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Preen's breakthrough dispensing package

Preen's breakthrough dispensing package spreads granular weed killer via a battery-powered chute unit built into its cap.

Preen's battery-powered dispensing top has a built-in on-off switch.

Preen's battery-powered dispensing top has a built-in on-off switch.

The spinner mechanism on the top of Preen's battery-powered dispensing cap.

The spinner mechanism on the top of Preen's battery-powered dispensing cap.

Branding and marketing is all about making things pretty and putting a best foot forward. That extends to package design, where graphic design is used to either give a new brand point-of-sale power or an established brand an appealing refresh.  Sometimes the packaging’s structural design is used to innovate the overall shape or a closure to either add aesthetics or consumer convenience.

With this conventional wisdom in mind, I found myself blown away by a package this past week, one that didn’t jump off the shelf at me, but totally surprised me when I’d open it to use the product inside. I’m talking about the new Preen granular weed killer I’d picked up at The Home Depot. Not sure if you’re familiar with Preen, but you apply it prior to and after you mulch a flower bed. Simple enough product to use, but its makers figured out how to really innovate the package, adding actual functionality.

The cap  is a fold-open dispensing chute, novel enough unto itself. However, it now features an actual motorized dispenser to help gardeners apply Preen evenly and to prevent accidental dumps of too many granules at one time and to one area. By motorized, I truly mean motorized. There is an on-off switch, a spinner section that limits the amount of product it takes from the main handleware jug, while it limits the amount of product it sends out the chute. The whole operation is powered by two AA batteries (supplied!).

The makers of Preen have even put together a helpful video off their web site, and presented here, to show how the new package operates.

All in all, very impressive work in a package that, while pleasing from the outside, isn’t screaming to tell you about this surprising piece of innovation on the inside. This is the kind of thing that elevates marketing. It isn’t something that the consumer is necessarily clamoring for, but any time you are adding functionality, you are changing the game in unexpected ways.

I have to admit that this Preen package surprised me. Newton Associates has actually done a few projects for their parent company, Lebanon Seaboard Corporation, but on the professional turf care side of their business, through Mike Sisti, who helps us with new business development, particularly in this industry. This is a company focused on the growing of green plants and grasses, so it is all the more surprising that they have led the way on a significant packaging development.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7EPQPd_NksY#!

 

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I got a real chuckle out of viral video link my son sent me. It is likely you have seen it already given the speed with which such clips get shared these days. A few days after I saw it, the clip got coverage in Advertising Age and Creativity. And a few more days later, it makes its debut here at NewtonIdeas. Syndication reruns are soon to follow.

In case you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil the fun. Here is the video:

Now, that the show is over and the dust has settled, I have some questions.

When did Turner Broadcasting define the TNT brand as the “Drama” network? (I have to admit I don’t watch a lot of TV and am partial to AMC because of Mad Men and Breaking Bad.)

Did anyone grasp the irony of selling a network dedicated entirely to weekly dramas by staging a stunt built around a hugely comic premise? (Larry David, Judd Apatow, Will Ferrell need not apply.)

Was this a one-and-done for video only effort? (That’s a rhetorical question, but I can’t imagine being a bystander witnessing the epic results of pushing that button and not wanting to press it again and again.)

TNT's site for Benelux pushes its "Drama" shows front and center.

TNT's site for Benelux pushes its "Drama" shows front and center.

How successful has this been in its core purpose — introducing TNT as a new cable offering in the Benelux countries? (While buzz has definitely been generated, I suspect all those TNT drama shows will have a tough time following this act for ongoing entertainment value.)

Why are European town squares so conducive to planning and executing elaborate viral video stunts? (Here is a link to an early Angry Birds promotional effort.)

What is TNT doing to translate that viral excitement over here? (I suspect Occupy Wall Street has spoiled the chance of any US town squares being taken over for promotional purposes the rest of this year.)

I don’t have answers to any of these questions. I just found myself surprised by how much effort went into a single surprising moment of fun, how that moment runs somewhat counter to the brand message, and how little follow-through in the way of integrated marketing communications is in place to take advantage of all the buzz that’s been generated. No one said the advertising business is easy.

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The holiday season opened with a very black Black Friday punctuated by pepper spray and other crazed shopping ugliness. Now, it is winding down with a water cooler moment delivered via a lone FedEx driver and YouTube.

If you have yet not seen the clip, taken by the surveillance camera of a customer whose delivery of a Sanyo monitor was shot put over a driveway gate, here it is.

Hard to tell what was going through the driver’s head — a tight timetable that did not correlate with the backlog of packages in his van, class warfare envy that the package recipient lives in a gated home and he doesn’t, the turbo ingredients of his 4th energy drink of the morning. . .could be just about anything. If he has shared those thoughts with FedEx, they have not shared them with the world. Here is a link and a blogpost to FedEx statements since the video has gone viral. They have taken the driver off the streets, reassigning him within the company. That has triggered a secondary PR backlash judging by the posted comments — unemployed capable people are incensed that this clown still has a job at FedEx. Worse, as Corky notes: “No the delivery man isn’t working with customers any more, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t throwing packages around a warehouse somewhere. Most of us would be fired for doing something like that. FedEx, you are hurting your other employees by keeping one who does such public relations damage to your company.”

FedEx, normally the model of reliability and efficiency, has been challenged by the actions of one driver and its own HR policies.

FedEx, normally the model of reliability and efficiency, has been challenged by the actions of one driver and its own HR policies.

So, yes, this delivery man will go through the rest of his life as that crazy Christmas delivery loon. However, the venerable FedEx has managed to make itself look foolish, too, by projecting a mysterious at best, clueless at worst image by responding to this viral video fiasco in a nebulous squishy-HR manner. FedEx made things right with that single customer, then managed to cause everyone else to question management judgment on what appears to be cut and dried grounds for dismissal. FedEx’s statement sounds vague in light of the video —“We do take this matter extremely seriously, and have initiated action in accord with our disciplinary policy, while respecting privacy concerns. Without going into detail, I can assure you that this courier is not delivering customer packages while we are going through this process.”

Just one more example that the people running America’s biggest corporations and institutions don’t understand crisis PR, let alone social media. It is sad when you think about how much money FedEx has invested in positive PR and advertising programs to build brand image. The initial damage done was inflicted by one poor excuse for an employee, but then management has compounded that damage by failing to act decisively to show that such outrageous conduct will not be tolerated.

And on that note, happy holidays and a wonderful and profitable 2012 to all!

Update: This is the 5th time I have had to repost this entry. FedEx lawyers must be working hard through YouTube to get all the viral video clips in the public domain taken down. It is a shame they did not put as much effort into their PR.

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Capture The Tag is the first great cross-media marketing campaign of 2011.

Capture The Tag is the first great cross-media marketing campaign of 2011.

This week, we got a call from long-time friend of the agency, Lee Wojnar. We and Lee go back a ways, to when he was a terrific professional photographer and early digital imaging pro with his own studio on 4th Street, just down from Philly landmark, Jim’s Steaks. After giving all that up (even the cheesesteaks) and saying Westward Ho for major responsibilities at Intel, Lee moved up a few times since, and is now VP of Marketing for the O Bee Credit Union in Tumwater, WA (the thriving credit union of the once but now defunct Olympia brewery). He has always done great work, and is always looking to leverage new technologies, but this week, he really hit his stride (although it isn’t an overnight success — he confided he has been putting this together for the past six months).

Newton helps Lee with occasional PR and such was the case for this new promotion he has launched with several partners in the Olympia area. You can read our official news release on “Capture The Tag” here.  But more significant is the instant buzz this promotion is generating. Incredibly, over 360,000 pages of coverage posted already according to Google.

Capture The Tag's announcement has already generated over 360,000 pages of coverage.

Capture The Tag's announcement has already generated over 360,000 pages of coverage.

The reasons are many. “Capture The Tag” is a fun variant of the old camp favorite, but updated for everyone armed with a smartphone. Nice cash prizes and iPads are the incentives to participate, but to win you have to collect all 30 Microsoft tags located at businesses around town (each tag leads to a new clue). Some of the tags are tags for that business, but there are also 10 tags devoted to short videos on personal financial education. To win, you also need to be present at the drawings of confirmed 30 tag collectors, at a large-scale party and networking event.

The promotion leverages latest technology and social media to attract Generation X participation (a demographic group sought by so many businesses, but not easily cracked). Lee chose Microsoft tags because he preferred the added functionality they offer over QR codes. Microsoft tags are 2D barcodes that connect real world objects to information and interactive experiences when scanned via the Tag Reader app on smartphones. In addition to the “Capture The Tag” web site, the tags lead participants to Facebook and Twitter pages and YouTube videos.

“Capture The Tag” also leverages traditional media. Two of the sponsors are the leading local radio station, 94.5 ROXY, and the leading daily newspaper, The Olympian.

The real meat lies under the surface, however. “Capture The Tag” feeds useful personal financial tidbits to make the audience smarter about credit, fraud, and saving, lessons in short supply these days. The promotion and the educational component have the backing and sponsorship of the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions.

The ultimate purpose is local economic development. The promotion brings participants into the “bricks and mortar” locations of 20 area businesses to collect their Microsoft tags. “No purchase necessary” to scan their tags, but while in these shops and restaurants, game players just might buy a thing or two. Or come back again (and again).

Last year, Old Spice scored big points as a marketing campaign that leveraged new and old media in clever ways on a national level. With “Capture The Tag,” O Bee Credit Union just showed you can do the same on the local level, connecting a tech audience with local businesses, teach a few financial lessons, and have great fun in the process. It is wildly original, but deserves to be copied, so its benefits can trickle out to many more communities. We always knew Lee Wojnar was smart and creative. But he just hit a tape measure “thinking outside the park” home run.

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The familiar AOL symbols when Aol was familiar

The familiar AOL symbols when Aol was familiar

I have to admit, I have had America Online frozen in time. The company that brought dial-up Internet and e-mail service to every household in the United States (even if you weren’t a customer, you received one of their membership kits on CD by mail) faded into obscurity thanks to broadband, Google, mobile, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a long list of other digital brands and technologies. Everyone can make that instant “You’ve Got Mail” leap to the not-very-distant past, but fewer and fewer of us visit America Online in our daily on line routines. I still have a free Aol e-mail account, but haven’t opened my mailbox in over a year, because I am frightened of being greeted by a 60 GB wall of spam.

Aol's ubiquitous membership kit markeing campaign

Aol's ubiquitous membership kit markeing campaign

That’s why I was surprised to get a call from my son who has had a part-time college and summer job with an online video syndication platform start-up called 5min Media. “Dad, Aol just bought my employer for a reported 65 million dollars.” I was stunned. I didn’t know that Aol still had 65 million dollars. And what were they doing buying a small firm with a more cleverly targeted variant of YouTube?
Turns out Aol has been on a shopping spree. They also purchased video creator and distributor Studio Now in January and IT news blog TechCrunch and Thing Labs, creator of social network content sharing software Brizzly in recent days. In addition, AOL has been hiring writers to focus on increasing the amount of original content on its networks. This all followed a serious stock price plunge and the decision to reinvent itself. I am increasingly intrigued by this storyline and wish Aol well. Large corporations that survive do so by keeping up with and hopefully starting new trends. It’s been a long time since people associated IBM with international sales of business machines. Or GE with light bulbs.

Project Devil is Aol's ambitious new approach to improve web advertising.

Project Devil is Aol's ambitious new approach to improve web advertising.

With all that news as context, I was not at all surprised to see a four-color Aol spread in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal advertising a new direction for web advertising called Project Devil. Even better, it touched on a hot button of mine. The miserable advertising experience and canvas delivered by most web sites. Too many pages have been overseen by neither an art director nor a production manager. They look like they’ve been spewed out by a blender without a lid. Banner ads. text ads. Popups. Sponsor logos. Video clips. All splattered on the page, some blending with, and blurring the lines between, editorial and advertising content. Is it any wonder why no one gets excited about interactive ads, let alone interactive ad campaigns. Measurable, yes. Memorable, hardly.
Aol is attempting to pioneer a new direction with Project Devil. They have discovered the value of white space and a designer’s eye. They are presenting a new view that draws obvious lines between editorial and advertising And gives both room to breathe. So far, it is hard to tell how much of this is wishful thinking and how much is a deliverable universal format. Will this clean uncluttered approach be available only on the Aol network or will it be transferable to other sites and communities, too? The danger in this is that people will soon grow tired of a Project Devil web page, because it looks like every other Project Devil web page. At least for now, it’s a great new look and a bold new direction for Aol.

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College Marketing Materials: From Here To Infinity

College Marketing Materials: From Here To Infinity

We had a new business meeting this week with the marketing director of a local college. That meeting was about continuing ed, but it prompted me to visit a shopping bag I had kept in the corner of my office after my son headed to campus last fall. The bag was a collection point for all the undergraduate marketing materials he’d received over the course of junior through senior year of high school, from colleges large and small, near and far, looking to fill their freshman class. Hundreds of suitors, who all knew that only one would ultimately be chosen. The Miss America pageant and the nickel slots in Atlantic City offer better odds.
I took the occasion to review many of these postcards, direct mail letters, multi-panel mailers, view books, and other forms of solicitation. Most were also replicated in e-mail form and some with personal web pages (PURLs). It was an incredible example of target marketing run amuck. The deluge began some time after my son’s data was entered online for the taking of the SATs. Multiply him by the number of college-bound students in every high school across the country and you start to get a sense of the crazy business model of higher ed admissions. The goal is to fill as many seats as possible, with the best and brightest you can attract. You have them, hopefully, for three additional years. But every fall, it’s musical chairs all over again.
I was struck by how many images and messages blurred together from one institution to another. All were professionally crafted. Only a few stood out as remotely unique. Campuses and ivy covered buildings look like they were shot for National Geographic. Students are shown with blissful expressions of living in a better place (Brigadoon? Away from home?). Each is chosen by central casting to fill a diversity rainbow and for their Ralph Lauren model looks. Touch football games are big. So is the promise of study abroad programs. Slogans with the words future, career, imagine, and vision abound. There were quite a few mailings with “green” sustainability themes. Given the small forest shown here spread across our conference room table, I got a chuckle out of that conceit.
With so many choices, how do kids and families sort them all out? Everyone has their own criteria and methods. But once the short (hopefully, short) list is arrived at, the campus visits become all important and from each school’s perspective, a minefield. At one top name school, the campus tour guide was completely drowned out by the sounds of construction jackhammers a short distance away. At another, much time was spent (unsuccessfully) silencing the alarm on the front door of a student dorm we were touring. At yet another, prospective students were asked to share something about themselves with others in the room; the problem was that the room was an auditorium full of people, most of whom were pressed for time and were there specifically to learn about that college, not about other prospective freshmen.
The effectiveness of presentations is paramount when you get hundreds of guests into an auditorium. Many that we attended were rambling snooze-fests. Some were technology challenged. And a few were very, very compelling. A really well-done video can compensate for too many speeches from too many campus representatives. Even the Q and A should be carefully prepared for, not with pat answers but thoughtful ones that represent the consistent voice of the institution.
There aren’t any easy answers to college branding and marketing. The processes and messages in place at most schools are well thought out, but often derivative of competing institutions. Really hammering home what is unique about your campus and its offerings is critical. When you throw in the challenges of ever-rising tuition and room and board costs, an especially tight global economy, and competition from more and more online education options, something has to give (and I don’t mean the alumni).

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Expericard

Expericard postcards incredibly deliver a CD or DVD in cost effective fashion.

Every medium has its power and place. At a time when e-mail marketing has reached saturation levels, and too many companies are struggling with how best to create a unique place in social media for their brands, it pays to keep an open mind about other avenues, including traditional.
Then, sometimes traditional can be reinvented and reinvigorated. That is what has happened with a new product from Expericard, a Swedish company with US office in Chicago. They have developed a really innovative approach to leverage direct mail and video delivery – a postcard embedded with a really lightweight CD or DVD. Here are its many advantages:
• Reduced mailing costs by leveraging postcard rates to deliver video.
• A means to deliver a really high resolution video presentation that can’t be adequately streamed online because of resolution or length.
• A package that gets attention by its design and your creative designs of the card and the disc printing.
• A paper and disc combination that pushes sustainability initiatives by source reduction. Expericard video postcards are surprisingly lightweight.

Companies have hardly given up on postcards, especially on the consumer side. This week, one in particular got my attention for all the wrong reasons. It was crammed with a kitchen sink of messages on both sides, because the advertiser wanted their money’s worth or the designer (in this case, one of the yellow pages providers selling postcards as a value-added service). Imagine the value if they had lightened up on the schlocky content overkill and put a really amazing video inside their postcard.
Sometimes you just have to think outside the mailbox and the e-mailbox.

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Video can close the deal. On line. In store.

Video can close the deal. On line. In store.

Interesting article from VentureBeat on encouraging study results when video is used online to boost sales of non-tech products like Air Wick.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4NOvPlpg70

Video is just a great way to engage prospects and now there are more places to do so than ever before. Sure, everyone who wants to go viral has a clip on YouTube. Plus, more and more web sites out there incorporate video promotion opportunities.

But the really amazing thing to me is how many other places that flat screens are showing up to sell people during downtime. You can find them at the local diner. At the grocery store (in produce, at deli, and at checkout). At the gas pump. In the back of NYC cabs. In local bars, and it sometimes follows, even over urinals.

The best uses I’ve seen include digital billboards that are the most engaging outdoor since Burma Shave. They feature rotating advertisers, the ability for advertisers to rotate their own messages, and even law enforcement APBs such as Amber Alerts.

Also, I was surprised, during a recent trip to Wal-mart to find more video displays on end caps. For many years, Wal-mart was a bare bones shopping environment. There weren’t many options for POP displays, let alone digital signage. Times have changed for the better.

Well done point-of-sale videos, whether they are TV commercials or a dedicated sales presentation about the product, are a great way to close the deal. You’re engaging buyers when they’re filling their shopping carts. Why aren’t all package goods companies and retailers investing in in-store video? Then, posting them online, on their web sites, on YouTube, and on as many other locations as possible for driving traffic?

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