Detroit: World’s Hottest New Tourist Destination


Tyree Guyton’s Animal House on the east side of Detroit, before it was burned down in March 2014.

Tom Walsh’s column  in the March 10, 2014 Detroit Free Press about travel speaker Doug Lansky’s same-day keynote address at the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference underscored that one of the world’s emerging trendy travel destinations—post-industrial Birmingham, England?!?—could be Detroit’s future as well…perhaps Detroit’s present!

Lansky’s prime point? That tourists are looking for authenticity first and foremost, and that Detroit has plenty of it, for sure. What with the Motor City’s newly energized notoriety, if you will, with all the international publicity about her bankruptcy, the travails of the Detroit Institute of Arts, that suave and handsome Peruvian guy who just bought the old Packard plant and more, we’re in the news.

And, as any Detroiter will tell you, there is much to do and see in the city and its environs, but you have to know exactly which authentic but obscure rib joints, dance clubs and other attractions are which in order to visit and enjoy them.

Imagine a tour bus, like the red double deckers in London, England or the ones cruising the “homes of the stars” in Beverly Hills, instead rolling up Woodward Avenue, snaking through the bowels of the Rouge complex, comparing and contrasting the lake shore drive in Grosse Pointe to the Boston-Edison neighborhood—and then stopping for some soul food before winding back via Eight Mile? And let’s not forget (what’s left of) Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project, which has already been drawing visitors from around the world.

Why not? There must be 100s of thousands of folks around the world who would love to see it all for themselves, but have no tidily packaged experience to slap their credit cards up against.

Why not?

Meanwhile, I’ve got to go on line to explore how Birmingham, England is marketing. Check out Doug Lansky’s website here: http://DougLansky.Com

iBeacon: Age of Hyper-Local Mobile


Here’s how it works:

Let’s say our typical mobile, smartphone totin’ Joe Schmoe drives by any number of bagel shops on his way to Cubicle City every day. And let’s say Joe just happens to be a health nut who’s into natural anti-oxidants, like pomegranate.

On an average Monday, Joe is zipping by one of those bagel shops when suddenly his smartphone chirps an alert, and a screen message pops up that Bibi’s Bagels–which he just passed–is offering a special on its new pomegranate smoothies with a free pomegranate bagel till 5pm. Joe hits the brakes, makes a boulevard turn and goes for the deal.

That’s only one possible use of Apple’s iBeacon, a technology that’s already been adopted by Macy’s, American Eagle and Target, to target in-store shoppers with special sales they might otherwise overlook, buyer’s reward points that can be redeemed on check-out and lots more.

Even the Miami Dolphins franchise has tested iBeacon out in its home stadium, where deployment is as simple as slapping up the tiny beacon units (as pictured above) at various physical locations throughout the venue. Smartphone users were pinged as to which concession lines were shorter, as well as pushed discount offers on drinks and food and even distributed “digital collectors cards.”

iBeacon is currently operable on an estimated 200 million existing iOS devices from the iPhone 4S and 3rd gen iPad up, with Android soon to become available. ABI Research ( estimates that by 2018, 800 million devices will be using indoor location apps, and iBeacon or one of its like/kind will be as ubiquitous as GPS is today.

With on-the-spot customer recognition and smartphone instant payments at retail point-of-purchase on the verge of widespread adoption, and a possible battle between the likes of iBeacon and competing NFC (Near Field Communications enabled devices) brewing, it will be interesting indeed to see what shakes out. With Apple’s reputation of refined simplicity in all its hardware and software products, iBeacon might just beat the long rumored Apple TV to the marketplace.

Do you have this base covered for you or your clients in mobile, marketing or branding spaces? Are you ready for Hyper-Local?

Too Damn Supersonic Cool



Boston-based Spike Aerospace has an answer for rich folk who can’t bear the 16-hour flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo–it’s the Spike Aerospace S-512–an in-the-works $80 million supersonic (mach 1.6 or 1,218 mph) business jet capable of hauling up to 18 souls to their favorite Shinjuku* sushi shack in half the time, or less.

But what’s really cool is the high-def display that runs the length of the windowless cabin, porting in real-time video from a series of tiny digital camera lenses mounted along both sides of the fuselage. Imagine sitting there, mesmerized, over your double dirty martini and the mind-bending view. Your seat-mate speaks to you. After a druggy pause/delay, you reply wittily, “Wha? You say something?”

It’s the future, baby, and it’s coming to an airport near you (if you can rally enough dollars, renmimbi or bitcoins) courtesy of  former Airbus, Bombardier, and Gulfstream engineers, along with sundry investors and entrepreneurs.

The S-512 is not allowed to fly in full supersonic mode over land, however, but taking off from a coastal airport and flying over water, it’s full afterburner ON as New York slips behind you and Paris pops up a mere 3.5 hours later.

Wouldn’t it be nice if your creative team could produce such stellar results in supersonic time? We’ve heard one leading digital agency is slipping the likes of Walter White’s blue crystal into the company water cooler.

Meet you there. We obviously have some research to do.


*Shinjuku Station, Tokyo, is the world’s busiest railway station, handling more than two million passengers every day.



Inverted T-Rex Face Illusion

Just look at the video: It looks like the T-Rex is turning his head to follow the camera as it moves, but I assure you, the cardboard T-Rex figure is totally static, no moving parts, no video animation tricks involved. In fact, the face of the T-Rex is not even convex (that is, curved outward, toward you) but rather is concave, constructed as a “negative” or “inward-defined” space.

So what does this tell us about brand marketing, consumer engagement and the like? That what we see is not always what it seems to be, and that the magic in a campaign may well be down to some cardboard, duct tape and the guts to use them to create an illusion, that even when revealed, doesn’t turn you off to the “magician” who pulled off the trick.

The magic goes on in your head, Fred.

That’s what a good creative does: Take the simple, and with a flourish, make it bloom like a dandelion turned into two dozen roses. Tell your story in a way that it involves your audience like a Chinese finger trap–remember those?–and makes them squirm in wonder.

It can be accomplished with words, with video, on the Web, in a print ad…anywhere at all.

Von studied these methods at a monastery dedicated to brand building and ballyhoo. Buy him a drink and maybe he’ll let you tap into the magic, too.

As far as these T-Rex heads? See if you can figure it out for yourself.

999 Seagulls…and 1 Pigeon

January 2008, Newport Seaside Resort, Miami Beach at Sunny Isles. Old high school buddy Ray S. running the joint. There with Nancy; we drove down in a 2000 BMW 328i that we’d just bought for the trip and we’d been talking about feeding the seagulls, which there are no shortage of whether you’re in a parking lot in Canton, Michigan or right by the Atlantic…especially.

You throw a handfull of cheap chips in the air and within 30 seconds, every seagull is your friend. We felt like we were running the world for two minutes there, and we were.

What I wouldn’t give to throw a bunch of chips up in the air with her again, but God called her home on May 1st. Enjoy every moment you can with those whom you love…because you never know. It’s as simple as that.

Sticky Eyeballs: How to Write a Better Blog

sticky-eyeballsIt’s quite simple: Blogs are meant to be read, meant to keep people coming back, meant to influence and inspire and to call folks to action. Engagement and retention are the new code words for “sell.” This is a blog entry which harks to a great and eminently practical 5-point guide I found on Mashable. We’ll come back to that.

If you are genuinely interested in, and committed to producing regular content that will build an audience over time–no easy task, but a worthy one–read the rest of this entry and pluck your own nuggets. Come back to the above live link and click on it if you remain interested, and hopefully hellbent, on becoming a writer of “sticky” blogs.

Here’s the first thing to remember: Consistency. You, me…any of us…will always come back for more of something that we can use. Useful information, entertaining and practical and easy-to-apply information, entertaining information that promises to make us rich, flatten our bellies, attract more of the opposite sex, whiten our teeth. Entertaining information. Get it? Of course you do. You and I have clicked on ads promising such things at least…say…ONCE in our on-line lifetimes? Maybe twice?

