Les Sapeurs Rise Again!

January 18, 2014

One of the most popular posts I ever wrote on this blog was about Les Sapeurs in the Congo. That post was from more than five years ago and I still get hits on it every week.  Just the other day I was watching TV and saw this ad from Guinness that features the group.

It is just wonderful that these folks are still getting coverage.  Bravo!

Why We Eat What We Eat

December 10, 2013

Some years ago, Eric Schlosser wrote the devastating critique “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal” which took us all inside the often hideous manufacturing processes of the American food industry. Last night, I listened to the first part (of two) of Jill Eisen’s “Stuffed” which examines exactly why we eat what we eat today.

While Schlosser’s book taught us about the manufacture of food, Eisen examines the political and commercial aspects of marketing food. It is a thorough and disturbing picture of the gathering epidemic of obesity and ill-health in the western world driven by the search for profit. I follow marketing and advertizing with keen interest, but even I was shocked by a number of the revelations she documents.

She examines how cheese stopped being something you simply ate, or used in a sandwich, and became a ubiquitous ingredient (and in turn became the primary source of saturated fat in the North American diet). She explains how the food industry taught us that cooking was boring, difficult, a chore to be avoided, and thus managed to sell us vast amounts of processed and ready-made foods. She looks at how the food industry appropriated the feminist critique to get us to eat fast food.

This is vital self-defence education and is really worth the 50 minutes of listening (don’t get confused by the 30-second commercial for “As It Happens” at the beginning).  Well done CBC Radio!  I’m looking forward to Part 2 next week.

Censorship in Vancouver

December 6, 2013

Billionaire Jim Pattison’s Outdoor Billboard company — which is almost a monopoly in the city — has refused to accept the following poster:

atheistThe ad was an attempt to recruit membership in the Centre for Inquiry Canada. “When we designed the ads, we went out of our way to make them as soft as we could. Our purpose is to find those people out there who think the same way we do but don’t know there’s an organization that will support their views. It’s like any other advertising campaign: we’re looking for people who are interested in our message and our product,” said Pat O’Brien.

This is a disgraceful attempt to enforce political/religious views by Pattison’s company.

Product Improvement Fail!

December 6, 2013

As a diabetic, I never use processed white sugar. When I need a bit of sweetening I use packaged chemicals (which no doubt have their own problems, but …)

At home I use Sugar Twin which used to come in a handy sturdy cardboard box.  Now, it is in a “flexible” plastic bag:

sugar twin

The product “improvement” geniuses have moved from a package that is easy to store and stack, easy to open, and easy to use to one that is none of those things.  Moreover they have gone from a package that can be made from recycled paper to one that cannot.  I bet the price went up too.



Another Ad That Reaches Art

September 19, 2013

As I have mentioned before, some ads are simply genius. This is the latest I have found that meets that level:

Some Ads Are Works of Art

August 4, 2013

This is one of them….

Keep Calm and Carry On

March 13, 2013

The story of how the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster came to public attention.  A nice piece.


November 29, 2011

The TV was on this afternoon. I guess it was one of our time-shift channels because all the ads were for Toronto and Mississauga.  The ad I happened to catch was for a Toronto TV station’s morning show.  The tag line was “Like the morning paper without all that annoying reading.”

What sort of moronic message is that to give to kids, or to anyone for that matter? That reading is a chore? An annoyance?

Jesus God Almighty, it just makes me mad!


Update On The Shelly Sign

August 24, 2011

A little while ago, I reported on the finding of the Shelly Baking Products sign on the side of the old Victoria Drive Grocery that is being converted to a pizza restaurant plus apartments.

The good news is that the new owners have agreed to preserve the sign. The less than good news is that they are reported to be removing it from its place on the lane wall and intend to display it inside the restaurant.  That is a shame for several reasons.

  • First and most importantly, I hope we can all agree that heritage is best left in situ.  The sign inside the building is not the same thing as the sign where it belongs;
  • Second, as local historian Bruce Macdonald has pointed out, the sign doesn’t look very good close up; it is hard to read and has the natural gaps of the boarding on which it was painted.  It needs a certain distance to be properly appreciated. Macdonald has suggested that a high resolution photograph would be a far better alternative for interior use;
  • Third, the sign has already proven a draw to bring folks to the building (as the owner agreed on a recent CBC interview) and moving it inside removes that “tourist” value.

The following sequence of photographs taken by Penny Street of the Grandview Woodlands Heritage group shows the changes to the sign over the last couple of weeks.  The top two images, taken on August 11th and 15th show the sign being revealed. The lower two, taken on August 18th and 23rd show it gradually disappearing once again.

