Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Being Run Over by Product Placement

Product placement has been around for years. For the most part, it’s in the background, and not too obnoxious. Lately, however, the placement can be insanely over-the-top.

That was the case with a recent “New Girl” episode - one of my favorite shows, partly because I adore Zooey Deschanel. I’ve liked her in movies (500 Days of Summer, Failure to Launch, Gigantic, heck, even Elf), as well as her partnership with Matt Ward in the music duo She & Him. She did a knock-out version of the Star Spangled Banner before Game 3 of this year’s World Series - if you missed it, here it is on You Tube: SIngs National Anthem. Not to mention she’s just incredibly cute. And yes, my wife understands this little obsession. Ask her about Johnny Depp sometime...

In the aforementioned episode, Jess (Zooey) agrees to fill in for her model friend who is too hung over to work a car show for Ford. Jess gets made up and is handed a pair of five-inch heels to prance around in. Of course, being the “earth-girl” type, she struggles with the height of the heels and uses the Ford Focus to help regain her balance several times. While she is hanging on - or falling on - the car, a Ford executive is issuing talking points about it. The dialog on the show during the scene sounds like it was pretty much scripted by the ad guys at Ford.

In the blog “Brands and Film”, written by someone named Erik Renko who is head of consumer analytics at Mercator, the biggest retail company in Slovenia (Slovenia?), we get the Ford side of the coin: “The whole sequence lasted around three minutes and the Ford guy presented several characteristics of 2013 Ford Fusion. The integration in New Girl showed us that Ford has a sense of humor. It looked like they let the writers of New Girl be creative. All in all: a great placement for Ford.” Wow, Ford let the writers be creative. How nice of them.

Closer to home, Michael Kamins, associate professor of marketing at USC’s Marshall School of Business, has this to say about egregious product placement: “I would bet (younger viewers) are not as cynical toward advertising. So maybe they're more accepting on the face of it because it's not an ad. . . . It's truly product placement, but it's a sneaky way of seducing the audience.”

Well, not that sneaky in this case. But he has a point about the audience. Here’s a quote from a “New Girl” viewer I found in the blogosphere: “That wasn't that bad for product placement, since it actually made sense given the situation.” Really? Are we that brain dead?

Yes, these deals help pay the bills for scripted television and seem to have become a necessary evil in an era when many viewers record shows on digital video recorders and then skip the commercials, or, if not recording shows, at least hitting the mute button during the commercials when watching live. But good product placement should be subtle and not hit the audience over the head with a hammer the way they did in “New Girl”. After being bludgeoned by Ford for three minutes, I was ready to say goodnight to Zooey and the rest of the cast for good.

I’ve got an idea. Instead of intruding on our entertainment sensibilities with dumb, boring and obnoxious product placement, why not make COMMERCIALS that people will watch? Or is that too hard? I’m a big Apple user, but if I were in the market for a smart phone today, I’d be considering a Samsung Galaxy S3 based solely on advertising. This is a great spot: 

OK, well, in spite of this little rant I’m still watching “New Girl”. And I’m also still muting MOST commercials. But if the medium is indeed the message, then we are plunging headlong down a very slippery slope with what seems like great abandon and enthusiasm. And that doesn’t bode well for the future of scripted shows. Maybe Ford needs its own reality show. Coming soon, Survivor: Ford, with nothing but product placement! A ratings hit? Or would we finally turn off the channel for good? I’m guessing ratings hit...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Stuff That Fills Up Our Lives

I was at Kaiser recently for a check-up, reading a Sunset magazine while I waited to see a doctor. I got caught up in a story about a family in Marin who run a “zero waste” household.  No trash. Almost no recycling either, since, as the wife and mother of the family, Béa Johnson, pointed out “So much recycling really goes to waste, so you need to try to reduce that too.”  Clothes are from the used shops, cleaning products are made at home. Minimal (VERY minimal) stuff in a zero waste house. What I want to know is, what about the wine bottles? Or the cheese doodle bags? And what about teenage kids who rebel at the thought of another thrift store visit for Senior year wardrobe choices?

On the opposite side of the scale - a few days later I read in the SF Chronicle (the actual printed newspaper which is still delivered every morning to my driveway, though no longer by some kid on a bike) that hundreds of hoarders and health care providers from around the world will attend the Bay Area's hoarding and cluttering conference, an annual event put on by the San Francisco Mental Health Association.

Hoarding, I read, is marked by an overwhelming desire to collect items and an inability to discard things that may seem useless, to such a point that the collections cause stress and start impacting a person's health, career or relationships. Roughly 2 percent to 6 percent of Americans have a hoarding disorder. LOTS of stuff kicking around these households.

As a designer, I think I fall sort of in the middle of these two extremes. If anything, I’m leaning a little bit more towards the hoarder side. But I’m a collector, NOT a hoarder (though my wife may beg to differ). For the last several years it’s been posters and baseball memorabilia. And maybe a little western stuff for good measure.

The baseball collecting is pretty easy to figure out. I’m a guy. It’s a sport. I’m just a little more obsessive about it than some. But what I find fascinating is the art of the poster. A poster’s main job is to sell something - a product, a brand, a service, an event. And great artists have been drawn to the medium for over a hundred years. I’ve owned poster art by Toulouse Lautrec and Cheret, 60’s posters from the Fillmore Ballroom by Wes Wilson, modern rock posters by Jason Munn, posters by David Lance Goines, posters selling all kinds of stuff, advertising all kinds of events. I don’t have room to put them all on the wall, but that doesn’t matter to me. I’m just drawn to them, because the best of them do two things exceedingly well: they work great on their own as art, and they work equally well as a promotional piece.

This collecting stuff certainly goes against the grain of a “zero waster”.  Regarding photos, art, keepsakes, Ms. Johnson has this outlook: Memories get stale when photos are displayed for too long. To keep the past fresh, albums come out yearly around the holidays. As for art, she hasn’t found anything she likes and can afford, although Béa sees the “living wall” in her living room (plants growing up the wall) as an ever-changing art piece. (I kind of see her wall as a pain in the ass to keep alive, but to each their own.)

However, I think the “less stuff is better” movement has a tough row to hoe. Here’s a lament from a zero-waste blogger in Utah about the difficulty of changing the American fascination with stuff:

“Though there are regional pockets where prevailing trends advocate and facilitate reduced consumption, the American Dream of a big house, a big car and lots of beautiful things is still culturally relevant across much of the country.”

I’m hoping that beautiful things are ALWAYS culturally relevant. And I would quote some hoarder blog for balance, but I don’t think there are any hoarder blogs - they can’t find their computers because of all the stuff stacked on top of them.

So what do we make of the stuff we purchase or don’t purchase? When did it become politically incorrect to desire stuff - even beautiful stuff? And are zero wasters as goofy as hoarders? I mean, if you really want zero waste, how about living in the woods naked and beating fish senseless with a rock for dinner?

Personally, I think owning things you love is good for the soul. I think stuff takes on meaning and emotion for the owner. And that stuff can be anything from a humongous flat screen TV you share with your buddies every Sunday in the Fall to a carved wooden animal you brought back from Oaxaca that always reminds you of the great lunch place you found. Do you need them? Maybe not literally, but they help give life a narrative and a common language to share with others.

So here’s to all of us finding our way. Some people make avoiding stuff a political statement and find their way simply. Some people hoard everything they’ve ever owned in their life. And then there’s most of us, who every once in awhile have to haul the detritus of our lives off to the dump. Which is also good for the soul.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Designing the Identity for a Gastropub

Identity for a new Gastropub? Sure. And just what is a Gastropub? According to British food writer Diana Henry in The Gastropub Cookbook, it’s a “a place in which you can have a drink, but which also serves great food.” Which is exactly the concept behind Handles Gastropub in Pleasanton, California. WAG was approached by a trusted marketing professional and a 16-year WAG client, Dave Ritterbush, to design identity for a new restaurant he was opening with a few partners in downtown Pleasanton in the old historic Pleasanton Hotel. They wanted a Northern California feel to their identity, along with touting the great food and drink. After the creative brief was digested, we went online to see what other gastropubs in the area, the State, the Country and ‘across the pond’ had going on. I’ve got to say, for something I’d never heard of before, there was a ton to research.
Our first presentation leaned on the NorCal and pub references, even down to the fonts–some of which were pulled from the London Underground signage for that authentic “pub” feel. We liked our initial designs and so did our clients, but with every discussion there arises a new consideration... After seeing the “Northern California look” on paper (or computer screen), our clients decided the design focused too much on a “place” which might be a future problem if the concept was extended outside of the Northern California. What did attract them was the tap handle shown on one of the comps. But it needed refinement. And we refined the hell out of it. While in retrospect we may have gone a bit too far, the ‘red’ concept did give us the logotype which endured to the finish.
Add in some more refining, and it quietly began to dawn on us what we had in hand was an extraordinarily handsome beer label...
OK, no problem. Keep it for later. There could be beer bottled sometime in the future at Handles.

