Marketing Vehicles

I’ve seen a number of motor vehicles used for marketing purposes lately, each with a different approach and, IMO, a different level of effectiveness.


The most “professional” of the three is this authentic antique Harley-Davidson police tricycle, dressed up as a Twisted Tea promotion in Shaws.

The vehicle is beautifully restored, and for people who are into vintage motorcycles, it’s an eye-catcher. However, I wonder if it’s a cost-effective marketing tool. To purchase the motorcycle, restore it, and give it a custom paint job must cost a bundle. Then there are additional display fees to the store. I have to assume that they don’t have a whole fleet of these, so all that investment appears in only one location at a time, and then you have to pay someone to load it onto a trailer and set it up at another store a few weeks later. For anyone who’s not interested in vintage motorcycles, it may not be terribly appealing. (Research into traffic accidents has indicated that car drivers who plow into motorcycles generally have no personal exposure to motorcycles, and therefore don’t “see” them.) There’s no apparent connection between motorcycles and beverages of any kind — although it might be possible to establish that connection through a broader promotional campaign (and for all I know, as a non-TV watcher, they might have a whole series of television ads doing just that).

So bottom line, the owner or marketing manager is probably a vintage motorcycle fan and thought this would be an awesome cool thing, but it’s probably not tremendously effective.


This lovely display is in front of the public safety building at the intersection of Simonton Road and John Street in Camden. In case you’re reading on a small screen, the sandwich board says “Don’t Drink and Drive.” (A couple weeks ago, it had an anti texting-while-driving message.)

Again, it’s certainly eye-catching (and really ugly). Unlike the Twisted Tea promo, it probably cost nothing, and everyone who drives will probably absorb the visual part of the message. I really wonder, though, if this will really help drive the message home to people who do, or might, drink and drive. If I were in the habit, I think I’d scoff at it as nagging. But I suppose if the wrecked cars help turn on the light for just one drunk driver, it’s worthwhile.

duck sign on roof of car

Photo from Penobscot Bay Pilot. Click photo to link to original story.

Finally, there’s the Duck Derbymobile, promoting a fundraiser by the West Bay Rotary. This is the most modest of the three, and I think it’s probably the most effective, due to i) its mobility — it’s seen all over the place, ii) the fact that the sign’s image relates directly to the event it’s promoting, and iii) its silly unpretentiousness. Rubber ducks make people smile, and a grown man driving around with one on his car just adds a bit of humor to one’s drive. Will it persuade anyone to attend the event? No. But will it make people aware of the event? Yes indeed.


Why so Little Originality in Auto Badges?

Drive anywhere in the USA, and the preponderance of Toyotas and Fords on the road will have you thinking that almost all cars sport oval badges. But it’s not so! Some of them are round.

Actually, there is a bit more variety in badge shapes, but the great majority are, in fact, either oval or round. I suspect there may be some good design reason for that — I’m surely no designer — but to me, it seems like a lack of original thinking. Why do badges have to fit into a circle or an oval? Come on, automakers: break the mold.

Now, the badge isn’t necessarily the same as the brand’s logo. Sometimes it is, but often it’s a variant of the logo (like, say, the logo with a CIRCLE around it!). Anyway, here’s the result of my investigation, mostly conducted at the local Big Box Emporium of Cheap Plastic Crap (where, I defiantly acknowledge, I do a fair amount of my nonfood shopping). Images are in random order; all are mine, except the following, which I’ve borrowed from other sources: BMW, Audi, Cadillac, Lexus, Infiniti, Mini.

Toyota badge.

Toyota: two ovals in an oval. Dull.

VW badge

VW: as round as round can be.

Volvo badge

Volvo: mostly, it’s a circle, but the arrow at 2 o’clock gives it a certain..masculinity?

Suzuki badge.

Suzuki: the courage to have the initial letter, in a dramatic font, standing all by itself, with no border of any kind.

Subaru badge.

Subaru: The collection of stars is a pretty strange logo which really does need a border to contain them.

Nissan badge.

Nissan: The horizontal bar breaks the circle a little bit, making it just a little bit more interesting than a logo entirely contained by a circle.

Mitsubishi badge.

Mitsubishi: some of this conglomerate’s companies go by the name “Three Diamonds.” Doesn’t need no stinkin’ circle, does it?

Mini badge.

Mini: a circle with wings. Right. Circles have wings. Little boxy cars can fly.

Mercury badge.

Mercury: a boring round badge for a boring brand with no sharp edges.

Mercedes logo.

Mercedes: yeah, it’s round, but it’s different. The circle doesn’t encircle a symbol or logo: the circle is an integral part of the symbol. For this reason, we call it classy, not dull.

Mazda badge.

Mazda: the border isn’t quite round or oval: it’s kind of squashed. And it’s really a part of the design, as in Mercedes’s badge. So we’ll give it a B.

Lexus badge.

Lexus: an L (or is it a nose?) inside an oval. Boring.

KIA badge.

Kia: a name in an oval. Kind of dull. Could the  logotype stand by itself, with no border?

Jeep badge.

In comparison to KIA, Jeep’s all-typography badge seems to work fine without a border. And each letter is affixed separately.

Infiniti badge.

Infiniti: basically an oval. Who took the first piece of pie?

Hyundai badge.

Hyundai: an H in an oval. How do you say “boring” in Korean?

Honda badge.

Honda: another H in a border; this one a rounded, vague trapezoid. The border still makes me snooze.

GMC badge.

GMC: the big, masculine letters closely spaced have good design integrity, don’t need a border to hang together.

Ford badge.

Ford: the ultimate oval logo. Since it’s probably the oldest badge on the road, we’ll give it a pass. Heck, they might have invented the oval badge!

Dodge badge.

Dodge badge: the big bad ram (um, it’s really just a sheep) in a shield-shaped border. OK, it’s not round. And I like the pretty baaa-lamb.

Chrysler badge.

Chrysler: those are some big wings you put around that round badge there, Grandma.

Chevrolet badge.

Chevrolet: The logo is plenty intact and self-supporting, needs no border to set it off. It’s a cross, but it’s so different from the “usual” cross that probably few people associate it with Christianity.

Cadillac badge.

Cadillac: GM is always tweaking the Caddy badge. At its heart, it’s a heraldic shield. The current iteration, however, is flanked by a garland that damn near encircles it, and then the whole thing is placed on a circle, thereby making it solidly dull.

Buick badge.

Buick: I think those heraldic shields could stand on their own, without a round border. See also: Cadillac.

BMW badge.

BMW: the logo itself is round; there’s no round border encircling it. Works for me.

Audi badge.

Audi: it may be made of circles, but it’s definitely not a logo within a circle. Pretty much one of a kind.

My takeaway is the obvious one: Don’t let the design ideas of your competition steer your designs. Think outside the oval.

Pink is for Girls

I was browsing in the hardware department at WalMart yesterday and this brightly colored electric screwdriver kind of jumped out at me (not in a good way).

Pink electric screwdriver

Screwdriver for girls

OK, I get it. Girls like pink things, right? In spite of this great routine by Ellen…

…it appears that a lot of big companies have the numbers to back up this kind of marketing-driven design. It can’t be the first time that they’ve made a pink tool and found that it performed in the marketplace. The number-crunchers rule at these places, and if it didn’t work, they wouldn’t do it.

And isn’t that nice? A percentage of the $39.97 purchase price goes to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Plus, the package include 5 screwdriver bits!

But RIGHT ABOVE IT, there’s this product:

black and red electric screwdriver

Screwdriver for manly men

Apparently the same tool, except for the colors. Same voltage. Same warranty. Same price too: $39.97. But gee, the pink one donates money to charity. Might as well buy the makes-me-feel-feminine-and-virtuous one, right?

