Posted by: brandextenders | March 2, 2015

Trinkets and Trash or Arts and Treasure?

I’ve been in this business a long time and have heard the products I sell called all sorts of names; some reflect a fondness for promotional products; others disdain. There’s “tchotchkes” (originally a Slavic word for toys), stuff, junk, novelties, trinkets, giveaways, handouts, premiums, incentives and arts and treasures. O.K., the term “arts and treasures” was coined by someone I worked with in this business so there was some bias attached to that one!

Where did this perception that promotional products are simply junk that companies buy for recipients to

Lots of trinkets and maybe some trash?

Lots of trinkets and maybe some trash?

throw away come from? My best guess is the many companies that buy branded items to hand out do so without much forethought and spend as little money as possible. One day the person in charge of trade shows remembers he needs 1,000 of something to hand out next week so he calls his promo rep and orders something cheap and completely unrelated to the event. Many companies at trade shows put a big basket of cheap pens, candy, buttons or something else at the front of their booth and as a result people grab handfuls as they walk by. Businesses I’ve worked with over the years are more likely to buy a lot of something cheap vs. a lesser quantity of a quality, useful item.

But here’s the rub: promotional products are one of the most favored forms of advertising available today. According to a study on trade shows by Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), 76% of attendees have a favorable attitude toward a company that gives them a branded item and almost 72% remember the name of the company that gave them that product. Put yourself in the position of a trade show attendee: if given a useful promotional product with a perceived value of $5.00 (it may have only cost the exhibitor half that) or a pen worth a quarter, which company would you most likely have a more favorable attitude toward? That’s not to say pens aren’t a worthwhile investment since they account for almost 9% of total promotional products sales, but how many pens can one person use?

Another key to the success of promotional products is their longevity. How often are you going to use a TV commercial? That’s ridiculous you say, you watch it a few times on TV and it’s gone. And that’s the point! You can’t play with a TV spot at your desk, you can’t wear it or use it at home and you certainly can’t take it to the gym with you every day. But a promotional product you can and studies have shown the average promo product is kept between 10 months and a year. If a gym bag is used three times a week over the course of a year (that’s 156 times) and the cost was $7.00, your cost per impression of the recipient seeing your brand is about a nickel. Not a bad return on investment for a tchotchke.

It’s much easier to track the cost per impression (CPI) of traditional media (TV, radio, newspaper) and even much of the online advertising venues, but that doesn’t make it a better form of advertising. You wouldn’t buy a TV or radio campaign without making sure the station or stations you were using met your target demographics, had a good CPI and the spots were creative and informative. It’s easy to wait until the last-minute to purchase your promotional products, spend as little as possible and then gripe about it being a waste of money. In doing that you are feeding the myth that promotional products are in fact trinkets and trash.

Next time you need some branded products for a trade show, customer gift, new product introduction, gift with purchase, sales leave behind or thank you, take a moment to answer these basic questions:

  • Who is my target audience? Young, old, men, women, what’s their income bracket, what do they do for a living, are they prospects or customers, qualified buyers or tire kickers.
  • How are we using the product? Is it at a trade show where you have a combination of customers and prospects? Is it to motivate people to do something? Is it to introduce a new product, new logo or new tag line? Do you want the item to be used in the office or in the home?
  • How are we giving them out? Will you be giving them individually to customers, prospects, employees? Are you using them in a direct mail piece? Is it for the masses or for a targeted group of people
  • What’s your budget? Most of the time promotional products are the last thing anyone thinks about which is why they are typically bought at the last-minute and need to be cheap because the budget is gone. By making them a more integral part of any campaign with proper planning, I would almost guarantee that you’d be pleasantly surprised with results that will help you see the power of promotional products.

Buying branded products for your company without thought or planning will perpetuate the myth of trinkets and trash and be a waste of money better used elsewhere. But taking time to plan ahead and invest some thought into the questions above will not only bring you better results, but make the branded products you buy truly arts and treasures, at least in the minds of your recipients.

Posted by: brandextenders | February 10, 2015

Did You Have One of These?

