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    Published on: June 11, 2013

    by Michael Sansolo

    In marketing, as in so many other elements of business, there are only so many aspects of performance that can be controlled. Strategies can be drawn up and executed yet sometimes things work great and sometimes, despite all the best efforts, they fail.

    So when marketing magic happens, it’s takes special care to make sure the magic is nurtured and protected. As simple as that sounds, sometimes it gets forgotten and that’s sad, especially in modern times when consumers can and will identify the magic, usually through social media.

    For the past few years, we residents of the Washington, DC, area have witnessed marketing magic and, unsurprisingly, it had nothing to do with politics or government even though it involved some long dead presidents.

    A few years back, major league baseball returned to Washington with a team that was mostly mediocre. But by employing a twist on a widely used promotion the Nationals’ games had a special touch. In every game - during the middle of the fourth inning - the Nationals had a group of mascots race in from the outfield.

    Now I’ve seen this done in both Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, with sausages and pierogies respectively, and while both are cute they never gripped the crowd like the race in Washington.

    Drawing on the history of the Capitol City, the Nationals’ race featured the four presidents from Mount Rushmore (well, huge cartoonish heads of the president) racing from centerfield to first base. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt did battle at each home game.

    For reasons no one could explain, Teddy could never win. In fact, through the first 523 races held over multiple seasons and despite various attempts at cheating, Teddy always lost. Countless theories were offered linked mainly to the rounder shape of Teddy’s head.

    Through the losing streak, Teddy became the winner. Websites and social media links sprung up demanding that Teddy get a victory. The race won numerous awards for marketing excellence and the Teddy mascot became a local celebrity, making appearances around town. The other three did the same, but Teddy was clearly the star.

    What’s more, Teddy’s streak transformed the race. Throughout the top of the fourth inning the stadium was always alive with anticipation of the meaningless contest. Once the race started - always with some contrived beginning on the electronic scoreboard and using various props like Segways and more - the stadium was transfixed wondering if tonight was the night. It never was.

    The Nationals recognized they had a good thing going and increasingly found ways to get Teddy into the lead near the finish line. The crowd would roar its approval only to watch at one of the other three shot past for the victory. It was silliness, clearly rigged and never impacted a single game.

    But it was marketing magic.

    Was.

    Because the Nationals had a great thing and blew it.

    Last year the team got good and made the playoffs. And in recognition of that achievement on the last day of the season they let Teddy win. In fact, he won the race through all three playoff games before the Nats were eliminated.

    This year the team is still strong, if currently underperforming. The crowd size is up because of the team’s play and promise. And the president’s race still takes place in the middle of the fourth inning every game, although a few things have changed. A fifth president, William Howard Taft (!!!) was added and Teddy wins from time to time. (Inexplicably, Lincoln is having a tough year.)

    Oh and the magic is gone. The race is fun and endlessly creative, but no longer is the crowd as transfixed.

    I think there’s a great marketing lesson in that. Magic doesn’t come along everyday and it’s not always logical. So when it happens, no matter how it happens, magic must be nurtured.

    As Crash Davis taught us in Bull Durham, you always have to respect a streak. Even a losing streak like Teddy’s, if it makes the moment. Because recapturing that moment can be really hard and maybe impossible.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2013

    Leadership at JC Penney apparently thought that what staffers needed - after a year of management turmoil and collapsing sales and profits - was a good therapist.

    So, according to Buzzfeed, the company's CMO, Liz Sweney, hired an organizational therapist to speak at the monthly meeting and deal with morale issues that she equated to those one would have if one survived a bomb explosion.

    So the therapist came in and, apparently, showed a documentary called Boatlift, described as "a traumatic, gritty documentary about the evacuation of lower Manhattan by boat after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 ... The idea was to ask J.C. Penney's staff members to choose their own right direction for their future at work."

    However, employees reportedly found the movie to be more offensive than inspiring.
    KC's View:
    As someone who knows a little something about deriving business lessons from movies, may I suggest that once again, JC Penney has missed the point.

    Sure, you can use movies to teach business lessons. But you have to pick the right freakin' movie!

    Next time, may I suggest Rudy?

    Published on: June 11, 2013

    With the rollout of its Amazon Fresh online grocery ordering and home delivery service in Los Angeles over the past week, Amazon also is offering a new level of its Prime membership designed to drive frequent shopping.

