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    Published on: June 2, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Content Guy’s Note: Below is a commentary on the same subject as the video piece, but it isn’t word-for-word the same. You can look at both, or is up to you. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    Good piece the other day in the New York Times about how Dan Mason, the CEO of CBS Radio, has issued an instruction to the disc jockeys who work at the some 130 stations nationwide owned by the company.

    The message was simple: After you play a song, tell listeners the name of the song they just heard.

    That’s it.

    Over the years, the story says, in order to eliminate audio clutter and spend more time playing music than listening to on-air talent, such song identifications went the way of the eight-track player. And executives began to believe that educated listeners knew the song titles and artists, so they didn’t have to mention them.

    But recently, Mason had an epiphany of sorts. And he put out his memo. “If you play it, say it.” And the company reportedly plans to experiment “with ways to identify songs, like using taped introductions by the artists themselves.”

    This is, I think, a great lesson for every marketer. Retailers, for example, probably spend too little time explaining their products to customers. They put them on shelves and on counters, and presume that customers are educated enough to know how to use them. This goes for food, clothes, drugs, whatever...

    Like the folks at CBS Radio, I think marketers need to pay more attention to the education of the customer. In other words, if you’re selling it, explain it. It won’t just sell that item, but also is likely to help you establish a much stronger and sustainable connection to the shopper.

    That’s what’s on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I’d like to know what is on your mind.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 2, 2011

    The San Jose Mercury News reports that the California State Assembly has passed a bill requiring online retailers such as to collect California sales and use taxes and return that money to the state government, a move that is designed to both level the playing field for brick-and-mortar stores and add badly needed revenue to the state’s depleted coffers.

    According to the story, California’s “base state and local sales tax rate is 8.25 percent, although cities, counties and special districts can add to that.

    “The measure could generate $83 million alone from Amazon, which made $34 billion in 2010. The state Board of Equalization estimates that unreported sales and use taxes total more than $1 billion annually, but it's unclear how much of that is online sales and how much is from physical purchases made by California residents in other states.”

    Opponents of the bill said that this was nothing but another “tax grab” by tax-and-spend liberals and that it would hurt internet businesses. But supporters said that it is a matter of fairness and that people opposing the bill actually are anti-business.

    Meanwhile, in Texas, the Houston Business Journal reports that Gov. Rick Perry has vetoed a bill “that would have taxed online retailers doing business in Texas, saying it would have prompted ‘unintended consequences’.” Supporters of the legislation had claimed that the state was missing out on as much as $600 million a year in tax revenue on online sales.

    “My strong preference is to conduct a thorough policy discussion with Texas lawmakers, consumers, retailers and technology experts – and with other states and even the federal government – about interstate commerce and the structure of state sales taxes in the 21st century," Perry said in a statement regarding the veto.
    KC's View:
    It is sort of interesting to watch all this play out, especially because it has as much to do with politics as sound public and fiscal policy.

    It seems to me that the traditional battle lines in this case don’t work as well as they usually do. Democrats, for example, can claim to be pro-business and that they are trying to hold the line on existing taxes by collecting taxes that should have been collected all along. And Republicans can say that their positions are consistent with an anti-tax philosophy, and that they are trying to nurture 21st century businesses by voting down online sales tax collections. And both have a point.

    I also find it a little ironic that Gov. Perry - who on numerous occasions has expressed frustrations with the federal government’s policies - thinks that a national solution is needed to this issue. And I agree with him.

    For a long time, I thought that online businesses ought to be exempt from sales tax collection. But let’s be honest here - is hardly a small businesses in need of government nurturing. And I’m not sure that allowing it not to pay sales taxes - which amounts to a kind of federal subsidy - is necessary at this point in its development. And the same goes for a lot of other online retailers. There comes a time when they have to be able to walk on their own...

    (I also continue to maintain that my Amazon shopping has very little to do with lack of taxation. It has to do with price and convenience.)

    I understand the aversion to taxation in some quarters, but I would in general define myself as being in the camp of people who think that in order to really address state and federal fiscal issues, you have to find a way to both reduce expenses and raise revenues, and hopefully do both in an intelligent, measured way that is reality-based and not ideologically driven.

    This could be a good place to start - a sophisticated and national approach to online sales taxes that could help state and federal governments meet reduced and re-calibrated obligations in a tangible and thoughtful way.

    Yeah, right.

    Published on: June 2, 2011

    The Washington Post reports that food safety advocates are accusing Republicans in the US House of Representatives of proposing budget cuts that would make it difficult if not impossible for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to improve its food safety oversight efforts, as mandated by a food safety law passed by the Congress in a bipartisan vote and signed into law by President Obama last December.

    The food safety law, the Post notes, “calls for the FDA to significantly step up scrutiny of domestic and imported food and devise a new system aimed at preventing the kind of contamination that sickens one in six Americans every year,” and its passage “followed years of cutbacks at the FDA and waves of national food-borne illnesses linked to foods as varied as spinach, peanuts and cookie dough.”

    The Post writes that “President Obama is seeking $955 million for food safety at the FDA in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1,” but that last week, “the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA pared back that amount to $750 million, which is $87 million less than the figure the agency is currently receiving for food safety ... Food safety advocates said that without additional money - let alone the current funding FDA receives - the agency will not be able to meet many requirements of the new law, including increased inspections of food manufacturing plants, better coordination with state health departments, and developing the capacity to more quickly respond to food-borne illnesses and minimize their impact.”
    KC's View:
    This is astounding. And yet, somehow, not surprising.

    It seems to me that government has some very specific responsibilities, and one of them is to make sure that the food supply is safe. Look at China, where it has become extremely apparent what happens when government is either incapable or unwilling to take that responsibility seriously.

