Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Travesty of Mis-Translation

This morning, Fred, my francophone art director, and I were speaking about a commercial I thought was particularly bad.

GREG: That was a poor choice of actor. It was a complete travesty.

FRED: Really? You thought he was a travesti?

GREG: Absolutely. Didn’t you?

FRED: Well, he didn’t look like one to me.


FRED: Well, he wasn’t wearing a dress...or makeup.


GREG: What are you talking about?

FRED: Don’t you have that word in English? Travesti? For when a man dresses up like a woman?


GREG: Are you talking about a transvestite?

FRED: I guess. In French it’s pronounced travesti.

GREG: Oh. Okay. In English travesty is just a big mistake. He’s not a travesti. He’s just a really bad actor.

FRED: Yes. I agree.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Even the hippies will find this one weird.

We have a 5-year-old who still wears pull-ups to bed. Or rather, we're making her wear them to avoid doing laundry every day.

We recently purchased a pack of Up & Go pull-ups...

Despite the English on the front of this package, all of the small type is in French or Italian. So I'm guessing there aren't a lot of mother-tongue English speakers at the Up & Go plant. Certainly not in their design or marketing departments... 

Call me prudish, but is "Make love not war" something you really need to print on pull-ups? Then again, these are sold to the French and Italians.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cool Business Ideas

I love learning about unique business practices. I keep a file of the ones I find most interesting. The most famous is Google's policy of encouraging employees to spend 20% of their work time on side projects. But here are a couple others I've come across recently:

Zappo's offers new employees a $2,000 bonus to quit after they've completed a four-month training period. CEO Tony Hsieh says, "It's best to know early on if an employee doesn't buy into the vision or the culture."

A new agency called Big Agency Defectors (BAD) has a 20:20:20 plan. For all new clients, they will develop three creative routes for $20k. For another $20k, they'll blow out any one of those routes into a full campaign. And they'll charge a 20% markup of production on any ads produced.

Anyone have any other cool ideas to share?

Anyone have any specifically from Swiss or Euro businesses?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Debut in Fast Company

My letter to the editor was published in Fast Company.

Now, I will be able to say "Fast Company published my piece on Brand Awareness."

That's got to boost my potential income by at least 20%, right?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Blogosphere Experiments, Part 3 (or Bakugan, Britney Spears, AIG bailout)

According to Google Analytics, some weird things are happening with this blog.

I usually get around 40 hits a day, which is very flattering. A huge thanks to everyone who reads this.

But traffic has spiked to around 80, and has been holding for some time. And I think it's because of my Bakugan post.

Google Analytics tells me that this Bakugan post has received 839 hits since it was first posted a month ago. I know those aren't you regular readers.

And a search for "Bakugan au combat" lists this blog immediately after two Bakugan instructional videos on You Tube.

So I've double the visitors to my blog with a serendipitous post title. The Bakugan visitors don't seem to spend much time on the site once they realize it's just cultural commentary. But I wish they'd click on a GoogleAd ad or two while they're there.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Blogosphere Experiments, Part 2

In the last 7 days, I've received 12 clicks for a total of $18.84.

So since this blog began, I've earned $36.50 (Google sends me my first check after I reach $100.00).

I wonder if you could fund a party like this. Start a blog, run about 10 Google Ads on it, and tell your invitees the more they click, the bigger the party.

Small Talk

When people don't have much to say, they talk about the weather.

Except for expats in Geneva. We talk about travel. When Milan is a 3 hour drive and Paris is 5, you can't go wrong with, "So, got any trips planned?"

And it's much more interesting than meteorology.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Oreos in Apple Juice

An American co-worker recently received a care package with three packs of Oreos. While I would have hoarded them like free hotel toiletries, she was kind enough to bring them into the office.

SWISS:  What are these?

AMERICAN:  Oreo cookies.

SWISS:  They look like biscuits.

AMERICAN:  Um...Well, you should try them.

SWISS:  They taste like chocolate biscuits.

AMERICAN:  Well, they're not. They're cookies. You should try dunking them in milk.

SWISS:  You put these in milk?

AMERICAN:  Yeah, that's the best way to eat them. See on the package, it says, "Milk's favorite cookie."

SWISS:  That's weird.

AMERICAN:  Putting them in milk?

SWISS:  No, the company telling you what drink to have with their food. What if it said "Apple juice's favorite cookie"? Can't you choose for yourself?

The Swiss are neutral. But they apparently do not appreciate having their beverages dictated to them.

Lesson: Do not share your Oreos.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

We have assimilated.

My wife just pointed out that we have 11 different cheese in our fridge.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Blogosphere Experiments, Part 1

I’m contemplating removing the Google Ads from this blog (the three just to the right, if you’re reading this on the main page). I'm not sure I'm running them effectively. And they are pretty ugly.

From what I understand, I receive a few cents every time someone clicks on those ads. Google will send me my first check after the total reaches $100.00. Last time I checked, I had a balance of $17.21.

The ads are a blogosphere experiment. I'm not so interested in the cash. (I have another blog that receives 4x the traffic this one does, but I don't want to advertise on it.)

Here are the options I'm considering:
  1. Remove the ads because they're unattractive.
  2. Do a little research to see if I'm maximizing my Google AdSense account and continue the experiment.
  3. Update my Facebook status to say, "Greg wants you to visit www.greatcreativeneutralcountry.com and click on at least one ad" to see what kind of spike I get.
If you're viewing via Google Reader, I've included a poll on the main page to see what you think. Please click on a Google Ad while you're there.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Branding Lessons from the Geneva Motor Show

This weekend I went to the Geneva Motor Show.

I was struck by the scarcity of SUVs. There were a few (that's all Jeep makes), but not near as many as I've seen at car shows in the States. I'm not sure if this is
a) a European thing
b) a green thing
c) a tanking world economy thing.

I'm guessing a combination since almost everyone had their bandwagon green-hybrid-bio-eco car as the centerpiece to their display. The bold and blatant exceptions were makers like Ferrari and Lamborghini who know you're not buying their cars to make a smaller footprint.

Branding Lesson #1: If a trend or idea doesn't make sense for your brand (even an eco-friendly one), don't jump onboard.

As I've written before, some brands try to reinvent themselves when they're the new kid in school. For example, there was a Chevrolet display. But Corvette had its very own place on the other side of the exhibition center. (This would be the part of the TV drama where one sister pretends not to sit with her frumpy twin so she can hang out with the cheerleaders in the school cafeteria.)

Branding Lesson #2: If your brand's got baggage, don't be sentimental. Drop it. At the very least, move to a new market and hide it.

Other American positionings included this attempt by Dodge:

Seriously, Detroit? A giant guitar is your brand lighthouse? If you look a little closer, to the left of that rockin' six-string are some guys playing rugby. Maybe market research shows a correlation between European Dodge owners and rugby, but my bet is this originally had some American football players on it and the image was hastily swapped out for a euroequivalent when someone pointed out that Europeans don't get Monday Night Football.

Branding Lesson #3: Your communication has to be relevant. Otherwise, you're just paying for a giant guitar poster.

Jeep's display was fine. I love Jeeps because they're so solidly branded. They're rugged. They're about freedom and independence. And they were wholly consistent with their brand with this display...

But this is Switzerland. I'd spent the morning skiing, and by the number of sunburns I saw, I guarantee I wasn't the only one in the mountains this weekend. This shot of Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva was also on my memory card from a few hours earlier...

Branding Lesson #4: Home court advantage is huge. Even if it's Rockies vs. Alps.

One of the things I like about auto shows are the displays. There weren't too many amazing set-ups this year (again, not sure if that's Europe or the economy), but Volkswagen had the best with its exclusive member lounge (even if it did look a little like an IKEA restaurant).

Branding Lesson #5: Cater to those who've already demonstrated a willingness to spend money on you.

VW also had ultra-widescreen viewing pods that looked like something EPCOT would have designed for the Living Rooms of Tomorrow exhibit. Guests were drawn to them, but the content inside was so dull, most people exited before it was over. It was just a bunch of green landscapes with a bunch of vague terms like "environment" and "innovation." Another example of the execution coming before the idea.

Branding Lesson #6: No matter how cool a design is, without an idea behind it, it's a waste of money.

Finally, of all the concept cars I saw (and there were tons), here is my favorite...

Branding Lesson #7: If no one knows who you are, you can be whoever you want to be.

(Lesson addendum: Never design a car with a built-in backseat driver.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Frank's Side Project

I think it's important to have side projects. My friend, Frank, whom I've mentioned before has a really cool one: He's got a skateboard movie coming out this spring. Here's the trailer he did for it...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

French is ZyCra

In hip French slang, you flip words around. If you want to call something crazy, instead of calling it "feu," you call it "uef."

But it's not just spelling things backwards. If you go to your house or "maison," you go to your "sonmai."

Every once in a while, I can do this, and my French and Swiss co-workers think it's a riot.

But for someone who's still only able to speak in present tense (I'm never able to tell co-workers what I did last weekend without sounding schitzophrenic), this doesn't make learning a new language any easier.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why I don't subscribe to Money Magazine anymore.

Because we still have a mortgage, credit cards, and other US-based accounts, we use my in-laws home as our US address. So once every few months, we get a package that's just mail. We just sorted through a recent delivery. Junk mail on the left, important stuff on the right:

One of the pieces of junk mail was from Money Magazine, which I used to subscribe to. This is what they sent me to try to get me to re-subscribe. A mini-calendar!

I had to cut the tabs and fold it myself, which might be a turn-off, but guess what? This calendar's got me covered all the way to 2010! It's two-sided! Talk about economizing!

Maybe Money is going to the local mechanics and Jiffy Lube franchises, since that's the only place I've ever seen these calendars anyway. But I can only imagine the conversation that happened that led to this wonderful, wonderful gift.

CMO: These are tough times. People are losing their homes and their life savings.

AE: But we are in a unique position to help educate Americans about their finances. We should position ourselves as an answer to the problem.

CMO: I agree.

AE: Let's reach out, and send some mini-calendars to our lapsed subscribers.

CMO: How much will that cost?

AE: Certainly more than it's worth.

CMO: Brilliant!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Price of a Full Tank of Gas

Here's one of the better locals ads I've seen. it's for a not-for-profit org.
The headline reads "The price of filling up with agro-fuel." Swissaid argues that in extreme cases, the agro-fuel boom will lead to people dying "because valuable land will be used to grow energy plants, leaving them without enough to eat."

It's a weighty issue. Swissaid could have loaded this up with body copy and bullet points. Instead they went for a simple, targeted execution. Nice job.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sandwich from Beyond

Today, I made a peanut butter sandwich with raspberry jam, cut it up into hors d'oeuvre-y 8ths and shared it with my Swiss, French, English and German co-workers.

As a father of three American-born children, it is strange and almost unsettling to see men and women in their 20s and 30s look at a peanut butter sandwich and ask what it is. Comments included:

"You eat it with jam? Really?"

"It's peanuts with butter?"

"Did you just come up with the idea?"

You can find small jars of peanut butter in most Swiss grocery stores (although the price would make you think there's a Fabergé egg inside). So peanut butter isn't completely foreign in Europe. But peanut butter sandwiches? I may as well have been offering peas and eucalyptus on whole wheat.

Colons = marketing gold!

A while back, I posted our dog colon ad.

Now a giant colon has been seen in Times Square

Coincidence? I think not.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Redesign the Rupee

Most major currencies have their own symbol.

The dollar: $
The pound: £
The euro: €
The yen: ¥

Switzerland doesn’t have one. We use “CHF” which technically stands for “Confederatio Helvetica Franc." But even abbreviated, it's not really worth writing out.

India's in the same boat. There isn't a symbol for the rupee. Yet. But the government is having a contest for Indian citizens to design a symbol for their currency.

Maybe they should redesign their currency, too. On one hand, if you’re the nation of Ghandi, of course you’re going to have him on your money. On the other hand, putting even Ghandi on ever single bill is overdoing it just a bit, don’t you think? Considering the man didn’t care much for the stuff anyway.

Dude, where's my car?

When Simon Silvester gave his presentation on marketing in a recession, he pointed to a recent phenomenon that I had not heard of:

Thousands of people are abandoning their cars at the Dubai airport.

Why? Apparently, it's illegal to have negative assets in Dubai (not a bad policy, in my opinion), and expats who were hoping to make a killing in construction are faced with fleeing the country or jail time.

Simon shared three facts about recessions:
1. They are frequent (the US has seen 28 since the 1850s).
2. They are short (typically lasting 11 months).
3. They are all different from each other (this may be the first where cars are abandoned at airports).

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Simon Silvester is the head of planning for Y&R EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa). He recently visited our agency and gave a presentation to our agency and our invited clients on marketing in a recession. The leave-behind from his presentation is called AAARGH! and can be downloaded here. It's worth a look.

Friday, March 6, 2009

International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights

Here's a pro bono piece we created for the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights, which begins in Geneva today:

Props to the art directors, Erin Eby and Fred Savioz, and our creative director, Bob Heron.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

International Motor Show

Today is the first day of the 79th International Motor Show in Geneva. The show started in 1905 (even before my kids' school was built), and has grown to become one of the world's largest. And here's how they're advertising it:

Does this make anyone want to go to the auto show? Does this even seem like an auto show poster?

I'm sure designing a poster for an auto show is challenging and full of political land mines. Showing cars makes sense, but you can't feature a Porsche or BMW gets mad. You can't show an Audi or Mercedes pulls their sponsorship. And how can't show the entire range of cars because that would look less like a poster and more like a little kid's sticker album. Still, I think they could have tried a little harder than this.

What was the brief on this piece?

MANDATORIES: Must use the color red and awkward hand positions.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


We recently had some photographs for Caterpillar retouched by The Operators in London. They’ve posted them as a frame-by-frame case study on their site here and here. Makes you wonder if anything you see in print is real.

Running for office

Normally, you don't move to a new country without speaking the language and run for public office. But that's what my wife did.

Last month, she was asked if she'd like to join the local PTA (or the Swiss equivalent of it). She was sent the application materials in English and in French.

Then she was asked to write a 500 word essay on why she'd make a good member of the PTA. It seemed very perfunctory, but this is Switzerland. She put off the essay until the morning it was due and then hastily typed the letter and sent it off.

Two days later, she took the kids to school and saw her letter,  translated into French and posted on the school doors with a handful of other applicants.

She thought she was joining the PTA. But it turns out, she's running for the school board.

The election was this weekend, and I'm sorry to report she lost 14 to 9 to a Mr. Schweitzer. But she's counting this as a victory because minus my ballot and hers, 7 unknown people voted for her. Plus, it's hard to complain when you lose an election in Switzerland to a man whose name is German for "Swiss man."

Monday, March 2, 2009


The other day I found myself trying to explain ARGs to my co-workers.

GREG: Maybe we could do some kind of ARG.

Blank stares.

GREG: Have you heard of ARGs?

CO-WORKER 1: Sorry?

It stands for Alternate Reality Game.

Sounds like a video game.

GREG: No. It's a huge experience for the participants. People are running all over the place looking for clues.

CO-WORKER 3: Sounds like a scavenger hunt.

GREG: No. There are hints, riddles you have to solve, places you have to go. You can participate online. It's really cool stuff.

CO-WORKER 1: Sounds like a very elaborate scavenger hunt.

So I'm not very good at explaining ARGs.

At Y&R Chicago, we had some really talented planners who would regularly create single-page news sheets about the latest trends and post them in the bathrooms stalls and above the urinals. We'd get band reviews from SxSW, shots and descriptions of Chicago Auto Show displays, and, of course, explanations of what an ARG is. (I miss having really amazing stuff to read when I go to the bathroom.)

If you watch Lost, you've probably seen their between-season ARGs:

If you play Halo, you might remember I Love Bees:

And if you're still silently blinking at the concept, check out one of the coolest and clearest examples. Created by the ad agency McKinney, it's how Audi launched the A3 in the States. Watch it here.