Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sweet Wheat.

For a lot of beer fans, Bell's Brewery is known for big, robust brews — especially stouts. But wheat beers, including their incredibly popular Oberon, have always been a key part of their portfolio. That led Larry Bell and his brewing team to create a new Wheat Series — Wheat Two Ale, Wheat Four Ale, Wheat Six Ale, Wheat Eight Ale and Wheat Love.

Why the numbers? Pick up a six-pack to find out. Why Love? Well, who doesn't want to come home after a day of work and say they spent the day making Love? At least once, anyway.

Bell's will be releasing the series in order over the next few months. So far, we've sampled — yes, it's difficult work — Wheat Two. Our beer snob summary: damn good.

Kent Elliott, our Creative Director here at Black Lab Five, designed the labels and the six-packs. In our humble opinion, they're pretty sweet.


Monday, October 24, 2005

Writer declares reading a waste of time.

Bradley Johnson, a writer for Advertising Age, takes Ad Age research that actually demonstrates the growth of blog readership and turns it into, "What Blogs Cost American Business." The subhead screams that in 2005, American workers will "waste" 551,000 work years reading blogs.

Bradley is terribly quick to make the leap from reading blogs to wasting time on blogs, isn't he? Within the apparently quite confining space of Brad's brain, was the possibility that business people who read blogs might actually learn something valuable not considered? Instead of wasting time, business people might be sharing ideas. Networking to find new suppliers. My word, Brad, they might even take away a piece of information more valuable than the standard Ad Age story — the one that tells me something fascinating like, "WPP Purchases Sports Marketing Unit."

Research maven Brad seems to think that if it's a blog, it must be a waste of time. Perhaps he believes that business people reading about Brad and Angelina's latest escapades in US WEEKLY are making good use of their time because it's on actual paper.

Do you think a lumbering trade journal like Advertising Age, covering a stumbling industry like advertising, just might have a vested interest in smearing blogs as time-wasters? I happen to think 90% of Brad's printed publication is a waste of time, especially the page that features photos of Grey Goose-swilling ad executives getting loaded at another industry cocktail hour.

That wastes my time.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Brother goes all Big Brother.

Last week, I wrote about my frustrations with the performance of my Brother printer and the lack of customer service provided by the Brother Corporation. In my last missive to the company, I informed them that I would be writing about my issues on this blog.

Over the weekend, I received a response from Customer Service. It's remarkable.

Brother Customer:

If you decide to publicize any comments regarding Brother, I must caution you to take care that any and all statements you make are accurate and verifiable.

We contract an outside agency to monitor the Internet for all information posted regarding Brother. This information is periodically reviewed by our legal department. Brother pursues legal action and seeks punitive damages against any individuals that post information which is either untrue or slanderous to Brother's reputation.

We say this not as a threat, but only to advise you that you consider your actions carefully.

It is our goal at Brother to provide our customers with the highest quality products, backed by outstanding service. We do appreciate your business and will assist you with anything that is within our power, as a valuable consumer.


Printer Customer Service
Brother International Corporation

Thanks to Ad Pulp for the pickup.

Lower the drinking age. Raise the driving age.

I enjoy beer and wine. In fact, I enjoy them on a regular basis and believe that, in moderation, they are beverages that are healthy for both the body and spirit.

That's why articles like this one on college beer drinking games in The New York Times make me cringe. Inevitably, they spark a knee-jerk reaction to alcohol that does little to address the heart of the problem. It troubles me that each time the media takes a stab at this story, there is no mention of the impact of keeping the age for legal consumption of alcohol at 21. I guess that's why I've decided to take it on here.

The laws enacted to restrict alcohol consumption only serve to promote the abuse of it. The 21-year-old drinking age that swept through state after state during the Reagan years — with threats to withhold federal highway money speeding it along — lies at the heart of the binge drinking that plagues college campuses. Instead of learning how to consume alcohol in a social setting such as, gasp, a bar, it pushes it into dorm rooms, student apartments and, even worse, cars. There, underage drinkers consume excessively in order to fuel an entire evening. A healthy pace is not part of the equation.

Of course, no matter where our society sets the legal drinking age, young people enjoying their first taste of independence will be prone to overindulgence. But contrast the drinking on American college campuses with those of Western Europe. There, alcohol consumption is considered a part of a life well-lived. Young people become accustomed to the serving of wine or beer with meals. They learn that a bar is not merely a place to get drunk but a spot to share opinions in a convivial atmosphere.

I went to school in a Canadian province where the legal drinking age is 18. Yes, there were many instances when I was not an especially prudent consumer of my favorite malted beverage. At the same time, I attended functions with faculty where alcohol was served — and did not get hammered. I enjoyed an afternoon beer in the campus bar while debating some issue that seemed dreadfullly important at the time — this was college, of course — without getting hammered. The simple fact is that when alcohol isn't demonized, the thirst for it is not quite so strong.

Realizing that no legislator is going to stand up and propose raising the driving age, I offer a compromise worthy of Clay and Calhoun. Lower the drinking age and, at the same time, raise the driving age. Here in Michigan, there are youngsters just shy of their fifteenth birthday who have a beginner's driving permit. To me, a 14-year-old in the driver's seat of Dad's Escalade is a far scarier proposition than a 20-year-old on a bar stool with a margarita.

Let's take the cars away from kids and give the right to enjoy a beer in a licensed, regulated establishment back to the adults. And rather than try to legislate good behavior, let's pursue education that promotes responsiblity.

A legal driving age of 18 instead of 16. A legal drinking age of 18 instead of 21.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I've also worked on advertising for brewers for years. Before anyone jumps to any conclusions about motivation, let me say that I believe my thoughts on this subject would actually reduce mass consumption and promote balanced, responsible drinking.)


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Is your demographic showing?

Over at Adfreak, Deanna Zammit does a nice job of taking apart Marian Salzman's new take on the metrosexual, a man Ms. Salzman now deems the ubersexual.

I've always thought that pop culture prognosticators are charlatans. Easy work, isn't it? When Salzman writes that the new male ubersexual is "less Ryan Seacrest and more Bill Clinton" or "less David Beckham and more Bono" it makes me wonder how any marketer can take this kind of work seriously.

Quick. Think of one yourself. I've got one: less Enrique Iglesias, more Edward Norton. There, I think that works.

Fact is, people don't fit so easily into these demographic boxes, especially the ones constructed by people in Manhattan who pass their days in a sleek office, musing on their own genius and asking their assistant to fetch them another half-caf latte. For example, Toyota has determinedly marketed their Scion line to young hipsters and yet finds the vehicles are extremely popular with grandparents.

Another problem with all this blather occurs when people create communications that's obvious in its attempt to reach a particular audience. I've noticed — probably only because they're spending untold millions — a campaign advertising the fact that American Express Financial Advisors is now Ameriprise Financial Advisors. They aim right at the demographic some account planner told them was the sweet spot — boomers. The spots are filled with plenty of rah-rah about the incredible unique qualities of this generation and feature interesting footage from the sixties and early seventies. Nothing like hippies and muttonchop sideburns to make a commercial appealing. The problem is that not every boomer was protesting outside the dean's office in the sixties or digging the wife-swapping parties of the suburban seventies. Look at a college photo from the sixties — you'll notice a lot of people who look like they just stepped off the Happy Days set. Whenever communications say, "Hey, you there, that guy who's just like this guy!" you're more likely to alienate or confuse your audience than appeal to them. Brands need to have their own personalities, defined on their own terms and not by an audience they're trying to reach.

I fear for the creatives who will have work demolished because, "'s not the way an ubersexual would talk." And I do love what Deanna says about this group — they're just men who aren't slobs. I'm sure Salzman et al have a thick white paper that arrives at the same point.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Non sequitur marketing.

I've talked in the past about the steady stream of mail sent to me by American Express, the bulk of it being part of an effort to sell me a card I already have in my wallet. I've long believed that while direct mail can be effective, vast quantities of it are a complete waste of time and money. Far greater quantities than direct marketing pros are ever willing to admit.

But blog spam is even more ridiculous. You'll notice this blog receives regular missives in the COMMENTS section that say things like the following:

"Hi i am totally blown away with the blogs people have created its so much fun to read alot of good info and you have also one of the best blogs !! Have some time check my link of online credit card."

Every one of these faux comments seems to come straight from the rich English literary tradition of Bangalore. Does it continue simply because it can be put in front of gazillions of people without any production costs, making it worthwhile even if they find only one schmo stupid enough to click through? Awful, awful stuff.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Brother printers suck.

When we opened our doors, we bought a basic black and white printer for standard office documents. We chose a Brother HL-1440, recommended to us by the guy at Office Max.

It has been the worst piece of technology I have ever owned. Basically, I need one basic thing from this kind of printer — when I press Command-P, it prints the document. I don't really care about speed — I just need productivity.

