Six Jolts of Sheer Delight
Many mornings around 4:30 I am awakened by the clack and thump of The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times coming through the mail slot downstairs and hitting the floor.
I don’t like these two suppliers of my morning news.
The type is smallish and the news perpetually grim: endless and expensive wars in three third-world countries, terrorist threats, Washington mired in name-calling and gridlock, massive unemployment, poverty, $14.8 trillion national debt, hurricanes, floods, droughts, starvation and earthquakes on a planet rebelling against our appalling stewardship.
Yet over a mid-September weekend these two dreary rags—plus a fascinating email offer—gave me six jolts of sheer delight.
Can you do as much for your customers?
Sheer Delight No. 1—The Philadelphia Inquirer
Philly is a serious sports town. To watch a major league baseball game on television in a town other than Boston or Philadelphia is to see vast patches of empty seats. As of this writing, Citizens Bank Park—home of the Phillies—has a record of 213 consecutive sold-out games. The atmosphere is perpetually electric.
The morning after the Phillies clinched the National League East, a traditional serious sports editor would have put a picture of Raoul Ibañez hitting the grand slam home run that sealed the deal.
Instead, what greeted me on the front page above the fold was the photograph of new right fielder Hunter Pence in the locker room drenched in Champagne and looking like the happiest man on Spaceship Earth. (See photo No. 1 in the mediaplayer at right.)
Pence, 28, who arrived in July from the sad sack Houston Astros (53 wins/100 losses) is thrilled to have a shot at a World Series ring, along with pitchers Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee who passed up big bucks for Philly, and who with Cole Hamels, make up the most powerful rotation in all of baseball.
Pence is a fanatical student of baseball, comes to the park early, leaves late, is hitting .313 and is a huge addition to the team.
Waking up to that photograph of Pence cheered me more than a third martini used to.
What did not cheer me was the Phillies’ eight-game losing streak following their spectacular early finish, as well as Hunter Pence’s sore knee.
However in the ninth game the team’s mojo was back as it annihilated the New York Mets 9-4 with 19 hits, Hunter Pence going three-for-five including a two-run homer.
Sheer Delight No. 2—Atlantic City Daily Press
In that same issue of The Inquirer was a delicious four-page insert—a small replica of a 1920’s edition of the Atlantic City Sunday newspaper. The yellowish newsprint was obviously dried and crumbly and the type was faded and broken. The headline:
NUCKY FACES ACCUSATIONS
It took me a few seconds to realize that this was not a real collector’s item.
Below the headline was a photograph of actor Steve Buscemi who plays Atlantic City Treasurer and old-fashioned political boss Enoch “Nucky” Thompson in Martin Scorcese’s splendid HBO series, Boardwalk Empire depicting the Jersey shore town during Prohibition and the gangster era of the 1920s.
The little faded insert dated Sunday, Sept. 25, 1921—exactly 90 years to the day (and the actual day of the week)—was a promotion for the launch of the Boardwalk Empire’s second season.
It was filled with lurid stories of murder, the Ku Klux Klan, prohibition and an Op-Ed by Mrs. McGary, “How to Lead a Clean Life” with the lede “Gentlemen, put down your bottles!”
Included was a review of Franz Lehar’s Liliom on Broadway, a story of the White Sox throwing the World Series, upcoming events such as a Warren G. Harding political fundraiser, the Temperance League meeting, Lady Egypt’s Vaudeville Show and King Neptune’s Seashore Pageant. The Arts & Entertainment section featured “Who’s Who of Atlantic City Out on the Town” with photographs of our favorite characters in the series.
Inside bottom right was a genuine 1921 crossword puzzle with a QR Code that you can scan with your smartphone to get the answers.
The back page was given over to a full-page ad for the series with Steve Buscemi and his girl in the center surrounded by all the gloriously sinister characters that make each episode a mini-masterpiece.
In my opinion, Boardwalk Empire ranks in the pantheon of great current TV entertainment right up there with Foyle’s War and Downton Abbey. Steve Buscemi is so extraordinary that I feel privileged to be able to watch him. And, as I said to my wife Peggy, I lust after his wardrobe.
In short, if you’re going to promote a product or service, think about something that is a grabber—totally unexpected, utterly involving and fun!
Sheer Delight No. 3—Parade
In that same Philadelphia Inquirer was my favorite Sunday extra—Parade magazine. In terms editorial content, Parade is dreadful—with upbeat, suck-up stories that make even the most interesting celebrities as exciting as melted vanilla ice cream.
However, like TV Guide in the 60s and 70s, Parade is my private gauge of the health of the direct marketing business. When the economy is flush and consumers have money, the publication is positively alive with off-the-page ads from Bradford Exchange, Lenox, Hamilton Collection and Ashton Drake offering such tchotchkes as Jackie’s pearls, Diana’s and Kate’s engagement ring, China elves, angels and imps, Christmas tree decorations, Easter bunnies, bunny slippers and the myriad kitsch of Thomas Kinkade.
In this lousy economy, Parade has been woefully thin—sometimes as small as 12 and 16 pages. What advertising it carried were depressing full-page announcements from big pharma followed by a full page of sans serif mousetype warning us of possible blindness, impotence, rectal bleeding, skin rashes, fainting spells and death.