Let’s face it, I suck when it comes to being handy around the house, repairing cars or building stuff. Always have been. So why as a kid was I drawn into Radio Shack stores with all their neat rows of diodes, capacitors, early computers, circuit boards and batteries? The batteries were really the only product in the store I had a clue what to do with and I proudly carried my Battery of the Month Club card with which I could get my choice of a D, C, AA or 9-volt battery once a month. A savings of up to $4.68 if I dutifully picked up my battery each month and a fond memory from the salad days of Radio Shack, which filed for Chapter 11 recently.

A free battery every month

A free battery every month

Founded in 1921 by two brothers, it was originally a place for ham radio operators to obtain equipment and parts through the mail. Their name came from the wooden shacks on a boat used to house a ship’s radio equipment. By the early 60’s though the company was faltering and was purchased by Charles Tandy who owned a leather goods company, but saw potential with the electronics chain.

In 1977 they introduced the TRS-80, one of the first personal computers mass-produced, which was a huge hit. In the mid-90’s they started selling wireless phones and other mainstream retail products in a bid to get out of selling smaller electronic components, and ran head on into companies like Wal-Mart, Circuit City and Best Buy. Rebranded “The Shack” in 2009, they moved more heavily into selling wireless products and their demise was written on the wall.

Under bankruptcy protection the chain will close nearly half their 4,000 stores and sell up to 2,400 locations to Sprint where the Radio Shack brand will be sold within the Sprint stores.

Interestingly, there is talk Amazon may snatch up some of the RS locations and start a brick and mortar operation to showcase its brands and act as a returns/pick-up point. Plus, these could be the locations where Amazon expands its delivery of goods to local customers as they’ve been experimenting with at a Manhattan location. Apple stores were an afterthought, but now have the highest retail sales per square foot and Amazon may be realizing there is a limit to selling in the virtual world only and now is the time to jump into the physical world of brick and mortar.

Perhaps though like the circle of life in the Lion King, there is a circle of life in the business world and for every company that goes under, one or two are born. In this case a co-branding deal with Sprint and maybe an Amazon retail presence inhabiting the shells of the former RS stores.

If only they ‘d shifted from the Battery of the Month Club to a Gigabyte of Memory a Month Club they might have survived. We could certainly all use more memory!

Posted by: brandextenders | February 4, 2015

Do You Fall for Sneaky Sales Tactics?

As I walked the Stairway to Nowhere (aka the Stairmaster at the gym) one recent morning I was shocked to see a news story on TV entitled, “Sneaky Sales Tactics.” I watched, mouth agape, as they listed the most nefarious methods marketers and retailers use to separate you from your money. They included:

  • Sales
  • Discounts
  • Free freight
  • Buy one get one free (aka BOGO)
  • Customer loyalty programs
  • Music conducive to shopping (and you spending your money)

When I got home I quickly did a Google search of sneaky sales tactics and came up with even more devious techniques including upselling, banner ads and psychological pricing; you know, where you’ll pay $19.99, but not $20.00.

Ancient BOGO hieroglyphic sign

Ancient BOGO hieroglyphic sign

Brands conduct research, hold focus groups and try various marketing techniques to get you to buy their products. And while today’s marketing is savvier and more research driven, the same need to sell products and services has been going on since the first “for sale” hieroglyphic was painted on a stone sign. Do modern-day marketers manipulate us as some, including Vance Packard in his 1957 tome “The Hidden Persuaders” suggest? Probably, but it’s their job to find out what gets us to buy, be it words, pictures, gimmicks, contests or simply the cheapest price.

Should Congress step in and regulate how brands advertise? Perhaps limit the discounts, control the banner ads and only allow prices in whole dollars, none of this psychological pricing BS? Balderdash. It’s an aberration to use the words Congress and free-market in the same sentence since nothing is free when Congress gets involved.

I’ve got an idea. How about people take responsibility for themselves and not blame music in the store or a coupon for blowing their budget. No one is forcing consumers to buy and it could be argued that sales, discounts and BOGO’s help people spend less if they simply purchase what they need in moderation. Are there people out to scam us? Of course there are, but it’s not likely they’ll use a BOGO to do it.

I know this post may sound snarky (love that word!), but it’s not meant to be. What it boils down to for me is ethicscartoon308 and honesty. Brands want to sell you their products and services and if done in an ethical and honest manner it’s a win-win for everyone. As a consumer, do your research, have a budget and stick to brands you trust. The old saying is still true, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Posted by: brandextenders | January 27, 2015

What do a Whoopee Cushion and a Brain Have in Common?

The fact is there are a lot of terrible promotional products you can buy. Something like 900,000 products can be imprinted with your company’s brand, but how many would you really feel comfortable putting you logo on? What about a custom whoopee cushion or a stress brain?

What makes a good promotional product? Does cost factor into your decision on what to buy? Usefulness, size or quality? And if your hope is for the end-user to actually keep the product and use it, how does that play into what you ultimately choose? There are many reasons for buying a particular product and from my 25 years in this business, here are the four I see most often.

  1. Oh boy, another promotional pen!

    Oh boy, another promotional pen!

    Useful & Practical: Statistics show people will keep and use a promotional item they receive if they find it useful. Are pens useful/practical? Sure they are, but who needs another pen? Finding a product that ties in with your brand and is useful may take some time, but is well worth the search. I believe it’s better to spend more per item and buy fewer than to have a bunch of cheap items that no one wants. That’s not to say there aren’t inexpensive items that are useful so put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and ask, “Is this something I would keep and use?”

  2. Smartphone cradle can be branded

    Smartphone cradle can be branded

    Unique: The best way to ensure someone keeps your product is to combine #1 and #2. Useful and unique is a surefire way to spread your brand’s message via a promotional product. I found this Silicone smartphone holder recently and absolutely love it. How many times have you had to plug your phone in and leave it on the ground or if the cord is too short it has to hang there and you hope it doesn’t fall? For less than $2.00 you can give a product that most everyone can use and is still unique enough for people to say “wow, that’s cool.”

  3. Two brains are better than one

    Two brains are better than one

    Tie-ins: I work with a lot of clients to find products that will tie in with a theme, a branding campaign or a contest. The College of Business at a university client wanted something to give to students during finals week to help, even in a small way, reduce their stress. They chose a stress brain in their school color (orange) with a clever tagline that was an instant hit. Another university hosting a 75th Gone With the Wind exhibit reproduced old telegrams they owned from the stars of the movie on reusable cups that were given out on the opening night of the event. Here’s a link to more case histories that might give you some ideas for your next project.

  4. Quirky: Remember whoopee cushions, the things you fill with air and when someone sits on them they sound
    Shrek whoopee cushion

    Shrek whoopee cushion

    like a fart? Shrek the Musical created a custom whoopee cushion in green with two “ears” that tied in perfectly with the fact Shrek likes to fart. Or the tote bag for a nail-biting medicine printed full color with a face and when you put your fingers through the hand hole, it looks like a mouth is biting your nails. Quirky gets attention and a custom quirky promotional product can bring your brand long-term exposure.


A selfie-stick can be branded

A selfie-stick can be branded

Promotional products help cut through the clutter of traditional advertising and studies show people like receiving them. Traditional advertising like TV or radio ads, billboards, magazines, newspapers and even digital advertising are here and gone. But a useful, well thought out promotional product can keep your message and brand in front of customers and prospects for months on end. And what could tie in better with today’s hottest fad than a selfie-taker, a device that holds your smartphone and allows you to be self-indulgent all day long. Say cheese!

Posted by: brandextenders | January 21, 2015

You Want Me to do What for 30 Days?

Try Googling “how long to form a habit” and you’ll be amazed at the answers you see. 21 days, 30 days, 12 weeks, a year, a lifetime. The idea that habits are formed after 21 days has been around for years, but where did it come from?

Dr. Maxwell Maltz, an American cosmetic surgeon and author of Psycho-Cybernetics published in 1960, is often credited with this concept. In that book he stated, “It usually requires a minimum of about 21 days to effect any perceptible change in a mental image. Following plastic surgery it takes about 21 days for the average patient to get used to his new face. When an arm or leg is amputated the “phantom limb” persists for about 21 days. People must live in a new house for about three weeks before it begins to “seem like home”. These and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.” This quote from his best-selling book was taken as gospel and the 21-day myth was born.

Commit to 30 days of change

Commit to 30 days of change

The point of this article is not to determine how long it takes to form new habits, but to issue a challenge that if successful can only help in making our lives better. Think about a few positive changes you’d like to make in your life this year. It could be to stop smoking, eat healthier, start an exercise program, read more, learn to play an instrument, make more sales calls every day, meditate regularly, spend more time with your children and on and on ad infinitum. Pick your top three and then chose the one that is most important to you.

Now that you’ve decided, commit to spending the next 30 days doing whatever it is you’ve chosen. If it’s eating healthier, commit to cooking a different meal every day that is healthy for the next 30 days. If you want to get better at golf, commit to hitting balls at a range on a regular schedule for the next 30 days. More sales calls might mean making five additional calls each work day for the next four weeks. Whatever it is, commit to spending the next 30 days doing whatever that first change is you want to make.

It might be easy the first few days with the excitement of making this positive change, but inevitably your enthusiasm will wane and it may take more effort to continue. Commitment is the key word here. Stick with it for 30 days and at the end you may decide eating healthier, reading more, learning to draw, making more calls or upping your tennis game just isn’t worth the effort. Or you might love this new skill or habit and decide to continue with the effort to make it a part of your life.

Either way, make the decision to continue or the decision to quit and don’t beat yourself up over either choice. Go back to your list and choose the next change you’d like to make and commit to doing that for the next 30 days. Do this every 30 days for the next three to six months and at the end, no matter the changes you’ve made or haven’t made, you’re bound to be in a better place.

The University College London researched and experimented with the 21 day myth and learned how long changes take vary by individual. For one it took 18 days to form a new habit while another took 254 with the average being 66 days. 30 days of working on a new habit may not embed it completely into your life, but it should help you decide if it’s something you really want to continue doing. Be strong, be persistent and be happy you’ve committed to making changes and developing habits in your life that will make you a better person and perhaps more self-confident and energized.

I like this quote from Mahatma Gandhi on where good habits (or bad ones) lead: “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

My first 30 day commitment is to read for at least a half-hour a day be it business or pleasure. How about you?

Posted by: brandextenders | January 14, 2015

Mind If I Tape My Business Card To Your Wall?

Imagine going into a prospect or customer’s office and taping your business card to their wall or perhaps the corner of their desk? Chances are you’d find yourself being escorted out of their office by security with a firm invitation not to come back…ever!

Please tape my business card to your wall!

Please tape my business card to your wall!

Now imagine your customer voluntarily putting your contact information on their wall and referring to it on a daily basis. Sound far-fetched? If your contact information is printed on a calendar; be it a wall, desk, pocket or magnetic calendar, chances are your customer will find a place to give it a home The reality is that even though we use the electronic calendars on our computers and phones, the paper calendar is still one of the most cost-effective promotional products you can purchase.

Here are a few statistics that may surprise you:

  • 98% of all homes and virtually 100% of all businesses have at least one calendar.
  • The typical person has 2.5 calendars in their working area and/or home (not sure why they would put up half a calendar!!).
  • 87% of householders and 94% of business recipients recall the advertising message displayed on their calendar.
  • Recipients say if they weren’t given a calendar they would purchase one from a retail outlet.
  • You can choose from hundreds of stock calendars with themes and pictures such as food, sports cars, big rigs, medical, Americana, lighthouses, airplanes, homes, beaches, Norman Rockwell, Native Americans, motorcycles, wildlife and the list goes on and on. Stock calendars have several areas you can customize with your company’s information.

Better yet, for reasonable minimum quantities, you can create a custom calendar using your own look and design, photographs you choose and copy throughout to tell your company’s story. Use your imagination and think of a custom calendar as a blank slate. Here are a few ways to make your calendar more useful depending on who your audience is:

