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'Face/Off' star takes off as Amtrak and a dotcom puppet live another day

BRAND WATCH - John Travolta's latest role will see him take to the sky, while train company Amtrak and a dotcom sock puppet made comebacks, writes Jennifer Whitehead in this week's Brand Watch.

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Don't dream it, be it -- after a career spent pretending to be everything from a hitman to an angel, John Travolta doesn't have to pretend to be a jet pilot. To celebrate earning his 747 wings, the actor/dancer/singer/noted Scientologist, has signed up to become a "roving ambassador" for Qantas, the Australian airline.

And a rovin' he will go -- Travolta is the proud owner of a Boeing 707, which he has had outfitted in original Qantas livery. He will now fly the jet -- which is fitted not with the usual cattle-pen-seating but instead with luxury bedrooms and bathrooms -- on a three-month tour of the world.

Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon said that the Spirit of Friendship tour was "a unique opportunity for Qantas to underscore its commitment to international tourism". It was also an ideal opportunity for Travolta to dress up in a captain's uniform and salute for the photocall.

While one form of transport was taking off, another looked to be chugging to a halt. Amtrak, the American train network, got a last-minute reprieve this week after securing enough money to keep the network running for at least a few more weeks.

Earlier in the week, it look like thousands of American commuters might be hitting the road, as Amtrak faced shutting down the network and filing for bankruptcy protection. However, US senators decided it was easier to "heal a sick patient than revive a dead one", and granted the company $100m (£65.5m) as its long-term future is examined.

And, in the UK, shares in the much-maligned Railtrack began trading once more -- although, with investors being largely advised to sell as soon as possible, the days of the Railtrack brand are surely numbered.

European legislators gave the British press plenty to write about this week. First up, the European Court of Justice ruled that not just any old piece of hard Italian cheese can pass itself off as Parmesan. It said that, even if it is from the same geographical region, it can not be sold as Parmesan unless it meets agreed standards.

Apparently, Parmesan is actually an English word and Italian cheesemakers have exploited this fact to sell a mixture of dried grated cheese under this name -- as opposed to Parmigiano Reggiano, which is the real thing. The courts ruling is expected to have a knock-on affect on what has been branded "agro-piracy".

And the notorious rule about bendy bananas, stemming from an EU directive from 1973, has been deemed unenforceable by the High Court, meaning that English and Welsh supermarkets do not have to abide by the directives.

However, what may be classed as a victory by right-minded Daily Mail readers around the country could actually be seen as a blow for consumers -- the case only went to court after government officials brought a case against an Asda store for selling damaged and unclassified fruit and vegetables.

If you've got kids, you might not believe this next story, but Winnie the Pooh is about to launch his first branded drink in the UK.

Although the face of AA Milne's most famous creation has adorned everything from bedsheets to beanbag chairs, it has never been used to sell drinks. Now Disney, which owns the rights to the honey-loving bear, has teamed up with Coca-Cola to give us Winnie the Pooh Roo juice -- that's a fruit juice drink to you and me. It will hit the shops in August. Not literally, of course.

A newer, but only slightly less furry friend made a comeback this week. The sock puppet that was the face of Pets.com has managed to outlive the business it was conceived to promote.

In a story that will give hope to ITV Digital's Monkey, the sock puppet has been signed by 1-800-Bar-None, a Californian firm that specialises in car finance for people with bad credit. Although commentators pointed out that the mascot risks being associated with its older, defunct company, the sock puppet -- sold for $125,000 after Pets.com went under -- achieved more fame than the company it promoted.

It's common sense that when you want someone to buy something from you, you'll be nice to that someone.

But Procter & Gamble decided to chuck that sort of thinking about the window, as it launched its campaign to turn Old Spice from old fart to young hipster.

The consumer goods giant published the findings of its survey into the sweatiest cities in the US. Texans may not be such huge fans of Old Spice now that three of the four sweatiest cities in the whole country are to be found in the Lone Star state -- San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Only New Orleans in Louisiana, which came in at number three, stopped Texas from dominating the sweat stakes completely.

From perspiration to refinement. The jeweller Theo Fennell said it was back in the black in 2001. One of the reasons for its boost in sales from £11m to £11.8m -- the production of 150 gold-plated lids for Marmite jars that retailed at £150 each.

And finally, as the skies of the South West of England cloud over, it's time for another Glastonbury. The festival has been dogged by rows about the increasing presence of brands, including Rizla and mobile phone operator Orange -- despite organiser Michael Eavis denying that the festival is selling out.

No doubt Europe's biggest fashion retailer, H&M, is hoping to cash in to a small degree, at least, with the launch of disposable paper knickers. The one-size-fits all G-strings come in packs of three, making them perfect, if less than environmentally friendly, for the Glastonbury girl-about-field.

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