Chip Off the Old Block

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I entered my teenage son’s room last night to a disturbing sight. I suppose I knew it would happen sooner or later, but it startled me nonetheless. It’s just not the type of thing a parent wants to catch their precious child doing, no matter how normal we know it is. He didn’t hear me open the door because he was busy chucking darts at a custom made dartboard featuring an 8X10 of yours truly. My nose was right where the bull’s eye should be and he had just landed a dart square in the middle of my honker. It seems he was taking out his frustration at his recent grounding on my promotional photo.

I couldn’t blame him really—I’m sure my own father didn’t appreciate the punching bag I made using his old book jacket photo when I was angry about losing my driving privileges over an unfortunate run in I had with our garage door when I was sixteen. It’s a right of passage I suppose and I, like my father before me, chose to focus on the positive. My dad wasn’t thrilled about being part of a punching bag but he did appreciate my attention to detail and was happy that I had at least branded the bag. In much the same way, I decided to look the other way when I discovered an image of myself being used for target practice. Hey, at least he used a flattering picture and took the time to make it personal.

When his grounding was over, I gave my boy a new Magnetic Dart Board Game imprinted with a photo of us on a recent fishing trip and the words, “Chip Off the Old Block.” He sheepishly thanked me and we patched up our differences over a nice safe round of darts. He beat me five games out of ten. Yep, he’s a real chip off the old block.

It reminds me of what Mark Twain said in Old Times on the Mississippi, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

Roasted – Promotional Beer Mug

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

From time to time, my marginal Internet celebrity status affords me the opportunity to attend fun, Hollywood-type events. Recently, I was invited to the Comedy Central Roast of former rapper and current reality star, Flavor Flav. For those of you not familiar with Mr. Flav’s particular brand of entertainment, I strongly recommend you set your TiVo to record his highly watchable (think train wreck) television program, Flavor of Love, a show in which the hero attempts to meet his soul mate by “dating” twenty different “ladies” who vie for his attention by wearing too small tops and slapping, kicking and spitting on each other.

Since I was a fan of his craziness, I was looking forward to what promised to be an entertaining evening. Flav didn’t disappoint. He was joined on the dais by the likes of Jimmy Kimmel, Ice-T, Snoop Dogg and Carrot Top, a motley crew to be sure. The jokes and insults poured forth like gin and juice on a hot day, and a great time was had by all. I enjoyed the show, but was dismayed to discover that there were to be no gift bags given out to attendees after the event. Regular readers know that I attend most events for the sole purpose of nabbing free, branded merchandise. I was hoping for a Law & Order: SVU T-shirt or Jimmy Kimmel Live! Coaster set—at the very least. Alas, it was not to be.

I heard that the roasters all received Giant Pilsners that said, “I roasted Flavor Flav and I all I got was this beer glass. Yeah, boy!” It’s a huge glass, 23 ounces, with plenty of space for a long message and is a clever, inexpensive commemorative gift. Sometimes the gift is not the thing you want to spend money on, especially if there is an after party to throw. Since, I didn’t get one anyway, I was glad the network decided to spend their promotional dollars on pulled pork sandwiches and red velvet cupcakes.

I’ve got to go and practice my routine. Watching all those comedians was inspiring and I’ve got a set down at Koco’s Koffee Klatch in an hour. Remember, “laughter is the best medicine and you don’t need a prescription.”

Welcome to My Nightmare

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Last night I had a dream, a nightmare actually, that I had somehow, inexplicably, killed someone. The dream began with me in the shower, frantically trying to wash away the evidence of my apparent crime with a Pep Boys Body Brush. As I scrubbed, I remembered a recent episode of CSI: Miami where the team was able to convict someone after finding evidence in the drain. Realizing my mistake, I hopped out of the shower to find myself magically dry and wearing a black suit with a pink shirt, sporting dark sunglasses and red hair. It was worse than I thought; I had turned into David Caruso! I opened my mouth to scream but all that issued forth was a steady stream of bad one-liners that I repeated over and over, while uncontrollably taking my sunglasses on and off.

I woke up drenched in sweat, to the sound of loud banging on my front door—this was it! They had found me. The knocking on the front door was getting louder so I jumped out of bed to face the music. As it turns out, it was the UPS delivery person with my copy of the final Harry Potter. I tried to explain my sweat soaked pajamas and wild-eyed expression to Ms. UPS but she wasn’t in the listening mood and left in a hurry, mumbling something about having a lot of books to deliver. I think I heard her scream a little as she broke into a run.

Needless to say, it was a distressing way to start the day but at least I leaned a valuable lesson: no more crime shows before bed. My anxiety was finally calmed when my eyes fell upon my newly acquired Anxious Mood Dude Stress Reliever. It’s pretty funny looking, and brought an immediate, much needed, smile to my face. A few squeezes of his misshapen head and I was as good as new.

Well, Harry and the gang are waiting—I can’t wait to see what those little wizards are up to this time. I’ll leave you with the words of my favorite worst actor on television, “The verdict is in (beat, beat, beat) Frank…but the jury is out.” I don’t know what it means but it sounds important.

Wedding Season

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

After receiving my fourth wedding invitation last week, it hit me—it’s wedding season. Like most people, I incorrectly assumed that June was the most popular month for couples to take the plunge, but a quick online search told me I was dead wrong. Okay, truth be told, it was the People Magazine Real People Wedding Issue…but only because I had a dentist appointment and there was nothing else to read. The fact is, more people get married in July than in any other month. This year, 7/7/07 was a particularly popular date to do the deed. I also learned some other interesting wedding a facts that I’d like to share. Did you know that America has approximately 2.6 million wedding every year? That’s not too surprising considering the rate at which your average celebrity ties and unties the knot. I also discovered that Americans spend $60 billion per year on weddings—and that doesn’t include the honeymoon! There is no doubt, weddings are big business and so is the business of wedding gift giving.

Mrs. Winston and I have a standard gift we give to the newly married. The Laguiole 2-piece Carving Set; it’s an attractive carving set that includes a 12” utility knife and 5.5” carving fork, in a beautiful wood-grain storage case. The key is the imprint: “As you carve out your new life together…” It’s thoughtful, practical and usually brings tears to the bride’s eyes. It’s a remarkably cost effective gift with a personal touch. Hey, nobody needs to know I buy in bulk. Of course, there are times when you are pressured to spend a little more. I happened to get a peek at The Trump’s Wedding Registry, which included the Ophos Vase. At over nine hundred bucks, it’s not a gift you want to give to everyone but there are those for whom it pays to spare no expense. For everyone else, there is the Traditions Vase, gorgeous but with a more reasonable price tag. I heard that Teri Hatcher bought matching vases for Eva Longoria and Tony Parker.

Well, I’ve got to go pick up my tux from the tailor. All the dieting and exercise has paid off and I actually had to have mine taken in. Now, that’s a reason to celebrate. As my mother-in-law said on my wedding day, “The wedding is easy, it’s the husband that’s difficult.” She’s a peach!

Smarty Pants

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

From time to time I find it educational to reach into the mailbag and share letters form fellow readers. I received this little gem last week—via Sidekick.

Dear Virgil,

I heard about you threw (sic) my grandfather. He said you came up with the idea to imprint little soaps with his hotel logo back in olden times. Anyway, due to some unfortunate legal troubles and some bad press (no such thing), I recently spent some time incarcerated. Although the clothes were itchy and the food was terrible, I met some nice people and learned a valuable lesson. Mainly I learned that, done the right way, jail can be a great publicity tool. A lot of people think I am just a dumb, fame-seeking celebutante and that was fine…for a while. Now that I am a real actress and have spent time in the slammer, I am looking for a hot way to change my image to a smart, fame-seeking serious actress. Can you help?



I wish I was making this up folks, but even I am not that good a writer. Regardless of my personal feelings, I do see it as my duty to help out when I can. So, I advised “P.H.” to consult a dictionary before texting and then suggested a couple of “intelligent” gift options. First, I advised her to showcase her smarts by proving she knows that a mouse pad is not something your pet rat lives in, and give away branded Ergo-Gel Mouse Pads. It’s a great gift idea for computer geeks and gossip writers. The translucent pad has plenty of room for a smart promotional message and shows that you care about the recipient’s wrist comfort. I also pointed out that being smart doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look hot. The Computer Adjust-A-Mirror is the perfect way to show you have beauty and brains.

It just goes to show you, even the rich and famous need a little help from time to time and when that time comes, Virgil Winston is here to help. Of course, you don’t have to be rich or famous to write to me, so feel free to drop me a line anytime. Well, I’m off to the judge the Iowa State Corn Pudding Eating Contest. Until next time, remember the words of my good friend, Brendan Behan, “All publicity is good, except an obituary notice.”

Line Up – Be Comfy Anywhere!

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I am sure you have heard all the hullabaloo about Apple’s new iphone. If you haven’t, I can only assume that you have either: a) just awakened from a coma, or b) just returned from a prolonged trip in a third world country. Every techie and gadget guru with radio or TV show, column or blog has been frothing at the mouth waiting for the iphone to hit the open market. Those “in the know” were able to get the super buzzed about gadget ahead of time and the raves have been pouring in, non-stop. Due to an unfavorable incident at Mac World last year, which involved a rather loud disagreement between Mr. Jobs and myself, I was not one of them.

Unfortunately for me, Mrs. Winston was obsessed with having an iphone in her hot little hands the moment it hit the shelves, which meant I was in line at my local Apple Store at the crack of dawn on the day it was released. I settled into my Deluxe Cooler Chair for the expected five hour wait and tried to get comfortable. I had 300 fellow consumers to keep me company and Mrs. Winston was kind enough to pack my cooler with hot coffee and my favorite bagels, so I was well equipped to wait it out.
I couldn’t believe that I, a seasoned marketing man, fell for the hype but at least I had company—plus, I could always blame it on my wife. Actually, there is a very good marketing lesson here and we’d all do well to pay attention. After all, personal differences aside, nobody builds excitement for a new product like Steve Jobs. The man is an innovator. He understands that exclusivity and buzz do more to generate excitement for a new product than, well…anything. Of course it helps if your product is a super cool all in one gadget that does everything but make toast, but the point is still valid. If you have a product to sell or a service to offer, you want to get people talking. You want your company’s name to be on your potential clients lips. What better way to do that than with branded swag? I’ll tell you, make that custom imprinted swag “hard to get” and you’ll have people talking faster than an auctioneer on a coffee buzz. They may not stand in line for five hours, but they will certainly remember your name…and that’s the important thing.

I’ve got to finish downloading Abba’s Greatest Hits on my—er, Mrs. Winston’s new iphone. Until next time, remember what the great man once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

The Envelope Please

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

You know I am a promotional products expert, but you may not know I am also an office supply junkie. My heart beats faster when I drive by an office super store. Browsing for three hold punches and multi colored highlighters online makes my scalp tingle. My home office is stocked with a two-year supply of binder clips in four different sizes, printer ink, legal pads and #2 pencils.

My obsession is nothing new. I was actually fired from my first job for spending over five thousand dollars in one month at the local stationary store. I even proposed to my wife in the copy room of the office we worked at together. We had stopped in to get a fresh supply of memo pads and I was intoxicated by the smell of paper, toner and lemon-flavored highlighters—for me, it was the perfect spot. I dropped to one knee and popped the question. It was a spontaneous moment so I didn’t have a ring but I did I have my imagination and fortunately, so did Mrs. Winston. For three weeks she wore the large gold brad I wrapped around her ring finger. She cried when I put it on her and that’s when I knew for sure I had found the right woman for me. I later discovered I had tied the brad too tightly so her tears were not exactly tears of joy.

We were married on the same day the first Staples store opened, which I saw as good omen. It was a wonderful day and Mrs. Winston was a vision in white lace. We ate surf and turf and drank champagne all night. Instead of matches or candied almonds, we gave our guests a gift they could actually use to commemorate our special day. Everyone in attendance received a Designer Envelope Slitter imprinted with our names and the date. I still use mine every year on our anniversary to open the card I receive from my wife. Sure the blade has dulled some but it still does the trick. More importantly, it serves as a reminder of the most important day of my life.

The lesson here is simple; there are lots of ways to remember and be remembered. You don’t have to do what’s expected. Sometimes the best way to be remembered is to be surprising. It worked for me. Well, I’m off to search for my envelope slitter…it’s that time of year again. Until next time, remember, “Life is short but marriage makes it seem like forever.”

Global Warming

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I spent last weekend helping my daughter with her summer school report on Global Warming. Now, I am no tree hugger but I am environmentally conscious. I recycle, don’t drive an SUV and never use aerosol hairspray. According to Wikipedia, global warming is defined as “an increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s near surface air and oceans in recent decades and its projected continuation.” It’s caused by an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and most scientists agree that the planet is indeed heating up. They also believe the overheating causes climate changes like a rising sea level and more frequent and intense weather events. Of course there is a great deal of debate about what, if anything, should be done to remedy the situation.

I’m not ready to jump to conclusions but I think most people would agree that it’s hotter than ever. Sure, it’s summertime but I could swear the heat increases every single year. Just this afternoon, Mrs. Winston was gardening without a hat and almost keeled over from sunstroke. Fortunately, a well-timed glass of lemonade was enough to revive her. She’s still not strong enough to cook however, so I’m on kitchen duty.

Global warming is a serious issue to be sure, but as my Grammy Winston always said, “When life gives you lemons, make Limoncello.” Grammy was a bit of a boozer. So, while we should all do our best to stop the warming—we may as well make the best of a bad situation. One way to do that is to show your customers how resourceful you are by giving them a promotional gift that harnesses the sun’s rays. The Solar Credit Card Calculator adds, subtracts, multiplies and divides, and can be imprinted with your company’s logo. Since it fits easily into a wallet or money clip, your clients will surely remember you when they are trying to figure out how to divide their dinner bill by three couples after having had a few glasses of wine. As I’ve said before, becoming a part of the fabric of your customer’s daily life is an effective way to ensure that they think of you when it comes time to do business. And that’s the important thing.

Well, I’d better go start dinner; we’re having poached salmon with a balsamic reduction. Remember, “If you can’t take the heat, wear a wide brimmed hat.”

Independence Day

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

The Fourth of July is less than two weeks away and America is confused. As you probably know, the 4th falls on a Wednesday this year, which makes planning a weekend getaway more challenging than usual. Do you take off the weekend before and head back to the office on Thursday? Or do you hit the road Tuesday night, driving all night, so you can “enjoy” the holiday? Is it even feasible to have a two-day workweek? If the answer is no, do you simply work all week and only take Wednesday off to honor our country’s Independence? The possibilities are endless…and boggling. It’s enough to make you want to skip the holiday altogether. Well, almost.

One thing is certain; you will probably attend at least one celebratory barbeque. There will be fireworks to enjoy, horseshoes to throw and Frisbees to toss. And of course, there will be eating…lots of eating. Did you know that the average American is expected consume 2.5 hotdogs, one cheeseburger, a pound of potato salad and a quart of onion dip this July 4th? All that eating can only mean one thing…drinking. The average American will guzzle 5 sodas, 2.5 beers and a half a wine cooler while attending an average of three barbeques and/or pool parties.

With temperatures expected to reach as high as 90 degrees, keeping cold drinks cold, is not always easy. That’s why you need to come prepared with the Patriotic Bottle Coolie. It’s designed to snugly fit over bottles with plenty of room for your logo or promotional message. Let’s face it; nothing says American Independence like branding. If you’re smart, you’ll imprint your name on a couple dozen coolies and bring them for your fellow revelers. The lucky recipients will thank you for your thoughtfulness and you’ll be remembered long after the last fireworks fizzle.

Well, I’m off to visit my voice coach. I am supposed to sing the Star Spangled Banner before the big fireworks show next week and I’m way out of practice. Until next time, remember, “Life without liberty is like a promotional key chain without a logo.”

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I was recently invited to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day, which, as baseball fans know, is a great honor. Granted, it was opening day of a local stickball league in a small town just outside of Dubuque, but an honor nonetheless. Walking out on that field on a warm summer day to throw an underhanded slow pitch to a first grader brought back fond memories. As I looked out at the dozens of faces in the stands, I caught sight of a father and his son enjoying the afternoon. They were hard to miss, actually. Each sported a giant “We’re #1” foam finger, matching baseball jerseys with their names featured prominently above the logo of the local Gas-n-Go, and baseball caps from Joe’s Tackle Shop with a fish leaping off the brim.

The sight of head-to-toe father-son branding instantly transported me back in time—back to the day I went to my first baseball game with my own father. I can still smell the peanuts, taste the hot dogs, hear the crack of the bat and feel the soft fabric of the thousands of baseball key chains we gave out that day. My Dad knew that baseball was America’s pastime. He also understood an essential fact about most people…they love free gifts. So, he followed Rule #1, put his name on a fun, useful keepsake and headed to the stadium with my brother and I in tow. After all, he couldn’t pass out two thousand key chains by himself.

Today we call them take-aways, which essentially means a free gift that reminds the recipient of the event at which they received it. So, whether you are throwing a company picnic, hosting a team-building workshop or planning your company’s next sales meeting, don’t forget to give away something to commemorate the event. It also helps if the gift is practical and can be used in the recipient’s daily life. That way, whether they are taking a memo or opening their car door, they will remember the day. Take-aways are an effective way to inspire company loyalty while simultaneously promoting your products or services to the outside world. Everybody wins.

Speaking of winning, I have to go buy a lotto ticket; the jackpot is up to 44 million and I’m feeling lucky. Remember, “You can’t win if you’re not in the game.”