    This is not me saying that government is the solution for everything, which is what some folks will instantly accuse me of. This is me saying that government can be the solution for some things. And this is one of them.

    The knuckleheads in DC who think it makes fiscal sense to defund the food safety law are not thinking about what happens when the public faith in the integrity of the food supply gets compromised, when people start getting sick and dying because some idiot running a peanut plant thinks it is more important to make his numbers than to clean bird feces off the equipment. What happens then to the American food system? What will it mean to the country’s economic growth? And who will they blame then for the problems we face?

    One thing is for sure. Both sides of the aisle will find someone to blame. Because these folks are really good at fixing blame, and not so good at fixing problems. (A line from a movie, by the way - Black Rain. But that won’t surprise anyone....)

    By the way...if you want to see what can happen...check out our next story.

    Published on: June 2, 2011

    The New York Times reports that “an unusually lethal strain of E. coli bacteria has infected more than 1,500 people in Germany, mystifying public health officials, ravaging Spain’s agricultural heartland, and touching off panic in Europe as people weighed whether it was safe to eat raw vegetables.

    “The source of the outbreak, which has killed at least 16 people — 15 in Germany and a Swede who visited there recently — remained unknown.

    “Public health officials are alarmed because a startlingly high proportion of those infected suffer from a potentially lethal complication attacking the kidneys, called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can provoke comas, seizures and stroke. Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of food-borne disease at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said the rate of cases of acute kidney failure in the outbreak was unprecedented ... While most of the infections were among people who had traveled to northern Germany, the authorities acknowledged that the outbreak had spread to virtually every corner of the country.”

    Some of the problems have been traced to fresh vegetables imported from Spain, but tests to this point have not been conclusive.

    The Times writes, “Major growers in Germany are losing up to $7 million daily and two-thirds of all vegetables, including lettuce and tomatoes, produced by his members were being destroyed, according to Karl Schmitz, the director of the German Federal Association of Producers of Fruit and Vegetables. In Spain, the damage is much broader, estimated at about $286 million a week.”

    The entire story is worth reading here.
    KC's View:
    If the people trying to defund increased FDA vigilance over the US food supply don’t want to pay attention to the casualty numbers, maybe they’ll pay attention to the economic impact estimates.

    And BTW .... because I’m sure I’m going to get emails about this ... I am not arguing that the new US food safety laws are a panacea, nor that they cannot be improved. But doing nothing strikes me as the wrong option.

    Published on: June 2, 2011

    In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that “supporters of floor cleaners who work at Cub Foods ended a 12-day hunger strike against the supermarket chain on Wednesday,” though the supporters say that they will continue to press Cub for better pay and working conditions for the janitorial employees - who, as it happens, actually work for Carlson Building Maintenance, the primary contractor to clean Cub stores in the metro area.

    The end of the hunger strike follows the order by a Minnesota judge that the activists needed to tone down their anti-Cub activities.

    Supervalu, the Eden Prairie-based parent of Cub Foods, is suing the Minneapolis nonprofit Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha - and two activists associated with the advocacy group for low-wage workers - following a year of what Supervalu calls increasingly aggressive and disruptive protests, picketing and leafleting at various Cub Foods stores.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 2, 2011

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Tesco’s board of directors “has slashed the base salary for its chief executive post by 23% and nixed its share-option program for executive board members, in a push by the U.K. retailer's directors to address shareholder gripes about executive pay.”

    According to the story, “Tesco is simplifying the targets used to determine incentives and rewarding all its executive directors according to the same group targets. The difference in base salary reflects both a more performance-based approach,” and the fact that its CEO, Philip Clarke, is new to the job.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 2, 2011

    The Miami Herald reports that the Burger King fast food chain “is getting a dramatic makeover. A new look is in store for advertising, the menu and even the restaurants themselves. Changes are slowly showing up at select locations, although the dramatic chain-wide makeover will take time.

    “Though the company’s signature Whopper sandwich will remain the mainstay, the new menu will add healthier options, including Asian chicken salad and mango smoothies. The circa 1970s earth-tone decor will be replaced with a contemporary red-and-black color scheme.

    “It’s all a bid to bring customers back to the world’s second-largest burger chain, which has watched its U.S. sales, profits and market share slide in recent years.”
    KC's View:
    Not sure the decor changes will change my attitude, which is that I’d rather eat seasoned cardboard.

    (Yes, I know. I’m a food snob.)

    Published on: June 2, 2011

    • Campbell Soup said this week that it is launching an energy drink version of its popular V8 juice - 8 V-Fusion + Energy and V8 Energy Shots - that will combine its vegetable juice with caffeine, vitamins and green tea.

    The product already is on the shelves at Walmart, and is scheduled for a national roll-out.

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports that “to help grownups justify indulging in a chocolate bar or a handful of jellybeans, candy companies are flaunting the health benefits of their products.”

    The story notes that “at the Sweets and Snacks Expo last week in Chicago, many products crowed that they contained antioxidants. Pomegranate and other fruit flavors big on health benefits have become a popular addition to many candies. Darrell Lea, a confectionery company out of Australia, came to the expo flaunting their newest flavor of licorice: blueberry pomegranate. And chocolate manufacturers, while still marketing their dark chocolate for its health benefits, have also moved on to chocolate flavors infused with sea salt. Jeff Asher, owner of Asher’s chocolates, said that their new sea salt products and their sugar-free products are big sellers.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 2, 2011

    • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) announced that LeAnn Chuboff has been named the new Senior Technology Director of the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI).

    Chuboff has been serving as the director for SQFI, where she has worked on developing and maintaining the technical support of the SQF code and supporting materials.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 2, 2011

    ...will return.
    KC's View: