Tag Archives: Marketing

A story of travel, a T-shirt and beer cheese

Here’s the thing about traveling the world: It’s not so much what you learn about new places but what you learn about home by visiting new places.

When I was working for an international company in the long ago past, it wasn’t the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World I found so interesting (not that I saw any of those), but it was the little things:

  • I thought hot tea wasn’t complete without a squirt of lemon until I worked in a little office outside of London where milk was part of the office supply budget. Tea with milk! How novel! And delicious! I also discovered prawn sandwiches there. Imagine an egg salad sandwich made with salad shrimp instead of eggs. Whodathunkit?!
  • Never was I more grateful for the mostly crime-free town where I lived in Minnesota than when I traveled in South Africa, where I learned women never leave their purses in the passenger’s seat for fear of a “smash-and-grab” marauder who might break a car window at a stop light and make off with the bag.
  • I learned a new appreciation for port-a-potties when I was forced to use a public toilet in Toyko that was simply an open trench in the floor. With no toilet paper. Prior to that experience, a poop-smeared pair of ladies’ underwear in the latrine on Grandma’s Marathon route was the most horrifying thing I’d seen in a loo. To be fair, Japanese produce counters are 100 times better arranged and maintained than the lettuce bins in any American supermarket.
  • Speaking of vegetables … for all the times I’ve resented having to eat yet another salad, I really missed them when I visited Mexico City, where foreigners avoid eating fresh produce that might be rinsed in local water known to cause Montezuma’s Revenge. Oh, the joy of finding dependably fresh, clean water in one’s boring old kitchen tap at home!
  • I had no idea what kind of messages I was transmitting when reading in public until I read Bill Clinton’s memoir My Life on a trip in Munich during George W. Bush’s second term. Let’s just say Germans weren’t Bush’s biggest fans, and they draw a lot of conclusions about America’s residents by the politics here.

Recently, since we’ve acquired a fifth-wheel camper, my travels have been limited to domestic locations, but one learns a lot about home even when one is only a few states displaced.

Like, did you know Clark County in Kentucky is the birthplace of beer cheese?

My Wisconsin friends are expressing great skepticism right now. Wisconsin, of course, is known for two things: It has the highest number per capita bars and cheese shops. Beer plus cheese equals beer cheese, right?

Wrong.

Beer cheese is a cheese spread found most commonly in Kentucky, so saith Wikipedia. And Clark County is capitalizing on this little known fact by promoting the Beer Cheese Trail, a network of eight restaurants in and around Winchester, Ky., that boast “the most authentic” beer cheese.

Visitors who visit at least five participating restaurants and imbibe the delicious beer cheese can earn a free T-shirt. Free?! Sign me up! It’s a brilliant marketing campaign I imagine might work for lots of touristy locales (wild rice soup in Minnesota? statues of Lincoln in Illinois?). I collected four of the five required stamps in my official Beer Cheese Trail Cheese Log (get it? cheese log?), and I was eagerly anticipating acquiring the addition to my wardrobe. At the fifth restaurant, I couldn’t find my log so I collected the stamp on a new log, thinking I could simply combine my logs.

But then I couldn’t find my hard-won log with four stamps. I looked everywhere. Never was I so disappointed (that’s how great “free” is to a frugal native Minnesotan).

Not to worry. This story has a happy ending. My Beloved ripped the console of his pickup truck apart when a styrofoam glass of pop sprung a big leak, and lo and behold, my log which had disappeared into a crevice was revealed. I sent proof of my completed mission to the tourism bureau, and my free T-shirt arrived yesterday.

I would flip this image for you, except I think the mirror selfie is sort of hokey, not unlike getting acquiring T-shirt on a trip. The last line on the T-shirt? "Clark County, Ky.: The Birthplace of Beer Cheese." Just in case you doubted.

I would flip this image for you, except I think the mirror selfie is sort of hokey, not unlike acquiring T-shirt on a trip. The last line on the T-shirt? “Clark County, Ky.: The Birthplace of Beer Cheese.” Just in case you doubted.

And the beer cheese? Was it the most amazing stuff ever created for carrot and celery sticks?

Sure, it was good. Better than ranch dressing. But then, I’ve never visited Hidden Valley Ranch.

Ode to swanky paper products

There was a time in my life when the only paper product I could afford was toilet paper, known in swankier circles as “bathroom tissue.”

I blew my nose in the toilet paper (fresh sheets — do I need to mention that?) and instead of paper towels, I used a dish rag to wipe up spills. Napkins? Ha! Either they were washable or swiped from a fast food joint.

On the meager salary of a rookie newspaper reporter, I just couldn’t justify the cost of superfluous paper products that would only be tossed away like so much garbage.

When I finally could afford Kleenex — the brand-name ones! — well, I felt like I had arrived. And to splurge on Kleenex with lotion? Well, talk about swanky. I was mingling in Kardashian circles now!

Today was toilet paper stock-up day (I now have the comfort of buying toilet paper in Costco-size packs with enough rolls to outfit a small motel), and my Beloved tossed a pack in our cart. At check-out, I inspected his choice which was delightfully labeled with “TOUGH when wet!”

“Oh, I didn’t know bathroom tissue manufacturers were promoting themselves so boldly,” I thought. “‘Absorbent,’ yes, but ‘tough’? Really? We need ‘tough’? Who gets violently exuberant with their toilet paper?”

Further inspection revealed the bathroom tissue wasn’t bathroom tissue at all; Viva is predictably promoting its swanky paper towels as “tough.”

No, no, no. This won’t do. I’m proud to use paper products for their appropriately marketed purposes. We’ll have none of this cross-pollination.

And besides, the roll never would have fit on the toilet paper holder anyway.

We’ll be right back after this message …

And now, a word from our sponsor (as a struggling writer with next to no income right now, I mean this quite literally).

(Listen,  I know you tune into Minnesota Transplant for pictures of my dog, stories of my exploits in the 1983 Pace Arrow and strange recipes, but into every bit of entertainment, a little advertising must fall.)

* * *

Many of you know me as Beloved, Da hubby or Monica Lee’s partner.

I am not a writer, and I promise that you won’t be seeing my writing on much of anything unless you own a company and need insurance coverage. I have a special request! While my beloved, a.k.a. Monica, has a beautiful way of expressing herself and all of you find her writings interesting (I do, too!), I am asking you a favor.

Someone out here in the blog world/friend circle/interested party universe has a connection. What I am asking of you is to take 5 minutes out of your busy day, sit back in your chair and think about who you know. It may be a friend of a friend, your aunt, your minister’s wife or a coworker’s husband. This person knows someone in the media — newspaper, radio or television — that might put “The Percussionist Wife,” Monica Lee’s book in the right hands of that media contact.

All of you know that Monica’s got something special here, and most of you know she’s not one to boast about much of anything. Modesty and warmth are two of her most admirable qualities. Her book is gaining traction, sales are brisk, interviews have started, but it has a resume similar to a new college graduate finding a job: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know to get the job.

I know that one or many of you know someone — that person could help — and I would personally be deeply in debt to you for your help. Monica won’t ask, and I basically forced her to post this on her blog, but I felt compelled to ask. If I could figure out how to do it behind her back I would.

It’s exciting times for her. As I watched her write this book, bring it to the book it is, it was like watching her come to full-term and wash away a painful piece of her past. Her excitement now comes from it becoming popular, the uplifting comments for a job well done and the joy it brings knowing that she’s help someone to review their own life decision and make a change for the better if necessary. I get great joy in being a part of her growth and “the book” has been a big part of our lives during the last couple of years.

Will you please take the moment I ask for and send her a name,an email address or phone number of the person you know.

Gratefully requested, Tyler, a.k.a. Beloved

What’s new is old again

“More grains. Less you.”

That’s what Peanut Butter Multi Grain Cheerios brags about on the front.

The back features the silhouette of a woman wearing a Cheerios dress. Ooh, 16 grams of whole grains and only 110 calories. And get this: When one reads the fine print, one discovers a serving contains 45% of the recommended daily amount of iron. Typically, women of child-bearing age are low on iron so this flavor of Cheerios scores another point with women. Adult women.

Clearly, Peanut Butter Cheerios isn’t going for the kid crowd.

I picked up a box tonight and ate cereal for dinner (don’t ask). But I didn’t buy it and eat it because it’s so good for me or because the marketing was so effective or because there would be less me in the end. I bought it for a man.

