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    Published on: February 4, 2013

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    KC's View:

    Published on: February 4, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    As I was watching Super Bowl XLVII last night - and, of course, the commercials, I was simultaneously reading the blog postings on the Wall Street Journal website that analyzed the commercials.

    I liked a lot of the same commercials as many people - the Tide commercial about the stain that resembles Joe Montana, the Taco Bell ad with old people on the town, and, of course, the Budweiser commercial about a man and his Clydesdale. I even sort of liked the Go Daddy commercial ... it was a little disgusting, but I felt good for Walter, who had the best 30 seconds of his life. (Over and over, apparently ... shooting the commercial required multiple takes.) But it was funny.

    The game started with a Best Buy commercial starring Amy Poehler as a ditzy shopper needing lots of technology assistance, and it made me laugh. (I think she'd probably be funny reading the phone book.) But Cindy Gallop, a former ad executive who was one of the bloggers, observed the following:

    Oh, BestBuy. Women are the majority of your customers and influence 90% of all electronics purchases. Last year your ad depicted a line-up of mobile tech inventors & entrepreneurs - all men. This year its misuse of the wonderful Amy Poehler as classic 'ditzy female customer'. How many women were involved in the making of that ad?

    And that made me think.

    I'm not sure that the Super Bowl is necessarily the best place to judge sexism in marketing. After all, marketers probably figure that it is largely a male audience tuning in, though I suspect it is the football game watched by more women than any other game during the season.

    But, I do think that industry has to be careful about how to talks to its customers, especially at a time when bloggers can analyze their messages ad nauseum, and the commercials can be seen over and over on the internet.

    After reading the Best Buy criticism, I saw the Doritos "princess" ad a little differently. (Was this slotting little girls into a traditional way of thinking?) I started thinking differently about the Go Daddy ad. (How come the girl is the beauty and the guy is the brains?) I wondered how come no girls got picked for the football team in the Hyundai commercial. In the Mercedes commercial, why was Willem Dafoe's Satan tempting a guy, not a woman?

    Now, I'm not trying to be a scold here. There is a point where legitimate criticism can cross over into being humorless, and I certainly think there is room for irreverent humor in the world of marketing. (I'm trying to figure out why people thought the Volkswagen commercial with the guys using a Jamaican accent was so offensive, for example.)

    I just think that it is worth thinking about these things. Because humor and insensitivity don't necessarily go hand in hand.

    A final thought here about the commercials...

    The ads made me want to see Star Trek Into Darkness even more. Iron Man 3 and World War Z look terrific. And I can't believe that the next Fast and the Furious movie will be the sixth in the series? When did that happen?

    It's all an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 4, 2013

    The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Kroger says it is lowering prices on some 3,500 items in its 110 Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky stores, but at the same time plans to end its double coupons program; it now will only accept coupons at their face value.

    Company spokeswoman Rachel Betzler said: “We’re taking the expense that we had in doubling coupons and investing it into lower prices that will affect all shoppers, not just those who use coupons."

    “We know price continues to be a top, and at times a deciding, factor when it comes to where to grocery shop,” says Sukanya Madlinger, president of Kroger’s Cincinnati/Dayton division. “Every aisle, every department in the store will contain newly lowered prices on Kroger private label and national brand products.”
    KC's View:
    Kroger eliminated double couponing in its Ralphs division in Southern California last year ... it must have gone well enough that it wants to try it in another division close to home.

    I think these kinds of moves are smart - I've always believed that coupons provide an illusory benefit, and that retailers would be better off providing targeted discounts and preferential pricing to best shoppers that have been targeted through savvy loyalty marketing programs. That's one of the things that Kroger's dunnhumby connection allows it to do.

    My belief is that in the long run, it is the retailers with the most actionable information about their shoppers - and then actually use it - that will be the winners. Kroger, if I'm judging the situation accurately, wants to be part of that continuum.

    Published on: February 4, 2013

    The New York Times "Corner Office" column features an interview with Sir Terry Leahy, the former CEO of Tesco, in which he discusses, in self-deprecating terms, his own management style.

    Excerpts:

    • "When I joined Tesco, somebody said to me, 'They’ll eat you alive,' because it was known as a bit of a hard-charging place. That sort of brought out the street kid in me, and made me a little bit hard and combative. I had to learn later that there’s another way to get the best out of people, which is to really motivate them and make them feel good about themselves. So I changed. I like to think that was closer to the real me anyway. I like to motivate people. I’m not political. I don’t hold grudges. Later on, I tried to codify for the company how people should behave, and what kind of treatment they could expect from others."

    • "I suppose the contribution I made was energizing people by setting an objective and making a big personal contribution toward that objective. The other thing was probably that I always had an innate sense of justice and fairness, so I probably treated people O.K. Because I’m a little introverted, I’ve never had personal favorites, so people always felt that they’d be treated the same as anybody else."

    "If I had to sum it up, it would be about being generous at work rather than selfish. It is amazing how often you see people who can’t help themselves — because of their ambition or their insecurities or whatever — and that they’re basically selfish and they take out rather than give.

    • "For some people, that’s a transition that they have to make, and not everybody can make it. Sometimes the brightest find it the hardest to make that transition because they’ve always been better than the people around them. They find it hard to trust the people around them to do the work. They think, 'Well, I know best.' When you see organizations that struggle, it’s mainly that people can’t trust. The leaders can’t trust, and then the teams don’t trust each other. You have to create conditions where people can work together because they trust each other, and that really empowers the organization."

    Leahy also did an interview with the Guardian in the UK in which he talked about how supercenters have ruined many downtown locations into ghost towns:

    "Asked if seeing boarded-up shops made him sad, Leahy said: 'It does, but it is part of progress. People are not made to shop in supermarkets, they choose to shop there. High streets– some of them are medieval and the way that we live our lives now is very different, so what you have to do is make sure the benefits do outweigh the costs, and I think that they do'."
    KC's View:
    Leahy also appeared over the weekend on the iconic BBC radio program "Desert Island Discs," the program on which, as part of the interview, guests talk about they'd want to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island. Leahy's choices: "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," by the Beatles; "When You Were Sweet Sixteen," by The Fureys & David Arthur; "Homeward Bound," by Simon & Garfunkel; "Just Can't Get Enough," by Depeche Mode; Pachibel's "Canon"; "Father & Son," by Cat Stevens; Handel's "Messiah"; and "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle 'Habanera'," by Georges Bizet.

    BTW...in one of these interviews, Leahy says he's glad to be out of the spotlight. He must define "out of the spotlight" differently than most people.

    I do think that much of what Leahy says is instructive. We've all heard about - or experienced personally - executives who think the sun rises and sets with their opinions, who love the political jousting as people try to gain their favor, who do not delegate well because they fear strong people who might threaten their supremacy, and who prefer a hierarchical organization with a top-down culture, rather than one that understands the importance of front line personnel and the value of ideas that bubble up from the ranks. Leahy's way certainly sounds better.

    Published on: February 4, 2013

    The Wall Street Journal reports on a problem that some say is the most vexing one facing America:

    "Forget the debt ceiling. Forget the fiscal cliff, the sequestration cliff and the entitlement cliff. Those are all just symptoms. What America really faces is a demographic cliff: The root cause of most of our problems is our declining fertility rate.

    "The fertility rate is the number of children an average woman bears over the course of her life. The replacement rate is 2.1. If the average woman has more children than that, population grows. Fewer, and it contracts. Today, America's total fertility rate is 1.93, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; it hasn't been above the replacement rate in a sustained way since the early 1970s.

    "The nation's falling fertility rate underlies many of our most difficult problems. Once a country's fertility rate falls consistently below replacement, its age profile begins to shift. You get more old people than young people. And eventually, as the bloated cohort of old people dies off, population begins to contract. This dual problem—a population that is disproportionately old and shrinking overall—has enormous economic, political and cultural consequences."

    Yikes.

    The story goes on:

    "Low-fertility societies don't innovate because their incentives for consumption tilt overwhelmingly toward health care. They don't invest aggressively because, with the average age skewing higher, capital shifts to preserving and extending life and then begins drawing down. They cannot sustain social-security programs because they don't have enough workers to pay for the retirees. They cannot project power because they lack the money to pay for defense and the military-age manpower to serve in their armed forces."

    Decline, the Journal suggests, "isn't about whether Democrats or Republicans hold power; it isn't about political ideology at all. At its most basic, it's about the sustainability of human capital." And the US may simply be less sustainable when measured by these standards.
    KC's View:
    Y'know those bumper stickers that almost always crop up after an election, saying things like "Don't blame me, I voted for Bush," or "Don't blame me, I voted for Kerry"...

    Well, after reading this story, I feel like buying a bumper sticker that says, "Don't blame me, I have three kids."

    It is an interesting piece, and you can read the whole thing here.

    If the analysis is correct, it is a trend that has enormous implications for marketers.

    (Marketers of a lot of things. For example, in a country with fewer kids, how do colleges compete for a declining number of potential customers? A lot of them seem to think that the best way to do so is by building bigger, fancier campuses and then charging higher tuitions. I'm not sure that is sustainable. It strikes me that they may have to a) rethink their fiscal models, from physical facilities to hiring practices to how much they can charge, and b) rethink who their audience is, and focus more on continuing education of people who are in the workforce. But I digress...)

    One thing does occur to me. I think one of the reasons that people have fewer children - and there are lots of them - is that personal happiness is a higher priority than ever, and a lot of people define personal happiness not just in terms of family. hence, smaller families. But that focus on personal fulfillment - some might call it creeping narcissism - sometimes lead people to buy more, not less. It doesn't balance out, but it can lead to advanced consumerism.

    Published on: February 4, 2013

    Interesting piece in Fast Company about how the retail universe may look to the airline industry for inspiration as it tries to find new ways to generate revenue and profits.

    An excerpt:

    "Over the past few decades, the airline industry, pressured by skyrocketing fuel prices and roiling global competition, learned that customers care about price. They learned that customers care about price so much that they are willing to switch airlines to find a ticket that is just a dollar or two cheaper.