Depending what YOU are blogging about, from flipping houses for a quick buck to finding the best method for removing spots from one’s clothing, it’s all about the perceived utility of your column. Of course, the more engagingly, charmingly, cleverly, interestingly you can write your blog, the better. Here’s the formula:

Entertainment X Information = Engagement.

Got that? Equal dollops of the first two, mixed and shaken–with humor, a bit of hyperbole (look it up!) and clear, concise, well-structured exposition–a battle unto itself–and you’ve got it.

You only need to repeat it mostly daily, ad infinitum.

It’s Official: I’m Terminal


Vonstipatz is a little bit crazy. He’s into something dangerous.

Back in the mid-90s, when the Internet first reared its majestic head, few people really understood what it was, and what it was good for. I remember going to an early seminar on the World Wide Web; I think this was in 1994. One of the presenters made the statement that there were “approximately 30,000 web sites” in the world, a number that was growing at an exponential pace. The website states that as of about 12 months ago the number was well over 600 million.

Today, in virtually any field you’re in, you had better know how to use a computer and the Internet. If your work is largely on the Web itself, you ought to know–at the very least–some basics about HTML to be able to effectively utilize a Content Management System such as WordPress. And if you want a really good job, the new lingua franca is CODE. To write code, the mysterious if/then digital hieroglyphics of strings, methods, arrays and objects, is said to be the new language of success. Or at least a way to avoid abject failure.

I got to know basic HTML well enough, with the help of a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) graphical editor such as Dreamweaver, to be able to build basic Websites. I even made a nice bit of change on the side building them–everybody knew they just HAD to have one, even if none of us were sure what they were good for. Um, e-commerce, anyone?

Point being, I got away from those salad days when Websites became more complicated with things like CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), Java, server-side scripts for processing forms, and so on. But now, having worked in social media for the last few years, and with the siren song of mobile changing the world, I’m finding I need to get up to speed again. Fast.

So, I’ve been cracking the books on HTML5, Responsive Web Design, platform-specific apps, Ruby, jQuery, Rails and more. Which has lead me to something I thought I’d never open up on my Mac, much less actually use. I’m talking about the Terminal, found in the Utilities folder under my Apps menu. It’s the rabbit hole to the Unix code that runs the Mac OS command line. It’s where you type in weird looking, cryptic instructions, hit return, and something happens. What that is, or should be, I’m not yet sure. This is a jungle filled with all sorts of wonderful medicinal plants, as well as poisonous toads and other strange creatures of the night.

So, I may be terminal, depending on how far in I get. But there’s a method to it all (if not a string or array): If I survive, maybe I can become a guide. To the next of you to follow me in.

I do fancy that dollar sign after my name, though.

(More to come).

Analog Antidote: The Mac Peashooter


It’s March in Detroit. Cold, miserable March. Spring, in theory, just a week away. I need something to take my mind off the grinding gears of daily life–it’s bills, it’s malevolent aches, it’s constant disappointments, the rudeness of the common man.

I need something analog. And this is what I found, surfing mindlessly: a yet to-be-released single-cylinder line of British motorcycles called Mac. As elegant in a way as Apple’s Macs, but deliberately, earnestly analog to a fault. But therein lies the virtue.

With everything around us evolving digitally at a breakneck pace, I desperately need something I can actually break my neck on. Not that the Mac is any more dangerous than anything else with two wheels–and arguably less dangerous than vehicles with a single wheel. That’s the point. Just the idea that I could bomb about on one of these on the streets of the Motor City without a helmet (thank you so much for that Gov’nor Synder!) is a breath of fresh air in my black-mold-addled mid-March mind.

This cycle–The Pea Shooter–is one of four Mac models known as “thumpers” for their single-cylinder Buell motors. This one is a 492cc, 2-valve, push-rod 5-speed. The engine fires just once for every 720 degree rotation of its crankshaft: it has to be an explosive event to whip that shaft around twice before the next bang, doesn’t it? Makes me wax nostalgic for the mini bike I had when I was 13, a true thumper run by a one cylinder Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engine. That thing went like hell, and was an absolute blast to ride. I imagine this grown up version, designed by a batch of blokes from Worcester, UK, has got to be a scream. With names of its brethren being Spud, Ruby and Roarer, much is promised.