Hey, wait a minute. The boy’s version includes TEN screwdriver bits, not the measly five in the girl-driver package. So some of that money that Skil is donating to charity? Sorry, Sucker-ette — YOU’RE actually making that donation by giving 5 driver bits back to the Robert Bosch Tool Corporation, the owner of Skil, while they get a nice little marketing boost on your dime!

p.s., I’m with Ellen on this. I suspect that if I were a woman, I’d be insulted by this pandering to my supposed girly taste. On the other hand, if the color kept my husband from borrowing my electric screwdriver…

When the Media is the Marketing Message

Pilot marketing tools

Marketing handouts and promotional gimmes exhibit the Pilot’s visual branding, which relies on fashionable colors and bold design.

How does a news medium market itself? That’s the question The Penobscot Bay Pilot faced before it launched in September, becoming the Midcoast’s newest news source and advertising venue.

Almost any other type of company would send news releases to the local media, and run a few ads saying “We’re here!” In addition, those ads might promote a “Grand Opening Special!!!” (can’t forget the exclamation points!) to get people through the door and overcome the natural resistance among potential customers or clients to changing suppliers.

But that approach obviously wouldn’t work for the Pilot: sending news releases to the VillageSoup newspapers would be an explicit acknowledgment of their importance as a news medium in the region, and it’s questionable whether the Soup would run the news in any case. And it would be a bitter pill indeed to purchase ads from a direct competitor for local advertising dollars.

Instead, the Pilot based its launch strategy on a combination of distinctive branding, social media marketing, and personal contacts. Sales Directors Terri Mahoney and Janis Bunting say that they didn’t solicit advertising until the day the site went live. As soon as they had something to show potential advertisers, however, Mahoney and Bunting began an aggressive push, targeting 20 organizations with whom they had done business in their previous roles selling ads for Village NetMedia, the former owner of the VillageSoup brand. “Just getting out and meeting people face to face and showing them what we have available” has been one of the new company’s most productive marketing strategies, says Mahoney.

By offering free trials of the Pilot‘s Affiliate program to those former clients, they overcame initial resistance and had all 20 come on board. This leant the site credibility and in turn encouraged other advertisers. (Many of the original 20 organizations have been successfully transitioned into paid Affiliate status.)

Online marketing has taken off in several complementary, directions. Of course the Pilot maintains a Facebook page (current “likes,” about 3,600), and has a Facebook “Main Street” page for its advertisers “designed to make it fun, easy and rewarding to put your money where you live,” according to Mahoney.  They’re also active on Twitter, and their Pinterest account has followers who appreciate the separation of content into various pin boards for news, sports, recipes, etc. The most popular board is Contests, Giveaways and Free.

Perhaps the most strategic element of the Pilot‘s social media program is to make the site itself a social medium. Readers are invited to submit stories and upload their own photos. With the website’s tight integration of all common social media platforms, readers can then easily forward their own photos to friends and acquaintances and share them on their own Facebook walls. This goes beyond simple reader engagement and helps create emotional investment in the medium. Reader uploading took off in a big way during the recent winter storm that was named for a cartoon fish (Sorry, Weather Channel, but we’re not on board with you branding public weather events.), and it got another boost a day or two later during the National Toboggan Championships.

Photo uploads are further encouraged by the QR code on a giveaway tote bag, and by another, more unusual gimme: an “egrip.” These are little imprintable rubber pads that you stick on the back of your mobile phone to prevent it from sliding around on your car’s dashboard. The Pilot‘s version is imprinted with the message “See Something? Shoot it/Share it” with an upload address.

Branding, too, played an important role in the launch. Working closely with Adventure Advertising, the Pilot developed a striking visual identity that relies on large blocks of contrasting, contemporary fashion colors, lots of “white space” (which isn’t white), and unusual but not inconvenient organization of content. Business cards and rack cards were printed in non-standard sizes which, while distinctive, may involve some functionality tradeoffs (for example, the square business cards don’t fit in a wallet). But aggressive face-to-face efforts by Mahoney and Bunting have been successful in getting the 7″X7″ rack cards placed in many stores, restaurants, cafés and even libraries, even though they don’t fit in a typical literature-rack pocket.

Graphic-wrapped PenBayPilot car

The Pilot’s graphic-wrapped car is a can’t-miss-it moving billboard

Whether seen individually (each staff member has a different color business card) or together (as on a car wrap), the designs and colors are eye-catching and memorable. “Adventure Advertising was extremely helpful,” says Mahoney. “They were instrumental in a lot of our creative concepts and were a great organization to work with.” And the sales directors have some attractive, high-value goodies at their disposal, including color-coordinated travel mugs, tote bags, and a logo-inscribed yellow rubber “cause bracelet” that conceals a USB drive. (Disclaimer: this blogger received all of these goodies, and they are awesomely cool.)

The Pilot still faces better-established competitors, most notably, the VillageSoup newspapers and website, and their cousin publication The Free Press. But the Pilot‘s innovative marketing efforts and its proposition of free news for all readers look to be a combination for success for this new local medium.

The Pilot: New Ad Game in Town

Staff of Penobscot Bay Pilot

The Pilot’s crew (clockwise from left): Lynda Clancy, Editorial Director; Ethan Andrews, Writer; Kay Stevens, Writer; Terri Mahoney, Sales Director; Janis Bunting, Sales Director; Holly Edwards, Editorial Director; Ron Hawkes, Writer

The past year has been a roller coaster for Midcoast advertisers and news consumers. At the beginning of 2012, there was a single entity – Village NetMedia –publishing newspapers and news websites for Knox and Waldo counties under the VillageSoup brand. Village NetMedia folded abruptly in March, leaving the region without a local news source, but the company’s news assets were swiftly acquired by a new owner and resumed publication after a gap of about three weeks. Then in September, former Village NetMedia employees launched a new competitor, the Penobscot Bay Pilot. From one news source, to zero, to two, all in a half a year. (Read more on the demise of Village NetMedia and the rebirth of the VillageSoup brand.)

The most obvious difference between the two competitors is format: the Pilot is strictly web-based, while Courier Publications (i.e., the VillageSoup group) publishes both news websites and traditional print newspapers. But perhaps a more fundamental difference is one of access: the Pilot is free to consumers, while the Soup‘s readers must pay to read both the print and the online editions.

“Our readers can navigate freely on our site as well as share any story,” says Terri Mahoney, one of the Pilot’s two sales directors. “There’s no barrier between our website and the reader. We want our readers to have the best online experience.”

Janis Bunting, the Pilot‘s other sales director, agrees, adding that Penobscot Bay Pilot is compatible with social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. “Why would you want to ‘share’ something when you know that others may not be able to read it on the other end?“ she asks, noting that when Soup readers post news feeds to Facebook, only the first few lines are visible to others. (VillageSoup readers must either subscribe to the website or pay a per-article fee to access the full text. And while any reader can post comments on Pilot stories, only paid subscribers can do the same on the VillageSoup sites.)

Both companies offer programs in which advertisers can post unlimited news items in a special section of the site and link their business to a hosted web page. Among the advantages of the Pilot‘s Affiliate program, according to Mahoney, are larger photo galleries, the ability to upload video, tighter social media integration, and no long-term contract. Pilot Affiliates can participate on a month-to-month basis, while the Soup‘s “bizMembers” must subscribe for a minimum of three months. A monthly arrangement, says Mahoney, can be especially attractive to organizations whose promotional needs are seasonal or center around discrete events (for example, theater groups).

Affiliate membership was initially deeply discounted to prove the concept, but as the new year progresses, the Penobscot Bay Pilot is gradually inching up to its published rate card. Full rates, however, aren’t projected to apply until May, giving advertisers an incentive to come aboard during the remainder of the slow, dark winter and early spring.

According to Bunting, industry statistics show that 82% of readers find somewhere else to go if they hit a pay wall, and the Pilot‘s readership statistics suggest that it is satisfying a need for free local news. The site gets about 60,000 absolute unique visitors and 300,000 page views per month, and both figures have been increasing by 10-15% monthly.

