Monthly Archives: December 2012

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus: Operation Santa

The holiday season is in full swing, and as we go about our daily routine of gift buying and wrapping, once in a while, we stop and think of the meaning of all this and how it affects others. With the disaster Frankenstorm Sandy left in its wake, many in the New York/New Jersey Shore area are looking at a bleak holiday season at best. Here at Vanguard, some of us in the production and promotional departments have decided to give a little back. Rather than join the larger organizations helping Sandy victims, we decided to go small and local.

Vanguard does a great deal of mailings for our clients and has a great partner in the US Post Office––what better way to help this season than to join its Operation Santa.

Operation Santa began informally in the early 1920s, when New York postal clerks began chipping in their own money to buy gifts for poor kids whose notes to Santa ended up in the dead letter office. As the number of letters grew, the clerks asked for help from the public. The program has grown dramatically. In 1980, there were about 5,000 letters––this year the total could approach 200,000 in the aftermath of Sandy.

Many of the letters are from very needy children, but not all. (One example cited by the USPO was from a child in a wealthy suburb requesting a list of 28 electronic games that would have added up to more than $4,000––“See you in the mall!” the letter concluded.) We must understand that kids are kids and not be put off by the greed of a few. All kids would like really expensive things, but of the letters we chose, all wanted clothes (among other things).

Our ambassador, Natacha Arora, the newest member of our department, went to the James Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, one of the largest in the United States. She found the experience awe-inspiring and was impressed at how organized the set-up was. After filling out a voucher, she was handed ten letters from the thousands that were all piled up in stacks upon stacks of letters. Whichever letters you don’t use, you give back. Then you can choose others. Natacha selected our letters and divvied them up. The letters are numbered, and all the personal information of the families is blacked out. When the gifts are bought and wrapped, we must return to the Post Office with the letters and pay the postage to ship the packages.

One of the letters we chose was from a ten-year-old-girl in the fourth grade who wrote that her classmates say Santa is not real. She wrote, “Santa I love you … I know you are [real] because I believe in you.”

This brings me to Virginia … In 1897, little eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon from the Upper West Side of Manhattan asked her father if Santa was real. This prompted her dad to suggest that she write a letter to The Sun, the prominent NYC newspaper at the time, promising her, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” The response she requested came from one of the paper’s editors, Francis P. Church, who not only answered the simple question but also addressed the philosophical issues behind it.

Church was a war correspondent during the American Civil War and thought the great suffering he saw corresponded to a lack of hope and faith in much of society. Church went on to be the lead editorial writer on his brother’s newspaper, The New York Sun, and that enabled him to write his most famous editorial, “Is There a Santa Claus?,” placing him in the history of Christmas forever.

In answering the letter, he addressed a higher ideal that had been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. That skepticism can still be found more than a century later––even more so in our digital age of new “everything” media. This whole idea of discussing Santa is almost like discussing politics and religion. Church’s editorial has spawned numerous movies and TV specials, and Macy’s has wrapped its annual “Believe” campaign around it (thus commercializing it), but I think his message is important for believers and skeptics alike.

Here is an excerpt of the editorial:

“VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, VIRGINIA, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.”

“Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

“Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.”

“… there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.”

Little Virginia O’Hanlon’s life was inspired by that editorial––she went on to get her master’s degree from Columbia University in 1912 and her doctorate from Fordham University. These were the years of the women’s suffrage movement, and a highly educated woman was rare, especially before women won the right to vote in 1919. Virginia spent her career as an educator and received a steady stream of mail about her letter throughout her life.

In an interview with CBS radio in 1963, Virginia made this comment about the editorial:

“The older I grow, the more I realize what a perfect philosophy it is for life. Then, having been the recipient of such kindness—as Mr. Church writing to me, a little child—I feel a sort of responsibility about living up to some of the ideals … It’s brought into my life many, many interesting and kind things that I don’t think would have ever been there if I hadn’t written that letter and he hadn’t to answered it so eloquently…. The older I grow the more I read into it, and the more I see what it means to other people to have such a firm conviction in the best things in life — faith, love, poetry, romance.”