The assumption, now, is that the owners want to put a window into the lane wall and the sign is in the way.  Given their progress on the site, this sign in its original spot is already toast.  That’s a great shame but perhaps we can learn from this to better protect similar artifacts that may be found in the future.

A Sign Of Our (Old) Times

August 16, 2011

The old Victoria Drive Grocery at Victoria and William has been a bit of a wreck for the last twenty years.  The folks who used the letters from the old board to make “Dr. Vigari” added a certain something, but not much.  Now, the owner of the building has decided to develop the property into a pizza restaurant with attached apartments.

During the early part of the development they stripped off the old stucco and, on the lane side of the building they revealed this wonderful old sign.

It is a marvelous example of the old art of painted advertising display. It is also a reminder of a fascinating character — William Curtis Shelly.   He came to Vancouver from Ontario in 1910 and within a dozen years had made a fortune consolidating bakeries to serve all of Western Canada.  In the late 1920s, with a group of partners, he developed the first road up Grouse Mountain and built the original chalet, eventually sinking the then-enormous sum of $800,000 into the project.

I have also learned from Michael Kluckner that Shelly was ” the person who bought the piece of Stanley Park in 1925 from Aunt Sally, the only First Nations person able to prove residency and thus squatter’s rights in the park; Shelly, who was chairman of the Park Board, bought the property from her so that it wouldn’t fall into the hands of an apartment developer. The city eventually reimbursed him the $17,500 of his own money.”

He had indeed a truly fascinating life.

Now, if we can just save this sign somehow …

Reason #204 Not To Use Facebook

May 22, 2011

As a reminder to all those of my readers who still use Facebook — even though it is the corporate-government’s best way of collecting data that is then used against you — there is no free lunch. As you sit there contemplating your wall and checking the status of others, or whatever it is that Facebook users do, apparently for free, the Man is making a sure buck from you.

Digital Buzz has an excellent InfoGraphic segment on The Real Cost of Social Media.  The article is full of interesting data, but I was particularly drawn to the following analysis.  They looked at how much money is spent by a customer who is a Facebook fan and a customer who is not on Facebook; and they all make a bunch more money from you facebookers!

If only one or two retailers were seeing this effect, we could scratch our heads and wonder. But when the entire spectrum of mass marketers make additional profits from people hooked into Facebook, then we can be sure this is both deliberate and avoidable.

Previous reasons not to use Facebook

An Inconvenient Convenience

May 9, 2011

As longtime readers will know, I look forward each summer to the three major cycling road races: the Giro D’Itali, the Tour de France and the Vuelta Espana.  Each of them gives me three weeks of excellent racing between now and September, and they each are perfectly timed for an early riser like me.  TV coverage usally covers the last 90 minutes of each day’s racing starting at 6:30am.  This morning, I got up before six and was comfortably esconced on my sofa with a steaming cup of tea when the broadcast began and I thoroughly enjoyed the first quarter hour or so.

And then it hit me: an ad for a Toronto radio station. It hit me several times over the next hour and annoyed me more and more on each hearing.  The problem?  The whole point of the commercial was to say that their morning commute programme was as full and complete and interesting as the daily newspaper — but without the inconvenience of actually having to read.

Good God!  Are we really selling stuff on the basis that reading is inconvenient?  Come on!  What a terrible, terrible message to send. Radio and advertizing and the listening public deserve better than that.  And yes, you can say that I’m making a mountain out of the molehill of some clever ad copy. But if these kind of things are not picked up and talked about then what they say becomes normalized, acceptable.  And that is not acceptable to me.

The Inverse Proportion of Dirt

October 15, 2010

When I was a kid, I bet I ate a whole field’s worth of dirt as I played.  My mates and I mucked around in the Thames which, in those days, was little better than a sewer; we got colds and upset stomachs and simply ran them off, more as likely in pouring rain.  Sometimes we got real diseases like mumps and measles but they were considered age appropriate and we all knew it would be over in a week or two.  If any of us had suggested we had an allergy to peanut butter, say, then we would have been stuffed with it until we got over it.  We spent our childhoods shaking hands with every germ and bacteria on the ground and in the air and we grew up to be a fairly healthy generation.

These days parents protect their kids from any kind of contamination and we have the sickest kids in history, I bet.  Many parents pride themselves on keeping their home environments as — or more — sterile than hospitals.  And yet their children have allergies to this and contra-indications to that.  They are as clean as they can be and they are sick as dogs.

