Friday, May 29, 2009

Swiss Award Show

I attended the local awards show last night. I've been to several industry awards shows in my career, and this was just like all the others:

A darkened venue, a C-list celebrity MC, award recipients thanking a crowd who doesn't care, creatives aghast their work was beat out by apparent dreck. The only difference was this was all in French.

The afterparty also featured fancy-looking but mushy-tasting appetizers and music levels that prohibit decent conversation. Normally, I can put up with this for a couple of hours. But last night I split after 15 minutes.

In Chicago, I could always approach people I didn't know at parties, even just to say, "Hey, man. I like your work." Friends would introduce me to other friends. I'd finally meet people I'd only spoken with on the phone. I always had someone to talk English. But not knowing anyone outside of my agency, and not really feeling like practicing my "Où est la bibliothèque" French with a bunch of sauced and smokey Swissvertisers, I split.

I did, however, thoroughly enjoy the tram ride home. I don't usually get to ride the tram, which is much more spacious and futuristic than the bus.

Tram ride: 1
Swiss award show: 0

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Catching culture in my peripheral vision

Front page of the New York Times today features a story about a Swiss rapper called Stress who's been a thorn in the side of Chrisoph Blocher and the Swiss People's Party.

Blocher's party believes in traditional Swiss values, but is also very militant when it comes to anti-immigration legislation (even though Blocher is a descendant of Swabian immigrants from Germany).

Stress is the son of of Estonian immigrants, and says "Blocher's Switzerland is people in the mountains making cheese." Much of his music attacks Swiss People's Party ideology.

So I've lived in Switzerland for over 10 months now, and the first time I hear about Stress is from the New York Times. And not some obscure article buried in the music section. It's on the front page. Interesting that I'm still so steeped in my own culture that I'm not even catching the culture around me in my peripheral vision.

Goals = air horns

Last night I watched Barcelona defeat Manchester United 2-0 in the Champions League Final. (A year ago I would have barely understood what that means.)

I've watched professional football (i.e., soccer) games before. But this was the first match (i.e., game) I'd seen in a European apartment surrounded by European neighbors.

Something I learned last night: Goals = excited neighbors with air horns.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

International paper sizes

In the USA, I printed scripts on 8.5"x 11". If it was really important, I'd switch to 11" x 17". For some presentations, we'd mount work on "posters."

In Europe (and, I think, pretty much everywhere else), the standard size of paper is A4.

We'd print on A4. Do story boards on A3, and mount the really important stuff on A1.

Pretty simple stuff. Surprised this isn't used in the U.S.

Monday, May 25, 2009


The woman renting our house in Chicago emailed this weekend to tell us she can no longer afford the rent and is moving out.

That means we have to
a) find a new renter from overseas
b) sell our house from overseas

In either case we have to
c) cover the mortgage while we do a) or b).

(The c stands for "crap.")

Friday, May 22, 2009

How to watch American TV Abroad, Part 2

We don't have Slingbox. We don't use Hot Spot Shield to stream Hulu. But we just finished watching the season finales of Lost and The Office.

I've been buying season passes to different TV series on iTunes.

From there, I upload them to my iPod. Then I take my iPod and connect it to my big screen TV at home via an AV adaptor that I bought from the Apple Store.

Most season passes are about $30 (I don't buy them in HD). So far, I've probably bought $200 in season passes. I used to pay $40 a month in cable bills, and since these shows have lasted us five months, we're about even. I just wish we were still able to watch Iron Chef America.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Happy Ascension, everyone!

Swiss schools and places of business are closed today. It's Ascension. I've been Christian all my life, but I'm not really sure how to commemorate this day. I hope Mario Kart Wii is an appropriate way to celebrate.

Fantastic to live in a country that observes so many Christian holidays and gives four weeks of vacation a year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Welcome to Eurovision

The first time I ever saw a kiwi fruit was at the Sizzler salad bar. I was 10 years old and though How did I make it this long in life without knowing about these? When I was 12, I had the same reaction when I learned about manatees, and again in college when I learned about Kwanzaa. 

Last weekend I had a similar experience when I learned about Eurovision - Europe's 40 year old talent competition that gave ABBA and Celine Dion their first big breaks.

