Something to quack about

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Gary Medalis has a framed list on his office wall of the top commercials of the 1990s as compiled by a national market research company.

On that list are familiar names including food giants Nabisco Co. and Nestle USA. But at the top sits a name probably unfamiliar to most outside Northeast Ohio: Manco Inc.

Manco doesn’t have the name recognition of Nabisco or Nestle, but its television advertising spots unveiled in 1998 struck a chord with consumers. Not only did the company beat out its competition for the Commercial of the Decade award, it wasn’t even a close race.

The commercial features Manco’s Correct-It correction tape. The ad shows a little girl using the tape to change her mother’s grocery shopping list, removing unsavory items such as liver and Brussel sprouts and replacing them with items such as ice cream and a pony. When questioned by her father about the unusual items later at the grocery store, the girl simply replies, “It’s on the list.”

Not bad for a company with an advertising budget dwarfed by most others.

“You can imagine these managers (from the other companies) saying, ‘Where did this Duck thing come from?‘” Medalis says with a laugh. “But that’s what this company has done all along, well before I was here.”

Medalis, vice president of advertising and communications at Avon-based Manco since 1998, has been named a Visionary in the 2001 Innovation in Business awards. His secret for innovation is that he encourages his young marketing team, most under the age of 30, to think of outrageous ideas to promote Manco’s Duck brand products, no matter how strange they might seem.

“I don’t micromanage,” Medalis says. “That’s the reason why the creativity for all our advertising is so good. I just let them (the staff) go, and guess what? When you give them the freedom, they’re going to come up with ideas.”

One of Medalis’ signature wacky ideas was the Duck brand duct tape fashion show. Manco partnered with Parson’s School of Fashion Design in New York City, and the school’s students developed a haute couture clothing line using only Manco’s duct tape.

The fashion show was featured on local television news programs and in newspapers nationwide. An estimated 20 million consumers saw or read about it. Medalis says that was priceless exposure for a fraction of the cost of a network television ad.

“You take a high human interest and a real creative idea, and the media likes it,” Medalis says. “I don’t care who you are, where you came from or how much money you’ve made, everybody has used duct tape in their life.”

When Medalis arrived at Manco from a top Akron advertising firm four years ago, he already had a strong brand symbol to build on with Manco T. Duck. Medalis helped the corporate icon come alive in 1998 with full-motion animation and a voice.

“(Manco founder) Jack (Kahl) created a culture that you could just feed off of,” Medalis says.

From Kahl’s foundation, Medalis built a more aggressive consumer-focused campaign highlighting the Duck brand. At times unusual or even outrageous, Medalis’ marketing efforts still maintain the “fun, friendly, helpful, imaginative and resourceful” characteristics Kahl established for the original Duck symbol in 1984.

“Anytime we walk into an event, we ask, ‘Does this represent the brand well?'” Medalis says. “We have a lot of great ideas that don’t represent the brand well. Duck Tape at the WWF would probably go over pretty well, but that doesn’t represent our brand.”

How to reach: Manco Inc., (440) 937-7000

Manco website