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    Published on: May 13, 2015

    by Kate McMahon

    With a Brit at its helm, Walgreens is pulling out all the social media stops to make the U.K. fundraiser Red Nose Day a success on this side of the Atlantic.

    Walgreens, NBC Universal and M&Ms are partners in the inaugural Red Nose Day USA campaign, which will culminate in a star-studded three-hour live benefit on NBC on May 21st.

    Red Nose Day bills itself as “a campaign dedicated to raising money for children and young people living in poverty by simply having fun and making people laugh.”

    It has been doing just that with comedians, celebs, school kids and regular blokes in the U.K. every other year since 1988, and has raised more than 1 billion pounds for charity. That’s almost $1.57 billion in dollars.

    The question is whether Americans will find the same humor in the bulbous, red foam noses, and if the effort will achieve the viral traction that made the Ice Bucket Challenge such a fund-raising phenomenon last summer.

    Clearly Walgreens thinks so. It is the exclusive retailer of the campaign’s signature red noses, which sell for $1 each with 50 cents per sale going to a fund supporting pre-selected charity partners. (Sainsbury played that role in the U.K.)

    U.K. Comic Relief pitched the idea in one meeting and Walgreens signed on as a sponsor that day, a spokeswoman told Advertising Age. This campaign is the first of its kind for Walgreens, the nation’s number one drugstore chain with more than 8,200 stores.

    Obviously Red Nose Day was well known to Walgreen Co. President Alex Gourlay, a transplanted Brit who took over in 2013 after a 35-year-career with Alliance Boots. And Walgreens has a social media savvy partner in NBC, which has been heavily promoting Red Nose Day on The Today Show, The Voice and late-night programming. (Cue Matt Lauer cycling from Boston to New York to support Red Nose Day, and Blake Shelton and the Voice coaches donning the noses.)

    The May 21st prime-time telecast boasts 65-plus celebs, including the "Today" and "Voice" casts, along with A-listers such as Will Ferrell, Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Neil Patrick Harris and Sir Ian McKellen, music by Coldplay and John Legend, and videos produced by Funny or Die.

    A boffo lineup for certain, but will Americans watch, and donate? It’s noteworthy that the Muscular Dystrophy Association just announced it is canceling its legendary Labor Day Telethon, hosted for five decades by Jerry Lewis, to invest in “digital and mobile channels for consumer engagement and activation.”

    Digital and mobile channels are crucial to the success of Red Nose Day, particularly among the Millennials. Walgreens and NBC are encouraging fans to snap selfies with their red noses and post on Instagram or Twitter and Facebook to win a trip to New York for the event. Shoppers in select markets can even take selfies at an in-store photo booth complete with backgrounds and props. Walgreens hasn’t released specific numbers but said it was well on the way to selling “millions” of said noses.

    No nose? A free Red Nose Day app allows you to add a nose to photos and share on social media platforms. And M&Ms is pledging a $1 million donation and asking followers to post funny stories with the hashtag #MakeMLaugh.

    It’s an ambitious and integrated campaign, and an opportunity for Walgreens to further its “happy and healthy” mantra, particularly after chief rival CVS cornered the media spotlight last year by banning tobacco products.

    Will Red Nose Day translate to the States? We’ll know soon enough.

    Comments? As always, send them to me at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 13, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the US is almost out of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, a situation that "could mean headaches - and significant costs - for U.S. businesses looking to expand on the Internet."

    This isn't just a US problem. The Journal also says that "Asia essentially ran out in 2011, and Europe a year later."

    IP addresses, the Journal explains, "are the Internet’s equivalent of telephone numbers. These numerical codes are different from the familiar top-level domain names that end in .com or .org. They are used behind the scenes anytime data moves over the Net - when a laptop requests a Web page, a smartphone posts an Instagram photo or a Nest thermostat downloads a software update.

    "The shortage puts companies that maintain their own large and growing Internet presence at the biggest risk, especially providers of cloud-computing services. Such companies could find themselves saddled with unexpected costs, technical problems or simply an inability to serve new customers. Those that aren’t building out their own data centers won’t face the shortage directly, but their online providers likely will."

