The Sneetches and Other Branding Stories

I have two resources for you today. One is by Paul Chaplin called "Satisfaction Guaranteed." It's about Trump branding and what's good and bad about associating products with ideas.

From The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Suess
The other is by yours truly called "The Maturing of Brands and Sneetches." Here's a lead in:

Eventually the Sneetches become like those who mature and take pride in being social bridge builders. "He had friends from every walk of life” is pronounced at funerals like a badge of honor. Parents of such teenagers question what their crossover kid might be up to, and Pharisees wash their hands of such mixing, but in the end, embracing a range of brands rewards us.

Here’s the thing about these folks. They find ways to push through the thin layers of brands because they recognize brand value where it counts. They love truth and meaningful expression. In their eyes — and here I’m speaking from the occasional personal experience — the Creator becomes more recognizably creative. God becomes bigger as a Brand Manager who delights in the full-range expression of God’s self.

Both come from this week's edition of Catapult Magazine. See the table of contents for other good (or better, depending on your tastes) advertising-related reads.


Black Friday Poll

It's over. You did it. Maybe you took no notice because of the 9 to 5, or maybe you gorged on leftovers and lay-aways (Do they even have those anymore?). Regardless, another Black Friday has come and gone. Stores are richer, Christmas is closer, and if you aren't out in a treestand right now hunting your cares away, let me know how Black Friday went by taking this little poll:

How did you spend your Black Friday?

What did I do? I spent part of the day working. Then the family walked downtown for the Christmas tree lighting (Julie got to decorate it - you'll have to ask her about driving a lift) and caroling. We enjoyed a glow-in-the-dark art exhibit in the local gallery before returning home. After the kids went to bed, the two of us did what all computer-friendly couples do these days: watch comedy on the internet.

At the risk of belaboring this post, I have to let you know about my longer and more polished reflections on Black Friday. They are personal, and personally disturbing, but I'm not sure what to do about that so I'll be grateful for yesterday and hope my mid-life crisis includes a conscientious wake-up. I'm getting lax in my waning 30s. Read the article here:

Black Friday Slip at The High Calling.

The High Calling is a website about work, life and God. Cart photo by Claire Burge


Pinched: Harris Interactive reveals who's cutting back the most

I knew people had been tightening their financial belts, but the following chart by Harris Interactive surprised me with who's cinching the most.

Either Gen Xers are the wisest or they've been the most careless. (Click on the image for a larger view.)

Advertising, as powerful as it is, can't compete with scarcity (real or perceived). Read more about the poll results here.


Sons of Martha

I found Rudyard Kipling's "Sons of Martha" last week while reading about the dangers of electricity. I can't quite tell whether the poem is Kipling's jab at Jesus' seemingly unbalanced response to Mary and Martha, or a celebration of work. Either way, it's an interesting take on Luke 10:38-42.

In the story, Mary sits at the Guest's feet to listen while Martha (not unlike a Martha Stewart, I imagine) stays busy with the preparations. Kipling has us realize the true importance of Martha's work. He sides with the laborer. He elevates those who keep the world oiled and moving (read: for the Sons of Mary, those spoiled brats).

Who doesn't feel a little bitterness when team members or office mates or siblings drop the ball and leave us with the weight? Resentment is a common by-product, and this is precisely Martha's problem.

Then she lets it slip. It gets to her enough that she actually tattles to Jesus. Compulsively, she levels the field, and it backfires on her. If only it weren't about fairness and keeping score, Martha and her sons might recognize the special call to work, the risks involved, and the joys it pays out. Maybe then Jesus would say, "Mary and Martha, you have both chosen the good part."

Here's the poem from 1907. See if you can find the electricity reference:

The Sons of Martha

The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary's Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.

It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

They say to mountains, 'Be ye removed'. They say to the lesser floods, 'Be dry'.
Under their rods are the rocks reproved - they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit - then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

They finger death at their gloves' end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matter hidden - under the earthline their altars are;
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not teach that His Pity allows them to leave their work when they damn-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand.
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren's days may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat:
Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha spilled for that:
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed - they know the angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the Feet - they hear the Word - they see how truly the Promise Runs:
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and - the Lord He lays it on Martha's Sons.

~ Rudyard Kipling

Labor in lunette, by Charles Sprague Pearce. Public Domain.


Hot coffee and biscuits!

After ten years of playing the critic, I’ve never ceased being a fan of advertising. Too much of the industry frustrates me to no end, but I still love good persuasion. I love witnessing it. I love doing it. Then this week it dawned on me that my family – beginning in 1883 – spent 75 years persuading people to buy from Van Eman Bros. Hardware in Canonsburg, PA. They were the Lowe’s of little town, USA, and it seems they were pretty good at their trade.

Is advertising somehow in my blood? I don’t think so. At least, not simply because retail exists in my ancestry. But when I found the following letter in a box of old family items, I had to admit some excitement.

In short, my great-grandfather Sam and his brother J.J., joint proprietors, had sent their newspaper ad to the Robeson Rochester Corporation to show off the store’s promotion of a new line of coffee percolators and stoves. The salesman from RRC was, needless to say, excited. Here’s his reply:

(Click on the image to see a larger size)

Taking advantage of “women folks” like that. How dare they!  ;)


H in the bathroom

Not sure what came to mind when you read the title, but it's likely not what I have in mind. So before I disappoint you, let me just say that H stands for Hiny. Okay, maybe that was what you thought. I was in college when I first encountered the H in question (not what you're thinking). It was a conservative Christian college where doing laundry on Sunday was forbidden, which is not such a bad idea considering how overly busy we all are, but our supposedly good morals should give you a reason why there wasn't much to look at in the bathroom stalls. As deplorable as bathroom graffiti can be, you must admit that it is often quite entertaining. Okay, maybe guys in particular must admit this - I don't know what ladies' stalls contain.

Nothing going on in these stalls, however. Except Hiny Hiders, the little etched logo on every aluminum hinge and support holding the structure together. It had no color and was barely noticeable (no pun intended), but it caught my attention long before I cared a professional inch about logos and brand names and the world of advertising because of its clever simplicity. Funny to think that this is one of my earliest brand memories. And, yet, it is.