Interestingly, the talent behind these Macs is a chap named Ellis Pitt who hooked up with two other mates in Northumberland by the names of Mark Wells and Ian Wride (see who are obviously immersed in digital. You simply need the best digital tools to create a new category of analog goodness and wonder, I suppose. (As well as a frame builder out of Nebraska, USA that’s referred to on the Mac Website–huh?)

At any rate, I want one. I need the analog antidote to my March digital blues.

Go have a peek at their Website: There’s some very cool wallpaper there.

How .CO Became a $25 Million Brand

flying pig pic

What is the nation of Colombia most known for? Juan Valdez (the dude with the black mustache dreamed up by Mad men to hawk coffee), FARC–the People’s guerilla army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia)–or the Top Level Domain .co, branded by a flying pig to exemplify that “anything is possible”?

That .co, launched only in 2009 by Internet entrepreneur (and native Colombian) Juan Diego Calle is now boasting annual revenues of $25 million, is testament to determination, the power of a simple idea, and hard work. A year earlier, Juan had a “lightbulb moment” in the realization that with good .com names having become scarcer than hen’s teeth, .co–short for “company”–was a no-brainer waiting to happen.

That Calle was a native son made application to the Colombian government a little easier. Going up against against established companies like Verisign and preparing a 1,165 page bid in order to be awarded the business was considerably tougher. But, along with Neustar, an Internet DNS whom he partnered with, Calle scored big, based his new company in Miami and has since racked up 1.4 million dominion registrations.

It certainly was a lucky break when Go Daddy jumped on board in 2010 and made .co its default extension for new domain registrations, following Twitter and AngelList, which had scored and respectively.

Now, Calle has his work cut out for him, looking not just for volume but for the next blockbuster social media or Web start-up to partner with. As a hedge against giants like Google and Amazon, .co has reportedly applied for rights to 13 other TLDs such as .inc, .llc, .law, .book, .web and .law. While Calle is not assured of getting all of these, $25 million in cash flow and a flying pig are betting otherwise.

Brilliantly Bitter Success Story in a Bottle


My parents always had a bottle of this stuff in their liquor cabinet–Angostura bitters. And I could never understand why the label was too big for the bottle. But I remember that I was strangely fascinated with the product, which my father religiously added a few drops of to his weekend Manhattans (recipe to follow).

The reason I’m writing about Angostura bitters, however, is that it represents such a splendid example of brilliant marketing and brand positioning…something anyone in the ad game can learn from, no matter how long you’ve been in it.

First, a little history. This is a very old formulation. Wikipedia tells up that the recipe was developed as a tonic by the German Dr. Johann Siegert, a surgeon general in Simon Bolivar’s army in Venezuela, who began selling it in 1824 and built a distillery for mass producing the bitters in 1830. Siegert was based in the town of Angostura, now known as Ciudad Bolivar, and used locally obtained ingredients, ostensibly botanicals known to the Amerindians of the area.

According to a tour guide at the Angostura bitters factory in Trinidad, two of the brothers (descendants of Dr. Siegert) who were entering their product in a contest were in charge of bottles and labeling, respectively, but did not communicate with one another on sizing. One ordered labels too big, the other bottles too small, and voila–serendipity.

One one hand, you have a singularly unusual product with a formula so closely guarded as to be known to no more than five people. It is not actually “bitter,” but is touted as “marrying” the different ingredients in cocktails, enhancing flavors in a subtle but unmistakeable fashion. The name alone, Angostura, is strange and mysterious.

Any of us would be genius to come up with something so unique that has no apparent competition and is so originally packaged that if you see it once, you’ll never forget it. Even if you can’t pronounce the name and aren’t sure quite how to use it, you probably know it’s for dripping into drinks.

Lesson? Don’t be bitter about your lack of product differentiation. Instead be different, both in formulation (or approach) and in execution. Be brilliantly bitter, and you might just become a legend.

The Perfect Manhattan: 2 ounces rye whisky, 1 ounce Italian vermouth, 2 dashes Angostura bitters. Stir–don’t shake–with cracked ice so as to prevent foam. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.