Cap’n Crunch.

When I first heard about the new Peanut Butter Cheerios, I thought it might be my chance to enjoy something like Cap’n Crunch’s Peanut Butter Crunch.

That’s good stuff, man (or should I say m’n?), but it makes my mouth bleed.

If you eat any amount of Cap’n Crunch, you know what I mean. And I hate, hate, hate anything that resembles wet bread so I eat my breakfast (or dinner) cereal as fast as I can shovel it in so it’s still crunchy when I hit the last bite. When you eat Cap’n Crunch that way, there’s not enough milk to soften all the crunchy rough edges and they scrape my tender mouth.

Well?

It ain’t Cap’n Crunch.

I gave my Beloved a bite without telling him what it was, and he guessed it was chocolate flavor.

Ouch. He’s right, it doesn’t taste very peanut buttery. More grains. More or less artificial flavor (Cheerios touts “real peanut butter” so maybe whatever glow-in-the-dark stuff the Cap’n is using is like MSG — it works but you hate yourself in the morning).

On the plus side, it isn’t so sickening that I can eat more than one bowl. With half-and-half.

More grains. And more me.

Ah, technology making our lives easier (when it’s not making it harder)

Turn it off, turn it back on.

It’s always the first advice from any computer guru. “Have you turned it off and turned it back on yet?”

I’ve learned. Always turn it off and turn it back on before you even complain.

So last night I’m trying desperately to create a Facebook fan page for my husband’s fabulous insurance business. It looked great but I couldn’t make it public. It just would not show up to anyone but me, the administrator.

I pounded my head against the keyboard for three hours. By the time I could no longer keep my eyes open, I wanted to punch a hole through the wall.

No insights came to me overnight, so I finally resorted to the Great IT Solution. I permanently deleted the page and started over.

And guess what? There it is.

My Beloved is licensed in many states in the U.S. including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Texas. Interested in a better deal on your home, auto or business insurance? Want to do business with someone who actually answers his own phone? Check out his new website here.

Want to see the magically disappearing and reappearing Facebook page? Do a search for “Axcess Insurance Services Group, Inc.” on Facebook and “like” it. Not only can you admire my fine social media marketing work, you’ll be privy to all my stellar and informative blog posts about insurance.

Enjoy. I’m just thrilled you can see it at all.

Yawn, chocolate is plain vanilla in February

Is anyone else sick of chocolate recipes yet?

Apparently, chocolate is the only thing to push in February because it’s, you know, Valentine’s Day in February:

  • Practically every library I’ve visited in the past four weeks is pushing their “History of Chocolate” or “Chocolate Tasting Class” in February because it’s, you know, Valentine’s Day.
  • The cover of Food Network Magazine is plastered in chocolate. Today’s Food section in the Chicago Tribune had not one, but two recipes for chocolate mousse because, you know, you serve your loved ones chocolate on Valentine’s Day.
  • A passel of emails that have invaded my In Box in recent days have touted chocolate cocktails, chocolate tea, champagne chocolate truffles, chocolate at the movies and chocolate for dessert at a nearby vegetarian restaurant. Why? Because Valentine’s Day, you know, isn’t complete without chocolate.

Marketers lacking the creativity gene sell back to school in September, monsters and vampires in October, gratitude in November, “the holidays” (used to be Christmas) in December, losing weight resolutions in January and chocolate in February. Set your calendar to their predictability.

Frankly, most of us should embrace a sale on gym memberships year-round, not just January. Chocolate (and chocolate sales) are delicious any time of year, not only when we’re dropping hints for our main squeezes.

I know, secretly, it’s not the marketers who aren’t creative. The ones who aren’t creative are a lot higher on the ladder, and too often they’re looking for the safe bet. Especially if it helps them maintain or beat last year’s sales, month over month.

I wish Madison Avenue’s monthly themes were a little more broad: Maybe perseverance in January, warmth in February, freshness in March, etc. Happy Freshness Day, anyone?

So we are left with chocolate, chocolate everywhere this time of year because chocolate says love like nothing else, I guess. No one is willing to promote a cup of sweet cream ice cream with almonds, peanut butter and Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup mix-ins. That’s what I had for dessert tonight at Cold Stone Creamery. No emails. No ads. No sale prices. But it hit the creative mark for a February craving.