Mahoney cites the organization’s “Truth in Advertising” promise regarding traffic numbers: “The counts on our Affiliate posts reflect actual human readers and not the additional traffic generated by automated bots, spiders, and other web crawlers,” she says, noting that robots still crawl the site and gather content to share across the internet, providing search engine marketing benefits. “We strive to be completely transparent with our business partners, our Affiliates, about the business of advertising online, and with the community that turns to us as a resource,” she says.

And the Pilot plans to continue innovating and growing. The organization is teaming up with the Hutchinson Center, the Belfast Area Chamber, and Our Town Belfast to revive the popular Best of the Best of Waldo County, adding online voting and a larger business expo element to what was previously a VillageSoup-sponsored program. The Pilot will also partner with local public safety organizations to help promote the first Run For Your Life Emergency Services Challenge in May, and will soon be compatible with mobile devices, making it more convenient for shoppers looking for information on local businesses.

For more details, contact Terri Mahoney or Janis Bunting.

Direct Mail Fail

This direct mail piece is a good example of how not to do direct mail.

First, the envelope:


“Time Value: Do Not Delay” + presorted standard postage = ERROR/ERROR/DOES NOT COMPUTE.

This error is compounded by the “Please Open Immediately” and the “Urgent” tag. If you’re sending something by bulk mail, it’s de facto not urgent — or it sure shouldn’t be, since even when mailing in-state, it can take a week or more for bulk mail to arrive.

Then they refer to the recipient as a “customer” when, in fact, no one in this household has ever been a customer of this store, AND the address includes “Or Current Resident.” There’s enough right here on the envelope to tell me that this is true junk mail. There’s so much nonsense going on that I’d wager the open rate is awful, and that means a lot of wasted money.

But I opened it because I’m interested in marketing, if not furniture, and here’s the contents:

ImageOkay. I was surprised to find that the “urgency” on the envelope actually had some basis in fact: if it’s a going-out-of-business sale, then indeed it’s my last chance to buy at this store. The copy reads okay — the standard amount of hysteria, but no more. I found it interesting that this is a “private sale” to which the recipient, as a “past and present customer” (NOT) is being invited, and that the general public won’t hear about it “at this time.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that the general public won’t be allowed to attend — only that the newspaper and radio ads will probably hit a few days after you receive the mailer. The recipient isn’t really being offered anything special, but Rollins would like him to think he is.(To Rollins’ credit, the sale doesn’t appear on the company’s website at this time. It’s also absent from their Facebook page, but that’s no indication or anything, since they hardly ever post there.)

But the best error, the real prize-winner, is that there’s NO DATE FOR THE SALE! Thursday through Sunday. Right. This weekend? Next? I don’t know.

We see this all the time on marketing devices of all sorts: the omission of key information that totally nullifies the entire marketing effort. (Newspaper ads are easy pickings for this kind of error: they often neglect to include addresses, as if everyone knows where the store is located.) What a waste of money!

In a sense, this is an example of knowing too much: the person writing the letter knows the date (or the address, or what the business offers), and forgets that the audience doesn’t necessarily have the same information. For any marketing effort, it makes sense to go through the journalist’s “five Ws” — who, what, when, where, why. They don’t all necessarily apply to every marketing piece, but you should consider each one, decide whether it belongs, and then make sure that the ones that do belong are, in fact, included. Then pass it around to as many people as you can stand to accept input from (or give it to one marketing professional), and get feedback before you waste money printing and mailing a piece that will likely do you no good.


“We are fiber evangelists,” says Mim Bird, owner of Over the Rainbow Yarn in Rockland. “We want everybody to have a fiber component to their lives.”


Mim Bird, owner of Over the Rainbow Yarn in Rockland

Over the Rainbow (OTR), which opened in June, 2012, stocks tools and supplies for fiber arts, including knitting, crocheting, spinning, weaving and felting. But for the owner of what appears on the surface to be a straightforward retail store, Bird views her business in unusually strategic terms.

“We are not here to sell yarn. Selling yarn and needles and patterns and books is a byproduct of what we’re really doing here, which is promoting a lifestyle,” she explains. “How we market that has everything to do with ‘how are you going to support your lifestyle?’, not ‘how are we going to make you buy more yarn?'”

Central to the fiber arts lifestyle is its social aspect: participants often pursue their craft in social groups, made possible by two characteristics common to many of the fiber arts: they are portable (one can readily stick one’s knitting project in a bag and take it anywhere) and – not to demean the skill or artistry involved – they can be done without a great deal of concentration. Consequently, says Bird, knitters, crocheters, et al, enjoy getting together for pure social chatting, as well as “helping each other over the rough parts, and teaching and learning new techniques, and giving each other pattern and design inspirations.”

OTR supports this lifestyle by offering free events and programs that bring fiber artists together to share their craft and their company. Two evenings and one morning each week, the store holds a “Stitch and Spin Circle,” in which women (it’s predominantly women) simply gather at the store to work on their projects and chat. The event takes place in a circle of comfy chairs and sofas right in the front of the store, where it can be readily seen from outside. There’s no program or sales pitch: just a hospitable place for the participants to get together with easy access to tools and materials (should they need them) and expertise.

Although participants are not obligated to buy their supplies from OTR, the store will often place an interesting new product on the table in the midst of the circle. “It’s gentle marketing,” says Bird. “There’s no sales pitch or call to action — it’s just there. Sometimes they ooh and ah over it and nobody buys it that night, but the seed is planted.” And sometimes, she says, people love it and buy it on the spot.

OTR offers similar weekly sessions for youngsters (After School Stitch and Spin) and for mothers with very young children. In the latter, the store provides a safe space in which infants and toddlers can play, and toys to keep them occupied while the mothers have a chance to chat and knit with their peers.

At the 2012 Maine Lobster Festival, a mere six weeks after OTR opened, Bird pulled off the first Maine’s Fastest Knitter competition, with eight contestants and dozens of spectators. The event attracted interest from knitters in Connecticut, California, and Nova Scotia, all of whom asked for Bird’s permission or guidance to use the concept in their own areas. This she readily granted, urging the hopeful organizers to stay in contact after they run their own events. The objective is to arrange competitions between the respective winners, so that national and even international “fastest knitter” contests can be held in the future.

In connection with the national I Love Yarn Day sponsored by the Craft Yarn Council of America, OTR organized a Community Blanket Marathon in October, in which shifts of four knitters worked around the clock, for 24 hours, in the small park in front of the Brass Compass restaurant, at Rockland’s key downtown intersection.

The event originally had a simple charitable objective: to produce a knitted blanket that a local nonprofit organization could raffle off as a fundraiser. But Bird found a way to extend the benefits in several directions. As a means of selecting the single nonprofit recipient of the blanket, she invited all local nonprofits to a friendly competition to donate the most nonperishable food items. Ten or so organizations brought empty boxes to the knitting event and spread the word among their own constituencies, urging them to “vote” for their favorite organization by donating food in the appropriate box.

The event produced “winners” all around. Over 200 pounds of food were collected and donated to the Area Interfaith Outreach food pantry. New Hope for Women, as the biggest vote-getter, won the blanket. Bird then displayed the blanket and sold raffle tickets at OTR, raising $530 for New Hope for Women. One individual won the blanket for the nominal cost of a raffle ticket. The knitters – 43 of them – had such a good time that almost all of them have already signed up for this year’s event. The yarn distributor, who donated the yarn and knitting needles, got excellent exposure, including getting the materials into the hands of 43 serious fiber artists. And sales of the yarn used during the event saw a dramatic spike of three week’s duration at OTR, benefitting both the store and the distributor – and, presumably, the knitters, who were pleased with the product.

While all of this makes for great YouTube and FaceBook content and local publicity, it’s a lot more than your standard “event marketing”: it’s a truly strategic approach to business. By helping anyone who’s interested in the “fiber lifestyle” to live and enjoy it, Over the Rainbow Yarn is primarily engaged in pursuing its mission. And the fiber artists who benefit from these events that support their own passion are almost certain to become evangelists themselves for the organization that makes them happen.