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The Focused Eye Behind Coca-Cola's Brand

Focus does not mean monotony. Today I had a chance to visit the Coca-Cola store on the Las Vegas strip. I was dazzled. I felt awe at this quintessential American heritage brand, and thought about what keeps it fresh and inspiring to so many even a century after it's founding.

Not only that I wondered how they kept their brand essence focused, with so many diverse products and looks and manifestations of the same thing. See these magnets, above.

If so had to boil it down to one thing I would say they Coca-Cola worships at the altar of the best of America. It is unapologetic refreshment, enjoyment of life, memories of a shared heritage. Look at this jewelry made out of bottle pieces, above.

They had fun scented tee-shirts. The shirts matched the various soda lines. It wasn't about drinking anything, just a smile.

Of course they had old-fashioned signs. They made me think of small towns in the Midwest in the mid-50s, when everything was simpler. I thought of my grandparents (may they rest in peace) in the Catskill Mountains and happy times visiting them.

They had metal vending machines with the famous Mexican Coca-Cola.

Anything you could imagine for the home, was there. Pick one item or all of them - it was too much and never enough.

They even had a soda fountain where you could sample a ton of flavors.

And of course, clothes and more clothes in mostly their signature red.

Finally, ads that featured what looked like movie stars.

I don't drink Coca-Cola much, but I do love the brand and if I could, I would buy all this stuff. It is totally American and totally awesome.

* All opinions my own. Photos by me.

5 Tips For The Vegas Tourist Industry

Me and Andy, my love. Photo by a helpful stranger.

1. Your target audience is 40+ or foreigners, not only college kids sowing wild oats. Many of us are married or coupled and a lot of folks are with longtime friends or dating. A lot of us bring the kids. We're here because we want to live a little before we are too old to enjoy anything. Your message of "what happens here stays here" is way too narrow and misleading.

2. Let me repeat, we may have our kids along.  How about a rating system for activities like at the movies? Mark the adult stuff with an X or NC-17 and there is plenty to do at the G and PG levels. (The R-rated stuff is somewhere in the middle and we know what it is.) You underestimate people.

3. How come you don't tell us that Vegas is like "Disneyland For Adults," with a huge variety of fun activities where everything is larger than life, incredibly imaginative and in glorious living color.

The "Eiffel Tower." Photo by me.

A copy of New York's famous buildings and signs, the Eiffel Tower, the Excalibur and Tournament of Champions. the Luxor and the pyramid like in Egypt, David Copperfield's famous magic show, Maroon 5, it just goes on and on and on.

4. Vegas is the best of America. Show off the patriotic aspects of this experience! Seeing the street dancers, Elvis impersonators, Transformers and Spongebob Squarepants and Barney all standing on the street?

Street dancers give awesome free performance promoting great dancing and racial unity. Photo by me.

The legendary and museum-like brands like Christian Louboutin shoes, and Gucci. The massive showplace theme restaurants and Wolfgang Puck's eatery. And the comedy at Laugh Factory and Cirque du Soleil. The greatest talent in the greatest place to show it off - a massive open gathering place and a stage. 

5. I get that you make your money off the seamier side of life. But I wish that you didn't. Maybe there is some other way to generate the billions of dollars on revenue you get from feeding gambling addiction and so on. Do you know I saw a woman yesterday selling "Girls Girls Girls" on the street?

A woman and man sell girls. Photo by me.

Actually two or three of them, and they looked like immigrants who either didn't know or had too any other problems to care. You wouldn't put your daughters or wives out there on the street like that. Well we who have to watch it don't like it either. At the end of the day we all have to answer to our Maker.

* All opinions my own. Photos in body of blog by me.

5 Ways To Restart Your Life In 2014

If Elvis can do it, so can you. Photo by me.

1. Reframe: Use your mind to understand your situation differently and in a positive way, as an opportunity to learn and grow. For example a bad job appraisal or termination - take it as feedback to advance you to the next job opportunity.

2. Reinvent: Take a familiar situation or experience and turn it into a new one. For example a job that has become routine - learn a new skill and transform your responsibilities.

3. Repurpose: Take a familiar tool and use it for something completely different. Start a different kind of blog. Turn a magazine into wallpaper. Turn an apple into a self-contained pie shell (seen on Lifehacker.)

4. Reimagine: Be extraordinarily creative, forget the past and don't accept limits, dream and do what you never dreamt possible.

5. Regenerate: Take time out to do things just for you, for fun, with no "productive" end.

10 Ways Hotel Chains Can Make More Money From Their Visitors

Photo by me.

1. Loan iPads and other tablets so that visitors can contact friends and family, take photos, and so on without worrying about taking a personal device. 

2. At in-house Starbucks and other popular in-house coffee destinations, add more cashiers during breakfast rush hour when the line builds up or add more stations.

3. Target the female traveler with a range of services beyond the spa, such as free makeovers, jewelry and personal wardrobe consultations - then sell related products afterward. Tier the products to customers in every category from mass to haute. 

4. Buffet the food as much as possible. People dislike table service because it is uncomfortable to interact with wait staff - making conversation, knowing how much to tip, etc.

5. Add a spa lounge experience to every fitness area. It is not hard to have a few magazines, juice and coffee and a comfortable quiet place to sit. This should be free, as a gateway to sell spa services.

6. Hotel shuttles and tour buses should have plugs, wifi and large seats as standard offerings. Tour guides should mostly not talk as this is annoying.

7. Use side-of-the-building billboards to draw visitors staying at other hotels. Have a simple phone number and URL where viewers can go for more information, directions and discounts.

8. If you are selling entertainment, offer free food. The money is in perks and amenities - a better show, a premium menu or wine list, rare and hard to find merchandise.

9. Use the hotel concierge more. Whatever the desk promotes with a discount is what people will see. Work with partners to offer branded guided package tours originating from the hotel. This reduces the burden on the traveler by enabling one-stop shopping for all fun events. The guest relies on the hotel brand and has confidence in that.

10. Expand the range of in-hotel branded  partners. Guests are reassured by the sight of logos - Starbucks, Yelp!, TripAdvisor, "America's Got Talent" for entertainment acts, and so on.

* All opinions my own.

5 Sins That Bother Me About Vegas

Photo by me.

I laugh along with the ad campaign "What happens in Vegas Stays In Vegas,"  but this stuff is really not cool.

1. Caste System: Poor people serving rich people on an overwhelming scale where most are living on low-paying retail jobs and a few are obscenely rich. The sign at Panda Express offers "great benefits," there is not even a mention of wages.

2. Social Darwinism: People sleeping on the street with various cardboard cutout signs, some humorous some not, like "shitty advice for money" and "even ugly people need to eat."

3. Sex Trafficking: Men handing out cards to other men offering "girls" for sale, billboards offering "girls to your room in 20 minutes" like a Domino's pizza, newsstand racks with Lucite Tic Tac Toe designs offering women for sale.

4. Colonialism: Native Americans reduced to scanning lunch tickets on a Grand Canyon bus tour and singing/dancing on a mock reservation. Seeing the poverty they live in as the bus drives by.

5. Kidnapping and Organized Crime: Signs at the airport warning "If someone offers you a ride they shouldn't be giving you one," and tour guides emphasizing the exact location of the pickup van and the color of the shirt the guy will be wearing.

- All opinions my own.

The Secret of Judd Apatow's Brand Success

Not everybody likes or can relate to Judd Apatow’s TV shows and movies. But I find them honest, compelling and true. And so I think I can speak about that central brand quality that makes them so successful.

Apatow is able to take a very personal and painful experience and turn it into something we can share and celebrate together. He celebrates what I call “joyful awkwardness” – that is, living in the moment when you not only don’t know where you’re going, but also realize you’re making a total ass of yourself not getting there.

The emotional experience Apatow depicts on screen is not exclusive to men, although most of his primary characters are male for obvious reasons. Lena Dunham is a version of Apatow, a writer who can’t get her act together but who lets us see completely behind the curtain.

In Girls, the storyline and the writing is so engaging, it is almost as if we are there. We are Hannah, alone and afraid as an OCD episode leaves a Q-tip stuck in our ears and we have nobody to take us to the emergency room. We are Hannah as an ex-boyfriend insanely breaks into our apartment and we have to call 911, then apologize as the police take him away. We are Hannah as our best friend invites us for a weekend in the country, then disappears, leaving us on the train tracks alone, because she can’t handle seeing the father who abandoned her.

You can’t be an Apatow fan and not connect with these gifted, awkward, lost and damaged characters in a very fundamental way. And so the reason you will pay $22 for a season of Girls from HBO, or spend $32 to see Anchorman 2 right away rather than waiting, is that you know what kind of experience you are paying for, every time – one in which you can forget (or more accurately, merge) your own awkwardness with that of the main character, sympathize and empathize, and feel reassured that you’re not the only one, that in fact there is a whole community of people just like you.

Apatow’s audience is very specific. These are White people in their late ‘30s or early ‘40s, with a sophisticated late ‘20s. They have money sufficient to have neurotic problems rather than the problems of finding the basics to get by.  They are somehow connected with secular New York City Jews. They have three or four lifelong friends, a crew that supersedes their natural families.

They are beleaguered. In every show I’ve seen, whether it’s Anchorman 2, Girls, This is 40 , or Knocked Up, their natural joy in life is challenged severely, and  they need to get back to the simple joy of living, but somehow cannot because circumstances keep preventing it.

They’ve lost their real, natural selves, but will not stop until they get it back.  And usually this means acting childish as an act of rebellion. That is why Apatow’s trademark stars – Dunham, Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, and Seth Rogen – work so well.

There is all this talk about brand success ad how to engineer it. But I tend to think that you cannot predict such things in advance. Your brand is ironically that thing inside you that escapes all branding. It’s spontaneous and real. It’s the thing people see when they encounter you. And the more you own and harness it, the more valuable your encounter with the world will be, both personally and professionally.

* All opinions my own.

5 Ways Marketers Can Target Gen Xers Using Lessons From "Anchorman 2"

1. "Anchorman 2" features easily recognizable 70s and early 80s pop icons and fashion. It reflects how Gen Xers grew up watching a few powerful networks on TV. We know the casts of top shows almost like we know our own families, and it thus creates friends out of strangers easily. Marketers succeed when they channel this pop culture nostalgia. 

2. The movie depicts changing gender norms regarding gender and marriage. Gen Xers grew up with both mom and dad at work, maybe even at two jobs. Our parents divorced if they were not happy and they had boyfriends and girlfriends just as teenagers do. Marketers succeed when they depict characters struggling with gender norms. They also do well by channeling Xers nostalgia for an imagined earlier time that was better defined and less confusing.

3. The movie shows how society changed very quickly in a short period of time, and similarly how individuals reinvented their own identities in a quest for meaning. The shackles of the past were released. For children, though, watching all this instability yielded a sense of anxiety about "who we really are." Marketers do well when they develop products, services and experiences that create identity  and community out of whole cloth - and can be discarded quickly as well. 

4. In "Anchorman 2," the main character struggles with workaholism as a means of attaining self-respect. His self-esteem depends on validation by those he idolizes. Marketers succeed when they make employees at all levels feel uniquely valuable on the job - high emotional engagement and morale - work as a life's calling.

5. In the movie, the character admires the concept of connecting with his son but has trouble doing so personally. Gen Xers, having grown up unsupervised and lacking this connection, are the guiltiest generation of helicopter parents on the planet. Marketers who push those buttons with emotionally effective child-centric products, services and experiences have an advantage. So do those who can deliver an intellectual advantage as parents seek to equip their kids to be "survivors."

* All opinions my own.

My Predictions: 30 Marketing Trends for 2014 & Beyond

  1. “High tech antiques” – high functionality embedded in vintage, familiar, heritage look and feel.
  2. Bitcoin and other alternative currencies embedded in mobile phones (rather than credit card or bank account).
  3. Increasingly sophisticated methods of barter for professional services.
  4. Parallel stock markets to gamble on virtually everything.
  5. The end of paper checks.
  6. Hiring for emotional intelligence scientists, and the rejection of "touchy feely."
  7. Cheaper and cheaper mass-market juicers.
  8. Augmented reality doctors, plus Skyping, texting, and email - anything but an actual visit.
  9. Co-branded childcare, medical care, and telecommuting centers for parents.
  10. Combination luxury tour and cheaper essential surgery - in developing nations.
  11. Bartering caregiving for rent – especially for the elderly.
  12. Alternative medicine legitimized and increasingly regulated, as the government responds to popular demands for lower-cost and more natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals and traditional medicine.
  13. Brainpower industry to mushroom for the elderly - a refusal to accept the so-called "normal" aging process.
  14. Touchscreen computers to quickly replace touchpads (think "Catching Fire" and the archery practice scene with Jennifer Lawrence).
  15. A slow but steady move toward direct brain procedures, and away from pills and therapy to treat post-traumatic stress and related disorders.
  16. Measurement of brain waves for product testing, and a movement away from unreliable focus groups.
  17. Rapid-turnaround marketing interventions based on predictive consumer behavioral analysis.
  18. Growth of the "Big Data Analytics" industry in which customized insight is delivered to your virtual doorstep, even before you ask for it.
  19. Light-activated battery packs embedded in business gear to constantly charge iPhone and laptop.
  20. Retail stores to buy their own clothing back and resell it at a discount – eating into the thrift store market by eliminating the stigma of buying secondhand goods.
  21. Rise of camouflage, “Duck Dynasty” and other military gear in the workplace and the continued demise of the formal suit.
  22. Down with the '80s and '90s fashion, and the ‘70s are back in a big way - think "Anchorman 2" and "American Hustle."
  23. Vending machines to sell more and more luxury impulse products, like makeup.
  24. Lunch trucks to sell haute cuisine, not just basics.
  25. The rise of "hacker patriotism" - turning and grooming future Edward Snowdens in the clandestine service (across nations).
  26. Clandestine anonymous internet browsing cafes with disappearing chat.
  27. Personal GPS tied to 911 – protecting not just home but self.
  28. Rise of female security industry, e.g. single-gender hotel floors, door and window-stoppers, and home protection services geared especially to the needs of single women with children.
  29. "Multifunctional fitness" classes, combining for example personal defense training and sport, or dance lessons and history, or parent-child fitness training.
  30. The mainstreaming of low-cost, just-in-time coaching and assisting - from virtual assistants for parents, to mentors for new recruits, to traditional coaches for midlevel managers.
* All opinions my own.