Local advertising

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Just as today’s musical artists resurrect the gems of giants from yesteryear (like Jack White’s cover here of Buddy Holly), graphic artists find unique ways to revitalize works from an earlier time.  An especially exciting locally based resource hit my radar when I was Christmas shopping in a local book store last month and so I bought a gift for myself — Fading Ads of Philadelphia by Lawrence O’Toole. This great coffee table chronicle captures some of the city’s surprisingly still vivid outdoor ads from another era. O’Toole has focused on ads painted on brick, some of which have not completely stood the test of time. But others are more than holding their own.

Fading Ads of Philadelphia

Fading Ads of Philadelphia by Lawrence O'Toole chronicles much of the city's advertising past.

Ironically, the same week I picked up his book, I happened to be paying a pilgrimage to Franklin Fountain for ice cream following a family outing to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s exceptional holiday concert. Returning to a rare available parking spot on North Front Street, I noticed some still prominent painted messages about metals on the white columns of the building near my meter. Turns out it had been home to Nathan Trotter Metals, a company that is still in business and operating in Coatesville and featured on pages 50 and 51 of Fading Ads of Philadelphia. Small world.

Just in case you have any difficulty tracking down a copy of O’Toole’s book published in 2012, the great news is that he has been documenting old ads on buildings in this city online for some time via a blog at GhostSignProject.com. Like all good branders and designers, O’Toole gives you many ways to follow the project, including Twitter, Facebook, and even soon an iPhone app that will let you capture your own sightings of old building-based outdoor ads. But I particularly encourage you to read the book, because there are a couple of very good Forwards, one by John Langdon that devotes a lot to typographic history, including somewhat recent history in this city at Armstrong Typography, and another by Frank Jump that touches on early national ad history contributions at Philadelphia’s NW Ayer. It is very cool that old Philadelphia ad history is new again.

One final thought — I am tired of hearing digital-only folks declare that print is dead. As great as digital is, its pixels are a lot more ephemeral than the inks used for books, magazines, billboards, and even outdoor murals. Thanks to Lawrence O’Toole for reminding us and finding so many amazing supporting examples.

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A roof over your head. Seems like such a basic concept, but ironically, what is the term for the biggest group of expenses of any business (the expenses that constantly get cut in order to maintain profitability)? Overhead — employee salaries and benefits, office or commercial space, utilities, taxes, insurance to maintain that office or commercial space. So, as businesses struggle to make payments, and often have to layoff staff, so do the many individual employees affected by such cuts. And with all the holes in the safety net of government assistance, more and more people are losing homes and without employment unable to find affordable housing. Vicious cycle, as they say.

Homeless is a term that says it all. You have hit rock bottom economically and you have the cold hard pavement as a pillow each night. A few weeks ago, our blog talked about the politics of cancer and how some forms were politically incorrect and less sympathetic (notably, lung cancer thanks to tobacco stigma). The same rules apply to the homeless and make them easy to dismiss — when you have a group that includes the mentally ill (many off meds or untreated), the drug addicted (alcohol, prescription, and/or illegal drugs), and the criminal (serving your time does not guarantee you a roof over your head upon release), many are going to be quick to write off the problem of homelessness as unsolvable or throwing good money after bad. But the group also includes people who can’t find work in a tough economy, entire families, veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other wars, and the poor who work but don’t earn enough to pay for housing.

Real life is seldom ever neat and tidy, however. I was reminded of this when hearing the latest presidential campaign tussles over 47% of Americans not paying federal income tax and some other percentage receiving government assistance. Regardless of which candidate you support, those numbers should disturb you. A lot. For me, they underscore that too many Americans are on the handout side of some kind of weighted scale and not enough are on the working and earning enough to pay federal taxes side.

One Step Away is a new newspaper sold by the homeless in Philadelphia to help the homeless.

One Step Away is a new newspaper sold by the homeless in Philadelphia to help the homeless.

That is why I was heartened by a casual event when I was down to the Pennsylvania Convention Center last week. I was approached by a street vendor selling a newspaper called “One Step Away.” It is a new publication designed for a noble purpose— to incentivize the homeless to earn money and get themselves on a path toward a roof over their heads.  Each homeless vendor pays 25 cents a copy but sells the paper for $1. That means every paper purchased puts 75 cents in their pocket. Most salespersons I know would kill for a 75% commission; however, we’re not talking about an easy-to-sell product in the digital age. In fact, I just saw a story about how newspaper revenues had dropped to 1950s levels. So, “One Step Away” is properly structured on a basic free enterprise level and the homeless vendors have a great carrot to help themselves. They have skin in the game, unlike a significant portion of those 47% who aren’t paying federal income taxes but receiving benefits.

“One Step Away” gets its name from the truism that too many of us are only a missed paycheck or a lost job or a medical crisis on the plus side of the homelessness ledger. That is a sobering thought.

If you would like to help the “One Step Away” mission, I encourage you to visit OSAPHILLY.ORG to donate, support, advertise. This video will introduce you to some of the many homeless vendors you will be helping get back on their feet.

Philadelphia once captured national attention about the problem of homelessness when an 11-year-old boy named Trevor Ferrell from one of America’s richest suburbs, Gladwyne, challenged his parents, his church, and a whole lot of other fellow citizens to help out. I am glad to see that TrevorsCampaign.org is still carrying on his mission. It was a little bittersweet to read this account and learn that the adult Trevor elected not to leverage his fame into a career and is now dealing somewhat anonymously with adult challenges like the rest of us — meeting financial obligations and trying to make a good life for his own family. We all have skin in this game.

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There are few things that adults and children agree on, but a life-altering ice cream dessert might be one of them. In Philadelphia, home of so many great ice cream brands, we now have two very different ice cream palaces that are worth special trips to.

One is in the western suburbs (Audubon, PA) and embraces a Swiss tradition of ultra-rich, fresh ingredient ice cream and chocolate making — Zwahlen’s. You can’t miss their store, because it is in a chalet style building in the middle of a strip shopping center.  But cuckoo clock ambiance is not what makes this place special. It is the incredible melt in your mouth frozen goodness in a rotating lineup of great flavors. However, their vanilla is just so perfect for adding your own toppings that you will likely walk away a Zwahlen’s fan for life. It is a tough measuring stick for the ice cream chain stores.

Franklin Fountain

A very different experience can be had in Old Philadelphia, right on Market Street at the corner of 2nd Street.  Franklin Fountain is an old time ice cream parlor that has reinvented what ice cream sundaes and floats can be. In the winter months, they make a smore style confection with specialty marshmallows that they light with a blue flame. The lucky recipient gets a long spoon to break up the graham crackers in the ice cold stainless steel container. Or there’s the Franklin Mint made with real crème de menthe. Whichever great ice cream dish you select on their menu, you will find yourself transported to heaven.

Now, Philadelphia also has another kind of ice cream experience. My friend Pete tipped me off to a YouTube-based ad with a text link literally designated as “scarred for life” from the Hot Air blog. This is one of the oddest, creepiest spots (there are actually two of them) to ever attempt to sell ice cream. In this case, the brand is Little Baby’s Ice Cream. The experience of watching these two spots is about as far away as you can get from Zwahlen’s and Franklin Fountain. It is in Frank Zappa “Weasels Ripped My Flesh” – David Lynch Eraserhead territory. You have to be pretty damn sure of the quality of your ice cream to attempt something that is this far out on a crazy limb that you just hacked off with a crosscut saw. If you can’t join ‘em, lick ‘em.

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This post-Halloween edition of NewtonIdeas is devoted to an undervalued, under-appreciated way for communities (cities and small towns) to boost their tourism revenue, especially during the month of October — ghost tours. The best of these walking/talking/yarn-spinning excursions are wonderful mixes of architectural visits, local history lessons, and occult experiences. Because they are walking tours, the group gets to soak in local culture and atmosphere, often winding past main street restaurants and retailers. They attract all ages, and often, entire families. They spark the interest of participants to learn more about the people and places they hear about on the tour.

