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    Published on: April 17, 2008

    Content Guy’s Note: Apologies for being late this morning …Barcelona got hit by a couple of big storms, which apparently were enough to knock out the hotel Internet service. (Right now, there is a lightning and hail storm rocking the city!) Back online now, though… and the weather report looks good for the rest of the week…

    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

    The other day, I posted an email from a MorningNewsBeat user that expressed a certain exhaustion with some position I had taken on an issue. The writer didn’t actually say whether he agreed or disagreed with me – though I infer from his tone that he isn’t buying into my reasoning on whatever the subject was.

    But what was really interesting was the question he asked in his email: “Do you ever feel like a broken record?” he asked.

    Now, the fact is that I do sometimes feel like a broken record…though I prefer to think of myself as more akin to John the Baptist, preaching in the desert and hoping that eventually someone will pay attention and agree with me.

    After I posted the email, however, I got a note from a friend who made an interesting point. Do you realize, he said, that there is an entire segment of your audience that has no idea what a broken record is or sounds like?

    That’s true. And I apparently have a phonograph fixation.

    Last weekend, as Mrs. Content Guy and I were scurrying around trying to get two hours of errands accomplished in about 90 minutes, I told her that I felt that I was a 78 RPM record and the rest of the world was moving like a 33. She looked at me askance, and pointed out that the number of people who would even understand that reference was getting smaller every day.

    There are an awful lot of things like this, items or references that are familiar, even comfortable, to people of a certain age, but completely foreign to an entire demographic. Pay phones, for example. Manual typewriters. Hell, electric typewriters. Transistor radios. Baseball double-headers.

    We just got tickets to see a Yankee game this summer, the final season during which the Yankees will be playing there before moving into a new stadium. I was telling my kids that I vividly remember the first time I went to Yankee Stadium, probably when I was 10 years old or so. My dad took me there, and as we walked out through the tunnel, I remember being amazed at how green the field was…because I’d only ever seen it on black-and-white television. My kids, needless to say, look at me like I’m from the age of the dinosaurs; they probably wonder how long it took the horse and buggy to get us to the Stadium back in the day.

    I do all this reminiscing because while for many of us such memories create a cocoon of pleasure, giving a sense of time and distance, it is incredibly important in our work that we not allow ourselves to be complacent or even think that things were somehow better then. Because they were different, not better.

    Cell phones are better than pay phones. Computers are better than typewriters. Satellite radio is better than transistor radios. Color high-definition wide screen televisions are better than the black-and-white variety. (I would suggest, however, that few things are better than a baseball double-header. But that’s just me.)

    The columnist and radio commentator Tony Kornheiser, though he remains very much a newspaperman at heart, often will say that he thinks that the newspaper era as we know it is ending, and will be replaced by news sources that are almost entirely online. Kornheiser says that he, and people just like him, “are making buggy whips as cars roll off the assembly line.” That’s a great and illustrative phrase…and it is right on so many levels and in so many industries.

    I know too many people who almost seem to take a sense of pride in the fact that they don’t know how to surf the web, don't check their own email, and have no real affinity for at least some of the tools of modern life. That strikes me as being a real mistake, because it actually makes one out of touch from the world in which we all live and play and do business. If one doesn’t embrace this world, how can one be relevant to the shoppers one is trying to attract, shoppers who may be changing their buying habits on an almost daily basis as new options become available?

    I don't think you can.

    There may be no more faulty declaration than any sentence that includes the phrase “the good old days.” Sure, there is a lot to be thankful for as we look to the past, but to steal a phrase from the great troubadour and philosopher James William Buffett, “There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me, and I know that I just can't go wrong.”

    For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I'm Kevin Coupe.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2008

    Interesting piece the other day in the New York Times about how “the political advisers to the presidential candidates are … looking closely at consumer behavior, including how people eat, as a way to scavenge for votes. The practice is called microtargeting, as much political discipline as buzzword. The idea is that in the brand driven United States, what we buy and how we spend our free time is a good predictor of our politics.

    “Political strategists slice and dice the electorate into small segments, starting with traditional demographics like age and income, then mixing consumer information like whether you prefer casinos or cruises, hunting or cooking, a Prius or a pickup.

    “Once they find small groups of like-minded people, campaigns can efficiently send customized phone, e-mail or direct mail messages to potential supporters, avoiding inefficient one-size-fits-all mailings. Pockets of support that might have gone unnoticed can be ferreted out … Although gender, religion and other basic personal data are much more valuable for pollsters, information about eating - along with travel and hobbies - are in the second tier of data used to predict how someone might vote.”

    Among the examples cited: Republicans like Dr Pepper, brown liquors like bourbon or scotch, red wine and Fiji water, and prefer their chicken from Chick-fil-A, Democrats like Pepsi Cola and Sprite, clear liquors such as gin and vodka, white wine and Evian water, prefer their chicken from Popeye’s and also like Whole Foods.

    Even the folks who support this approach to voter targeting say that one has to keep it within context, and that it is hardly an approach without faults, since an awful lot of people will have consumption habits that go across traditional lines.

    James Carville, the longtime Democratic strategist, says that it is irrelevant. He tells the Times, “Suppose I found out people who drink cappuccinos are Democrats and black coffee drinkers are likely to vote Republican? So what? All kinds of other things are more predictive and less expensive to find out.” Besides, he says, of far greater importance to voters these days is the fast-rising cost of food (which he clearly thinks will be a Democratic issue come the fall).

    Ironically, Carville is a Hilly Clinton supporter – and the man who until last week as Clinton’s chief strategist, Mark Penn, actually wrote the book on microtargeting and once coined the phrase “soccer moms.”

    The Times writes that although Barack Obama’s team “is also using consumer data to target voters, the campaign is focusing more on what one adviser called macrotargeting,” which is defined as building “a unified, all-encompassing Obama brand that works well across all kinds of media platforms.”

    KC's View:
    It is interesting, though not entirely reassuring, that some of the experts behind these campaigns are thinking of their efforts in terms of building a brand. (Fast Company had a piece recently on “Brand Obama,” and what its strength – regardless of whether he wins anything – means to American marketers in the long term.)

    As a voter, I must admit to be somewhat resentful of being slotted in this way…especially because my consumption habits reflect elements of both political parties. And I would hate the idea that microtargeting would customize the message based on what I eat, since this sort of sounds like telling me what I want to hear based on what I eat.

    I actually respect the candidate who tells me what I don't want to hear. The candidate who looks me in the eye and says, “This is a position you are not going to agree with. But here is my reasoned, reasonable approach to the issue, and I hope you’ll at least agree that I am a thoughtful and disciplined person in arriving at this conclusion, and principled enough not to pander for your vote.” That’s the candidate I want to vote for.

    Published on: April 17, 2008

    Marketing Daily takes note of a new television advertising campaign for Food Lion’s Bloom chain of stores, themed “Shop Happy,” in which employees respond to customers’ problems with a series of non sequiturs that focus o things like handmade artisan bread, “Angus beef at non-Angus prices,” more convenient parking, and easy-to-reach shelving.

    In addition, “the store is even giving its slightly-off-the-wall positioning a shove toward the guerilla-esque, printing 6 million stickers that employees can post anywhere—on products, on bags, and even occasionally, on shoppers. Dubbed Bloomisms, the stickers are just silly.” They include phrases such as “Life is beautiful, and not just in a ‘great personality’ kind of way.” And, “Live in the now. No wait, now. Okay, now.”

    "It's just a fun kind of supermarket," David Oakley, creative director of the ad agency BooneOakley, tells Marketing Daily. The campaign continues to use its description of "a different kind of grocery store," he says, and the ads make it clear that "even though everyone has stuff going on in their lives, Bloom is an escape from regular shopping. It puts you in a good mood."
    KC's View:
    It seems to me that from its inception, Bloom was designed to be a smart shopping experience, and this new campaign emphasizes that it can be a fun experience as well. Since many food shopping experiences are neither fun nor smart, it is a good move for Bloom to separate itself from the pack this way.

    Even better – from my experience, Bloom actually lives up to the promise.

    Published on: April 17, 2008

    The Kroger Co. this week has made several announcements in support of the company's ongoing commitment to green living and sustainability, and introducing several new programs and products that provide customers with a greater number of environmentally conscious choices.

    Among them:

    • “Through Kroger's Plastic Recycling Program, plastic bags, dry-cleaning bags, and other plastic shrink wrap can now be recycled in all of the Company's family of stores - including Kroger, Baker's, City Market, Dillons, Food 4 Less, Foods Co., Fred Meyer, Fry's, Gerbes, Hilander, Jay C, King Soopers, Owen's, Pay Less, Ralphs, Scott's, Smith's and QFC stores.

    “Kroger's Plastic Bag Recycling program makes it easy for customers to recycle plastic bags because they can bring bags to their neighborhood Kroger store and deposit them into bins located in the front of most stores. Plastic bags are then collected and recycled into other products such as plastic landscape bricks, plastic lumber and other plastic bags.”

    • The company has also launched its first-ever online contest, Design Kroger's Next Reusable Bag, which allows customers to submit designs for Kroger's reusable grocery bags.

    Lynn Marmer, Group Vice President of Corporate Affairs, says, “While Kroger has offered the colorful, low- cost bags for more than a decade, we wanted to give customers an opportunity to express their creativity, share their designs with family and friends, and show their commitment to sustainable living,” and she noted that “reusable bags just make sense - just one reusable bag has the potential to eliminate 1,000 plastic bags over the course of its lifetime.”

    • “The plastic bottles for Kroger brand water manufactured in Kroger plants are now made of a thinner plastic, thereby reducing the amount of waste that is created by each bottle. The volume of water in the bottle remains the same, but less plastic makes them more environmentally friendly.”

    • Kroger also said that in 2007, its family of stores “collectively recycled 9.1 million pounds of plastic. Last year, Kroger stores and facilities recycled more than 1 billion pounds of cardboard.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2008

    In the UK, the Guardian reports that Tesco plans to test the use of “carbon labels” on a number of its private label products – such as orange juice, potatoes, energy-efficient light bulbs and washing detergent – as a way of allowing consumers to choose items less impactful on the environment.

    The labels will state for each product “the quantity in grammes of CO2 equivalent put into the atmosphere by their manufacture and distribution,” according to the story, and will offer the category average as a comparison.

    Tesco CEO Terry Leahy has been promising “a revolution in green consumption,” and he tells the Guardian that he hopes this approach will become a standard for environmentally themed labeling.

    KC's View:
    While some people will understand the science involved, a lot of people may just take a leap of faith and choose the product with the smallest carbon footprint because it just seems to make sense. (That would be people like me.) Nothing wrong with that – the more that both retailers and manufacturers can make this stuff accessible to us, the better for the planet, I think.

    Published on: April 17, 2008

    The New York Times reports this morning that “six long years of drought have taken a toll, reducing Australia’s rice crop by 98 percent,” and that “the collapse of Australia’s rice production is one of several factors contributing to a doubling of rice prices in the last three months — increases that have led the world’s largest exporters to restrict exports severely, spurred panicked hoarding in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and set off violent protests in countries including Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Italy, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, the Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

    “Drought affects every agricultural industry based here, not just rice (but) the drought’s effect on rice has produced the greatest impact on the rest of the world, so far. It is one factor contributing to skyrocketing prices, and many scientists believe it is among the earliest signs that a warming planet is starting to affect food production.”

    KC's View:
    One of the interesting problems that this article posits is that if indeed global warming is having a discernible impact on food production, this is just the beginning…and that in fairly short order, these problems will not be just agricultural and economic, but also political, with the haves being pitted against the have-nots in a world of dwindling food supplies.

    It all begins to sound like a science fiction movie come to life, and will make at least some of us wonder what kind of world we are leaving to our children and our children’s children. There will be others, of course, who will believe such worries are the stuff of Chicken Little.

    I’m afraid that on this one, I side with the pessimists.

    Published on: April 17, 2008

    The Business Courier of Cincinnati reports that Kroger is offering consumers a way to spend the economic stimulus checks they are slated to get from the government – if they exchange them for a Kroger gift card, they can actually get a bonus.

    Customers with a Kroger loyalty card will be able to get a $330 gift card for a $300 check, two $330 gift cards for $600, and four $330 gift cards for $1,200.

    The program will run from May 2 to the end of July.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2008

    Earlier this week, Chinese activists were calling for a boycott of Carrefour’s Chinese stores because of perceived insults connected with demonstrations against the Olympic torch when it was making its way through Paris.

    And, now Coca-Cola is getting Olympics-related grief from the other end.

    The New York Times this morning reports that at the annual shareholders meeting in Wilmington, Delaware, pickets chanted and carried signs protesting the company’s sponsorship of the upcoming Beijing Olympics, under attack in many quarters because of the Chinese government’s human rights abuses.

    The protestors challenged Coke CEO Neville Isdell during the meeting, asking him to go to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and request that the Olympic torch not be carried through Tibet “because Tibet belongs to the Tibetans,” in the words of one protestor. There is ongoing unrest because of Tibet’s desire to be autonomous, and the Chinese government’s willingness to crack down on the Tibetan people; the current Dalai Lama, who lives in exile from his country, is blamed by the Chinese government for fostering the problems there, while he in turn blames the Chinese government for being repressive and for human rights violations.

    Isdell, while he said he appreciated the request, said that the torch run is meant to symbolize openness, and that it would be counter-productive to interfere with it in any way. And, he said, Coke would continue to support the Olympics as an official sponsor.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2008

    Marketing Daily reports that PepsiCo plans to use 750 million Pepsi and Diet Pepsi cans to send a recycling message to consumers. According to the story, the message will be from the National Recycling Coalition, and will say “that recycling could save 95% of the energy used to make one can; that aluminum cans produced in the United States contain 40-50% recycled content; that the average person has the opportunity to recycle 25,000 cans in a lifetime; and that recycling a single aluminum can saves enough energy to power a TV for three hours or a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.”

    CNN reports that United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) members employed by Kroger at 87 stores in Louisville, Kentucky, and southern Indiana have ratified a new four-year labor contract.

    • The New York Times reports that Safeway “has restricted some purchases of farm-raised Chilean salmon over concerns about a virus that is killing millions of fish there.

    “The supermarket chain decided late last month to stop buying from its supplier of Chilean salmon, Marine Harvest, because the virus for infectious salmon anemia…was ‘impacting the quality of the product,’ Brian Dowling, a Safeway spokesman, said this week. Mr. Dowling said the virus, which does not pose a risk to humans, was nevertheless affecting the size of the salmon, ‘which impacts the quality and the taste’.”

    In the wake of Safeway’s decision, at least one senior executive at Marine Harvest has lost his job. “Marine Harvest announced Monday that it had closed one of its three processing plants in Puerto Montt and laid off nearly 600 employees because of a reduction in harvesting volumes. The sudden closing seemed to accelerate a plan previously announced by the company to cut 1,200 workers, or one-fourth of its Chilean operation, by June because of the spreading virus. The layoffs are all in southern Chile, where the economy relies heavily on salmon production.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2008

    • For the just completed fourth quarter, Supervalu reported that its profits were up 30 percent to $156 million, from $120 million during the same period a year ago. Q4 revenue was up less than one percent, to $10.39 billion.

    Supervalu’s 2008 fiscal year revenue was $44 billion, up 18 percent compared to $37.4 billion last year. And annual net earnings were $593 million, up 31 percent compared to $452 million in the previous fiscal year.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2008

    ...will return.

    (It isn’t as if the emails aren’t coming in. They are, and I appreciate it. But the schedule here in Spain has been such that I simply haven’t had time to read them. But I will. I promise.)

    KC's View: