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    Published on: April 11, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    You may remember that about a month ago, MNB featured a story about a new ad campaign for Mondelez International-owned Honey Maid Graham Crackers that featured real-life stories about new American families, with portrayals of both traditional families as well as interracial and gay couples, a tattooed punk rock musician and a single father.

    The tagline: "This is wholesome."

    I commented at the time:

    I suspect that the tagline, not to mention the entire campaign, will stick in some people's craw.But largely, it reflects the greater reality from which nobody can escape - that traditional definitions are becoming less relevant, and are being replaced by a different reality in which words like "traditional" and "wholesome" mean something different. Most people, I think, are making the adjustment … and the vast majority of our kids will look back at some of the tsouris felt by some folks at such ads and wonder what all the fuss was about.

    Well, there was a backlash from some groups. One suggested that Honey Maid was attempting to "normalize sin."

    Right. Because that's what big CPG companies try to do. It is my experience that most big CPG companies are interested in one thing - selling product. The "Wholesome" campaign was aimed at making Honey Maid relevant, generating buzz and growing sales … and was a calculation that in 2014, it would do more good than harm to the brand's equity.

    But the folks at Honey Maid decided that the backlash deserved some sort of response. Not an angry one, as it happens, or a confrontational one, but a gentle and loving one.

    You can see it by clicking on the screen at left.

    Enjoy. It is an Eye-Opener.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 11, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Family Dollar said yesterday that it will close 370 stores this fiscal year, will eliminate 10 percent of its corporate jobs, and will cut prices on 1,000 items.

    The company had already announced that it would close 30 stores this year.

    According to the story, "The move comes after Family Dollar reported another quarter of deteriorating results, with second-quarter profit down 35%, overall sales declining 6.1% to $2.72 billion, and sales excluding newly opened or closed stores falling 3.8%. The company also cut its outlook for the year, as it takes on charges for the job cuts and stores closures.

    "The company blamed the frigid, snowy weather for part of the sales decline, which kept shoppers at home and interrupted deliveries. But Family Dollar is also moving away from an on-again, off-again discount strategy that had cost it customers and market share."
    KC's View:
    All this stuff only matters if consumers can feel the impact in the stores, where it counts. If they go to the store and feel like the selection is relevant, like the prices live up to the promise, and like it is a better overall experience than that offered by the competition, then the changes will be effective. But if these are just cuts, without any sort of investment in making the stores better, then they're just cuts. And the bleeding will continue.

    Published on: April 11, 2014

    Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos has posted his annual letter to shareholders, which clocks in at more than 4400 words, almost three times as long as his original letter in 1997.

    Some excerpts:

    • "Customers love Prime. More than one million customers joined Prime in the third week of December alone, and there are now tens of millions of Prime members worldwide. On a per customer basis, Prime members are ordering more items, across more categories, than ever before. Even internally, it’s easy for us to forget that Prime was a new, unproven (some even said foolhardy) concept when we launched it nine years ago: all-you-can-eat, two-day shipping for a flat annual fee. At that time, we had one million eligible Prime products. This year, we passed 20 million eligible products, and we continue to add more. We’ve made Prime better in other ways too, adding new digital benefits – including the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and Prime Instant Video. And we’re not done. We have many ideas for how to make Prime even better."

    • "After trialing the service for five years in Seattle (no one accuses us of a lack of patience), we expanded Amazon Fresh to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Prime Fresh members pay $299 a year and receive same-day and early morning delivery not only on fresh grocery items but also on over 500,000 other items ranging from toys to electronics to household goods. We’re also partnering with favorite local merchants (the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, Pike Place Fish Market, San Francisco Wine Trading Company, and many more) to provide the same convenient home delivery on a great selection of prepared foods and specialty items. We’ll continue our methodical approach – measuring and refining Amazon Fresh – with the goal of bringing this incredible service to more cities over time."

    • "We challenge ourselves to not only invent outward facing features, but also to find better ways to do things internally – things that will both make us more effective and benefit our thousands of employees around the world.

    "Career Choice is a program where we pre-pay 95% of tuition for our employees to take courses for in-demand fields, such as airplane mechanic or nursing, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon. The goal is to enable choice. We know that for some of our fulfillment center employees, Amazon will be a career. For others, Amazon might be a stepping stone on the way to a job somewhere else – a job that may require new skills. If the right training can make the difference, we want to help.

    "The second program is called Pay to Quit. It was invented by the clever people at Zappos, and the Amazon fulfillment centers have been iterating on it. Pay to Quit is pretty simple. Once a year, we offer to pay our associates to quit. The first year the offer is made, it’s for $2,000. Then it goes up one thousand dollars a year until it reaches $5,000. The headline on the offer is 'Please Don’t Take This Offer.' We hope they don’t take the offer; we want them to stay. Why do we make this offer? The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want. In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company."

    • "Nineteen years ago, I drove the Amazon packages to the post office every evening in the back of my Chevy Blazer. My vision extended so far that I dreamed we might one day get a forklift. Fast-forward to today and we have 96 fulfillment centers and are on our 7th generation of fulfillment center design. Our operations team is extraordinary – methodical and ingenious. Through our Kaizen program, named for the Japanese term 'change for the better,' employees work in small teams to streamline processes and reduce defects and waste. Our Earth Kaizens set energy reduction, recycling, and other green goals. In 2013, more than 4,700 associates participated in 1,100 Kaizens."

    • "Nothing gives us more pleasure at Amazon than 'reinventing normal' – creating inventions that customers love and resetting their expectations for what normal should be. (The Mayday Button) reimagines and revolutionizes the idea of on-device tech support. Tap the Mayday button, and an Amazon expert will appear on your Fire HDX and can co-pilot you through any feature by drawing on your screen, walking you through how to do something yourself, or doing it for you – whatever works best. Mayday is available 24×7, 365 days a year, and our response time goal is 15 seconds or less. We beat that goal – with an average response time of only 9 seconds on our busiest day, Christmas.

    • "A few of the Maydays have been amusing. Mayday Tech Advisors have received 35 marriage proposals from customers. 475 customers have asked to talk to Amy, our Mayday television personality. 109 Maydays have been customers asking for assistance with ordering a pizza. By a slim margin, Pizza Hut wins customer preference over Domino’s. There are 44 instances where the Mayday Tech Advisor has sung Happy Birthday to the customer. Mayday Tech Advisors have been serenaded by customers 648 times. And 3 customers have asked for a bedtime story.

    "Pretty cool."

    • "Failure comes part and parcel with invention. It’s not optional. We understand that and believe in failing early and iterating until we get it right. When this process works, it means our failures are relatively small in size (most experiments can start small), and when we hit on something that is really working for customers, we double-down on it with hopes to turn it into an even bigger success. However, it’s not always as clean as that. Inventing is messy, and over time, it’s certain that we’ll fail at some big bets too … Our approach remains the same, and it’s still Day 1."
    KC's View:
    I know I get accused of being totally in the bag for Amazon. I'm not sure that is entirely true, though I do think it is fair to say that I often use the company's relentless focus on innovation as a reference point.

    But however you feel about Amazon and its implications for 21st century commerce, I think you have to admit that this is a company that seems totally focused on the road forward … that "reinventing normal" is not just a catch phrase but a realistic assessment of the corporate culture. (Paying people to leave the company? Really?)

    I also think that to compete with Amazon - and if you are in retailing, in pretty much any segment, the simple fact is that you are competing with Amazon - it is critical to adapt at least some of its attitudes … about innovation, about disruption, about constantly looking for ways to make things better. The price of not doing those things is running the risk of being left in the dust.

    Published on: April 11, 2014

    The Business Standard reports that the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is saying that internet advertising revenue last year reached $42.8 billion, exceeding television advertising revenue ($40.1 billion) for the first time.

    The story says that online ad revenue was up 17 percent in 2013 over 2012.

    In a prepared statement, IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg said that the shift "speaks to the power that digital screens have in reaching and engaging audiences, adding that in that same vein, the staggering growth of mobile is clearly a direct response to how smaller digital screens play an integral role in consumers' lives throughout the day, as well as their critical importance to cross-screen experiences."
    KC's View:
    No big surprise here, but worth pointing out … simply because just a few years ago such a shift in dollars and behavior would've been viewed as unthinkable.

    Published on: April 11, 2014

    Internet Retailer has a story about how Sainsbury has upgraded its online presence, with one of the most innovative developments being the "launch of Sainsbury’s Online Delivery Pass."

    According to the story, "Consumers can pay for Anytime Passes or Midweek Passes. With an Anytime Pass, consumers can select any available delivery slot any day of the week and pay no delivery fee. The minimum order is 40 pounds (US $66.97) and consumers can order once per day.  The Anytime Pass costs 100 pounds (US $167.49) for 12 months and 60 pounds (US $100.49) for six months. The less expensive Midweek Pass, selling for 75 pounds (US$ 125.62) for 12 months and 40 pounds (US $67) for six months, has the same stipulations except that shoppers must select a delivery slot on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays … Sainsbury’s charges a delivery fee of between 2.99 pounds (US $5.01) and 5.99 pounds (US $10.03) for orders over 40 pounds (US $66.97).  Orders totaling less than 40 pounds are charged a premium delivery fee of 6.95 pounds (US $11.64). Minimum delivery order value is 25 pounds (US $41.86). There is currently no charge for orders totaling more than 100 pounds (US $167.42) for delivery all day on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. However beginning April 28 that will change, and orders of 100 pounds or higher will come with free delivery only after 2 p.m. from Monday to Thursday.

    "Sainsburys says that more than 10,000 shoppers have already purchased an online delivery pass."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 11, 2014

    • The National Retail Federation (NRF) said this week that it expects a decline in Easter spending, with respondents in a survey saying they plan to spend $137.46 on clothing, food, candy and gifts, down from $145.13 spent in 2013.

    Part of the reason may be that fewer people plan to celebrate the holiday - 80 percent of survey respondents, down from 83 percent a year ago.

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that Manischewitz, the largest maker of matzo and other kosher foods, has been sold to Sankaty Advisors, a division of Bain Capital LLC. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    According to the story, "Sankaty Advisors is expected to revamp the company's strategy and emphasize the kosher designation of food Manischewitz produces as a sign of its quality." The goal is to get its products into supermarkets' ethnic and specialty foods aisles, and not have it relegated just to kosher aisles.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that while some analysts believe that Coca-Cola should respond to stagnant sales growth in the soft drink category by diversifying into other segments and reducing its reliance on soda, "instead, the Atlanta-based company plans to double down on its namesake brand. The company is boosting advertising, introducing new products, and using singer Taylor Swift as a pitchwoman. Chief Executive Muhtar Kent has said that last year, when Coke's U.S. soda volume dropped 2%, was an anomaly. Soda can return to healthy growth, even in the U.S., especially if it is a brand name like Coke, he said."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 11, 2014

    • Grant Pattison, CEO of Walmart-controlled Massmart in South Africa, said yesterday that he is stepping down after seven years in the role.

    He will be succeeded by the company's COO, Guy Hayward.

    The Reuters story notes that Pattison "is best known for steering the sale of a 53 percent in Massmart to Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer. The high-profile 2011 deal was seen as a major vote of confidence in the retail potential in Africa's most developed economy. However, it also sparked months of wrangling with unions and South Africa's government over conditions, including the use of local suppliers."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 11, 2014

    Got a lot of nice reaction yesterday to my "Birth Order" FaceTime commentary, which lambasted a couple of New York sportscasters (Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa) for suggesting that NY Mets second baseman should not have taken three days of paternity leave, missing two games, when his first child was born.

    MNB reader Eddie Owens wrote:

    Having been there for my daughter's birth (almost 33 years ago now), I can still say it was the greatest experience of my life. And now that she's the proud mom of a 3 1/2 year-old redhead of her own, my appreciation is stronger now than ever (has it really been 33 years??).

    Neanderthal is the perfect word -- apologies ring so hollow after the world has circled the stupidity with a big red marker.

    From another reader:

    I am a woman who happens to listen to sports radio quite a bit.  I am usually shaking my head at the dumb commentary from Boomer, but this time I nearly drove off the road! I could not believe the things he was actually saying and that it was even allowed to be broadcast.  I did not hear his apology, but that is not something he should have been “given credit” for. Those are taped spots, he was not just speaking live off the cuff and happened to let something stupid slip.  This was something that he scripted and recorded for future play, so there was plenty of time for him to think about what he was saying if he really didn’t mean it. There is no excuse for his backward thinking.

    I hope the people who support his broadcasts realize that a Neanderthal like that shouldn’t be someone they should be supporting, and also that women listen to sports radio too.

    And another:

    What woman in her right mind would marry either of these guys and have children with them?  Neanderthals is the kindest description I can offer to describe them.

    And still another:

    This one really sticks in my craw.   It would be an understatement to say that I have lost any respect that I would have ever had for Boomer Esiason.   My wife and I married very young and it took me ten years into our marriage to choose to become a father because I wanted to have the time and the resources to be an effective parent.

    I worked in the grocery business for 24 years and 20 of them were spent with a large Midwestern retailer.   For the last four of those years, I worked as a store director under a blockhead who resented the fact that my wife was a medical professional and thought that I spent too much time with my family, despite working 60 to 70 hour weeks.   I really set him off when I took an entire week off to spend at home after the birth of our younger son.   (My wife delivered on her due date with no complications and I just took a week of vacation that had been scheduled well in advance.)   After months of pressure on me to resign, my boss finally fabricated an excuse to relieve me of my duties with the expectation that I would go back to the bottom rung of their corporate ladder and (maybe) work my way back up again.

    I went home that night to explain to my wife what had happened to me, expecting to have the world come to an end.  Her immediate response was, “I’ve followed you around for the past 14 years; I’ll go find a job that I like and you can take your time looking for something else to do.”  Within seven days she found a new job and we sold our home……I left the retail world to stay home full-time with two boys who were 1 ½ and 4 years old.   I then spent the next year providing care for the boys and handling all of the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing duties----some of the toughest work I have ever done.   It allowed me to take my time looking for a new career and gave me invaluable time to spend with my kids.  Looking back,  I wouldn’t have done it any differently.   While my wife and I had always helped each other with our respective familial responsibilities, this experience showed us that we were (almost) interchangeable in our roles.  By far, the most emotionally charged decision I had to make during that time was finding a daycare facility for the boys to attend when I finally went back to work.  The true measure of the effect that my year at home had on our sons’ lives was demonstrated one night when one of the boys woke up sick in the middle of the night and called out for “Dad”.

    There will never be a doubt in my mind that the experience left an indelible mark on all four of us and made us a better family.    In the years to come, I hope to see the positive effects on our sons as adults and the long-term relationships they will have with others.

    MNB reader Denise Mullen chimed in:

    Boy,  I agree with you 100%.  You can never turn back the clock on the birth of your child.  I always epitaph will not say... she was a "great worker"....It will say "Mother/Wife". Some people have their priorities in order and others DO NOT.  We regret the things we DID NOT DO.....we never regret the things WE DID DO!!!

    From MNB reader Mike Franklin:

    Kevin…right on…my son is 35 and I still carry a picture of him in my arms minutes after he was born…and the memories and emotions are as strong today as they were then. However, we must remember, talking heads are paid for ratings not content…ratings come from controversy…those yahoos were just trying to get their audience fired up…but they are still yahoos for picking this particular issue to increase their ratings.

    MNB reader Mark Boyer wrote:

    Whatever us Boomers might think or say about Millennials, I would be willing to bet a whole lot more of them are going to get the “family thing” right. Like many Boomers, I missed a whole lot of games, parent-teacher conferences, school plays, and other moments I wish now I could have back.

    And from another reader:

    Doesn’t Esiason realize that a C-section may be hazardous to the mother and the child? Thank goodness this man wasn’t my husband since he would have been the bed next to me at the hospital with several contusions…

    And another, though with some caveats:

    As a father of four I agree with the majority of what you are saying, but in some circumstances, I do not think his decision is the best option.  For example, I would not want to be on a plane ready for take off and have the pilot announce that his wife is going into labor and he will have to leave; "please reschedule your flight and have a nice day".

    In the case of baseball, or any sport, there is a strong probability that many people have bet money on the outcome of the game.  They bet on known statistics and probable conditions.  OK, if someone breaks a leg, that a chance you take.  But for a player to take himself out of the game for personal reasons, that may change the conditions and outcome of the game, and cost people money.  Now I had not followed this particular player, and if he had announced a few weeks ago that his wife was due and he may have to miss the opening games, then I would have no problem with it.  I would have known the potential conditions of the game and if I wanted to make a bet, that is a risk I would be willing to take.

    I'm not sure you have anything to worry about with pilots. I'm pretty sure that, like most of us, they try not to be traveling on and around the dates when their spouses are scheduled to give birth.

    As for gamblers … the day that professional players decide not to be there for their families, or that teams don't allow them to be there for their families, because it might affect the gambling odds, will be the day that I stop watching professional sports.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 11, 2014

    I was a little surprised yesterday that CBS moved so quickly to name Stephen Colbert to be the new host of "The Late Show," replacing David Letterman when he retires sometime next year. It just seemed a little fast; Letterman only announced his intentions last week. It sounds like CBS had a short list, and once the guy on top of the list said he was interested, momentum took over.

    I sort of wish that they'd picked a woman - Tina Fey was one name mentioned a lot, though there was no indication that she was interested - but it is hard to argue against the choice of Colbert. He's smart, he's fast, he's very funny … and I think even not playing the character he's long played on "The Colbert Report," he'll be a terrific presence on "The Late Show." It will be interesting to see how he rethinks and reimagines the franchise.

    Here's one suggestion for Comedy Central as the network looks for a replacement for Colbert: Samantha Bee.

    Captain America: The Winter Soldier is being sold as a superhero movie with the underpinnings of a 70's-style political thriller, with some of the themes explored in movies like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View. I think those comparisons are being oversold a bit … one of the things about those movies was that they had a lot of subtlety, with much taking place in the shadows. The new Captain America movie doesn't have a ton of either shadows or subtlety - there are way too many explosions and too much gleaming military hardware - but that doesn't mean that it is not a lot of fun.

    The plot is reasonably simple - Steve Rogers, who plays the defrosted World War II icon Captain America, has to deal with dark forces - some from his distant past - that seem to be infiltrating SHIELD, the super-spy agency for which he works. He's aided by Natasha Romanov (the fabulous Scarlett Johannson) and an Army vet (Anthony Mackie - just great), while dealing with his bosses, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford - the move's best link with movies like Condor and All The President's Men).

    I don't want to tell you much more than that, except to say that Chris Evans is an enormously appealing Captain America - he has an easy, modest manner that makes his old school values (that a different superhero would describe as "truth, justice and the American way") entirely palatable even in a modern, terror-afflicted world.

    There is one thing that I kept thinking about as I watched Winter Soldier. While Marvel has done a fabulous job of recreating its comic book universe onscreen, with intersecting and overlapping movies exploring the many adventures of its iconic characters (with the ultimate being in The Avengers, where they all came together). But as Captain America deals with dark forces threatening to overthrow the country, I wondered to myself, "Where the hell is Iron Man? Doesn't Bruce Banner have a TV set? How come Thor isn't showing up to lend a hand?"

    These are small criticisms, though. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an above-average superhero movie, well-crafted, excellently acted, and with actual ideas at its core. (And, I'd suggest, if you have the option, seeing it in IMAX 3-D … it was worth the extra money.)

    "Justified," the FX cable series based on the works of the great Elmore Leonard, just finished up its penultimate season, and if you've never seen "Justified," you need to go back and watch all the seasons to this point. Timothy Olyphant plays Raylan Givens, a Deputy US Marshal who is sent to Harlan County, Kentucky, as penance for shooting one too many bad guys. But it so happens that he was raised in Harlan County, and Givens finds himself dealing with a criminal underbelly with which he is all to familiar … mostly personified by Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), with whom he grew up but who made all different choices.

    "Justified" is simply great television - it looks great and has wonderfully idiosyncratic performances by all involved. But mostly, it has the kind of musical dialog that with roots in Elmore Leonard's books, and that kind of pedigree makes it special.

    There are only 13 episodes left, and I am anxious to see how they wrap things up on "Justified."

    My beer of the week: Gold Road Kolsch-style ale, from the Mother Road Brewing Co. in Flagstaff, Arizona - it is light, but extremely flavorful, and perfect for a warm spring or summer day. And even though it seems some days like spring never is going to get here, I remain hopeful.

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View: