Cup o’ Noodles

Every so often I get a craving for something salty, a craving that only instant noodles can satisfy. Every so often I reach out for a cup o’ noodles.

The last time I had some, I looked closer at the packaging while waiting for my water to heat up in the microwave. And I realized: the product is not called “cup of noodles” at all!

cup_noodle_on_shelves

Look closely at these products for sale and they’re called “Cup Noodles” or “Instant Lunch” or “Bowl Noodles.”

(Yes, if you want more than just a cup, you can buy a bowl. But it’s a different brand entirely.)

Bowl Noodle billboard

Notice this product being advertised is called “Bowl Noodle”? It is, after all, in a bowl.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. If the consumer buys your product, isn’t that the point?

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Wordplay

I enjoy language and I love wordplay. It doesn’t even have to be that clever! And a great place to employ wordplay is in signage and advertising.

Here are just a couple of examples that I’ve seen recently.

NBC News billboard

“Up to the minute, the minute you’re up.” Really simple. Using the preposition “up” two different ways. I saw this when I was in Chicago, using their wonderful L train system.

when_nature_calls,_be_sure_to_pick_up

“When nature calls, be sure to pick up.” I think this is hilarious! My sister and I have dogs and we pick up after our pets all the time. It’s the civilized thing to do and it shows consideration to the neighborhood. Unfortunately some dog owners are too selfish or too lazy to do this. A sign is required to remind them. This reminder has a sense of humor about it.

I’ll be on the lookout for more signs that amuse me.

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The Lone Ranger and Tonto film for 2013

I’ve seen a lot of TV ads for the new summer flick, “The Lone Ranger.” The movie opened last Wednesday, July 3. Even before the movie came out, there was already a lot of press coverage about Johnny Depp playing Tonto to Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger.

Johnny Depp as Tonto; Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger

I like Armie Hammer. I think he did a good job playing the Winklevoss twins in the critically-acclaimed “The Social Network.” But the truth is, Johnny Depp is the bigger star. Depp gets top billing. Even though he is playing Tonto and not the title role, the movie isn’t going to reduce Tonto to a sidekick.

I thought the movie poster does a great job of conveying the importance of both characters.

The-Lone-Ranger-Movie-Poster-2013-Wallpaper

The Lone Ranger always wears a black mask, but the mask is illustrated with the silhouette of the “hat” that Tonto wears in the movie. Johnny Depp himself developed his Tonto look based on a painting, according to Entertainment Weekly.

The resulting poster image gives equal weight to both the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

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Fancy Walgreens store at Wicker Park (Chicago)

While I was vacationing in Chicago earlier this year, my friend Vee and I spent the day exploring Wicker Park. No matter what city we’re in, we pick a funky neighborhood to check out. We just love poking into bookstores, boutiques, thrift stores, cafes, and consignment shops. We can do this all day long.

Wicker Park is northwest of The Loop, Chicago’s downtown commercial center. Wicker Park has been gentrified in recent years and is now known for its numerous commercial and entertainment establishments. Vee and I spent the day (a rainy one) walking up and down North Milwaukee Avenue, browsing and making the occasional purchase of a book, latte, t-shirt, or gelato. A sales clerk at one of the establishments we patronized mentioned that we should check out the Walgreens close to the train station. He said it was a particularly glamorous one because the building used to be a bank. “Even the locals take photos in there,” he said.

Here are my photos of this Walgreens.

exterior of Walgreens, Wicker Park

The building is on the corner of the intersection of N Milwaukee Avenue, W North Avenue, and N Damen Avenue. Not just two, but three streets intersecting. Hence the triangular shape of the block and the building.

Ceiling on first floor of Walgreens, Wicker Park

Inside, you can see that the Walgreens kept the grandiose features of the former bank. Check out that ceiling!

aisle in Walgreens, Wicker Park

This Walgreens is the most dazzling I’ve ever been in. It was clean and shiny!

pharmacy at Walgreens, Wicker Park

This is the pharmacy. Everything is bright! I did a double take to figure out why.

travel-sized products on shelves at Walgreens, Wicker Park

Each shelf has lights to illuminate the products for sale. No matter how humble that bottle of baby powder is, it looks amazing when lit from above.

Vitamin Vault at Walgreens, Wicker Park

The pharmacy is in the basement. We specifically went down there to look at the famous Vitamin Vault. Yup, what used to be the bank’s safe was converted into a room with shelves stocked full of vitamin products. The safe’s door stays permanently open, of course.

Shelves of bottled vitamins at the Vitamin Vault, Walgreens, Wicker Park

This wall had safe deposit boxes.

View of the Vitamin Vault at Walgreens, Wicker Park

I was very impressed by how bright and beautiful this Walgreens looked. It was worth going inside.

Shelves of products at Walgreens, Wicker Park

I didn’t buy anything, but if you go to Wicker Park in Chicago, I recommend stopping by.

more travel-sized products on shelves at Walgreens, Wicker Park

If you go, “Travel Well!”

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Chicago trees are cooler

While in Chicago recently, I was captivated by an ad campaign about trees and using trees. In many neighborhoods I visited were laminated signs attached to trees. The signs were about about five-and-a-half to six feet off the ground, which made them very easy to see and read. Each sign contained a simple, positive statement about the benefits of having more trees in the neighborhood.

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Although I didn’t visit the Morton Arboretum, kudos to them for a clever campaign.

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Zappos makes me browse shoes faster

I saw a print ad in a magazine for a pair of wedges made — surprisingly — by Crocs. They caught my eye because the wedges look nothing like the overpriced and hideous plastic shoes for gardening that I associate with the brand name “Crocs.” I went on Zappos.com to take a closer look, even went so far as to put a pair in my shopping cart, but didn’t go through with the purchase.

Crocs A-Leigh Linen Wedge

These are Crocs?!

For a long time, I resisted Zappos.com. I mean, how can you buy shoes by looking at them online? Just didn’t make sense to me. I have to look at the actual shoes with my own eyes, wear them on my own feet, and decide if this was another pair I had to have. My friend Jennifer pointed out that Zappos will ship the shoes for free, I could check them out, and return them if I didn’t like them. Free shipping on the way back, too. I didn’t like the idea of the back and forth, but not wanting to be so “20th century,” I gave it a try.

zappos.com

Of course, browsing shoes on a website is absolutely fantastic. Not only are there all these filters for finding an exact type of shoe. There are also photos taken from different angles and, most of the time, a video with a spokesmodel talking about the shoes and wearing them. And Zappos gives you up to a year to return a purchase (of course, just as long as they still look new).

During my initial shoe-buying experience on Zappos, I ordered a pair and had them delivered to my workplace. I tried the shoes on once they arrived. Not the right fit. That same afternoon, I repacked the shoes in the box for return. Then I jumped back on the website and ordered the same pair, but now half a size larger. When those shoes arrived, I tried them on immediately, but I decided the shoes were all wrong for me. Back they went to the Zappos warehouse. And back I went to the Zappos website to find another pair.

At one point, I had a couple of pairs of shoes inbound, a pair of shoes at my office, and another pair of shoes outbound. If I were at the shoe department at Nordstrom, we’d call this “lunch break.” But this was a shoe browsing experience with a website. My credit card was charged to have the shoes sent to me and Zappos took a couple of weeks to process each refund. This meant that I had several hundred dollars revolving between my bank account and my Zappos account.

I’m not complaining about Zappos. (In fact, the website is so well-designed, they built in a means for the customer to easily send them complaints or suggestions, which you know of course I have done.) But to do this kind of shoe shopping requires time, patience, and healthy cash flow. That must be the trade-off for being able to shop through thousands of pairs of shoes at the click of a button.

In the meantime, I might find myself wandering into a store this weekend so I can take a closer look at those Crocs.

very bright green Crocs classic

But not these Crocs. Yikes!

 

 

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Cash Back Credit Cards

For years I’ve used a couple of credit cards that give me cash back. I’m always happy to get free cash, but the amounts weren’t that big. I was “earning” this cash back at the rate of about $120 a year, or $10 a month. Reflecting on this while brainstorming ways to make more money, I decided to shop around for credit cards that could give me cash back… faster.

Before I go on, let’s get one thing straight. I refuse to pay any kind of annual fee for a credit card. Also, I personally don’t care to earn miles or “gifts.” I don’t travel that often and the merchandise to earn looks like junk to me. Besides, if there’s an item I really want, I’d rather just go out and buy it instead of trying to earn it for free in a process that could take months or years. It boils down to money. I’d rather have cash back. With enough cash you can buy plane tickets or MP3 players or keychains.

But already I’d found that earning cash by using a credit card is hard. Most credit cards only offer 1% cash back as the default. In order to earn 5%, the charge has to be for certain categories or you have to sign up for specific periods. Or both. Ugh, the inconvenience! I have to do more shopping around for a really reliable cash-back credit card, but in the meantime, I’ve been pretty content with my two new credit cards.

My first new credit card gives me iTunes gift cards in increments of $25. It’s essentially another one of those 1% back cards, but I don’t think I’ll ever run out of stuff to buy on iTunes: music, apps, or something to stream on my Apple TV.

My other new credit card is my current favorite. This card gives me 1%, 2% or 3% depending on what I’m buying. The percentage back results in points where one point = $1. Certainly I can spend those dollars on Amazon.com. But, in its best move, this card also gives me the option of depositing the money into my bank account.

In the first year that I’ve had the iTunes credit card, I earned $100 into my iTunes account. And in six months of using the Amazon card, I got over $50. So already I’m earning my cash back at a rate faster than I did with my previous pair of credit cards.

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