Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Along Highway 52: About that popcorn & cheese June 5, 2017

SIGNAGE INTERESTS ME. For many reasons. The graphics. The message. The marketing influence. The persuasive power.

Occasionally signage can confuse or present an unclear message.

Let’s consider three signs along U.S. Highway 52, a high traffic four-lane that I sometimes travel between Cannon Falls and Rochester. On my most recent trek along this roadway, I photographed two signs by Pine Island.

 

 

The first grabbed my visual attention because of the oversized popcorn kernels scattered on the ground below a popcorn billboard and the single word, Newt’s. What is this sign advertising? A popcorn place? Not quite. Newt’s does have, according to online reviews, some of the tastiest popcorn around. But Newt’s is a beer and burger place that also serves popcorn.

Digging deeper into the popcorn pile, I read on Newt’s Facebook page that the business pops an average of 20,000 pounds (or 10 tons) of popcorn kernels in a year at its north, south and downtown Rochester locations. Now that’s a lot of popcorn. I wonder how much beer is served.

 

 

The second sign I photographed promotes a cheese mart. But if you look closely, you will see that the Pine Cheese Mart no longer sells cheese. That’s right. Tacked onto the bottom of the sign is the notation that you can purchase beer and wine making supplies at Von Klopp Brew Shop, once also a marketer of cheese.

When the northbound highway access to the cheese mart was closed, the business took such a hit that it stopped selling cheese and closed its restaurant and gift shop, according to the business website. I wonder how many travelers catch the cheese mart part of this sign and miss the details.

 

 

The last “sign” I photographed is farther north on 52 and visible from the southbound lane. There’s nothing fancy about this handcrafted message. It’s simple and to the point. The landowner appreciates farmers and loves his country. Perfect.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

NOTE: I photographed these signs several months ago. They may or may not still be in place.

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My current favorite national marketing campaign December 29, 2016

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mandarins-ad-campaign-billboard-67

 

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO a billboard along Interstate 94 in Rogers popped out at me. Not like a jack-in-the-box or a creepy clown. But visually.

The simplicity of the graphic design and the short, powerful message of “Good choice, kid.” made this advertisement noticeable among all the roadside clutter.

This Wonderful halos billboard is part of a $30 million ad campaign focusing on kids who choose mandarins over something less desirable. So I learned while googling the slogan. To totally understand this, you have to view the television spots that are part of this campaign. Kids star in videos with storylines that present a temptation—like sleeping over in a creepy doll-filled mansion or running away to join the circus—and the obvious better choice of a mandarin.

The ads are quirky, funny and, yes, most assuredly memorable. To the creative forces behind the Wonderful Halos newest marketing endeavor, well done.

TELL ME: What ad campaigns, past or present, do you consider especially well done and memorable? Why?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About that McDonald’s muskie billboard… September 16, 2016

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McDonald's muskie billboard in Minnesota

 

WHEN I SPOTTED this billboard about six weeks ago in the north metro, I wondered about the muskie part of the message. I still do. Other than catching muskie in the summer and preferring a smoothie in the heat of summer, I don’t see much connection between the two in this McDonald’s ad.

I wondered if I was missing something. So I googled the topic to find a column by Pioneer Press Outdoors Editor Dave Orrick titled “Some people really do hate muskies. There, I said it.” He then laid out the polarizing story of muskie stocking in some Minnesota lakes. It should be noted that his opinion piece is not tied to the McDonald’s ad. It just happened to rank third in my Google search.

After reading Orrick’s column, I offer two suggestions to McDonald’s: Don’t erect an identical billboard in Cass or Crow Wing counties. Or choose a different, less controversial, fish.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The connection between a pony, Preparation H & a liquor store June 22, 2016

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I’M NO MARKETING EXPERT. But I did take advertising and public relations classes in college, a requirement of my Mass Communications degree. Yet, degree and media experience aside, I rely primarily on my initial emotional reaction to rate the success or failure of media campaigns.

I find myself most drawn to advertising messages that tug at my heartstrings or offer a bit of unexpected humor. Flashiness and celebrity endorsements don’t impress me. Simplistic and relatable do. Punch out a strong message, boom, and you’ve got me. Word choice matters, as do music and setting in TV commercials and radio spots.

I photographed these little ponies at Sibley Park in Mankato.

I photographed these miniature horses at Sibley Farm in Sibley Park, Mankato, Minnesota.

My husband will tell you I seldom pay attention to television commercials. For good reason. Most aren’t worth my time. But he’ll also tell you there are exceptions. When the Amazon Prime ad featuring a sweet little pony airs, I crank up the volume like I’m listening to a favorite rock band. I love everything about that commercial from the music to the horses to the pure cuteness factor. I am obsessed to the point of wanting to purchase a little pony for my granddaughter. Isabelle is only 11 weeks old. I’m not serious, of course. But if I lived in the country…

From ponies to Preparation H, a new hemorrhoid treatment commercial filmed in the small southern Minnesota community of Kiester also rates as a current favorite. I applaud the marketing genius who connected kiester to Kiester and came up with this humorous, thinking outside the box ad.

Small towns can be a hotbed for unique advertising. For example, I spotted this sign outside Wayside Liquor in Montgomery (Minnesota, not Alabama) on Sunday:

 

Wayside Liquor sign in Montgomery, 14

 

A quick Google search indicates Wayside Liquor staff didn’t create this message. But they clearly knew the humorous words would grab the attention of motorists traveling along busy Minnesota State Highway 13. The sign works in directing attention toward the liquor store. Boom.

How about you? Do you have a favorite TV commercial, radio spot, print ad, sign, billboard? What makes it a winner?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bibby Bobbie Bibster bumper sticker February 25, 2016

 

Turbo Tim's Anything Automotive bumper sticker

 

EVERY BUMPER STICKER writes a story.

So what’s the story with the bumper sticker on the right, spotted while waiting at a stoplight in Burnsville a year ago?

The grammar police in me wanted to correct this sentence: My car sucks my Mechanic is on speed dial!” to “My car sucks. My mechanic is on speed dial.”

But, hey, it’s just a bumper sticker, I considered, and opted to focus on the message. The humor clearly works.

As much as words draw my attention, the cat graphics prompted me to learn more about Turbo Tim’s Anything Automotive. What’s a cat got to do with an auto shop in Northeast Minneapolis?

A lot apparently. A black cat, Bibby Bobbie Bibster, according to Turbo’s website, has been a certified Shop Kitty since 2011 and has worked the waiting room for the past three-plus years loving up customers.

That explains the black cat.

There’s one more thing. Slap a Turbo bumper sticker on your vehicle and you’ll get 10 percent off your bill up to $50 for the life of the car.

Based on reviews, Turbo Tim’s seems a customer-friendly place with folks using words like “trustworthy, honest, reasonably priced” and more to describe their experiences.

I can’t personally vouch for the service, but have no reason to doubt the testimonials.

As for the marketing, I peg it as creative and memorable.

HAVE YOU NOTICED any especially creative bumper stickers?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Culver’s blue barn reveal in southern Minnesota July 16, 2015

The Culver's barn along Interstate 35, photographed early Thursday afternoon.

The Culver’s barn and silo along Interstate 35 in southern Minnesota, photographed early Thursday afternoon.

NEITHER RAIN NOR…shall delay the painting of the former Sugardale barn along Interstate 35 north of the Northfield exit.

Late this morning, in the rain, a worker was touching up the “Thank You FARMERS” lettering now billboarded across this iconic Interstate side barn in southern Minnesota.

The front section of the barn was being painted as we drove along Interstate 35 Monday morning.

The front section of the barn was being painted Monday morning.

Only days ago I noticed the transformation from weathered red to a vivid blue, the blue of Wisconsin-based Culver’s. The restaurant chain has already painted four barns—two in Wisconsin, one in Illinois and another in Indiana—blue as part of its Thank You Farmers campaign. The blue barns symbolize gratitude for farmers who have made the company successful, according to Culver’s Director of Publications and Communications Paul Pitas.

Culver’s is also supporting the Future Farmers of America organization and accepting donations to the National FFA Foundation.

To thank farmers and to support future farmers is a good thing. I grew up doing chores and walking fields on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm. I understand the value of farmers.

I also understand the importance of the FFA organization. In the early 1970s, I broke the gender barrier and became the first girl to join the Wabasso High School FFA chapter. Decades later my niece, Hillary Kletscher, would lead that chapter as president. Just a few years ago, she served as the Minnesota FFA president.

A snapshot I took of the barn last winter.

A snapshot I took of the barn last winter from the Interstate, before I had a telephoto lens.

Even with my strong rural background, or maybe because of it, I hold mixed feelings about Culver’s blue barns. I cannot get past the hue. A barn should be red. Or white. Or perhaps grey. But not an overpowering Culver’s blue.

Red marks tradition and for those of us with rural roots, tradition holds great value. Sources such as the Farmers Almanac reveal that, back in the day, many farmers sealed their barns with linseed oil (which is orange-hued) and sometimes added rust, which killed moss and fungi. Thus the red barns.

For years this barn along Interstate 35 has grabbed the attention of travelers with Sugardale Foods lettering painted on the face. Now that faded piece of local rural history has been covered with blue paint and the Thank You FARMERS message.

And the silo, well, now that’s Culver’s blue, too. Blue belongs on Harvestore, not cement stave, silos, in my opinion.

In time, this barn will likely become a beloved Interstate landmark. And memories of the weathered Sugardale barn will fade…

FYI: Click here to read my initial post about the blue barn, before I knew it was a project of Culver’s.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Feeling blue about the iconic Sugardale barn along Interstate 35 July 14, 2015

The front section of the barn was being painted as we drove along Interstate 35 Monday morning.

The front section of the barn was being painted as we drove along Interstate 35 Monday morning. In the center section, you can see a faint oval shape wherein Sugardale was painted.

“THEY’RE PAINTING THE BARN BLUE!” I gasped as I swung my camera lens toward the front passenger side window. So surprised was I by the in-process flashy hue application to the Sugardale barn along Interstate 35 north of the Northfield exit that I could barely compose a photo.

You can see how the barn looked before it was painted blue.

On the left side of the barn, you can see the as yet unpainted section. The barn needed paint. But blue?

“It’s NAPA blue,” I hissed to my driver husband, who works as an automotive machinist at the NAPA store in Northfield. He knows how much I dislike the shade of blue that represents this automotive business.

I continued to rant. “Why would anyone paint a barn blue? And they’re covering up that sugar sign.”

All of this I spewed as I shot several quick frames while our car traveled at 70 mph along the interstate.

How the barn looked when I photographed it in February.

How the barn looked when I photographed it in February. (This was before I had a telephoto lens.) Click on the image to enlarge.

I don’t understand why blue, rather than red, was selected for this landmark barn. Before the blue, you could see the fading advertisement for Ohio-based Sugardale Foods, “a leading provider of quality meats and premium foods.” The lettering has been there for years and has made this barn iconic to I-35 travelers in southern Minnesota.

Now the Sugardale sign has been obliterated by that, that, blue. Why?

In February 2011, I published a winter image of the barn. That fall, reader Sara G. commented on the post:

This is my grandparents’ barn. Grandpa, a retired NW Orient pilot, purchased the land in about 65, moved out there in about 74. The barn is post and beam and was built by a guy who would walk around the land and point to trees to chop down for the various posts and beams. Most still have remnants of bark on them. It is an amazing structure. We played in there every chance we got as kids.

Sadly, it will most likely hit the market in the next few years. I cannot imagine driving down 35w and having someone else live there. Or Christmas anywhere else for that matter. Thanks for the pics. You need to go back and shoot it now before the corn comes down while the color is so strong.

I expect Sara’s grandparents no longer own this property. I understand that the current owner can choose any color he/she wishes for the barn. But a vivid blue? And why destroy the memorable Sugardale signage? I feel just plain blue about this piece of rural barn history vanishing under a coat of blue paint.

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UPDATE 1:30 PM: Bob Collins, who pens an online column, NewsCut, at Minnesota Public Radio, followed up on my post after a reader (Faith, Farming & Cowboy Boots) tipped me off that the blue barn might be a project of the Midwestern restaurant chain, Culver’s. Bob contacted Culvers and learned that the I-35 Sugardale barn is, indeed, part of the company’s campaign to thank farmers and financially assist young people going into agriculture. You can read Bob’s post at this link:  http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2015/07/a-barn-turns-blue/

Also, be sure to scroll through the comments section on my post to read an explanation from Paul Pitas, Director of Public Relations and Communications for Culver’s.

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© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling