Product Placement

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Dedicated readers may have noticed my sudden, unexpected and unexplained leave of absence. My unfortunate sabbatical was due to a near career ending double hand injury I suffered while attempting to change the blades in my lawnmower. I won’t go into all the gory details, since I know many of you take in my column whilst enjoying your morning bran flakes or wolfing down a pastrami on rye with mustard during your abbreviated lunch hours. Suffice to say, I lost the use of three fingers on my left hand and the all important pointer finger on my right, rendering me quite incapable of typing or even holding a pen. I tried dictating my blog to Mrs. Winston, but the strain of playing nursemaid and secretary proved to be too much. I hired a string of assistants, each of whom quit rather suddenly, claiming they couldn’t follow my stream of consciousness “ramblings.” I decided to take my inability to find good help as a sign that I needed a break and did something I haven’t done since 12th grade…I called in sick.

I used my time off to relax, recharge and catch up on my movie watching. I enrolled in a terrific service that mails up to eight movies at time right to the house—for two months the highlight of my day was walking down to the mailbox and finding a bright red envelope waiting for me. Having been busy writing several marketing books, fulfilling speaking engagements and writing my blog, I haven’t had much time to indulge in movie watching, so this was a rare treat. After taking in roughly twenty films in seven days, I noticed something rather amazing and undeniably brilliant—product placement. For those of you who never miss the latest release, this probably comes as no surprise, but I was astonished at the sheer number and variety of products “placed” in the hands, on the desks and in the bedrooms of the biggest starts in Hollywood. Asking Julia Roberts to endorse a product in a commercial would cost millions, but film her holding a Snickers bar in the latest chick flick and you’ve got advertising money can’t buy. The implied endorsement is nothing short of genius; it’s subtle, impactful and slightly sneaky—all the components of a quality marketing campaign.

Today’s lesson is taken right out of the Hollywood playbook. Think of your everyday work life like it’s your own Hollywood movie, and place your products in the hands of the “celebs” of your world. You might not be able to persuade George Clooney to be photographed drinking from an 11 oz. Duo Tone Mug imprinted with your company logo, but you can get your brand into the hands of those who matter most, the CEOs, tastemakers and decision makers who rule your universe. Of course, you may not be able to reach Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Howard Schultz or John Thain, but you can probably get the VPs and VIPS in your business to show off your logo if you employ a little creativity. This is the time you want to think about spending a little more and spring for something a bit classier, like the Cutter & Buck American Classic 20 Leather Duffel. The classic styling of this all-leather duffel will make this a gift that is well appreciated and well used. Remember, when those who matter carry your logo, it matters more. Then you, like Sally Field can say, “you like me, right now, you like me!” It’s good to be back.

Satellite Dreams

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My family and I returned from a recent vacation to discover that some rowdy opossums or oversized squirrels (it still isn’t entirely clear) had disconnected our satellite dish. We were horrified to discover that not only were our favorite programs not recorded for a whole week, but we were without live TV altogether. Once I got over the initial shock of finding that I had missed an entire week of “Oprah” and a “Law & Order SVU” marathon, I placed a call to customer service with what I hoped was an air of urgency in my voice. I was told that it would take two weeks before technicians could come out to repair my dish. I sat in stunned silence for a full minute and was close to tears when the customer service representative took pity on me and told me that she could classify my case as an emergency. She then promptly scheduled an appointment for the following afternoon. Finally, there was someone out there who understood the gravity of the situation! If I weren’t already married to the finest woman in the world, I would have proposed right then and there. I settled for sending a thank you note and 15 Piece Gift Box of Chocolate Squaresкомпютри.

I was still a bit distressed at the thought of a TiVo-less evening, when my youngest suggested we have a game night…like in olden times. We spent the evening playing Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and even Twister. Actually, Mrs. Winston and I played Twister after the kids went to bed but I promised not to talk about that. Needless to say, it was a great night from start to finish. And I learned a valuable lesson about familial bonding. Of course, being the giver that I am, I wanted to share that lesson with my loyal readers. As vital as it is for families to play together, it is also important to create rapport with ones’ co-workers and clients. Bonding with colleagues and employees is often achieved by injecting a little fun into the proceedings, so the next time you are planning a team building activity for your sales force, give them a fun take away that is sure to make them smile. Rush offers a Six-In-One Game Set that your employees will love bringing home to their families. This fun-filled game set includes boards and game pieces for checkers, chess, dominoes, backgammon and cribbage, plus 4 dice and a deck of playing cards. Make sure you include your logo and a message to carry the reminder of a great time far into the future.

I’ve got to go set up Twister; Mrs. Winston lost and has insisted on a rematch. Remember, “It doesn’t matter how you play the game and it doesn’t matter if you win or lose…as long as they remember your name.”

Dancing for Dummies

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

The word “samba” means to rub navels together, so when my wife said she wanted to do it, I was thrilled. Then she said she wanted to do it in front of all our friends, so I got worried. When she said her sister did it with her husband and received a standing ovation, I decided to look up the “other” meaning of the word. For those of you not glued to “Dancing with the Stars” every week, the samba is a type of dance—a very difficult, strenuous dance—that Mrs. Winston is keen to learn. Unfortunately, she wants me to learn it with her so we can make a big splash at her cousin’s wedding in Brazil this summer. Now, I’m not the worst dancer on the planet; I have a few moves and have been known to cut a rug after a few gin and tonics but this is different. Samba is a spectacle of hip gyrations and tricky footwork that leaves you gasping for breath and, at least in my case, looking a bit foolish. To make matters worse, I forgot my wife’s birthday this year and she has announced that the only thing she wants is dance lessons so I’m officially on the hook.

As my Dad is fond of saying, dancing is the married man’s punishment for saying “I do.” My father is not the most romantic man on the planet, but he does know how to find the silver promotional lining in every dark cloud and I have inherited his gift for marketing through the pain. My many hours of dance practice has led to blisters the size of silver dollars so I teamed up with my podiatrist and came up with a line of promotional foot patches that are sure to sell like hotcakes in dance studios across the country. The deal is still in the works, so I can’t really talk about it, but stay tuned for more details.

As a professional marketer, I believe that turning challenges into promotional opportunities is not only useful; it’s an absolute necessity. There is no doubt that we are living in challenging times—our marketing dollars are stretched thin, so it’s doubly important to make an impact with the promotional items we choose to represent ourselves and our companies. Rush Imprint has experts on hand to help you do that—they are just a phone call or email away. So, the next time you find yourself in a give away quandary, call Rush Imprint…they will help you find your own silver lining.

I’ve got to rush off to a meeting with my patent lawyer, Remember, “When life throws you a curve ball, put your name on it!”

Taxing – How to Avoid an Audit

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

This is my Uncle Bernie’s favorite time of year. Spring is in the air and April 15th is just around the corner. Good ole Bernie works as an IRS auditor and is rather proud of his status as one of the most feared individuals in the Country. He was a bit of a geek in high school and often found himself at the wrong end of a garbage can at lunch time so he takes pleasure in being the biggest bully on the adult playground. He won’t admit it, but I have a feeling one or two of the jocks who tortured him in school have found themselves at the wrong end of an audit. Uncle Bernie loves to tell the story of how he made a CEO cry and beg for mercy and is especially fond of talking about how women try to flirt their way out of paying more taxes. He’s not a nice man but I never forget his birthday and he’s at the top of my Christmas card list. We recently had our favorite uncle over to the house for dinner and he was kind enough to share with us a few red flags that are sure to catch the tax man’s attention. He swore me to secrecy but I am pretty sure he doesn’t read my blog so here are Bernie Berthold’s top 5 ways to find yourself in the hot seat.

1) Make a lot of money.
A high income ups your odds of catching unwanted attention, and the deeper your pockets, the more attractive you become to the auditor. Duh.

2) Declare lots of expenses.
Steep expenses are another factor that will send a return under the magnifying glass of an auditor. If anything seems excessive, the IRS will take a closer look. So, if you do have high expenses, provide an explanation and back up if possible.

3) Write sloppily and include lots of ink smudges.
This one is a particular peeve of Bernie’s; he believes good penmanship is next to godliness. A carelessly finished return, either incomplete or hard to read, is an invitation to the tax man.

4) Give lots of dough to your favorite charity.
Donating to charity is admirable, but be sure that you’re careful when you declare your donations as deductions. The IRS looks at the charitable donation deduction with unscrupulous attention. Besides, the IRS’s favorite charity is the IRS. They are not amused by your generosity.

5) Declare your silk pajamas as a home office deduction.
Home office expenses are automatically a red flag for the IRS so be very careful when writing off business expenses. The $500 coffee make you bought “for your office” probably doesn’t count.

