The World Cup offers big marketing opportunities – with even bigger challenges

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 by

Let's face it. When it comes to global marketing opportunities, the World Cup makes the Super Bowl look like a high school football playoff game. This year, 108 million people watched the Super Bowl. During the last World Cup, 3.2 billion tuned in, with 715 million global citizens sitting on the edge of their seat for the finals alone. Even better, the fact that the Cup's month of action is quadrennial means it's sandwiched between four years of rabid anticipation from a fully engaged, globally diverse audience.

In short, it’s both a marketer’s dream and potential nightmare.

Here are a few of the challenges. First, soccer is played in 45-minute continuous halves with the only breaks coming at halftime, so broadcast opportunities are constrained. Second, the space available for purchase is hyper-inflated, with eight-figure commercial partnerships and global sponsorship packages sold out long in advance. And third, with brands fighting for share of voice not only against each other but also against the personalities of some of most idolized athletes in the world (David Beckham, Ronaldo, etc.), marketing cost and competition have never been so high.

Another conundrum for advertisers is the proliferation and popularity of social media. Brazil’s World Cup will be the most cluttered social conversation ever. In fact, according to Twitter, three separate soccer matches have already achieved higher tweets-per-second peaks than the 2012 London Olympics. The 2012 Euro Cup final alone generated 16.5 million total tweets from a viewing audience of just under 300 million. The last World Cup final drew more than twice as many viewers, and that’s just one game. There will be 64 matches next summer generating hundreds of millions of social mentions. This global conversation provides a greater opportunity for earned media, but it also makes it incredibly difficult for brands to make themselves heard.

Events that involve this much advertising bring the world’s best marketers together to compete among themselves. During the 2010 World Cup, Nike drove more than twice as much social conversation as Adidas, despite it not being an official sponsor. However, Adidas set a company record with more than $1.8 billion in soccer-based sales that year, so both claimed victory.

So who will win the battle of merchandise sales and retweats in 2014? The "fitba" fans at our Charlotte ad agencies are eagerly awaiting the action off the pitch as much as what happens during the actual matches. Clearly, creativity and technological acumen will separate the winning brands from the losers, and we expect as many giant flops as epic performances. So stay tuned ...

5 green packaging trends that are here to stay

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 by

Looming climate change global environmental instability are becoming nearly impossible to ignore these days, and consumers have taken notice. With demand for sustainably-conscious products and product packaging constantly increasing, retail brands from Coke to Calgon have begun to offer and promote sustainable, environmentally-friendly, “green” packaging to help shoppers decrease their environmental impact. With the new year underway, here are five of the most exciting and innovative trends in sustainable consumer packaging our Charlotte marketing agency will be keeping a collective eye on over the next little while.

1. Plant-based plastics 
Plant-based plastic production is on the rise, and companies like Virent and Renmatix are helping to lead the way in the efficient production of plastics from renewable sourcee. A good example is the partnership between some huge brand names like Coca-Cola, Nestle and Nike and the World Wildlife Fund in establishing the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA), a collaboration aimed at setting standards for and guiding the development of plant-based plastics derived from feedstocks like corn and sugar cane. Formed late in 2013, BFA and other sustainably-minded companies are betting that virgin plastics and less sustainable materials will largely disappear from packaging and product manufacturing over the next few years. BFA and similar bioplastic trends show a lot of potential, and may help prove that our dependence on petroleum-derived plastics isn’t as hidebound as we once thought.   

2. “Greener” coffee pods
The market for single-serve coffee pods is huge on both sides of the Atlantic, amounting to a multi-billion dollar industry. While convenient for consumers, the waste these little single-serve containers generate creates a huge problem, given that the most common style of coffee pod is comprised of plastic, an aluminum lining or lid, and a filter – a product that cannot be easily recycled. Thankfully, coffee and tea pod producers are helping to solve the problem by designing more eco-friendly products that can even be composted. Biome Bioplastics is one such company, designing coffee pods comprised of plant-based materials and resources that meet international composting standards. Other company products, like Canterbury Coffee Company’s OneCoffee pod, or a tea pod developed by Republic of Tea, are paving the way with more biodegradable solutions to this huge waste stream.

2014 is sure to see a surge in the popularity of these more environmentally-conscious products as more firms begin to realize both their environmental and marketing value. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is estimated that nearly 9 billion single-serve pods are sold annually, which highlights just how huge the waste stream is and continues to grow ever year.

3. LiquiGlide
In 2012, MIT researchers and engineers unveiled a simple, yet revolutionary development in food packaging: LiquiGlide. LiquiGlide is a food-safe, slippery coating that can be applied to the inside of nearly any condiment, food, or viscous liquid-containing product bottle, allowing consumers to get every last drop of food or other product from their respective bottles (without, obviously, using their tongues).

Videos surrounding the unveiling of the new technology showed researchers pouring ketchup out of a glass bottle coated with LiquiGlide with no visible ketchup residue remaining in the bottle. Considering the EPA found that in 2011 only 4 percent of food waste was diverted from landfills, this new technology presents an incredible opportunity to reduce some of the most basic sources of global consumer food waste. Not only is LiquiGlide food-safe, but it has been approved by the FDA and is completely nontoxic. Now that the slippery coating has had time to prove itself, 2014 is sure to see more brands showing an interest in partnering with LiquiGlide.

4. Corporate responsibility
Over 80 percent of consumers are mindful of how sustainable the products they buy reportedly are. This has massive implications for companies and firms aiming to target the broad appeal of consumers across numerous industries, and further highlights the importance of true corporate responsibility when it comes to being environmentally and sustainably-conscious. A driving example of perpetuating corporate responsibility, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition – operated by nonprofit GreenBlue – started the How2Recycle Label project, allowing for brands to voluntarily sport How2Recycle Labels on their products. The labels not only detail what each component of a product’s packaging is made of, but also if each material can be recycled, and special instructions for materials not widely recycled in communities. The Kellogg Company, Minute Maid and Ziploc are among many companies that are willingly partnering with the program, and in the near future, that list is expected to only get larger. As consumers continue to demand more sustainable products, corporate entities will be pressured into following efforts similar to the How2Recycle project in order to show their consumers how environmentally conscious they really are.

5. Less is more
Manufacturers have been phasing out glass packaging in favor of rigid plastic alternatives for quite some time now. But consumers and manufacturers alike want to go one step further – to make product packaging even smaller lighter, and with fewer materials. For years already, innumerable bottled water brands have been making the shift towards lowering the amount of plastic contained in their 16.9-oz water bottles, and more brands and products are following suit. Heinz rolled out a 10-oz pouch of its tomato ketchup several years ago, lowering both the cost of production and cost to consumers. These new innovations in packaging design allow manufacturers to save on material resources, while passing on those savings to consumers.

Take, for example, the AstroPaq pouch. Our marketing agency Charlotte loves this green packaging technology for several reasons, especially the delicious adult beverages contained therein. So what's not to love? The contents chill much faster than when stored in a wine bottle (14 min vs. 40), and with only 2% packaging by weight, one truck load of empty AstroPaq pouches equals 14 truckloads of empty glass bottles. 

What happens to shopping malls when shoppers stop coming?

Monday, April 21, 2014 by

Exactly what you expect.  Places that were once filled with bright storefronts, music, loud shoppers and bubbling fountains become transformed into eerily empty halls that suffer from years of neglect and vandalism. We've seen it happen here in Charlotte with Eastland Mall, which was once as popular and glamorous as Southpark Mall. (Note: the super sketchy Asian Corner Mall at the intersection of North Tryon and Sugar Creek is still marginally open and -- in the opinion of our Charlotte marketing agency -- home to the BEST Bahn Mi sandwich in the Queen City).

Of course, most shopping malls are typically bustling with activity, packed during the winter holiday shopping season or teeming with families during the summer break, but the shopping malls captured by photographer Seph Lawless are ghostly monuments to consumption -- as they, in turn, are left to be consumed by the elements.

What do these images say about the changing landscape of consumerism and new trends like online shopping?

"There's nothing more profound and sobering then being inside an abandoned mall," said Lawless. "It's a powerful symbol of America's economic decline. I used to visit these malls often growing up. I remember eating cotton candy underneath the escalator and the sounds of people laughing and feet shuffling as the gentle sounds of falling water from one of the many fountains surrounded me. This was America."

Lawless is known for exploring abandoned spaces and documenting their imminent collapse. In 2012, he set out across the United States to photograph the "most broken parts of America." He came back with approximately 3,000 images and 17 hours of video footage. This year, Lawless released his book, Autopsy of America, a culmination of that work.

And while abandoned buildings dot the landscape of the American Rust Belt, photos of these decaying and boarded-up shopping malls,  once iconic cultural phenomena, may seem disturbing. But they shouldn't be surprising. About 15 percent of U.S. malls will fail or be converted into non-retail space within the next 10 years, according to Green Street Advisors, a real estate and REIT analytics firm, Business Insider reported.

Lawless’ newly published photo book Black Friday – The Collapse of the American Shopping Mall includes these and other abandoned malls around America. You can see more of his work on his personal site, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook. As experts in retail branding, our Charlotte marketing agency finds Lawless’ images to be a fascinating observation on the speed at which things can fall apart. The two Ohio shopping malls seen above and below — Rolling Acres Mall and Randall Park Mall — were both built in the the mid-1970s and abandoned in 2008 and 2009. Both malls, which now feature dead plants, broken glass and crumbling walls, are set to be demolished any day now.

The Breakfast Wars. And how did this ad ever get past the legal department?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 by

Wow. At our Charlotte marketing agency, we dread the point at which work gets "run by legal." It seems corporate counsel at most companies functions like a bobble head doll ... whose head only goes from side to side. So when we first saw this new Taco Bell spot that found a clever way to keep McDonald's army of IP lawyers at bay,  we were gobsmacked that Taco Bell’s ad agency, Deutsch LA, was able to get this approved. 

In the ads, which begin airing Thursday, people with the same name as the classic McDonald’s clown (Deutsch found some 400 people with some variation of the name Ronald McDonald and paid a select number of them for their appearances in the commercial), endorse offerings like Taco Bell’s new “waffle taco” ... and drop seemingly paradoxical (and lawsuit-worthy) lines like, “I’m Ronald McDonald and I love Taco Bell’s new breakfast.”


The fast food chain is looking to boost breakfast sales by rolling out new offerings and opening its 6,000 stores nationwide several hours earlier beginning this week, the Associated Press reports. So why aim directly at fast food breakfast goliath McDonalds? Because Americans spend $32 billion annually on fast food breakfast and McDonald’s commands one-third of the market and has been making Egg McMuffins since the 1970s.

Welcome to the Breakfast Wars.

Taco Bell has been working on its morning menu, which includes the Waffle Taco, the AM Crunch Wrap and Cinnabon Delights, for over seven years and it’s not about to flinch.

And McDonald’s took notice. this “I’m Ronald McDonald” ad, part of a campaign by Oscar-winning director Errol Morris, generated so much buzz, the Golden Arches rounded up its troops and immediately fired off a response.

They posted an image on social media showing their mascot, the red and yellow Ronald McDonald clown, kneeling down to pet the Taco Bell Chihuahua with the words, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” They also offered free small cups of its McCafe coffee to customers during breakfast hours for two weeks.

McDonald’s gets about 20 percent of its sales from breakfast. It made $10 billion last year off their morning menu alone, dwarfing Taco Bell’s $7.6 billion in total sales for all menus combined.

Taco Bell has been testing breakfast since early 2012, and the rollout is certainly well-timed. Breakfast in 2013 logged its fourth consecutive year of growth for restaurants, while lunch and dinner continue to decline. In 2013, 12.5 billion breakfast visits (which accounts for about 21% of all restaurant visits in the U.S.), were made to U.S. foodservice outlets, up 3% from 2012. Lunch and dinner visits at restaurants declined 1% in 2013, according to NPD.

Fast food, which accounts for 80% of total restaurant morning meals, showed the strongest growth, with a 4% increase over the prior year. And the forecast looks good: NPD estimates that fast-food breakfast will grow a cumulative 9% over the next nine years. By comparison, the industry overall is expected to grow less than a half a percent each year for the next 10 years.

If you work at a Charlotte marketing agency, check out this "Super Desk"

Friday, April 11, 2014 by

The benefits and downsides of common work spaces have been discussed in the agency world for decades. But no one can deny the  factor of The Barbarian Group's newly designed offices—and the amazing, undulating "superdesk" that snakes through it.

Benjamin Palmer and Sophie Kelly (Founder and CEO, respectively) introduce thir new space in the video below. Understandably, they talk mostly about the desk. A marvel of design—created with help from architect Clive Wilkinson—it features gorgeous lines, archways and cubbies, and is topped with a single unbroken undulating surface created by a continuous pour of resin.

The thing is other worldly, and, of course, the perfect metaphor for a place that wants to broadcast a collaborative spirit. TBG proudly calls it "a desk that we could all share, literally—4,400 square feet of unbroken awesomeness to keep people and ideas flowing."

So check out the video below. And try not to feel too bad about your own workspace (although we do like the collaborative layout and the semi-solid steel dividers in our Charlotte marketing agency)

World Cup Jerseys get a Reddit Redesign

Thursday, April 10, 2014 by

Football (or soccer as it's more commonly known in the US), has a rapidly growing fan base. Some say its popularity will soon surpass America's "national pastime", and in my opinion, rightfully so. We are just about two months away from the 20th World Cup, to be held in Brazil this year. Adding to the excitement, we've been able to watch as the official 2014 World Cup team jerseys have been leaked and announced to the public.

Recently a Redditor creative, Rojito, boldly redesigned all 32 of the qualifying countries kits including jerseys. He was provided quite the feedback, though seemingly more positive than negative. A Brazil jersey that is not solid yellow? Does that even make sense? What do you think? Either way, this fans at our Charlotte marketing agency will be glued to the screen. To compare, the approved qualifying team jerseys are up for review and for sale.

(the above Image is the official 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil poster, designed by the Brazilian creative creative agency Crama and  revealed on January 30, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro)

Buy one, get one: the psychology behind the BOGO

Friday, April 4, 2014 by

I don’t buy 10 cartons of Yoplait because I can’t (won’t) eat 10 cartons of yogurt before they go bad. I’m lucky if I can eat my way to the bottom of one carton. So when my local Food Lion has a great deal on yogurt, I tend to pass. From a shopper marketing perspective however, such outlier behavior is generally atypical of how middle America reacts to a ten for $10.

The Times had a good article about multiples recently, and here’s a quick exegesis from our Charlotte marketing agency.

Using buying patterns detected from loyalty cards, receipts, and other research, grocery chains are searching for the multiples sweet spot. For example, Kroger currently has lemonade, socks and Kroger gummi bears candy on sale at 10 for $10. And, to the chagrin of right-brained finger counters everywhere, the old gimmick — buy one, get one free — has been expanded to include some pricing equations based on complex NASA-inspired algorithms – or at least it appears so to my mathematical challenged mind.

Most grocery shoppers make a list before going to the store, according to two recent studies,  In one, Acosta Sales and Marketing, which advises clients like Nestlé on pricing, found that 84 percent of shoppers make a list, 23 percent make fewer grocery trips than a year ago, and that, over all, shoppers are spending less per trip than a year ago.

Then, throw unemployment, rising gas prices and more expensive food into an already meager stew, and you get consumers who have become extremely value driven, budget minded, list minded, less impulsive, and very deal oriented. So in order to get someone to buy something that wasn’t on their list (or more of what was), grocers like our client Bloom need incentives to nudge shoppers outside their typical behavior. And it’s working. marketing agency charlotte

Well advertised, relevant multiples push customers a little higher than their typical purchase rate. People tend to buy the amount, or buy in increments, that are advertised – ten boxes of tortellini for $10, for example. According to John T. Gourville, professor of marketing at Harvard Business School who studies pricing strategies, even though shoppers usually do not have to buy the suggested amount to get the discount, they do anyway. “It is all about the power of suggestion,” he said. ad agency charlotte

30 business cards that take a traditional (yawn) touchpoint to a new level

Thursday, April 3, 2014 by

The origins of the first business card are a tad opaque, but I like to think it goes all the way back to the Stone Age, when a caveman handed another a rock with his name carved into it. Whenever the first business card appeared, it has since sparked a revolution in the ways in which we network and do business. With all of the business I know of still using business cards today, it's clear that they are still very much an important part of the world's professional interaction.

Then what makes them so timeless? 

Perhaps because business cards, unlike shoulder pads and leg warmers, have managed to move on from the 1980s, and the rather staid white card with lettering isn’t good enough anymore. 

Check out some of these fascinating designs, showing how businesses can promote themselves with interesting and unique visuals, shapes and formats. If you are a computer coder, why not present your business card in the form of HTML code? If you are a Charlotte marketing agency, why not put a name with a face (as the ad agency Reactor did in example #1). Or if you are a gardner, wouldn’t it make sense to create business cards with seeds (see below)? 

There are some things that haven’t changed so much. Business cards still say the same things, names and contact details. They are also still around the same shape – easy enough to fit in a wallet. But other than that, the way in which you give your information and the ways in which you present it to the public, is completely open to interpretation and reinvention. In fact, the more creative you are, the more customers will take notice of you over anyone else in your industry.

A funny Canadian political ad campaign for "anybody but ..."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 by

In case you don't follow Canadian politics, Rob Ford, the embattled Toronto mayor is running for re-election, and apparently, has a good chance of winning -- despite being caught on camera smoking what appears to be little white rocks. And then later admitting it.  He also likes to catch a mean buzz at public events and has a problem keeping his hands to himself when in the presence of attractive young staffers. 

In an effort to bring down their crack-smoking, cuss-ranting mayor, a campaign called No Ford Nation has begun to openly mock Ford through a Facebook page, a website and now, a number of Toronto-area signs. The campaign banners feature fake candidates and slogans meant to needle Ford's government policies and personal missteps. 

The site, started by a not for profit group, distributes an equal amount of information about those hoping to replace him while debunking the mayor's favorite campaign lies. The three signs, posted in downtown Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Park, do not specifically endorse any of the candidates running against Ford. They simply advocate you vote for anyone but the incumbent half-mayor. 
Of course, none of the candidates is really running for mayor, and the advertisement is for No Ford Nation, a site registered just three weeks ago.
Rethink, the ad agency behind the humorous gay rights ad that poked fun at lugging during the Sochi Olympics, also worked on the campaign. Nice job guys! Everyone at our Charlotte ad agency has gotten a big chuckle out of the irreverence and pluck of this grassroots campaign


IKEA blurs the line between its print catalog and its customers' smart phones

Monday, March 31, 2014 by

In 2013, Ikea jumped into the world of augmented retail reality, when it released a companion app to go with its catalog -- giving Swedish furniture fans access to bonus digital content related to products shown on its pages. A new version of that app is now available, and with it comes some really cool new functionality.

Thanks to proprietary image-recognition technology that's synced with the IKEA product database, the app loads digital content that is localized and up-to-date, which extends the catalog's shelf life from just a couple of weeks to an entire year.

Users can now see what certain pieces of furniture (or at least a digital version of said furniture) will look like in a given room. For the feature to work, users simply need to scan one of the 90 AR-enabled product pages with the app, and toss the catalog on the floor where they want to see the digital version of the product appear. Then, the app superimposes a 3D model of that bit of decor on your mobile device's screen, allowing users to assure their would-be furniture will maintain perfect feng shui without having to actually move stuff around. As retail branding and shopper marketing specialists, our Charlotte marketing agency has had a lot of fun both playing around with the IKEA app as well as envisioning the possibilities for other retailers.

Check out Google's newly upfitted Amsterdam office ...

Friday, March 28, 2014 by

Google's offices, though always Google-esque, tend to draw inspiration from their location. The original Google campus in Mountain View, for example is sprawling and sunny, resembling something like an alternate-universe Stanford (the alma mater of Brin and Paige). The New York offices, on the other hand, located out on the far West Side of Manhattan, feel more industrial and loft-like. 

So when it came time to fold their Amsterdam offices into the chameleonic sensibilities of Google, the company tapped Dutch firm D/DOCK to transform the space into a fun and funky new office for the tech giant.

Featuring a mix of Google's in-house style and Dutch design cues, the design is identifiably Dutch -- showcasing Holland's quirky playfulness that transforms the basics into something fun. There's lots of brick and graffiti, which are a nod to the company's origins in a garage (though the actual Google garage is more suburban and less cool).
And of course, just like a fair number of Charlotte ad agencies, there are traditional trappings of creative environments, i.e., a foosball table.
The reception desk resembles a carrier bicycle, complete with space for cargo. Google’s on-sight restaurant, which can seat up to 80 people, has some Delft Blue graphics. There are even ceiling panels shaped like Stroopwafels (two thin waffles with a caramel-like syrup sandwiched between them), and gingerbread wall covering.
Another quirky part of the office is the 1960s caravan (known as a "mobile home" to most Americans - and a "trailer" to us Southerners) that looks like it is in the middle of a camp site. This serves as an unconventional but comfortable room complete with cushions and vintage furniture.
Here's what D/DOCK managing director Coen van Dijck had to say about the project in a press release: 
“It is a place that makes the employee perform better by offering a work environment that meets their needs. Happiness, comfort, flexibility, relaxation, well balanced nutrition, exercise, daylight, fresh air and visual stimulation are some of the fundamentals that make this office a healthy one."



Top 10 Legal Defenses for Mayor Cannon

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 by

In light of the recent allegations leveled against the Queen City's new mayor, the copywriting department at our Charlotte ad agency took a short break from client work to respond with this satirical and fictional list:*

  1. Bribe? I thought they said “do you want a RIDE?”
  2. I have always accepted donations to my son’s Scout troop.
  3. How can it be a bribe if it came with no strings attached?
  4. In Afghanistan, it’s rude to refuse a gift from a stranger.
  5. Mayor Foxx and Mayor McCrory took bribes all the time and look where THEY are now.
  6. I'm a shapeshifter, and, as such, am not responsible for what my animal form does or does not do.
  7. There is no "I” in "team" and there is no "me" in "bribe."
  8. I was accepting bribes as research – to prepare for the upcoming role of Cassius in a local production of Shakespere’s Julius Caesar.
  9. Bruton Smith isn’t the kind of man to whom you just say “No.” 
  10. The Charlotte mayor’s official salary is only $22k a year. 


*Satire and parody are important forms of political commentary that rely on blurring the line between truth and outrageousness to mock, needle, and hold public figures accountable. Although they may be offensive and unintentionally injurious, these statements contain constitutionally protected ideas and opinions, provided a reasonable reader would not mistake this list as describing actual facts - WHICH IT DOES NOT.

10 things we learned at EuroShop 2014, the world's biggest retail trade fair

Monday, March 24, 2014 by

This year at Düsseldorf's EuroShop, the massive (triennial? -- next one is in 2017) Global Retail Trade Fair, there were over 2.200 exhibitors from 57 countries spread across 16 halls. To give this year's event a more intuitive, navigable structure (this show is BIIIIG), EuroShop was subdivided into four independent but complementary areas: EuroConcept (shopfitting and equipment), EuroSales (visual merchandising and sales promotion), EuroCIS (communications, information, security technology) and EuroExpo (retail design and construction).

Between the almost 20 acres of interior convention space at the Düsseldorfer trade show grounds and the boundary-pushing architecture and banging nightlife that have made North Rhine–Westphalia's capital one of Germany’s most dynamic cities, it would take a week to share all  of the shopper marketing, retail branding, and cultural insights our Charlotte marketing agency gathered during our time there. 

So here's our 2 minute Top Ten things we took home from the 2014 EuroShop:

  1. The point of sale is changing from a place of product transfer to the scene of an experience. 
  2. In terms of retail design, we saw a lot of cement tiles, textured panels and highly textured woods accented by dramatic lighting.
  3. White remains the dominant color with accents of bright bold color and natural woods.
  4. LED technology continues to advance with more appealing warmer kelvin temperatures, and its streamline nature has translated into more creative applications.
  5. In a retail environment, lighting, which is easy to overlook, creates ambience and accents like nothing else!
  6. Multitouch digital technology built into tabletop experiences is blossoming in a big way.

  7. Fashion retailers now deploy mannequins equipped with same video technology used to identify criminals at airports.
  8.  Made from a combination of 90 fruits, berries, herbs, and spices and spilling out of the bottle in a gorgeous blood red hue, Killepitsch, a cult brew native to Düsseldorf, is best drunk ice-cold and at a bar close to where you're spending the night.
  9. From free Wi-Fi access to interactive signage to bar code scanning, European retailers are continuing to make heavy investment in technologies that will strengthen the customer experience at the store and enable the gathering of customer data.  
  10. Germans are health obsessed. Their eggs need to be organic and come from free-range chickens. Millions cycle to work and then stop off for some yoga on their way home. And in between all this health and exercise, they smoke pack after pack of cigarettes

birdsong gregory headed to Boca to compete for a NATIONAL American Advertising Award

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 by

Boca Raton, that is. Swimming pools, movie stars, and a bunch of heavy hitters from the North American advertising community gathered down in sunny Palm Beach County for the American Advertising Federation’s National Conference on Advertising. This big 4-day happening is a great opportunity for Charlotte advertising agencies like birdsong gregory to come together with peers from across the country for lots of education, inspiration, innovation, collaboration, and celebration. 

Typically, we don't spend a lot of time or money schmoozing at industry conferences. Not only can they be a big waste of resources (talking to you, for-profit Path to Purchase Institute -- and your innumerable expos, summits, and gabfests with self-proclaimed "experts"), but when you're a small agency working with big clients, who has the time?

This year is a little different, though, seeing as how we were the only Charlotte marketing agency (and only the second NC marketing agency) to win a Gold ADDY in our district (which includes Virginia, South Carolina, and the Old North State). As such, we've automatically been entered into the national American Advertising Awards and, having advanced through the first two tiers of the competition, are eager to find out how we stack up at the national level.

The American Advertising Awards, formerly the ADDYs, is the advertising industry’s largest and most representative competition, attracting over 40,000 entries every year in local AAF Club (Ad Club) competitions. The mission of the American Advertising Awards competition is to recognize and reward the creative spirit of excellence in the art of advertising.

And although we didn't win a two-foot stack of plastic plaques at the local AAF competition held back in February, it's gratifying to see that quality still trumps quantity. If you're interested in reading more about the concept behind the work we submitted, please take a look here.

A rare find: packaging as mouthwatering as the contents

Friday, March 14, 2014 by

Looking forward to the weekend? Everyone at our Charlotte marketing agency certainly is, and as 5:00 PM grows closer,  the impending cocktail hour serves as a powerful motivator to wrap up a long week filled with challenging retail branding projects. In such a libational mood, I was flabbergasted to discover the existence of Mortlach 70 years old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This whisky was released a few years ago under Gordon and MacPhail's Generations brand with a price tag of up to $15,000 a full-size bottle. Holding the record for the oldest whiskey in the world available for retail sale today, this nectar was filled into its cask on October 15, 1938 by the grandfather of the company's managing directors.

Charles MacLean, a whisky connoisseur and consultant for Bonhams’ auctioneers, described the world's oldest malt whiskey this way: “a delicate, fresh, vital, fruity whisky with the color of sun-bleached polished mahogany, a mellow nose, at once waxy and fruity; candlewax to the fore initially, which becomes snuffed candle – a thread of smoke – with Maraschino cherries in Madeira cake behind and, after a while, an orangey citric note, fresh and juicy, becoming apricot jam."  

Equally impressive is the package design, which took as inspiration the idea of a single precious drop and resulted in the tear-drop shape of the hand-blown crystal which is etched with deliberately contemporary typography and has no label (to allow for the full beauty of the whisky to shine through).

The box design works around the idea of a frame rather than a container; echoing the minimalist style of the bottle by using hidden magnets rather than hinges and with the clean, modern logotype, chosen for the Generations brand, silver-foil stamped onto Brazilian rosewood.

Feeling inspired? And a maybe a little thirsty?

Charlotte ad agencies, capitalized billings, and confusion.

Thursday, March 13, 2014 by

charlotte ad agencyOur Charlotte marketing agency regularly submits our annual billings to the Charlotte Business Journal for inclusion in their annual Book of Lists under the "Largest 25 Charlotte Advertising Agencies" category. Even though birdsong gregory is a smaller, more nimble shop than the local big boys, we've always punched well above our weight class in terms of creative thinking and seamless execution.

And while we are happy to get a little free PR from the CBJ, I've always been a bit skeptical about the methodology behind "capitalized billings," which is the formula used to rank the size of an agency on paper.

Capitalized billings are the aggregate total of all the measured business that passes through the agency’s hands. For example, if an advertising agency had one client that spends $5 million each year with the agency (on print and broadcast media, etc.), that agency might declare itself with $5 million in capitalized billings. The calculation of capitalized billings becomes more complicated when an agency does less traditional media buying and more, say, branding strategy or marketing collateral development.  In that case, in order to calculate the “equivalent” capitalized billings for that account, the agency may adjust those expenditures as a function of that work’s gross income to the agency. It is for this reason that capitalized billings, as an indication of agency size, is often debated. 

It's important to remember that, capitalized billings are often a disputed value and are NOT an indication of gross or net income. In fact, the figure itself has nothing to do with the agency’s gross income (AGI), gross profit, or net income. So you can see how the situation becomes more complicated if an agency in question does not purchase media for its clients. When that is the case, those agencies artificially convert their AGI to a “capitalized” value by using the typical, although seldom the case these days, media commission of 15%. They artificially up-size their AGI by that 15% factor and declare themselves accordingly. Proponents say it’s not deceptive; it’s just an attempt to allow an “apples & apples” comparison. If you work at a Charlotte ad agency, what are your thoughts?

Olive Garden hopes a new logo will add a little spice to its cucina

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 by

Olive Garden is well known as the restaurant chain of Italian-American fast casual dining cuisine, which touts an endless supply of bread sticks and salads. During an investor presentation this month, the owners announced that with, “same-restaurant sales lagging Knapp-Track ratings recently,” they are, “implementing a comprehensive brand renaissance plan to regain momentum,” that includes a completely redesigned logo. And as our Charlotte marketing agency knows all too well, staying relevant to your target consumers in this era of simplified design -- while attracting new consumers -- is not a simple task to undertake. 

The reaction was immediate and scathing. “It looks like a second grader’s cursive practice” griped Slate. That was polite compared to’s brutal “People hate Olive Garden’s new logo." The closest thing to a compliment from any major publication was which skipped straight over the relative aesthetics of the simplified text and less ornate new look and took a shot at the entire chain by noting that “Olive Garden’s new logo probably can’t save Olive Garden."

As rough as the reaction was for Olive Garden’s corporate parent, the abuse was probably a welcome reprieve from what it’s been hearing from Wall Street. Shares of Darden Restaurants (NYSE: DRI) are down more than 10% already in 2014. Darden has responded to pressure from investor activists by announcing a plan to spin off its Red Lobster division. As we've discussed in a recent blog post, middle-class brands like Olive Garden and Red Lobster are struggling as America's middle class continues to lose spending power.

Darden better hope something happens to change its fortunes soon because the wolves are at the door. With customer traffic down 13% in December and sales off 5.4% in the third quarter, investors like Barington Group haven’t been shy about suggesting ways Darden can increase shareholder value. In a recent webcast Barington suggested Darden split into three different companies. Under Barington’s plan Darden would lump Olive Garden and Red Lobster into a mature brand parent company, put Darden’s other chains under an umbrella dedicated to more rapid growth, and spin off real estate assets entirely.

Darden insists its plans are sufficient and is refusing to argue the point in public. Darden recently cancelled its shareholders’ meeting, opting instead for a roadshow where it will meet institutional investors on an individual basis.

Running away from activists and throwing out an immediately despised logo may buy Darden some time, but unless customers start buying more meals Olive Garden and the rest of the corporation can run, but they won’t be able to hide for long.

Spring may be here, but winter is coming ...

Monday, March 10, 2014 by

With more than a month left until the Season 4 premiere, Game of Thrones fans (and our Charlotte marketing agency) are hungry for any tidbits they can get about the show. This year, though, that wait has a silver lining, at least in the Seattle area: Fans can get early access to Westeros with an official gallery show based on A Song of Ice and Fire.

“Winter Is Coming” opened this weekend at Seattle’s LTD. Art Gallery and runs through March 23; on display is a wide swath of interpretations of the book series and show, ranging from contemporary pop art to Vallejo-esque fantasy.

The latter is a departure for the gallery, but when the saga’s creator George R.R. Martin likes it, you go with it. “It’s something George really gravitates towards,” says James Monosmith, the gallery’s owner. “So I wanted to created that juxtaposition between these high-fantasy stylized pieces and a more modern approach.”

Monosmith planned the show with Martin’s input, ultimately ending up with an eclectic collection that ranges from a vintage travel-style poster for Dragonstone to a portrait of Daenerys Targaryen that echoes the cover for Duran Duran’s album Rio.

In all, more than 70 artists contributed to the show, thanks to a combination of personal recommendations from Martin—including talent that worked on various Song of Ice and Fire games, art books, and calendars—and Monosmith’s eye for the offbeat.

As a fan himself (he’s read the books multiple times over the past decade), Monosmith didn’t have much of a decision to pursue the show. “This was kind of a no-brainer for us,” he said.

Though “Winter Is Coming” is only LTD.’s second time producing a show based on literary source material, the gallery is no stranger to pop-culture influence. Since its opening in 2011, it has shown homages to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Family Guy, and Bungie’s upcoming videogame Destiny.

Check out television's first national pot spot

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 by

The first ever television advertisement for medical marijuana in the United States aired Monday, in New Jersey and Chicago and is set to appear in Massachusetts next week. acts as a guide for patients to find doctors prescribing marijuana, was the first to put an advert about the pot in the country on Comcast, America's largest cable network.

The company claims that the ad draws a parallel in an attempt to stress the importance of consulting doctors to get medical marijuana for severe and debilitating medical conditions.

"We recognize that the sale and use of marijuana is still considered very controversial and we are pleased that Comcast understands that there are legitimate businesses providing legitimate and legal services to people who have legitimate needs" said Jason Draizin, founder and CEO of

He then went on to say, "dude, is this interview almost over ... I'm feeling the starvies something wicked. Can we hit up a Chipotle and get our munch on?"

A smart way to make visual merchandising more shopable

Monday, March 3, 2014 by

At our charlotte marketing agency, we do a lot of visual merchandising for national retailers like Lowe's, Walmart, and Rite Aid - either directly for the retailer at the corporate level or for a consumer brand on behalf of their retail partners. As such, we're always looking for innovations at the store level, and the bg team really enjoyed last summer's digital store windows that popped up in Manhattan to launch Kate Spade’s Saturday line of casual clothing.

Technology has been fitting seamlessly into the retail spectrum for a number of years now, but from an in-store perspective, 2014 might be the year where the brick & mortar shopping experience takes that next step.

The Kate Spade 24/7 shoppable window is a great example of this convergence in action.

The screens measured about 9 feet across and 2 feet (0.6 meter) high and appeared on the front windows of closed stores in Soho and the Lower East Side. Passers by could simply touch the screens to order and have products delivered to them within an hour via courier. Since this was an e-bay powered engagement, payment was accepted by the couriers through PayPal.

In a thoughtful nod to her desire to tailor the shopping experience, shape and fit of the apparel items could be previewed on model photos.

Obviously, location is critical for a tactic like this to succeed, and the density of pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk jungle that is New York City makes it an optimal place to grab attention with an eye catching store window display like these walk-up, highly shoppable windows that suddenly took over formerly vacant retail stores.

Detroit, anyone?