    On the Amazon Fresh website, the company says that "AmazonFresh is now available in the Los Angeles area in select zip codes as a free 90-day trial to Amazon Prime members. After your free 90-day trial, your membership will automatically upgrade from a Prime membership to a Prime Fresh membership and you will be charged $299 for the next year and annually after that. This includes all the benefits of Prime, plus access to AmazonFresh. Your current Prime membership will be refunded on a pro-rated basis when you upgrade to Prime Fresh."

    Other features noted on the Amazon Fresh site:

    • "Free Same-Day & Early Morning Delivery: Free delivery on orders over $35. Place your order by 10am and have it by dinner, or by 10pm and have it by breakfast."

    • "Huge Selection, From Milk to Electronics: More than 500,000 everyday essentials, delivered at the time slot of your choice. What's on your list? Whether it's apples, shampoo, or a digital camera, we've got what you need to keep your household running smoothly."

    • "Local Shops & Restaurants: We bring your city to your doorstep - from bakery to ethnic foods to gourmet meals. Order up fresh mahi-mahi from Santa Monica Seafood, a tasty rhubarb cream pie from The Pie Hole, or a crisp salad from Mediterranean City Grill."

    • "Time-Saving Tools: Shop anytime, anywhere from our site or mobile apps. Save your lists, see your past purchases, and find one-click recipes, and get your shopping done in minutes."

    Amazon is not offering the expanded Prime membership costs and benefits in Seattle, where it has been testing Fresh for several years. A spokesperson tells Reuters that it is a "new approach," developed because "the economics remain challenging. We will continue experimenting and innovating on behalf of our customers to find a model that works."
    KC's View:
    My friend Tom Furphy, who while at Amazon helped to develop the CPG and Fresh business models, tells me that "by reviewing the site, you can clearly see the strategy of combining fresh products, with local merchant selection and 500k of the top Amazon.com items.  All available for same day delivery.  Boom!"

    I think he's right about that. While $299 at first seemed a little pricey, I do think that if I lived in LA I'd certainly be willing to take Amazon Fresh for a test drive, and if they lived up to the value proposition, that $299 annual fee (really only $220, because I've been paying the $79 Prime fee for years, and it has been a great investment) probably wouldn't seem that steep. And same day delivery, not just on Fresh items but also on so many of Amazon's traditional product lines? That strikes me as a game-changer ... especially because if I lived in LA, I'd probably be looking for ways to avoid the freeways, and getting Amazon to make the drive for me seems like a pretty good deal. (Let's do the math. A tank of gas easily costs between $50 and $60. The new Prime fee is the cost of about four tanks of gas. I'm not sure that people use four tanks of gas shopping for groceries in a year, but some might ... and starting to do these calculations might take some of the bite out of the $299 fee.)

    The key is that Amazon is trying to change the game, as in ... "What once seemed wildly impractical is now completely normal, and normal just begs to be messed with."

    I have no idea if this will work, be sustainable, and expandable around the country. But I do think that Amazon's willingness to challenge convention makes it a formidable competitor, that its efforts should not be taken lightly, and that history suggests that it will find ways to make Amazon Fresh work.

    Published on: June 11, 2013

    Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Costco CEO Craig Jelinek is saying that the company is ending its latest self-service experiment and will pull it from all its stores.

    “They are great for low-volume warehouses, but we don’t want to be in the low-volume warehouse business,” he says.

    Human checkout personnel, Jelinek maintains, are more efficient.
    KC's View:
    The thing about Costco's checkout personnel, in my experience, is that they generally are happy, friendly, and efficient ... in other words, they put a good face on the company. That's critical. And a differential advantage.

    Published on: June 11, 2013

    • The New York Times reports that "a breakdown of the Wal-Mart shareholders’ vote tallies showed sustained opposition among some outside shareholders to the company’s chief executive, Michael T. Duke, and highlighted support for several proposals regarding broader disclosure and changes to the board.

    "The tallies, released on Monday from Friday’s annual meeting, will not force any change at Wal-Mart. Because the founding Walton family owns more than half of all shares, it is impossible to make any changes to the board or pass any proposals without their backing. Still, the results indicate that a significant portion of independent investors is dissatisfied with areas of the company."

    According to the story, CEO Mike Duke received 12.11 percent "against" votes from shareholders, while Christopher Williams, chairman of the audit committee, for 12.23 percent "against" votes. S. Robson Walton, chairman of the company, got 10 percent "against" votes, while Lee Scott, the former CEO who is a member of the board, got 8.33 percent "against" votes.

    The negative votes seem to be a direct reflection of how some shareholders feel about how Walmart's leadership has handled allegations that it has engaged in systemic and systematic bribery of foreign officials in Mexico and other foreign countries.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2013

    The New York Times this morning reports that New Mexico Attorney Gary K. King has ruled that state law says that "veterinary drugs commonly administered to horses would render their meat adulterated ... meaning it would not be fit for human consumption."

    The ruling throws up a major roadblock to the Valley Meat Company, the Roswell, New Mexico, company that wants to open the first new horse slaughtering facility in the country since 2007, with the goal of producing horse meat that people could eat.

    Some background, courtesy of the Times: "Horse slaughter was effectively banned in the United States in 2007, when Congress passed a provision that barred the Agriculture Department from spending any money to inspect horse meat.

    "That provision had to be renewed annually, and in 2011, it was dropped from an omnibus spending bill that President Obama signed into law, opening the gate for horse slaughter to resume. The Obama administration has included a proposal in its 2014 budget that would reinstate the ban on horse meat for human consumption."
    KC's View:
    The Valley Meat official position seems to be that it has drug testing systems in place that would prevent adulterated meat from entering the food supply. But it seems to me that it is seeming increasingly likely that it'll be some time before we start seeing horse meat sections in the nation's supermarkets.

    Not to be closed-minded about it, but that's pretty much okay with me.

    Published on: June 11, 2013

    USA Today reports that "doughnuts have gone utterly wild for the summer of 2013, with three familiar brands - Krispy Kreme, Dunkin' and IHOP - having their names linked with outside-the-box doughnut-ish concoctions.

    "A celebrity chef - not the Krispy Kreme brand itself - has devised a Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe (dare we add, with cheese) sold over the weekend at the San Diego County Fair. Last week, Dunkin' rolled out a new Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich — sliced open and served with egg and bacon. And IHOP has just introduced, for the extra-sweet-toothed pancake-lover, Jelly Donut Pancakes."

    I know that the goal here is to gin up consumer interest. But all they;re doing is making me sick to my stomach.


    Law360.com reports that the US Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal by Kroger-owned Ralphs Grocery Co. of a California Supreme Court ruling that permitted "union members to protest on private property outside the chain's Sacramento, Calif., store, a decision that Ralphs claimed unconstitutionally afforded greater protection to labor-related speech than other forms of expression."

    The Christian Science Monitor notes critics said that the California ruling violated "the First Amendment rights of the property owner and the Equal Protection Clause by establishing a content-based preference that affords a higher level of protection to the speech of union officials during a labor dispute than to other would-be speakers." But the US Supreme Court disagreed.


    • The Kroger Co. said that employees in its Central Division working at 61 Kroger stores in the Indianapolis area have ratified a new labor agreement that "provides wage increases, affordable health care and a stable pension fund to support their retirement."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2013

    • In the UK, the Telegraph reports that Tesco has promoted Michael Comish, who has been running its Blinkbox on-demand movie service, to be its new group digital officer, running all of its online services.

    According to the story, "Comish will oversee an effort to make Tesco’s online services more user-friendly and integrated with its shops."


    • Family Dollar Stores said yesterday that Brad Rogers, the company's vice president of real estate, has been promoted to the role of senior vice president - real estate. he succeeds Keith Gehl, who is retiring.


    • Dollar Tree announced that Gary Philbin, the company's COO, has been given the additional title of president, effective immediately. Bob Sasser continues as CEO.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2013

    • The Sacramento Bee reports that Charles "Chuck" Collings, the former CEO of Raley's as well as past chairman of the California Grocers Association and of the CGA Educational Foundation, has passed away. He was 87.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2013

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2013

    ESPN is reporting that Tim Tebow, who was released by the NY Jets after the end of the last football season, is on the verge of being signed by the New England Patriots.

    According to the story, "The move will reunite Tebow with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was the Broncos' head coach when Denver traded into the first round to draft the Heisman Trophy winner in 2010.

    "Patriots coach Bill Belichick often has spoken with admiration for Tebow's versatility, intelligence and character. Belichick covets what he has described as tough, smart, versatile football players."
    KC's View:
    I'm not a Tebow fan. I'm also not a Belichick fan. I find them both sort of annoying, albeit in different ways.

    That said, there's no question in my mind that if anyone can find a way to turn Tebow into a valuable commodity, it will be Belichick. And I also think that the NY Jets, a disastrous excuse for as football franchise, totally mishandled Tebow from the moment they signed him; this guy clearly has some talent and deserves a shot somewhere.

    I suspect that the ways in which Belichick handles Tebow - and the media circus that tends to follow him - will teach us some lessons about leadership and management.