I believe there is a direct relationship between the health of kids and the amount of dirt they eat.  The more bugs they collect early in life, the better immunities they develop later; and the more sniffles they get as a child the less likely they are to show hypochondriac tendencies as adults.  To put it another way, the less a household pays in cleansing and sanitizing and “protecting” their kids, the less they will need to spend in health care costs later.

This change from healthy dirt to dangerous prophylaxis has occurred within my lifetime.  How did it come about?  Marketing and capitalism, that’s how.

By the 1940s and 1950s, major industrial cleaning companies had developed a whole range of cleaning solutions.  No one really needed them, but the marketers set out to convince parents, mothers especially, that they were doing their children great harm if they did not use their products.  They used fear as the primary motivation — not only fear of sickness in their kids, but more viscerally the fear of appearing to be a bad mother. And they succeeded perhaps beyond their wildest dreams.

And now we are all paying for it, with a generation of children with allergies and neuroses and medical conditions that were almost unknown fifty years ago.  It sure did the Johnson & Johnsons and the Hoovers of the world a lot of good financially, but is this really progress?



The French Really Know …

June 26, 2010

… how to advertise orange juice!

Simply The Best

April 4, 2010

I’ve been an office wallah most of my life and, without doubt or hesitation, I will declare the humble paper-clip to be one of the greatest inventions.  I’ve never been a stapler-kind of guy; the act of stapling always seems so prescriptive, so final.  With a paper-clip, you can always reshuffle the papers as and when you want.

The GEM paper-clip seems so perfect, so inexpensive, that it should have been with us since our cave-living days.  But no.  As this article in Fast Company describes, the GEM paper-clip isn’t that old (the image shown is the earliest known, from 1894) and there were dozens of competitors for its ubiquitous success.

I agree with the article that the success of the GEM design is a perfect example of the marketplace working as it should.

Dare We Hope …

March 30, 2010

… for a fundamental change of attitude in North America?   We could be moving in that direction if we can believe a new survey conducted with consumers by marketers Ogilvy & Mather Chicago in partnership with leading consumer insight company Communispace.

Among the study’s key findings is that “having it all” is an unrealistic goal with 75% of those surveyed saying they would rather get out of the rat race than climb the corporate ladder – and instead, 76% said they would rather spend more time with family than make more money.  Moreover, Americans are showing disenchantment with the pursuit of money with 75% again saying they would trade job security over a job that offered an opportunity for raises.

Graceann Bennett, Managing Partner and Director of Strategic Planning at Ogilvy & Mather Chicago:  “Prioritizing your life based on money is seen as a sure way to be disappointed since the pursuit of money is often reliant on factors outside of consumers’ control.  They have gone down this road before and are saying that they are not necessarily happier or better off as a result” …

According to Manila Austin Ph.D., Communispace’s Director of Research, “Consumers didn’t fully understand the idea of sustainability until they found themselves living unsustainable lives – working too hard, carrying too much debt, and not living or planning for the long term.  Now consumers are re-imagining their lives for a sustainable future for themselves and their families … “We are finding consumers make very interesting trade-offs across seemingly unrelated categories in order to get their lives into balance while still feeling like they are treating themselves to those things that make them feel normal and well taken care of,” explained Ms. Bennett.  “Holding off a few years to buy a new car may enable them to keep their everyday Starbucks indulgence going while someone else may ease up on their ambitions for a promotion to feel safer in their job even if it means less money” …

A shrinking circle of trust in banks, established institutions and even the media   has led 69% of consumers to say that the recession has caused them to rethink their perspective and values with 78% saying that the recession has changed their spending habits for the better.  The local community – “Main Street” — is  now the focus for the majority of those polled.

Oh that this might be true.

Cricket As Post-Modern Consumerism

March 29, 2010

Many people in the Americas believe that cricket is a complex old-fashioned game, probably more suitable to English village greens than modern stadia. That is primarily because the same many people in the Americas are mislead by their media and have no idea that, across the world, cricket is second only to football (soccer) in its popularity. A lot of this has to do with India, where cricket is the national sport, and the television audience is almost four times the size of the US market.

Moreover, cricket has changed with the times, developing new forms that have created additional waves of popularity and television opportunity. Fans can now select from traditional 4- and 5-day matches, matches that take about 8 hours to complete, and matches that are over in three hours. Or they can watch all three; most do. Cricket has found a way to triple its audience.

