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Rotterdam’s new condo/market puts Toronto to shame

October 19, 2014
ROTTERDAM -- Imagine this: You wake up, shake last night’s dream away, stretch, and then look out the window, only to be greeted by a giant snail hiding behind a mushroom. Or, perhaps you spy a massive raspberry, shrimp and flower.

No, you haven’t fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole. Rather, you’re one of the lucky few who get to call Rotterdam’s new Market Hall home, and that colourful explosion of produce, grain, insects, fungi and a snail are your constant companions (there’s a cow, too). The largest art piece in the Netherlands, Horn of Plenty by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam wraps the curving interior walls of the hall with such joy, you won’t want to hang curtains.

Opened to the public just two weeks ago, MVRDV’s Markthal is one of the most breathtaking food markets you’ll ever explore, and not just because of the surreal wallpaper. A long, horseshoe-shaped tunnel, both ends of the building are finished in soaring glass walls to allow light to rain upon the food vendors, as well as deep into subterranean levels; the thick exterior walls contain 228 apartments, most with sweeping views of the rugged port city.

In short, this is a piece of architecture that will quickly become a landmark for locals and visitors alike.

And, says MVRDV public relations chief Jan Knikker, it needs to be. Not only does Rotterdam long for even half the tourists that flock to Amsterdam (only 80 kilometres away), the historic city centre continues to work hard at shedding its 1980s reputation as one of the “drug hot spots of Europe” in order to rebrand itself as a safe, fun destination middle-class folk will live in, and, especially, shop in: “Because the Dutch people are not used to markets, there was this idea that this market needed to be bigger, but then it became a financial issue – how do we create a big building that is a market, but with the low rents that [vendors] will pay for the market-stalls?”

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Creative

STICKY SYMBOLS

October 17, 2014
It is difficult to get emotional over peanut butter.

But a teddy bear - that symbol of childhood, home and security, often among the only items to survive countless Goodwill purges and to be carried sheepishly into adulthood - a teddy bear is a different matter.

That was the idea behind an advertising campaign for Kraft Canada that launched in April. Telling the story of a girl growing up with the bear her mother gave her, and then giving one to her own child, the ad aimed to make an emotional connection with consumers that would build their affection for its peanut butter brand.

Now, Kraft is going one step further: it wants to be the source of the little teddy bears that people give to children they love. On Monday, in time for the holiday season, the company will launch a line of bears for sale. The dolls are designed after the bears that appear on the product's labels - one with a red bow tie for crunchy, and a green bow tie for smooth.

Unlike many pieces of brandrelated merchandise, however, the bears are logo-free. The Kraft name appears only on the tags that most customers tend to cut off.

"It's an emotive piece. It's not pushing the hard sell," said Leisha Roche, senior director of marketing for grocery brands at Kraft Canada.

According to Ms. Roche, consumer recognition of the bears is high: even without the Kraft logo, many people associate them with the brand. While the company has offered teddy bears for sale before, the new ones are of higher quality and are meant to feel less like a cheap bit of merchandise. (Kraft partnered with plush toy manufacturer Gund for the new line.) The company is hoping that by choosing not to slap a logo on the toys, adults will be more inclined to buy them as gifts - and families will be more likely to make that emotional bond.

A set of two bears will go on sale Monday on the company's website, StickTogether.ca, for $34.99 (including shipping). Starting in early November, they will also be sold at grocery stores individually for $14.99, with a jar of peanut butter. The company will also launch an ad featuring real children surprised with teddy bears, to promote the new products.

The bears are just one example of how companies can become more memorable by using inanimate objects as symbols for their brands. Unlike a logo, consumers do not associate these symbols as immediately with advertising messages. People who are resistant to the hard sell, then, may be more receptive to the associations the symbol is trying to convey.

"Symbols have the power to connect differently to people just based on a raw emotion," Ms. Roche said. "If I showed you the same pack, and it just said Kraft Peanut Butter and it didn't have the bears, you'd think differently about the brand. ... A descriptor, a word, doesn't have the same impact."

Symbols have come in handy as mnemonics for other brands. TD Canada Trust has its cushy green chair, a symbol of comfort in an industry many consumers find intimidating: banking. Staples Inc. created the "easy button" to suggest an almost magical ability for the retailer to solve all their shoppers' problems instantly. Staples sells a version of the button as an office tchotchke. Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. may have lost its sponsorship of the National Hockey League to rival Molson, but in 2013 its Budweiser brand launched its Red Light, a real product for sale that people could rig up to go off every time their favourite team scored a goal. That symbol helped to cement the beer brand's link to hockey in consumers' minds. It even raised the ire of the Canadian Olympic Committee this year, which objected to ads featuring the Red Light that it said suggested a sponsorship of Team Canada.

When ING Direct rebranded as Tangerine this year, the new spokesperson in its advertising campaign was shown always holding an orange mug - even when hanging off the side of a moving train, or on the back of a jet ski.

"We chose a coffee cup because it's often what you have in your hand when you're sitting down with someone to figure things out," said Angus Tucker, partner and executive creative director at Tangerine's advertising agency, John St. That symbol was perfect for the approachable image the bank wanted to convey: it already referred to its branches as cafés.

"It takes a long time for a logo to stand on its own and have immediate, emotional weight, Mr. Tucker said. "Like Apple. Now, if I just see that apple with a bite out of it, it makes me feel certain things. Nike, the swoosh. But that's years of advertising. Sometimes these icons, whether they are visual or audio, can quickly establish a more emotional connection than a pure logo can."

There is good reason for companies to try to make a connection: research has shown that emotional messages can actually lead to higher long-term sales than rational messages.

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Persuasion

The most terrible naming mistakes entrepreneurs make

October 13, 2014
Your company name will get used more and last longer than any other investment you make in your business. It’s important that you get it right the first time.

Here are some of the biggest naming mistakes I’ve seen entrepreneurs make and why you should avoid them.

1. You believe your domain name has to match your business name.
Tesla doesn’t own the domain name Tesla.com. Do you think someone wanting to buy a Tesla gives up if they go there and don’t find the website? Of course not! They type “Tesla cars” into a search engine and find it in no time flat. And they don’t even notice what the domain name is, which by the way is TeslaMotors.com. If Tesla doesn’t have to have an exact match domain name, neither do you.

2. You spell your name “creatively.”
This is by far the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when naming their company. The problem with having a name like Naymz, Takkle, Flickr, or Speesees is that you will forever have to spell it when you say it, because it isn’t spelled how people hear it. (Think about how often you have to spell your own first and last name. Why would you want to have to do this with your brand name, too?)

Plus, Siri and other voice recognition software do not understand names that are not spelled naturally. And if you and your employees have to spell your name out loud for people, you are wasting everyone’s time and apologizing for it, over and over again. Resist the temptation of getting one of these domains just because it’s available for $9.95.

3. You use an obscure domain extension to spell your name.
While it’s tempting to create a domain name using a country code such as .me for Montenegro, .it for Italy, .us for United States, and .io for Indian Ocean Territory, those names are tru.ly troubleso.me. In addition to being difficult to spell, these domain names can be hard to pronounce, especially when unaided by a visual identity. How do you pronounce Copio.us? Is it “Copio dot U-S” or “Copious?” Equally troublesome is that the human eye is trained to stop when it reads a period. So a name like Copio.us causes people to stop reading (for all the wrong reasons).

4. You business name is too niche.
You don’t want to outgrow your business name. What if Amazon had been named Bookstore.com? They would be limited to selling books.

One name that outgrew itself is Burlington Coat Factory. When they were naming their store, they didn’t think far enough into the future. When they expanded their product offering, they had to change their tagline to, “We’re more than just coats.” (They also always have to have a legal disclaimer in their ads that says, “Not affiliated with Burlington Industries.” Ouch.)

5. Your name pronunciation is not güd.
Your name should be approachable and intuitive to pronounce in your brand’s country of origin. Don’t rely on punctuation marks or letters in different colors to aid in pronunciation. Your name will not appear in color in the press or in search-engine results and people go batty trying to find accent marks and umlauts on their keyboard.

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Creative

Lessons in solar energy from Mother Nature

October 10, 2014
Forget about working like beavers. If only we could work as efficiently as potatoes — or dandelions — we’d really be getting somewhere.

That’s what Sir Richard Friend would like to do.

The Cambridge University scientist is trying to simulate photosynthesis — the process that leafy plants use to harness sunlight and convert it to chemical energy.

Plants, he says, are way ahead of humans in learning to use solar power. He puts it this way. It takes a certain amount of energy to build a solar cell that captures sunlight and uses it to create electricity. And it probably takes a couple of years for the cell to replace the deficit of energy used to create it, and start showing a positive balance of energy created.

Now consider plants. For most, it takes a single growing season — a matter of months — to grow a leaf, repay the energy deficit, and then use the leaf’s energy output to grow new roots, flowers and fruit.

In economic terms, says Friend, the plant’s capital investment is extremely low in relation to the energy produced.

And that’s the challenge for human solar technology: “That’s what I would say is the performance gap.”

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Energy