a peek inside the fishbowl

26 Jan, 2018

Late last night

By andrea tomkins in Ottawa

I did something new to me: I helped flood our community ice rink last night. I even have proof!

Making the ice all nice!

As you can probably tell, I’m wearing every article of warm clothing that I own. ;)

I volunteered to try it out because I’m working on a piece for the paper about it. I’ll share a link on my Facebook page when it’s ready. I will say this: it was fun. It was cold, that’s for sure, and it was actually hard work, but it was fun. I will admit that the hose got heavy after awhile, although I don’t know if it was the weight of the water or the fact that my limbs were all jelly-like after the yoga class I had earlier in the evening.

Here’s the hose cam in action:

Guess what I did last night? #ohcanada

A post shared by Andrea Tomkins (@quietfish) on

I went back to the rink today to take some more photos and see how, ahem, my ice turned out. I chatted with a mother who was there with her two young boys. One of them, who was clearly a hockey star in the making, was gleefully pushing a puck around the ice. At one point he came over and I had the chance to ask him an important question.

“How’s the ice today?
“It’s REALLY nice,” he said, with extra emphasis on the REALLY.
I laughed and pointed to my chest. “I did that! I helped flood the rink last night!”

I couldn’t help myself. I was strangely excited to share this news, and a little proud, too.

20 Jan, 2018

Weekend reading: January 20 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

19 Jan, 2018

A fictional scenario about marketing to men

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

Frank, the head of New Product Development at L’Oriole Group headquarters, had an idea for a new product that he felt was sure to gain traction with customers new and old, and hopefully, create a brand new segment that had so far been sadly neglected. His boss, the VP of Sales, told him he could choose his own brainstorming team for the initial phase. The preliminary report from this meeting would go to the product dev group and as well as sales, and the VP was expecting a go or no-go by EOD.

Frank settled in the cushy leather chair at the head of the table in the boardroom and double checked his PowerPoint while he waited for his colleagues to join him; four guys, his most-trusted co-workers: Ted, Shawn, and Larry. It didn’t take long. They all arrived at the same time, chatting and laughing. Frank looked at his watch. There was no time for small talk, the guys would understand. The prelim had to be filed, after all. He started things off with a hard-hitting (and hopefully, inspirational) quote by the president of the company he pulled from the annual report.

“2016 was another good year for three of our Divisions at L’Oriole, L’Oriole Maximum Luxe, Consumer Products and Active Cosmetics, made great progress and we gained market shares in each of our three strategic regions.”

Everyone smiled and nodded.

Next slide.

“The worldwide cosmetics market, estimated at a total of 205 billion euros, was stronger in 2016, with growth of +4.0%.”

Frank turned to the room.  Everyone was staring at the screen. “Skin care is our largest and strongest segment,” he continued. “I predict growth will continue especially if we generate a stronger push in one specific category: MEN.”

Larry was surprised. “We already have products for men, don’t we?”

“Yes, but a stronger brand strategy provides the ideal response to increasingly strong consumer demand for skin care solutions that are exclusive to men,” explained Frank. “The focus groups are clear. Although it’s taken some time to get to this point, the modern man is becoming concerned about his skin care routines and adopting new products at an astonishing rate. We’d be idiots not to capitalize on what Queer Eye for the Straight Guy first started. We have to tap into that and improve our foothold!”

Frank looked around the table to gauge the response so far. Ted looked a little puzzled but he assumed it was because he had never watched Queer Eye and wasn’t familiar with the premise.

He took a deep breath and returned to his PowerPoint.

“Many men don’t want to use their wives skin care products because they’re seen as too feminine, yet many “borrow” (Frank underlined the word with exaggerated air quotes) their moisturizers and cleansers because they’re too shy to go to the drugstore and buy personal care products for themselves. Honest to god.”

Frank looked down at the small stack of files in front of him.

“We need to come up with a new line that (a) solves their skin care issues (b) makes them realize they need to add other products to their skin care routines – moisturizer in addition to that cleanser for example –  and (c) are manly enough for men to want to share their product finds with their friends at work and in the locker room and not be embarrassed about it. As we know, our customers are our best brand ambassadors!” There was more nodding around the table. Everyone was aware that digital outreach to influencers was a big part of the marketing strategy this year.

Frank, standing at this point, leaned over his laptop towards the rest of the team.

“So here’s my idea. New brand. And we kick it off with face wash.”

Face wash! The rest of the team erupted into excited chatter. What would this mean for the company? Would it be a success or a flop? Face wash? Would men really buy this stuff?

Frank smiled. “You’re probably wondering, why face wash? Well, our surveys show that it’s the easiest entry point for men as it pertains to skin care. Once they start using a facial cleanser, they’re more open to adopting the whole suite of skin care items. And we can make a skin care series as big or small as we want and expand it relatively quickly, say, if we decide that North American men are willing to go spend out for face masks, anti-aging, toners, scrubs, exfoliants, BB creams, acne solutions. And let’s not forget the summer skin care category: SPF gels, lotions, sprays; self-tanning lotion; after sun lotion, etc etc.” Shawn was punching something into his iPhone calculator. He’s probably figuring out the margins, thought Frank. He continued.

“Interestingly, our surveys indicate that the primary purchasers of this product might not even be men at first.” Frank shuffled his papers until he found the right one. “According to our calculations, it will be women in year one buying our new face wash for their husbands, and in year two it’ll be men buying it for themselves.”

Frank looked around the table at all of the beaming faces. “We have to make some key decisions here first, as you know… and come up with a basic outline of this product before submitting our prelim. Which is why we’re here today.“

Ted raised his hand. “I have a question, Frank. Don’t we have to make a request to the product formula research team? We are talking about a whole new item here.”

Frank waved his hand dismissively. “Nah, we just use the same recipe for our ladies face wash but add a manly fragrance instead. We’ll focus group that at the right time.”

“What about pricing,” said Ted. “That might be a stumbling block for our target audience.”

“Indeed,” said Frank. He looked thoughtful for a moment. “That’s why we should price it less than a similar product marketed to women. Half of our focus group said they’ve been using bar soap in lieu of facial cleanser until now, so hitting the right price point from the get-go will be crucial.”

The men around the table shuddered to think about using bar soap on their faces and looked at each other with horrified expressions.

Frank raised his hand again. “I know. Crazy. But let’s bring this back a notch. I’d like to work out a prototype.”

Everyone looked down at the executive notepads in front of them. Frank noticed that Larry had been doodling and gave him a long look.

“Larry, start us off with packaging. What do you think our new face wash should look like?”

Larry’s cheeks flushed and he turned the page over and wrote something on the top of a clean sheet of lined paper.

“Colours are important and colour blocking is big this year, so we pick two colours. Nothing too feminine, obviously, that means no pink or purple or yellow. We use red and white in the women’s line, so how about black and silver to convey value…. no, platinum, platinum is the strongest metal and we want to convey TOUGHNESS here. Black is a no-brainer, and platinum colour block with, um, orange highlights. YES.” Larry was starting to get excited and it showed on his face. The rest of the team watched him intently. Frank was busy writing everything down.

“It definitely has to be orange,” continued Larry. “Orange is healthy without being green if you get where I’m going. Orange is energy. Vitamin C, everyone’s favourite vitamin! Orange is macho construction workers and safety vests and safety pylons. Orange says ‘HEY YOU, I am confident, but not overly so.’ I definitely think orange is the highlight colour.”

Frank looked happy. “I think we’re on to something here,” he mumbled. He licked the tip of his index finger absentmindedly and flipped over a paper. “Yes, here it is, our focus group indicated that orange was a preferable colour, even over traditional blue tones normally associated with products for men. Let’s keep going. Shawn, what about copy for the package? Any ideas spring to mind?”

Shawn cleared his throat. “I was in that focus group too. My takeaway was the discussion of the word ‘expert.’” The others looked at him expectantly. This was about to get interesting. The text used on product packaging was debated down the letter and L’Oriole Group employed the top commercial writers in the world, who often had degrees in psychology, sociology, as well as marketing. They knew what made people feel good, feel bad, and they knew exactly how to use language to exploit people’s weaknesses and push them towards a purchase.

“There’ve been some very interesting discussions about using the word ‘expert’ on body care products,” said Shawn. “Studies show that consumers are more likely to make a purchase if they see the word in the package design. They’re looking for help. They don’t know what to buy. Picture it!”

Shawn stood up, stuck his arm out and made a sweeping arc in front of him. “Our consumer, who until this very day has been using BAR SOAP ON HIS FACE, is standing in a very long aisle at the store. There are hundreds of products and he’d rather go out with his buddies for a burrito than choose one, but he knows he needs to kick it up a notch and start washing his face, like for real. Which one does he pick? We have to make it easy for the poor guy, after all, there’s the promise of a BURRITO crowding out everything else. That’s why we have to use the words MEN EXPERT at the very top of the container. Not a sentence, no, that just complicates things and then we’d need to talk punctuation. Just MEN and EXPERT. Right here. In all caps. Let’s make it crystal clear that (a) they are men and this is a men’s product and (b) we are the experts and that we can help.”

Shawn sat back down. Frank nodded. “Excellent points Shawn, thank you. Let’s make sure they know that we are a trusted brand for men! What else?”

Ted cleared his throat again. Frank wondered if he was getting that cold that was going around the office. “As you all know, Canadian packaging presents an issue to us because it has to be bilingual, so we should have a bilingual product name.”

For the first time that afternoon, a silence filled the room. Larry doodled. Shawn looked at the ceiling. Ted stared at his hands.

“A tough nut to crack, for sure,” said Frank. “So let’s roll back for a sec. Let’s think about what we want to convey here.”

More silence. Finally, Shawn spoke up. “One of our most recent surveys indicated that dry skin was a key issue for consumers, and that’s both men and women.”

Frank slammed his fist on the board room table. “I love that. Let’s use it. And the fact that both men and women find this to be a key issue means that the purchase of our men’s cleanser will appeal to both. Especially important in year one. What else?”

“You know,” started Larry with his characteristic drawl. “Since we’re using orange on the package we could reinforce our “energy” colour message there. So why not call this product, HYDRA ENERGETIC. In all caps, because we really mean it. Hydra, like hydration, get it? But in classical mythology, a hydra is a serpent with nine heads, each of which, if cut off, grew back as two. Did you ever watch Hercules? He killed the Hydra.”

Recognition dawned on the other guys around the table as they recalled their favourite mythical hero from that Disney movie.

“Ah, Hercules! Cool! SO much strength in that messaging! I like it,” said Frank. So HYDRA ENERGETIC. And it’s bilingual, more or less! I had an idea too. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but what if we ALSO added a big X on it somewhere too. Like X marks the spot?”

Everyone cheered. They were on to something. Frank raised his hand. “We are certainly heading in the right direction boys, but let’s not forget that we need a tagline and the usual bullets for the front of the package.” The team returned to thoughtful contemplation. Frank took a sip of coffee. It was cold.

Larry was the first to speak up. “I have an idea. How about something about charcoal. Charcoal has been around for centuries. It’s been used to heal upset stomachs because of its ability to absorb chemicals and toxins. In fact, I remember my grandmother taking charcoal tablets back in the day. We can definitely make that link. And as an added bonus, it’s black, sciencey-sounding, and is really macho. I’m sure you can use it on your face. Besides, there’s this whole hipster thing now about charcoal barbecues. They’re totally coming back.”

“I don’t disagree,” said Frank. “Hipsters are one of our key demos but we don’t want to limit ourselves. So you think we can use charcoal, eh?” He fell into a bit of a reverie and wondered if he’d remembered to book his weekly massage.

Larry interrupted Frank’s thoughts. “Definitely. We can call it a charcoal cleanser. It sounds tough. It’s not a sissy face wash.”

Ted reached across the table and slapped it with an open hand. “Better yet,” he said. “How about we call it a MAGNETIC CHARCOAL CLEANSER, in all caps, of course. Magnets are going to be big this year. Huge! They’re naturally strong. No one messes with a magnet! Have you ever accidentally put your iPhone down next to one?” Everyone laughed. “Well don’t, because you’ll lose everything you’ve got. Besides, charcoal is kind of like a magnet, right? It draws out impurities?” He tapped his pencil on his notepad. “I’m sure we could sell this.”

“What about the bullets,” asked Frank. “We always give consumers the top reasons to buy this product, right there on the front label. So what should they be?”

Shawn sucked back the last of the water in his Nalgene bottle. “Easy. Because it’s magnetic, it has to, number one, ‘capture all dirt and oils’ and number two, give you fresh skin and a healthy look. We need to keep it simple. And let’s not forget our focus group guys. They told us that ‘fresh’ is a more powerful motivator than ‘clean’ because clean is for wimps.”

Frank was busy making notes. “This is great. Hey, I know this meeting is going long, but I wanted a few other keywords to give to our back of packaging copy team. What words would you include here?”

Ted, who was most eager to leave, was first to chime in. “I would totally mention ‘CITY’ somewhere. CITY dirt, or something, because this product is for the urban dude who wants to look fresh and make points with that chick at the gym. That being said, I’d also add pollution, sweat – sweat is so manly – and POWER. Somewhere in the first paragraph anyway.”

Frank nodded. “Thanks Ted. Larry, what about you?”

“Hmm. I agree with Ted, for sure. If there’s space I would add REVOLUTION in there somewhere to indicate this is a whole new direction that is good for the consumer. Also, do we want to throw in sciencey stuff? Blackheads, yes. What about sebum. Does our guy know what sebum is?” He looked around the table to see if everyone else was in agreement and was pleased to see nodding heads.

“I think our guy is an educated guy don’t you?” asked Frank. “He knows the issues. Maybe it’s because he’s been secretly reading his wife’s beauty mags in the john, but he gets what it means to have shiny or dull skin, and he doesn’t like it. He definitely doesn’t like dirt and grime, so maybe we add those to the list.”

Frank finished making his notes and put down his pen. “Thank you boys, now let’s go to lunch.”

Marketing to men

Marketing to men

17 Jan, 2018

Things I am loving: line-a-day journals

By andrea tomkins in Oh! Things!

At the end of 2017, I finished my five-year line-a-day journal (!) and immediately bought myself a new one. (Hey, it’s on sale at Amazon right now!) I liked this habit too much to discard it.

In case you aren’t familiar with the idea, the line-a-day gives you a small space to fill in every day. Depending on the size of your handwriting, of course, you only have two or three sentences to sum up your day, or write about the weather, describe what you made for dinner, the funny things your kids said or did that day… whatever floats your boat. Easy peasy.

One line a day journal

It’s a low-pressure diary, which is ideal for those of us who are intimidated by filling up a bigger space or just don’t have the time to do so.

I was pretty good about writing in it every day. One year, the first year, I put it in a drawer and forgot about it for QUITE a big stretch. I recommend keeping it right on your nightstand or where you can’t possibly miss it.

Occasionally I find myself wavering on the best possible use of this little space. I would LIKE to use it to write about the best thing that happened every day – I did that before and really enjoyed it, and it helped my mental health immensely – but the practical part of me has simply defaulted to a plain old summary of the day.

I thought I’d mention a few things I’ve learned about myself in the process:

  • I think about work too much. This is often the very first thing I write down, even before any interesting personal stuff. I’m afraid that my priorities are screwed up, and it shows. I find myself wondering, why did I put this instead of that? Gah.
  • Did I mention that it was low pressure? Ha. If I’m perfectly honest, a small part of me worries that after my death this thing is going to make me look like an idiot. There is nothing literary about this whatsoever. I imagine a historian flipping through it and discarding it because it’s so boring, but if I worry about this too much I know I’d never write anything at all. Dear historian or ancestor, I’m sorry but THERE IS NOTHING PITHY TO FIND HERE.
  • I hate my handwriting. I must accept this.
  • I do like knowing what happened on this day in previous years.The pages are designed so it’s easy to look back and see what happened on that day. It’s kind of neat, and scary. Time passes so quickly. I often find myself saying to Mark, “did you know that this time last year we…”

Every night before I go to bed I scribble down a line or two. It only takes a minute to reflect on my day and find a way to sum it up. For me, it’s a minute worth spending. For what are we, other than our collection of memories?

Edited to add: This one for parents is really cute. What a great way to get kids reflecting and talking about their day. It’s like a time capsule. I wish I’d thought to do this when the kids were small!

13 Jan, 2018

Weekend reading: January 13 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

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  • „Live Below the Line” sau cum e s? tr?ie?ti cu 1,5 dolari pe zi | Dana rozMarin: […] ?i a f?cut-o cu atâta succes încât acum scoate o carte cu re?ete foarte ieftine, MintLife, Quiet Fish ?i un exemplu românesc, Farfuridi.
  • andrea tomkins: Awesome! Glad to hear! You may be the only one I've managed to convince, Festina. If so, the coffee is yours at the end of the month! If other Ottawa
  • Festina Lente: Fantastic idea. Something we should all do on Heart Day. I'm in !
  • andrea tomkins: It's crazy to think that IS the *real* website! How is this selling Winterlude to millions of potential visitors from all over the world? How is it se
  • Splake: Totally agree. And ditto on the lousy website. I actually kept searching for while to find the *real* website. Come on Ottawa. It's time to st
  • Wynne: We've really enjoyed participating in escape rooms too. We've only been to two in Ottawa & can't wait to try out more. If your family is into boar
  • andrea tomkins: Yes it was! It was a really nice treat. I'm definitely bringing the kids next time. :)

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!

 


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