Sunday, August 22, 2010

Orbital Awesomeness

BzzAgent (a word-of-mouth marketing company) recently sent me a few samples of Orbit gum to test out and share with my friends, on occasion of the brand’s recent packaging redesign. The first goal was unnecessary, as I am an Orbit addict, probably to the tune of half a pack a day (eaten a half-piece at a time…does anyone else do that?) The second goal I attempted to meet by leaving three packs and a note (Want a piece of gum?) in my office breakroom. Unfortunately, my failure to emphasize the word piece resulted in the packs being snatched up whole, leaving me feeling like a poor product ambassador. So I’m writing a blog post to assuage my guilt, and show my BzzAgent handlers that I didn’t fail the mission entirely.

According to Orbit’s website, the company currently offers 12 flavors of its flagship brand (not including the more recent Orbit White and Orbit Mist extensions). Wikipedia, however, lists 27 flavors, which is more in-line with my observations at the store. Orbit has come to dominate the gum aisle, with new flavors coming out at surprisingly rapid pace (Watermelon Spring and Pina Colada being new of the newer ones). I used to experiment with these interesting new flavors, but quickly realized that I am a gum purist. I like three flavors: Spearmint, Sweetmint, and Peppermint. That’s it. Not even Wintermint, whose flavor always tastes strangely clinical to me (from any brand, not just Orbit). I buy those three flavors in 3-packs from Target, where the cost is as cheap as 50 cents per individual pack (when on sale).

As someone who fancies himself a bit of a design geek, I do like the new packaging. The plastic wrapper is no longer clear, but is printed with all the nutrition facts and miscellaneous information that used to be on the box. The cardboard wrapper itself is now printed with a spiffy spot varnish in 36 different simple, graphic designs. Branding is minimal, with only the full logo on the front and the “O” on the reverse.
The only drawback to this redesign is that it’s only evident to someone who has purchased and opened the package, not a customer browsing at the store.

All in all, a nice refresh for a product I probably use more than any other. Check it out!
Keep reading...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Charities

Each year I make a contribution to several charities. Usually my donation is self-initiated, but sometimes I'm persuaded by a particularly good fundraising pitch. Recently, I received mail from two such charities: the World Wildlife Fund and OxFam America. Although both pamphlets were thin and measured 8.5x11 inches, their effect on my opinion of the charity couldn't have been more different.

The World Wildlife Fund piece was a four-color calendar, with pictures of animals for each month. It was--dare I say....junk mail. In the past, I've also received address labels, cards, and a even a nickel from the WWF. Besides the address labels--of which I have used perhaps four--and the nickel, all of these promotional items went straight into the recycling bin. I simply have no need for kitchy greeting cards or a cheap wall calendar. Perhaps some people like them, but I hazard to guess that those who use greeting cards and wall calendars prefer to pick out their own.

For me, all of this stuff was worthless, and moreover it annoyed me that my money was paying for it. I intended my donation to help preserve habitat, rescue endangered animals, and push for eco-friendly legislation. Of course charities must continue to raise money, but sending out silly gifts is not the way to win me over.

OxFam, on the other hand, impressed me very much with their mailing. It was a well-designed report (printed on handsome matte paper) on what the organization had done to help the relief effort in Haiti. With articles, diagrams, and interviews, this timely brochure was proof of their commitment to fighting poverty. OxFam sends things like this only periodically, and they are not overt requests for money like the WWF mailing. Instead, they subtly demonstrate the value of my contribution, making me feel good about my donation and likely to give again.

As a marketing person, I appreciate this soft sell. Making an emotional connection with your audience, whether it be a potential customer or philanthropist, is much more effective than surprising them with useless stationery-store items. I hope that more organizations follow the lead of OxFam, rather than wasting precious resources on questionable promotional materials that often end up in the garbage, thereby negating the very principles they stand for.

For more info on which charities are ranked highest for efficient use of resources, visit Charity Navigator. (Surprisingly, OxFam is rated only marginally higher than the WWF).
Keep reading...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hoping to Beta Test New Facebook Answers Product

Yesterday I applied to be a beta tester for Facebook's new project, which allows members to answer questions submitted by others (similar to the start-up Quora, founded by early Facebook employee Adam D'Angelo). To apply, I had to submit a "provocative" question and answer. Here was what I wrote:

Is there a place for religion in modern society?