Well, I’m off to wrap Bernie’s special “for no particular reason” gift. I am adding to his collection and gifting him with a Robot Series Calculator. The display cover on this calculator opens easily with the push of a button and contains ample space for your company logo or promotional message. The full function calculator has soft touch keys, side comfort grips, and an 8 digit display. I’m pretty sure he’s on to me, but I have never been audited so I’m sticking to my plan. As Bill Maher once said, “Your taxes are due a week from today. You can make out your check directly to Halliburton.” Funny guy that Bill.

April Fools’

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

It’s no secret that, in the Winston household, I am the official fool. However on the 1st of April, the whole family gets into the act and everyone does their best to pull the wool over everyone else’s eyes. This morning, my youngest crept into our bedroom with his school bag packed with clothes, his toothbrush and a sack lunch and announced that he was running away from home. Mrs. Winston pretended to cry and the little guy proudly cried out, “April Fools’!” I’m not sure if I should be proud of the fact that he took such delight in making his mother cry pretend tears, but I do love a good April Fools’ Day gag. That’s why, in honor of pranksters everywhere, I have compiled a list of my three favorite gags perpetrated on the American public on this day of silliness.

• Left Handed Whoppers: In 1998, Burger King ran an ad in USA Today, announcing the launch of a Whopper for left-handed people whose condiments were designed to drip out of the right side. Not only did customers order the new burgers, but some specifically requested the “old,” right-handed burger.
• Taco Liberty Bell: In 1996, Taco Bell took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times announcing that they had purchased the Liberty Bell to “reduce the country’s debt” and renamed it the “Taco Liberty Bell.” When asked about the sale, White House press secretary Mike McCurry replied that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and would henceforth be known as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
• In its April 1985 edition, Sports Illustrated published a story about a new rookie pitcher who planned to play for the Mets. His name was Sidd Finch, and, although he had never played the game before, he could reportedly throw a baseball at 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy. Instead, he had mastered the “art of the pitch” in a Tibetan monastery under the guidance of the “great poet-saint Lama Milaraspa.” Mets fans celebrated their team’s amazing luck at having found such a gifted player, and Sports Illustrated was flooded with requests for more information. In reality this legendary player only existed in the imagination of the article’s author, George Plimpton.

The popularity of April Fools’ Day pranks illustrates just how important it is to inject a little fun and silliness into life…including life at work. While I do not advocate playing the prankster when it comes to your clients or employees, I do think it’s important to remember to have a sense of humor when it comes to promoting your company.
The Disgusted Mood Dude Stress Ball should make even your grouchiest customers giggle as they squeeze their way to relaxation. Or, remind your clients of their inner child by gifting them with a 4-Piece Crayon Set imprinted with your company’s logo. Most people could use a bit of color in their day and by giving people what they really need (metaphorically speaking), you will be remembered and appreciated. After all, when it comes to marketing, you are nobody’s fool.

Well, I’m off to prepare for my big prank—I’m telling my family that we are going to Hawaii for two weeks and I have to get out my flowered shirt and flip flops. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when they find out it’s a hoax.

March Madness

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Apparently we are smack dab in the middle of a little something called March Madness, which, until recently, I thought was the time of year when Mrs. Winston cleaned for twenty-seven days straight and screamed at anyone who dared to track in dirt after she steamed cleaned the carpets. As it turns out, the “March Madness” everyone is all worked up about has little to do with cleaning and everything to do with basketball fever. Truthfully, I’m not a fan of college sports, so the hoopla is lost on me. According to my neighbor, Saturday’s game to watch is UCLA vs. Xavier, but I am sure that is only because he is a proud alumnus—a very proud alumnus. He had to pay a hefty fine to our Home Owners Association last year for painting his house blue and yellow. I thought it was kind of pretty but when he mounted the six foot Bruin bear on his front lawn, the committee put it’s collective foot down.
Anyway, even though I don’t enjoy watching college ball, I do love events with a lot of nicknames and this one has quite a few. The “Sweet Sixteen” have been narrowed to the “Elite Eight,” which, after this weekend, will be whittled down to the “Final Four” who will compete in “The Big Dance” next weekend in San Antonio. That kind of creativity is to be admired…and exploited. My apathy toward college sports is matched only by my enthusiasm for marketing, so we here at Rush Imprint have a wealth of basketball themed offerings to help you celebrate and make the most of the season. The Final Four is only a week away but you still have time to snap up some creative promotional items that will help you market your brand to basketball nuts and sports gamblers everywhere. For the more scholarly types, the Colossal Basketball Twist pen is nearly twice the size of a regular pen and features high quality, black medium point ink and comfortable rubber grip. For the worriers on your team, a Basketball Stress Reliever imprinted with your company’s logo is the ideal way to celebrate the end of the NCAA tournament. Finally, for your fun loving clients, slap your logo and a cool message on the Slam Dunk Basketball Flip Game. It has an easy-to-assemble metal post with acrylic backboard and rim and comes with a vinyl basketball. We have something for every type of player.
Well, I’ve got to get out of the house for a few hours so Mrs. Winston can deodorize the carpets…again. Until next time, I leave you with the wise words of very tall man who didn’t play basketball. “I liked the choreography, but I didn’t care for the costumes.” (Tommy Tune)

Easter Sale

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I celebrated Easter Sunday by helping Mrs. Winston hold a Spring Cleaning garage sale. We broke with garage sale tradition by starting at noon, so that we could attend Easter services as a family. Plus Mrs. Winston wisely anticipated we would get more foot traffic in the afternoon, as people left church or brunch and headed to egg hunts and family dinners. She also posted several ads, had the kids make colorful signs and place them in strategic locations around our neighborhood and of course, she added an incentive by offering garage salers a free gift—just for stopping by. I was proud my other half for coming up with such a clever promotional idea, until I discovered that the gift she intended to give away was my very first Business Card magnet. I had them made up twenty years and three phone numbers ago when I was promoted to Marketing Manager for the first time, so naturally I was quite attached. My wife is not a sentimental being so she didn’t see the inherent value in having two hundred fifty magnets with my name on them sitting around, “collecting dust,” but I was a little reluctant to part with my collection. She quickly reminded me that she had left the ten boxes of collectible imprinted sippy cups, key chains and paperclip holders alone, so I reluctantly gave my blessing to her giveaway idea. It was a good one after all.

The day was sunny and warm, making it ideal for selling out of doors. I rather enjoyed catching up with neighbors I hadn’t seen in a while and meeting the new families who had recently moved in. Mrs. Keller brought by her famous choco-chip coconut cookies and sweet tea and I even got my Phillips head back from Sam Brown at the end of the cul de sac. We sold a lot of stuff and donated the rest to the Salvation Army so we felt good about doing some good, getting a tax write off and making a little extra cash. My wife won’t tell me the actual amount, so I know it must have been a pretty good haul. I suspect she will soon replace the stuff we got rid of with a few new handbags, designer pillows or French lingerie…a man can dream can’t he?

Well, I’ve got to sign off now in order to prepare for a new seminar I’m giving on “Marketing in a Down Economy”. It’s a grim topic but I have some good jokes planned that are sure to take the edge off. Until next time, ask yourself this, “If you eat the ears off a chocolate bunny, can it hear you chewing?

Pure Vida!

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I recently returned from my nephew’s wedding in Costa Rica—which, if you’ve never been, is a place I highly recommend you visit at least once in your lifetime. It’s beautiful…with fantastic beaches, pristine jungles and lovely locals who live to enjoy life. That’s why “Pura Vida,” which literally translates to “Pure Life,” is such a popular saying over there. Prior to leaving on my first trip to Central America, I took a crash course in Spanish, but since most Ticos have a firm grasp of the English language, locating the nearest bathroom and ordering mango daiquiris was no problem. I won’t bore you with the details of what was a beautiful wedding and lively, rum fueled reception, but I feel compelled to share one thing that made this uncle’s marketing heart burst with pride.

Costa Rica is situated roughly ten degrees north of the equator and as such, sunscreen and a good hat are a tourist’s two best friends. I also found that an ice-cold birra went a long way in offering relief from the hot sun. My nephew, having marketing in his blood, had the foresight to equip his guests with welcome custom totes filled with essentials like sun block, chapstick, imprinted sport bottles and Collapsible Can Coolers. Naturally, all the useful items were imprinted with a warm message, which served as a reminder of a wonderful moment. Unsurprisingly, the Winston’s were beaming with pride at our boy’s marketing acumen. Oh, and the wedding was nice too. All in all it was a great week—filled with fun in the sun, romance and fantastic promotional products…

Well, I’m off to practice for my role in my son’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival at Kingston Elementary. I am replacing Tommy O’Malley’s dad who is suffering from a broken leg and can’t manage it this year. In honor of my Irish readers, and even those of you who are only Irish for a day, I leave you with a traditional Irish blessing:

May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.

Language Barrier

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I had another disturbing dream late last night, which may have been caused in part by the sausage pie I consumed an hour before bedtime, but I digress. In the dream, I was transported to a foreign land where the inhabitants spoke a mysterious language I had not heard of, but sounded eerily like “Dark Side of the Moon” played backwards. In the dream, I was gripped by an unbearable thirst but could not find the words to ask for a simple glass of water. I gesticulated wildly, miming what I hoped was a motion that indicated a terrible dryness, but the natives of this unfamiliar land only laughed and pointed as I became more animated. This led to me losing even more precious hydration, as my fruitless machinations caused me to sweat profusely. Just as I was about to break through the language barrier, I woke up with my heart pounding, drenched in sweat and screaming in a foreign tongue.

I tried to explain the dream to my wife but she muttered something about an early morning Boot Camp class and fell back to sleep. I got up to find my daughter studying for her SAT exams in the den and told her about the dream. She’s been studying dream theory in school and helped me recall an unfortunate incident I had with a German tourist who I thought was asking for directions to the La Brea Tar pits, either that or he was asking me to recommend a good rib joint, but was actually in need of a doctor. It was touch and go for a while, but it all turned out okay in the end. I remember thinking he should have brushed up on his English before making a trip to the states. Looking back, I realize I may have been a bit smug, and intolerant. My daughter surmised that my dream was my subconscious mind’s way of shaming me into being more understanding and appreciating others for their differences. Not the sort of lesson one wants to learn from one’s daughter, but I am embarrassed to admit, she was right.

The lesson couldn’t have come at a better time since I just learned that my favorite nephew is getting married in Costa Rica and I don’t speak a lick of Spanish (yet). I can only hope the Ticos are more understanding than the backwards-Pink Floyd speaking natives in my nightmare. But just in case, I’m printing up t-shirts that read, “Me gustaria de agua.” on one side and “¿Dónde está el baño?” on the other. I’m not taking any chances. While you may not need to convey such a literal message, t-shirts are a classic way to promote your brand. I like the Authentic Pigment Men’s Direct-Dyed Heather Ringer Tee from Rush Imprint…a reliable favorite, this t-shirt is made of a 50% cotton and 50% polyester blend and the heathered finish gives this soft t-shirt a casual look. I haven’t met a person yet who doesn’t appreciate a free shirt, which makes them a timeless choice for any kind of promotion.

Well, I’m off to meet with my new Spanish tutor; I hope she likes t-shirts. Remember, “patience is a virtue but if you want a glass of water, you’d better learn the language.”

Spring Forward

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I woke up late this morning and nearly missed a brunch date with my in-laws. Although my wife thinks otherwise, my tardiness was entirely unintentional and due solely to that yearly change we call Daylight Saving* Time. Personally, I hate it. It’s not that I have anything against daylight, or savings in general; I just don’t believe that setting our clocks forward one hour accomplishes anything but sleep deprivation and lateness…not the most desirable results.

I realize that I am probably in the minority, since most people seem to enjoy the additional hour of sun Daylight Saving Time affords them at the end of each day. After all, it’s much easier to enjoy summer barbecues when you can see what’s on the grill. I also enjoy a good barbecued chicken wing and an early evening walk about; I just find it more convenient to knock off work early than to change all of my clocks (I have forty-seven of them, including my 13 wrist watches) and get used to a new sleep schedule. Mrs.Winston thinks my hatred of clock changing and refusal to acknowledge the joys of springing forward in time contributes to my curmudgeonly reputation but I vigorously disagree.

I also realize that, like it or not, and thanks to Ben Franklin who was the first to conceive of the notion of saving daylight, the biannual time change is here to stay. So, as I often do, I have turned my annoyance into a marketing opportunity. This year, I sent out fifty Shiny Chrome Desk Clocks (imprinted with my name) to my most important clients. I included a pithy quote about the importance of time to ensure that my gift would be well received. Sometimes giving a gift that is “on the nose” is just the right way to get your message across. It may be too late for you to capitalize on Daylight Saving Time, but a beautiful desk clock with Roman Numerals and a chrome finish is never out of style and at 4”X6” this one is the perfect size to remind your clients that you know what time it is.

Well, I’m off to make dinner for the family—it’s my penance for this morning’s belated brunch. Until next time, remember the wise words of my old friend Harvey MacKay, “Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”