparently fallen asleep on a load of dirty clothes, then got shut in the machine for a wash (one that included a high-speed spin cycle) by her unwitting owner, Brendon Rogers, who told the wire service that his cat looked "like a drowned rat" when she emerged.
  The report didn't happen to mention the brand of the washing machine, but it got us thinking: Could this be an untapped branding opportunity? A quick peek at YouTube reveals a stunning variety of home videos that involve cats and washing machines—including "Alex in Washer," "Wishy Washy Cat" and the unforgettable "Chuck's Spin Cycle." Most of the models appear to be Whirlpools and Maytags, but a few boutique brands make appearances, too. (Granted, many of these videos simply show felines pawing at the glass while the clothes curl on the other side, but a good many show them inside the machines.)
  So, how about it, Kenmore or LG? We can see the tagline now: "Tough on dirt. Easy on kitties."

—Posted by Robert Klara

How's that drink, anyway? Oh, it's stunning. Seriously stunning.

Posted on Fri May 21 2010


You know the problem: You're out at the bar with friends, and you just can't figure out what you want to drink. Vodka? Rum? Or maybe you're in a tequila mood. Well, thanks to the inventive folks at Stunna, now you don't have to waste any time choosing which happy way to take to inebriety. The appropriately named Stunna liqueur will stun you, all right: It's a blend of rum, tequila, vodka and (as though these three weren't enough) "other fine spirits," according to the company. There's a bit of melon and citrus tossed in, perhaps to distract your taste buds from the fact that you're sipping four drinks in one glass. Stunna's debut press release suggests serving this stuff over ice—"no need to mix with anything else." Yeah, no kidding. It also bills the drink as an aphrodisiac. Hmm. Seems to us that Stunna would be far more likely to lead to another kind of bedroom talk: "Honey, I have a headache."

—Posted by Robert Klara

Absinthe, the green fairy, quietly making a comeback in America

Posted on Mon May 10 2010


Few but aficionados have noticed it, but a long-banned spirit has slowly been creeping back onto liquor-store shelves over the past three years. It's been called the "green muse," the "green fairy" and the "green devil," but it's best known by its Christian name: absinthe. For the uninitiated, this 132-proof spirit with the haunting green hue was the drink of choice for Van Gogh, Degas, Verlaine and countless other artists and literati of Belle Epoque Paris. The reason they sipped it became the reason it was banned in the U.S. starting in 1915: Its key ingredient is Thujone, a toxic oil derived from wormwood—and reportedly the cause of bursts of creativity, unbridled euphoria, hallucinations and the occasional murderous rampage. (Van Gogh was said to be drinking absinthe when he sliced his ear off.)
  In 2007, the Swiss distiller Kubler hired attorney Robert Lehrman to press the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to lift its ban on the import of absinthe. Lehrman succeeded—to a point. Absinthe is now legal again in the U.S., provided the distillers filter the Thujone out. Of course, to purists, that's like selling Playboy without the centerfold. Still, marketers have seized the day, and there are at least seven U.S.-based distillers now making their own brands of absinthe (among them Leopold Bros., Walton Waters and Pacifique), which can run up to $80 a bottle. Too rich for you, mon ami? There's also a Web-based outfit called Green Devil that sells a kit for $54.95 so you can make a batch at home. You might want to tuck your ears under you hat first, just to be on the safe side.

—Posted by Robert Klara

Happy birthday, Captain Morgan. Please don't hurt me. Please?

Posted on Thu May 6 2010


The folks as liquor giant Diageo were no dummies for picking Captain Morgan as a mascot for their best-selling rum brand. The swarthy buccaneer with his boot resting on a keg of rum looks like a pretty raucous dude, and his maniacal smile and rakish wardrobe have launched a flotilla of successful marketing campaigns. The current one celebrates the good captain's birthday, for example. "After a lifetime of creating legendary times and being the life of the party," says the press release, "fun-loving celebration icon Captain Morgan is ready to commemorate the most special of occasions on May 15—his 375-ish birthday."
  Life of the party? Legendary times? Aw hell, it's just marketing, right? Because a quick peek into the history books reveals that the real Captain Morgan's idea of a good time went a wee bit past your typical frat bash. A Welsh privateer on the payroll of the British, Henry Morgan was in fact the terror of the Caribbean. Rape and murder were customary tactics in his efforts to rout the Spanish from the islands. Morgan used captured priests and nuns as human shields as he scaled the walls of Porto Bello in 1668. When Morgan sacked the city of Maracaibo, his men amused themselves by torturing the locals until they paid up. The real Captain Morgan was, in the words of Jamaican historian Clinton Black, a man "who could drink and whore with the best of them in many a den of murder."
  OK, so he's not exactly a choir boy. At the very least, we can be assured that Henry Morgan would never have settled for cheap rum. Cheers, dude.

