Dead Dinosaurs Are Amusing

Earlier this month I posted a short case study about how the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was changing its standard State Park product with newer activities and amenities up at the new Lake Vermillion property under construction.

Just last week the Star Tribune carried another great example of a brand that is changing up its offering in order to better attract and retain customers.

This time around, it’s an amusement park instead of a State Park. But what Valleyfair is doing with plans to introduce a dinosaur exhibit in Shakopee is no different, at its core, than what the DNR is doing up north.


Change Your Product, Grow Your Base


The vision for the Parks & Trails Division of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources “is to create unforgettable park, trail, and water recreation experiences that inspire people to pass along the love for the outdoors to the next generation.”

My anecdotal thoughts on this vision, taken only from my own [admittedly too brief] visits to Minnesota’s state parks is that the Division is doing well with the youngest families and also with the RVing set. Not, perhaps, as well among couples or families with older kids. Spend some time in a county or regional park in Minnesota–in a way these represent some of the DNR’s competition–and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. Especially when you consider the county and regional parks with brand new facilities and amenities, the state’s parks have some catching up to do.

Minnesota’s state parks are, basically, rustic ancestors for these more modern, playground-friendly and sanitized iterations. (Caveat: Catherine and I were married at Gale Woods Farm, a strong educational anchor to the counties’ Three Rivers Park District. We’ve been back countless times since our wedding because it’s an awesome park in another awesome park system. And yes, the unique “product” offerings at Gale Woods–hello, it’s a farm–certainly help.)

And that’s kind of the problem for the DNR: 75 state parks and recreation areas within a state filled with countless other options for those who are inclined to spend time outside. (We haven’t even talked about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the rest of the Superior National Forest or Voyageurs National Park!)

The DNR is working hard to counter the problem. Exhibit A: recent news about the development of a new state park being added to the DNR’s parks system: Lake Vermillion State Park. A DNR press release about the state’s newest park contained most of what I heard on the radio, plus a bit of history about the legislative proceedings that made it all possible in the last decade. Those aforementioned county and regional parks are about to get a run for their money:

  • It’s Minnesota’s first new state park in 30 years. That’s what we call a news hook in and of itself, on a few different levels.
  • It’s located in Ely’s backyard. There will no doubt be a halo effect attracting those already in and around Ely for recreation.
  • It’s being built with the very kinds of amenities adventure-seekers, well, seek. From children’s tree houses and an “adventure trail” with a ropes course to nearby Soudan Underground Mine State Park–this park is going to keep visitors engaged.

A classic example of how to win by changing your product. I can’t wait to add this park to the Mandle Family list of must-see must-do activities next summer!

(This post has been in draft mode for a while. This more recent Star Tribune article about Lake Vermillion State Park went even further with explanations about the adventure-based mindset driving this new park’s development. It also reminded me to finish this post up and push it live.)

My Dad: Marketing Trendsetter Well Before Drew Brees

Although the new Vicks VapoRub ad featuring New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees launched back on November 1, the media relations effort seemed to have hit its mark this past week given the blog posts and news articles I came across in my feeds.

I hadn’t seen the ad before reading about them, but the coverage itself did make me pause.

For starters, I’ve had a chest cold for nearly two weeks and the menthol in the cough drops just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. Just from the standpoint of product benefits, a VapoRub does seem to be something that might help me sleep.

Also, the coverage I saw–including this article in the New York Times–built a story out of the celebrity aspect of the ad.

More specifically, the story revolved around how this Procter & Gamble brand was evolving to feature the man’s role in taking care of the sick child’s needs–a major change for a brand that, since it began advertising, had focused on the woman’s role instead.

That made me pause not because of my current cold, but rather the ones I remember having as a child. Why? Because my experience with Vicks VapoRub was, more often than not, connected to my dad gooping me up with the salve, instead of my mom.

That and a strong smell that invariably cleared out my nostrils and made it easier for me to breathe. Messy, but effective.

A winning combination even though my dad is not a star quarterback like Drew Brees. Just a celebrity within our family!

Celebrating Death With And Without Technology

It is unconscionable to celebrate someone’s death. One can, in some cases, perhaps share a sense of relief. But celebrations are just wrong.

My kids are still young enough that they perhaps have not picked up on the impact our War on Terror has on some individuals, specifically those who might find themselves targeted on account of their own targeting.

But I’m not convinced they aren’t absorbing the news as it happens. Children’s minds have an amazing knack for learning. As an example, here’s a TEDTalk on the matter, courtesy of Alison Gopnik.

This season’s pursuit of Muammar Gaddafi was only the latest chapter I’m filing away in my own memory about stories of the Mad Dog of the Middle East.

The gruesome videos and stills of Gaddafi’s final moments will rest right alongside what I recall of all sorts of misdoings he helped spark, from Lockerbie to Rome. Because in the early-to-mid-1980s I absorbed some things which maybe I shouldn’t have for someone at my age: news of the day.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think the media coverage from Libya last month was out of the ordinary. By showcasing the death of a man–however wrong the man may have been in life, and however wrong his assassins may have been in ending it–the news outlets and citizen journalists online only followed a pattern of macabre coverage established long ago.

Witness: This painting of Robespierre’s beheading during the French Revolution.

But if the coverage itself was not unique, today’s technology made it spread across the globe in real-time. Whereas the virility of news of Robespierre losing his life was hindered by the speed of horses’ hooves and ships’ sails, Gaddafi’s demise was known instantly. Even if the specific details weren’t.

And the ubiquity of news outlets and channels we are able to tap makes it harder for us as people just to simply keep up and, as parents, to appropriately filter and protect.

Old Car, New Label: Design, Mobile, EPA and the DOT

What with the two kids, the dog and all the stuff–theirs and ours–that typically accompanies us when we head out on the road, our 2005 Toyota Matrix sure has shrunk quite a bit since we bought it as “the biggest family car we could ever possibly want/need.”

So at times Catherine and I have played the “What’s our next family car?” game. Honda Element? Toyota CRV? Flat out, bona-fide minivan? See the trend? My erstwhile dreams about that Vespa or a sprightly little Mini Cooper are simply out of the question.

We’re not actually looking for a new car. But if we were, the new fuel economy labels the US Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency launched this summer are supposed to have made our purchasing decisions more informed.

EPA-DOT-car-labelGone are the mpg-only labels. Now from the car lot we’ll also be able to look at pollutant output and better gauge fuel savings. Most intriguing, as described further in this article from USA Today, is a QR Code.

The code in the sample above takes you to the mobile site where the US government provides detailed information about fuel economy. Specifically, it links over to a detailed summary of the new car fuel economy labels and what the different sections mean. But were we to have scanned the code from the car lot, off of an actual car, we would have been taken to a calculator that would have let us calculate exact mileage costs for the specific car model in question based on personalized commute information we would have been able to input with our phones.

Nice use of design to update the labels. Nice use of QR codes that actually offer a functional benefit.

Nice way to get me dreaming again about that Element. Or maybe a Nissan Cube?