As we wrap our packages, it’s nice to watch our team wrap itself around a good cause. The real joy comes from knowing you are helping someone who is in need without expecting anything in return in the way of recognition. This joy of giving reminds us of what the season is all about. Being anonymous to the people we are helping brings out a kindness, a sense that some ideals are worth living up to … even being Santa Claus to one little girl.

“He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, VIRGINIA, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

Happy Holidays!

Author: Tom Caska


Stay Together for the Followers

If you’re a part of the social stratosphere, you’ve probably heard that Twitter and Instagram underwent a pretty significant relationship shift in the past two weeks. After being acquired by Facebook, the social photography app seems to be a child in the middle of a tumultuous divorce. Although it was only a matter of time before Facebook and Twitter started sparring with each other, we now must confront some issues:

  1. This seems to be the first time in the world of social media when the consumer is not being considered. Social media has always been praised for its integration and ability to play well with others, thriving on sharing content across networks in an efficient and seamless matter. Of the newer social networks, Instagram relied on other websites to promote its users’ images, contributing to the content already established there. Taking away Instagram’s image-viewing card from Twitter so that users have to access their photos on a website with considerably less traffic seems illogical. However Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom cites the reason for removing the card is to drive traffic back to Instagram. Although parent company Facebook is not said to have made this decision, the timing of the release of new Instagram web profiles a few weeks ago and the fact that you can still view Instagram images on Facebook suggest otherwise.
  2. To quote the band Flobots, “There is a war going on for your mind.” The two social giants are starting to have a very public battle about which is the better social network. Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and easier integration with Foursquare is fighting against Twitter and its new integration with Pinterest. The removal of Instagram from Twitter tells us that eventually a side will have to be chosen––classic vanilla or chocolate, Apple or PC. Google+ and YouTube aside, all the major players are beginning to be drawn to the battlefield. Ultimately, this defeats the purpose of social media. The social world works best with clean interactions across multiple channels.
  3. Everyone has been talking about using social media for business. It is now becoming clearer that social media is the business. The mindset started to become obvious after Facebook went public. Although its opening act in the market was less than desirable, Facebook has steadily climbed and tried to reposition itself. However, with that climb comes the problem of becoming a public business. Seemingly overnight, the focus goes from what consumers want to what investors want. The people of social media are losing their voice, as was evident in the failure of Facebook’s user base to rack up enough votes to be counted (30% of the users must weigh in), resulting in all users losing the right to vote on Facebook policies.

The causes of these tremors of change are still not apparent, although speculations can be made all day. It’s safe to say that no matter what, the social environment will go through a significant adjustment in 2013. Which then brings up two questions that can’t be answered:

What is going to happen to social media in 2013?

And, more important, how will social media’s new business mind-set affect users?

Author: Zack Smith

BuzzFeed’s Picks for Best Print Ads of 2012

BuzzFeed recently published its picks for the top 12 print ads of 2012. While we hardly think these selections cover the full range of print ads published worldwide, there were certainly a few that stood out. To view all 12, be sure to check out BuzzFeed.

Have a favorite? Take a look at these five and let us know what you think!

1. Kielo Travel – Y&R, Belgrade

This ad is simply genius!

2. Pictionary – Ogilvy, Kuala Lumpur

3. LEGO – Jung von Matt, Hamburg

Admittedly, this ad took me a while to figure out. It wasn’t until I saw the entire campaign that I figured out what I was looking at. Love!

4. Karate for Kids – Grey, Tokyo

5. Ray-Ban – Marcel Worldwide, Paris

I was less than impressed with this ad. It’s a bit of an obvious route. Maybe in 1988 this would have been cutting-edge. I get the old New York reference. But still—meh.

Author: Eric Swenson

Convergence of Holidays, or How Do I Send a Greeting Card Without Ruining a Client Relationship?

I think the “Holiday Season” begins right after Labor Day, or at least it does in Walmart when the summer section begins its transformation to the “Winter Decorations” section. Call this time of year what you want, but it’s anything but the Indian summer of my youth, at least in the stores. Consumer dollars are paramount in the last four months of each year, and no matter what the occasion, there are greeting cards sitting on the shelves to please every denomination and cover every “holiday” event. Living in New York, I would say there is no greater melting pot of cultures anywhere in the world.

The business world wants to use this time of year to reach out to its client base to thank them for their business and wish them a “Happy Holiday.” Therein lies the first dilemma: what holiday is “safe” to mention? Some will go with their own beliefs and may send a Christmas card, while others will play it safe and send a generic “Happy Thanksgiving” (everyone eats turkey), “Season’s Greetings,” or “Happy New Year” card.

Marketing communication companies are in a special pickle when it comes to deciding which medium to use to convey their greetings. Email blasts, YouTube clips, or other clever new media can be used to wow the client base, but today I want to talk about one of my favorites: old-fashioned ink on paper. To me there is nothing like the experience of receiving a card at home in the mail and opening it like a Christmas present to see what exciting message lies within.

A recent post by Matthew Parker on the Profitable Print Relationships blog outlines seven of the many dos and don’ts that will help you think through the process. Print companies especially need to put their collective best foot forward. Nothing kills the message like a catalog-bought card or a card that is poorly executed. This is your profession, and this is your time to shine. Spare no expense and make your card pop. Check out the post here:

If you have a smaller holiday card list and still want to send something original, I can suggest a new Apple app that I can personally vouch for as offering value for your dollar. The app is simply called Cards, and it allows you to send beautiful letterpress cards you can personalize using a number of various designs. You can send them from your iPhone, iPod Touch, or your iPad. Each card is just $2.99 when mailed in the US, and that includes postage. The cards are printed on a heavyweight, textured cover stock with matching envelopes. You have the option to add photos to the design, and the cards can be generic or personalized for any occasion. You can also send the same card to multiple parties. Each envelope has a handwritten look to it, and though it may be a gimmick, it’s hot right now. Take a look at the app at Apple’s App Store or follow this link.

If senders would only call on their own greeting card experiences before sending greeting cards, they would avoid many disappointed recipients. I have complied a few of my own dos and don’ts––but then again, this is just me.

• Do sign the card! For the love of Mike, would it kill ya to sign a card?

• Do add a handwritten message to photos with preprinted greetings. I love seeing you and your family grow old, but it would be nice to hear how everyone is doing and exactly how Uncle Willy wound up in the wheelchair. Personalize the card for me.

• Do get the names of my family right, make sure the spouse is the current one, and also check if Ol’ Yeller is still alive before adding the pet’s name.

• Don’t write “Seasons Greetings.” If you know me at all, send me a Christmas card and please stop hoarding free cards from twenty years ago––use the new ones you get for free.

• If you send a card you got for free from a charitable organization, please do send them a small donation or just put the cards in the recycling bin. If I see you in fur during the holiday, your PETA card may come flying back at ya.

• Finally, do make me smile. I know we have all had our own shares of ups and downs, but at least make something warm my heart and bring a smile to my face.

With that said, this is the front of my card for this year:

Happy Holidays!

Author: Tom Caska

Color in the Ad

A lot can be said about a good brand. A brand is instantly recognized, assures customers of product quality, and solidifies customer loyalty. Some brands are founded on logos, others on catchphrases, and still others on mascots. All of these brands have their own colors that are immediately recognizable and are often the first connection a consumer makes to the brand. But what happens when your brand is color? Does it get harder when the product you’re trying to sell uses color for its marketing concept? Doesn’t look like it for these three companies:


Image from

Kool-Aid is that sugary drink that you definitely had as a kid (and may still enjoy from time to time now). Why do I know you drank it as a kid? Because you were its target demographic, and the company got you to drink its product by selling you something very specific. Adweek posted an article last month showing the history of Kool-Aid’s advertisements, and they all have one thing in common: they never seem to mention taste but always highlight how colorful and happy the drinks are. This is ingenious, because who wouldn’t want a tall glass of the deepest royal purple or of the brightest summer-grass green? You know your twelve-year-old self certainly did.