—Posted by Robert Klara

Painter looks at American fast food in the Middle East landscape

Posted on Fri Apr 30 2010


It's been 48 years since Andy Warhol demonstrated that an ordinary American food brand could be worth thinking about other than when you're hungry. Now, Eric Robert Parnes is up to much the same thing, albeit with work that's a bit more provocative than a can of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup.
  In his paintings, Parnes, a 31-year-old Iranian American artist, portrays brands like McDonald's, KFC and Starbucks open for business in Middle Eastern countries. Each of his canvases features a group of women in chadors, their backs turned, regarding the fast-food outlets with thoughts that are anyone's guess. Parnes—whose far-ranging work also includes gold-leafed artillery helmets and nudes equipped with gas masks—says his intent was not to be critical of American fast food's presence in Muslim countries but to "explore … the dynamics involving Western and Eastern cultures." And for better or worse, Western "culture" these days usually means fast food.
  "Aside from the American flag, people identify the United States via our products' visual logos," Parnes tells BrandFreak. "These brands have become visual representations that elicit an immediate response of recognition. It really doesn't even matter that Domino's or Starbucks is spelled out in another language. All we need is a logo to recognize the company."
  So, good news for all you fast-food marketers out there: Your logo works just as well in Riyadh as it does in Rochester.

—Posted by Robert Klara


Why are humans so immensely, insanely obsessed with Legos?

Posted on Thu Apr 22 2010


Chances are you've seen the lengths to which the human race is capable of going with a Lego brick. If not, here's a primer. Among the objects people have managed to render in Lego are the Titanic, Mount Rushmore, the Airbus A380, the Cathedral of Berlin and the entire city of Venice. Legoland, Calif., features an Obama inauguration in Lego, complete with a crowd in front of the Capitol. A vineyard in Surrey, England, contains an entire Lego house—human scale. And a 98-foot, 4-inch tower of Lego raised in Munich last year took the Guinness record for tallest freestanding Lego structure.
  Lots of people love their brands, but you just don't see people devoting their lives to stuff like mouthwash or potato chips the way people do with Lego. Now, thanks to Jonathan Bender, we know what makes them tick. Bender's just-released book, Lego: A Love Story, probes deep into the arcana of plastic bricks—also known as the domain of AFOL (the Adult Fans of Lego)—to explain why some people give over their basements to their Lego creations and what it takes to be chosen as a Master Builder for the Lego company (hint: you'd better know how to make more than a ski hut).
  Bender's first-person account makes for good reading, but what bears mentioning in all this is that a planet's worth of Lego nuts have furnished the Lego Corporation—which started out in Denmark as a wooden-toy maker in 1934—with the best marketing on earth: the kind customers do for you, for free.

—Posted by Robert Klara

Green movement finds perfect mode of transport: wooden bikes

Posted on Tue Apr 20 2010


It was bound to happen sooner or later. Now that the green movement has woven its organic fibers into most everything we eat, wear and scrub the floor with, isn't it about time we can ride it down the street, too? A fledgling company in Amherst, Mass., called Sylvan Cycles has quietly begun to sell what has to be the greenest of all green things: bicycles made out of wood. But they're hardly the rickety contraptions that might come to mind. Few consumers realize that wood has a higher tensile strength-to-weight ratio than steel. "In terms of pure material properties, wood is actually a high-performance material," says Sylvan co-founder and inventor John Fabel. "It works well structurally, and it has a tremendous ride quality." It's also sustainably sourced—and it shur is purty. Now, instead of stashing your ugly-ass bike in the garage, you can leave it in the living room to show off when company comes over. Only thing is, the price might make you bark. Complete bikes start at $4,900. At least you won't need gas money.

—Posted by Robert Klara

They sure make nice jewelry from old aluminum cans these days

Posted on Wed Apr 14 2010


Years ago, downtown hipster boutiques in Manhattan started selling handbags made from old license plates—cute, but a real bitch if it starts a run in one's chiffon dress. Recycled fashion recently got another boost with the 2009 debut of a Vassar, Mich.-based family outfit called Cangles, which, as the same suggests, makes bangle bracelets out of aluminum cans. (Finally, the perfect solution for those who hate the taste of Mountain Dew: Now you can wear the stuff without having to drink it.) Cangles is one of those green startups that's not only found a plausible use for some of the 36 billion cans that end up in landfills each year but also gives a hefty percent of its profits to Michigan-area charities. It's also given us a new marketing wrinkle: eco co-branding. The jewelry company got together with the Save the Earth Foundation, which now features its Earth logo as a charm on the recycled bracelets. (A portion of sales will go to benefit the foundation's educational and research efforts.) So, ladies, now you don't have to feel as guilty about buying jewelry, because it's not shopping, it's recycling.

—Posted by Robert Klara



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