Archive for December, 2010

Snow White – or – The Blizzard of ’10

There is something special about a blizzard in New York City.   This one was spectacular.  On Sunday afternoon the first place I headed to was Central Park for a short 2 mile run.   There were only a couple of inches of white at that time. — not enough to draw out the cross-country skiers.

By the end of my run my mind was wandering to brands with snow in their name.

Hostess Sno-Ball

Hostess SnoBalls

Ivory Snow

Snowball (USB microphones)

Surgicel Snow

And of course all of the products (not trademarks) that are snow-y: snowboard, snow shovel, sno-cone, snow mobile, Snow White.

How many brands of snow can you name?

On Monday I took a few photos of the city to share with you.

West 78th Street

Amsterdam Avenue in the 80s

Flatiron District

Sculpture with snow white hair

Taxi! Taxi!

Is your door open this Christmas?

There is something about the holidays that creates great psychological pressure on people.  In part it is the unrealistic expectations of the celebrations.  In part it is the long hours of darkness around the winter solstice (betraying my north of the equator bias).

This is a time when families often fall apart instead of coming together.  This is the time of the year when organizations such as Covenant House are keeping their doors open for young adults who are in need of help.  Originally they kept their door open as a temporary shelter.  Today they have evolved in organization that can help kids get on their feet, finish their education and find a job — when there are jobs to be found.

You help keep the doors open this season.  All you have to do is contribute time or money.  Or both.  Just click on the logo below and it will take to you a site where you can make a difference.

The renewed Covenant House

Opening Doors for Homeless Youth

Not all taglines are created equal.  Some are great and some are lousy.  Some do a whole lot of good and some just distract.

This post is about a tagline that does a whole lot of good.  It is the Covenant House tagline, “Opening doors for homeless youth.”

I am proud that we created this tagline for Covenant House.  The metaphor of an open door is a powerful one.

But right now too many kids are having the doors of opportunity slammed closed in their faces.  The unemployment rate for young adults — 16 to 24 — is higher than any period in the past 3 decades.  For teenagers, it is hitting rates unheard of in a developed economy.

Tax cuts won’t do much for a kid who can’t find a job and ends up living on the streets.   Unemployment checks don’t go to a 19 year-old who never held a job.

Covenant House is one organization that is out there, keeping their doors open for young adults who need it.

You don’t have to love the tagline to click on it and contribute to Covenant House.    You can do a whole lot of good simply by making a donation.

Click to Open doors for homeless youth

Pop-Quiz Answers

True or false:  The number of United States Federal employees in 2010 is lower than in 1975.

Answer:  True and False!

True: If you factor out the temporary census employees, you’ll find that the number of federal government employees is slightly lower than in 1975.

False: But of course 2010 is a census year which creates a short-lived spike in Federal employment.

True or false:  The number of Federal employees dropped during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Answer:  False.

Fact checking can be done at BLS or the various blogs such as Calculated Risk and Econbrowser

Frankly I was knocked sideways by the facts.  They just didn’t square with everything I’ve heard from all sorts of politicians over the past 10 years.

True or False – or – Assume nothing

Two quotes that I carry with me, engraved on my heart:

“Question authority”  Written in the stairwell of Columbia University’s School of the Arts.  It stayed on the wall for the entire 2 years that I was there getting my MFA degree in creative writing.

“Assume nothing.  Question everything.”  Often said by the late Peter Kim.  I had the pleasure of working for Peter first at J. Walter Thompson and then when he started up Bright Sun Consulting.

In the spirit of those two quotes, I present to you a Pop Quiz:

True or false:  The number of United States Federal employees in 2010 is lower than in 1975.

True or false:  The number of Federal employees dropped during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Don’t peek ahead or poke around on the internet!  There is a prize for everyone who gets the answers correct!

How did JetBlue deal with the fall-out from their awol flight attendant?

We all remember that moment when we first heard about the JetBlue flight attendant who jettisoned his career by grabbing a beer off the plane’s serving cart and sliding down the emergency chute to escape an angry passenger.

How did JetBlue handle the fall-out from that spectacular story without the brand being damaged?

Find out from JetBlue’s head of corporate communications, Jenny Dervin.  On the evening of January 20th she will be one of three speakers in a NYAMA forum on dealing with brand crises in the age of social media.

For details, go to

The two other speakers will be APCO’s Kirk Stewart, who is Nike’s former head of corporate communications; and Erich Joachimsthaler, CEO of Vivaldi and author of Hidden In Plain Sight.


Save the dates

Here are two upcoming events from the NYAMA in January:

On January 6th there is a NYAMA networking event at 47 East 29th Street, the Red Sky Lounge, from 6 to 8 pm.  It’s social networking the old fashioned way.

And on January 20th there is a real treat.  We’ll have 3 special guests speaking about How to manage a brand crisis in an age of social media.

Remember Steven Slater?  He’s the Jet Blue flight attendant who jettisoned his career this past August, making headlines around the world.  We’ll have Jenny Dervin from Jet Blue on hand to tell us how they handled that brand crisis!

Jet Blue in the News

We’ll have Kirk Stewart of APCO to give some insight into the influence of social media on the reputations of Nike and Toyota when those two brands had crises.

And we’ll have Erich Joachimsthaler of Vivaldi to share his views on the importance of Social Currency to brand reputation.  You may have seen his study on Social Currency in Fast Company and other publications.

Fast Company article on Social Currency


More details at

Food Truck Marketing

As readers of this blog know, I’ve been following the trend of gourmet food trucks opening up at the same time that restaurants are closing down.  This morning I discovered a new twist on the trend.  Food Magazine using a food truck for marketing purposes.  A perfect brand metaphor!

Food Truck Marketing

Yes, they are giving out hot chocolate, candy canes and other seasonally appropriate fare.  If you have a few minutes, you’ll see them on 23rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

Food Truck Marketing


As you’ll see, this isn’t simply a marketing ploy.  There is a social responsibility initiative connected to the truck, benefiting Share Our Strength.

Food Truck Marketing CSR

I am all in favor of any form of marketing that gives out hot beverages on a cold day!  Maybe we can get Harvard Business Review to set up a truck on Wall Street to give out coffee and business advice…

Lost In Translation

About 4 weeks ago I was at a dinner to discuss the novel “The Museum of Innocence” by the Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk.  What made this particular discussion rather unique was the presence of Orhan Pamuk himself.  And what makes it relevant this a blog about narrative branding are the challenges of translation on a global stage.

For many years Pamuk has lived at least part time in New York City.  If you have the opportunity to meet him, you will immediately notice how articulate he is, how precise he is in his choice of words.  His eloquence far exceeds mine.  But he writes in Turkish, not in English.  And he is read in many languages including German, Japanese, Italian, French, Spanish and more than 40 others.

One of the other guests asked which translation should he read of an older book written by Pamuk.  “Well, it depends on which book,” Pamuk responded. He went on to say that the German translation of a particular book was better than the English translation.  Pamuk continued to talk about the problems of being read in translation.  As a Turkish writer, he has an extra twist to the translation problems.  “The English translation is the most important one,” since that is usually the basis for most other translations of his books.   If the English is not well done, then the translations based on it will have a rickety foundation.  The opportunities for misunderstandings multiplies.

A translator of Pamuk must translate across cultures and, often, across religions, too.  Again, another multiplier.

Consider for a moment the extent of the problem.  It is easier to find a talented person who can translate from English into Swedish than it is to find one who can translate from Turkish into Swedish.  If the gentlemen at the Swedish Academy could not read Turkish, and if there were no translation available, then they might never have awarded Pamuk the Nobel Prize in literature.  And because of that globally recognized prize, we can consider Orhan Pamuk as a writer for a global audience.  Here we can see him being interviewed in Paris by Columbia University’s School of the Arts dean Carol Becker.

So now Orhan Pamuk is a global brand!

Let’s simplify the translation issue for a moment.  Let’s get practical.  Can a brand be a global brand if it does not have the same tagline everywhere?

And if it has the same tagline, does that get translated in the local language?

Consider a brand like Nokia.  A Finnish company.  With an English tagline.  What has gotten lost is the origin of this brand.  Many people think that Nokia is a Japanese brand.  Worse, their tagline is about connecting but since many consumers cannot understand it, they are missing the connection. This is a missed opportunity for Nokia.

Nokia connecting people in Brazil

But that does not mean taglines always need to be translated.  For example, Philips, a Dutch company with an English tagline.  Here the use of English makes the brand more accessible.  The phrase is echoed in the design aesthetic of the brand.  In Europe and much of the rest of the world it works perfectly.

Philips tagline

Now consider a global brand such as Disney.  It is not enough to translate a movie such as Sleeping Beauty into Chinese.  You have to consider the cultural references.  A child from Europe or North America would have grown up with the Sleeping Beauty story.  And not just the Disney version but also perhaps others such as the Grimm’s version (in translation) known as Briar-Rose or Jay Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales version.

An Alternative Sleeping Beauty

This is not part of the cultural heritage in China.  So the Disney brand does not have the same deep-rooted familiarity with in China that it has in the West.  This clearly has implications for the new theme park that Disney has announced will be in Shanghai.  Certainly we see evidence of this in the reception that Disneyland Hong Kong initially had.

Something gets lost in the translation as a brand moves from its local roots to the global stage.

That is inevitable.  That is unavoidable.

The challenge of global branding is to minimize what is lost.

And to create new meanings for a brand as it expands into new countries and cultures.  It means looking for the universal truths without becoming plain vanilla. The other side of the razor is being so highly localized that a brand cannot benefit from the economies of scale that being a global brand brings.

This is why global branding is not the same as using the same tagline everywhere.  There is much more to it that than.

As for the global brand Orhan Pamuk, I wish for all of us global readers that very little gets lost in translation.

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