Monday, June 30, 2008

Bombshells, flashy names sell fireworks

Posted on Sun, Jun. 29, 2008
Kansas City Star (
The Kansas City Star
Who says you can’t buy Happiness?

Turns out, Eternal Damnation and Eternal Absolution are for sale, too.

As for Happiness? It’s for sale at places like Riverside Red X Fireworks right now. With names like Blonde Joke, Explodimus Maximus, Crazy Exciting on Steroids and Gates of Hell, fireworks distributors have ramped up marketing of their products to appeal even more to mankind’s most primal desires: sex and blowing stuff up.

Walk into stores like Pyro City that are open year-round in Missouri or one of the numerous tent stands popping up throughout the metro area and you’re likely to see why. Local distributors said the selection of fireworks — easily more than 500 products at many places — has increased so much in recent years that the packaging needs to stand out.

Few vendors will deny that sexy packaging appeals to buyers. Sometimes that means adding busty babes in camouflage to the label or going a step further. On the Internet, you can find fireworks that sound more like titles of porn movies: The Big O, Vixens From Venus and The Girls Next Door. Other labels simply give shoppers a hearty laugh that encourages them to throw another item in their cart.

Just as casual drinkers sometimes pick wine by oddball labels, fireworks distributors understand that Hicktown Heaven, Totally Jacked, The Big No-No, Cooking With Gas and Self-Destruction might stand out to certain shoppers.

The catchy, goofy and titillating titles appeal to even the most traditional shoppers.

When Richard Tomlinson and his mother, Kathy Tomlinson, walked into a fireworks stand recently, they had planned to avoid the gimmicks and glitzy advertising. They picked up established products as planned, but even they couldn’t resist Break Out. The jailbird theme was perfect for a relative who works at a local jail.

And so the young man and his mother left with one more package that they didn’t expect to buy.

It’s a delight for marketers eager to appeal to consumers of all varieties. History lovers can delight in Invasion of Normandy, Battle of Yorktown and Boston Tea Party. Some might be drawn to Uncle Sam’s Answer or Shock & Awe. Others might prefer Smoke-n-Mirrors. If you don’t like One Bad Mother, maybe vendors will persuade you to buy One Bad Mother-In-Law.

“It’s so much better than it used to be,” said Riverside Red X Fireworks owner Zeke Young as he talked about the vast selection.

So who chooses names like Death Wish, Evil Clown, Rehab and Bad Mutha Trucka?

Sometimes it’s the Chinese officials working in the manufacturing plants. Other times it’s American importers.

Winco Fireworks, an importer based in Lone Jack, puts a big emphasis on product names. Winco employees regularly visit China to look for new products. When they return, a committee sits down to dream up names.

“In our case, we have a complete product development team, and they go around and brainstorm ideas and come up with pretty cool names,” said Mike Collar, president of Winco.

“We also try to make sure that the name fits.”

When the committee adjourns, Collar and others have the final say. A recent winner was Summer Storms, which includes Microburst and Thunderstorm. Other times, names are rejected outright and Collar wonders: “What in the heck were you guys thinking? That’s stupid.”

Around town, vendors are eager to point out Blonde Joke, a package swathed with pictures of provocative, tanned bombshells. Vendors agree that the name makes absolutely no sense. Collar said his committee probably wouldn’t have approved, but he sells the product nonetheless.

“I’ve got several blondes that work for me, so I’d be in big trouble,” he said jokingly.

But something curious has happened with the product. Buyers pick it up as a joke the first year. But customers discover the buxom blondes are no joke — the product performs well, and buyers ask for it by name the next year, Collar and several other vendors said.

Collar said he rarely gets complaints from customers. And when he does, it’s usually not about sex appeal. It’s often religious-minded customers annoyed by names that invoke the devil. Collar is respectful of their beliefs and guides them to another product.

Perhaps they would prefer Pure Heaven or Nirvana.

Ultimately, most consumers simply want the fireworks to be loud, flashy and spectacular.

So if Nuclear Meltdown, Revenge or Waking the Deaf isn’t for you, perhaps just being a Proud American on Independence Day is satisfying enough.

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