In short, yes.

Religion has proven itself remarkably resilient, rivaling only our capacity for speech in terms of its presence and impact on human civilization. And although I myself am not a religious person, I confidently believe this deep-rooted institution will continue to evolve with society, playing whatever role is necessary to survive.

In his book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" to describe certain inherited human beliefs and behaviors, such as religion. [In the contemporary vernacular, a meme is a popular (viral) concept or catchphrase that spreads via the internet.] Dawkins goes on to compare genes to "memes," saying that as the former influence biological evolution, so too does the latter influence cultural evolution.

As long as there is mystery and misery in the world, people will continue to turn to religion for answers and comfort. Bioethics, artificial intelligence, and other emerging sciences will provide new arenas for the application of moral/religious analysis, and for this reason I foresee the future of religion being long indeed.

For further information, I recommend the following Wikipedia articles:
Keep reading...

Friday, May 28, 2010

WTF Friday

For the first installment of a new feature, I present to you two examples of questionable marketing:

An ad for Pharm House, an Atlanta restaurant that has since shut down. Who would want to eat at a place whose name and logo make it sound like you'll be served Tylenol Tartare and Grilled Lipitor?

This ad appeared in the SF Weekly a couple months ago. At first glance nothing seems particularly odd, but then your eyes find the woman just to the left of the chef and you recoil in horror. She looks 30 years older and 90% less attractive than the other women, plus she's doing something very creepy with both of her hands. How did this creature find its way into an ad for strip clubs? Keep reading...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Banner Bonanza

Several years ago a video of the French news anchor Melissa Theuriau suddenly went viral because of her stunning good looks (and adorable Frenchiness). Now Theuriau's image is being used to advertise several dubious products on the web, including iPads and, most prominently, acai berries. I'm certainly not complaining, having her pretty face all over the web, but I'm perplexed to see such blatant disregard for privacy rights, and I'm surprised Theuriau's lawyers haven't shut these banners down.

I was nearly as shocked to see that Theuriau is married to the crippled dude from Amelie!

And just for fun, here's another terrible banner with horrific photoshopping.

Keep reading...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

DDB Brasil's FedEx ads

While all six of these ads are no doubt very nicely art directed, the concept is getting a bit thin (the campaigns are a year apart). The most recent series (on the right) is even weaker, since it appears FedEx only delivers to destinations on the same line of longitude as the sender. Keep reading...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Spammy Rabbit Hole

The other day I had an idea to create an ad-supported, competitive trivia site that rewarded top players with prizes. Naturally, I googled the idea first.

To my dismay, there were plenty of results. Clearly not an original idea. Curious to see who beat me to it, I clicked on the first site.

Looks pretty phony, with cheapo Web 2.0 design and specious pull quotes at the bottom, right? So I clicked on the next site:

Pretty similar, no? This site lists "" in the footer as the owner. Navigating to, one finds this:

One of those weird domains with a stock photo and some links related to the URL. Odd. So I clicked on the third result in my original search, only to find a third nearly identical site.

This one lists "jv interactive" at the bottom as the copyright holder. JV Interactive's site is equally fishy, with silly stock photos and generic copy.

I couldn't help but feeling as if I'd been led into some sort of spammy rabbit hole. All of these dubious companies and websites, somehow conspiring together to accomplish...something. Keep reading...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Chase, You Win

In the four months I spent away from my Atlanta address, I received in the mail 10 credit card applications from Chase (and, incidentally, none from any other companies). The envelopes contained pre-approved apps for three different cards: Freedom, Sapphire, and Slate. Without even reading the terms of each, I was already partial to Slate and Sapphire due to their creative and evocative names (plus Sapphire is my birth stone).

And since Chase evidently REALLY wants me to sign up for a card, I finally caved in.

Please, Chase, stop wasting paper and trying to singlehandedly prop up the USPS. Learn to use email and social media to target people like me. Thanks.
Keep reading...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Even more bad bus shelter ads!

Another day, another terrible bus shelter poster. And once again, it's the copy that's to blame.

Now we all know Hawaii is heavenly and no one wants to leave. But insinuating to potential customers that where they live sucks? That's just not nice.

I totally get what the line was trying to say, but the writer just did a lazy job of saying it well.

Here are some possible alternatives:

Non-stop to Hawai'i. And back home, if you choose.

Non-stop to Hawai'i.
(And back home, too)

Non-stop to Hawai'i.
And back, but only because we have to.

Keep reading...

Siggi's Skyr is So Good

At the San Francisco Fancy Food Show in January, I had the opportunity to meet Siggi and try his eponymous Icelandic yogurt. It was good. Siggi gave me three coupons for free cups of his yogurt, which I have finally used. Siggi's is mainly sold at upscale grocery stores (like Whole Foods), and each cup costs about three bucks. Expensive, but it's the best store-bought yogurt I've ever had.

It's thick like Greek yogurt but not as tart, and comes in a bunch of creative flavors (like Orange and Ginger or Pomegranate and Passion Fruit). Plus it has a ton of protein and no fat, which is CRAZY! I love this stuff and implore everyone to try it.
Keep reading...

Goosebumps is Hideous (and it's not intentional)

If you were a kid in the mid '90s, you grew up on Goosebumps. R.L. Stine churned them out at a clip of about one per month from 1992-97, and everyone I knew had a shelfful.

And while some book fads from the '90s have faded away (au revoir, Animorphs!), Goosebumps can still be found at Borders, albeit with a different cover design. And therein lies the problem.

Book cover design is an art form, and generally speaking, it's getting better and better. And while it may be that publishers often pay less attention to individual covers for a kids' series (knowing that once kids get hooked, they can pretty much phone the rest of the series in), Goosebumps covers of the 90s were always cool. A simple two-color design with nubby, embossed lettering and a creepy illustration (done by Tim Jacobus). They were simple, but they had a consistent quality to them.

The covers of today are not only cheaper (no embossed lettering), the design is also far worse. Incredibly, it's the same artwork, but the rest of the layout is a hodgepodge of horrible design choices. They've tried to make the slime look more realistic with a Photoshop emboss/drop shadow combination, but it ends up looking extremely amateur and fake. And the type treatment has gotten worse across the board--the thicker type of the author's name is too bold, skewing and drop shadowing "Goosebumps" looks awful, and the tagline now gets lost and looks ugly.

How is it possible that this could happen to such a hugely successful series? I am truly aghast. Somebody, do something. Please. Keep reading...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Neato New Ad Units

Yahoo's been doing some cool stuff with their flagship homepage ad space lately. Both of these examples ran this week, and presumably each brand bought out the space for the whole day. Judging by the products it would appear the audience of this page skews heavily female.

The Crystal Light banner had some neat watery animation, and then expanded to become wallpaper behind the page's main content. At first it seemed a little gaudy and MySpace-like, but it grew on me.

The Lean Cuisine banner also had cool animation, with the vegetables dropping into the basket, followed by the product itself.

It's exciting to see the development of new ad formats. I attended a panel tonight, in fact, about the data-driven future of display. A lot of the stuff went way over my head, but from what I gathered, display is set to become the next big thing. Keep reading...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Alternate Universe Advertising

Saw this ad on MUNI recently, and the casting caught my eye. You'd usually expect to see the Asian woman as the masseuse, and the attractive white couple enjoying their spa day. Here, the female roles are reversed. A sign of San Franciscan relationship trends or just trying to be PC? Keep reading...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More bad bus shelter advertising

I almost feel like starting a new blog all about crappy bus shelter ads because I've posted so many of them. Here's another. I took a close shot so you can better see the coffee in each cup--because they're identical. I compared the bubbles, and it's clear that they just copied that elliptical sliver and photoshopped it into each container. Which is odd, considering the ad claims Taster's Choice is so much better than Starbucks'.

Oh, and I also wonder if they made the Starbucks coffee sleeve look like a cigarette on purpose... Keep reading...

Bloomingdales Merchandises Marvelously

Merchandising is an oft-overlooked outlet of creativity. Most mall stores are content to dress up some mannequins in the current season's styles, but others create innovative, eye-catching displays that make you realize merchandising can be an art form.
As a rock climber, I was particularly impressed by Bloomingdales' presentation of men's athletic wear. I liked having mannequins in action poses, and the crumpled craft paper on the wall was a nice abstraction of a rock face. Additionally--and it's hard to see in the photo--they've hung some of the clothes on branches suspended by bungee cords. Very cool. Keep reading...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Out of Home Advertising FTW

During my recent visit back home in Atlanta, I stopped by Lenox Mall briefly to see what was up at Club Monaco, the only store I shop at these days. I found a nice cardigan there, but what really made my day was seeing some great out-of-home advertising for South Carolina tourism. Their "South Carolina Next Door" campaign has been running for a while on radio and billboards in Georgia, and I'd always thought it was a pretty good idea. These executions however, take a good strategic thought and make it memorable.