Have you seen Skittles ads? They don’t want you to just “Taste the Rainbow.” They want to make sure you know they are the rainbow. Skittles has been putting all its effort into marketing to the social generation, because they are the new youth. This recent campaign uses clever text describing the experience of eating Skittles along with bright, colorful, and captivating imagery. Skittles ads are always image-heavy, with a rainbow motif mixed in. And more likely than not, you think of Skittles every time you see a rainbow.


All right, I admit that Apple’s brand isn’t based solely on color. But every product normally gets a color campaign at some point. Remember the iMacs? Those candy-shaded desktops were made to be customizable to you, in whatever color fit your personality. Later on, the iPod’s iconic silhouette commercials featured Technicolor dance parties. Even though the iPod was made for everyone, it was going to bring you joy and happiness so you could be like the silhouette. Now, the latest ad from Apple (above) presents the new iPod and iPod nano.  Although thinner, smaller, and with more capabilities than before, the key feature here is color. Bouncing all around, the iPods come in a wide range of colors, so pick the one that helps you express yourself. Brilliant.

You can go into color psychology, brand recognition, or any number of reasons why color is important to ad campaigns, but at the end of the day, the bright, shiny colors are attractive and you want it. Color is just as much a selling point as device capabilities or the taste of food (and might even overshadow more important features). So experiment with color, and sell it as a commodity. It’s one of the most valuable ones you have.

AdForum’s Top 5 Commercials for This Week

Take a look below at AdForum’s top five commercials for this week. It was a refreshing group of spots that, for the most part, made me smile.

It’s clear that “Summer Hater” really doesn’t apply to the northern hemisphere this time of year, but nonetheless, it’s an effective ad whose tone is sure to keep your attention.

Owens Corning continues to do a great job marketing itself. Its social media alone is inspiring! The “Easy” ad was AdForum’s publisher’s pick, but isn’t Utterly Orange’s. No, our hat is tipped to Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ “Robot” ad. It hits all the right notes: concept, tone, relevance, and appeal—in this case, through humor.

Honorable mention certainly goes to Coca-Cola, who in our opinion plays on the world’s holiday heartstrings like no other brand in existence.

Have a favorite? Take a look at these five and let us know what you think!

1. BGH – “Summer Hater” – Del Campo Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi

2. Adobe Marketing Cloud – “Robot” – Goodby Silverstein & Partners

3. Coca-Cola – “Christmas Family” – McCann Erickson Madrid

4. TriNet – “Raise Denied” – TDA Advertising & Design

Publisher’s Pick: Owens Corning – “Easy” – Campbell Ewald

Author: Eric Swenson

Facebook View Tags Enter Marketing Metrics

Last week, Facebook announced its “View Tag” function for advertisers. As with any normal Facebook announcement, users got upset, crying out that Big Brother just climbed up another rung on the surveillance ladder. But if you think about it, this is not only a logical step for advertising and marketing metrics, but also what mass marketers of yore would have given anything for.

Facebook’s View Tag allows ads to drop cookies once they make an “impression”––in other words, once you have seen the ad. Then, should you purchase the item advertised at a later date, the cookie will tag that date and report back to the advertiser. This is different from a pay-per-click ad, which requires a deeper dive into the product and a call to action.

This also allows advertisers to track a much more organic and human way of surfing the Internet. Very rarely do you search for a product and then buy it after that initial search. Research is vital in the online marketplace, and it can take weeks to finally make a decision. This cookie now gives a measurable success rate apart from clicks. This is the technology that billboard believers and coupon distributors have wanted their entire lives.

So what are the implications? Well, advertisers will be able to market even more directly to your wants and needs but will also be able to reward you for your purchases long after the initial impression. The line of communication has opened a little more, and the online marketplace is now a bit more personal. It will also be interesting to see how successful and well received this is, if it will be adopted by search-engine advertising like Google AdWords, and how pay-per-click campaigns will be affected as a whole.

Author: Zachary Smith