The most modern of these types of cricket is called 20/20, especially as formatted under the professional Indian Premier League (IPL) which introduced cheerleaders to cricket. The eight franchises in the IPL cost hundreds of millions of dollars.  Players are literally bought and sold on televised auctions before each season and the best cricketers in the world command multi-million dollar contracts for an 8-week gig. This is huge money and the League fetishizes that money, making sure that Bollywood royalty and industrial billionaires are featured visitors to the games.  Matches take about three hours and the crowds at the arenas for the first three seasons were extraordinary even though the TV treats the games as prime time spectacles.

Moreover — and the point of this post — the League flourishes because of the wild generosity of advertizers and the looseness of the IPL rules on what can be placed on a uniform, on a pitch or on equipment. I was reminded of this by a great article on cricinfo by Rahul Bhattacharya.

Watching the IPL is like encountering one of those post-modern narratives that seeks to satirise consumerism. Surely, one thinks, this must be a critique of the contemporary world and [Commissioner] Lalit Modi not its marketing whiz but its artistic seer.

The player outfits look like a collage of flyers. Excluding the team crest, they wear two logos on the front, two on the “non-leading arm”, two on the “leading arm”, and a big one at the back. The trousers sport a logo on each leg. The helmets and caps have one at the rear and another on the side. The umpires are similarly draped, though they haven’t such a variety.

The beautiful baize of the field is defaced by anywhere between five and eight giant logos, one or two on the straights, and the remaining square. Inside the advertising boundary boards, the boundary triangles carry branding. So do the sightscreens; so do the stumps. The fibreglass of the dugouts is tattooed in logos. There is a blimp in the sky. A giant screen constantly fizzes with advertisements. The banners in the crowd can be sponsored (“Cheer your Citi”).

Watching on the telly one sometimes loses a horizontal quarter to ads, sometimes a vertical quarter, sometimes both together. Along the bottom, there are text promos the whole while.  As many viewers have noted with horror, this season features ads between not just overs but between deliveries, cunningly zooming in and out of the giant screen sometimes. Besides, there are two “strategic time-outs”. These provide 10 minutes of pure, cricket-free ads. These have been sold to Maxx Mobile: perhaps the first instance, as somebody said, of a sponsored ad-break.

Bhattacharya notes that most Indians are not participants in sports and are simply consumers.  They treat cricket on TV in the same way as they treat the popular saas-bahu, family soap operas — they will watch whichever seems to be most exciting at that moment, and huge sums of money are exciting.  In India, money “is the parameter to judge a profession, a work of art, a life … It empowers and it attracts power.”

The 20/20 form within a small high-talent league system is the most likely type of cricket to break through in the North American market.  It may take advertizers and networks some time to catch up to Indian expertise in its exploitation.

The Good Old Thanksgiving Days

November 26, 2009

In 1936, Camel cigarettes issued the following ad for Thanksgiving:

I hope you can read it.  Smoking between courses is the healthy thing to do it declares.  “Smoke a camel right after the soup,” it says. “For digestion’s sake … You enjoy food more and have a feeling of greater ease after eating when you smoke Camels between courses.”

Ah, those good old days!

I started smoking early and was already a confirmed smoker by the time I started to attend dinners with my father’s American businessmen friends.  However, it was still a shock to me back then (perhaps 1966) when they lit up cigarettes between courses.  I remember then doing it with my friends and explaining that it was just the chic thing to do.  Such dupes we all were!

Good Looking

November 3, 2009

This week, Fast Company has featured a new book: New Packaging Design by Janice Kirkpatrick.  The book reviews packaging design from around the world.  The Fast Company review includes pictures of several of the designs, including the one I like best:


This is a campaign image for Nepia tissues.

Wonderwall, a Japanese interiors firm, and Groovisions, a graphic-design firm, brought a high-concept approach to a tissue box for Nepia. Each one looks like a mottled brick; when stacked, they look like a wall. The fluffy tissue contrasts with the industrial-looking tromp l’oeil.

Creativity doesn’t need to be complicated.

Marketing On The Fly

October 31, 2009

I am a marketer at heart, and I really appreciate those who extend themselves in thinking of novel and memorable marketing ideas. Thus it was impossible for me not to be impressed when a German group recently used banners tied to houseflies to send their message. The report and video from Wired:

The banners, measuring just a few centimetres across, seem to be causing the beleaguered flies a bit of piloting trouble. The weight keeps the flies at a lower altitude and forces them to rest more often, which is a stroke of genius on the part of the marketing creatives: the flies end up at about eye level, and whenever a fly is forced to land and recover, the banner is clearly visible. What’s more, the zig-zagging of the fly naturally attracts the attention because of its rapid movement.

Clever stuff for a stunt!


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