Why you should care about stickers on your fruit

Stickers on fruits and vegetables are officially known as PLU codes or price look-up codes.

Initially, in the 1990s, they contained bar codes only to facilitate inventory control. Soon, logos and website URLs were added. Now they are rather ingenious, tiny billboards.

In fact, a PLU sticker turns a banana into a brand. It doesn’t stop there. For example, put a few lettuce heads into a plastic bag, and, surprise, they turn into a “value-added vegetable product.” The “value-added” piece translates into more profit for food distributors, presumably because putting lettuce heads into a plastic bag with a PLU code on it makes our lives more convenient.

The 1400 PLU codes in circulation around the world today symbolize the globalization and the commercialization of basic food commodities.

I’ve been exploring this theme in the PLU Codes Project. This multi-year project includes a series of multi-media visual art pieces — all of them intended to make you smile, and, maybe, make you pause for a moment. I welcome your comments.

Photo credit: Detail of la Orana Maria, 1891, modified with PLU code, trademark TM Chiquita. Original image: Paul Gauguin (1848–1903). At the MET in NY, NY. Oil on canvas 113.7 cm x 87.6 cm. Bequest of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951.  Concept copyright 2017 © by Nandy Heule

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New Bathroom etiquette?

toilet

Have you noticed the “flushing signs” popping up in public bathrooms? With the gradual switch to electronic toilets, we seem to be a bit confused these days about bathroom etiquette.

The slow introduction of new technology can have unintended consequences. Just in case you conclude this piece is about Monday Motivation only, read my post on the gradual introduction of a new brand identity  and how this may have unintended consequences.

To flush or not to flush?

My most recent example (left) comes from the wonderfully renovated Robertson building on Spadina Street in Toronto.

No-touch taps, no-flush toilets, no-touch hand dryers, automatic soap dispensers — it seems to be a trend. What’s the end goal, I ask? Will it cut the spread of germs? Suggestions?

Please send me your photos of similar signs! I’ll eventually share my growing collection of these types of signs that help us navigate the brave new world of hi-tech bathrooms.

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Why Pope Francis should stop Tweeting this Christmas

Pope frances

Christmas is around the corner so this is as good a time as any to urge Pope Francis to close down his Twitter account.

Pope Francis has been praised for engaging his followers on social media. His Twitter account has gained 8.15M English language followers since early 2012. The Holy See “follows” nobody (makes sense, I suppose); his eight ‘followers’ are duplicate Twitter feeds in different languages such as Arabic, Polish, Spanish and German with a combined following of an additional 12M.

It sounds revolutionary. The most ordinary individuals can now get access to personal, inspirational messages from the most prominent Christian in the world at any time, at any place.

For example, during the Paris attacks last month, the Holy See tweeted, “I’m deeply saddened by the terrorist attacks in Paris. Please join me in prayer for the victims and their families #PrayersforParis.” The Tweet was liked 65K times and re-tweeted 40K times.

This is what celebrity Katy Perry told the world: “Guys, it’s time to #PrayforParis right now.” She outperformed the Holy Father. Her 79M followers re-tweeted the message 49K times and 63K liked it.

And that’s the rub. Although @pontifex may make the Pope seem  accessible, he is more likely diluting his personal brand.

Just imagine scrolling through an average Twitter feed:

  • Justin Bieber: @whoisvers Why is this Justin Bieber album so fucking amazing
  • Eminem: I’m ready for war, got machetes and swords… #ShadyWars
  • CNN: Dashing through the snow In a one horse open sleigh O’er the Capitol Hill fields we go http://cnn.it/1maAE1o
  • Pope Francis: One goal for each day: to convey the tenderness of Christ to those who are most in need.

Really?

Accessibility is good, but not at the expense of erasing important differences in status, authority and influence. No matter what one may think about the Catholic Church or the Pope, he is not on equal footing with celebrities and 24-hour TV channels. At least I don’t hope so. This Christmas, let’s stop pretending.

Cash and content are king in our digital world

cartoonby Nandy Heule

An SEO marketing company recently plastered simple flyers on telephone poles to advertise their services in mid-town Toronto.

One of their offers included “content bundles.” For example, three articles and 40 social media posts each month will cost you $99 for 1,500 words.

Maybe it sounds self-serving, but I’m concerned about this service offering.

The general consensus now suggests “content is king.” Your online info will be read if it is of serious interest to the readers you are targeting as well as SEO-friendly. Moreover, such content needs to be free of grammatical errors, typos and plagiarism.

A steady trickle of new, quality content will improve search engine performance. Such blog posts and news updates showcase an organization’s experience, creativity, and commitment to excellence. Quality content helps build influence and reputation, not just web traffic. It builds brand and bottom lines.

It makes sense to hire an experienced freelance writer who can work with rough notes, industry research, client success stories and other materials. She can turn such information into compelling copy — content that tells a brand story, demonstrates positive impact, and builds influence. Please plan to pay more than $99 for 1,500 words for this process. But, be confident that what you look like online matches the quality work you provide.

If the content marketing budget can’t exceed $99 a month, talk to a good writer who can produce 1 or 2 pieces of quality material. Less may very well be more!  A client testimonial, an industry event, an inspirational quote, a staff bio, an image with a caption, or a factoid can all provide strong content on a limited budget.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need a Toronto-based freelance writer to have a look at your content and evaluate its effectiveness.

Google key word search: How Federal parties label Canadians

NDP-cloud“The Conservatives refer to Canadians primarily as taxpayers, the NDP talks about the working class, and the Liberals like to say we are citizens,” said Liberal candidate Rob Oliphant recently at an All Candidates Meeting in Toronto.

Sounds good. It seems like a neat way to summarize the core difference between the parties.

Can we confirm Mr. Oliphant’s observation? We informally reviewed party platforms and websites for the type of key phrases they use. We used widely available online tools.

The Conservative platform refers to tax, taxes and taxpayers almost 200 times. The term hard-working family and hard-working Canadian is also used over and over again.

In contrast, the NDP platform refers to taxpayers four times, mentions citizens eight times and makes numerous references to working parents, working moms and dads, and the working poor. We could not find any references to the “working class” as a group.

The Liberals refer to taxpayers twice and refer to our role as citizens six times. Working parents are barely mentioned in the lengthy platform. (Then again, all parents contribute to society and work hard, including stay-at-home parents.)

What about the websites of the leading parties?

If you need more evidence the Conservatives like to control communications, here it is: several widely used online tools to analyze key words were unable to search www.conservative.ca.

In contrast, identical tools applied to www.ndp.ca and www.liberal.ca  reveal some interesting points. “Tom Mulcair”, and not much else, seems to matter most to the content writers of the NDP site; very few additional key words are used. The Liberal site uses key words such as “real change” and, as expected, the phrase “Justin Trudeau” pops up regularly. Middle class is also a key phrase on the Liberal website. Neither key word search produced our desired terms: citizen, taxpayer or working class Canadians.

So how would you prefer to be labelled, if you needed to make a choice? The Conservatives seem to have hijacked the term (hard) working (class) families while the NDP fails to claim its roots as a party fighting for the traditional working class. If the Liberals want to appeal to our pride as citizens, neither their platform nor website make much of an effort.

So, take your pick on October 19. What would you rather be: a taxpayer, a citizen, a member of the working class, all of the above, or just a middle class Canadian who wants to protect the economy while bringing real change to Ottawa during a time when we all worry about health care and the environment?

NDP’s new appetite for balanced budgets predictable. Learn why!

Icecream vendorsDon’t be surprised by the NDP’s sudden passion for balanced budgets during this election campaign.

It may sound like expedient role reversal, a cynical attempt to distill fears about the party’s big spending reputation.

However, I’d like to argue that Tom Mulcair’s appetite for balanced budgets was rather predictable for anyone familiar with a long-established theory. The Median Voter Theorem explains how political parties in democracies will by necessity move to the centre if they are serious about winning elections. It’s about brand building and PR, not ideology.

Have a look at this 6-minute Animation. It helps explain the Theorem by applying it to a non-political scenario. Two ice cream vendors (the parties) fight to gain customers (voters) in a city block. It also explains the Theorem’s origins in Harold Hotelling’s spatial model of firm strategies in a competitive marketplace.

So, expect more of the same from our political leaders as this campaign unfolds and the fight for undecided voters intensifies. All leaders will move as far to the centre as they can without completely alienating their core constituencies.

Why Trudeau’s pics help cement relationships with young voters

TrudeauGlobe and Mail’s Daniel Leblanc recently asked photo editor Michael Davis to evaluate pics distributed by  PM Stephen Harper, and party leaders Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair.  His feature A Snapshot of How Federal Leaders Frame their Image deserves a second look now Canada Day officially kicked off the political BBQ season.

In evaluating the politicians’ images, Davis declares Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau the winner when it comes to building a positive brand image with his official pics. (Remarkably, Mr. Davis sifted through an estimated one million pictures while working as the lead photo editor in the George W. Bush White House. He can’t be accused of political bias).

Mr. Trudeau “is willing to be openly perceived as he is, not as he is crafted,” observes Mr. Davis. He adds, “It suggests he is much more open to being photographed. As a consequence, he comes across as a much more sincere, caring candidate and human.”

And, I suggest, this is yet another reason why Mr. Trudeau seems to appeal to younger voters. They have been surrounded by an unprecedented stream of social media images since their early teens.  Younger voters can spot a fake pic from a mile distance. Photo ops of smiling men in dark suits holding babies? The Snapchat, Instagram and Flickr crowd won’t buy the message.