  1. Add 12 coupons that can be used, one per month, over the course of the year. These give customers, be they retail or corporate, a reason to do business with you each month. 10% off on their next purchase, buy one get one free or discounts on seasonal items. Chick fil-A, a national restaurant chain puts out an amazing calendar each year, charges $5 for it and includes coupons worth 10 times that much in discounts and free food items.
  2. People will rarely throw something out with their name on it and with variable printing, you can now literally personalize each page of a custom calendar with a client’s name. Create a mailing to your data base with personalized calendars or have the account executives deliver them personally to their customers. How cool is that?
  3. If this is being given to workers or customers where safety is important, add relevant safety tips each month. Workplace safety is a huge concern given insurance and medical costs and reinforcing safety with monthly or even daily safety reminders is smart.
  4. Use the calendar as a way to get employees involved. Have a contest for the best recipes, most creative photography or best suggestions to improve their areas and include those on each month’s page.
  5. Pick a format that fits the people you’ll be giving them to. For those who sit in cubicles, pick a functional desk calendar that doesn’t take up a lot of space. For warehouses or home use a wall calendar might be your best choice. There are calendar cards, one-sheet 12 month calendars, desk calendars, magnetic calendars and pocket calendars. Work with your calendar professional to choose the right format for your business.

If you’re looking for inspiration go to your local book store and browse through the rows of retail calendars and see what’s selling. Also notice the retail price on those calendars; from $10 to $25. Keep in mind if you produce 5,000 custom calendars for your company chances are you’ll be able to get them for less than $5.00. Let’s say your client refers to that calendar you give them once a day every day for the next year (most likely they’ll look at it multiple times each day), your cost per exposure is a little more than a penny per view. Not to mention the long-term exposure your message gets which tends to build trust with your customer in a non-invasive way.

Calendars are a wonderful way to advertise your message in places you couldn’t pay for no matter how deep your pockets. Even in this world of technology they continue to be a great advertising investment and now is the best time to start working on your 2015 calendar. There are typically discounts given if you order before the end of April and most companies will hold the calendars you purchase now until the fall when you are ready to hand them out.

I’m not sure anyone will let you tape your business card to their wall, but most people will gladly put a calendar up with your advertising, especially if it is creative and informative. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case keep your name in front of those important to you.

Posted by: brandextenders | January 8, 2015

What’s in Your Time Capsule?

I’m an ardent fan of history and was fascinated with the discovery of a time capsule in Boston that had been buried by Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. No, there was no beer inside (that Samuel Adams never brewed beer), but there were coins dating back to 1652 along with a treasure trove of documents, newspapers and other

Paul Revere & Samuel Adams buried this in 1795

Paul Revere & Samuel Adams buried this in 1795

memorabilia from the early days of our country. Fascinating stuff in a 5 ½” x 7 ½” metal box buried in 1795 and found in the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State house during repair work. Historians will document the contents, add a few contemporary items and rebury the box in the same cornerstone for future generations to discover. Kind of like a really long game of hide and seek.

What if you were asked to create a time capsule of your life that would be buried and reopened in 100 years? What would you include? Some family pictures perhaps? Mementoes that are touchstones in your life? A pocketknife your father or grandfather gave you, your mother’s hair ties, some treasures you saved from your children’s early years? Newspapers, coins, a favorite book or a journal you’ve kept? Remember, the only way people 100 years from now will know who you are is by what you place inside your time capsule.

What if you were asked to create a time capsule of your life that would be buried and reopened in 100 years? What would you include? Some family pictures perhaps? Mementoes that are touchstones in your life? A pocketknife your father or grandfather gave you, your mother’s hair ties, some treasures you saved from your children’s early years? Newspapers, coins, a favorite book or a journal you’ve kept? Remember, the only way people 100 years from now will know who you are is by what you place inside your time capsule.

I started a time capsule of sorts 22 years ago, in the month my oldest son was born, when I began writing a monthly letter of what was happening in our family, in my life and in the world. Some letters are brief while some are 10 pages long or more with dissertations on politics, religion, dissident family members and other topics-of-the-day. I have close to 240 letters (I know, the math doesn’t work out because I skipped some months) and I’ve decided to write my last letter when my youngest son turns 21 in a couple of years. Then I will create two books with the letters, some pictures, drawings and other treasures they created as kids and give one to each of my boys. They’ve never seen them so it will be a total surprise and a time capsule of their childhood. I hope they will pass these along to their children and beyond so family members 100 years and more from now can look back and say either, “boy those people were cool” or “boy, those people were odd.”

A time capsule kit

A time capsule kit

Your personal time capsule need not be complex and can be as simple as a shoebox with those things you’ve treasured and cherished over the years that you keep on a shelf in your closet. Be sure to include a letter explaining what’s inside and why these items are important to you. You can even buy a cool looking metal canister or a whole kit that gives you a step-by-step process for creating your time capsule. And no, time capsules don’t actually have to be buried, but can be sealed and set aside with a plan to pass on to future generations and a specific date to be opened.

What you choose to put in your literal or figurative time capsule says a lot about you and the legacy you hope to create for you and your family. Who knows where this country or the world will be in 100 years. Wouldn’t it be cool if someone opens your family time capsule from today in his or her new apartment on Mars?

Posted by: brandextenders | December 29, 2014

What’s Your Story?

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort” – Opening sentence of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien 

For thousands of years humans have been sharing the experience of life through stories. Before the “invention” of written language they were told orally by memory, perhaps around a fire. Storytellers held an esteemed position within communities and were relied on to carry forward the history of a culture. The first printed story was a poem called the Epic of Gilgamesh and was carved onto stone pillars for all to see. Eventually the written word took the place of oral storytelling and with the invention of the printing press stories spread far and wide. The first movies were silent with creative geniuses like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford and Harold Lloyd telling their stories silently in black and white.

Clever storytelling can make a brand stronger

Clever storytelling can make a brand stronger

Today storytelling is everywhere; in the TV ads we see, the movies we watch, the content on websites, blogs and the books we read. Brands tell their story every day and the best ones do it consistently and through cross-channels that support each another. Companies like Apple, the Dollar Shave Club, Starbucks, Dove Soap, Samsung and Lowes have found ways to share their brands that touch our hearts, make us laugh, create wonder and take us on a journey. And that’s what good storytelling is all about.

Without a story, a brand or individual is just another commodity. Stories define us, but they are also cumulative, meaning it’s not just what you write or tell others. We see brands and people as a total of all the elements they create including our own interaction with them.

For the first time ever, more digital content is being consumed on mobile devices than traditional computers. This means brand and personal stories must be told in ways that resonate with these users and fit within a mobile app. 2015 will be the year of the video as more people click the play button than ever before. From Vine videos (yes, great stories can be told in seven seconds) to traditional :30 or :60 second spots or longer versions, video will drive much of the content marketing as well as be a tool for lead generation, an integral part of email marketing and overall  digital strategy.

It sounds elementary, but videos must first and foremost be something people want to watch, they need to engage the audience. And like any good story, they need to take us on a journey, to infuse wonder and follow the rule of the five W’s; tell us who, what, where, when and why. But most of all they must touch people hearts in some way if they are to be effective. AdAge annually honors the Best Brand Storytelling via videos and you can see the 2014 awards here.

As we go about building our personal and corporate brands this year keep in mind what filmmaker Andrew Stanton says is the secret sauce to storytelling, “Always set out to invoke wonder in your audience.” And Stanton should know being the writer of classic animated films like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, WALL-E and A Bug’s Life.

“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”  Brandon Sanderson, an American writer.

Posted by: brandextenders | December 10, 2014

What Do TED Talks and Epiphanies Have in Common?

I’ve often heard that to think outside the box (a term I’ve grown to hate) we need to expose ourselves to thoughts and ideas outside our normal frame of reference. Epiphanies often come when you tie unrelated ideas or concepts together to create a paradigm shift.

I’ve made a conscious effort to do just that by listening to podcasts while working out and a favorite are TED talks, which explore a myriad of topics. A recent episode was on technology that is being used within the human body to help people see color, replace missing limbs and give voice to those who have none. Pretty edgy stuff

  • Neil Harbisson was born color-blind, seeing the world only in grayscale. In 2003, when he was 21, he became
    Neil Harbisson

    Neil Harbisson talks TED

    involved in a project called “Eyeborg”, a sensor that translates color into sound. Yes, color has frequencies and via a chip attached to his occipital bone at the back of his skull, which in turn is attached to an electronic eye, Harbisson can hear colors as musical notes. Red is F and green is A. Harbisson was legally named a cyborg in 2004.

  • Remember the Six Million Dollar Man (quick, who was the actor?). Amanda Kitts, who lost an arm in a horrific traffic accident, may be the new Six Million Dollar Woman. Todd Kuiken with the Center for Bionic Medicine, says nerve endings that control muscles in arms and legs continue to send signals to missing limbs. Thus the feeling by many amputees they still have an arm or leg even though they don’t. Kuiken takes these nerves, amplifies their signal and connects them to robotic prosthetics that react to thoughts. If Amanda thinks “open my hand” her hand opens. Mind control through robotics. How amazing is that?
  • If you’ve ever heard Stephen Hawking “talk”, you hear a robotic, impersonal voice. It’s the same robotic voice used by thousands of other people worldwide who can’t for whatever reason speak for themselves. Rupal Patel wondered why these computerized voices couldn’t be personalized for each person. As a result, she developed a technology called VocalID that combines human voices with individual speech patterns to give these people a unique voice tailored to their own personality.
Yum Yum!

Yum Yum!

Just how will these uses of technology help me to sell more promotional  products? Chances are they won’t, but perhaps I can one day take something I learn through a TED talk and tie it together with other ideas for an epiphany that changes the world. Like Jimmy Dean’s pancake and sausage on a stick. Just what the world was waiting for!

Posted by: brandextenders | December 2, 2014

There Aren’t Many Famous Accordion Players

See if you can guess this musical celebrity: He played the accordion as a kid, but wanted to be in a rock band (nope, not Bruce Springsteen). Had his first big hit on MTV in 1984, a time when they actually played music videos. He sold 12 million albums between 1974 and 2007. His latest release, Mandatory Fun, is the first comedy album to reach #1 on the Billboard charts in more than 50 years. Give up?

His name is Alfred Matthew Yankovic, but he much prefers the moniker he gave himself, Weird Al Yankovic, the king of parody songs. From Michael Jackson to Madonna, The Eagles to Eminem, Green Day, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, Weird Al has parodied them all. And the weird thing is, the artists he parodies feel honored.

What is it that makes this 54 year-old still relevant after three decades of taking other people’s creations and making them his own? Someone who is still hitting his stride when many of those he parodied have faded into oblivion? There are several keys to his success, keys which all of us would do well to take note of.

  1. He’s polite. Yankovic would never consider giving a song his treatment without first asking the artist permission. And all, with the exception of Prince, have been happy if not thrilled to have him do a number on their songs. For the original artists, a Yankovich parody in essence says they’ve made it.
  2. He’s not original. Let’s face it, he takes something that is usually already a hit and puts his own spin on it. So much of what we see in the world today is just that, someone taking a product or service and adding a twist to it, to make it that much better. While that may seem like cheating, almost every product in our lives is not the same after 10, 20 or 50 years as it was when it was created. Would you want to be driving a Model A Ford today?
  3. He knows how to adapt. His first hit, “Eat It” was huge in 1984 because MTV played it over and over again. But in 1984 PC’s were brand new, there was no Internet, cell phones were the size of a suitcase, social media hadn’t been created and word-of-mouth meant a friend told a friend, usually in person. With his latest album, Mandatory Fun, Yankovic released one song and video a day for eight days across a range of what he calls “Internet portals.” His record label told him they couldn’t afford to make videos for this release, so he went to these portals and convinced them to fund the videos if they got exclusive rights to release them.
  4. He loves what he does. He says he would have laughed if someone told him 30 years ago he’d still be making parody albums today. While money most certainly plays a role in his career, he is still having fun at other artist’s expense because he loves it. It’s his passion and the perfect job for him and he says he has no plans to retire…ever.
  5. He’s humble. One of the most thrilling moments of his life was years ago when he was invited to a party in Hollywood for Paul McCartney. He was told there was no way he would meet his musical hero, but once there he wound his way through the throng and tapped McCartney on the shoulder. The legend turned around and said, “Oh, Weird Al. Look honey (to his wife Linda), it’s Weird Al.” Yankovich was stunned that McCartney would even have a clue who he was.

Life changes rapidly these days and if we are to stay relevant and engaged, we have to keep up and continue to learn, change and adapt. Given the first 30 years of his career, I suspect we’ll see Weird Al doing parody songs on artists yet to be born. Perhaps they’ll be holograms or some future technology yet to be invented, but chances are he’ll find a way to keep us laughing.

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