How Spam Came to Rule the World (and why it is shoplifted in Hawaii)

What do you think of when you hear the word, “Spam”? First off, we are not talking about electronic junk mail. 

If you are thinking luncheon meat, you probably have a mixed reaction at best. For most of the grocery product’s 8-decade history, Spam has been disparaged and dismissed. The harshest critics cite is as inedible and mock it as “Something Posing As Meat” or “Scientifically Processed Animal Matter”. Yet, over 8.5 billion cans have been sold since Hormel launched the product in 1937. 

Americans buy 113 million cans of Spam annually. This means 3.8 cans are consumed every second in the United States. To keep up with demand, the slaughterhouse next to the Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota butchers 20,000 pigs a day. So, how can we reconcile what is so bashed with what is bought (and stolen) in mass amounts?

Spam was successful right out of the gate, having grabbed 18% market share in its first year of sales. By 1940, 7 out of 10 of Americans had tried Spam. This was largely attributed to an economy still suffering from the Depression and it began Spam’s longstanding association with low-cost and frugality. Sales still spike when times are tough. 

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Wagyu: Beefy Branding or True Luxury?

Restaurant menus provide me with great entertainment. First, there are the overly florid descriptions, “Isle of Gigha halibut plucked today from Neptune’s briny depths and glazed with hints of Aegean seaweed while paired with citrus-infused Atlantic King crab balanced delicately by herbal-honeyed cauliflower couscous, index finger lime, and accented by a buttery and woody ras el hanout infused broth.”

All joking aside, given I penned that pretentious menu item, it does pay to have dishes sound more enticing. Guests, on average, spend about 109 seconds with a menu. Item descriptions trigger 45% of buying decisions for a specific dish and well-written descriptions can increase sales up to 30%. Another consideration, 80% of a restaurant’s food sales come from 16% of menu items.

The second reason menus entertain are my hunt for typos. Being a marketer and a writer, I am programmed to spot these but never do so to shame. When it is so egregious, forcing me to bring it up, the restaurant has been already well aware but do not want to eat the cost of a reprint (blame the printers!). Such errors show humanity, so often this can be endearing. After all, you may spot syntax and grammar no-no’s in this piece (like using the hyphenated expression, no-no).

A third reason is menu layout and design. Studies call for just 7 items per page, so customers absorb and focus. Generally accepted thinking is to ditch dollar signs and round up or down to even numbers. Forget that $6.95 way of thinking and make it 7. Restaurants have assumed that customers are drawn to the upper righthand corner of menus, so place higher profit items there. Newer research suggests customers read menus like a book, starting in the top left corner.

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The Story Behind Richard Bachman

If you follow Stephen King in the press and social media, you will see he has passion for many topics. The author is politically vocal and not a fan of the 45th President. He is highly supportive of other writers, especially those starting out. He shares tips on the craft of writing and is delightfully self-deprecating, “I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.”

King is amazingly well-known, having sold over 350 million copies of his 61 novels. It is fair to say, his name is synonymous with the term, “bestselling”. He and other contemporary mass market novelists like Patterson, Picoult, Roberts, and Stine, pump out novel after novel.

When King’s career took off, publishers limited authors to one book per year. It was thought that the public would tire of a more active author. King has always been prolific so decided to write under another name. The idea was to avoid over-saturating the King “brand”.

Signet Books agreed to print a series of novels under the pseudonym, Richard Bachman. King used this opportunity as an experiment. He wanted to find out if his success was due to talent or luck? Would Bachman be as big as King? The Bachman novels were released with little marketing support. Unfortunately, the experiment ended too soon to come to a conclusion. King was linked to Bachman. Consider this though, the novel Thinner sold 28,000 copies under Bachman and then ten times as many when people found out it was King.

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SaaS Marketing Sucks in the Same Way

Many Software as a Service companies struggle with marketing. Awareness, conversion and retention are challenges. In the past two weeks, I have been exposed to over a dozen SaaS companies through talks delivered for an incubator. I know why they are struggling. 

SaaS marketing is highly templated, and everyone is using the same templates. What’s more, there is startling little differentiation regardless of the nature of the software. Finance SaaS solutions are marketed the same as Design SaaS or Procurement SaaS. There are tons of different flavors, but at the end of the day, it is the same ice cream cone. Once, I thought, law firms held the gold medal for parity marketing but SaaS now rules.

The root of this is clear, SaaS has a low barrier to entry. If you remember business theory, industries with low barrier to entry face greater competition. While competition should drive differentiation, in the SaaS universe, it has produced shocking (and boring) sameness.

SaaS companies like to say they are B2B companies, they are not. They are more like dry cleaners, locksmiths, massage therapists, florists, dentists, landscapers, and snow removal businesses (the last one is a nod to the fact I live in Quebec). To illustrate my point, here is a fun exercise. Imagine you are a locksmith or florist. 

SaaS companies say they are B2B companies, they are not. They are more like dry cleaners, locksmiths, massage therapists, florists, dentists, landscapers.

Now, further imagine how you would market that business. Except, you cannot discount your price or give anything away for free. How do you position versus the competition? How do you reach prospective customers? How do you become the #1 Locksmith in your area? 

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When Times Square Smoked and Steamed

I have spent a great amount of time in Manhattan. In the ’90’s, I was in the city for 5 months “reengineering” Price Waterhouse’s marketing in the five boroughs. Later, I commuted there twice a month from Canada for over eleven years, working for Interbrand and DDB Worldwide over that time. And there were many other visits too. In fact, I have probably “lived” in Manhattan for four or five years.

Times Square was gentrifying when I started taking in its sights, yet still plenty gritty. I often triple-checked that my wallet was still on my person but it was nothing like Midnight Cowboy. I do not think of it as a square. It more resembles a small valley framed by towering, brightly-lit odes to commercialism and capitalism. For over one hundred years this has been the case. The difference now is the volume of messages. Times Square is analogous to marketing and advertising overall, too much clutter, it is tough for messages to break through.

Three signs did an admirable job of standing out in Times Square.

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Counter Culture (mom & pop shops and the brands they carried)

Rich Saal is a commercial and editorial portrait photographer based in central Illinois (full website here). His work to present day captures humanity richly. Between 1979 and 1983, Rich took stark, subtlety revealing shots of mom & pop shops. These black & whites seem to represent an even earlier era. As we know, large chains sunk many mom & pops over the years so this is a treasure trove.

Enjoy them and hang in for a recent update collection of what has since happened to these stores. Rich provides the original black and white and a comparative colour shot taken in the original location.

What makes this collection even more valuable is the capture of brands. Many have survived to this day, albeit with some logo and packaging progressions. The above photo displays 2-litre bottles of pop that look fairly contemporary though the bottles themselves are history. Pixy Stix, Planters Peanuts, and Jack Daniels are quite recognizable. It must be summer given the screen patches readily available to help keep bugs out.

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And So It Goes

I happened to be surfing online for nothing in particular, five hours later, I came across a photo from The Boneyard located on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base just outside of Tucson. It is a resting place for over 4,000 worn out or damaged planes. There is a strange symmetrical beauty to the arrangement.

There are different categories of storage for the aircraft. “Long-term storage” is for planes that will be used again in the future. The category for planes kept for spare parts is “parts reclamation.” “Flying hold” means aircraft are kept for a shorter time than the long-term category, and “excess of DoD needs” means the planes are sold off in parts or as a whole.

Meanwhile, further below, see what happens to decommissioned cruise ships.

Cruise ships are being scrapped at a Turkish dock after the multi-billion dollar industry was smashed by the Covid crisis. The cruise liner graveyard at the port in Aliaga, bustles with work.

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Decoding Mr. Clean

So, there I was surfing Tumblr when I tumbled across this…

This contest had a lot on the line. First, being able to brag that you named Mr. Clean. Second, you win a house! If you were close, the next prize of transistor radio was not too bad either (in 1962). Mr. Clean made his television commercial debut in 1958, initially portrayed in the live-action versions. Within the first six months, Mr. Clean became the best-selling household cleaner on the market. Impressive results.

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A True Super Model

Not a day goes by without at least one person asking me, “Who is your favourite model?” Okay, no one has ever asked me that, so I have taken it upon myself to anticipate the question and share my response.

Before Kendall (blah), before Linda and Cindy, even before Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton there was Veruschka, perhaps the first supermodel. In 2018, Vogue wrote, “Standing six feet tall, she was a bombshell of Amazonian proportions with a chiseled-by-the-gods bone structure, steely blue gaze, plush mouth, and shape-shifting champagne blonde hair.” 

Now 81, the German countess Veruschka von Lehndorff has lived more than nine lives. From aristocracy to Vogue covers to Woodstock to principled stances, she intrigues. How many Vogue covers did she grace you ask? 11! Veruschka worked regularly with star photographers such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, achieving fame after changing her name from Vera. She even appeared briefly in Michael Antonini’s classic film, Blow Up.

Veruschka was born Vera Gottliebe Anna Gräfin von Lehndorff-Steinort on 14 May 1939, in Königsberg, East Prussia, now known as Kaliningrad, Russia. She grew up at Steinort, an estate, which had been in her family for centuries. Her mother was Countess Gottliebe von Kalnein (1913-1993). Her father, Count Henrich von Lehndorff-Steinort (1909-1944), an East Prussian junker, aristocrat, and army reserve officer was a key member of the German Resistance, after witnessing Jewish children being beaten and killed.

When Veruschka was five years old, her father was executed for allegedly attempting to assassinate Adolf Hitler in the 20 July Plot. After his death, the remaining family members spent their time in labor camps until the end of World War II. At the end of the war, her family was homeless. As a young girl, she attended 13 schools.

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Seven & Seven: Is the Cocktail and Ads Coming Back?

My father was born in 1925. A WW2 Canadian navy veteran, semi-pro football player, and lawyer who drank exclusively a variation of the “Presbyterian”. The recipe is 2 ounces scotch, bourbon or rye with ginger ale and club soda. Instead, he enjoyed rye, 7 Up and water. In hindsight, not really a Presbyterian. Closer to the simpler Seven & Seven. A drink that was all the rage in the late ’60’s and early 70’s.

7 Up has been around since 1920. Seagram’s, the liquor company, was founded in 1857 and gained notoriety, ubiquity and riches thanks to Prohibition. That is when the two first came together, however, only scattered information can be found on the early union. I came across a 7 Up ad from 1964 centred on sport fishing that extolled the virtues of mixing the pop with any whiskey. It got me thinking…not a bad idea. Play the beverage up as both mix and pop. 7 Up extended the campaign to gin.

The target audience is affluent men in desirable situations and settings (golfing, squash, sport fishing). Basically, those that have disposable income and drinking time on their hands. Another shows well-dressed couples around a fire in a Mad Men-era home. There is even one that may have appealed to my father…it showed the “sport” of curling. At the Winnipeg Winter Club, on the ice, he was known as the ‘Man with the Golden Arm’. Did he succumb to the advertising or did the advertising emulate his life?

A little digging saw a progression. Let’s talk about the originally named whiskey, Seagram’s Seven Crown, now mostly called Seagram’s Seven. It is a blended American whiskey. Once produced by Seagram’s, it is now owned by Diageo under the Seagram name. Seagram’s beverage division was acquired by Diageo, Pernod Ricard, and The Coca-Cola Company in 2000 (that is a whole other story!). What we see next is classic co-branding. Seven & Seven. Whiskey and mix, with a 70’s look and feel.

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