MAD MASCARA: Branding yourself as a woman

mad mascara: branding yourself as a woman
Forget Sheryl Sandberg for a second. Let’s focus on Joan Holloway. Christina Hendricks’s character on Mad Men is a ship’s figurehead on the turbulent seas of the late sixties. She makes the most of her admirable figure and her character’s fashion sense, portraying a woman far smarter than she is given credit for, or gives to herself.

She attempts to make an executive decision, and is put in her place by a coworker who knows the dirty secret of how she came to be on the board. Her fellow board members will always take her side because they know she’s their company’s true brand, for a mix of right and wrong reasons. You can feel her ruminating about this for the rest of the episode, as she winds up emotionlessly kissing strange men, and putting herself down when conversation arises about her title and experience. “Don’t forget she’s also a mom!”, the writers remind us as Joan’s mother leaves her baby boy in her lap.

Joan’s struggle with self is far more complex than Don Draper’s, whose past was laid out for us long ago. Don is the son of a prostitute, and an adulterous liar with double standards. His wife can’t even kiss a man on camera for her acting job; nope, that makes her a whore: I’m so mad at wifey now… I better go sleep with my neighbor’s wife! Oh and how it must hurt Don that the invincible Peggy, now the competition, has even taken his catchphrases to land a client. The women are stealing his soul! Succubi!

I’ve just had a heated discussion with a client about the concept of brand consistency. Contemplating this after a shower, I wrap myself in a towel, and stomp outside to share with my husband some important words on his company’s brand, as he’s developing ideas on the porch. I stand there in a towel, freezing and dripping, reminding him I do indeed know what I’m doing. No argument there… and why did you come outside in a towel? Ok, so at least I’m passionate about what I do.
I get dressed, dry my hair and put on makeup. Me time, but a distraction nonetheless.

Women may always struggle to find their personal brand. In addition to many forms of pressure, there are more appearance based choices; each with their own perceived implications. Almost any men’s clothing department is a boring banner of military sameness; navy blue punctuated by little bits of bright color for the adventurous. The focus is on the man, not the suit. Virtually any women’s clothing department is an explosion of color and style, always changing with the season. I can never keep up, and don’t try to. Chanel may be timeless, but for those of us who can’t afford her; “when in doubt, wear black”. I just punctuate my black with full strength magenta: done.

Then in a delicious irony, my dear friend Velvet D’Amour calls from Paris to have me do the layout for the current issue of her groundbreaking body image/fashion magazine, Volup2.
Hell, yes! If you are not familiar with Velvet’s work as a photographer and gorgeous plus size fashion icon, you must google her bold strut down the runway wearing a T-shirt that reads PLEASE FEED THE MODELS. This is a chick who knows her brand.

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Speelling in teh Interwebs: Examples of Brand Suicide

Ok, branding 101: LEARN TO SPELL. Or speak, for that matter.

1. Nothing screams “Too Big to Care” like “Wall Street Fed Up With Declining Bonsues.

2. Wasn’t it Marconi who said “A radio ad will always be taken more seriously if the voiceover can avoid making listeners cringe from the mispronunciation of simple freakin’ words”? I wish I had the sample sound file from Pandora for this one, with the repeated words “FALL FOAL-AGE“. I was too busy twitching from the idiocy worm in my ears and images of autumnal ponies molting, to even remember what it was selling.

More will surely follow.

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Bad, for the Greater Good… Socially speaking.


Way back on the 1987 tv series Wiseguy, the only memorable heavy was Mel Profitt. His sister shot “medicine” in between his toes, and his delivery of each line was equally wicked and off-kilter.
Now Kevin Spacey returns to television, morphing into another richly developed character, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role of Congressman Frank Underwood in House of Cards.

The storytelling is masterful, and the other parts are well cast, but what makes this Netflix only series truly standout is a deep understanding of its unique brand.

All the characters have twitter accounts, extending the show into the daily lives of its viewers, so there’s a heartbeat until season 2, once we’ve all binge viewed the whole first season. As I’m following @Real Zoe Barnes, the show’s alt-news reporter, I’m thinking how many other shows could benefit from in-character tweets? What could a product brand do like this? And damn, their graphics and copy are perfectly on message.

Netflix has changed the rules of the game, and seeing Kevin Spacey’s also executive producing smart brand identity like this, I’ll happily gorge.

When Spaghetti Grew on Trees

After a lovely dinner tonight, in which pasta was not involved, somehow the discussion turned to memorable spaghetti ads from the 70’s.

Come, let your neurons explode with along with mine as you break out in age spots if you remember these:

Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day

And of course:

Nobody Grows Spaghetti Like San Giorgio

Nail Polish and Power Tools

“Are mermaids real?”
“I’m not really a waitress.”
No one creates deep-seated want based on name alone like the makers of nail polish.
Those are actual names, and yes I’m the sucker who bought that shimmery purple and that garnet red, convinced into purchase by clever names. Ok, it didn’t hurt they were cheap too, but if they had simply been called PURPLE and RED, I might have thought twice.
What is it about a great name that worms its way into the lizard brain and drives desire? In the case of frivolous stuff like nail polish, it’s the abstract concept; like Infiniti first sold the IDEA of a car, products like this sell the idea of the color.

The right name makes you smile, conjures images of personal meaning, maybe makes you laugh til you pee a little. Imagine if nail polish were sold the way power tools are: “OPI Red: 8 grams polyethylene sparkles per ounce, spreads easily.” Yawn.

Speaking as a woman who’s handy with jigsaws, nail guns and drills, I know I’d be loathe to purchase any power tool marketed like nail polish. Dewalt would lose respect overnight if they created a women-only power tool campaign.

Who are you? An opalescent-tailed mermaid? A reliable carpenter installing that hot tub I want in my bathroom? Don’t condescend, tell me a story. Engage me to dream about what I could DO with your brand. Speak to me in the voice that makes sense for YOU.

Branding Schmanding…

And now, both sides of the issue.

“The Ladders” has it all figured out…
Personal Branding How to Use Your Personal Brand to Switch Careers

Touché, The Onion… Touché.
‘I Am A Brand,’ Pathetic Man Says

Brand Timing, or: “Santa, stop messing with my pumpkins.”


Target encourages me to have my own incidental music, since they never have anything but GUEST and TEAM MEMBER announcements piped out of their speakers. The eerie quiet today summons up the Mission Impossible theme in my brain’s playlist, as I look for this year’s limited edition Halloween Barbie; the one with the ONLY AT TARGET sticker. I turn my cart left down the aisle towards the toys. It’s barely mid October and she’s already gone. Not even a shelf sign left… Razzinfrazzin’ Mint-in-Box collectors, I have a cute little 6 year daughter to shop for! So what she’d rather play with dragons and bugs than Barbies… Someday she might want mine and I’ll have given her an amazing array of…Oh who am I kidding, it’s for me.

Halloween is and always has been that one time of year I have to reign myself in from buying silly toys and accessories like mad. I collect pictures of the vintage stuff on Pinterest, adore the package design of those crappy Collegeville and Ben Cooper costumes I grew up with, and cherish the internet for making it so easy to indulge in spooky eye candy. Still, when the leaves turn color and I can finally wear a jacket, I get the itch to hunt live prey. Actual retail deer in a brick and mortar forest.

Each year, it seems the window of availability for all the funky colored spooky stuff gets smaller. I confirmed with an ex-Target employee that yes, the Christmas crap does arrive on the same truck as the Halloween stuff (yes, Halloween stuff, Christmas crap- I still associate Christmas with dead relatives). The very nanosecond kids are back in school, all of it comes to the floor at once. Jack Skellington’s world is but a cardboard standup town from an old western movie, with retail’s big wig, Christmastown, already the next aisle over. A little people watching reveals customers rushing through the blinking lights and tinsel aisle to get to the kitchen utensils. No one shops for Santa’s bling this early, I swear.

Each year I hunt for 75% off Halloween bargains on November first, and by then Santa has firmly bullied my treasures over to the back end caps, where the fluorescent children’s witchy tights lie tangled in with the leftover candy, pet costumes and remaining “scaaaaary” household goods. This year I’m holding out for a markdown on that black hip flask with skull and crossbones, labeled POISON. Perfect for business meetings. Even if its gone by then, I know the silent bunker that is Tar-zhay will protect me from “Do You Hear what I hear?” and “Silver Bells”.

Takeaway: Much as you may love a certain brand, what do they do in their timing of promotions or availability of seasonal items that puts you off? Though early availability is standard, is it necessarily the best approach for your brand? Are you jumping on the trend in the mind of your customers right now or anticipating before they are even ready to care? If your brand is built mostly on word of mouth, how much negative does that generate?

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Urgent Beer Rebranding

Sometimes a quick old school marker comp is sufficient to claim your territory.


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Serial killers and candy bars

15 minutes into the elliptical at the gym and he pops up on one of the many tvs on the wall.

Poof- I am 10 years old again, back at Paul Bunyan day camp the year Son of Sam was active and I heard about him on the radio in the bus on the way there. Everyone’s talking about this crazy serial killer; his unassuming Jewish name hiding behind that sci-fi sequel-like pseudonym.

To me, he is inextricably linked with ring pops. That gleaming jewel shaped lollipop attached to a green plastic ring so small it pinched any finger I put it on. My health nut German mother used to say, “Wer schön sein will muss leiden.”… One who wants to be beautiful must suffer. Ah, the rare opportunity to suffer for that fancy 70’s candy. If I had enough change for the ice cream truck, I too could sport the Rolex of candies, and try to fit in with the much cooler kids.

Our camp counselor, who called herself Mickey, determined who was part of the cool kids club with a creative activity called, “Who wants to pop the zits on my back?”
Girls who knew her from last summer were always the first in line to pop away, right there on the main lawn, while the other groups got to swim in the pool. For some reason, we were never allotted time or there was never a lifeguard available when we got there. Even with my ring pop, I stared at that lunar surface pizza for weeks before I was cool enough to help extract pus.

Only one summer at Paul Bunyan.

Next summer I swam at the town pool, before enrolling in Usdan Day Camp for more artsy pursuits. Ring pops gave way to the occasional poolside concession stand Charleston Chew. That satisfying CRRRACKK! as you smashed it against the sidewalk, was traditional before tearing open the wrapper and getting the nougaty shards stuck in your teeth for a week.

I never quite got the hang of Fun Dip or Pixie Stix. I know many comedians have riffed about these sugary “cocaine training kits”, but to me they were always some company’s way of getting an addictive IV of sugar into a child as quickly as possible.
No bling, no noise, no creative angle.
For me, American candy had to have those things, since I could get great simple German chocolate in packages from my grandmother. Sure, German confections have their colored marzipan chimney sweeps, but they were always cute and sanctioned as lucky by my heritage. The one German candy with an angle, Kinder Eggs, are near impossible to find in the states because the toy inside each hollow milk chocolate egg might choke some dumb litigious parent.

Today, I anticipate every episode of DEXTER with the same forbidden delight of carefully selected candies. Instead of sweets, I watch the activities of this serial killer with a glass of Cabernet, and try for an hour to forget about work, motherhood, and where the hell I fit in anyway. Since I lost my wedding ring a few years ago, maybe I should get a gold ring pop to replace it.

Takeaway: What memories are evoked from your brand? Are they amorphous deep seated images? Do they translate into feelings of having grown past the desire for your product or are they the stuff of, as Saatchi and Saatchi put it, “lovemarks”?


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