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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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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The Story of Three 1970’s Posters: Tennis Girl; Hang in There, Baby; and Farrah

Why, oh why, should I write about this, you ask? Well, because, they all hung in my family’s summer cottage. So, let’s find out how they came to be and the legacy they leave.

Remember the Tennis Girl Poster? A very cheeky one, indeed. What throws many off is it is British. Most assume American origins. It shows an attractive woman from behind (hint, hint) walking towards a tennis court net. In her right hand is a (wooden) racquet. Her left hand reaches behind for some unknown reason lifting a short, white tennis dress. The movement exposes most of her back side.

The poster became incredibly popular and was shrouded in a bit of, “who was she?”

According to accepted sources, the photograph was taken by then-30-year-old Martin Elliott in September, 1976. The model was 18-year-old Fiona Butler, his girlfriend at the time. The photo was taken at the University of Birmingham’s tennis courts.

The dress was hand-made by Butler’s friend Carol Knotts, from a Simplicity Pattern with added lace trim. Knotts also supplied the tennis racquet, with all of the borrowed items later returned by Butler to Knotts after the shoot with the gift of a box of chocolates.

The image was first published as part of a calendar by Athena for the 1977 Silver Jubilee, the same year Virginia Wade won the Wimbledon ladies’ singles title. Athena negotiated an agreement to distribute the image as a poster. It achieved widespread distribution, selling over 2 million copies at £2 per poster. It remains a popular print to buy on Amazon and Posters.com.

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How to Evaluate a Company’s Culture

When I was a consultant at Price Waterhouse, I worked for a time in Mergers & Acquisitions. Not the deals, the actual coming together after the deal was signed, the integration. It was all about managing the human aspect. Could two cultures come together?

When I moved onto large strategy projects, much attention was made to the organizational chart. I learned there is the organizational chart on paper, the one that is promoted, and there is the one that shows how the organization actually worked (the one I had to figure out).

For the past 7 years, my brand strategy work has been mostly executive coaching (as much as I hate the term, “coaching”). I contend 25% of my work has involved the process of branding and 75% has been helping, directing, influencing, and bolstering the thinking and decisions of management.

This experience has produced a single insight…business is all about human psychology. I know, that is not earth-shattering but put it this way, every human is fallible. Every business is made up of humans. Businesses are, therefore, fallible, imperfect, flawed. And here is a branding secret, that is what makes them great.

Enough. I am rambling. What I want to get to, is the criteria for evaluating a company’s culture. This will help career seekers. It will direct and ease mergers and acquisitions. It will help clients pick providers and providers seeking clients. It is the way to calculate connection and fit.

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Don’t Be Afraid of Long-Form Ads

There was a time when people actually read, and read a great deal. Now brands, marketers and advertisers, have catered to and hastened ever-shortening attention spans. Videos run in seconds, online ads pop up over-and-over again in seizure inducing ways, radio screams irrelevant call-to-actions.

We have robbed consumers of their intellect by dumbing down both message and medium. Yet, people still read and watch in longer amounts. So many documentaries on Netflix are long ads for different sides of the same debate. Reality shows espouse different ways of life and people eat them up. So, why are brand ads increasingly short and, arguably, simpler (if not, dumb)?

It is great to come across long-form ads in print as they are both endangered species. Check out this beauts that take the time to compel and tell a story. Make sure to read the last one!

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My Tenuous Connection to Spy Magazine

It takes a certain vintage, I am speaking of human age, not a red wine or long-packaged Twinkie, to recall the magazine called, Spy. It was, to use an expression oft-used, fucking awesome. It ran from 1986 to 1998. Those were formative years for me. Actually, every year has been formative for me. I expect future ones to be equally or even more formative.

The publication was founded by Kurt Andersen and E. Graydon Carter, who served as its first editors. Their pedigrees are well-pedigreed. Andersen graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, where he edited the Harvard Lampoon. He has been a writer and columnist for New York, The New Yorker, and Time. What an under-achiever. Carter is Canadian (enough said) who served as the editor of Vanity Fair from 1992 until 2017. Such a light-weight.

Before their real accomplishments, they focused on Spy, which bathed in irreverence and was doused in satire. The content loved to skewer the American media and entertainment industries while mocking “high” society (which in America is vacuous celebrity). To say it was ‘ahead of its time’, is an evaluation they would skewer and mock if still in print.

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How’s this for Storytelling?

McCann Paris cleverly tells three different tales using business cards. The campaign is for The Good Life, a business and lifestyle magazine. The three ads tell stories of trips, shopping and work. Fun stuff, especially the trip gone wrong a la The Hangover.

The Back of a Napkin

Marketers and ad professionals are attracted to shiny new toys. They look to technology as a panacea for reaching and influencing buyer behaviour. Newspapers, radio, tv, the Internet, big data, social media, AI, and whatever is next. There is one thing missing in this equation.

The fact is all great ads regardless of medium or platform start out on a whiteboard, a flip chart, a notebook, or the back of a napkin.

Print ads are therefore the gold standard. If an ad or campaign cannot compel from a single sheet of paper, no algorithm will save it. Technology will just irritate consumers with irrelevant and poorly timed ads. In other words, why make something flawed more efficient?

Recently, I came across two sets of print ads that share characteristics. They draw you in visually. They create allure and make a promise. They know their audience. Someone sweated over them and were proud in the end. In a time when more means more, these were designed to cut through the clutter that advertising and converging technologies have created.

Great ads start with a Bic pen not an algorithm. Look ahead and see if you agree.

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