retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

My local all-news radio station had an interesting interview last week with Dr. John Foreyt of Baylor University that included a startling revelation: The only way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories.

Forget the low-carbs, the Paleo diet and all that other stuff. Simply eat fewer calories and, oh yes, get a little exercise too. Start with walking.

Now we all know that isn’t startling information at all. It’s the simple truth that, if followed, puts a quick end the world of Newest, Greatest Diets! But my favorite line from the interview can at the end, when Foreyt, who studies behavioral medicine, offered the simplest truth of all.

“If it were easy, I think, everyone would be skinny. So it’s not easy.”

That’s a basic truth for everything in life and business, and things only seem to be getting harder. Take for example one story from MNB last week.

Giant Food caught flack in Washington, DC, for running an ad targeted at the returning students of Howard University. The problem was the picture accompanying the ad: a smiling white woman. Howard’s student population is more than 85% African-American.

As one student said: "A simple Google search would show Howard is an HBCU."

I’m betting a lot of you stopped on that sentence and thought like I did: what the hell is an HBCU?

Thankfully, the student explained: historically black colleges and universities. The acronym makes sense, but it reminds me that no matter how much I read or view, there is always so much more I don’t know.

I’m thinking I am not alone on that either.

Which is why the mistake Giant made is such a good topic for discussion at every company. The truth is, we simply don’t know an awful lot.

At last week’s FMI Midwinter Conference, Jason Dorsey spoke about the challenges of both serving and employing Generation Y, when most members of the group frustrate and annoy their Baby Boomer bosses and parents. Some of his advice is incredibly simple and yet, it will challenge many of us.

For instance, the best way to talk to Gen Y is text. E-mail is far less urgent and e-mail won’t work at all unless the subject line is compelling. Even an e-mail to your staff or the latest edition of MNB doesn’t get read if the subject line isn’t interesting. (Okay, MNB is always interesting.) Sounds irritating, of course, but the truth isn’t always easy to handle.

Dorsey also reminded the group that Gen Y is the most diverse ever, yet most advertising either misses that point or panders. I think he’s got a point.

Reading through my local newspaper, the Washington Post, I noticed that most ads feature white men, women and children. That’s a mistake I thought, until it occurred to me that probably no member of Gen Y is reading the Post, so how could they get offended. In fact, most newspapers and magazines would love it if Gen Y got offended because it would mean they are actually reading newspapers and magazines.

Yet most other ads I see on television or the Internet are similar or feature clusters of “friends” that seem magically mixed from a census study. When an ad seems to make a sincere attempt at diversity - think of the Cheerio’s ad featuring a mixed race couple - the Internet lights up with controversy.

Which takes us right back to Dr. Foreyt’s point: this stuff is hard. Whether it’s losing weight or marketing to today’s population. Getting it right on subject lines for e-mails or the racial mix of models in ads is endlessly complex and someone is always ready to criticize.

But, of course, if it were easy, we’d all have done it already and we’d be skinny. It never, ever gets easy and that’s good. Because as they remind us in A League of Their Own, “it’s the hard that makes it great. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”


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 .
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