If you’re ever invited to a VIP Tasting event, just say yes. Especially if it’s part of a major rebranding effort, and double-especially (I used it, so now it’s a real word.) if it involves pizza. Actually, the only pizza included in this one was the new Sunny Side Up Bacon + Potato pizza. You’re correct:  two eggs on top. Now that’s what I call planning ahead if you want cold pizza for breakfast!

It’s mid-afternoon at the California Pizza Kitchen in Tampa, and the staff feels energized. This tasting is a show within a show, surrounded by actual paying customers. One reason they’re pumped up: they’re pioneers. For now, this “Taste the Next Chapter” rebranding movement only includes about a dozen of the more than 250 CPK locations. So, the general manager and the servers—all top notch and double-extremely well prepared for this matinée show—are already insiders, the advance team, the elite culinary forces sent to the front of the front to ensure all-out success for all the rest of the locations that will follow.

Ideally, the staff at all the other locations will catch this excitement, when it’s their time, because that’s actually one of the most powerful benefits of a major rebrand of this nature:  the enthusiasm and pride of the new translates into a more engaging, positive, and memorable experience for the customers. And so the business grows. Keep in mind that this large-scale rebranding effort is going on without a single tweak to the company’s logo. This is a personality change, not a logo facelift. It’s all about expectations. The experience.

The CPK rebranding project goes way beyond the menu, too. The restaurants are all going sustainable, with as many elements as possible being repurposed from elsewhere. In Tampa, they’ve created one wall entirely from a patchwork of wine crate sides. It has “Let me take a selfie”  written all over it. Not literally. I’m just saying. I’m pretty sure the old CPKs don’t have real bars where you can hang out; this one definitely does. You can twist around at the bar to watch the action in the kitchen—pizza tossing included—if the game on the flatscreen is not going your way.

Back to the new menu: The non-pizza entrées are getting the spotlight, along with the drinks. You know you’re going upscale when the menu includes suggestions for wine pairings. The Fire-Grilled Ribeye topped with creamy bleu cheese butter likes to hang out with Rodney Strong, a Cabernet Sauvignon. If you like drinking Clos Du Bois Unoaked Chardonnay, then you might want to pair that with the Hearth-Roasted Halibut. Or vice versa. (Full disclosure:  I didn’t actually see a hearth.) Being more of a beer guy myself, I love that the suggested pairing for the Mahi Mahi Tacos is Corona Extra. I didn’t make that up. Go see for yourself.

The staff continues the barrage of new dishes and sides, actions that are not lost on a table of “regular” patrons nearby. Perhaps the staff has shifted a bit too much service to our side of the house and neglected others by mistake. If anyone from CPK is reading this, you might want to bring around some samples to everyone and tip them off as to what’s going on.

Anyway, as we’re doing our best to put a dent in the desserts—this is, after all, about the tenth course of all the new items—the regional marketing guy asks us if anyone feels adventurous enough to go back to the kitchen and throw some pizza dough. And that’s when I remembered:  This is a pizza place.


If you’re a college football fan, right now you’re probably going through some major withdrawal. Thanks to a stroke or two of genius from the creatives at Pixar, though, you now have a worthy goal to pursue in the offseason:  admission to Monsters University!

The spot Pixar is running to promote its summer prequel to Monsters, Inc. is part parody, part inspiration, all monsterously perfect.

You’ve seen the sweeping, sun-drenched campus aerial shots before. Again and again, from every team’s school during every college game ever. But which school is this? The first clue is the bloated green hand that’s writing an equation on glass (probably Dr. Rufus Oozeman’s, from the School of Engineering). Then there’s the MU flag in the distance, with the eye from the Monsters, Inc. logo. But the real payoff is our first glimpse of a real monster whose first word of dialogue is “I”. And she has three eyes. Get it?

This is just a brilliant way to grab viewers’ attention, suck them into a false world of humorous wonder, and deliver them directly to the gates of the fake college website of MU. As we speak, high school seniors and their parents are counting the days until the college admissions decisions come out in April. Now everyone will be counting the hours until the release of Monsters University (June 21st, according to IMDB).

For the record (school transcript?), here’s the script of the spot:

“Imagine an education where extraordinary comes standard, and the power that drives us can’t be contained. Where those who embrace their history become those who create it.

Imagine a university where I… where I… where I (eye?) can be unique… in a family of thousands. Where I can love to learn… and learn what I love.

Your future is knocking. Open the door. Monsters University.”

Here’s some good news for those of you who can’t walk past a university store without buying some gear. The store on the MU website sells real stuff. It’s run, in real life (wherever that is), by DisneyStore.com.

See you during admit weekend! In the meantime, go get a quick marketing education now at http://monstersuniversity.com/edu.

Here’s some good news for those of you who can’t walk past a university store without buying some gear. The store on the MU website sells real stuff. It’s run, in real life (wherever that is), by DisneyStore.com.

See you during admit weekend! In the meantime, go get a quick marketing education now at http://monstersuniversity.com/edu.


Kudos to Microsoft, but not necessarily for the new logo design. Four colored squares. Sans serif font. As the Grinch would say:  “Cut, print, check the gate. Moving on.”

Actually, they have probably done the right thing by simply reducing the Windows(R) element to its abstract essence. No perspective, but after a trillion online and print impressions over the coming years, it will still evoke Microsoftness. When a company spends more than $9 billion on R&D every year, they tend to spend a bit on advertising, too.

So, enough about the logo. To me, the smartest thing about the rebranding effort is the lack of a tagline to go with it. True, Microsoft hasn’t stuck its latest line — “Your potential. Our passion.” — on much lately, but the absence of a tagline to accompany the new logo means that the marketing folks at Microsoft have decided to go tagline free for good. Okay, for now.

It’s not like they’ve had a brilliant heritage of tagline wisdom. As best as I can tell, here’s the whole lineage in recent memory:  “Where Do You Want To Go today?” > “Life Without Walls” > “Be What’s Next” > “Your potential. Our passion.” Maybe you see it, but I don’t find any “Just do it.” winners in the bunch.

There are really only two solutions for any decision about a company’s tagline:  work the challenge ridiculously hard until you find the only word or set of words that completely expresses the essence of the brand, or shut up.

Let’s look at a handful of examples in the tech world:

VMware:  “The power behind your cloud.” I think this works in an “Intel inside” kind of way. Maybe not perfect, but good.

DELL:  “The power to do more” I think they license this tagline from The Home Depot. Not sure. What I do know is that DELL’s “power” tagline does absolutely nothing to draw from its heritage as the first technology company to actually personalize their products. So, why not “DELL:  The power of YOU”? Just saying.

Xerox:  “Ready For Real Business” Gee, Xerox, what kind of business were you ready for until now?

Norton: “Protecting the Stuff that matters.” Like. It lets the customer decide what to be insecure about. Plus, in the tagline world, the word “matters” is really, really hot.

IBM:  No tagline. Correct.

So, with Microsoft, with such a disparate range of products and services and such a long and involved brand history (sounds like IBM), the only option is silence. No tagline at all. Congratulations, Microsoft. “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.”

As independent film festivals go, Sundance has earned its top-shelf spot as the leading premium brand. It’s where everyone goes. Where the deals get done.

Meanwhile, 1,900 miles, three months, and another fifty degrees warmer away, we’re witnessing the continued growth of another film industry brand:  The Sarasota Film Festival. SFF for short.

SFF has come a long way in its first 14 years. I could hold up factoids like the growth from an eight-film mini-festival to an annual ten-day, 230-film magnet for some of the most talented and respected people in filmmaking. But I’m too lazy to dig up facts, and you’re probably more interested in the names, anyway. So, here goes:  a thick paragraph-length list of just some of the talent that has been to Sarasota for the festival through the years:

Alan Alda, Robert Altman, Kevin Bacon, Robert Benton, Elmer Bernstein, Lawrence Blume, Steve Buscemi, Leslie Caron, Chevy Chase, Patricia Clarkson, Jill Clayburgh, Bryan Cranston, Billy Crystal, Geena Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Richard Dreyfuss, Olympia Dukakis, Sam Elliott, Peter Falk, Louise Fletcher, Ben Foster, Marcia Gay Harden, Woody Harrelson, Rutger Hauer, Todd Haynes, Tippi Hedren, Werner Herzog, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Felicity Huffman, Allison Janney, Norman Jewison, Shirley Jones, Kevin Kline, John Landis, William H. Macy, Wendy Mallick, Howie Mandel, Jackie Mason, Ismail Merchant, Penelope Ann Miller, Rita Moreno, Connie Nielsen, Edward Norton, Robert Osborne, Bill Paxton, Christopher Plummer, Sidney Pollack, Jeff Probst, Paul Reiser, Jeremy Renner, Gena Rowlands, Tom Selleck, Brooke Shields, Gene Simmons, Christian Slater, Patrick Stewart, Rod Steiger, Michael Stipe, Charlize Theron, Robert Towne, Michelle Trachtenburg, Stanley Tucci, Liv Ullman, Jon Voight, Paula Wagner, Patrick Wilson, Michael York.

Now, if the social network is paying attention, my sneaky little trick of dropping all those names (including the biggie:  Sundance Film Festival) will help generate even more notice for the Sarasota Film Festival. Let the brand expand!

Note:  Next-Mark is proud and a bit humbled to have been entrusted this year with doing much of the design work for SFF.

The geniuses at Apple and their longtime agency TBWA/Media Arts Lab have nailed it again with their collection of spots for the iPhone 4S. The “Santa” [http://www.apple.com/iphone/videos/#tv-ads-santa] spot manages to squeeze all the magic of Christmas (and the 4S) into thirty seconds as we learn how Santa now relies on Siri to get him through the night.

The mystical soundtrack, a segment of “Goldengrove 2” [http://tvcfblog.blogspot.com/2011/12/apple-iphone-4s-santa-commercial-song.html] by Keith Kenniff (a.k.a. Helios), sets the mood perfectly for Santa to work with Siri to find houses, get a quick nag from Mrs. Claus, and check destination temps as his cold worsens and his cookie count grows.

The brilliance of branding here (or the value of the ubiquitous Apple brand):  they don’t even have to name the product. Nowhere in the spot is there a mention or title or anything that spells out that this is the iPhone 4S. But who wouldn’t know? The Apple brand lets them take it to the final shot, where the Apple logo hangs in the snow-filled night sky like a full moon. Always there. Always on.

Now, like most great technology ads, this one fudges the speed just a tad. For anyone who has done the math on the logistics of Santa, this also looks like a perfect match. I decided to test Siri on one of Santa’s questions:  “How do I get to Charlie Grant’s house?” Siri did this just fine, although it did take about 15 seconds for the map to pop up for me, whereas Santa had Charlie’s house all mapped out in less than a second. Maybe that house he was in had an amazing wifi connection right by the fireplace. Anyway, with 3.7 billion stops ahead of him, let’s hope Santa only needed directions for a few houses. Otherwise, my math suggests he’d need to tack on an extra 17,000 years of wait time.

Apple and TBWA are even brilliant with their disclaimer. In faded white text toward the bottom of Santa’s sleigh, while  in the much more interesting part of the frame above, Santa is asking “How does the rest of my day look?”, we see “Sequences shortened” (Translation:  Serving Suggestion, or “We made everything happen instantly. Cool, huh?”).

Random factoids:  Santa is left-handed, except when asking how cold it is in Raleigh, where he becomes ambidextrous for about 17 frames. The iPhone 4S contains advanced wireless hand-warming technology, thus eliminating the need for gloves.

Yes, Virginia, I love this ad. It’s fast, it’s funny and, yet again, it shows how Apple can still launch new products with a little help from its famous friends.