No matter what we tried, this printer spat out pages only when the spirit moved it. Despite our best efforts, made in a spirit of cooperation with the HL-1440, this cantankerous little bastard would not cede control.

For a first-hand look at a hopeless approach to handling customer complaints, visit the Brother web site. For starters, it's an absolute ordeal to simply voice one's dissatisfaction. Then, after the perfunctory computer-generated email that says my complaint has been received, a vacuum. Weeks pass with zero correspondence.

Do not buy a Brother printer, especially the Brother HL-1440. Because the Brother HL-1440 sucks. Furthermore, Brother sucks.

How was your weekend?

Damn, that Mother Nature is in a foul mood these days. Not content with her Asian tsunami and Hurrican Katrina handiwork, she sprinkles an earthquake in Pakistan into her heady mix of global misery. Another death toll so large that it's difficult to comprehend. More billions for aid money in the ledger. Further suspicion that nobody has any idea how to figure out the ledger anymore.

Meanwhile, economic news here in Michigan continues to be alarming. Delphi, the G.M. auto parts spinoff, declared bankruptcy. I realized a few weeks ago that this was probably inevitable, but it still astounds me when a company of Delphi's size and scope can go Chapter 11. It's fairly clear their health care and pension packages make it impossible to operate in our new economy. At the same time, the changes in bankruptcy laws that go into effect on October 17th pushed them into this decision. (The new bankruptcy legislation, promoted by the banking and credit card industry, is having the unintended consequence of pushing people and companies to declare bankruptcy preeemptively. Lump this legislation into Washington's prevailing attitude for the past few years: if it feels righteous, do it.)

I think it's about time for some serious can-do on the part of government and business in this country. The powers-that-be in Washington should declare a one week moratorium on all debate about Supreme Court justices, school prayer, euthanasia, broadcast decency standards and gay marriage. In lieu of all that hot air, invite the nation's business leaders to Congress and do absolutely nothing except work together to formulate realistic plans on two issues: health care and energy. No television theater either — there's a dearth of patience for heard-it-before testimony and senators jockeying to make 2006 campaign speeches. Book some conference rooms and start ordering pizza. Get something done.

Monday, October 03, 2005

And, at that moment, Michael realized the man's head was really wedged up in there.

Michael Betz from Image Stream here in Kalamazoo emailed me this gem.

Here it is:

Earlier this week, I was flying home from a project in NYC. I was seated next to the CEO of one of the big agencies that buy and sell television time. We were talking about the impact that technology has had on television advertising, TiVo in particular. I said I was sure he didn’t like features like TiVo’s undocumented ‘thirty-second skip.’

His response? "They have to get rid of that."

Jon Stewart. Not the guy to book for comic relief.

Jon Stewart helped bring Advertising Week to a deservedly ignominous close by skewering the magazine industry. (Amazingly, the Magazine Publishers of America paid him $100,000 to for the privilege. Thank you, sir, may I have another?) Leading magazine editors had their egos deflated when Stewart told them, "I didn't say you don't have your place. It's at the children's table."

Regular readers will know that I'm a Stewart fan. While I think his dissection of the print media is dead-on when it comes to mainstream magazines, I think he misses another side of the story.

The magazine publishing world — insular, flush with hubris and Manolos — is ripe for criticism and change. Stewart's main point was about relevance. And indeed, mass print has become largely irrelevant. Newsweeklies are largely ignored except by those with bad teeth and prone to regular dental office visits. The celebrity-driven magazines produce nice numbers but the advertising in them seems to be pure wallpaper — people rush past it to get to the really good stuff about Brad and Jenn or how fat Britney is following the birth of her child.

So what does Stewart ignore? The fact that print with a tightly focused editorial slant remains relevant — perhaps even increasingly relevant. A reader of Dwell magazine is completely immersed in the magazine — the advertising is a part of the experience. Esquire appeals to a certain kind of man who's beyond the world of Maxim and the glut of lad books. A magazine like Outside draws readers in because it's a trusted guide — appropriate advertising is actually valued by the reader.

There's not a place for all kinds of mass brands in these publications, but they are a powerful medium for products and services that complement the editorial mission of the magazine.

Kudos to Stewart for going mano-a-mano with the breakfast-at-the-Royalton crowd. He's absolutely right that the mass print media can't shape an agenda or, like television, shape and influence the opinions of the American public. But I'm quite sure there are publications he enjoys that are light years removed from the ones he trashed.