I recently discovered that Hiny Hiders is now defunct. (Not the stalls, of course, but the brand, although we did have two incorrigible hall mates back then who had such a bad habit of shaking the stalls to scare dwellers that eventually you had to lean sideways to use them. Then one afternoon the janitor, after fixing them one too many times, simply removed all privacy and left four toilets standing there naked. Hiny Exposers if you will.)

The point here isn't any more than I liked the use of H in this logo and still do. Check out LogoDesignLove here and here for more visual creativity like this. Study the first group carefully to appreciate them. 


Check this out: It's a jar!

I don't quite feel like exclamation points right now, but humor often rescues me from myself and I really wanted this title to rhyme. I don't even know what gout is. Something to do with feet? That's what usually comes to mind though I'm not sure who gets it, what it affects, or how it goes away (if at all).

Tonight I saw a new commercial for Uloric and according to them, gout is a clear green liquid, not too different in appearance than anti-freeze before you dilute it. Okay, maybe that isn't what swishes around under your toe skin, but it leads me to the first of two points I liked about this advertisement for gout treatment:

Gout is objectified.

I get a kick out of objectification in advertising. Like with Pam and Rollover Minutes, it helps me see the invisible. I can actually imagine how it feels to be burdened by a large beaker full of green fluid (even though our chemistry lab relatives were quite petite in comparison), and it's enough to make me want to get rid of it.

Second, Uloric never promises to eradicate the problem. Even as the retiree heads out for a walk and down to his favorite fishing hole, he carries a smaller version of the beaker with him. "You can live more freely, but we can't give you a whole new life," they seem to say.

Maybe Uloric is junk, I don't know. One of the side effects is "gout flares" which seems counter-productive to me. Still, the ad caught my attention while most pharmaceutical spots simply annoy me. I'm not sure what I think of pain-relieving drugs in general, though I use them on occasion. Suffering, at least to a degree, seems right for the hungry soul, and if it means lugging around a beaker of this or that, than so be it. 



Winter's coming. Better get Belgian Natural Gas.

"Who gives you the very softest heat?" Knitters, it seems in this Belgian Natural Gas commercial. Or, so I wish. Who wouldn't opt for this kind of house warming? We're heading into our first winter season in a 100-year-old house, and I'm not sure how warm the gas bill will make me feel. Perhaps I'll don wool as TBWA did in this exceptional ad from early 2010:

Before you see how it was made, savor those 35 seconds. Brilliant simplicity, conceptual clarity, effectiveness at attention-grabbing and holding. I've watched this commercial innumerable times, now listening to the tune and dance of the whistle, now catching the colors warm progressively in tone, now feeling the house shift from frosty windows and chilly floors to carpet and hot tea. Mesmerizing, really.

Meet the talented hands and minds behind the work: 


Know your numbers? Try this brand quiz.

I found the following quiz today while reading about the Gap logo debacle. What brand is related to the number 711? That may be an easy one. How about 40? 31? 409?

I got six out of 20 without thinking too hard. Take a look below and see if you can beat me. Find the answers and related trivia here.


Spoiled Rotten: When Work and Play Meet

Playing in the Frio Canyon. Thanks for the photo, Jennifer.
In the sweltering summer of 1998, I spent nine weeks being trained to work in campus ministry. We lodged in air conditionless university housing and Julie and I were poor enough to cry when she accidentally deposited $20 in the bus meter one afternoon. That was money for a fan to make the stifling nights bearable, and the machine gave no change. Quite a tax on a $1.35 fare.

I don’t remember sleeping much that summer anyway – my thoughts turning toward class and books and late night conversations with veteran colleagues. I was 24 years old and kept awake by fresh ideas about the importance of work, film discussions on truth and art, and stimulating dialogue with agnostics on campus. As far as I had known, work was worldly and done to make ministry possible. And culture was only acceptable if it pointed conspicuously toward heaven. But something new was happening in me. Each day that my mind raveled and unraveled, the summer paid out.

That was twelve years ago and I’m still receiving dividends.

Last week’s trip to Texas bears witness to this fact. As you may know, I belong to a network called High Calling Blogs. It is an online community of more than a thousand people, focused (some more than others) on the idea that God cares about everything we do. Our families matter, of course. Faith and how it’s lived out matter, too. But so do work and art and music and cooking and how we let employees go. Faithfulness in all areas of life is a bedrock belief of my own workplace - the Coalition for Christian Outreach - and High Calling Blogs shouts the same from one modem to the next.

First lunch together. Thanks for the pic, Deidra.
Last week I spent five days with 15 members of this usually virtual community. We are the writers, editors and photographers behind the project and none of our arms had to be twisted to attend a retreat at the beautiful Laity Lodge. Who wouldn’t want a writing workshop with Lauren Winner or to worship with Ashley Cleveland or canoe along the Frio River canyon and hike with pilgrim and poet, Scott Cairns?

Because of that formative summer long ago, I started this work-honoring advertising blog and soon after met Marcus Goodyear – a poet, zombie fan and mastermind behind the network. He welcomed me warmly. Then I met L.L. Barkat – a playful soul and author of Stone Crossings. They are two of the 15 and the ones I've known the longest and best. (We spent the past two years at Jubilee together.)

I can’t remember the exact order of introductions thereafter, but I met each of the following as we gradually entered this community. I encourage you to read on. They are good folks, inspirational followers of Christ, and now friends. If you blog, or even if you don’t, you’ll want to meet them, too.

Here is the High Calling Team. Click on the names to visit their personal blogs:

Bradley Moore is an executive with a keen eye for living out faith at work. He is, in fact, our work editor. My prediction? He’ll be a household business name within the next decade. Brad tells it straight and has been featured several times at Christianity Today’s

Jennifer Dukes-Lee is a contributing editor whose family makes a mean chocolate-covered soy nut. I ate them by the handful (Thank you!). You might assume that the former chief political correspondent for the Des Moines Register would be pushy and cold, but Jennifer’s big heart adds a remarkably compassionate dimension. You’ll see this clearly on her blog and in the posts she writes a couple of times each month.  

David Rupert and horses don’t get along. He works for the U.S. Postal Service though he may not have made a good Pony Express rider. David writes with a consistent voice about work and faith and he highlights noteworthy blogs. A very funny man with a complement of sincerity, I enjoyed rooming with him in Texas.

Gordon Atkinson is best known as Real Live Preacher, a web name he created in the stone age of blogging. (Did I even know there was internet in 2002?) He has a massive following, mostly of folks who admire transparent honesty. Gordon says and asks what others fear and often does this through great story-telling. Founding Editor is a good title for him since his napkin sketching started this brainchild long before it took on its current shape.

Talking with Ann Kroeker was like talking with a sister. I hope she doesn’t mind me saying that, especially since I like all of my sisters. She’s got humor, passion and a commitment to the family. Fittingly, she’s our family editor and seems to attract parents from all over.

I met Laura Boggess while leading a book discussion at High Calling Blogs in the summer of 2009. With a gentle southern accent to match her charm, she welcomes readers with hospitality and intellect. She's in the middle of writing a book series for young adults and she runs our High Calling book club every Monday.   

Glynn Young defines reliability. A growing poet, Glynn acts as a contributing editor, following many blogs in the network. Glynn is an award-winning speech writer and has a quiet depth about him. He also edits TweetSpeak Poetry. (Go try it out!)

The enigmatic Ann Voskamp fascinates me. You never know what you’ll get, but she can talk tractors, health care, geography and spirituality with equal adeptness and humility. Like Glynn, she is a contributing editor. Ann is the wife of a diligent farmer and the mother of six children. Her following rivals that of Gordon, and is soon to grow even larger with One Thousand Gifts coming this January. Yet she remains quietly behind the scenes, letting God get the glory, as you'll see here

Claire Burge is our photo editor and the youngest of the bunch. Not only does she inspire the community with stunning photography, she also writes a monthly piece for me that invites camera owners to try their hand at new picture-taking techniques. Claire is originally from south Africa and joined us from Ireland. She is beyond her years.

Dan King is BibleDude. Maybe it's from living on the Florida coast that he loves all things "Awesome!", but Dan's exuberance plays itself out as our very influential social media editor. He and I are lightheartedly competitive with each other. I won't say who's winning.  

I don’t know if I’ve ever met a person who lives in Nebraska. Now I have and the whole state is now on the map for me. Deidra Riggs is a pastor’s wife, and a contributing editor for us as well as for (in)courage. She let me try on her glasses which, if I can call this a claim to fame, began a mini viral craze

Cheryl Smith once experienced fame when her facebook image got accidently pulled into a singles ad. It not only crashed her website, but made news all over the world. She is one of two welcome editors. If you were to join the network, you’d have a 50% chance of meeting her. No, guys, she’s not actually single, but she does send a friendly note.

Dena Dyer is relatively new to the club. She shares the role of welcoming editor with Cheryl. Dena has written several books and is currently working on a novel. Did I mention that she loves to laugh?

I find it quite valuable to stumble upon a movement (Can I call it that?) like this, especially since its aims are so similar to those of the CCO. I look forward to the work we can do together as a team and as related organizations as we aspire toward faithfulness. Pray for our work, will you?

Big News

[Updated on 10/12/10] On October 7, 2010, High Calling Blogs merged with The High Calling to form the new and redesigned site, As a top 100 Christian website, this was no small matter. Team leaders Marcus Goodyear, L.L. Barkat and Gordon Atkinson have been busy polishing and purging to make it a great place. Stop over and check out the new digs, and say hello to my friends along the way.  


Saving Your Business is Worth $20

Julie's phone went haywire last month. After visiting a local Verizon kiosk, a young employee diagnosed the issue and promised a new purple replacement within one week.

Four weeks later, the package finally arrived.

In this cavern:

And in gray.

Since the original battery, which was purple, needed to be transferred to the new phone, she decided to make a second trip to Verizon. You know what? That same employee offered to mail the cavern on his own and at his expense, ordered the purple replacement to be Fed-Ex'd by today (It arrived this morning, less than 24 hours later), and, to top it off, gave her twenty bucks.

I should clarify: Julie didn't cause a scene or enter the store with mascara-lined cheeks. This kid just recognized a customer in need of frustration diffusion. (Or else he was flirting, in which case I'm sending Julie to Customer Service from now on.)

The amount of money seemed arbitrary to me, but that's what left the biggest impression on her. Sometimes saving your business is worth $20.

Related Verizon posts:
Verizon and World Vision: Marketing Partners
"Is My Map in the Way?"


March of the Pilgrims

Our move a few weeks back makes 18 for me. Eighteen moves, and they don't include college room changes. I'd like to believe I'm done with this nomadic life, but who knows? I could have an address or two (or three) to go. I hope not.

As the culture editor at The High Calling Blogs, I had the privilege of hosting four writers for a late summer series on pilgrimage. We finished the series last week, though none of us is actually done moving, of course. It's in our dreams to stop, but it's human to move.

Cumberland Island, GA. Photo by Jeff Houser.
We're homebodies, all of us, especially (if not ironically) the wanderers and idolaters and dreamers. I might even throw creatives and entrepreneurs in that mix. Home is magnetic to us and we can't seem to find enough of it to satisfy. The craving to roam, to chase, signifies a deep, deep longing for what isn't in this moment. We have faith, yet it's so hard to wait.

I appreciated the series because the writers drew from personal experience to demonstrate the myriad ways - both good and bad - that we search for home.

