I found this c.1930’s newspaper clipping tucked inside the 1930 book, “A Scandinavian Summer by Harry A. Franck. I am certain this clip was saved for the recipes on the flip side, but finding this little story introduced me to sad story of Hack Wilson.
Wilson had a 12-year major league baseball career, playing for the New York Giants, Chicago Cubs, Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979 and was once the highest paid player in the National League, but died penniless and alone.
This article was published before things went sour, referencing only his training with the Cubs and his small feet (reported sized 5 1/2 shoe.)
Popping this vintage hotel brochure in the mail today to the Mount View Hotel and Spa.
I love the art deco style of the hotel as depicted in the piece. It’s now a spa too, so I wonder how much of the original style remains. I hope to get to Calistoga in the Spring.
Oh Trader Joe’s, how I love thee. I sent a note to a few of my favorite respondents from 10 years ago. Look what came mail yesterday (10/23/15.) Dan Bane!
Ten years ago, prompted by the approach of my 45th birthday and a classic episode of Sex and the City: A Woman’s Right to Shoes– the one when Carrie whines that singles don’t get gifts or parties unless they do it themselves, I conducted an unscientific brand experiment to test the loyalty of brands and products I used and admired.
The experiment involved me sending these companies an invitation to secure product placement in my life. I wondered, since I’d been loyal to so many products for so long, what would be the harm in asking them to declare their loyalty to me in the form of birthday gifts?
In 2005, social media hadn’t yet reached its saturation point, so I chose to send an invitation via USPS.
The invitation, was professionally printed and designed to have the feel of a wedding invitation, complete with a self-addressed-stamped-envelope and a response card giving recipients choices as to whether they would be sending a gift or not. You know, like the fish or chicken choice at a fancy wedding.
While I could have easily researched the best contact in marketing or PR to hedge my bets on getting a response, I chose instead to address the handwritten envelopes to the customer services department at the companies’ headquarters.
My personal brand experiment was truly fueled by a genuine curiosity and a desire to make contact.
How high up the ladder would my request would go? Would people actually check the choice “You are nuts” or just trash the card? Would I receive personal notes or form letters? How deep did the brand messaging at these companies go? Would the USPS even know where to deliver the card?
With no (okay, a few) expectations and a promise not to take responses (or lack there of) personally, I mailed about 75 invitations.
Now, ten years later, I am sharing a few standout responses from my personal Brand Experiment :
The First Response
Three days after mailing out the first batch of invitations, I received a USPS Priority Mail package from Rita’s Water Ice. Rita’s Water Ice is a Philadelphia based Italian Water Ice restaurant and easily one of my all time favorite treats. The package contained a Rita’s t-shirt. Although the shirt was a little too red for my taste and I wish I had gotten a year’s supply of water ice or a franchise, I was thrilled about the urgency of the gift. It was a happy day indeed.
A Gift and A Little Note from a CEO
In 2005, I was enamored with Trader Joe’s and thought “2 Buck Chuck” was a miracle.
I was delighted to receive a $10 gift card from Trader Joe’s to celebrate my birthday, but the real gift was a hand written note from Trader Joe’s Chairman and CEO, Dan Bane. My generically addressed invitation found its way up the Trader Joe’s food chain to the CEO. I was moved and impressed. It was a terrific brand move and much appreciated.
An Aspirational Pendant
Me&Ro is a celebrity driven, hand-crafted jewelry brand based in NYC. I first learned about them in the early 2000’s when Julia Roberts was regularly being photographed wearing their lovely and thoughtful little pendent necklaces and earrings on the pages of InStyle.
I felt a connection with the Me&Ro designs, but most of their items were out of my jewelry price range. The store did however, make it on my list of “aspirational brands” that were included in my Brand Experiment.
I was genuinely surprised and grateful when several months after my birthday, I received a package from Me&Ro. It was a silver Tree of Life pendent on a natural cotton cord. Precious.
It’s Not the Vodka, It’s the Person
In 2005, Jim Riley was the Senior Corporate Events & Public Relations Manager at Nolet Spirits, distributor of Ketel One Vodka. He received my invitation and responded with a box of gifts and a personal note. In the note he mentions that he once conducted a similar experiment and never forgot the brands that responded. At the time Jm’s response helped drive my decision to declare Ketel One (over Stolichnaya, who did not respond) as my vodka of choice. I will never forget his response and ten years later (thanks to a quick Google search) I know he is the CEO of Intersect Beverage importing Azunia Tequila. I am sure this brand is in good hands with Jim.
The CPG’s Represent
I received many letters, coupons and tchotchkes from large CPG companies. Many communications were form letters (they bypassed the response cards, I assume for internal tracking purposes) but I reveled in the knowledge that my invitation reached someone, and if they weren’t able to personalize it, had determine which canned response they would use to address my particular request. I had several companies suggest that I apply for a 501(c)(3) tax exemption to get contributions, while others tried to soften the blow of saying no by listing all of the good works and charities they support.
I was surprised how much effort went into some of the no’s, especially when it doesn’t take much to maintain the loyalty of a loyal consumer. (I was tickled to receive a coupon for a free item from the $1 menu from McDonald’s (a brand that was on the list for their annual Monopoly promotion, not their food. Note to McDonald’s: Kudos on the breakfast all day shift!))
I was also surprised that although a 35% +/- is a pretty good response rate for a mailing, I got no response from half of the companies included in my Brand Experiment.
A sincere albeit belated thank you to all the companies who responded including: Edy’s Ice Cream, CVS, Victoria Secret, Kashi, Cadbury Schweppes, McDonalds, Dole, Deer Park Water and Bobbi Brown Cosmetics.
I received personal letters from Blistex and Sharpie, both sending me samples, and as good marketers do, introduced me to their latest products. And, I do have to give credit to Target and Eileen Fisher for composing near perfect marketing letters, making me feel like a valued customer, while politely declining my request.
You are Nuts!
There were four companies, that selected the “You are Nuts” option on the response card and mailed it back to me. Remember, when I mentioned I wouldn’t take responses personally? Well, I did.
Not only did Banana Republic check the “You are nuts” option, they “signed” it with a stamp before mailing it back to me. For their horrible brand communications and general lack of interest and loyalty to me, I vowed never to shop at Banana Republic (or any of the Gap brands) again. And, I haven’t.
I was able to identify the others, because I had given each card a tracking number. They were: DKNY, Sketchers and AOL. (Full disclosure: I was working in the Brand Marketing department at AOL at the time, so the recipient may have known me, but I never learned who sent the response. Regardless, it was still bad form and it has always bothered me.)
A Media Driven Response
Shortly after I launched the brand experiment, MORE magazine published a blurb about my efforts and honored me with “ The Chutzpah on the Web Award” calling out BMW for not yet responding.
From this public shaming, I was contacted by the Group Communications Manager of BMW North America. who asked, “What do you want?”
I was traveling at the time and saw the BMW 1-series in the UK, so I told him one of those would be nice. When I returned home, there was a BMW car model waiting for me.
Ten Years Later
Now, a decade later, as my 55th birthday approaches, I spend more time giving things away than asking for gifts (but I am always happy to receive them.) Social media has forever changed the way we as consumers interact with the brands and products we love. And, although I no longer build brand loyalty programs as a vocation, I watch closely from the sidelines and ponder how my Brand Experiment would be received if conducted today.