I loved it.

New packaging sticks in my craw

My favorite flavored drink has a new package (top). The former packaging is on the bottom.

In the words of Paul Simon, I ask Maxwell House, “Now who do … who do you think you’re fooling?”

The marketers at the “good to the last drop” company are wringing every last bit of spin out of the latest packaging change to the International Café line.

I love the Café Francais flavor more than I ought to, and I’ve been buying it for years. A hot cup of that concoction mixed into milk is my decadent little mid-afternoon or evening treat.

International Cafe beverages — formerly General Foods International Coffee until chai tea and vanilla creme were added to the line — have always been packaged in distinct steel tins.

Until recently.

The last, um, container I purchased came with a “New Look, Same Great Taste!” message. The steel had been replaced with, oh, for the love of all that is good and holy …

Plastic.

Over at the Maxwell House website, consumers are handed this manufactured A under the FAQs tab:

Maxwell House International changed from a steel container to a new and innovative Lock-In-Fresh package that gives you increased convenience while helping reduce the impact on the environment. This new package helps seal in freshness, makes our product easier to scoop out, and is more environmentally friendly as it uses 50% less packaging material than the previous package.

Then those clever marketers addressed the design change:

Maxwell House International changed from our traditional white and red look to our new bold, blue look in order to match the look of the Maxwell House family of coffees and remind consumers of the rich coffee heritage behind the product.

Tell the truth, you robber barons!

No one buys International Cafe beverages for the coffee! Despite the pretty coffee beans in the corner and the bigger, more prominent logo, consumers buy these addictive drinks for the sugar and the nondairy creamer and a whole bunch of other unpronounceable ingredients! If we wanted coffee, we’d buy, well, Maxwell House!

But here’s the real rip-off: That plastic “Lock-In-Fresh” packaging with 50% less material is cheaper to produce! But the price has not changed a whit!

Maxwell House dumped the steel packaging and tells consumers it’s greener while pocketing the profits!

I’m no dummy. I’ve been a marketer with that 8-ball pointed at me. I know the language, the skullduggery, the double-talk when I see it. I’ve used it!

Woe be to me. Now I must have my coffee and eat my words, too.

That’s a stretch, breakfast marketers

When a fresh newspaper is not available, the best breakfast reading comes from your food containers (who needs conversation before 9 a.m.?). Those food marketers come up with some pretty entertaining morning fare.

While I generally prefer whole fruit with breakfast, I had no interest in chopping the pineapple (no printed packaging on the pineapple anyway). So I began my breakfast with a refreshing glass of orange juice with a side of oblique racism.

My Florida’s Natural Premium Orange Juice noted, “The only major brand that’s 100% Florida — never imported.” One panel featured a happy picture of the Black family, Lary with his blue eyes and Julia with her blonde hair,  under the headline: “We can tell you where our orange juice comes from. In fact, we can tell you who it comes from.” Thankfully, the Blacks “know a thing or two about raising a family. And they know plenty about growing oranges.”

For the record, Americans (which presumably includes Floridians) consume more oranges than they can grow, with a tiny percentage of imports coming from (gasp!) Brazil. Those Brazilians, one can assume, don’t know about raising families or oranges, I guess.

Moving on.

How about some milk with my cereal? Let’s be wild and enjoy some Silk Light Vanilla Soy Milk. When it comes to soy milk, I guess the best things about it are what it doesn’t have:  “IT’S FREE! Silk Light Vanilla is free of lactose, dairy, cholesterol, eggs, casein, MSG and worries. You still have to pay for it though.”

Free of worries? Even if you’re lactose-intolerant, do you worry about your milk? I tell you what, if your milk is a source of anxiety, I’ll give you something to really worry about: Try the price of gas, the future of Libya and Charlie Sheen’s sanity.

Let’s pour that milk over Post Selects Great Grains Whole Grain Cereal, which brags, “Rather than grinding our wheat into flour and then stamping it into uniform flakes, Great Grains gently steams, rolls and bakes our whole wheat.”

Having your whole wheat prepared in a gentle manner is important? How does one gently steam anything? Steaming and rolling sound fairly violent to me. Violent handling of food is sometimes preferable: Case in point, mashed potatoes and blackened fish. A little violence makes tasty morning fare when one scrambles and toasts one’s food.

News flash, morning marketers: I’m not drinking orange juice because it comes from caucasian farmers, I’m not drinking soy milk for its anti-anxiety properties and I’m not eating the Great Grains for its gentle treatment of its whole grains.

Back to the newspaper.

Some Superbowl ads didn’t work and even worse, didn’t sell

One of the biggest mistakes otherwise excellent marketers make is to appeal to themselves.

Word to the wise: Know your audience.

Two commercials during the second half of the Superbowl brought this truism home. Did Carmax really intend to appeal to an audience who knows what a full-service gas station does? Or who a milkman is? Do people who buy Carmax products really remember when a milkman delivered milk in glass bottles right to your door? I remember this, but just barely. I was probably 8 when a milkman was taking twice-weekly orders for cottage cheese and eggs at my front door.

And does your average American have any idea what a “boot” is when you’re referring to a car? I doubt it. I visited Great Britain more than a couple of times before I understood the “boot” was a trunk. And then to “cram it in the boot”? Really, does a lot of trunk space sell cars? In America? Horsepower, I get. Lots of drink holders, I understand. But “cram it in the boot”? Somebody somewhere with a lot more globe-trotting under his belt than your average American found this funny. But it isn’t going to sell any cars.

And the car manufacturer (I can’t even tell you who it was) spent a lot of money on that 30 seconds.

Too bad.

When trying to appeal to the masses, do not talk over the masses’ heads. Aim a lot lower (like the wallet, for example, but sure, talking out of your arse works, too). Being clever, or even funny, doesn’t sell products. Do as Wal-mart does: Be simple and direct. The lowest common denominator understands “Save money, live better” but “cram it in the boot”? No way.

Marketing is editing

There are 117,000 results in Google for “Milwaukee Ale House,” the restaurant at which I enjoyed a wedding reception this weekend.

Google came back with 724,000 results for “Brian Duensing,” the left-hander who pitched a complete game for the Twins on Saturday.

Stealing the challenge from this week’s “Project Runway,” “how to make a dress out of party materials” returned 22.6 million results.

Uff-da (360,000).

“Marketing is essentially editing,” wrote Cleveland marketer Jim Sollisch (3,720) in an op/ed piece about the dangers of multi-tasking. I couldn’t agree more! I think I slipped from editing newspapers to marketing scrapbooks so easily because successful marketing means breaking a thing down to its essential elements, its headline. A story about a female motorcycle club is headlined, “I am woman, hear me roar!” A scrapbook page isn’t taupe, it’s a “soft sand, the perfect background for your photographs.” An entrée isn’t dinner, “it’s comfort food that inspires conversation around the dinner table.”

Without editing, we don’t have caring moms who feed their children with quality … um, peanut butter? “Choosy mothers choose Jif” (30,900) is brilliant. We wouldn’t have the classic combination of Coca-Cola and Mean Joe Greene (9,060,000). Nike’s “Just do it” (2.18 million) would have been something mushy and unmemorable like “Running and jumping make you feel better.”

“Part of the problem is we have way too much information,” Sollisch wrote. “Because everything is searchable, we believe everything is worth searching. We pile up the options, and we paralyze ourselves. But the problem is deeper than information overload. The more we multitask, the more we crave options, and the less able we are to choose.”

The array of choices we have affects more than lack of focus (343 million). It’s probably why we Americans overeat (“hmm, should I have the Eggs Benedict or the Salmon Benedict or the Feta Florentine Benedict?”), why we over buy (“buy one, get one free!”) and why we watch too much TV (“I liked an hour of ‘Project Runway’ so I’m sure I’ll like an hour and half even more! Plus, give me “Models of the Runway,’ too!”)

A hundred years ago, the average person was happy with a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, thrilled to have two pair of underwear (one to wear, one to wash) because having more meant actually sewing more yourself, and she didn’t spend that extra hour of leisure time watching someone else’s reality (195 million).

Less is more (951 million).

If these 415 words from Minnesota Transplant (1,370,000) don’t make that point, you probably won’t get it in 100,000 other blogs either.