Valentine’s Day

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

It’s a day that strikes fear in the heart of every married man in America. No, not the day your wife announces her mother is moving in (although that is equally horrible). I am talking about Valentine’s Day of course. There is tremendous pressure heaped upon one to buy the perfect card, expressing the precise sentiment your wife wants to hear, and to send the most resplendent bouquet of overpriced roses, make reservations at the right overcrowded restaurant and purchase the gift that will make all your wife’s friends and co-workers tell her how lucky she is to have such a thoughtful spouse. The pressure is lessoned slightly by the fact that it is nearly impossible to forget the red, white and pink “holiday” because almost as soon as Auld Lang Syne is sung, the stores are packed full of pink bears, cheery cherubs and enough chocolate to feed a medium sized country for a year. Unlike one’s wedding anniversary, which is known to only a select few and remembered mostly by one’s wife. But I digress…and that is not a road I want to travel down right now.
However, there is a bright side, because like most holidays, this one is a perfect opportunity to market your company and increase brand awareness by showing a little love to your best clients. This year, I am sending my favorite clients Love Custom Chocolates to let them know how much I care. I recommend you do the same. If you are not hot on chocolate, the Heart-Shaped Mint Tin is a perfect choice. This two-piece promotional item comes filled with your choice of peppermint, spearmint, wintergreen or cinnamon flavored mints. Both have room for your company logo and promotional message so you can drive your point home and get the most bang for your marketing buck. Either way, you will surely win their hearts.
I got in big trouble for my Valentine gift choice last year, so this year I am not taking any chances. I have a meeting with a personal shopper who has assured me she will help me choose a gift my wife (and her friends) will love. Until next time, I leave you with a quote by my thrice divorced Uncle Lou on my mother’s side, “If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?”

Super Bowl

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

The “big game” is less than a week away and sports fans are all a twitter. No, I’m not talking about the annual Crossword Championship, which is, oddly enough, also going to be held in Arizona this year. I am referring to Super Bowl 42, which may be the year a football dynasty is born. Sports fanatics, writers, gamblers and even screenwriters are busy predicating the outcome. The movie “I am Legend” contains a scene in which a screenshot reads, “Giants lose to Patriots for the second time this season. 23 to 7.” Eerie.
I am usually a big fan of the underdog—I like watching David beat Goliath, but in this case David isn’t so little and Goliath is unbeatable…at least so far. Plus that Tom Brady is a modern day superhero. He’s young, handsome and dating a supermodel. Whether or not they admit it, every guy in America wants to be him, more than they want to beat him…or watch him get beat.
Despite Brady’s rumored ankle injury, Vegas is favoring the Pats by 13-14 points, but who can forget that the Giants were beating the Patriots for much of the last regular season game. They didn’t give them a pass then and I don’t assume they will go gentle into that good night this coming Sunday. The bottom line is, regardless of the odds, predictions and guesses; nobody really knows what will happen on Sunday. Or do they?
The Magic Answer Ball just might be able to take the guesswork out of who will win. Most companies are filled with employees and clients who look forward to spending Sunday glued to the TV, trading predictions and cheering their team. Why not take advantage of a great marketing opportunity and show potential customers you’ve got game? Play both sides of the fence by sending the Magic Answer Ball imprinted with your logo and the question, “Who Will Win?” The real winner will be your brand, which, in the marketing game, is all that matters. Then you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the game with some nachos and hot wings—my favorite part of any televised sporting event.
Well, I’m off to practice pretending to look surprise when “my” team wins. I already own the Magic Answer Ball…in three colors. Remember the words of my great aunt Fanny who was the coach of my Dad’s T-Ball team, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game…but you may as well play to win.”

The Swalfin

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I recently took the family to Orlando to experience the wonders of Disney World, Epcot Center, Universal Studios, Sea World and a really good outlet mall. We crammed a year’s worth of amusements into five muggy days and everyone had a great time…except my teen-aged daughter who spent the majority of the trip texting her boyfriend and complaining that humidity was making her hair frizz.

My own enjoyment was nearly thwarted by the confusing accommodations. We decided to stay at a Disney property (when in Rome) with two hotels called The Swan and The Dolphin. As we pulled up, I was struck by the vision of a giant concrete swan perched atop a peach colored building—a little on the nose perhaps, but Disney is nothing if not literal…or so I thought. What I saw next both perplexed and infuriated me. As we continued down the drive, approaching The Dolphin Hotel, I was taken aback to see balanced atop a similarly hued building, what appeared to be a giant…fish! What?! This couldn’t be right. Perhaps there was a third hotel on property called “The Bass” or “The Carp.” My taxi driver assured me that this was indeed the famous Dolphin Hotel and that the creature sitting on top of the structure was in fact, a dolphin. Well, I’m no marine expert, but what I was looking at was quite clearly a fish.

Now I realize that old Walt liked to play with the idea of animals who could talk, wear clothes and otherwise act without regard to the limitations of their species, but at least Mickey looks like a mouse, Donald is quite clearly a duck and Goofy is…well, never mind. The point is, a dolphin is a mammal that breathes air and is known for its intelligence, while a fish is sushi. How am I supposed to explain that to my six year old when right there on top of our hotel called, “The Dolphin,” is a fish…with scales and gills? Disney cost me about thirty-seven hours of answering the question, “why?”

I asked several cast members, otherwise known as hotel employees, about the fish/dolphin controversy and was greeted with the cheerful response that the “fish” was in fact the artist’s rendering of a dolphin. Well, I don’t know who the artist was but he should have his chisel revoked because the animal is a carp, or maybe a bass but it is not a dolphin*.

Not one to take such things lying down, I send 150 Devon & Jones Short Sleeve Tees imprinted with a picture of Flipper and the message, “THIS is a dolphin” to the entire cast of The Dolphin Hotel. It made me feel even better than the $200 I spent on a massage.

Well, I’m off to prepare for my next meeting—I’ve been asked to host the annual armadillo race in Texas and I’ve got to work on my speech. Until next time, remember, “a horse is a horse of course of course…and a fish is never a dolphin.”

*An equally outraged, yet charming, friend informed me later that the animal atop the hotel is a dolphin fish, which, we agreed, would make perfect sense if the hotel were called, “The Dolphin Fish, which it is not.”


Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Like many work-at-home types, I often find it stimulating to leave the solitary surroundings of my home office. Sometimes that means taking a brisk walk or visiting my local library, but more often than not, I find myself joining legions of laptop lovers and setting up shop at one of ten zillion Starbucks in my neighborhood.

And yes, I am a loyal Starbucks customer. I much prefer the brisk efficiency with which the green apron clad staff carry out their duties to the more laid back (slow) service of the Coffee Bean set. I have tried them all—Seattle’s Best, Peet’s and Dietrich’s, but I always return to my beloved Starbucks. I know there are lots of folks out there who prefer the unique flavor of a Mom & Pop coffeehouse and who hate the idea of corporate coffeehouses taking over whole neighborhoods. They rail against uniformity and the specificity with which the baristas take java orders. (Don’t try ordering a large coffee…when what you really want is a “Venti” drip.)

Not me. As a frequent traveler, I quite enjoy the fact that no matter where you go, every Starbucks is exactly the same. I can go to a store in Dallas and expect the same drinks and service that I get in Arizona or Ojai. I find it comforting that a Grande Soy Vanilla Latte tastes exactly the same in New York’s East Village as it does in St. Paul, Minnesota. In a complicated world, I revel in the simplicity of a uniform cup of coffee, a maple oat scone and the ability to sit back and relax in the warm, safe embrace of homogeneity.

Proof, I believe, that you don’t always have to break the mold to build a successful brand. We can all take a page out of the book of Starbucks when it comes to marketing our businesses and creating effective promotional materials. If what you are offering is a solid product or service with a proven track record, you don’t need to be different or groundbreaking to be successful. With that in mind, the Easy Grip Stainless Steel Thermos Mug is a practical, pleasing promotional gift that is never out of style. Everyone loves hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate on the go and this one has a contemporary hourglass design, stainless steel construction and features an easy-open pour spout, combination lid/drinking mug and a skid-proof bottom. Naturally, you’ll want to include your logo so your clients, prospects and employees remember that your brand is classic and around for the long haul.

Well, I’m off to enjoy a Grande Soy Double Shot Latte with a nice, delicious biscotti from my favorite coffee place. In the meantime, enjoy The Way I See It #248 by the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales.

“Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet
is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. Wikis
give us a place where anyone who is kind, thoughtful and intelligent
can come and join us in building a better and more rational world.”

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I was watching “20/20” the other night and was surprised to learn that I, being a relatively happy person, am not living in the happiest country on earth. The United States, the land of opportunity, ranks only 23rd on the scale of happiness. I also learned that, contrary to popular belief, tax dollars can sometimes buy happiness. Before you throw a stapler at your computer screen, consider this: Denmark, despite having one of the highest tax rates of any country (upwards of 60%), is the happiest country on earth, according to social scientists schooled in the science (and art) of happiness. Denmark is a surprisingly ebullient country despite the fact that the weather can accurately be describes as cold, dreary and the national dish is herring. You’d think Danes would be rather grumpy, but most give themselves at least an “eight” out of ten on the happiness scale. They feel “taken care of” by their government and receive many benefits from their tax dollars. Because citizens are so taken care of, they are able to choose careers they enjoy, rather than the job that makes the most money. For example, the prince in Denmark works as a carpenter’s assistant and loves every minute of it. Garbage men are as happy, and well regarded, as bankers or doctors and Danish society is generally non-materialistic.

The Danes seem to have caught on to the fact that happiness is not determined by circumstance, like how much money you make or what your childhood was like, but comes from within. Research proves that we have the power to make ourselves happy. Happiness is found in gratitude, counting our blessings and enjoying meaningful relationships. Relationships don’t necessarily mean romantic or love relationships—meaningful relationships can be found everywhere. Friends and neighbors as well as colleagues, employees, clients and business associates can all provide the opportunity to form important bonds.

So why not give a promotional gift that strengthens those bonds, promotes good will and simply puts a smile on the face of the recipient? The iconic image of the yellow smiley face represents the joyful expression of pure happiness and the sight of it never fails to bring a nostalgic smile to the most serious face. The Friendly Face Bounce Back Sr is a fun and upbeat item to promote any type of business. The bright smiley face will let your clients know that you take customer service seriously. It will also remind your employees that your company is a fun place to work. Add your logo and the message is complete.

I’m off to prepare for my keynote speech at the National Cynics convention—don’t you just love irony? In the meantime, “Look around, happiness is trying to catch you.”

Word Play

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Last night I dreamt that I was being chased by giant Scrabble plaques that had inexplicably come to life in order to taunt me. “Z” and “Q” were rather nasty characters but at least they confined their antics to chasing and yelling; “J” was throwing paintballs. I was running at top speed, racing the ticking clock but it was no use. “Q” and “Z” caught up and circled me. They were shouting and making lewd gestures, so I covered my ears and sank to my knees, squeezing my eyes shut to avoid their steely ten point glare when I felt myself being shaken rather violently—my worst fears were realized; the letters were going to kill me.

I woke up in a cold sweat to find my wife standing over me. Apparently she was awakened by my shouting, “ziti,” “quiz,” “qat” and “zebra” in my sleep. The time has come for me to face the cold hard truth…my Scrabble addiction is officially out of control. My family refuses to play with me, claiming it’s no fun playing with Mr. Wordsmith. I pretend to be offended by the nickname, but the truth is, I’m flattered. Lately I have turned to the Internet to quench my thirst for seven letter words. I found a fantastic website called filled with like-minded word aficionados and it has become my second home. Yesterday I found myself playing for hours against a terrifying competitor who calls himself Q-meister. I later found out my nemesis was actually a twelve-year spelling bee champ from Nantucket. Trust me, losing nine straight games to a sixth grader is a humbling experience I don’t care to repeat anytime soon.

After having the same nightmare five nights in a row, I promised my wife I’d quit since she claims that my dreams are interfering with her beauty sleep. As much as I value her good looks, I’m not sure that I can keep that particular promise—the love of words is in my veins. My therapist suggested I use substitution since quitting cold turkey could cause painful withdrawals. He recommended Sudoku, which is kind of like crossword puzzle with numbers. I’m not at all convinced it will work but I do think the popular game would make an excellent giveaway at a company picnic, annual dinner, or tradeshow. It features five levels of difficulty with 100 different games on each level. Don’t forget to put your name on it.

I’m off to practice my opening speech for the Nantucket Annual Spelling Bee. Q-meister and I decided to place a wager on our last game—and I don’t have to tell you who won. Until next time, remember, “Numbers may be necessary in life but words are the lifeblood of language.”

Happy New Year!

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Last year Mrs. Winston and I made only one New Year’s resolution: to lose weight and keep it off, a resolution shared by many Americans and kept by less than half. The Winston’s illustrate that particular statistic quite nicely—Mrs. Winston has never looked better. This year, I have decided to make a resolution I have half a chance of actually keeping, so I’ve decided to embrace my inner athlete. That’s right, my one and only resolution is to get back into sports. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to start competing with David Beckham or going for Kobe’s job. I still prefer riding the sofa to riding a thoroughbred, so I am going to confine my participation in athletics to watching sports from the safety and comfort of my living room.

I made this decision shortly after sitting sown with a pumpkin spice latte to watch the Patriots make history and win their sixteenth straight game for a record breaking perfect season. Like many people, I assumed the Pats would be up two touchdowns before the first quarter and I could switch over to the Project Runway marathon, which I watch strictly for research. As you know by now, that was not to be. They did win of course, but it was not quite the walk in the park that many predicted. It was a hard won battle requiring skill, athleticism and heart. The Giants were in no mood to hand over a perfect season—they made them fight for it, and it was an exciting battle from start to finish. I found myself glued to the set, yelling, jumping up and down and getting my heart rate up into the fat burning zone for several minutes. Yes, this was a fitness regimen I could really get in to. I haven’t had that much fun working out since I played in the father/daughter tetherball tournament back in ‘02. And, most importantly, it is an exercise routine I can really stick to.

For those of you with loftier goals for 2008, Rush Imprint is now offering the Eco 51% Recycled Owl Journal. It’s the perfect place to write down your resolutions and track your progress. The Owl writing tablet is made from 100% post consumer waste so if one of your goals is to be greener…you are off to a good start. Since there is plenty of room for your logo, this eco journal makes a great giveaway. Recipients will associate your brand with an environmentally responsibly fresh start and will see your name every time they check off another item on their “to do” list—a winning combination to start the New Year.

Well, I’m off to catch the last half of “Project Runway” I’m hoping to get a meeting with Heidi Klum and I hear she is a stickler for being prepared. I leave you with the words of a great American hero, Oprah Winfrey: “Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right.”

The Afterglow

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I often refer to the days following Christmas as the calm after the storm. As much as we try to teach our kids about the true meaning of the holiday and make the day about something other than presents, candy canes and more toys than an F.A.O. Schwartz warehouse, having a six year old in the house means a visit from the fat man and a frenzy of flying gift wrap that beings at 6 AM. My youngest usually wakes up around 5 AM, but knows better than to wake his Mom before sun up. I imagine him impatiently watching Spongebob reruns, tapping his footy pajama clad foot and checking his Spiderman wristwatch every five minutes. When it’s finally time, he runs into our bedroom at top speed and hurls himself between us, serving as a small, warm and very loud human alarm clock with no snooze button. The next hour flies by in a whirlwind of ripping, tearing and delighted shrieking followed by a day filled with non stop eating, drinking and entertaining an endless stream of family, friends and neighbors until we all fall into a deep, coma like sleep at around 8 PM.

The kids are spending the next few days with my in-laws talking in various Southern California tourist attractions and my wife is committed to finding the best bargains known to man at every after Christmas sale she can find, so I am left alone to bask in blissful silence. After the holiday commotion, an empty house is a welcome friend. I have been spending my days puttering in my office, putting the finishing touches on my book (in stores this Spring) and practicing my putting with the Pro-Flite Golf Balls Santa so thoughtfully put in my stocking this year. They are good balls too—meant for serious golfers. These 90-compression golf balls placed 1st and 2nd in the performance categories of Total Distance and Carry Distance. Even more impressive is the fact that Mr. Claus has finally realized the value of marketing and had the balls imprinted with his logo and a clever holiday message. I guess he finally read my book!

Well, I’m off to enjoy the last remaining moments of quietude before it’s time to ring in the New Year. Remember, “Christmas only lasts a day but branding lasts forever.”

Holiday News

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

There is a lot to love about the holiday season. Who doesn’t enjoy tinsel and mistletoe, brightly wrapped gifts, Christmas cookies and eggnog? I love the chill in the air, pierced by the dulcet tones of carolers and jingle bells as much as I love the warmth of the fire and the glow of Christmas lights. What I do not love, or even like, is the penchant some of my family members and acquaintances have for sending annual holiday newsletters. Now, I have nothing against holiday cards or sharing good news with loved ones, but I find the type of bragging and revisionism that permeates most holiday newsletters about as enjoyable as the two month old fruitcake my Great Aunt Theabelle sends every year.
Here’s a short snippet from the four-page (single spaced) letter I received from my second cousin, twice removed. We’re not especially close and I haven’t seen her since the Winston family reunion of 2002, yet she feels the need to treat me, and I suspect everyone on her mailing list, to an excruciatingly detailed account of how she and the rest of her family spent the last year.

As you may remember form last year’s newsletter, my husband and I have taken up karate. I am on track to earn a black belt by year’s end and George is well on his way to earning an orange—his demanding work schedule doesn’t afford him as much practice time as I have! Sharing an activity together has really strengthened our marriage I have found kicking to be a wonderful way to stay in shape and have lost ten whole pounds! It also came in handy when George went to his high school reunion and met up with his first love. You’d be surprised how effective the threat of a karate chop to the spleen can be! Ha, Ha…just kidding! June brought some sad news when our beloved gerbil Whiskers choked on a lettuce leaf and went to heaven. Little Julie was heartbroken. Fortunately, July brought exciting news when George received a long awaited promotion and the whole family was able to take a vacation to Jamaica! Ya mon!

The amazing thing is, that is not even the craziest letter I received this year. My neighbor’s holiday letter included a detailed account of her bunion surgery and subsequent recovery. Now, I am not one to give unsolicited advice, but please—lay off the holiday newsletters people. The truth is, a nice card with warm holiday wishes is all people really expect (or want) from you. There is no need to share every detail of your personal life with everyone on your list.

Since I have the distinct feeling that my advice will go unheeded, I have the ideal gift for the rest of you. A Desktop USB Paper Shredder is the perfect way to take care of newsletters about Uncle Don’s recent hair transplant. It’s compact enough to easily fit in a business bag and can shred two pieces of paper at a time. It is also able to open letters (in case you actually want to read them). Well, I’m off to do some last minute Christmas shopping. Remember, as my Great Aunt Theabelle always says, “Let them eat fruitcake!”

Office Humor

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

These days people are obsessed with “The Office,” but not the one the go to every day. No, people are more interested in the office inhabited by people that are odder than their own co-workers and whose antics can be viewed from the safety of their living room couches. I am referring of course to the hit television show about the increasing irrelevant paper company, Dunder Mifflin led by the idiotic but lovable Scranton office boss, Michael Scott, played to perfection by Steve Carell. I think the show is so appealing because viewers can relate to the inane antics while, at the same time, reveling in the knowledge that no matter how dreary their cubicles or how vile their real life bosses, their office life is better than the one portrayed on television.

It’s popularity is proof that not everyone likes watching ultra rich, ultra fabulous people with perfect teeth and fake tans zip around in their 85,000 sports cars wearing Prada, Gucci and Mui Mui while they sip Cristal at chic parties, readjusting the silver spoons they were born with. Of course, I’ll admit to enjoying the antics on “Dirty Sexy Money” and I have been know to tune in to “The Hills,” if only to engage in some father-daughter TV bonding, but I too think it’s refreshing and self esteem boosting to watch the likes of Dwight Schrute fight with Jim over the ownership of a Rubber Grip Stapler. That’s real reality television—just the way I like it, fictionalized and laugh out loud funny.

Regular readers know that I am a big fan of fun, funny promotional items that successfully convey an important message to employees or important clients. I think that even Michael would agree that Nutty Putty fits the bill. Not only will it remind the recipient of that childhood favorite, Silly Putty®, but the egg-shaped containers are the perfect backdrop for your logo or promotional message. Because it’s a fun reminder of a simpler time, this gift is sure to be appreciated and you’ll be thought of as the “cool boss” or fun-loving vendor that everyone wants on their side.

I’ve got to go practice my speech for the office Christmas party. Since I work from home, it will be a small gathering, but I still like to deliver an inspirational speech to set the tone for the New Year. In the words of Michael Scott, “That’s what she said.”