    In order to compensate, US companies are actually buying allotments from other companies, sometimes using the equivalent of real estate brokers to identify and acquire them, or upgrading their Internet Protocols "from the old-school IPv4 system to the next-generation IPv6, which offers a much larger number of addresses." That upgrade, according to the Journal, "isn’t cheap. Research firm Gartner says a companywide migration costs about 7% of the company’s annual IT budget."

    I don't know about you, but I had no idea about anything of this ... I knew the term 'IP address," but did not know much more than that.

    Which makes this, I suppose, the very definition of an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 13, 2015

    The Financial Times has a piece about the merger discussions currently taking place between Ahold and Delhaize, noting that the prospect of a deal has not generated universal enthusiasm.

    "Supporters of the deal argue that there is now a stronger conviction that a combined group could deliver synergies and economies of scale," creating a "formidable" $28 billion retail entity "with branches stretching from the US to Europe and across to Indonesia," especially in the eastern US, where it would have stores from Maine to South Carolina.

    But others argue that it is a bad idea, combining two entities that have been in decline, with "cost savings that would be hard to come by."

    However, "with both companies struggling for growth and suffering increasingly squeezed margins, a deal may be necessary, according to some analysts." And one argument is that "combining the US businesses of Delhaize and Ahold and spinning them off may be profitable for shareholders."
    KC's View:
    I can't really argue with the notion that while this would be the combination of two very large companies, it is not exactly the combination of a couple of marketing juggernauts ... it does sort of sound like a deal that might be better in the short term for some investors than it would be, in the long run, for shoppers and employees.

    I'm intrigued by the suggestion in the story that it is possible that this is really about the US businesses operated by both companies, and that they could be combined and spun off.

    This does have the hint of inevitability about it ... though I continue to believe that the announcement of these discussions does open the door for other companies to get involved. Both companies are in play, and it remains to be seen if anyone else wants to get into the game.

    The only problem with this theory, of course, is that there aren't a lot of companies left with the resources and inclination to go after Delhaize and/or Ahold.

    I do think that if this is going to happen, it is going to happen fast.

    Published on: May 13, 2015

    In Florida, the Sun-Sentinel reports that Whole Foods is partnering with Cravy, "a company that delivers food from more than 60 restaurants, to test a food delivery program in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach."

    The deal is separate from Whole Foods' arrangement with Instacart, to which it is outsourcing the delivery/fulfillment function.

    Delivery fees will range between $9.99 and $15.99, depending on location.

    And, the story says, "Cravy, based in West Palm Beach, and Whole Foods have also teamed up to offer yacht, jet and estate provisioning services. Provisioning delivery rates start at $59.99."
    KC's View:
    That'll certainly help Whole Foods' "whole paycheck" image...

    Published on: May 13, 2015

    Reuters reports that Walmart has promised to "start disclosing directly to investors what it spends on lobbying on a state-by-state basis, responding to shareholder pressure to improve transparency on how the retailing giant seeks to influence public policy." The decision, according to the story, actually makes Walmart "the first constituent of the Dow Jones Industrial Average to break out state expenditures at that level of detail, drawing attention to spending that in some states reaches hundreds of thousands of dollars."
    KC's View:
    Good. I'm a total believer in complete financial transparency when it comes to lobbying expenses and political contributions ... every expense over $100 ought to be immediately disclosed online by whoever is getting the money and whoever is spending it.

    Since we now seem to be at the point where the courts increasingly are removing constraints on what people can spend, if we are going to have the best government money can buy, we at least ought to know who is doing the buying and what a politician costs these days.

    Published on: May 13, 2015

    GeekWire has a story about Amazon's in-house book publishing business, which essentially allows the e-tailer to compete with outside publishers with which it does business.

    According to the story, "In 2016, the company’s publishing division plans to release 2,000 titles, up from 1,200 this year, and today, it ranks as the second-largest publisher on Kindle in the US."

    As it has grown the number of titles it offers, Amazon also has expanded the topics it offers.

    "When Amazon Publishing first launched in 2009, it was primarily focused on nonfiction, but to fuel its growth, Amazon has started investing in other topic areas, such as narrative nonfiction, memoir and biography," the story says, noting that it now has a variety of publishing imprints, or brands, under which it does business.

