Sunday, October 30, 2011

Has Freedom of Speech Gone Too Far in the U.S.?

Moms think marijuana candy has crossed the line.
If you are an American, you live in one of the best countries in the world ... a country characterized by personal freedoms that extend beyond those offered in just about any other place you could call home.

But, there are times those liberties extend a bit further than some people desire. Take the Freedom of Speech guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, for example. While we raise our children espousing the virtues of freedom of speech in our nation's classrooms, are there times when people push the line on these liberties?

Recently, candy shaped like marijuana has been showing up on store shelves across the country. These candies are marketed under names like, "The Pothead Ring Pots," "Pothead Lollipops" and "Pothead Sour Gummy Candy."  A group of Buffalo, NY moms believe that the manufacturer has crossed the line and are questioning whether retailers should be allowed to sell candy shaped like marijuana to children. They allege that illegal substances should not be positioned as something fun for children to eat.

According to Fox News, parents contend that while the candy does not contain anything illegal, "its marijuana leaf, the word "legalize" and a joint-smoking, peace sign-waving user on the packaging is not only in poor taste but an invitation to try the real thing."

This debate conjured up images of the candy cigarettes I had as a child. On the few occasions that we were able to talk mom into buying us a pack, I must admit that I felt pretty grown-up smoking my fake cigarettes. Of course, that was at a time when the dangers of cigarette smoking were only just being exposed; so, one could argue that they were perceived as fairly harmless.
Candy cigarettes
Remember the old Joe Camel cigarette ads? If you're in your 20s or younger, probably not, since the Federal Trade Commission determined in 1997 that the image of Joe Camel was designed to appeal to children under the age of 18 and, thus, violated federal law. Now, the only place you'll rub shoulders with Joe is in antique stores or museums.
Joe Camel ads banned in 1997 by FTC
Or what about this: do you think it's acceptable that pro-rights protesters demonstrate with graphic images of late-term, illegally aborted babies at family fundraising events? Whether you are pro-rights or pro-choice is not the issue here ... should young children be exposed to these images? And, from a marketing standpoint, why would you advertise at an event filled with families who obviously chose to bring their babies into the world rather than abort them?
Pro-Life protestors show graphic images of late term abortions.
All of these examples are only made possible because of the innate rights of Americans to exercise Freedom of Speech ... a very special freedom that makes America the Land of Opportunity for millions of new immigrants each year.

What do you think? Do these examples fall comfortably within our Constitutional rights as Americans? Or have they crossed some invisible line that demonstrates we have gone too far as a country? Just how far is too far?

I'd love to hear your opinions.

The Gerber Generation ... Flip Book Style

When you think of iconic brands in America that stretch back over the decades, Gerber is one that will inevitably be mentioned. Sometimes, you'll even hear Gerber's name surface in pop culture, as in: "He's so cute - he could be a Gerber baby!" -or- "Look at those cute little Gerber cheeks he has!"

But, while a legacy brand has much to offer in the way of history, it can also conjure up images of being "old-fashioned" or "my mother's brand." That's okay, if your mom is still the primary target for the brand; but, in the case of Gerber, newborns and toddlers grow up (rather quickly, some say), ushering in a whole new generation of Gerber babies every few years.  So, in order to remain relevant to today's families, Gerber has to make sure that their message is still meaningful.

I'm sure some version of this very discussion occurred at Gerber as they set out to create a new television campaign designed to contemporize their brand.

Their most recent campaign treats you to a flip book style of all different, shapes, sizes and colors of Gerber babies. Do you remember what flip books are? According to Wikipedia:

"A flip book or flick book is a book with a series of pictures 
that vary gradually from one page to the next, 
so that when the pages are turned rapidly,
the pictures appear to animate 
by simulating motion or some other change."

What I found particularly endearing about this visual flip book is that the copy and pictures are in synch with each other.

Say hello to the Gerber Generation:  babies wave
They have some big news to share:  arms are spread wide
The nutrition children get in the first five years:  faces soiled with food
Can affect their health forever:  clapping hands
Think about that:  point their finger to their head
Together, we can create a healthier generation:  flex muscles
And it all starts with you:  point to you

Great campaign. Every time I see the ad, I notice something new ... and even if I didn't, I am enraptured with all the smiling faces of the adorable babies and toddlers. Gerber has extended this campaign to Facebook, the Gerber YouTube channel, and their website

Now, maybe when you think of the Gerber brand, you will think of happy, healthy children who are redefining the next generation of Gerber kids.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Giant Lego Man Washes Up On Florida Beach

Giant Lego Man Washes Up On Florida Beach
Florida beach visitors lift giant Lego Man
Ahhh ... a relaxing day on the beach. Can you feel the warm sun beneath your toes as you stroll the shoreline?

But, wait ... what is that bobbing in the water? Could it be .... could it be a GIANT LEGO MAN?

Believe it or not, that is exactly what recently happened at Siesta Key Beach in Florida. An eight-foot-tall, 100-pound fiberglass man washed up on shore.

Now, I must admit that I immediately gave a high five to the other PR professionals at Branigan Communications. I mean, we may not have been the team that came up with this great idea for the Lego brand, but we must recognize brilliant work when we see it, right?

Wrong. Well kind of wrong.

It was a brilliant PR stunt, but the culprit was not Lego. Rather, this stunt was brought to beach-goers, complements of a Dutch artist named Ego Leonard.

When contacted by email, Leonard replied to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

“I am glad I crossed over. Although it was a hell of a [swim].
Nice weather here and friendly people.
I think I am gonna stay here for a while.” 

Leonard has extended his campaign to both Twitter and Facebook. Additionally, his website shows a partially obscured Lego man, whose face is covered by a big green apple.
Interestingly, this is not the first time this has happened. Other Lego figures have washed up on beaches in both Holland and England, in 2007 and 2008.

Fascinating viral campaign.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Citgo Helps You Feel Good When You Fill Up

A few days ago, I was filling my gas tank when I happened to look up at the pump. The ad displayed there intrigued me on several different levels. I'm happy to say that I found it far more inspiring than the "Simplify Your Life" campaign which they aired in 2010.

I loved the mosaic gas can filled with images that begged to be examined. Its call to action was simple ... visit When I did, I learned that Citgo has donated thousands of gallons of gas to charitable organizations. What a great gift-in-kind donation for nonprofit organizations who are trying to trim their operating costs.

Research study after research study demonstrates that consumers are increasingly turning towards companies that deliver quality products and are good corporate citizens. But, here's the $6 million question ... will this ad encourage consumers to buy their gas at Citgo?

In my own personal case, my unequivocal answer is yes. I like the idea of feeling good when fueling up.

Shedd Aquarium Brands Jelly Fish Exhibit

Shedd Aquarium Jelly Fish Exhibit
Recently, I visited the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. It was a day filled with vividly colored, unusually shaped fish swimming through larger-than-life aquariums. The jelly fish exhibit was alluring and mystical, mesmerizing visitors with their delicate tendrils gently floating through the water.  It was a day filled with inspiration and visual stimulation.
But, interestingly, it was also a day filled with brands and marketing.

The first brand that entered the scene was Target, advertising their Field Trip Grants program. This ad was not particularly surprising, since Target's support of schools and museum field trips is fairly well known.
Target Field Trip Grants Program at Shedd Aquarium
But, then the corporate sponsors started piling up, as we moved from room to room. Abbott, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, CommEd, Toyota, Walgreens ... a list of blue chip brands that hung from numerous banners scattered around the aquarium with pride.

Abbot / Bank of America
Toyota / Walgreens
Coca-Cola / CommEd

What a great way for a nonprofit institution to help fund special exhibits which might not fall within their normal operating budget. With nearly 2 million visitors to the Shedd each year, these brands will get more than their fair share of eyeballs during the duration of the Jellies exhibit.  And, in return, we all get to witness the magnificent beauty of these delicate creatures that live under the sea.

Shedd Aquarium Jellies Exhibit
Rather ugly yellow fish at Shedd Aquarium
Shedd Aquarium Sea Horse

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Road Trip Turns Into Spanish Lesson

Have you ever listened to an audio book while driving? It's a great way to pass the time while on a long road trip. 

But, learning Spanish while driving? 

While some may think it's great to intellectually expand their mind every waking moment of the day, others (myself included) prefer escaping to the world of fictional characters and storylines.

The latest VW Passat commercial puts this idea to the test.

Two young guys take to the road for a long trip ... only to discover that one has decided it is an opportune time to learn Spanish. Sigh.

What happens next is utterly surprising and amusing.

On their first stop for gas, the two men emerge from the car ... speaking fluent Spanish to each other.

The message? You can drive your VW Passat a really, really long time (13 hours to be exact), without having to fill the gas tank.

This ad delivers its message of exceptional fuel efficiency in a totally unexpected way. It's a great ad for those of us who prefer stories over facts.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Kohl's CSR Program: More Than Window Dressing

I was driving by a neighborhood Kohl's the other day, when I literally took a double-take.

Was the Kohl's lettering on that store actually PINK?

A second look reassured me that my eyes were not deceiving me.

We have all been trained really well by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to recognize that particular shade of Pepto Bismol pink. Ever since 1991, when Susan G. Komen handed out pink ribbons for the very first time to its breast cancer survivor race participants, we have seen the color pink show up on everything from t-shirts to cosmetics to food products to treadmills to NFL football shoes ... and now to store fronts.

What is simply amazing to me is what UPS would call the "logistics" behind this effort. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult this would be to coordinate across the country. Plus, all this effort is undertaken to last the duration of only one month ... 31 days in all.

But, Kohl's takes their commitment to breast cancer substantially further than just window dressing.

They sell a number of breast cancer items - like t-shirts, water bottles, flip flops and watches - and 100% of the net profits from these items are donated to support the fight against breast cancer. As part of their continuing commitment, Kohl's plans to donate more than $7 million over the next three years to the American Cancer Society's Midwest division and the Southeastern WI affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Additionally, at the store I visited, Kohl's partnered with local hospital Columbia St. Mary's to provide digital mammograms ... right there in their parking lot.
I would be lying if I told you that I am not suffering a bit from "pink ribbon fatigue." I actually often use pink ribbon marketing as an example of an oversaturated brand with my advertising class. However, Kohl's has found an innovative new way to break through the pink ribbon clutter to grab my attention ... both with their signage, as well as the digital mammography traveling van.

Kohl's deserves a ribbon (albeit a blue ribbon) for showing other companies the path to successful and impassioned corporate social responsibility.

Give Blood On Your Next Walk Through Boston

Recently, I visited Boston for a little R&R. I immediately hit the streets to take in the sights and sounds of this wonderful historic city.

Just one block from the hotel, I ran across a portable blood center sponsored by Massachusetts General Hospital. This bus beckons pedestrians to come on board and to donate a pint.

Very cool way to grow awareness and to make donating blood as easy as humanly possible.
KUDOS to Massachusetts General Hospital for finding a way to take the blood center to the people.

Friday, October 7, 2011

NFL Mobile Flexes Its Clay Matthews Muscle

During NFL Sunday, an NFL Mobile Verizon ad came on that had me chuckling.

It showcases everyday people doing everyday tasks, like cutting their grass, walking, and shaving ... who all of a sudden drop what they are doing and flex their biceps.

For a split second, you wonder what is up and then comes the rug pull ... they are all watching the Green Bay Packers on NFL Mobile. When Clay Matthews makes a great QB sack and flexes his biceps in a now common move, his followers do likewise.

Great fun and great coverage of the Pack, too!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Evolving Billboard Offers Smokers Hope

The Texas Department of State Health Services took an interesting twist on an old issue with a series of billboard ads that changed every two weeks.

Their "Quit Smoking. Get Healthier." campaign showed a series of lungs which were painted a lighter color every two weeks, demonstrating that it's never too late to make a healthy difference when you quit smoking.

The ever-changing image begs viewers to watch the story evolve before their eyes. But, perhaps even more importantly, this billboard offers a sense of hope. It promises that if you stop smoking, you will make a positive difference on your lungs ... and ultimately, on your life. 
Graphic? Yes.
Breakthrough? You bet.
Compelling? I sure hope so.
Sue Northey - Find me on