When Advertising Goes Bad

"We are MW, and we will not tone it down."

"Honk if you're not mayo"

Kraft Foods has been trying to rebrand Miracle Whip as an "edgy" condiment. A condiment appropriate for the outsider. A condiment for the young radical. 

In simplest terms, Miracle Whip is mayonnaise mixed with salad dressing making a sweeter, bolder-tasting spread that can be used in place of its more refined cousin. Developed in 1933, the new "salad dressing spread" premiered at the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago. According to the Kraft Foods archivist (seriously), the spread was a "instant hit". All that sugar appeals to an American palate.

By comparisonmayonnaise was invented in France in 1756 by Duke de Richelieu's chef. In 1905, the first ready-made mayonnaise was sold at Richard Hellman's New York deli and, in 1912, mayonnaise was mass marketed and called "Hellman's Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise. 

Mayonnaise has never felt the need to rebrand itself. Maybe that's the prerogative of a condiment that is a staple of French cooking and has been around for over 250 years.

Regardless of which condiment is "better", this post is about advertising and the, frankly, painful-to-experience campaign to make-over Miracle Whip (now referred to as MW).

Stacy's Deviled Eggs
Additional ads include: Drew's Sandwich, Jim's Artichoke Dip, and Debi's Potato Salad
Available on YouTube.com

The mass-produced food industry is no stranger to overwrought ad campaigns that try to convince a gullible public (usually children or young adults) that snack chips or breakfast cereal or American Cheese Food is so radical and awesome that the buyer will gain some borrowed equity of coolness by the sheer act of having it in their cupboard.

There is something so forced and "wrong" about these campaigns. Certainly, those of us who work in marketing, advertising, or business can recognize what these companies are trying to do and (hopefully) don't fall prey to the message. But, what about people who DO actually fall for it? If Kraft Foods screams it loud enough and long enough, how many people will start to believe that they'll be as provocative and cutting-edge as the MW ads imply?

There is no doubt that we all choose our brands based on the perception we wish to project. However, is it reasonable to expect people to think of Miracle Whip as a cool, radical product instead of a standard ingredient in most 1950's salad recipes?

To their credit, Kraft's 2012-2013 campaign focused on the polarizing nature of mayo versus MW. It was a very risky move. It's possible that a consumer could identify with the mayo-loving celebrity instead of the MW-loving celebrity, thus swaying them over to mayo. Although, the sheer nature of the campaign was to admit that people were already deeply entrenched in one camp or the other. If nothing else, it was a fun campaign that recognized and celebrated the "battle of the condiments" even if it didn't seem to advance the product in any significant way.

Kraft may have been better served by more directly acknowledging its roots and updating the narrative. Happy families creating new food memories with the addition of Miracle Whip would have been a lovely nod to the past while re-introducing the product to a younger audience. But, that's not the direction they chose. Perhaps because Hellman's Mayonnaise was celebrating their 100th anniversary and advertising nostalgia and recipes, MW felt that they needed to position themselves as diametrically opposed.

Either way, it's tough to make condiments interesting. Perhaps the best (and possibly the most successful) ad campaign for a condiment was Grey Poupon's "One of Life's Finer Pleasure's". These informative and slightly humorous ads transformed the Dijon mustard into a common household staple.

Grey Poupon was acquired Kraft Foods in 1999. In 2013, Kraft "updated" the original, groundbreaking ad with this version:

The 2013 ad was nominated for an Emmy award for best commercial. Kraft seems to be nothing if not predictable in their advertising approach. Funny, sure. But how does it advance the brand?

So, what brought on this little treatise? A text message that read: "Do you find Miracle Whip's insistence that it's an "edgy condiment" as bizarre as I do?" which lead to a five minute discussion of how annoying the campaign is - at least to Cassandra and me.

What camp are you in? Are you an outsider? Radical and ready to challenge the world with your bold decision to use Miracle Whip? Or are you old-skool and enjoy the refined ("boring" according to Kraft) taste of mayonnaise? As I write this, I'm eating french fries with mayo to dip. I guess you know which camp I'm in. ;)

Don't fall prey to crazy ad campaigns people! Take it from a marketing and advertising professional. Find brands you can believe in and choose your products wisely. My words of wisdom for today.

- Alex


While Alex has had hands itchy to get out in the dirt and plant, my spring fever has manifested in a different way. Open windows, the sound of rain, and the familiar chirps of birds back from their southern vacation inspire me to clean and sew.

My studio was the focus of my most recent cleaning frenzy. Walls washed, stash organized (as best it could be), and clutter begone! It now feels delicious to be in this space.

Sometimes you have to make a mess to get things clean.

All I want to do is bind fabric with thread. Quilts, garments...you name it! Cotton yardage feels especially crisp and fresh in my hands. (Damn, I sound like one sick individual!)

Ahhh...I can breathe in here...

I've also been loving hand-sewing. Needle, floss, and the tight drum of an embroidery hoop have been just right while I'm watching a movie or sitting on a park bench at the playground.

Chicory coffee and handwork, yes please!
Chain stitch is like a little meditation.
I've picked up my knitting, but yarn is too heavy. Maybe it is me trying to shake off the dregs of the recent arctic blast...I don't know. But the knitting needles are not calling me.



PS: In the image of my little embroidery toolkit above, you will see the best marking pen in the known world. It's the Dritz Tailor's Marking Pen. Yowza...it is one of my favorite tools now. Makes a nice, sharp, dark line (in either white or blue) that comes off as easily as it goes on. I know it's more expensive, but it's worth every penny.

How Does My Garden Grow?

This week my garden grows in bags. :)

In case you missed it, this cool gardening tactic has been making the rounds on Facebook lately. Bag gardening isn't new - just do a Google search and you'll yield thousands of results. However, the blog post that has been referenced on FB presents the idea in what I think is a better way. It brings the height of the garden up to waist level (for me, anyway) and out of the reach of the voracious bunnies that live in my neighborhood.

So here, in pictures, is my adventure in bag gardening. Easy to do - took me one shopping trip and about a half hour to plant. I'll post updates as the bags grow (or don't!). And please, send us pics if you do this too. I'd love to see your results.

- Alex

Shopping list:

2 wooden sawhorses (Home Depot) - $19 ea - reusable for many jobs
1 piece of cow fencing - cut to 3' widths (Farm & Fleet) - $20 for eight finished cuts
4 one cubic foot bags of garden soil (Home Depot) - $5 ea
Seeds for shallow rooted plants (herbs, greens, etc)

You'll also need a utility knife or some other sharp knife or scissors.

This is what cow-fencing looks like.
Two sawhorses, one cut of cow-fencing, holds four bags of soil.
Poke holes in the bottom of the bags for drainage.
Cut open the top of the bag, leaving about a 2"-4" border.
Like this. Leave the "flaps".
Loosen the soil.
Remove and retain the top layer of soil (you'll reuse this).
Shallow-rooted seeds.
Sow the seeds per the package instructions.
Use the removed soil to cover the seeds.
Roll the flap up and tuck them in the sides. This provides stability.
I used the seed packets to mark my plantings.
My finished bag garden!
Fingers crossed, I should have a fabulous garden of greens for my summer eating!

Garment Sewing

It's been busy, busy, busy over here!

Last weekend I spent both Saturday and Sunday cleaning my studio. The place was a hot mess and it needed a heavy hand of purging and polishing. But oh, how it shines now! It's making me really itchy to spend some more time down there designing and sewing. I'm attracted to a clean room like a moth to a flame.

One of the projects on my sewing table right now is a tunic dress for me. I'm taking this amazing class taught by Cal Patch on Creativebug where I'm learning how to do proper body measurements and draft a pattern. Yes, draft a real sewing pattern to my own measurements! In this course she's teaching the tunic, an a-line skirt, and how to draft a pattern from an existing garment that you love. The tunic and the skirt are very basic but she goes through the process of modifying them to suit your taste with collars and waistbands, ruffles, etc.

Drafting a sleeve under Cal's tutelage.
I've always wanted to learn how to design my own garments properly. And the instruction in this class is just what I needed. Very hands-on and the technical information is explained in plain talk. Learning these basic rules of pattern design has really given me a lot of confidence. Expect to see me strolling down the avenue in something original this summer! (And surely talking your ear off about it here, ahem)

I've also been sewing up some quilt blocks that I've never tried before. It's going well, I've learned a ton. Expect a new quilt block tutorial here very soon!

Here is a close-up sneak-peek!

Have a beautiful day,


PS - Cal Patch also has a great book on pattern design here.

For The Love of Bees

You know it's spring if Alex is posting about bees - even though Wisconsin woke up to 1.5" of snow on the ground this morning!! WTH?

Here's what this morning looked like:

Photo credit: Muskrat John
Photo credit: Muskrat John

Seriously. It's April 15. I love Wisconsin but this must be some kind of cosmic joke.

Anyway, on to happier subjects... BEES!

As you all probably know, I started my first hive last year. If you're interested in reading (or re-reading) about my adventure, here are the posts: Home At Last (Part 1); Home At Last (Part 2). Also, this is a fun post about keeping the bees: Feeding Bees.

So, last year I didn't actually get  my bees into their hive until mid-June. This is super-late in the summer if you're a bee-keeper as it only gave them about 10 weeks to build up to a critical mass strong enough to survive a brutal Wisconsin winter. Add to that the fact that my bees "lost" their queen partway through the summer and started over with a new queen and I'll bet you can guess what happened... The hive died.

There may be nothing as sad as a hive full of dead bees. It was heartbreaking. Fortunately, I anticipated that this might happen and put in an order for a 2 lbs "package" of bees. This is, quite literally, a box of bees with the queen in a separate box. Like this:

So, I cleaned out the hive, watched a video on how to install a package, and went to pick them up.

Side story... my dogs went with me out to the farm to pick up the bees. They had a blast running around the grounds and smelling all the smells. They refused to go anywhere near the outbuilding where the packaged bees were - they know the sound of bees and they avoid them. :)  Then, I loaded the dogs in the car, brushed the bees off the outside of the box, and put the box into the way-back of my station wagon. The dogs could hear the buzzing and totally freaked out. They spent 10 minutes of the drive home in a panic, watching over their heads for flying stingers. Poor pumpkins.

My new bees are beautiful. They're golden-yellow, fat, and super-docile. They took to the hive right away - immediately cleaning, foraging, and just generally being bees. After a few days, I released the queen from her box and she disappeared into the hive. At some point in the next week or so, I'll take the boxes apart and try to find her - just to make sure she's doing her queenly duties.

I'm pretty sure that my bees are either Italian or Buckfast - two of the breed types of honey bees. These two types are yellow, like mine. The Carniolan bees are mostly black and much smaller. Here's a great article on the types of bees and their traits: Major Types of Honeybees.

Finally, here are a few pictures I took about a week after they were installed in their new home. I'll keep you all posted on how things are going this summer. I like to think that, because I got an earlier start and I'm blessed with such healthy bees, I might actually build up a hive that will survive next winter. Fingers crossed!

- Alex

Enjoying the sun

Pollen patty and sugar syrup - YUM

Enjoying a mid-day meal

Checking out the new person

Walt Disney

I'll tell you, I was a big Bugs Bunny fan as a kid. If you would have posed the "Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse?" question to me..it would have been Bugs all the way. He had so much personality, and Disney cartoons...well, they just didn't have the same sass.

Disclaimer: this attitude did not reflect my attitude toward Disney live action. I couldn't get enough Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, or Parent Trap when I was little.

But now that I'm all grown up, I see the artistry of Walt Disney animation in a whole new light. This shift actually began when my daughter was about four, and her very favorite movie was Snow White. I had never actually seen it...and well...it was just lovely. No other way to say it. You could see the hand in the animation and the care taken to block out every frame with artistic balance. My mind had been changed.

Sure, I could take or leave some of the more recent animated Disney efforts, but there is a special place in my heart for the original classics like Snow White, Pinocchio, or Peter Pan.

I was fortunate enough to get to see a traveling exhibit of treasures of the Walt Disney archives in Chicago last month. That (mostly hand-made) collection of props, models, and original artwork on display reinforced my newish respect for Disney.

Take a look at what really caught my eye:

This is a hand-made prop of the submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was absolutely stunning. I could have sat there all day and just counted the rivets.

This is an actual early Disney animation desk. It is a work of art in itself.

This is a close-up of an original Disney animation title card. I was knocked out by the subtle color pops in the shading.

If only I could have stolen this beautiful background painting from Pinocchio...

This is part of the costume worn by the artists model who posed live and on video for the animators reference on Snow White. My gosh it was beautifully sewn. (It was tiny. Had to be a size 0.)
It's hard to see, but this is a contraption where they slid in painted clear glass panels and then shot through with the camera for a 3D effect. This one was used on their first animated feature, Snow White.
The book at the opening of Snow White was carved out of wood by hand and gilded.

Storyboards for the penguin scene in Mary Poppins. Again, I could have studied this all day.

I don't need to tell you what this is.
Or this.
The color harmony, hand lettering, and composition took my breath away on this poster for an early Disney short.

This is the hem of Alice's skirt from the recent Alice in Wonderland. Yeah...I'm calling them out on that machine embroidery. Tisk-tisk.

If you get a chance to go see this exhibit yourself, please do! It's worth the price of admission.


PS - I still love Bugs Bunny too! I mean really, everything I ever learned about opera was from him.

The Magicians: Book Review

Reading is such a wonderful escape. A good book can transport you to new worlds, teach you new things, and generally broaden your world view in the most entertaining way. But who has time to read? 

My friend Jessica is the most voracious reader I know. Whether from paper, e-reader, or audio, Jess can consumer multiple books in any given week. She puts me to shame. Cassandra has taken to listening to audio books while she's doing her graphic design so she can get through a lot more "reading" than I do. Writers can't really listen to other words while trying to construct words that make sense. :) Regardless, I still love to read and try to carve out time for at least one book a month - which covers my book club selections if nothing else.