    GeekWire writes that "many of the imprints have recognizable names, having been borrowed from the streets surrounding the company’s Seattle headquarters. For instance, there’s Thomas & Mercer (mysteries and thrillers); Lake Union Publishing (contemporary and historical fiction) and Jet City Comics, which is a play on Seattle’s nickname (graphic novels and comics). Amazon has also acquired a few, including Brilliance Publishing in 2007, which publishes spirituality and self-help books. Its newest imprint, Waterfall, was launched in February 2014 and is focused on publishing Christian titles."
    KC's View:
    Here's the kicker. While other booksellers have been leery of offering titles published by Amazon's imprints, the story notes that Amazon is even seeing progress in getting its titles into other venues.

    This is, I think, indicative of Amazon's larger goals, which could be to offer more and more private label and differentiated products in a broad range of categories.

    Published on: May 13, 2015

    A couple of legal notes were passed along from an MNB user:

    • Attorney Bill Marler of Seattle’s Marler Clark, described as "the nation’s only law firm dedicated to representing victims of foodborne illness," announced that it "has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Safeway Inc., in the Superior Court of Santa Cruz on behalf of James Raymond Frey, 87, and the estate of his deceased wife, Shirlee Jean Frey, 81, who died tragically on December 2, 2014 after consuming a Listeria-tainted caramel apple purchased at the Safeway in Felton, California."

    • Meanwhile, the law firm PritzkerOlsen said that it is conducting an investigation into the listeria contamination of ice cream from Blue Bell Creameries that is believed to have sickened 10 people in Kansas, Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma, and caused Blue Bell to pull all of its products nationwide.
    KC's View:
    I think this is all just the beginning, as law firms begin the process of holding responsible manufacturers and retailers that have been selling contaminated products - it won't always be fair and just, but it probably is inevitable. And then, when new food safety regulations begin being phased in, the process is likely to gain even more momentum.

    Attention must be paid.

    Published on: May 13, 2015

    USA Today reports that Starbucks is testing a more petite version of its Frappuccino, a 10-ounce version of the sugary drink that also has fewer calories than the larger versions.

    The story notes that "Starbucks isn't the only chain trying to tempt people with more modest serving sizes. Sonic offers ice cream shakes in a 'mini' size and recently ran a limited-time offer for mini hot dogs and mini fried chicken sandwiches. Coke has also been playing up its mini cans, which are 7.5 ounces, compared with 12 ounces for a regular can."

    For the moment, the mini Frappuccino only will be available until July 6.

    • The Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal reports that "Supervalu Inc. says it's been lowering prices at its Cub Foods stores over the past year and will continue to do so as Hy-Vee Inc. prepares to move into the Twin Cities ... Supervalu Inc. says it's been lowering prices at its Cub Foods stores over the past year and will continue to do so as Hy-Vee Inc. prepares to move into the Twin Cities."
    KC's View:
    In the case of this latter story, I have to wonder if just cutting prices is the best way to compete with Hy-Vee, which is a lot more than a value-driven retailer. Lowering prices often is seen as the first, best strategy ... but I tend to believe that it is just as important to define differentiated advantages that go beyond price.

    Published on: May 13, 2015

    Yesterday, in an exchange in this space, I made the following comment about the Blue Bell Creameries situation:

    The biggest surprise of this story to me was not that a major corporation would know about a listeria problem for two years and do nothing about it, but that Blue Bell was the nation's second largest ice cream company.

    But I do have a thought about what to do with all that ice cream. Apparently there are all these tunnels in Texas that are being used to house federal troops with designs on imposing martial law on the Lone Star state. Maybe they could dump all that listeria-infected ice cream down there and wait for the troops to keel over.

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    I don't always agree with your comments, but find that I can understand the point of view you are expressing and think it usually merits consideration.

    To me, the comment above crosses the bounds, not just by inches.  You are suggesting the intentional murder of American troops using what some would consider to be torture caused by death due to listeriosis?

    Edgy and thought provoking is okay, but this doesn't work from many angles.

    For the record, that was by no means what I was suggesting. Rather, I was being caustic about the suggestion that some people seem to believe that the federal government wants to take over Texas (which it already owns, as Jon Stewart correctly pointed out), that local authorities seem to be taking such a belief seriously, and that closed Walmarts are being used to create tunnels in which those troops are being housed.

    I apologize if anyone thought I was suggesting wanton murder of federal troops. I was actually suggesting broad scale therapy for people who clearly are paranoid.

    KC's View: