Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Lafayette College leaves NYC shaking

It pretends to be a quiet little college in Pennsylvania—with leafy trees and 2500 students.

What else do I know about Lafayette? That it's actually an untamed jungle teeming with angry wildcats that come to New York City by bus and prey on ordinary citizens headed home from work.
Oh mama, look at those claws!
And those choppers! Want to see a close-up?
After this accidental brush with Lafayette, I'm lucky to have my hide. No wonder the liberal arts are dying. Students are running for their lives.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Obama on Trump's doom-and-gloom

Well, this is embarrassing... for someone. 
CNN's home page has a picture of a grinning Obama with the story "Obama: Trump's doom-and-gloom doesn't match reality." 

 ...right next to the terrifying story of today's massacre at a Munich mall. 

So yes, someone's sense of reality is out of whack. 


Friday, July 8, 2016

All hail the humble double entendre

I hit the streets this a.m. and found myself face to face with a double entendre. At first I thought it was a pun, but as you'll see, I was wrong. 
Before we label it, take a look for yourself: 
"Taking Elevators to New Heights"?—I smugly dismissed this pun as being juvenile... sooo beneath my haute sophistication. But then... wait. Is this really a pun? A pun is a play on words, like a cartoon of a barnyard pig with the caption "hamming it up." See, hamming it up refers to... Wait, is that really a pun? 

Back to "Taking Elevators to New Heights." Definitely not a play on the word "elevators"—but it does monkey around with the "new heights" part. Is that a pun? 

I asked my colleague Matt Grossman, a forever-curious intellectual and unpredictable wit. Matt, I asked. Is "taking elevators to new heights" a pun? He promised to think it over, and after going out onto Madison Ave. to pick up lunch, I came back to hear his answer:

"Not a pun—but a double entendre." 
Yes. That's what you have thoughtful witty colleagues for! 
He explained: The double entendre here gives you two meanings—the literal image of an elevator rising efficiently to higher floors and the figurative meaning of an object (and presumably you and your dreams) rising joyously to new levels of success. 

In passing, Matt noted that a double entendre is often about sex—but doesn't have to be. 

Yep. That settles it. A double entendre. And there is no possible way to construe "taking elevators to new heights" to be about sex.


Friday, July 1, 2016

World's Scariest Logo

Sometimes—when you're driving along a familiar highway—you get lost in thought or conversation or a ballgame on the radio... and the miles go by... and the scenery changes... and you're driving but not consciously steering the vehicle... Your eyes process the road and other cars... and your hands and feet are synchronized for operating the vehicle... but you're actually staring at something up ahead on a white van. You've been staring at this van for miles... and your mind is on autopilot trying to decipher the lettering... is that actually lettering up there?... and what is that THING YOU'VE BEEN STARING AT... IS THAT A NAME OR A CREATURE OR A... IT'S THREATENING YOU... YOU HAVE BEEN STARING AT IT... AND YOU DRIVE FASTER AND COME ALONGSIDE THE WHITE VAN AND YOU REALIZE THAT FOR MILES YOU HAVE BEEN TALKING AND DRIVING WHILE YOUR MIND HAS BEEN PREOCCUPIED BY THIS, THE WORLD'S SCARIEST LOGO. 

...and now the nightmares begin... the image of that logo... that greenish lizard-like digging thing... always crouching just behind your retina... ready to leap off the white van and start savagely but professionally excavating.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit lessons for branding

Britain’s stunning vote to leave the EU yields this basic message: No matter how diverse and interrelated society has become, people still want to belong to something familiar. They like having their own country, their own language, their same ol' flag.

I won’t delve into the psychology of this phenomenon. Disparage it as atavistic tribalism if you wish. Tie it to dark fears of ancestors prowling the earth in tiny bands beset by famine and beasts. Whatever its roots, the instinct to cluster together in familiar settings calms the blood and squirts out waves of whatever hormones turn human lips into a smile.

Brand marketers beware. June 24—last night's British Independence Day—has three lessons:

1 Little is big.
There is something to be said for small and knowable. Gigantic, faraway companies run according to sophisticated metrics may not be the best magnets for consumer love. Mom ‘n pop, start your store! You may have a competitive edge.

2 Localness is universal.
A global company that acquires a local competitor—e.g. financial giants gobbling up regional banks—should think twice before obliterating the local name and culture. Everyone hates “the big banks.” People might cut bankers some slack if they still looked and acted like Marine Midland or Republic National Bank of New York or Credit Commercial de France, all of which were ground into the ghastly monolith called HSBC.

3 Force is feeble.
Forcing customers to do things often fails. The EU bureaucracy's imposition of rules, regulations and mass immigration sparked a populist revolt. The annals of marketing are filled with examples of Coke, Netflix and other big brands telling customers to change their habits… and then having to back-track and apologize.

But the real lesson of Brexit comes from brand marketing to international politics: “Listen to your customers”—a tiresome platitude of marketing! The EU bureaucrats and Britain’s political elite did not heed this lesson. They dictated to their British customers, and last night those customers told them to go to bloody hell.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Truths lying around

Yogi Berra was said to have said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” Loosely translated—Yogi’s insight was that truths are right in front of us if we just take the time to look at them. 

I've been just watching these past three or four weeks—and this is what I’ve observed. 

1) The arrogance of some corporate leaders knows no bounds. Here is Tim Cook, head of Apple, pontificating on a stage-set so pretentious that it would make a Roman Emperor blush.
2) Speaking of Romans, I walked by a statue and by just watching learned why the Roman Empire declined and fell. Look—it’s so obvious. 

They rendered simple dates like July 4, 1876 as July IV, MDCCCLXXVI. WTF! Those Romans were so exhausted from calculating dates and weights with all these capital letters, they were too tired to fight off the Vandals. 
3) Marketers in the global economy often ask: “Should we translate our tagline into foreign languages when we expand overseas? Or keep it in English.” 

I was in a drugstore the other day and observed this bit of evidence—a sign in two languages—that suggests  no, translating is too cumbersome. Look at that reflexive Spanish verb! Just stick to the English version. Es verdad!

4) Another truth lying around: This squad of black-suited New York cops at Lincoln Center is a new fixture in the wake of the Orlando massacre. 

I’m just watching and thinking: They’re not here to fight off gay-bashers. They’re guarding against Islamic terrorists who hate all of us.

5) One morning I was just watching out my window when I saw this man doing his job 18 floors above the street. 

Come to think of it, I never saw a woman window washer. There has to be at least one in the world. She would be one wonderful woman window washer, wouldn’t she.

6) Here’s an odd object I noticed while just watching out my window: A bright orange bug built like a World War I biplane. It was 16 floors above the street clinging to a rope... or so I thought. Maybe the bug was holding the rope steady for the workers on the roof. Truth is, we may never know.
7) Here’s another truth: Even dogs insist on politically correct language. What else could account for the obsolescence of this old sign I saw near the coast of Connecticut?

“Dog pound?” Outrageous! Politically incorrect. If I had had a can of paint handy I would have painted over “Dog pound” and written “Canine shelter,” which is in favor today, I know by just watching. Dogs are people, too! Well, actually this is not a truth, but seems like it should be. It’s a blast of outrage that sounds right at home in our age of vociferous victims.

8) Here’s a final truth: People who sell ice cream should not eat the stuff themselves. Look at this menu. 

I’m guessing that a summer employee who chalked these items on the board was high on rum raisin ice cream and incapable of organizing information. He or she couldn’t—just could not function—for no one can think straight with a brain floating in a cold puddle of sugary cream.

Yes, there is much to observe all around us. Truths are everywhere, and you can see so much [and learn] by just watching.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

World's Worst Logo (a new champ)

The brilliant creative director Kenneth Cooke has a rule for corporate identity: "You get one trick per logo." I've seen Kenneth shoot down many a gimmicky logo with that devastating line. 

This season's worst logo features about, oh, four tricks—maybe five, if you count the cute red dot in the letter i down at the end. 

I don't know this company—I first saw the name in an ad ripped out of a magazine. The company probably comprises nice people offering worthwhile services—though this logo makes you doubt it. 

Let's face it, using this logo is like walking into a new job wearing clothes made of taped-together Dentyne gum wrappers. You still might be the world's best executive whatever... but you'd have to overcome first impressions to be taken seriously. 

As for how to fix this thing, I would start by shortening the clumsy name to "Imagene"—and then drawing a logo based on a distant star or a mysterious woman or a race-horse named Imagene. 

Of course she would be a one-trick pony.