Eurovision is basically American Idol on a continental, trans-cultural scale. Fourty-two countries are represented with Israel, Turkey and Azerbaijan included. There are semi-finals and finals. Afterwards, you can call in by country to vote for your favorite act. Calls are reported country by country.

The first half of the show is the singing and dancing, and the second half are representatives from all 42 countries calling in to report their country's Top 10. 10th place gets you a point, 9th gets you two points, etc. 1st place get's 12 points, 2nd gets 10, and 3rd gets 8.

Countries can't vote for themselves, but the all vote for their neighbors. The Scandinavian countries vote for Scandinavian countries. Former Yugoslavian countries vote for other Former Yugoslavian countries. But ala the Wisdom of Crowds, and the bonus points for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, a few performers begin to rise to the top.

It's amazing what a huge deal this is, and how I have never heard of it. The UK contestant sang an Andew Lloyd Webber song...accompanied by Andrew Lloyd Webber on the piano! And the UK still wasn't in the Top 3.

So if you're interested in who the next European superstar is, it's Norwegian Alexander Rybak who almost double the points of runners up Iceland and Azerbaijan . Trust me. The Europeans went nuts for this guy.

But if you want to see the real trainwrecks of Eurovision, check out the very low scoring Germany and Finland. Please note these are actual contestants and NOT skits from Saturday Night Live. (Yes, the German guy's silver pants are awesome, but you've got to watch until 2:18 when the dominatrix arrives.)

I don't know about you, but I would not want to run into that gangsta in a Helsinki back alley. The fact that Finland has nights that are six months long make it especially dangerous. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Stumbled upon this magazine in our foyer. It is "the Swiss magazine of graphic design and visual creation." Wish you could feel the paper on this. It's beautifully put together.

It's in English. But it feels very Swiss. Very neat, clean, orderly...

Even the pages with a lot of copy are gorgeous...

Their website is equally cool/Swiss.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Capitalization in Europe

As an American, I like to capitalize things. And as a journalist for my college newspaper, I had specific training in which words of a title are capitalized and which are not.

But in Europe, I've had to set all that training to the side. In headlines, titles and subtitles, the first word is capitalized, and only proper pronouns afterwards. So the headline "Man Walks On the Moon" would be "Man walks on the moon." Yeah, anticlimactic, I know.

But because each language has its own rules for capitalization, title casing a line confuses people reading English as a second language.

EUROPEAN: Why are you capitalizing "walks" in that sentence?

ME: Well, "Walks" is an important part of that sentence.

EUROPEAN: Is it the man's name? Are you trying to say, "Herr Walks arrived on the moon?"

ME: No. "Walks" is a verb. It's something important.

EUROPEAN: "Walks" isn't that important.

ME: But the Man Walked On the Freaking Moon!

EUROPEAN: You mean on the moon?

ME: Yes, On the Moon!

For this reason alone, I think we should give our moon a name. I'm thinking "Brad."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wired's puzzle issue

I read the latest issue of Wired cover-to-cover. Never done that before. Amazing issue. Puzzles. Hidden messages. It’s part Mensa test, part Da Vinci code scavenger hunt. Cool effort for a magazine to make the tangible artifact relevant.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


One of the accounts we’ve won recently is GAIN (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition). It’s a small account, but very much a feel-good one. 


You can have enough to eat and still suffer malnutrition. That’s because vitamins and minerals are diminished or even extracted during some food processing treatments. So you can have a table of food and still have poor immune system. Healther food = healther people = healthier economies.


One of the things GAIN does is manufacture and supply vitamin and mineral premix which governments and other organizations can purchase. When granaries, mills and even soy sauce packaging companies add the premix to their product, regular consumers get the nutrition at the source (kind of like communities that fluoridate their water).

(Fast Company recently named a for-profit premix manufacturer called DSM as one of the Top 50 Most Innovative companies.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I heart Mövenpick

Found a new brand to love: Mövenpick. It’s a Swiss company that operates hotels, restaurants and sells crazy-good ice cream through retail outlets.

I’d only seen their hotels at the Geneva airport and on the lake, midway between Geneva and Lausanne, and both seemed a little dumpy. The name itself seemed a little lame, too. As in “when you’re on the MOVE, you may as well PICK us.” And the Mövenpick restaurant I’ve seen in downtown Geneva reminded me of a Sizzler or a Denny’s from the early 80’s.

But last weekend I was put up at the Mövenpick in Frankfurt and fell in love with the place.

I’ve stayed at some very nice hotels (usually on production, with the client paying for them), and this Mövenpick is right up there with the W.

The food was excellent, too. The breakfast buffet was almost gourmet (compared to what I’ve had at Marriotts and Hiltons), the food in the restaurant and even room service was as good as Morton’s. And the famous Mövenpick ice cream I had for dessert probably dethrones Häagen-Daz. (Although I’m up for a rematch.)

What’s even more interesting to me is that way this brand seemingly defies the whole Fox and the Hedgehog theory of business, which basically says find one thing and do it right. Between the hotels, the restaurants and the ice cream, Mövenpick’s got a whole hedgehog army. Maybe it's not too different than IKEA selling good furniture and serving awesome meatballs. But this is just a bit more of a hidden gem.

There are Mövenpick hotels and resorts throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. America’s missing out on this brand. Then again, I’m glad this brand isn’t spreading itself too thin right now.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Faux Cougar Chronicles, Part 4

Just returned from the BYU Management Society meeting in Frankfurt. Here’s what didn’t happen:

I arrived at the morning session with a bottle of apple juice I’d taken from the breakfast buffet. As I poured it during the opening remarks, the foam started to build, I realized despite the apple on the bottle label, I was having beer for breakfast. That was when they first asked me if I actually attended BYU.

I explained the mistake (honestly, do you know any beer labels with apples on them?) and deflected their questions. But when they opened the meeting with the school fight song and I was obviously making up the words, I was really busted.

I was asked to stay after the session to talk to the event directions, and once they confirmed that I never even attended BYU, I was told I’d have to reimburse the group for my hotel room and my airfare.

Through a series of protests, they realized it was their fault for not doing a background check and decided to pay for me anyway Although they were really disturbed to see my hotel bill included several movies (which I accidentally ordered because I couldn’t read the German instructions on the ordering menu).

The topper was when the perch I ate for lunch came back to haunt me during the evening session and I threw up in the middle of the keynote address causing the row in front of me and behind me to evacuate and listen to the rest of the session standing on the far side of the room. And everyone knew it was the Utah Ute who ruined the meeting.

Here’s what actually happened: I sat in a room for eight hours watching PowerPoint presentations.

I think I was hoping for an uncomfortable, but memorable David Sedaris-type experience. Instead, I learned that one-third of the BYU Management Society are not BYU alumni. And the keynote speaker from P&G not only announced himself as a “proud runnin’ Ute” who graduated from the University of Utah, but addressed the roomful of 120 attendees as “zoobies” (a derogatory term for BYU students that actually didn’t make sense to most of the European-educated crowd anyway).

So, great experience. And now I’m a full-on member of the BYU Management Society.

Never saw that one coming.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Birthday Party

For my birthday I asked all 377 of my Facebook friends to change their profile pictures to mine for the day. Eighty-five of them did. That's about 22%. Sounds low, but it was still the biggest turnout of any party I've ever had.

The Faux Cougar Chronicles, Part 3

Leaving tomorrow for Frankfurt as an alumnus representative of a school I never attended. Updates next Monday.

In the meantime, I celebrated my birthday by asking all of my friends on Facebook to change their profile pictures to mine for the day. I think the final total was 86, which is about the biggest party I've ever thrown. Video also coming soon.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Made to Stick

I just finished Made to Stick. I really enjoyed it. If you read their articles in Fast Company, you’ll know the Brothers Heath have an irreverent, sometimes acerbic style, which is more than welcome in a category that often tries to out-Harvard-Business-Review the next guy.

It's a book about how to make ideas more memorable, and how to get people to act on them. Arguably, anyone who talks is interested in having their ideas stick. These ideas apply to everything from business pitches to urban legends to Sunday school lessons.

But the hardest part of the book was reading ideas I completely agreed with, only to see them violated on a weekly basis. For example, John F. Kennedy said America would “put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.”

Imagine if JFK spoke like a CEO. He would have said, “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives.”

In an effort to sound like JFK, too many of us end up talking like CEOs.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Zappos and/or American Culture

I just received the 2008 Culture Book. On a recommendation from a friend, I emailed the CEO and asked for it. Within a week it was mailed to me – in Switzerland.

I’ve never used, but I’m already a fan. Any company that a) aware of their culture, and b) is interested in maintaining said culture is going to develop a following and have some longevity.

It's an 2-inch (5.08 cm) tome of quotes from Zappos employees commenting on what makes their company what it is. I love it. I showed the book with some enthusiasm to a Swiss co-worker…

SWISS: So this is basically a book of all the employees saying how great their company is?

GREG: Yes.

SWISS: Is it an American company?

GREG: Yes.

SWISS: [Smiles and shrugs as if to say, “Of course it is. Only an American company would publish a book of their employees saying how great they are.”]

There are only two other people in my office who have shown an interest in the Culture Book. They are from Texas and St. Louis.

Monday, May 4, 2009


My wife hates it when friends in the States say, "What an adventure you're having!" Her reply is, "This isn't an adventure. It's our life." And she has a point.

True, we've been able to do some very adventurous things here. But we also buy groceries and laundry detergent and look for parking spaces and throw out junk mail.

I wonder at what point people stop considering us to be adventurous. We have expat friends who've lived here for ten or more years. I wonder if their friends say, "What an adventure the past decade has been for you!"

Friday, May 1, 2009

To All Marketing Department Employees...

I just received my copy of Connect! Marketing in the Social Media Era, written by me and 99 others.

Randomly flipping through the book, I found some banal titles like "Engage Customers and Deliver Personalized Experiences," and "Tapping into the Power of the Internet." Not exactly promises of brain candy. Then again, I haven't read them, and my own title isn't exactly scintillating either. But chapters like "Social Media Helps Feed the Poor," and "A Party Girl's 13 Lessons In Social Media" sound like fun reads.

Because I retain the copyright for my submission, I'm allowed to share it with you here. I'll let you know how the rest of the book is.

To All Marketing Department Employees;

Several of you have asked about the company’s forays into so-called “social media.” I’d like to clarify any misconceptions.

Social media may work for certain companies. But it has not yet proven to be consistently effective, and is therefore incompatible with our company’s direction. Personally, I’m not 100% convinced social media is the way to build dynamic consumer relationships. We have put all of our TV commercials on our website, and they are not being viewed as frequently as we had expected.

More to the point, I’m not 100% convinced dynamic consumer relationships are what our company needs. Our chief concern with social media is that it gives undue power to our consumers. Let’s remember, this is our brand. And we are spending our money to promote it. To relinquish complete control, therefore, would be unwise. We have some carefully-researched product benefits that need to be advertised. (Those product benefits, by the way, have been thoroughly researched after months of focus group testing, so in a way, we are going above and beyond to involve consumers.)

My fear is that once we let consumers into the conversation, the consumer has the potential to influence our brand. They may ask more of us. They may ask different things of us. They may steer us in a direction we’re unwilling to go.

This is not the job of the consumer. Consumers need to be led. They are hungry for the information we have. It is, therefore, up to us to us dictate the terms of the conversation.

Furthermore, we cannot let consumer involvement distract us when we have our quarterly earnings statements to answer to. When things slow down a bit, maybe we’ll be able to develop some longer-term strategies that involve some brand-building exercises.

I don’t want us to make waves. I want us to go with what’s been proven to work in the past. To be frank, by most accounts, if I retain my post as CMO for more than 25 months I’ll be an anomaly.

So I’ll tell, you what. If we can just hold down the fort, and I get to month 26, maybe we can talk about this social media thing. Until then, be advised that we are considering putting the account up for review, and we are hoping to afford a Superbowl ad this year!

Your CMO

Submitted by Greg Christensen
Greg spent most of his career in Chicago before joining Young & Rubicam Brands, Geneva as a lead creative. He is also the co-author of, a blog for students hoping to get a job in advertising.