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From The MNB Archives
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
by Kevin Coupe
The Los Angeles Times reports on a new Harvard University study into why people like to share every thought and emotion via social media like Twitter and Facebook - experiments showed that "the act of disclosing information about oneself activates the same sensation of pleasure in the brain that we get from eating food, getting money or having sex. It's all a matter of degrees of course, (talking about yourself isn't quite as pleasurable as sex for most of us), but the science makes it clear that our brain considers self-disclosure to be a rewarding experience."
I find this fascinating, and Eye-Opening. But worrying, since I'm clearly not having enough fun. Either I'm doing Facebook and Twitter wrong, or...
The Washington Post reports this morning about how a wide range of companies are being affected by federal prosecutors intent on enforcing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) of 1977.
Here's how the Post frames the story:
"The U.S. anti-bribery law that Wal-Mart may have violated in Mexico has ensnared leading companies from virtually every sector of the economy as federal prosecutors increasingly crack down on a wide range of transgressions, from improper accounting to giving foreign officials computers and bags of cash.
"The list of those facing federal bribery inquiries stretches well beyond 100 and includes prominent names such as Pfizer, 3M, Goldman Sachs and Alcoa. Even icons of corporate responsibility such as General Electric and IBM have paid hefty sums to settle allegations, part of a broader effort that has netted the government billions in fines in recent years and landed some executives in prison ... The enforcement spike has drawn praise from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other administration officials, who have hailed its impact in fighting corruption overseas. But it also has produced persistent and growing complaints from multinational companies, who argue that the law leaves too much uncertainty about what qualifies as bribery and that the government’s impulse to prosecute threatens to undermine U.S. competitiveness abroad.
"Company officials and their advocates complain about what they see as murky language in the statute on issues such as who qualifies as a foreign official and the liability a parent company has for the behavior of subsidiaries."
These companies have responded to enforcement of the law by lobbying for changes that would clarify the language and put them at less risk.
I'm reminded of the blind guy back in the seventies who was once appointed to be in charge of censorship for a local town. (A quaint notion, huh?) Asked how he would be able to tell if something was pornographic, he responded, "I know porn when I feel it."
This story may be apocryphal. But I thought of it when people say that they don't know what is bribery and what isn't. Really?
Ultimately, Walmart's biggest problem is going to be the cover-up, not the actual bribery. It is going to be executives who allowed people to investigate their own divisions, who prevented investigations from going forward, and who covered up results when they came to light.
At a personal level, I just get tired of companies and people who are holier-than-thou, and then engage in illegal activities. That kind of selective ethics - whether practiced by business executives, politicians or religious leaders - represent the worst kind of hypocrisy and arrogance. At least IMHO.
The Sacramento Bee reports that Raley's and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union have agreed to meet with a federal mediator, hoping that the move will allow them to find common ground and end a seven-month contract dispute.
The current, expired contract has been extended to June 6, and will be extended again on a day-to-day basis if no agreement has been reached by then.
UFCW 8 President Jacques Loveall, UFCW Local 5 President Ron Lind and Raley's President and CEO Mike Teel released a joint statement: "Our goal is to come to a peaceful resolution. Neither side wants a labor dispute and we are hopeful the federal mediator will help us reach an agreement. We thank the federal mediation service for agreeing to assist us as we try to work through our differences and address the needs of Raley's and its employees."
Good. Sanity reigns. A strike/lockout would have been a disaster for everyone.
Ahold USA announced that Mark McGowan, president of the company's Stop & Shop New England Division, has been promoted to the role of Executive Vice President, Supply Chain, Ahold USA.
Joe Kelley, who has been serving as CEO of Indiana-based Marsh Supermarkets, has been hired to succeed McGowan as president of the Stop & Shop division. Kelley, a Massachusetts native, previously was executive vice president at Price Chopper, and also worked at Bozzuto's.
Meanwhile, at Marsh, COO Bill Hollsworth has been named interim CEO in the wake of Kelley's unexpected departure.