Our reason for attending Ghost Tours of Phoenixville was to find something different for a birthday party outing for a small group of middle schoolers. We were rewarded with a fun night out, listening to some intriguing, not-too-scary stories about haunted goings-on around an old steel mill town that is having a gentrified resurgence otherwise through fine dining, arts, music, and a very walkable downtown. And we all had a few genuinely spooky moments. Not the same frights as you’d get from a haunted house full of movie monsters. But the tour yielded its share of ghostly accounts.

Of all places, the Phoenixville Library has made a list of most haunted sites. It even led the cable show “Scared” to devote an entire show to investigating paranormal weirdness in and around the stacks, the attic, the children’s library, and the front lawn of the library.

Local legends can be fun and take on a life of their own, especially through popular culture. Anyone who has ever read Greyfriars Bobby will appreciate this version of the shaggy dog story and how a local legend can pay big dividends for an entire community.

I like all that Phoenixville has to offer enough that I didn’t need another reason to return (the town also collaborates with the historical Colonial Theater to stage an annual “Blob Fest” every summer, since the famous scene from 50s Horror Classic, “The Blob”, where the crowd runs screaming from the theater, actually took place at the Colonial.

However, now, my curiosity about the spiritual energy at the Phoenxiville Library has been piqued. Here is a photo taken by iPhone, without flash, that captures the presence of orbs outside this reportedly haunted facility. Whether astral projections from a paranormal presence on the site or some other other-worldly phenomena, there is definitely something in the air in Phoenixville.

Orbs outside the haunted Phoenixville Library.

Orbs outside the haunted Phoenixville Library.

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Conan turns to blimps and digital and tv to build his brand.

Conan turns to blimps and digital and tv to build his brand.

No wonder advertisers get confused about how to allocate media dollars. It is an absolute free-for-all. A day does not go by without another news item suggesting how one medium or platform is overtaking or supplanting another. I routinely remind myself of the progression that TV did not kill radio when it came on the scene, and likewise, the Internet did not replace TV. Every form of media is still in active use (papyrus scrolls and carrier pigeons excepted). I see latest Conan TV ads feature blimp advertising blended with mobile platforms. As a big fan of Team Coco, I am hoping for Goodyear associations, not Hindenberg.

A quick sampling of recent stories should give everyone pause about claiming superiority over another medium or about writing a competing medium’s obituary.

This intriguing story from Advertising Age suggests Facebook is voraciously eating the lunch of major magazine brands. It left me scratching my head about how Burberry, frozen in my own brain as a conservative British purveyor of fine raincoats, has attracted over 8 million followers on Facebook. I visited their pages and came away still scratching my head. This Google search revealed a few clues — fashion launches via Facebook and iPads, free samples of a new fragrance, interactive videos, and easy-to-follow followers like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Still, that is a staggering number of followers, but more power to them. Whatever Burberry is doing, it’s working.

Next up, two stories from Digiday. One reveals how Google is preparing a full frontal assault on newspapers’ biggest cash cow — Sunday circulars. Imagine a digital version of a circular that gives a retailer all kinds of local control to customize content by store, pricing, and product category. Also from Digiday is a rather depressing, confusing  picture of the landscape of digital advertising tech companies. The bar is low for entrants. The result is a mixed bag of options and results for advertisers. Not sure who is being served by this.

This week, New York magazine devotes an extended article to Twitter and whether it is becoming too big for its 140-character britches, er tweets.

If you’re not completely boggled yet, here is video reporting by the print-based Wall Street Journal delivered online from their web site to explain how tv ad spending can be rising as viewership is dropping. Got that?

My next media recommendation? Burma-shave style billboards but delivered with a twist — constantly changing messaging on a series of digital billboards. The product? Attention-deficit disorder drugs.

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One of the many pleasures of watching Mad Men is to get a glimpse of advertising reflective of the era’s very different but not so long ago societal viewpoints. Call it un-PC, non-diversity-trained, unsustainable, pre-regulatory, “anything goes” pitching (or sexist, racist, homophobic, capitalistic, every other variety of irresponsible or unenlightened), but it is never less than fascinating of how times have changed and changed quickly.

I was reminded of this when I came across this link on Philly.com to a collection of 72 print ads from Inquirer archives from the 1950s. It is a trip down Memory Lane just to be reminded of all the old local retailers, from John Wanamaker, to Gimbels, to Lit Brothers.

Sugar Crisp was once golden (and now renamed that) at Post. Now, it is the S word.

Sugar Crisp was once golden (and now renamed that) at Post. Now, it is the S word.

This morning, I had a bowl of Post Golden Crisp, but this ad is a reminder that Sugar was once not a dirty word. Poor Sugar Bear had to go into the witness protection program some time around 1995.

Meanwhile, at  local long-gone icon Horn & Hardart, before there was vending self-service, there was evidently white glove service for captains of industry.

 The lunchtime meeting of Ajax Inc.’s diversity committee will now come to order.

The lunchtime meeting of Ajax Inc.’s diversity committee will now come to order.

In terms of TV spots, Duke University Libraries holds a terrific archive of commercials produced for clients of D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles and now held in the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History collection and accessible free through ITunes University — AdViews Collection. Here is the AdViews web site.

YouTube is also a great repository of old spots that will suck you in and keep you revisiting “The Golden Age of Advertising”.  An old Bob and Ray spot for Piels Beer is a good departure point.

Finally, lots of interesting collections of old commercials are available through Amazon and eBay.

Vintage commercials collections DVDs are plentiful.

Vintage commercials collections DVDs are plentiful.

This compilation DVD of 1001 Classic Commercials kept me entertained in my man cave throughout the holidays last year. Down there, you can still swill beer, play with GI Joes, crack questionable jokes, and ogle January Jones and other Barbie-like women.

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Advertising typically reflects the spirit of the times it occurs in.  Lately, I’ve been thinking of building a time machine to escape to the MadMen era. I’ve been seeing a trend that reflects what DC likes to refer to as “our new reality”.  It is a reality that I don’t think many Americans are eager or willing to accept, which might fall under the heading of downsized dreams.

In the past few weeks, as the nation’s investment rating was downgraded and Warren Buffett expressed the odd belief that he and other millionaires weren’t paying enough in taxes, I have begun to notice some of this sentiment creeping into ads. Some of it is subtle, but the subtext seems to be that the American dream is dead or at the very least dying.

VIST Financial borrows an unfortunate image from the Depression

VIST Financial borrows an unfortunate image from the Depression

The first time I noticed it was in print and online ads for VIST Financial. The campaign showcased employees holding up “Will Work for Your Trust” signs that unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) mirrored the Depression era imagery of the perpetually unemployed holding signs that read “Will Work for Food”.  What next? Apple Annie? Pencil sales on the corner? Bank employees jumping out of office windows after each day’s stock market decline? Can we find another theme? Forget about earning trust; this is confidence-rattling.

Moving on to automobiles, we’ve graduated from Cash for Clunkers to scenes of a Mad Max future. It started with the Eminem SuperBowl spot that showcased Detroit’s grit, but the latest Dodge Durango advertising is right out of Bruce Springsteen’s “rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert.” The message is that naysayers shouldn’t be declaring America’s auto industry dead yet, but the visuals suggest that it is on life support. If this is a message of hope, Norman Vincent Peale is like a rotisserie chicken in his grave.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcY4Di6OgWw

Then, there is the spot that led me to write this post — a really well produced spot. It was so well produced that I thought I was watching an ad for one of the big banks. The scene takes place as a couple prepares their nursery for their new baby. The voiceovers and supers promote the idea of starting a college fund for their kids, then for their kids’ kids, then for hundreds of kids in their community. Saving early has always been a great idea. Except the ad isn’t about investing wisely and often. It is about buying Mega Millions lottery tickets. Unintended underlying message — this may be the only way the next few generations will be able to afford higher education. Yikes!

I think we are all in need of an attitude adjustment. We don’t need Pollyanna preaching, but a little positivity in advertising would go a long way toward relieving the grim mood of the moment. Americans want to be inspired, not discouraged that the sun won’t come out tomorrow. We have TV news for that messaging.

And a moment of silence (followed by the opening chords of Layla). This week, a different kind of era sadly ended with the announcement that classic rock station WYSP would fade out, soon to be replaced with an FM simulcast of AM sister station’s WIP sports talk format. WYSP, for a long time the home of Howard Stern before his move to XM, has also long been a staple of the Philadelphia region’s rock scene. It has always been a rival of WMMR, but increasingly, other stations began carrying classic rock fare, from WMGK to BEN FM. Although classic rock has enjoyed a resurgence among younger listeners, the youth music market has many other alternatives from top 40, to hip hop. Like every other medium, radio is a numbers game and with Philadelphia’s love affair with their professional sports teams, it makes sense that WIP can reach an even wider audience via the FM dial, where it can go head to head with its own rival,  97.5 — The Phanatic. Well, at least WYSP fulfilled the wish of The Who, “to die before I get old.”

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Just returning from a week in Southern California and wanted to share some pics from a couple billboards around Los Angeles. I thought I might see lots of new trends and cutting edge stuff.  Nothing quite that dramatic, but a few surprises nevertheless.

Lawyers and public transportation, perfect together.

Lawyers and public transportation, perfect together.

In only our second blog post, we noted that many attorneys had discovered bus boards as a way to reach accident victims. In CA, it’s not different, except for the language. Moving on to medicine. . .

And I thought the overcast skies were due to marine haze.

And I thought the overcast skies were due to marine haze.

Do you need to get a reeferal for seeing medical marijuana specialists?

Do you need to get a reeferal for seeing medical marijuana specialists?

This billboard in LA was a sad reminder that basketball great Magic Johnson is still living with HIV, but at least he is living well and still providing hope to many.

Magic Johnson is still offering hope to those with HIV.

Magic Johnson is still offering hope to those with HIV.

A trip to Dodgers Stadium to cheer on the Phils Monday night revealed that the Phils have a lot of fans who live in LA or are willing to travel. But also that they have a very different view of stadium food on the West Coast.

Only in LA are noodles considered stadium fare.

Only in LA are noodles considered stadium fare.

Finally, there was this reminder in Old Town San Diego that some of our best known brands have some very deep roots.

Wells Fargo once delivered other than financial solutions.

Wells Fargo once delivered other than financial solutions.

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Sonny Hill is Philadelphia's MUVMP — Most Undervalued Media Player

Sonny Hill is Philadelphia's MUVMP — Most Undervalued Media Player

I am on thin ice here. I am from the creative side of the business, so when I start talking media, I like to be armed with facts, stats, and ironclad targeted demographic  CPM recommendations.  I am also not a basketball guy, except for being of a fan of Dr J and the Iverson 2001 team. I enjoy great plays and exceptional gritty performances, but basketball falls behind baseball, football, and hockey on the list of sports I follow. (Although what Doug Collins is doing with the current Sixers team is starting to revive my interest again locally.)

I digress.  The reason for this week’s post is to encourage media buyers looking to reach Philadelphians, especially men of a certain age (nationally, you can just purchase TV spots on the TNT series of the same name), to seriously consider a radio buy on 610-WIP am, Sunday mornings from 8 to 10 am.  I know, I know, that sounds like the absolute worst time to reach anyone, especially men, via any medium, including radio. Guys are either off to church with their wives and family. Or sleeping off whatever they were doing on Saturday night.

Given those parameters, I can appreciate why you might be unfamiliar with Sonny Hill and his call-in program, “The Living Room.” Also, even after an over 20 year relationship with WIP, Hill is hard to find on the station’s own web site. But you owe it to yourself to set your alarm to tune in if you love sports, especially but not exclusively basketball, and you want to recreate the emotional experience you have every time “Field Of Dreams” comes on. Sonny has an amazing way of connecting with every caller, finding common ground, and sharing a love of sports, everyday life, and humanity. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of what seems like every athlete who has ever played the game of basketball, but other sports as well. He knows their names, their nicknames, their stats, what made each one of them special, what their big games were, and what they’re doing now. Take Pogo Johnson who played center for LaSalle on the 1952 NIT championship team  — actually, I just made Pogo up, but Sonny has the entire history of the game top of mind and at the tip of his tongue, so he can settle bets, educate callers, and inspire listeners. Chances are, he knows the player personally and has helped him at some point in his career.

There are quite a few bios on the web for Sonny, like here, here, and here. So, I won’t give you another one. I will just say that he made his mark as a basketball player. He made his mark as a basketball commentator. But he mostly made his mark as a role model for young people, forming his own summer basketball league to give youth in the inner city a life choice and alternative to gangs and violence. There is no way to underestimate Sonny’s influence, most recently evidenced by this Inquirer story about Boo Williams and his own league and impact in the Hampton Roads, VA region. Sonny’s name is peppered throughout the story. No one better demonstrates how good works are exponential than Sonny.

I have to admit that my own record of tuning in to “The Living Room” is spotty at best. But every time I do, I am riveted and rewarded. The man just exudes decency and a passion for both athletic excellence and encouraging young people to do the right thing.  Not sure how long Sonny Hill intends to keep up his broadcast gig, but advertisers would do themselves and the community a favor by supporting his show. In this case, it isn’t about the numbers, but about the potential for making a difference.

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I often marvel at how advertising media planners never reach the saturation point. There is seldom a lack of worthwhile media options for an advertiser. There is almost always an overload of places to advertise on a limited budget.

As noted in last week’s post, that is definitely the case these days on the local level (any business with a well-defined geographic territory).  Even that is changing — for example, Mallon’s, a wonderful Ocean City, NJ bakery used to rely on summer vacationer business; now, it does e-commerce and I can arrange to ship its marvelous sticky buns to my aunt in Texas.

Matchbin is helping local media and local advertisers leverage digital.

Matchbin is helping local media and local advertisers leverage digital.

The other month I responded to a print ad in the Norristown Times Herald advertising a free online and search engine marketing seminar. I was curious about what a local newspaper might say on the subject. Turns out, a lot. They, and all of the Journal Register newspapers locally (Pottstown Mercury, Lansdale Reporter, Phoenixville Phoenix, West Chester’s Daily Local News, The Trentonianthe Delaware County Daily Times, and others) are wisely partnering with Bountiful, UT-based digital media company, Matchbin, to help expand their traditional media options to local advertisers.

There isn’t anything unique that Matchbin is offering that advertisers can’t find elsewhere in some form. It is the scope of content management system-based offerings that Matchbin has, enabling a local business to manage its marketing and online business across multiple media and outlets.

Through the Times Herald (and other Journal Register papers), advertisers can continue promoting via print, web, or a combination, plus get featured status in an FYI: Central Montco Online Business Directory. To this, these businesses can add a range of Matchbin tiered programs to match needs. To boost local Google rankings, they can create a templated landing page or mini web-site that through Matchbin’s network will put them on the first page of Google search, so local prospects can find them. If they want to promote via video, there’s a video package. If they want to launch e-commerce, there is an e-commerce package. If they want to set up and manage multiple social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.) and business reputation, they can via one dashboard. There are additional options to set up blogs, to create couponing and special offers, to promote via testimonials, and to reach out to prospects and customers via mobile phone marketing.

The Journal Register papers can help advertisers find a Matchbin program that fits their needs and budget (the tiered programs are priced right). And local businesses can more easily manage their marketing and business-building without taking them away for extended “hands on” periods from their businesses. These are not one-size-fits-all solutions — they are well-thought-out programs to help local businesses that don’t have Coke’s global marketing budget to raise their profiles dramatically within their communities (geo and social).

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