So, when I go on vacation I use that time to hunker down and read a lot. For some reason, television doesn't hold the same interest when I'm away - probably because I don't have TiVo - so I take my escapism elsewhere. This trip I read a book called The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

It's an interesting thing when an author borrows so heavily from other, well-known works. The Magicians (and the sequel, The Magician King) have been rightly called Harry Potter for grown-ups. But I'd throw in a giant dollop of Narnia on top of that.

The basic premise is this, Quentin Coldwater is a geeky, out-of-place high-school senior who is mysteriously whisked away to Brakebills College (a magical college, of course) to take an entrance exam. Upon being accepted, Quentin's world opens up and he begins his life away from home - including all the drinking, sex, and experimentation that most college students experience. This is why it's NOT a book for your kids. :) There are, as you'd expect, the requisite oddball teachers, friends and enemies and frienemies

In addition to the on-campus, magical adventures, there are also the trips home to the "straight" world and lots of musings in Quentin's head that sound like the musings of any 18-21 year old who's trying to find himself. There are spells to be learned and tasks to be undertaken. There are crushes and heartbreaks and friendships that will last a lifetime. And, on top of all this, there's the constant reference to a set of children's books that are about a place called Fillory (read: Narnia). The correlations between Fillory and Narnia are sort of ridiculously obvious - way more so than the correlations between Brakebills and Hogwarts. But the books play an important part in the development of these kids and ultimately in their post-college future. 

The Amazon.com reviews are very mixed. I noticed that a lot of people got annoyed with Quentin, which I found amusing. To me, he was no different than my son at that age - the setting was just different. He's full of angst and unrest. He's completely unsure of his future and often frustrated, angry, or just stupid in his decision making. I think a lot of people weren't crazy about how similar it was to Harry Potter and/or Narnia but, frankly, that didn't bother me much. The fact that the kids were older made the entire tone more adult. And it's probably important to note that, unlike Potter, there's little time spent on how the magic actually works except in the vaguest sort of way. The story is more about the characters and their growth.

Regardless of the "faults" in the story, the story-telling is solid. Grossman paints a vivid picture of Brakebills, the magic, and the adventures. He's captured truth in Quentin and the rest of the characters. And, despite the length of the book, it's a fast(ish) and engrossing read. 

I've got about 20 pages left in the book but the big twist at the end has just been revealed and it was interesting. I'm already looking forward to reading the sequel and will post a review when I'm done with it. 

Happy reading!

- Alex 

Birdie Sling - Pattern Review

This weekend, my cousin and I stayed up to the wee hours sewing for ourselves. I tell you...it felt great! We drank pots and pots of tea, had MeTV's awesome Saturday night lineup as background noise, and laughed and sewed all night long. What did we make? Gorgeous purses!

After an exhaustive Pinterest idea search, we settled on Amy Butler's Birdie Sling. A trip to the fabric store (or two...ugh) later we were set to sew. Well, sewing after we cut out the pattern pieces for a couple hours. Wow, there is a lot of interfacing to cut for this bag (two different kinds even). Not something I would skimp on in this case either. This is a very large purse and I think it would be too heavy to support it's shape without that extra support.

This pattern has a lot of nice details like pleats and gussets. And I do think it's those little things that make this bag as cute as it is. It is seriously adorable. And now that I've been carrying it for a few days, I'm head-over-heels with the single large strap and large inside pockets.

My interior pocket panel on the left, my cousin's on the right.
As always, Amy Butler's written instructions are bulletproof. This is my third time using one of her patterns (gumdrop pillows and Frenchy Bag) and I would make another in a heartbeat.

I'm such a fan of the written sewing instructions from contemporary designers, I like them a lot more than the traditional ones from companies like Butterick and Simplicity. Patterns by folks like Amy Butler anticipate what is going to trip me up...and add extra illustration or instruction at that point. I really appreciate that, it makes those moments real learning opportunities.

Another great idea is to tackle a new pattern with a friend. My cousin and I broke up the work of pinning, sewing, and pressing between the two of us and the work just clipped along so nicely.

My fabric choices for the exterior were an Anna Maria Horner (from my stash) and Julianna Horner (Ana's daughter) from JoAnne. How weird is that mother-daughter combo? Completely unplanned. I lined the inside with a random calico I got from JoAnne as well. Again...why am I so surprised when I find things I like at that store??

Buying way more than I needed! Couldn't resist.
I don't wear such busy patterns on my clothes (usually)...but I do like my accessories to pack a little more punch. And this one looks like a big pop of happiness.