Bob Gorinski addressed our infatuation with physical fitness and the perfect body:
"I play bio-mechanical detective, attempting to solve problems in the function of muscle, nerve, and bone. Most of my clients are on a serious journey toward change in their physical form and function....
[But t]he truth is that whole people are far beyond PTs, nutritionists, doctors, and the guy in the Facebook ad selling Acai Berry." (Read more...)
Claire Burge captured our use of pictures as tools that give memories a place in history:
"I live in Ireland and [my mother] lives in South Africa. I want to remember her when longing comes knocking on my door later this year; when her laughter no longer rings in my passageway....
Life is a pilgrimage with sacred value and photography helps us to freeze frame the significant landmarks along the way." (Read more...)   
Kami Rice moved us beyond the loneliness of pilgrimage and into a shared experience:
"I’m not sure I’ll put myself through Eat, Pray, Love again by queuing up for the Julia Roberts’ helmed movie version. Though Gilbert’s story has been offered out to an audience, I still don’t really sense that it includes an invitation to enter into the story....
Pilgrimage, for all its solitary-traveler glory, must hold [a]community element." (Read more...
And Margie Haack welcomed us into her living room for tea and a place to say that wandering is hard:
"When I finally began admitting that journeys back home didn’t reveal it as a place where both parents welcomed me – a place to stand soul-naked yet loved – I was nearly wrecked by the revelation....
Some of this is another story, but the gift (I use the word purposely) of this life experience was the desire to make our own home a resting place and solace for people passing through – rather like the inn by the way that gave Christian, John Bunyan’s famous pilgrim, enough hope and rest to continue his journey toward the Celestial City." (Read more...)
We could have continued this series for months. In fact, if I had an article for every idol we chase and every aspect of home that beckons, it might become my full-time job. However, this was a good start.

Enjoy meeting these folks if you haven't already. And keep walking. And keep resting.


Rad! And other responses to chaos reduction and self-promotion

My online life is splintered. The debris isn't as widespread as it is for many, but I sense the chaos factor increasing with each new application, community membership and task. Do you know the feeling? It's like having too many kids and always wondering if you left one of them at church.

I need to do some gathering. Case in point: I've had an off-the-beaten-path and very under-promoted promotional website for the past few years. It doesn't help that I never really liked the design, but it's still mine and I can't leave it behind.

Thanks to new tools here at Blogger, I'm finally doing something about it.

Irresistible self-promotion
This week I added two new pages to New Breed of Advertisers. They say more about what I do and how I might help you do what you do. You'll find the tabs at the top of the page. Pass them along to a professor, student, chaplain, copywriter.... Those are all folks I work with.

In case you're hesitating on whether or not to click on Talk and Write, I'll tempt you with this:

 See what I mean? Irresistible. That's me in the hat, chillin'.


Beer, Intihuatana and Frustrations

"The Intihuatana stone was damaged in September 2000 when a 450 kg (1,000-pound) crane fell onto it, breaking off a piece of stone the size of a ballpoint pen. The crane was being used by a crew hired by J. Walter Thompson advertising agency to film an advertisement for a beer brand."

- Wikipedia

Here I was reading about this most iconic Incan symbol, the ruins of Machu Picchu, one of the new seven wonders of the world, and I learn that commercialism broke it. Just one more reason to believe that advertising and alcohol are a bad combination.

That’s only partly tongue and cheek. Admonished by childhood memories of alcoholism and Jean Kilbourne’s treatise on the dangers of beer in advertising, I do think they are a bad combination. I’m also a fan of old things. If you’re going to break something old, at least have a worthwhile story behind it. Co-opting the historic site to move refreshments off the shelf is not one of them. This goes in the same consternating category as, “Why did you let your two-year-old play with my bone china teacups?!”

If you were paying attention to goings on in the advertising world ten years ago, you would remember this beer/crane/Intihuatana story. I missed it. But I discovered it today because I may be heading to Peru next spring. After pages of drool-inducing photos and captivating stories, and a two-hour meeting with CCO wilderness colleagues about piloting this new adventure, I was sadly reminded of our quest to exploit the pristine.

Even as a Leave No Trace card-holder, I don’t stick to a no-touch policy. Give me a chance and I’ll clamber all over those ancient walls (carefully). But I won’t cheapen them. It’s an interesting human predicament: the most sacred and marvelous and amazing sights we treat like Monopoly properties. Buy ‘em up and profit. Like Niagara Falls, which is now Mall of America with an attractive water feature in the center.

I’d better stop. Without TV for most of this summer due to our move, I’m a bit more sensitized to media misbehavior. I appreciate many aspects of advertising and haven’t been frustrated with it in a while, but today set me back.

Photo taken from a travel site.


EcoMarketing Subway-style

After a month and a half of long days and as many short nights, we finally finished the heavy work at our new place and moved in. The girls are happy for more floor space and we're excited to have something with fewer cracks in the walls. All of this prep, of course, meant physical labor, which meant - as I learned at a recent doctor's visit - that I lost five pounds.

That's not as much as Jared Fogle lost from eating Subway sandwiches, but then, I'm not trying to shed a 62-inch pair of pants either.

I came across a creatively written article this morning about the green movement based on Jared's marketing success for Subway. Jeff Dubin is the "founder of Green Meridian, a marketing research firm dedicated to helping marketers of green products succeed with both core green and mainstream consumers." In Paging Jared Fogle, he asks:

"I know Subway still keeps you busy traveling 200 days a year but if you have some spare time, it would be great if you could help the environment, too.

Why you? 'I'm the obesity guy, not the green guy,' you might protest. No, Jared you're Every Guy. We relate to you. If you committed to a green lifestyle, think of the possibilities. Maybe we'd get off our fossil fuel-burning butts like when you made us put down our boxes of Krispy Kremes and get out of our Barcaloungers a decade ago."
Regardless of whether you oppose this movement or embrace it, consume its products or advertise them, you have to admit that the creativity and success of ecomarketing has been tremendous. Dubin is being playful here, but so far, much of the movement has grown without a Jared.

Imagine what might happen with him.


Me Monster

I love Brian Regan's description of the "Me Monster." He nails it for me. And hearing from others, he nails it for them, too.

Advertisers don't get the spotlight very often, but that just means they have to outdo the next guy's creativity, or the next agency's account productivity, or the next manager's public influence, to get their fix. We all want affirmation, but often our quest for attention turns into a trampling exercise driven by insecurities.

I write for High Calling Blogs and last week I shared a story about the Me Monster that you might find encouraging as you deal with your own Me Monster:

David has gone to the same camp for the past nine years. He worked his way up the ranks of awards and badges each summer, impressing counselors and cabin mates. He’s a genuinely good kid and was simply doing what his parents taught him. Last year he received the coveted Teepee pendant, a sure indication that as a camper he had a shot at the granddaddy of them all: the Tomahawk Award.

Only one senior is eligible and he had this final summer to do it... [Read more and watch Brian's video here.]

High Calling Blogs is part of The High Calling, a site about work, life and God.


Clear copy. Less clear vision.

Some of you know we bought a house in May. It was a foreclosure and our particular loan process took two full months. We finally closed on July 6 and began a good bit of renovation. I took the first week and half off in order to tackle the bigger items, while friends have been in and out to help. For the past two weeks, I've sanded or cleaned or painted every night, often till midnight.

Sleeping is off. Eating is off. Blogging is way off. As tired as I am, however, I feel energized to push on toward our mid-August goal of moving in. We'll see if that can happen.

Being away from New Breed of Advertisers has had an interesting effect on me. I'm so connected to the house right now that I'm only doing what I have to at work. That isn't my normal operation. Typically, I do what I have to and also try to keep a number of items on the table that I want to do. It's the proactive, creative element of work that sustains me, but I don't have time for it in the present.

Normally, I dream of helping folks do their advertising work well. This summer you all (and other readers) are hardly on my mind. I can't help it. And even though I've watched some TV to help me unwind at night, I haven't seen much that catches my attention anyway. I'm bored by most of the ads, though I'm sure I'll mention a few sooner or later.

In the meantime, here are two bits of copy that I heard, I think, on the radio. They don't get much clearer (and cleverer) than these:

Redwing - "Find the boots that fit your feet, job and wallet." 

Trojan - "You can't wait to get it on."

If you care to, pray for me to finish this house project well, and to find clarity in my service to the advertising industry this year.

My thanks.


The King of Madison Avenue. You know...Whats-His-Name

I love Grady Powell's opening paragraph in this week's Books and Culture review of The King of Madison Avenue. I'll hold off on giving you the subtitle for a moment to give you time to guess the king's name. (Hint: The book is about advertising.) Here are Powell's observation and a helpful question:

"[M]ost people would struggle to identify a national advertising agency, much less any of the copywriters, designers, or directors that produce our daily intake of commercials and billboards—with the possible exception of the fictional characters in Mad Men. The more advertising becomes central to our society, the more we take for granted its power to shape the way we think. Advertisers, like op-ed columnists, are trying to change your mind. Shouldn't you know who they are?"
Yes. But he's right: we don't.

I guess this isn't much different than not knowing who brings water into my home. Except for this: At least I know the water company's title and can reach a representative with a 1-800 number. Same with the men (and one woman) who pick up my trash. I don't know them, but I've seen them there in the alley and maybe even said "Thanks" a time or two when I ran out late with the recycling bin. The work these folks do has an enormous impact on my daily life. Imagine no more garbage haulers. Or no more water service.

It's different with advertising because there is no 1-800 number; no occasional vision of workers in the background, nobody to know. And yet they have and use "power to shape the way we think."

Maybe this is part of advertising's problem. If you've ever imagined being invisible, you've probably imagined a few bad things you could get away with. Even if it's just to be that invisible fly on the wall to overhear a dying-to-know conversation, invisibility is powerful and potentially dangerous.

What accountability is there in advertisers' relative anonymity?

Anonymity on the loose

Consider this: How would advertising change if every ad ended with customer service contact information? Not for the product, of course, but a number or address to reach the copywriter and art director behind the ad. Would it raise the bar? Would people actually call? Would consumers demand more honesty and better treatment? Would SimGospel advertising diminish?

As far back as 62 years ago, that consumer comment or complaint might have reached the desk of the eventual king of Madison Avenue, David Ogilvy. (Did you guess correctly?) Ogilvy was a famous copywriter who worked his way to the throne, and whether you've heard of him or not, he left behind tremendous influence on the world of advertising as we know it today.

There are good agencies out there. And there are Christian and non-Christian advertisers who exhibit the attributes of Christ in their advertising work. But Powell's observation reminds me of the importance of accountability and what good might come from having more of it.

Read Powell's review here.


It's Jubilee Day and I have a little something for you

Today is Jubilee Day™, "the largest, longest running one-day street fair in the eastern part of the United States." For a small town like ours, 60,000 attendees is nothing to sneeze at. 

The Old Testament Jubilee Day was nothing to sneeze at either. You can read about it in Leviticus 25 and imagine what restoring justice, correcting misfortunes, liberating servants and the like would have done for small towns 3500 years ago (and what this list would do for us today). 

I'm not sure cotton candy or a puppet show will provide anything in the way of justice for me and the kids this afternoon, but I'm sure it will bring a bit of jubilation. And I thought I could bring a bit of jubilation to you, too.

On Earth as It is in Advertising?
I don't have any special prizes or kick up your heels deals, but in honor of all things Jubilee maybe I can make you a little happier and a little more aware of injustice with a book offer. In 2005, Brazos Press published On Earth as It is in Advertising? Moving from Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope. It was reprinted this spring by Wipf & Stock.

I don't talk much about On Earth for a couple of reasons: 1) Self-promotion feels salesy to me, and 2) An early negative review took wind out of my sails.

Yet it's a book about injustice that every TV-watching, magazine-reading, banner ad-viewing, mall-visiting human being encounters: Bad advertising. Because I care about work and its relationship to neighbors, and because I care about the specific work of advertising being done well and right, I consider "SimGospel" advertising to be an injustice.

Critics and Endorsers
Read the original Publishers Weekly review that dropped my sails (and sales) and then read the very different endorsements on the back cover. If you're looking for a Summer read, pick up a copy. (The reprint on the right has a different cover but the content is the same).


Geeks, Mormons and Wireless Evangelists

I think I'm getting wireless internet. I know, it's been around, like, forever, but we haven't needed it. Let me clarify: I haven't needed it. I work from home and hog up the computer. Even when it's available, my cluttered office works against the peaceful setting Julie would appreciate. She and our kids want their own space with a used laptop she just got from an IT friend.

But I don't know much about wireless. This two-page ad I found in the magazine archives (2007?) suggests that I should be concerned. I guess I knew that already so I'll concentrate instead on the number of interesting cultural connections it makes:

1. STDs = "If you have wireless, you could be giving wireless to everyone."

2. Ribbon campaigns = "Wireless Awareness."
3. Mormons = "Agent Samuel J. has a serious talk with his customer about network protection and the dangers of spreading wireless all over town." (I get the danger part, but are they hinting that Mormons spread good news or bad news? Or is the news good but the spreading is bad, or is the news bad but the spreading is good? Mixed metaphors always throw me.)

4. Greasy black hair = Geek Squad Agents (Emphasis on geek.)

5. Irony related to #1 = "Go ahead. Use us."

Perhaps most interesting to me is that if you were culturally ignorant, none of these references would make sense, leaving the ad entirely void of persuasion. This is risky but it's also a reminder that consumers collaborate (regardless of willingness) with advertisers to make ads work.

Click on the images to enlarge them.


The devil is sometimes green

"Does anyone ever question what green actually means? And why is it so important to just be green. What about how these companies treat their employees, give to their communities or provide more to the world than just another product or service?"

I always appreciate neighborly questions related to marketing. They're the Can I borrow your watering can? and Do you need a hand with your gutter? questions of the ad industry.

Matthew Ammirati asked the green questions today at MediaPost - the "largest and most influential media, marketing and advertising site on the net, providing news, blogs, directories to help our community of more than 100,000 members better plan and buy both traditional and online advertising."

I add MediaPost's bio because that's quite an audience for Ammirati's questions about multi-level moral questions.

Furnaces and everything else
As a consumer, I confess that our recent decision to replace a dysfunctional furnace was only as green as the tax credit we'd get in 2011. I actually do care quite a bit about earth care, partly because so much of my professional life has been based in the outdoors, but also because it is a biblical concern based on one of the earliest commandments and supported throughout the Old and New Testaments. Yet I'm still motivated by what so many green-in-name-only companies know all too well:

I'll buy what complements my wallet.

Ammirati, on a marketing-centric website of all places, calls me and green card carrying companies alike to a more mature treatment of the issue. "[H]ow can we as marketers not succumb to the pressures of green-washing and lend our support to companies that are truly doing good in the world?" he asks. "It comes down to evaluating how a company treats its employees, its impact on the community, and whether the company is a good steward of the environment."

Employee care? Community concern? These are general good will questions and more than typical green questions, but they're also Jesus questions. They have Good Samaritan and foot-washing written all over them. Furthermore, Ammirati isn't a local environmental club spokesperson. He and his company serve "over 350 companies across 55 industries representing over $1.2 billion in revenues." As he puts it, "This is not some hippie, crunchy granola group of activist companies getting together to talk to themselves."

Explicit and implicit faith
I don't know Ammirati's faith background, or whether his Trustee meetings open in a word of prayer. I wouldn't be surprised though if they did. What I do know is that his questions are questions I need to ask more often. And when those questions threaten my wallet, I need to find adequate solutions.

The task of living Christianly as a consumer is near paralyzing, but Jesus knew I'd feel paralyzed in the myriad of decisions to make, didn't he?

Read the rest of Ammirati's article, Is It Enough to Be Green? What about Being Good?

Note on the painting: Wikipedia's caption reads: "In the 15th century 'Saint Wolfgang and the Devil' by Michael Pacher, the Devil is green. Poets such as Chaucer also drew connections between the color green and the devil." The painting jumped out at me with its use of color, especially considering the reactions some in the Church have had to earth care as well as separations others have made from green's biblical roots. Plus it's a particularly bizarre depiction of the devil, isn't it?


Oreo: Milk's Favorite Summer Dip

I'm not a die-hard Oreo fan, but they're good, no doubt, and I'm a sucker for creative advertising like this pool ad. And it takes me back to the first two-thirds of my life when every cookie I ever ate went into the glass of milk.  Not just to be dipped or dunked, but immersed and left to sink for a surprise drink ending.  

If you're an Oreo fan, I mentioned them one other time here and the picture I featured may be the most beautiful and tantalizing cookie photo I've ever seen.

Here's to a refreshing summer!


Manatees and the Gator Aggravator

(The following isn't about advertising, but the call to care for all things. Though I'm sure it's part of my story that influenced why I care about the advertising industry, too.)

We moved to Crystal River, Florida, when I turned twelve. We were poor and running but Mom kept her head on straight and gave us room to thrive as best as she could.

I quickly discovered the water, living as we did a hundred yards from streams and marshes that within a quarter of a mile connected to the Crystal River itself. We’d frequent its shoreline beaches and famous springs and occasionally go boating with friends or fellow church members. Drifting across the intersection of inlets and outlets and jumping from the bow of a pontoon boat into hot Florida sun and bone-cold spring-fed water bring back good memories. What a marvelous place to frolic when you live in government housing.

Those were my middle school years and play wasn’t always mother-approved. Read the rest of this article at

High Calling Blogs is a network that writes about work, life and God.


Bob Garfield and a call for prophets

~ Frustration and gathering disgust that, despite the best of all forums for evaluating ad strategy and execution, my core principles espoused over a quarter century...seem to have had little or no effect on the practice of the craft. I continue to be awed and humbled by the best of what the industry produces. But I also think billions of client dollars every year are being squandered by narcissists, conmen, naifs and a number of blithering morons.

These sobering words come from Bob Garfield's list of reasons for ending AdReview, an industry-wide recognized column he began in 1975 in Advertising Age and ended last month.

If you've followed Garfield, you know that he's stirred the pot for two and a half decades. He has a cranky tone and his criticism often felt like grains of sand in your eye. Just when you think he'd let up, he'd blow more at you. Readers hurled their irritations back at him for years and his farewell post reflects this volatile relationship.

Yet he had his fans. Whether he pushed hard because it gave him a cheap thrill, or because ranting produced more site hits, or simply because he cared, Garfield was committed to cleaning house and there are plenty who loved him for it. I didn't always agree with him, but I admired his steadfast pursuit of better.

I believe advertisers can become good neighbors to the consumer next door. The prophetic work, however, can't be left to Bob Garfield and a few other nicer/nastier culture critics. It has to be done by all of us - the shelf-stockers and cart-fillers, the ad-making pied pipers and tune-entranced consumers, the bankers and parishioners. We're all in this business of discerning want and need and of serving our selves and others. There is room for satisfying both, yet the Great Commandments require enough from us that, if we all responded appropriately and constantly, we should see change.

Could the collective We reflect on our prophetic and lived-out response 25 years from now and be able to rewrite Garfield's frustration? I don't know, but we're still called to try.


Chasing Cool in Calling

From Chasing Cool: Standing Out in Today's Cluttered Marketplace:

Remember, the etymology of the word brand comes from the Old English for 'burn.' It's defined in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as 'a mark made by burning with a hot iron to attest manufacture or quality or to designate ownership.' A brand comes from a long-standing commitment and vision. It's not a reverse-engineering process quickly generated through trendy gimmicks."

I try to commit to the worthwhile. Life is too short and people too important for me to waste time and talent manufacturing what I'll regret branding. I want my stamp to count. Gimmicks tempt me but I know better than to invite them into the work I've been called to do.

Okay, so maybe I occaaaasionally give in to a gimmick. Perhaps you'll tell me if it's an unfitting one?


What you see is what you cry about

Alice and I went to Target the other night for a few odds (Zhu Zhu pet) and ends (toilet paper).  Heh heh.

She's six and wants good toilet paper, it seems, as she almost cried when I picked the store brand. She had made her own selection and I wondered, What's so great about Charmin? I looked through the crinkled plastic and couldn't discern any noticeable difference. And both packages weighed the same.

Then the light kicked on and I had her walk down the long row of brands to tell me what she saw on each of them:

"More bears."
"Baby on a cloud."

And on my frugal choice? Nothing.


Situational Sabbaths

If you work, you need to know about Situational Sabbaths. They aren't the same as traditional Sabbaths. Even if you know about them already, here's a teaser and article link to offer a little reminder. I certainly need it.

I work for a nonprofit organization and have spent many years of my adult life hovering around the U.S. poverty level. Despite the apparent hardship for a family of four, we are wealthy enough that we don’t feel the financial threat of a day off each week.

The Sabbath provides a break from necessary labor and offers a weekly chance to rest, play, garden, read, visit with friends, and worship with a community of believers. More importantly, perhaps, it’s supposed to teach us that we’re not entirely self-sufficient, that God cares and is in control, and that God will provide, just as Moses and the people of Israel learned during their exodus from Egypt.

I do a lot of the resting and visiting sort of Sabbath activities, but sacrificing one day of work per week doesn’t intimidate my independence. Rather, I stand with the visitor from a developing country who remarked, “It is amazing to me how much can be accomplished in this nation without God!”

This is a problem.

Richard Foster wrote, “More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.” Keeping the Sabbath is a form of fasting, which, like all fasting, has the potential of alerting us of unhealthy degrees of autonomy. Unfortunately, when NFL games and family picnics and overall abundance distract me from felt dependence on Sunday afternoons, I need something more than just a day off.

I need to observe Situational Sabbaths...

Read the rest of this article at The High Calling website.

The High Calling is a site about work and God.


Strongbow and the Church: Celebrating pork pie fillers of Melton Mowbray

Strongbow's alcoholic cider commercial made me wonder again why more churches don't have commissioning services and guest Sundays for average workers like they do for missionaries. Let's imagine how a commission might go for a recent advertising major and then I'll show you the ad:

Pastor: "Johnny, tell us a bit about this new position in Chicago. What will you be doing?"

(Johnny shares his job description)

Pastor: "Sounds interesting. When did you first know God was calling you into copywriting?"

(Short story about a favorite professor and Johnny's campus minister)

Pastor: "We're very excited for you and we'd like to pray for you. Lord, thank you for the way you call us into service. We know the ad world has its issues. Will you go before Johnny and prepare his path? Will you equip him with wisdom to know what to do and courage to do it? Please surround him with godly mentors and a healthy community of believers and may his work bring light and truth to our consumeristic society. We pray that he'll return to us with reports that bring honor to you. Help us to stand behind Johnny as he loves you and his fellow neighbor with all his heart, mind, soul and strength. Amen."

I suppose there are churches that do this. Strongbow, the UK's drink for hard workers (men only?), took a shot at it in an ad called "Honours." It takes place in a cathedral and borrows heavily from the trinitarian theme. We could use more of this kind of heralding and celebrating.

Strongbow: Honours


Land Rover on the other side of life

Getting out and away is essential human behavior. I know it every time I'm there and yet my day-timer says I could take it or leave it. What interests me about the following Land Rover ads is that I feel the need to get away from the full life they depict even though I've chosen to have the full life they depict.

That's the kicker. I like my life and nearly everything in it. So what causes me to fantasize about being in that vehicle on the other side of the planet?

Hat tip to Amy Corr of MediaPost's Out to Launch.


Fresh Step Cat Gallery -or- Without TV I'm Struggling for Material

It's Good Friday and only two days remain till I could potentially give up giving up TV. Life has been so busy that I'm not sure how much I would've watched anyway.

While I missed the Winter Olympics - every single moment of them - I did see 15 minutes of the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony in a China Buffet in southern Georgia. After nine days of backpacking and driving and being completely unplugged from the media, the students and I couldn't look away from all of the pretty colors and choreography on the screen. We were, General Tso's all about us, glued to the set.

Fresh Step
I have not, however, been unplugged from magazines during Lent, which is where I found PAM and the gallery of fine art below. Honestly, I'm not a cat fan or collector of kitsch, but as I said the first time I mentioned Fresh Step's ad campaign, if I had a cat this is the litter I'd buy. There may be ten brands with better absorbency and odor elimination, but these shots convince me. Enjoy my collection.

"It's hard to smell your litter box if you can't smell it."


Pam Helps You Pull It Off

Have you ever met Pam? I included a photo below. A special magazine camera caught her working in the meatloaf pan. She also keeps banana bread from becoming a permanent fixture and bundt cakes from staying where they don't belong.

Personification (also creaturefication and objectification, as the case may be) grabs my attention more than nearly any other advertising technique. Scrubby and Mr. Mucus don't do it for me for some reason, but I can't look away from Pam.

I love this genre when it's done well because it so clearly describes what the product does. As in the Liquid-Plumr creature link above, I can see it. This effectiveness at communication strikes the teacher in me as simple yet brilliant...and also convincing.


Verizon and World Vision: Marketing Partners

I had to call Verizon's customer service this morning and saw the following widget in their sidebar:

Not sure why it struck me. I mean, if you're doing good, reputable, work, then companies such as Verizon shouldn't hesitate to partner with you - even if you're a Christian organization - right?

This sort of "witness," or reputation by followers of Jesus, made me think of the recent New York Time Op-Ed article, Learning from the Sin of Sodom.  



So far, so good without the TV. I miss football but I've been going to bed earlier and reading more (Finished El Superzorro on Wednesday).

I need to take a two-week post hiatus and then I'll be back. In the meantime, here are a few of my archived faves:

Me, Happier.
Telling (most of) the truth
Shoemakers in Corinth
And "What do you think, Mara?"



Stouffer's: Let's Fix Dinner

"Can placemats keep your kids off drugs? Could a casserole make your relationship stronger? Can you give your daughter a better body image by setting the table?"

Stouffer's is asking these questions as part of their Let's Fix Dinner campaign, and I like it. I don't know how much of it is a PR stunt to increase sales, but the concern feels genuine to me. Just last night we ate at Grammy and Pappy's house around a pan of Stouffer's Five-Cheese Lasagna, and guess what? It didn't do more for us as a family than hot dogs or spinach salads (Okay, our kids would say it did more for us than spinach salads), but gathering around the table has been essential to our growth, and last night, Stouffer's was what fed our time together.

I like that a food company is playing it's part in strengthening community. I also appreciate the combination of expertise (in this case, professional food making) and calling (to build healthier families), which inspires similar combinations in my own work.  

Visit Let's Fix Dinner. Tell them thanks. Take their test. If you take it, come back and tell us how you fared. Or just tell us if you think they're on to something.  

Related post:
Hyundai Assurance


Sam, you’re not fully present; not paying attention; not living simply.

The old tradition of Lent began last Wednesday. I didn't grow up observing it, but I've gained a deep appreciation for what it represents and for the excuse it provides to give up something for six weeks. I'm telling you this because I decided to give up TV this time around.

So what? Well, it means two things:

  1. I won't get as much advertising material as I've found during the past season of watching a serious amount of TV (I'm still incredibly below the national average of +/-5 hours a day, but that number seems absurdly non-human so I'll compare myself to the humans on the healthier end of that spectrum. And speaking of humans and non-humans, this TV viewing summary from 2009 brings aliens into question.)
  2. I'll have a chance to renew my viewing sensitivity. Six weeks away from TV has a way of sharpening my senses to what's good and what's bad about it, and it's been several years since taking my last hiatus. It's time for a lens cleaner.
To learn more about Lent, read my recent reflection on it at Fracturedness and Our Need for Lent.


Take It On Tuesdays: "Little Debbie, anyone?"

Take It On Tuesdays is a weekly encouragement for you to either Take It or Take It On. You'll use both depending on the work situation. You may need to turn the other cheek or confront, surrender or stand your ground, step back or step up. Here's to knowing which and when, and having the courage to follow through.


When I was eleven, I remember spending one long summer day riding bikes with Eric and his brother. We rode for miles up and down the western Pennsylvania hills on BMX bikes (read: no granny gears). At that young age, we had plenty of energy but little common sense, so while we covered a great distance, we hadn't considered the return trip. In fact, by the time we stopped traveling, we had almost zero energy to return.

Coincidentally (perhaps), we crashed in the parking lot of a small convenient store. We were starving and weak. And we had no money. In a very memorable and (I thought) desperate act, I went inside and painstakingly took a Little Debbie snack from the shelf without the owner's notice. 

I had never committed such a crime, but we were hungry and I was excited to provide a remedy. I felt brave, like a mini hero. The brothers, however, were shocked. 

"You have to take it back! It doesn't matter if we're hungry - you can't do that!" 

Here I was the church-goer of the three and yet they were serving as our communal conscience. So I took it back. The store owner may have given the .25 cent cake to us had we told him our story but that hadn't crossed my mind. We were genuinely in need of food and I justified a way to get it.

Similar deeds take place every day in the workplace: a Little Debbie in accounting, a Little Debbie of plagiarism.... When you're tempted, you can either take it, or Take It. Go the hard route. You might let a boss or client down, but go hungry anyway.

My friends made me do the right thing and I hope yours do, too.

Related post: Art Worth Doing


Take It On Tuesdays: Convince someone else to say No

Take It On Tuesdays is a weekly encouragement for you to either Take It or Take It On. You'll use both depending on the work situation. You may need to turn the other cheek or confront, surrender or stand your ground, step back or step up. Here's to knowing which and when, and having the courage to follow through.


I had a boss who felt responsible for meeting the spiritual needs of all 3500 students on campus. Her job description affirmed this task, yet even with the combined help of our entire department, success was clearly unattainable. Ideal but unattainable.

So I chose to Take It On. In retrospect, I pushed back too hard (Thirty five does sound kinda radical as a substitute for 3500!), but I knew our approach wasn't realistic. We were heading for burn-out.

I had to say no to my boss. Even if she chose not to say no to her boss in turn, I couldn't continue at this unmanageable pace. Strategic goals have their place and it would have been great to list "3500 Served" on an annual report, but not when it costs everyone in the long run. 

Here's the rub. If the ladder rungs above expect 3500 and I decide 35, they can make me pack my bags. If they demand that I churn out deadline work and one day I decide to slow down, they may just find a starry-eyed replacement.     

Name a burnout area in your job this week. How would you build a case against it? What argument could you develop? How might you explain the proposed results? Think these through, and then with equal bits of grace, courage and shrewdness, convince someone else on the ladder to Take It On with you.        


Hyundai Assurance

Hyundai's approach has that Public Service Announcement feel and (though it could be the guy's voice) it strikes me as honorable.  

"...because the economy hasn't really turned around for any of us, until it turns around for all of us."

This line does make me Think About It - not as a car purchaser at this time, but as a neighbor to Hyundai. I asked Greg Stielstra about the fine line between serving and being served. He wrote Faith-Based Marketing: The Guide to Reaching 140 Million Christian Customers after marketing Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Life to international fame. The interview gets a little spicy in part 2, but I appreciated his insight which you can read here.


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