    "And, over nearly three decades, airlines became exceptionally capable of monitoring, managing, and matching the prices of their competitors–-and it happens lightning fast, hundreds of millions of times per day. There is no marketplace more fast-paced or technically advanced than that for air travel: mobile boarding passes, loyalty points for using the 'right' credit card, added costs for in-flight food or checked luggage, and ticket prices that change by the second or faster."

    The lesson has been that "customers will pay extra for what they value."

    Traditional retailers may need to take a page from the airlines' book, the piece suggests. Rather than competing with online retailers by offering, to varying degrees, the same products and services that they've always offered, perhaps there ought to be an effort to think about services and pricing differently - that they ought to "deal with a shopper’s lust for price-parity, and compete on a new level based on providing the features that customers value and are unique to brick-and-mortar retailers."

    It is an interesting and provocative story, and you can read the whole thing here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 4, 2013

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    Salon.com reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) "is proposing new nutritional rules that would apply to most foods sold in schools. The rule would apply to 'a la carte' lines in school cafeterias, vending machines, snack bars and any other food sold regularly on campus ... Most every food sold in school would be subject to fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits. Snack foods would have to be under 200 calories and have some nutritional value. All drinks would be limited to 12 oz. portions in high schools and middle schools, and 8 oz. portions in elementary schools."

    According to the story, the rules would not apply to "fundraisers, after-school concession stands, class parties or foods brought from home."

    • The New York Times reports this morning that "the United States and Mexico have reached a tentative agreement on cross-border trade in tomatoes, narrowly averting a trade war that threatened to engulf a swath of American businesses. The agreement, reached late Saturday, raises the minimum sales price for Mexican tomatoes in the United States, aims to strengthen compliance and enforcement, and increases the types of tomatoes governed by the bilateral pact to four from one ... The agreement will be open for public comment until Feb. 11. The Commerce Department estimated it would take effect March 4."

    Estimates are that half the tomatoes eaten in the US in any given year come from Mexico.

    • The Detroit Free Press reports on how there are a number of legislative and regulatory proposals designed to restrict the sale of energy drinks. Among them: a 180-milligram cap on caffeine content in energy drinks that took effect in Canada last month; a ban on the sale and use of energy drinks in Manatee County, Florida, public schools; a proposal in Suffolk County, N.Y., that would ban the sale of energy drinks to people under 19 years of age; a Chicago proposal to "ban the sale of energy drinks that contain 180 milligrams of caffeine and two other substances"; and an ongoing probe by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) into whether energy drinks were factors in a number of fatalities.

    Energy drinks are an estimated $8.9 billion industry in the US.

    Apparently the US Postal Service (USPS) not only does not want to be bound by the rules of free market economics, in which one actually has to have a service that people want, need and are willing to pay for, but also wants to be unfettered by things like traffic laws.

    There are news reports about how lawyers for the USPS have sent a letter to the city of East Cleveland, Ohio, saying that while postal service drivers there have accumulated $700 in traffic tickets for speeding in school zones and running red lights, they ought not have to pay those fines because "the Postal Service enjoys federal immunity from state and local regulation."

    According to Yahoo! News, George Hittner, an attorney for American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the company to which East Cleveland has outsourced its traffic enforcement duties, has responded to the USPS with a letter questioning the immunity claim: “By attempting to hide behind an immunity claim, you are aiding and abetting your drivers in their blatant disregard for the traffic laws in East Cleveland, which have endangered other drivers, pedestrians and school children," and he suggested that if the USPS is not willing to pay the tickets, it should make its drivers write the checks, and that the fines will continue to accumulate until checks are received.

    In his letter, Hittner pointed out that USPS drivers aren't just speeding and running red lights. There also is the postal worker who was delivering mail while naked and "was arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior.” Which sort of gives the phrase "going postal" all new meaning.

    They just raised the price of a stamp. They may have to do so again, just to cover the legal fees.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 4, 2013


    • Walgreen said Friday that executive vice president Joe Magnacca has been promoted to the position of senior vice president. Magnacca will retain his title of president of daily living products and solutions.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 4, 2013

    • André Cassagnes, described by various news services a French electrical technician, reportedly passed away on January 16 at the age of 86.

    Why is he noteworthy? Because some 50 years ago, Cassagnes invented the Etch A Sketch.

    According to the New York Times, "Etch A Sketch was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester in 1998; in 2003, the Toy Industry Association named it one of the hundred best toys of the 20th century. To date, more than 100 million have been sold."

    Last year, the Etch A Sketch took on a political dimension when an aide to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney used it as a simile for how his candidate would adjust his positions when moving from the GOP primary race (where he needed to be more conservative and play to his base) to the general election (where it was believed he needed to moderate his views).
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 4, 2013

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 4, 2013

    In Super Bowl XLVII, a game that started out as an apparent blowout, then suffered from a 33-minute blackout, and then turned into an exciting nail-biting football game, the Baltimore Ravens held on to defeat the San Francisco 49ers 34-31.
    KC's View: