Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Now on sale, for 30 cents more

Shelf tag at Shoppers Drug Mart
I must seem like such a pedant. I pay an inordinate amount of attention to the minutia of retail pricing. Well, that is where businesses live and die.

I saw this on the shelf at my local Shoppers Drug Mart. According to this sign the regular price is $1.49, and while it is on sale you can buy one for $1.79 or four for $5.00 ($1.25 each)

Now shouldn't the tag printing software prevent a sale price from being higher than the regular price, or at least give you a warning?

How many of the the customers will notice? Probably very few, but those that do notice will think that the managers at Shoppers are losing their marbles.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Do you want to pay the inside price or the outside price?

The inside price (At the cash register)
The outside price (In front of the restaurant)
Pricing is one of those things that drives customers crazy. And these two posted signs, with prices penny apart, are just infuriating.

$3.57 plus 12% HST equals $3.9984. $3.58 plus 12% HST equals $4.0096. Now, if I remember back to the primary school arithmetic rules about rounding up and down, the $3.57 price should round up to $4.00, while the $3.58 price should round up to $4.01.

I am not sure what the rules are about rounding taxes. Does the Canada Revenue Agency say that the price with taxes should round up to round down? But regardless of what the rule is, the price inside and outside should be the same. It is only a penny, but it is just another detail that someone is not paying attention to.

This stuff drives me crazy.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

How to confuse the customer

In Vancouver all gasoline purchases must be paid in advance. You can either pay at the pump, or pay the cashier. If you pay at the pump you must follow the instructions on the pump.

Gas pump at Petrocanada Station
The problem I have with this system is that the instructions on the pump are contradictory. The diagram printed on the pump shows that you should insert the card with the magnetic stripe to the left.
Card insertion diagram printed on the pump
The diagram shows on the pump's display window shows that you should insert the card with the magnetic stripe to the right.
Card insertion instructions on the pump display
So, which is the correct way to insert your credit card? And why has no one noticed this before? Perhaps it just goes to show that no one, customers or staff, really pays any attention to these instructions. Never a good sign.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Another sign of the death of the Yellow Pages

A shrink wrapped package of 10 telephone books
I live in an apartment building with 39 units. When the telephone books were dropped off only ten books were left for all 39 apartments.

And after a few days only three books had been taken by residents. (And one of them was taken by my four-year old who thought that she needed to have a phonebook.)

So, if less than 10% of the residents think they need telephone books I'd say that the writing is well and truly on the wall.

I can't remember when I last used a telephone book, and the copy my daughter brought home will be going out in the recycling this week.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

It is always the little things



Sign outside a local pizza parlour
Detail of sign
For lots of customers, and potential customers, the little things create a strong impression about the overall quality of a restaurant. So, when I saw this typo it made me think about what other details the restaurant might not be paying adequate attention to.

So it appears that, "Prices Already Inlude Taxes". I just wish that I knew what "Inlude" meant.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

When is a clinic just a clinic?


Clinic sign at the front door
Clinic sign at West Entrance
As you can see from the bottom photo, the sign just outside the office of the "Sexually Transmitted Disease Clinic" no longer spells out the full name of the establishment. Now it just says "Clinic".

I can understand why. Not everyone wants to be seen going into the door next to the large sign that says, "I've got the clap".

But if you are going to make the change to avoid offending people's sensitivities then it might be a good idea to actually remove the lingering remnants of the old name from the sign. Or perhaps take it off the front door of the building.

But I can see why the full name has been left on the front door of the building. Patients might be self conscious about asking the receptionist for the clinic location.

There is a delicate balance between providing information about potentially sensitive medical services and stigmatizing the users of those services. I just have no idea how to manage that balance.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What are these things?

By the door in the Ugg Boot store
I was in my local Ugg Boot store and saw these things hanging by the front door. What are they?

Given that this store is in Vancouver, it really shouldn't be a surprise that these things are umbrella bags. When you come into the store you are supposed to put your wet umbrella into the bag, and carry it around with you. In lots of other stores you'll find an umbrella stand or holder where the you are supposed to put your wet umbrella. The only problem is that far too many people forget their umbrellas. If you carry it with you then you won't forget it.

But what do you do with the wet bag when you leave the store?

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What is a "quint"?

"Quint" Fire Engine at Vancouver Fire Station
Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, Quint 4
So, what is a "Quint"? Well, the prefix "Quint" means five, so I would expect that this fire engine would fulfill five functions. But what are they? The five functions are, "pump, water tank, fire hose, aerial device, and ground ladders".

Well, that makes perfect sense, but it does raise an issue that most industries are faced with. There are lots of specialized terms used in industries that make little of no sense to people outside the industry. And if you use those terms and expect your customers to understand them, you may be in for a surprise.

When I worked at Eddie Bauer, we would refer to products by their SKU number. (A men's Chamois Cloth Shirt was 1462.) But the customer had no reason to know what the SKU number was, and to expect the customer to know and use our internal shorthand was not entirely reasonable.

So, while I now know what a "Quint" is, that does not mean that the general public does. And if you use a specialized term in your industry, or within your company, you need to make sure that your customers know what you are talking about.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

The video store is getting deader every day

Former "dvdplaycanada.com" vending machine

redbox announcement on "dvdplay" vending machine
Well, it appears that my local "dvdplay" machine will be disappearing, taken over by "redbox". Both the Blockbsuter and Roger's video stores in the neighbourhood are gone, and I have not rented a video in at least five years.

$1.50 per day is an attractive price, and this vending machine model does eliminate most of the labour costs of the old video store rental model. But the critical flaw in the business model is that it depends on moving atoms around, when the customer is really only concerned with the bits.

Do I care if I have a physical disc to watch the movie? Or do I only care about watching the movie? If I am going to listen to music on my iPod, do I really need to buy the CD, which I then  have to rip and find a place to store somewhere around the house. Or I rather just buy the audio file from the iTunes Store and be able to listen to it straight away?

It is a fatal mistake for a marketers to confuse the benefit that the customer is seeking, with the way that the benefit has traditionally been delivered. I recenly read about how the sliderule business was wiped out by electronic calculators. The sliderule was merely a tool to deliver the answer to a mathematcial problem. The calculator could do it faster and more accurately. Similarly, online streaming video models can offer more choice and faster delviery than a kiosk model, like "redbox", will ever be able to provide.

So, my local "dvdplay" machine will be come a "redbox" machine, but I don't expect to see any dvd rental machine in my local grocery store five years from now.

PS, Yes I know that "deader" is not a word, but it does convey the meaning I was seeking.

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We've extended the hours, by opening later

Sherwin-Williams Store, Yukon and 8th Avenue, Vancouver
Sherwin-Williams is having a sale, or should I say a "Super Sale!". If a retail store is trying to maximize sales, you need to be open when your customers want to shop. So, the Sherwin-Williams store has extended hours for the duration of the sale.
Extended Super Sale Store Hours

This is great. I can shop from 7:00 am until 8:00 pm on Friday and Monday, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm on Saturday, and 10:00 am to 6:00 pm on Sunday. But, wait a minute. Are those hours really extended? How do they compare to the hours I have been used to in the past?

Regular Store Hours
So, what has changed? The store is actually open on one more hour over the four days of the sale. (An extra half hour each on Monday and Friday.) The Saturday and Sunday hours are exactly the same, and the early morning, 6:30-7:00 am, time has been lost on Friday and Monday.

So, if I am a regular customer, probably working in the building trade, and used to coming in at 6:30 am to pick up paint before I head out to the job site, I will now have to wait for an extra half hour for the store to open at 7:00 am.

The sale may be super, but the hours do not seem all that extended.


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Sunday, July 22, 2012

A good response to a customer complaint

Mountain Spring Tide
Like most companies, Proctor and Gamble, the manufacturers of Tide, are always looking for ways to expand their existing brands and increase their market share.

In the laundry detergent business this means adding additional fragrances and combinations. (Original scent, Spring scent, Fresh scent, with fabric softener, formulated for cold water etc.)

But every time you make a change to a product that people have grown to love and trust, or at the very least use and trust, you run the risk that the change will make some of your existing customers unhappy.

So, when I saw Mountain Spring Tide on sale, I picked up a bottle. I thought that the fragrance would be fresh.

Well, I was wrong. It was overpowering, and every time I used it to wash a load of laundry it took two extra rinses to bring the smell down to a tolerable level.

So I complained to Tide.


I recently bought a bottle of Mountain Sprint Tide. This stuff stinks and even with two additional rinses the overpowering smell is stuck in my clothes.

I have been in the mountains in spring and they smell nothing like this.

In the past I have been happy with Tide, but why do you engage in these pointless brand extensions? If I want my clothes to smell like the mountain in spring, I'll take them for a holiday. This sort of product does nothing for P&G's reputation.

And I got a response from Tide.

Response from Tide - July 20, 2012
So, given the responses I could have received; nothing at all, or tough luck, this is actually a pleasant surprise.

Proctor and Gamble didn't get to be the huge packaged goods firm it is by ignoring its customers. Well done.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Let the shape fit the benefit

Quaker Whole Hearts Packaging
For the past few years Quaker has been using the health benefits of oats, and in particular the benefits of oat bran, in its advertising.

Quaker has now unveiled a new product that appears in many ways to be similar to General Mills Cheerios. But the key difference is that instead of the Cheerios round shape, the Quaker Whole Heart product is heart-shaped. A nice link to the heart-related benefit of oat bran. I wonder if this will enable Quaker to make a dent in Cheerios dominant market share?

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Save 25%, but what does that mean?

eMail from The Globe and Mail
Almost 3 months ago I received a call from The Globe and Mail offering me a free 90-day subscription. Well, I like the paper, and I'm not one to turn down a free subscription.

A few weeks ago I received a call to offer me a discount on a subscription, which I turned down as the price was still a bit more than I wanted to pay.

And not I get this email which offers me 25% savings. But my question is 25% off what? I can understand that the paper offers different prices in different places. (Cheaper in Toronto where there are tons of subscribers, and more expensive is remote areas where subscribers are few and far between.)

But The Globe and Mail knows where I live, and so even if the paper offers geography-based prices, they know my geography and so should be able to tell me how much I'll have to pay. (In this case $30.14 per month including taxes.)

But perhaps they think that they have a better chance of getting me to subscribe if I click through to the subscription page to find out how much I will have to pay. I am just looking for more honesty and clarity from the firms I deal with.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Producion code, we don't need no stinking production code

Source: tide.ca
Where is the production code? Source: tide.ca
The "neck of the bottle at the back".
I recently purchased a bottle of a new variety, Mountain Spring®, of Tide. Even after two extra rinses the aroma was still overpowering. So according to the Tide website I had to tell Proctor & Gamble who I was, and also about the product. One the pieces of information that Tide requested was the "Production Code". According to the Tide website the production code is "printed on the neck of the bottle at the back". So, if you look at the photo above you can clearly see the absence of the printed production code. So where is the production code?

This may, or may not, be the production code
So, is this the production code? I have no idea. But as it is printed a bit off-centre I am guessing that it was done after the main label was printed.

In the absence of a production code where I was told to look for one, I think that this might be it. But obviously the website is not keeping up with changes in the factory. And, as a result, the people in customer service have less information to work with. This batch of Tide may in fact be defective with extra "Mountain Spring" added, but no one will ever know and I'll never buy this variety of Tide again. And that probably isn't something that Proctor & Gamble wants to hear from any customer.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How not to confuse the syrups

Syrup bottles at Starbucks
My daughter has a hot chocolate habit, and Starbucks has a great deal ($1.25) on kid's hot chocolates.

While we were at the counter one of the staff was washing the syrup bottles. With all of the demand for syrups in the various beverages, the bottles get sticky and every day they need to wash them down.

I think that just keeping your eyes open exposes you to a wealth of learning opportunities. And asking questions about everything sure helps. (One of the advantages of being with a young child is people expect lots of questions.) So, why are the plungers on some bottles white, while the middle bottle has a black plunger?

There is actually a very good reason, and it makes a lot of sense. The white plungers are for the syrups sweetened with sugar, and the black plungers are for the sugar-free syrups. Makes sense, white is the colour of sugar.

It is little things like this that can prevent mistakes in drink preparation. And as every mistake costs money and eats into the profits, there is no reason not to do something as simple and basic as this to reduce the likelihood of errors.

Can this sort of colour coding be used in other restaurants and other industries? Anytime two things look similar but are functionally different it would make sense to use some for of cue to alert users. Two bolts, one in stainless and one in regular steel. Milk and soy. Men's and women's. The choices are endless. But providing some for of cue to users will reduce if not eliminate errors. So, if there any reason to do do something like this?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Will it all end in tears?


Kraft "String Cheese" Packaging for 2012 Back-to-School Promotion
Crayola crayons are one of the iconic products of a North American childhood. Even children who cannot read recognize the Crayola packaging.

So, does it make sense for Kraft, and its sister brand Polly-O, to team up with Crayola for a back-to-school promotion. From the perspective of selling more cheese and crayons it is a good combination.

But at the risk of being a bit of a worry wart, does packaging something edible to look like something inedible risk some problems? Will children who eat the cheese from these packages think that they can also eat crayons?

I am constantly battling with my four-year old to keep her from putting everything in her mouth. (Yesterday at the library she was chewing on the headphone wires while she watched videos on the pbskids.org website.)

It is incumbent on parents buying this cheese, or any product, to keep an eye on their children and make sure that their kids don't eat think that they shouldn't. But I can just see the lawyers lining up to sue when some child eats a crayon.

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How can they do this? (And how long will they be able to keep it up?)

eMail regarding "In Stock Guarantee" - Source: pricepoint.com
The "Fine Print"of the "In Stock Guarantee" - Source: pricepoint.com
When I was a mail order buyer, one of the ways that my performance was evaluated was fulfillment. Fulfillment is a measure of the percentage of items ordered by a customer that could be filled when the order was placed. (If all items are in stock then the fulfillment rate (Fill Rate) is 100%. If only half of the items in stock then the fulfillment rate is 50%.) If we did not have all of the items on the order in stock then the company would have to pay for the cost of the second shipment and any subsequent shipments.

It is relatively easy to achieve 100% fulfillment. You just need to order more than you think that you'll sell. But there is a cost to ordering those large quantities of merchandise. You will have lots of cash tied up in inventory and you'll need a bigger warehouse.

As a buyer I was trying to achieve an overall fulfillment rate of of 95+ percent. For low cost items I tried to reach close to 100%. (The cost of making additional shipments of low cost items could exceed the revenue from the items.)

Pricepoint is a web-based retailer selling bicycles, bicycles parts, accessories, and clothing. The prices range from a few dollars to $4.399.98 for a carbon-framed 29er mountain bike. It will be interesting to see how long Pricepoint will continue this guarantee and how the competition will respond.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

What do you do with a 6XL firefighter?

Source: http://www.511tactical.com
Source; http://www.511tactical.com
This firm manufactures clothing for, "law enforcement, military and firefighting professionals". And the firm offers clothing up to size 6XL.

In the words of Sesame Street, "One of these things just doesn't belong". Am I really looking for a  firefighter who is 6XL? If you are that large I can't see you being able to hustle up the stairs with an oxygen tank on your back, an axe in one hand and a fire hose in the other. (In the principle of full disclosure, according to this size chart I'm a size medium, and a smallish medium at that.)

If you have a 62 inch waist I really don't think you have any business being in a profession where someone else's life might depend on your ability to move quickly. I'm sure that somewhere on earth there is a guy with a 62 inch waist who could outrun me, but there is probably only one, and I doubt that he is working as a "law enforcement, military and firefighting professional(s)" and so he probably does not need clothing from this firm.

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Yes, they really are Canadian

Panago Flier-Front Cover - July 2012
Panago Flier-Back Cover - July 2012
Sometimes, well actually most times, it is the little things that differentiate good marketing. In this case Panago is using the Canadian spelling of "favourites". The American spelling, "favorites" omits the "u".

Using the Canadian spelling is not a big thing, but it does tell you customers that you are a Canadian company and you know the difference between Canadian and American spelling.

And for a company competing in a crowded market, and differentiation that makes sense to the customer, is worth pursuing.

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They are all the same size, or they seem to be

VanHoute Coffee on the shelf
It is not the greatest photo. One of the perils of shooting in a grocery store where the corporate powers are not keen to have the competition in sneaking shots. But you can get the point. There are three packages of coffee on the shelf and they are all $10.49. The packages are from Columbia, Mexico, and Honduras.

They seem to be the same size, but are they?
Van Houte Coffee from Columbia, 312 Grams
Van Houte Coffee from Mexico, 340 grams
Van Houte Coffee from Honduras, 340 grams
Although at first glance, the three packages are all the same price and seem to be the same size, the reality is that the package coffee from Columbia smaller. At 28 grams less, it almost 10% more expensive by weight.

When most people think about coffee, Columbia usually comes out near the top of respected producers. (Juan Valdez's time was not wasted.) And as Colombian coffee is generally regarded to be higher quality, it is also probably expected to be more expensive. And in this case, it is.

Is this sort of packaging deceptive? Yes. Is it unethical? No.

The economies of scale of producing one size of bag and one size of box to ship the coffee bags in makes some sense. But I think that this really diminishes the premium value of the Colombian coffee. If you are trying to differentiate Columbia coffee from, presumably, lesser quality coffees from Mexico and Honduras, then a premium price might make sense. When there is a choice between transparency and what might be interpreted as deception, I think that marketers should always opt for transparency.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

A survey that suits the customers


IKEA Smaland Survey
The last time I was at IKEA with my daughter she went the Smaland play area. She had a great time.

I noticed this survey, "Is Smaland Fun?". I think that this survey really suits the audience very well. Most of the children in the play area are three to eight years old. The survey questions offer three response choices.  A happy face, a neutral face and a sad face.

Given that many of the customers will not be able to read, the visual cues to experience are probably the best option to translate the children's opinions into a scale that management can use.
When designing surveys for adults, most marketers regularly use scales with five options. It is good to see that IKEA has recognized the design they need to get the best response from the children.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

I thought the kiddies loved butts

Sign on fence above City Square Day Care, Vancouver, BC
I saw this sign today outside a shopping centre near Vancouver City Hall.

Is it just me, or is this sign a statement of the blindingly obvious? I would think that regardless of whether there is a daycare below, you would not toss your cigarette butts over the fence.

I see this as a statement on the selfishness, or presumed selfishness, of smokers. And these days smokers are everyone's pariah.

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Is Starbucks a draw?

Card from Five Arrows Langauge School
fivearrows.ca Website - Retrieved 20120707
The first Starbucks locations outside the US were in Vancouver, and now over 20 years later Starbucks is well entrenched in the psyche of people in Vancouver.

This language school if offering its classes at Starbucks locations. Does that make sense?

I think that it does. Even if the students have never been in that particular Starbucks before, they are familiar with the concept. And Starbucks locations are a neutral middle ground, one reason why they are favoured as a locations for business meeting by hosts of freelancers. (And lots of interviews and blind dates.)

This really is the epitome of the "third place" that Starbucks tries to be. (Neither home nor work.) I wonder if this really helps Starbucks business or if the firm even tries to measure the impact of something like this? What is that line? If you can't measure it, you can't manage it?

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

I hope I won't be riding at -100F


Purple Extreme Directions
One of the sales people at my local bike shop went to Interbike, the bicycle trade show in Las Vegas. He recommended Purple Extreme very highly and gave me couple of samples.

In looking over the "features and benefits" I noticed that the company claims that the lubrication "Protects From Wear Up to 400F and Down To -100F".

It is all well and good to make claims about how well your product performs, but the claim should have some resonance for the user. Will I be riding my bicycle at 400F or -100F? Not in this lifetime.

If you are going to make claims about your product, they need to make sense to the user.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

You need to keep the franchisees in line

Armchair at Blenz
I saw this armchair, and its similarly worn companion, at a Blenz location last week. And what message does this send to me?

1) The franchisee is trying to save money by not replacing worn out furniture
2) Blenz is not paying enough attention to the quality at its franchise locations

There is a Starbucks a couple of blocks up the street from this Blenz, and it is ALWAYS busy and usually full. This Blenz never seems to be more than 1/2 full.

So, I'd guess that this Blenz is not doing all that well. Or, that is the conclusion that customers are probably coming to.

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We saved a penny and confused the customers

President's Choice Tomato Clam Cocktail, Superstore (Loblaws)
I had to take this photo on the sly in a Real Canadian Superstore. (The store does not permit photography.) Superstore is owned by Loblaws, Canada's largest grocer.

These are two bottles of Tomato Clam Cocktail, one spicy and one original flavour. This beverage, Tomato Clam Cocktail, is the store's version if Mott's Clamato Juice. (Clamato Juice is a odd beverage that is only really popular in Canada. It is used to make a beverage called a Caeser, or Bloody Caeser, that is a cousin to a Bloody Mary.)

Anyway, enough beverage trivia.

What has Lowlaws done? The Spicy version of the Tomato Clam Cocktail used to have a red lid, while the original flavour had a white lid. Now both flavours have a white lid. And customers are probably confused. I came in looking for a bottle of the spicy version, and when I looked at the shelf I initially thought that they only had the original flavour in stock.

Retail is dependant on a whole raft of details, and when you don't get the details right then you run the risk of confusing customers and losing business.

And at the moment, it looks like Loblaws is not getting some of the details right. So, either this change was made to save a few pennies, or the change was slipped in by the manufacturer and no one at Loblaws noticed. Either way, it is one of those details that makes life easier for the customer. And when you make the customer's life easier they buy more. And what retailer does not want their customers to buy more?

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Canada, now part of China

Baseball Cap at Shoppers Drug Mart, Vancouver
I saw this baseball cap at my local Shoppers Drug Mart a few days before Canada Day. I read the embroidery on the cap, "100% Canadian" and then took a peek inside. Of course the cap is made in China. What else would you expect?

Does this qualify as deceptive? Well, not quite, but it seems a little disingenuous. But in these days of multi-national sourcing how many things are what they really seem? How many products are still made where they were founded? And if they are still made there, how much mileage does the company get out of its decision to keep production at home?

Would you buy a Rolex made in China? I'm sure that Rolex could probably cut the cost in half if it moved production to Shanghai, but what would happen to the quality, and to Rolex's reputation.

But in this case it is just a baseball cap, and no one probably has much in the way of expectations. And if it does turn out to be a piece of junk then so be it. And yet I find that level of resignation about product quality a bit sad.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Illustration that says "Japan"?

Matcha postcard, Blenz Coffee
Match postcard, Blenz Coffee
In a former life I represented illustrators. This despite the fact that I last attended art class in grade 8. But I had a reasonable eye for illustrators and illustration styles.

When I saw this postcard I initially thought of those simple Japanese illustrations. They are characterized by clean and simple line work, solid colour fills, and no shadows. (Also the look of Herge's Tintin.)

Am I making the correct association? Will anyone else make the association? Does it matter?

The postcard's design is clean and simple and is part of the Blenz campaign pitching the superior quality of its Matcha. It will not get me to try the product, but it may convince others.

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Back when Polaroid meant something

"If You Give A Pig A Pancake", Illustrated by Felicia Bond, Published by Harper Collins
There are a whole raft of books in the "If You Give" series. Written by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond, the series includes, "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie", "If You Give A Moose A Muffin", "If You Take A Mouse To The Movies", "If You Take A Mouse To School", "If You Give A Pig A Party" and "If You Give A Pig A Pancake".

The illustration above is from the book, "If You Give A Pig A Pancake". The book was published in 1998. It tells the tale of pig who comes for a visit and makes a set of requests. One is, "Then she'll want you to take her picture."

And the Polaroid image is so iconic that is unmistakable as the requested "picture". And so it was in 1998, in those days before digital cameras took over the world of photography.

But does the look of a Polaroid photograph mean anything to children these days? Or perhaps it is one of those things that will mean something to the parents, but not to the children. (Not unlike a good number of the references in Sesame Street.)

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