The Birth of White Mystery Airheads (and What It Taught Me)

Airheads White Mystery package
(Reading Time: 7 minutes)

It was early 1993.  I was less than a year out of college, and the Assistant Brand Manager of Airheads candy.  (A title that no doubt made my parents very proud.)

After the successful launch of Blue Raspberry Airheads in August 1992, we were searching for the next new flavor to add to our lineup.

We took all the standard steps – reviewing category sales data, reading trade magazines, meeting with flavor suppliers, etc.

And taking the standard steps, unsurprisingly, resulted in a list of the usual suspects.

Continue reading “The Birth of White Mystery Airheads (and What It Taught Me)”

Two-Minute Book Review: Atomic Habits

(Reading Time: 2 minutes)

“Atomic Habits,” by James Clear, will be among the most valuable books I read in 2019.

Atomic Habits James Clear

I was drawn to it because, as a soloist, my time is my inventory.  I’m always looking for ways to do more of the stuff that matters, both professionally and personally.  With the subtitle “An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones,” I was hoping “Atomic Habits” would help me identify some areas where I’m getting in my own way.

The author delivers the goods.  Clear describes the book as “an operating manual,” and there’s a heavy focus on systems: “You do not rise to the level of your goals,” Clear writes. “You fall to the level of your systems.”

Continue reading “Two-Minute Book Review: Atomic Habits”

The 2019 Super Bowl Ads: Who Unleveled the Playing Field?

Doritos Super Bowl Chance the Rapper Backstreet Boys

(Reading Time: 6 minutes)By now, we’re at the point where we know what to expect from the Super Bowl ads.

Before the game, you could have jotted down a list of what you thought you would see, based on history.  That list probably would have included:

  • Celebrities galore!
  • Animals (especially dogs) at their most undeniably adorable
  • People or animals doing silly dances
  • Inspiring Statements of High-Minded Purpose
  • The unusual, the surreal, the flat-out bizarre (with or without reason)
  • Production values to rival a summer blockbuster film

You can make this kind of list for almost any category.  Sometimes, it’s comically easy to do.  And the more “tried, true and expected” the items on that list, the more ripe that category is for some rule-breaking.

So who broke the rules with this year’s Super Bowl ads? Continue reading “The 2019 Super Bowl Ads: Who Unleveled the Playing Field?”

The 20 Best Books I Read in 2018

(Reading Time: 8 minutes)Here are the 20 best books I read in 2018.  These books weren’t necessarily released in 2018.  And they’re not just business books, because there’s more to life than business.

Instead, these are the 20 books, of the 38 I completed in 2018, that I’d recommend to a friend or colleague.  My hope is that you’ll find a few of these intriguing enough to check out.

I read several of these for the third or fourth time.  Given the oppressive awfulness of the daily news, this is one way I sought out “comfort food.”  (Another: Plenty of ambient music.)

They’re listed alphabetically by author.  And I’ve provided links to Amazon for each.  This is for your convenience – I’m not an Amazon affiliate and I’m not here to make money off your clicks.

With that, here are the 20 books that moved me, changed me or comforted me in 2018: Continue reading “The 20 Best Books I Read in 2018”

Two-Minute Book Review: Bad Blood

(Reading Time: 2 minutes)Bad Blood John CarreyrouThe story of Theranos, the one-time unicorn with the $9 billion valuation, has already entered the ranks of legendary cautionary tales.  In “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” Wall Street Journal writer John Carreyrou puts together all the pieces behind its rise and swift decline.

It’s a fascinating, scary read.

Carreyrou is an investigative journalist, and his take is fact-driven, not character-driven.  (Expect more character development in the upcoming movie, starring Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.)  But the facts speak for themselves, and will keep you engrossed. Continue reading “Two-Minute Book Review: Bad Blood”

Let’s Cut the Millennial Crap

Millennials Technology

(Reading Time: 2 minutes)Well, it happened again.

Earlier this week, in a seemingly unrelated conversation, a stranger found a chance to take a swipe at Millennials, and went for it!  According to this person, Millennials not only “don’t take direction well,” they often “don’t even want to show up to work at all.”

Huh.  I’m a crusty old Gen-Xer myself.  But I’ve worked with, and even hired, a number of Millennials.  And I don’t have any proof that their work ethic or character is any worse than that of (say) my college graduating class. Continue reading “Let’s Cut the Millennial Crap”

Is Southwest Airlines Still a Great Brand?

Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 Engine

(Reading Time: 5 minutes)The last few weeks have been bad for Southwest Airlines.

So bad, in fact, that it’s fair to ask: Is Southwest still a great brand?  Let’s discuss the cases for and against.

The Case For: Southwest IS a Great Brand

There was a time, not so long ago, when I would use Southwest in my keynotes and seminars as a clear example of a great brand.

I would start by asking the audience to join me as I painted a picture of Major Airline Advertising.  This was easy to do, since Major Airline Advertising is both familiar and largely interchangeable.  It might go something like this: Continue reading “Is Southwest Airlines Still a Great Brand?”

J.K. Rowling Is a Hack

(Reading Time: < 1 minute)J.K. Rowling is a hack.

I don’t believe that, but some people do.  Devotees of Hemingway think she uses too many adverbs, probably.  And some call her stories “derivative.”

J.K. Rowling Is a Hack
Hero to many, hack to a few. (Credit:

Many, many others love Rowling’s vividly imaginative worlds and the lessons of her stories.  More than a few people even have Harry Potter tattoos.  And, as Roy Peter Clark notes, Rowling’s gift for naming characters is virtually unparalleled. Continue reading “J.K. Rowling Is a Hack”

The Best Brands Use Feedback Loops Both Ways

Feedback Loops Matthew Fenton Chicago Brand Strategy

(Reading Time: 2 minutes)Regular readers of this blog know that I’m an advocate of feedback loops.

There are dozens of ways that you can (and should) use feedback loops to better understand your consumers.  These include advisory panels, ethnography, surveys and so on.

But too often, we brand leaders forget that we’re an active part of these feedback loops.  We need to send signals as well as receive them.  And we can build stronger bonds by signaling the right things to the people we serve. Continue reading “The Best Brands Use Feedback Loops Both Ways”