Bloomberg reports that the Democratic National Convention Committee is returning $50,000 in gift cards donated by Walmart for use before and during the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, this August.
According to the story, the Democratic committee was under pressure from organized labor to return the cards, especially in the wake of allegations that Walmart engaged in systemic and systematic bribery as a way of growing its business in Mexico, and then covered up the illegal activities when they came to light internally.
Walmart said it would donate the cards to local food banks.
We could all see this one coming from a mile away.
• Living up to a commitment that it made when the state of California agreed to allow it to delay collecting state sales taxes for one year, Amazon.com has announced that it will build some two million square feet of warehouse space in the state, with one in San Bernardino and another in Patterson. The San Bernardino facility is slated to open by the end of this year, and the other will open in 2013.
This may be seen by some as a compromise by Amazon, but it is a pretty good bet that having these warehouses will serve the company's long-term interests in a variety of ways, some of which we don't even know yet.
Point of Purchase Advertising International (POPAI) is out with a new study making what for it is an old point - that "when it comes to making decisions on what to buy more shoppers than ever, 76% to be exact, are making that decision in-store."
According to the report, "To determine the in-store decision rate purchases are broken down into four different categories – Specifically Planned, Generally Planned, Substitutes, and Unplanned. The in-store decision rate is calculated by taking the sum of the purchases that fall under Generally Planned, Unplanned, and Substitutes categories."
The report also says that retailers are missing out on sales opportunities by not being more aggressive about displaying and merchandising products and developing an enhanced and compelling in-store experience.
As in all cases likes these, what I would really have found shocking would have been if an organization like POPAI found that in-store decision-making was on the decline.
Forgive me, but this strains credibility a little bit, since it has been fairly well documented that during the recession and even now, when many people have a recessionary mindset, more people than ever are making shopping lists and adhering to them - because they don't have enough money to veer off into unplanned areas.
Maybe it is the way they crunch and define the numbers.
Advertising Age reports that "the effort by the federal government to severely limit the marketing of certain foods to children appears to be pretty much dead.
"In recent testimony to Congress, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz said that 'it's probably time to move on' from the effort, which food advertisers have criticized as draconian. Mr. Leibowitz made himself even more clear last week, saying in a letter in The Wall Street Journal that 'the commission does not support legislation restricting food advertising to children'."
The Seattle Times reports that PCC Natural Markets has unveiled what it calls "a new alternative for dealing with food waste at its Issaquah location.
"For the past two years, the local grocery co-op has been working with WISErg, a Washington startup developing a 'harvester' machine to convert food waste into liquid fertilizer. All nine PCC locations will carry the fertilizer, a brown liquid the consistency of water.
According to the story, "The WISErg harvester is made up of two large metal structures, the food-waste loading station and the processing unit. Employees of PCC dump organic materials into the loading system, where the material is weighed, ground up and transported into a silver structure resembling a silo.
"In the silo, nutrients and liquid are extracted from the organic matter. The resulting slurry ... is transported about every 10 days to WISErg's processor. There, it is broken down through anaerobic digestion, and goes through a chemical-stabilization process to create the liquid fertilizer.
"One of the formulations has been approved by the Washington State Department of Agriculture for use in organic farming. It starts at $8 for a 32-ounce container."
...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...
• Beef Products Inc. (BPI), which earlier this week said that it would have to permanently shutter three factories and lay off 650 factory workers because of the controversy over lean finely textured beef - an ammonia-washed filler now known popularly as "pink slime" that retailers are running away from, in part because consumers were upset because its existence was never acknowledged on packaging - now says that it may also have to lay off corporate staff because of business challenges.
"Regrettably, this evolving situation has also forced us to begin to evaluate the impact these changes in production may have on our corporate personnel," the company said in a statement Tuesday.
It a lot of ways, it seems to me, this speaks volumes about BPI's corporate culture. The attitude seems to be that they have to fire the front line employees, but hold onto the corporate staff as long as possible ... which tells you where they think the real value is created.
I'm not saying that the factory layoffs weren't necessary ... just that the tone of the statement runs contrary to what I think needs to be a core value in every business, that leaders should never, ever think they are bigger than the front line.
• The Associated Press reports that Kraft Foods has paid a $37,000 fine to the state of Wisconsin to settle allegations that 24 of its packages there were significantly below their stated weight. Kraft did not admit any wrongdoing in coming to the settlement.
• The Financial Times reports that MasterCard has "unveiled new digital wallet services designed to enable banks and retailers to take advantage of anticipated growth in electronic payments." Under the name PayPass, MasterCard says that it "is creating a unified network that will enable merchants to accept digital payments made by consumers either electronically in stores or online using a smartphone, computer or tablet ... The services will be rolled out in the third quarter first in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia, and then in other countries."
• Slate reports that a new study from Duke university suggests that by 2030, 11 percent of US population may be severely obese, or 100 pounds or more overweight -double the number today.
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Maurice Sendak, who revolutionized children's books with "Where The Wild Things Are" in 1963 by creating a story of uneasy subtlety with images that were dark and haunting, passed away yesterday from complications following a stroke. He was 83.
Here, in part, is how the New York Times eulogized him:
"Mr. Sendak’s work was the subject of critical studies and major exhibitions; in the second half of his career, he was also renowned as a designer of theatrical sets. His art graced the writing of other eminent authors for children and adults, including Hans Christian Andersen, Leo Tolstoy, Herman Melville, William Blake and Isaac Bashevis Singer.
"In book after book, Mr. Sendak upended the staid, centuries-old tradition of American children’s literature, in which young heroes and heroines were typically well scrubbed and even better behaved; nothing really bad ever happened for very long; and everything was tied up at the end in a neat, moralistic bow.
"Mr. Sendak’s characters, by contrast, are headstrong, bossy, even obnoxious ... His pictures are often unsettling. His plots are fraught with rupture: children are kidnapped, parents disappear, a dog lights out from her comfortable home.
"A largely self-taught illustrator, Mr. Sendak was at his finest a shtetl Blake, portraying a luminous world, at once lovely and dreadful, suspended between wakefulness and dreaming. In so doing, he was able to convey both the propulsive abandon and the pervasive melancholy of children’s interior lives.
"His visual style could range from intricately crosshatched scenes that recalled 19th-century prints to airy watercolors reminiscent of Chagall to bold, bulbous figures inspired by the comic books he loved all his life, with outsize feet that the page could scarcely contain."
There is a wonderful business lesson on Sendak's career.
He could have written and drawn children's books that were safe, traditional and orthodox. They might have been read, they may even have had influence.
But by doing something different - by challenging orthodoxy, by requiring that readers actually engage in higher level thinking, and by not catering to the lowest common denominator - Sendak helped to shape future generations of readers and writers.
It is a lesson we all should take to heart.
Regarding our story about union pension funds with a stake in Walmart calling for executive changes in the wake of the Mexico bribery scandal, one reader wrote:
Why would a union pension plan even own Walmart stock? It seems there are two uncomfortable answers.
The non-union shop will outperform other union retailers and the market.
The fund is waiting for a scandal so they can sue.
What's the old line about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer?'
MNB user Philip Herr had a thought about Amazon.com's growth:
Resistance is futile – we will assimilate you.
Which is pretty much what I think of Amazon. One of my pupils asked the difference between Walmart and Amazon. My response was that it was like comparing rats and squirrels – both rodents, just that one has a better reputation.
Gotta love an email that starts with a Star Trek reference.
Responding to Michael Sansolo's column yesterday, one MNB user wrote:
I took note of the comment from the article that more retailers need the opportunity to jump on merchandising programs.
It is notable that many retailers offered these programs are not willing to be flexible enough to make them a winning proposition for both sides. I am sure the same could be said from both sides of the table.
Hopefully the meeting serves as a wake-up call that those that partner well generally win together.
Regarding the lack of stores being built in urban deserts, despite promises to the contrary, one MNB user wrote:
Unfortunately, your article about the lack of profits to be made in underserved (poor) urban areas is true, and the answer is only going to be the de-ghetto-ization of communities. Here in Kansas City, as in most metropolitan areas, there are vast areas of poorer people with a limited selection of lesser choices, and vast swaths of suburbs where everything is available. Neither population feels welcome in the other area. There is increasingly less migration between the two, less communication, and less understanding. And thus less potential for change. Pretty sad.
We have taken note here of Pepsi’s new ad campaign, using the slogan “Live For Now,”which is designed to make the brand cool again. One of the things that Pepsi is doing is putting the image of Michael Jackson, who I described as "a dead, drug-addicted, likely pedophile and absolutely weird pop star," on its cans.
I can understand wanting to pay tribute to its marketing past. But they would be better advised to turn to another Michael - Michael J. Fox - who did so many great commercials for the company back in the eighties and who has done nothing to embarrass himself or his brand in the years since, and in fact has become through his charity work and medical research funding something more than just an actor.
A reader responded:
That is a FANTASTIC idea!!! Why didn’t Pepsico think of it???? I love Michael J. Fox and considering the fact that he’s got a dread disease and yet still works, plus all the other things you listed - who better fits the “Live for Now” slogan?
One MNB user from Pepsi wrote:
If you can bring yourself to do it, watch “This Is It” – the documentary that was made from the rehearsals for the tour. It’s so compelling that you will stop seeing him as a freak – the music and the talent are that strong. I have no idea what really went on at that estate, but I feel in my heart that he meant no harm to anyone.
I wholeheartedly endorse your idea of Michael J. Fox, too. He is a winner from whatever perspective you choose to look at him – actor, comic, activist, hockey fan - J . Your comment may find its way to someone in Marketing.
That's be cool.
I love that kind of retro, self-aware advertising.
I was thinking the other day about a possible campaign for the new Dodge Dart, which has been put back into production after many years out of people's minds and driveways.
It goes like this.
A young guy pulls up to a house in his new Dodge Dart. He walks up to the porch, where an older guy is sitting in a rocking chair - obviously his grandfather. He starts telling the grandfather how great the car is, and then offers to let the older man - who we only see from the rear - take it for a spin. The grandfather eagerly agrees, and then proceeds to take it out for the kind of drive that only a stunt driver - or 60's-era TV private detective - could attempt, putting the car through its paces and scaring the crap out of the kid. When he pulls the car back into the driveway with a screech, we finally see who has been driving - Mike Connors, who drove a Dart back when he played Joe Mannix on TV.
Of course, there probably would only be 17 of us who would get the reference. But it would connect the new Dart to the old Dart...and it would be a totally cool commercial.
Over on MNB's Facebook page, MNB user Cat handler wrote:
Pepsi has spent the last quarter century trying to live down the adverse publicity it received due to the disastrous accident in which Michael Jackson's hair caught on fire on the set where a Pepsi commercial was being filmed. This incident has been frequently cited as an impetus for the King of Pop's addiction to prescription pain medication. It would appear Pepsi is relying on collective amnesia from MJ fans in order to exploit his legacy.
Regarding my piece yesterday about "The Voice," one MNB user wrote:
REALLY, come on … exciting come from behind OT win in hockey doesn’t get mentioned & "The Voice" does????
Don't watch hockey. Don't even watch much pro basketball.
Sorry about that.
On "The Voice" last night, it was former backup singer Jermaine Paul who won first prize, with Juliet Sims coming in second, Tony Lucca coming in third and Chris Mann coming in fourth.
Not to over-analyze this, but I have a whole bunch of comments to make about this.
First, I predicted Juliet Sims would win. I was wrong. But I'm comfortable with Jermain Paul's win - he was terrific.
Second, I was very happy that Chris Mann came in fourth, mostly because it prevented Christina Aguilera from being the winning coach. (As a side note, I cannot tell you how many women I know who have total crushes on Blake Shelton and Adam Levine.)
Finally, I have to tell you that when Justin Bieber sang last night, it was the first time that I'd ever heard him sing. And all I could think was, "This is the little twerp that everybody's been talking about?"
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