So what was still working hard for us? Well, the original tap handle idea, the logotype and the color scheme. The barley references were dropped because Handles was also going to be serving several wines (not to mention cocktails). Everyone agreed that the color palette was spot on so we went back and worked out several black-and-white concepts for discussion. Happily, two of the designs grabbed everyone immediately.
Dave liked the poster feel of the large handle, but was really taken with the horizontal version in particular. When Dave asked our opinion (and we were totally with him on the logomark), I told him he had “a kick-ass logo” that he was going to love. He agreed. Of course, there were a few changes to the final. We wanted to make the logotype unique, so we extended some of the horizontal lines (lowering it in the “H” and “E”). And that was about it–the Handles logo was complete. Or so we thought. Dave really really really liked another logomark and didn’t want to walk away from it.  Being the exceptional marketing person that he is, Dave knew that any brand could have secondary logos and most do, thus a secondary mark, Handles on Main, was launched. This secondary mark was so well received that it was used on glassware, coasters, t-shirts, hats, and some signage. In fact, when you visit Handles, this is the logomark that will greet you inside. That is, unless Dave or one of his partners Brian Hampton, Brent Schwager, or Chris Hampton, greet you personally as Handles is sure to be a neighborhood favorite very soon.

All in all, a very satisfying project for WAG. Time for a drink and a bite of food. At Handles, of course.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Last Saturday, June 18th, the first ever nationwide fundraiser benefitting the Young Faces of ALS was held in 14 cities across the country.  All over the US, people of all ages were playing the classic tailgate game, cornhole.  Not only was everyone having a great time, they were getting the ALS Therapy Development Institute (TDI) one step closer to finding a cure, or at least an effective treatment, for ALS.

As mentioned in a previous post (, WAG became involved with ALS TDI and the Young Faces of ALS campaign over a year ago when I started working here.  The volunteer spirit must be contagious, as everyone here at WAG has contributed their skills in someway to help raise awareness and money for this disease.  As soon as it was determined that the national fundraiser would be a cornhole tournament, WAG set to work designing logos, posters, flyers, e-mailers, banners, etc.

Planning this event was no small task.  I worked with my friend’s family to put on the local event in San Francisco, as well as working with the people at ALS TDI to figure out the logistics of the event on a national scale.  The San Francisco tournament was held at the amazing Great Meadow at Fort Mason.  We took a gamble with June weather in the city, but we were so lucky that it paid off.

The event in San Francisco was nothing short of amazing.  About 150 two-person teams played in the tournament, and at least 100 spectators spent the day at Fort Mason enjoying the competition, beer, music, food and raffle.  The Aidells sausages were hot off the BBQ, bags of PopChips were being opened left and right, Gordon Beirsch beer was flowing, and DJ Leethalmix kept the energy high.  What is most amazing…all of these things were donated.  Companies recognized a good cause and gave willingly of what they had that we could use.  Seeing all the people that showed up to work as volunteers was another amazing sight.  Some people found our event on Volunteer Match, others were just random sign-ups, and then there was Simply Hired that brought 15+ volunteers as part of their volunteer day program.  Everyone was hustling to make the event run smoothly, and did so with a smile…all day.

If a day comes where my faith in humanity needs to be restored, I will think back to June 18th, 2011.  It was great to see all the people that love and support my friend there, but greater than that was seeing all the people there that don’t know my friend from a hole in the wall.  People that saw a poster hanging in a bar, an ad on Facebook, or through word of mouth and decided to devote their Saturday to playing cornhole for a cause.  The highlight of my day, was meeting a group of men who came after seeing the WAG designed poster hanging in the window of a dive bar on Polk St.  I specifically remember hanging that poster too, and thinking that this particular bar just was not our demographic, but what the heck.  One of these men saw the poster and recognized ALS as the same disease that had killed his friend’s mom two years ago.  Not only did he round up his friends, but he brought TEN TEAMS, and wants to get his company involved with the Young Faces of ALS!  He promised to bring 50 teams next year.   Just when I felt that maybe all the hitting of the pavement we did with posters and flyers may not have paid off, it did so ten-fold.

Across the country, we met and then exceeded our $100,000 fundraising goal.  But maybe even more importantly, we brought awareness of ALS to thousands; and unlike money, that is something that can’t run out. 

Immediately after the event, I went home and thought of the improvements I would want to make for next year: #1- MAKE IT BIGGER!  Next year, not only do I believe that all of this years participants will come back to challenge the 70+ year old Mr. Sagali and his son for the San Francisco title, but I’m confident that the spirit of fundraising (and simply a good time) will spread to those around them- just as I am grateful that it did here at WAG.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Meandering Thoughts on Plastic Wrap

I use plastic wrap for my sandwich that I take to work for lunch. You’d think after all these years that the manufacturers would have figured out how to dispense this product without having it become hopelessly stuck together on its roll in the box. Much less get it to tear evenly once you’ve managed to get it unrolled. So I started to wonder: Just how long HAVE they had to get this under control?

I searched online and read that Saran polyvinylidene chloride or Saran resins and films have been wrapping products for more than 50 years. Saran works by polymerizing vinylide chloride with monomers such as acrylic esters and unsaturated carboxyl groups, forming long chains of vinylide chloride–this copolymerization produces a film with molecules bound so tightly together that very little gas or water can get through.

Got all that? I started to fade a bit at “copolymerization”. I was an art major in college, and the only science classes I took were under duress. In a high school science class I once answered an involved test question about the differences between plant and animal life with the smart-ass answer of “One has a root, the other a foot”. That answer got a shocked look and a stifled laugh from the girl sitting next to me, and my teacher was only mildly amused.

As often seems to happen, the discovery of plastic wrap came about inadvertently. In 1933, Ralph Wiley, a college student who cleaned glassware in a Dow Chemical lab, accidentally discovered polyvinylidene chloride–only because he couldn’t wash it out of the beakers he was trying to scrub clean.

Dow researchers managed to make Ralph's discovery into a greasy, dark green film, which Dow trade named "Saran". Why “Saran”? According to someone on the web, “The Turkish word 'sarmak' mean 'to wrap'. 'Saran' is the present participle of 'sarmak'. In other words, saran = wrapping in Turkish.” Someone at Dow was a Turkish scholar? Another explanation for the name is that Wiley's two daughters were named Sara and Ann. Hence the polymer he created was named "Saran." Take your pick.

However the name came about, the product was only a middling success initially. The military sprayed Saran on fighter planes to guard against salty sea spray, and carmakers used it on upholstery to protect the seats against the elements (and the mishaps of small children). Dow continued to refine Saran, eliminating its original green hue, and ridding it of its offensive odor. Hey, it’s always been hard to market products with offensive odor. Even in the name of progress in the “go-go” post World War II era, when an optimistic America believed that science could solve any problem, deal with any issue.

Dow finally got their Saran film out to the consumer in the form of Saran Wrap, the first cling wrap designed first for commercial use (1949) and then into households in 1953. Over the years, it’s been discovered that the plasticizers in PVC can migrate to some foods such as cheese, fatty fish and even meat. It's caused enough concern that several countries around the world have banned it. Today, most plastic wrap for home use no longer contains PVC’s; instead they are made of low density polyethylene (LDPE). It doesn’t cling quite as well, but it’s probably better for your leftovers.

I visited the Saran Wrap site and learned that I am not alone in my mishaps with plastic wrap. Here are a couple of gripes consumers have posted:

“What can I do to prevent losing the end of my Saran Plastic Wrap and keep it from tearing when I unroll it?”

“My Saran Wrap keeps popping out of the box when I use it. How can I prevent this?”

Not to mention the numerous complaints about the wrap not sticking, or sticking too much–generally to itself. On the roll. Seems there are a lot of people who are plastic wrap challenged.

 I discovered there’ are several alternative uses for plastic wrap aside from the intended. To wit: prevent ice crystals from forming on ice cream in the freezer. Completely wrap the ice cream container in plastic wrap before returning it to the freezer. Oh, right. And while you’re at it, wrap the dog so you don’t have to vacuum up pet hair ever again...

I did like this one: Clean the top of your refrigerator for the last time! Clean it, then cover it with overlapping layers of plastic wrap. When it gets dirty again, merely pull off the wrap and put down a new layer. For those of you that think it would be tacky and ugly to cover the top of your refrigerator in plastic wrap, I’ve got to ask you–how often do you look up there? It’s already tacky and ugly.

So now I know more about plastic wrap than I will ever need to know in my lifetime. And though I have been told that with knowledge comes power, I know that in my daily battle with the wrap, the wrap shall triumph more than I. And probably draw blood, too, just to show it can.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Jules Verne's Birthday, Oh What a Journey!

Today is February 8, 2011 and it is the 183rd Birthday of Jules Verne! Yippee, who's Jules Verne?

Jules Verne is the mastermind author of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and may very well have been the first creative writer of exploration! Jules was able to take us Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (28,272 miles!),* Around the World in 80 Days (24,901 miles!) and on a Journey to the Center of the Earth (3,959 miles) ­taking us a total of 57,132 creative miles in three books!!

In review of the mileage, I became puzzled . How can you go 28,000+ miles under the ocean, but to get to the center of the earth it¹s only about 4,000 miles? It was a question that needed Google research! In my research, I found LOTS and LOTS of creative material centered around "Twenty Thousand Leagues", but hard as I looked, I couldn't find an explanation for Jules' math. However, I did find a Saturday Night Live skit that ponders this very same question:

But really, who cares if Jules was accurate? It was 1869 when he wrote the book! Jules took readers to places they had never even ventured to think about, let alone imagine themselves going! He used creativity to capture his audience by introducing visuals of historic proportions! By bringing to life the Nautilus, Captain Nemo's famous Œfish-like' submarine, he introduced another world to his readers and brought them the experience of walking on the bottom of the ocean (which could have never happened the way Jules described it. They would have been crushed by the water pressure but that¹s
another story!)

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea has been made into a radio show, a play, a TV show, several movies and a ride at Disney World. There is even a soundtrack with the macho man himself, Kirk Douglas, singing! Google has continued this legacy by honoring the creative genius with a special Google logo today in honor of his 183rd birthday. The logo is super fun, and definitely creative as it's interactive. If you move the handle to the left of the logo, you can peek through the submarine's portholes to take a look at the ocean, and then move the level around to look at different ocean

Jules pushed the creative limit by writing a book that not only fascinated people of the nineteenth century, but is still fascinating people today as evidenced by Google's logo! Here's to creativity, all the way around, which makes for a better, more interesting world.

*A "league" is an ancient unit derived from the Gauls and introduced into England by the Normans. It was estimated by the Romans to be equal to 1,500 paces‹a pace, or passus, in Roman measure being nearly 5 feet.

Friday, January 14, 2011

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Preserve!!

The Preserve toothbrush isn’t anything special in itself.  It’s got a nice shape and the bristles are soft enough nylon, some good colors too (dark blue!) but there are so many other reasons to love about my Preserve Toothbrush.

A toothbrush, you may ask?  How can you love your toothbrush?  Well, let me state the ways.

There are many reasons why I love it but lets start with their ‘green’ sustainable packaging!!  The Preserve Toothbrush packaging that sits on-shelf at my Whole Foods is the exact packaging that, following my 3-month use, I utilize as a ‘mailer’ to send back the toothbrush to Preserve.  BACK?  Did she say, “BACK?”  Yes, I said back because the packaging that you purchase your toothbrush in is the same package that you use to return the brush to Preserve for recycling! 

Isn’t that dynamic?  Preserve Toothbrush is not only sustainable in that they are made from 100% recycled yogurt cups, they may very well be the only product that is returned for recycling via US MAIL - how cool is that?  They are leveraging the energy expended already by the US Mail, an organization that comes to each of our homes daily, to reduce the environmental impact of transportation retrieving their product for recycling!

See the 'BUSINESS REPLY LABEL'?  no postage necessary!! 

Lets recap the main reasons I love Preserve:
1.     Love that they actually recycle toothbrushes!!  They are the only toothbrushes on the market that’s recyclable!
2.     Love the ‘on-shelf/return mailer’ package!
3.     Love the use of recycled Yogurt cups!
4.     Love their utilization of transportation that’s already in use- our own US Postal service!
5.     Love that they actually use the recycled toothbrushes for park benches!

Now the minor reasons why I love Preserve:
1.     Prefer their on-shelf package to a toothbrush that has a ‘carrying case’! 
2.     I still love my Sonic-Care toothbrush too but I need to use a ‘manual’ brush to rinse anyway so Preserve is perfect for the rinse cycle!

And, one other great product benefit I forgot to mention:  My dog Taiga LOVES them and uses them to brush his teeth.  I give Taiga my toothbrush after 3 months use and he loves it!  He brushes his teeth, and then leaves the Preserve on the floor ready for me to recycle!  I’m certain the Preserve people wonder why my toothbrushes are so ‘chewed up’!!  Want to see The Taig in action with my Preserve?

Thank you Preserve.  Thanks for the great product, thanks for thinking about the environment and a big thanks from Taiga!  Ruff, ruff!!  I hope more consumer product companies follow your lead!