Friday, February 27, 2009

Because I have a 6 year-old's sense of humor.

I was looking at a ski resort's webpage, when I saw one of the links was labeled "Fart."

I clicked on it and was led to the "Fartage" page where I learned "fart" is French for "wax." So if you want your skis waxed, you need fartage.

Beavis would have loved that.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bakugan au combat!

Until a few months ago, I had never heard of Bakugan. Which means I am either tragically unhip or I am past puberty.

As far as I can tell, Bakugan is marbles and Pokemon combined (although I can't say for sure since I still don't even know what Pokemon is).

Bakugan is a big deal at my son's school, so we got him a set of three for Christmas. Because I wanted to be a cool dad for him, I tried reading the game rules. I've read them twice now, and they still make little sense to me. So I went to YouTube to see if they had anything. That's when I lost all interest.

Still, I think it's cool that adolescents are creating and uploading their own instructional videos to the web. I tried to find instructional videos on how to play Tag, Simon Says, and Cowboys and Indians. Unsuccessful. But I did find nice guides on how to play hopscotch and paper, rock, scissors.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Parking it

One of the most brilliant ideas I've seen in Switzerland is their parking system.
In most large parking garages, each space is equipped with a sensor. When it's occupied, it's red. When it's free it's green. So you never have the experience of making a sharp turn because you think you found a free space only to discover it was just a Smart Car parked behind an SUV.

Better still, most parking garages give you directions on how many spaces are available and where. Here, you've got 13 to the left and 60 more straight ahead.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Ka Pono?

I just realized I do not have a Hawaii quarter. I have 49 states and no access to American currency in circulation.

Is anyone willing to send me a Hawaii quarter? I will send you a Swiss Franc. Or a Euro.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Watch Advertising

I guess it's not surprising that there is a lot of watch advertising in Switzerland. There's not much differentiation from one watch ad to another. It really becomes fashion advertising.

One way to do it is with borrowed interest. And who does borrowed interest in Europe better than Hollywood?

But if you're going to resort to borrowed interest, why pay mounds of money to living starlets, when dead Emperors are always a bargain?

Or, you could actually have an idea. This line from Patek Philippe has been in use for years and is arguably the best line for a high-end watch ever. Written (no surprise) by Tim Delaney.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Flat Stanley

Years ago when I saw Amélie, I thought the traveling gnome prank was brilliant. I liked the film so much, I was a little disappointed to discover it didn't originate with the movie.

One of my son's friends back in Chicago asked us to help out on a similar project and take pictures of Flat Stanley. Again, brilliant. But it turns out Flat Stanley isn't a new thing either. (Did I miss out on too much as a kid?)

So we took Flat Stanley to Munich with us. And I was surprised to see a couple other tourists posing with their Flat Stanleys. I should have taken pictures of them, but taking pictures of strangers seemed a little weird. It's awkward enough to pose with a paper doll.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Breakfast in America

To the right is the in-room breakfast menu at our hotel in Munich. You can click to enlarge, but here's the line-up:

The French breakfast is only 13.50 Euros.
It includes croissants, a baguette and some butter.

The Munich breakfast is 18.50 Euros.
It includes wheat beer, sausage, pretzel with mustard and three different kinds of bread.

The healthy breakfast is also 18.50 Euros.
It includes "vital cereals," fruit, juices and something called "Actimel."

The Italian breakfast is 20.50 Euros.
It includes Parma ham, salami, tomatoes, mozzarella with basil, scrambled egg with spinach and a glass of prosseco.

The American breakfast is 26.00 Euros.
At almost double the price of the French breakfast and 5.50 Euros more than the next most expensive, it includes a selection of sausage, ham and cheese, scrambled eggs, muffin, and a glass of juice.

As an American, I buy that French = croissants, German = beer, Italian = something with tomatoes and basil, and that American = most expensive and/or gluttonous on the menu. But I will never pay 26 Euros for a so-called "American breakfast" that doesn't include pancakes, waffles or (ironically) french toast.

I know American breakfasts, and you, Hilton Park of Munich, serve no American breakfasts.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gutten tag, Big Rösti!

I used to experience significant guilt eating at McDonald's while in Europe. It seemed like a crutch. A big, fat, American crutch with a side of fries. But it's hard to do road trips with three kids under 6 without a roadside stop at McDo's (what the French call Mickey D's). So I try to temper the guilt by ordering promotional items that are unique to the region.

Last week we were in Germany, and I ordered the Big Rösti...On two separate occasions.

The Big Rösti is a large piece of cow topped with cheese, sauce, bacon, and...wait for it...a giant hash brown patty. It kind of makes the fries redundant, but who cares. The top of the bun is also laden with cheese and bacon bits.

Unlike some of the other McPromotions I've tried, I think the Big Rösti would be a guaranteed hit in the States. A big, fat hit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Project 100 on Slideshare

I'm one of the 100 contributors to this book. Launch date is April 6th.

Heaven, Hell, and the Role of the Swiss

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

4 Gregs!

Watch this. It has nothing to do with Switzerland, Chicago, marketing, branding or culture shock.

I love Homestar Runner, and I'm just thrilled to be a Greg.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I guess this counts as good press.

Our client was mentioned in the paper again.
From The New York Times.

The New Kid

If you're a geeky, socially-awkward  adolescent, you may occasionally fantasize about moving to a new school and starting over tabula rasa. If no one knows you, you can change who you are. You can resculpt your image. Maybe you can convince people that you're cooler than you really are.

I think brands try this. Take, for example, this KFC I came across just outside of Munich, Germany.

The KFC up the street from me in Chicago was the size of my kitchen and the cashiers stood behind bullet-proof glass. True, that's not representative of most KFCs. But neither is this one.

This is IKEA-sized. It's got a three-story corkscrew slide. I could see red leather-upholstered bar stools inside (no I didn't go in). Can you think of anywhere in the States where KFC could pull this off?

Guten tag, Herr Colonel.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dog colon

This is the first ad I've ever done that features a dog colon as the key visual. Click to enlarge. If you dare. 
For you non-vets, the little green guys are giardia. Comments?

Monday, February 9, 2009


Last year, BBDO launched the "Voyeurs" project to promote HBO.

I never saw this display in person. But I do get to see the old man* who lives on the ground floor of my apartment building puttering around in nothing but a yellow t-shirt and underwear almost every night when I come home.

* Might be a woman.

Friday, February 6, 2009

When good design gets in the wrong hands.

A couple years ago, Switzerland's largest political party, the Swiss People's Party (UDC in French and Italian, SVP in German) proposed a plan to deport immigrant families if their children were convicted of a violent crime, drug offense or benefit fraud. So they ran these ads:

It simply says, "For more security."

That was before I arrived, but I've heard the non-UDC Swiss went nuts. The UDC (which controls Switzerland's justice ministry) was called racist, xenophobic, and compared to the Nazis. Seriously, could you imagine what would happen if a major political party ran ads like these in the States?

There are reform elections coming up, and the UDC are currently running these ads:

The ad asks, "Open the door to abuse? Free movement of Romanians and Bulgarians? No."

So the UDC seems to have a pretty clear brand message, and they're not worried about speaking their mind. And they do some pretty compelling graphics. Of course, with the swastika and continuing the Iron Cross, the Nazis had a pretty good handle on graphic design, too.

Compelling design and brand consistency has real power. I wish more people and organizations with worthwhile messages understood this.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

We're proud of you, America!!!

I recently presented a piece of collateral to a client, which used the line “We’re proud of you.”

I was told by the client that this was very American, and that Europeans were much more conservative. It should say, “Congratulations!” No one in Europe would say, “We’re proud of you.”

I asked my Swiss co-worker about this and he confirmed that it was a very American statement. 

What? I’m willing to admit cultural ignorance. But this still seems a little weird to me.

What kind of stickers do European teachers put on their European grade-school students' homework?

- "Fine job."
- "This achievement is yours."
- "Acknowledged."
- "Virtual handshake."
- "With shielded emotions, I commend you."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Recession Survival Tactics

I really like Tom Fishburne's comics. Not sure people outside of marketing find them as poignant, but he's pretty dead-on with each one. Here's a recent one:

I can see each of these reactions both by scrolling down today's headlines and our own client list. Arguably, EVOLVE is the noblest one listed. But it must be frustrating to work for a brand that takes another route, knowing that the decision was made by only one or two people in the executive suite.

And arguably, the companies who do choose EVOLVE are the ones who don't rely on one or two executives to make such important decisions.


So we had a few people made redundant this week. Not a lot. But even one is too many. I've seen several people let go in 10 years of advertising. Never fun. Almost always shocking. Especially when it's due to the economy and completely unrelated to job performance as these were.

Six months into my first job out of grad school, I was part of an entire agency folding. As scary as that was at first, things turned out awesome. Wouldn't have had it any other way.

Here's hoping things turn out just as well for my friends.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

There are no rules of grammar anymore

I know when to use semicolons and hyphens. I know what a gerent is and that it’s grammatically incorrect to say, “I wish I was…” I know that in almost all cases you put the punctuation inside quotation marks and when there are exceptions to the rule. I know the word “irregarless” does not exist. As a writer, I know my craft. At least I know most of the rules.

I’m well-read enough to know that you don’t need to follow the rules of grammar if you’re going for style. Same thing goes for advertising. “got milk?” isn’t correct grammar or capitalization, but it’s so apparent it doesn’t need to be.

But it seems wrong to me that a client would spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a piece of communication and decide to change a correctly-phrased sentence simply because “it just doesn’t look right.” I can understand wanting to speak colloquially. But if it’s an official document, or a piece of branding communication, I think it needs to be deliberate.

Sorry to let off a little steam. I just finished reading a 38-page client-generated draft where dashes were liberally used in place of commas and words like “members” and “score” were capitalized.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The world don't move to the beat of just one drum.

We’ve met several expats who’ve either started their families here in Geneva, or moved them here. Some do it well. Some, not so well. Here’s a rough breakdown of what I’ve seen:
  • Families like ours who’ve made the transition when the kids were young enough to be enrolled in public school and learn the language.
  • Families a few years ahead of us who’ve come from the States with their teenagers. I think in every instance these kids go to English speaking international schools (considerably more expensive, which the parents obviously took into account when contemplating the move).
  • Families whose move to Geneva is merely another move abroad. We know Americans families who’ve most recently lived in Brussels, Zurich, Paris, and Shanghai.
  • Couples who went abroad and had their kids here. The kids have never known any other way of life and are sometimes slightly more proficient in French than their parent’s English.
  • Couples who move here and then mysteriously leave without a trace.