However, in this same paper as the Hunter Pence picture and the promotion for Boardwalk Empire was Parade carrying three off-the-page mail order ads:
- A ¾-page ad from Harbor Freight Tools offering all kinds of goodies for the do-it-yourselfer.
- A full page from David Oreck offering a great looking $149 rolling vacuum.
- Thomas Kinkade’s Wonderland Express Christmas Tree—with the following copy I found simply splendid:
As Santa and his reindeer joyously fly into the Christmas night, the Wonderland Express slowly chug, chug, chugs its way ‘round and ‘round the peaceful little village nestled amongst the snow-kissed evergreen boughs. Now, inspired by Thomas Kinkade, the “Wonderland Express Christmas Tree” Masterpiece Edition captures this wondrous night in a very special collectible available exclusively from Hawthorne Village [Bradford Exchange]. With four levels of rotating movement—including Santa and his sleigh—you’ll watch as the Wonderland Express “climbs” ever higher up the tree. With 12 brilliantly illuminated buildings and over 30 figurines, this meticulously hand crafted, hand-painted masterwork lavished with a blanket of glitter-touched snow—and playing a beloved medley of holiday carols—is certain to be the ever-so-perfect addition to your holiday decorating.
The cost: $149.99 plus $19.99 shipping and service. SEND NO MONEY NOW.
Being a train nut from childhood (as in Lionel electric trains and yearly trips to Los Angeles aboard the Santa Fe Chief to visit my grandmother) I love it!
More to the point, it’s terrific news that tchotchke purveyors may be coming back into the marketplace and collectors are parting with their cash.
Sheer Delight No. 4—The New York Times Store Collectibles
With financial catastrophe of 2008 and the repercussions down to today, many businesses are hunkered down—running lean and mean, hoarding cash, firing and not hiring, and waiting to see what happens.
However, any economy is ripe for the entrepreneurial spirit. And to my astonishment real marketing imagination is being exhibited by “the gray lady” of American journalism, The New York Times with its wonderful new section: “COLLECTIBLES: Historical Items from The New York Times Store.” Included are posters, autographed photos of politicians and stars, sports memorabilia, vintage stock certificates and Confederate money, magnificent Morris Rosenfeld yacht sailing photographs, century-old one-of-a-kind patent models, rare books and newspaper front pages.
My favorite items are the beautiful ship models—especially Lord Nelson’s H.M.S. Victory and H.M.S. Surprise, which appeared in a slew of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels and the Russell Crowe film, “Master and Commander.”
I have read the O’Brian series of 21 novels twice and visited his home in Collioure on the southern coast of France. In the down-at-the-heels basement office where O’Brian created his masterpieces was a small model of Victory that likely gave him inspiration. I would adore to have The New York Times’ model of Victory or Surprise to remind me of the exciting times I sailed with “Lucky” Jack Aubrey and his ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin in the British navy during the Napoleonic era. Alas, with a 16-foot wide row house in Philly that contains a lifetime of art and artifacts, there simply ain’t room. And I do have a signed and remarqued print of Surprise by O’Brian’s cover artist, Geoff Hunt.
But it continually cheers me to know the model is available if every my circumstances change.
The questions every marketing executive should ask:
• “Just as The New York Times has started offering Collectibles, what products or services can I test that would generate some ancillary revenue (at a profit) from my customer base?”
• “What product or service am I now selling where I can move the marketing thrust 20 degrees off center and test to a slightly different universe (which is cheaper than developing something entirely new)?”
Delight No. 5—“Smell of Books”
As an avid Kindle aficionado, I do not miss printed books one jot. But I constantly run into people that pooh-pooh e-books because they don’t have the “feel and smell” of a real book.
The other week I received an email pitch from SmellofBooks.com with the following offer:
The smell of e-books just got better
Does your Kindle leave you feeling like there’s something missing from your reading experience?
Have you been avoiding e-books because they just don’t smell right?
If you’ve been hesitant to jump on the e-book bandwagon, you’re not alone. Book lovers everywhere have resisted digital books because they still don’t compare to the experience of reading a good old-fashioned paper book.
But all of that is changing thanks to Smell of Books™, a revolutionary new aerosol e-book enhancer.
Now you can finally enjoy reading e-books without giving up the smell you love so much. With Smell of Books™ you can have the best of both worlds, the convenience of an e-book and the smell of your favorite paper book.
With e-books outselling printed books on Amazon.com, an entrepreneur has come up with what is obviously a gag gift to Kindle nuts and may wind up being a neat niche business. Enter “Smell of Books” into Google and you’ll get 587,000 results!
Sheer Delight No. 6—Lexi Thompson
I started this e-newsletter with a classy athlete—Hunter Pence of the Phillies—and will end with golfer Lexi Thompson. She won the Navistar LPGA Classic on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011 at age 16 years, seven months, and eight days.
She is the youngest winner of a professional championship—men’s or women’s—in the history of golf.
Throughout the weekend I would tune in to see how Thompson was doing and to root her on. Hopefully she will do for women’s professional golf what Tiger Woods did for the men’s tour.
P.S. A quick note to alert you that after 11 years of writing, rewriting and editing, my new novel COLDCOCKED: A Novel of 7 Murders, the Media and the Law—has just been released by amazon.com. The cost: $2.99. I invite you to check it out.