At first glance I actually thought it was a real person in the boat, and the people flying the kite also looked creepily realistic. There was also a big beach ball hanging from the ceiling. Altogether, these pieces leave quite an impression, and surely will get some people talking about South Carolina. Kudos to The Bounce Agency, Greenville, SC. Keep reading...

New SF Public Library Site

When I first used the SF Public Library's website in December, I was shocked at the hideous design and ill thought-out user experience. In a city chock-a-block with web designers and programmers, you'd think their government sites would be a cut above. So I was overjoyed last week when the library debuted its new site, below.

It's designed for higher resolution screens, has much better use of color, and the log-in process is no longer buried at the bottom. It's good to know public institutions aren't content with crappy sites. Keep reading...

Condom Coupon Comedy

As most people can attest to, buying condoms is pretty awkward as it is. Rite Aid wants to make it EVEN MORE AWKWARD by forcing you to cut out a COUPON to get a discount. Not sure if someone is really stupid or really smart (since Rite Aid gets to "have a sale" but count on few people actually getting the sale price). Keep reading...

Sunday, February 14, 2010


This is the cover of the current issue of Cosmo. When your magazine has basically the same content every month (SEX! DIET! STYLE!), you've got to be creative with your headlines. Maybe it's just me, but I literally burst out laughing when I saw this on the newsstand. Given that some version of this article leads nearly every issue, it almost makes you wonder if Cosmo is written by men.

This is a screengrab from the UPS tracking of a package I'm expecting. UPS is famous for its logistics, but this sequence of check-ins seems pretty odd. All the way to the west coast then back to Kentucky? Someone please explain how that gets the package to me in San Francisco faster.... Keep reading...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fancy Food Show 2010: Awesome

Over the MLK weekend I attended the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. It may rank among the best 10 days of my life. For five hours I did my best to taste as many products as possible, leading to a bad case of what is apparently called “sample stomach.”

The scale of the show was simply jawdropping (pun intended). Over 250,000 products spread out over 10 football fields of floorspace. Hundreds of hollowed out cheesewheels, thousands of dips, spreads and sauces, and all kinds of foods that defied easy classification (like Black Garlic, which I’ll explain in a moment).

I wandered around in awe, as vendors large and small hawked their wares to potential customers and distributors. Crowds gathered around the expected booths (Colorado beers) as well as trendy newcomers (wine infused soda). Some countries had their own exhibition areas, from the sprawling cheese and pasta displays to Australia’s lone booth of surprisingly tasty breads and dipping spices.

Out of the 100+ foods and drinks I tried, my personal favorites were as follows:

Black Garlic, marketed by a Korean company, was unlike anything I’ve ever had before. After being fermented for a month, the garlic emerges soft and mild, with hardly a hint of the pungent garlic flavor we all know and love. Sold as whole bulbs or as a puree, this unique product is sure to find a niche. Check out their impressively well designed site.

Avocado Oil, sold by Alos Cuisine from my hometown of Atlanta, was also quite good. Although avocados—with their high fat content—clearly have oil to give, I’d never thought of them as an oil source. But avocado oil is pleasantly mellow, and has a higher burn point than most other cooking oils.

Sweet Potato Crackers from Polka Dot Bakeshop, available in four flavors, were the best snack food I tried. I’m a diehard sweet potato lover, and finding one of my favorite vegetables in cracker form was very exciting.

Of all the beverages I tasted, Vignette Wine Country Soda was by far the best. It was a refreshing non-alcoholic carbonated drink, infused with California grape varietals. It made me think of another drink I bought recently at Safeway called First Blush, which is 100% California grape juice, also available mixed with tea.

Other products I enjoyed were the 9-Grain Beer Bread from Wholesome Classics, Ozery Bread’s tasty flat buns (a definite trend despite the dwindling influence of the low-carb diet), and Bestaste’s various frozen Filipino finger foods.
Keep reading...