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    Published on: November 27, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    I've been fascinated over the past month or so by the debate that has sprung up about what cinema is, prompted by a statement by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese, who basically said that he didn't think that Marvel movies specifically, and comic book movies in general, qualify. He said that they are closer to being theme park rides than movies, and then Francis Ford Coppola doubled down, saying that Marvel movies are worse than that: "Despicable" is the exact word he used.

    In a New York Times op-ed piece that he wrote to explain himself, Scorsese conceded that some of it was a matter of age:

    "For me, for the filmmakers I came to love and respect, for my friends who started making movies around the same time that I did, cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.

    "It was about confronting the unexpected on the screen and in the life it dramatized and interpreted, and enlarging the sense of what was possible in the art form.

    And that was the key for us: it was an art form."

    Marvel movies and their ilk, Scorsese is saying, are more of a business.

    Needless to say, Marvel fans - not to mention the people who have invested a lot of time and money in the creation of these movies - were more than mildly annoyed.

    I thought that Kevin Feige, Marvel's chief creative officer and the creative force behind all the Marvel movies, was restrained in his response. He called the comments "unfortunate," and simply noted that "everybody has a different definition of art."

    I've thought a lot about this, for a number of reasons.

    First, there is a part of me that agrees with Scorsese. I've gotten tired of comic book movies, though, to be honest, I go to many of them simply because I'm curious. I feel like I'm in a business where I need to know stuff, even stuff in which I have marginal interest.

    I also don't want to be one of those guys who is yelling at kids to get off my lawn … which it sounds like, to some degree, Scorsese and Coppola are doing. "This is our art form," they seem to be saying. "Why are you diminishing it?"

    But I also don't think that's entirely fair. There is art I like, and art I don't. There is art that I understand, and art I don't. And, to be clear, there is art - whether it be theater or painting or sculpture or film - that is not aimed at my sensibility. That's okay. In fact, it is a good thing.

    And let's face it - the Marvel movies may be comic book movies, but they generally are really, really good comic book movies, made with care for the characters and a real appreciation of the audience. They may not be The Godfather or Raging Bull, but few movies are. In fact, there are a lot of movies that Scorsese and Coppola have made that aren't The Godfather or Raging Bull. (I'm not sure Jack or Cape Fear would make anyone's top 10 list.)

    Think of this in terms of retailing. For me, there are food stores that are as much about art as commerce. Dorothy Lane Market. Westborn Market. Zupan's. Those are just three that immediately come to mind, three companies that aim for the highest common denominator at every turn. In their own way, stores like these, to use Scorsese's words, enlarge the sense of what is possible.

    Think of Central Market … and then of H-E-B's more traditional stores. Is an H-E-B store any less a food store than a Central Market, which admittedly has higher aspirations? I don't think so … I just think they are different, with different goals and delivery mechanisms and a different target audience/consumer.

    It is important to keep all this in context. Scorsese, with some justification, may be just a little bit bitter. After all, he wanted to direct The Irishman, a mob movie with Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci … but nobody would give him the $150 million he needed to make it. (A portion of that money was needed to use technology that would de-age the main actors for scenes in which they are decades younger than their current seventy-something selves.) Nobody would give him the money - except Netflix, which agreed to do so, with the caveat that The Irishman will only play exclusively in theaters for a month before going to the streaming service.

    Early reviews for The Irishman have been extraordinary, but I'm sure Scorsese feels at some level let down by a system that he has played in for close to 50 years, and in which he has been extraordinarily successful. Same goes for Coppola. They're upset, and I don't blame them.

    It would've been nice if the folks who make all the Marvel movies - and have banked billions of dollars in the process - could've said, "Y'know, let's give Marty $150 million to make his movie. We can afford it, he's one of the great cinematic talents in history … and it'll be good for our souls."

    But they didn't. (I'm looking at you, Disney, which owns not just Marvel, but also the Star Wars franchise. They probably have $150 million lying around in petty cash.)

    I guess that's one of the lessons I take from the Scorsese-Marvel contretemps. There's art and there's commerce, and there can be a lot of overlap between the two.

    I think it is important for people who make aspirational art to a) not diminish those who may not aim as high as they do, and b) be given the resources to continue to make art.

    And for people who may be better at commerce than art? Nothing wrong with that - I'm a capitalist. But maybe, just maybe, they should put a little something aside for the people who need their help if they are going to continue to swing for the fences.

    It'd be good for everybody's souls.

    It is worth noting that Netflix has decided to lease the Paris Theater in New York City - a seven-decade old movie theater with a proud history, but that was recently closed because fewer people are going to the movies these days - as a place where it can screen the movies it is producing. Like The Irishman. Or Marriage Story. Or other movies on which it is spending untold millions of dollars.

    Now, there's an ulterior motive here. In order to be considered for Academy Award nominations, movies have to play in theaters, even if only for a few days. That's a pretty good reason for Netflix to have a place to play its movies. (It also reportedly is in negotiations to lease The Egyptian, a Hollywood movie theater of some renown.)

    But it also is an investment in an art form. Whatever the motives, I think that's a good thing. It is where art and commerce mix, as opposed to collide. Which can be an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2019

    The Cincinnati Business Courier reports that Kroger has launched a new healthcare initiative dubbed 360care, described as an initiative allowing "hospitals and health care networks to leverage Kroger resources to provide broader access and value-based health care for their patients … The 360care partnership expands a key growth strategy for Kroger. It sees plenty of opportunity to expand its retail pharmacy offerings."

    Kroger, which has 2,759 stores in 35 states, already operates 215 Little Clinics in nine states.

    The story points out that Kroger "recently partnered with a Tennessee hospital and health care network to expand services to its patients and Kroger customers," and 360care is designed to expand on this relationship. "Ascension Saint Thomas Health operates 97 practice sites with more than 500 physicians and advanced practitioners. Kroger has 116 pharmacies and 40 clinics in Tennessee. The goal is to provide high-quality care at lower cost, Kroger said. The partnership greatly expands the scope of services available because Kroger customers can tap into Ascension St. Thomas’ medical professionals offering 32 specialties."
    KC's View:
    I'm a firm believer that retailers in this space are well advised to be focusing on healthcare and self-care - these are areas of potentially enormous growth, and it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to invest in these segments. I love it when companies draw a thick black line to connect food and health - it reflect a natural synergy.

    It is interesting to see this story about Kroger at this particular moment, though. One day, there's a story about how Kroger is laying off thousands of managers. Then a story about how it is getting "back to basics." And then, how it is expanding its healthcare presence and connections.

    Am I missing something here? Is there a common theme that I'm not seeing?

    Published on: November 27, 2019

    Axios reports on "analyses released ahead of the big United Nations climate meeting that opens next week in Madrid" that "bring bad news for the planet … The reports show that despite increasing use of climate-friendly tech, especially surging deployment of solar and wind power, steep emissions cuts are nowhere on the horizon."

    The report says that "there is no sign of GHG emissions peaking in the next few years; every year of postponed peaking means that deeper and faster cuts will be required … By 2030, emissions would need to be 25 percent and 55 percent lower than in 2018 to put the world on the least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to below 2 C and 1.5°C respectively."

    It goes on: “There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement."
    KC's View:
    I know there is resistance to this view of the world, and probably will continue to be, even as the skeptics are sitting in rubber rafts (or their yachts!) wondering where all the land mass went.

    What worries me that we've been skeptical for too long, have done too little, and are handing our children and grandchildren a world that will be uninhabitable in the way we traditionally have thought of it.

    Published on: November 27, 2019

    The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) - soon to be known as the Consumer Brands Association (CBA) - is out with a new survey saying that "77 percent of Americans believe that the federal government should make solving the recycling crisis the next 'moon shot,' bringing all stakeholders - CPG companies, NGOs, government officials and even consumers - together to find a long-term solution."

    Here's some context from the survey results:

    "Our current patchwork of nearly 10,000 different recycling systems across the country, all with their own unique rules, is causing immense consumer confusion, ultimately leading to higher contamination rates. CPG companies are making great strides to make packaging fully recyclable. But if recyclable containers don’t actually end up recycled, it becomes just one more piece of trash that will end up in a landfill, on the side of the road or in our oceans.

    "It is not that Americans don’t care — they overwhelmingly do. Concern for the environment and over single-use plastic and packaging waste is extremely high, according to our research. So too is willingness to change. A near-universal 95 percent of respondents said they would change their behavior if they discovered they were recycling the wrong way.

    "Unfortunately, it is difficult to know. Most Americans assume recycling is relatively standardized; 55 percent said that there were fewer than 100 systems, when in truth there are more than 100 times that many. The sheer diversity of rules in a fragmented system also makes consumer education difficult. Ninety-five percent of Americans said it would be helpful if packaging were labeled with information on how to properly recycle it, but without uniform rules that apply across the country, the current recycling system makes product labels with accurate recycling information for a consumer’s location nearly impossible."

    The report suggests that "despite its flaws, recycling is still the most likely environmental behavior for most people — far outpacing things like composting or taking public transportation — making it the behavior that has the greatest impact potential. Now is the time to double-down on recycling, not back away from it."
    KC's View:
    I'm sympathetic to the notion that an aggressive national recycling policy makes sense.

    I'm skeptical that we have the political will to make it happen.

    But I'm a little resistant to the "moon shot" metaphor. I was alive when the actual moon shot took place, and somehow it seems even now like a more daunting task than putting effective, efficient and nuanced national recycling rules in place.

    Published on: November 27, 2019


    Apple is out with a new Christmas ad. It is terrific - though I'd suggest you grab some tissues.

    One note: If you recognize the music, it is because it is from Up, the acclaimed animated movie from Pixar (which Apple founder Steve Jobs used to own, until it was sold to Disney).

    It is, I think, a remarkable piece of advertising.

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2019

    The Boston Globe reports that the Massachusetts state legislature is taking up a pair of bills that "would require public buildings, including restaurants, to provide at least one diaper-changing station that’s accessible to all caregivers, regardless of sex, gender, or disability. The proposals would apply to new construction and to any public building that undergoes substantial renovation or remodeling."

    The big complaint: ladies' rooms tend to have diaper changing stations, but not men's rooms.

    According to the Globe, "Similar bills have failed to gain traction in previous years, but supporters say there are now more lawmakers juggling work and young children and who understand the problem firsthand … But the proponents of diaper-changing parity bills could face opposition from business groups. Steve Clark, vice president of government affairs at the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said the association did not take a position on past proposals, since they seemed to have little support, but 'we will take a position if we need to'."

    The story goes on to point out that "the federal government and other states have begun to insist on wider access to changing stations. Congress in 2016 passed the Babies Act, which requires changing stations in men’s and women’s rooms in federal buildings.

    "California passed a law in 2017 requiring new and newly renovated public buildings to include at least one station available to men and women. And last year, New York updated its building codes to require all new or substantially renovated public buildings to provide at least one changing station accessible to all genders.

    "Whether Massachusetts will follow suit remains to be seen."
    KC's View:
    I'm generally okay with proportional legislative responses to important issues, but I'm not entirely sure this rises to that standard.

    For one thing, I've noticed lately that a lot of men's rooms have changing tables. For another, a lot of rest rooms are gender neutral, and so have changing tables as a matter of course.

    The other thing is that it seems to me that this is one of those cases where a business can create for itself a differential advantage by having changing tables in the men's rooms. Of course, that would only be an advantage in the perception of men willing to change diapers. I know some guys who would deliberately choose a restaurant that only has changing tables in the ladies' room precisely for that reason.

    Not me, though.

    Published on: November 27, 2019

    Fast Company has a story suggesting that there is a fundamental flaw in the food bank system - "it’s designed to mitigate hunger, not fix the underlying problems that cause it: millions of people in the country still rely on donated food - even if they have full-time work."

    The argument is that the country has a wage problem, not a hunger problem, and that maybe some food banks are addressing the wrong problem.

    An excerpt:

    "…the country’s system of hunger relief, and the philanthropy supporting it, needs to continue to evolve. That evolution means food banks’ new end goal is to essentially put themselves out of business. But as they work on that challenge, by turning toward more pointed advocacy in the fight against the causes of hunger, it often means threatening the very donors that provide them with funds and food: Supermarket giants are often the companies paying the low wages that mean even employed workers must seek help at the food banks. And without those corporate partners, their primary mission of hunger relief comes under threat."

    It is complicated, and you can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:
    I suspect that some businesses might find it surprising that they are being held partially responsible for the same problem that they've been donating so much product as a way of providing a solution.

    Published on: November 27, 2019

    The New York Times reports that a new coalition, as well as a research report, suggest that a resistance movement is forming that has Amazon as its target.

    According to the story, "The coalition, Athena, comprises three dozen grass-roots groups involved in issues like digital surveillance, antitrust and working conditions in warehouses … The report, from the Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit research group that focuses on social and economic issues in Southern California, delves into the largely unexplored topic of what Amazon is costing the communities where it has warehouses."

    The Times writes that "while the simultaneous arrival of Athena and the report are a coincidence, they are linked by their attempts to understand and ultimately influence Amazon’s push into almost every aspect of modern life."

    Some context: "Athena will be run from New York, but the real work will be done out in the field where most of the member organizations are. They include the Awood Center, a Minneapolis nonprofit that has organized Amazon workers from East Africa; Warehouse Workers for Justice, which is based in Chicago; and Fight for the Future, a group that focuses on digital issues, in Massachusetts.

    "In a separate move on Monday, Fight for the Future and other groups called on Congress to investigate Amazon’s surveillance products, including the Ring front-door monitor and Rekognition facial tracking software."

    As for the Economic Roundtable report, it points out "how adept Amazon, with a stock market value of nearly $900 billion, is at getting funding from California and local communities. This included $25 million from the California Film Commission to subsidize six productions, including the third season of 'Sneaky Pete,' an Amazon crime drama, and $1.2 million from the California Office of Business and Economic Development toward an office building in Irvine for programmers."
    KC's View:
    Companies that have the size and influence that Amazon does deserve to be the subject of nuanced and deliberate examination. We need to know how the company affects our national infrastructure, culture, politics and governance.

    This is not to suggest a knee-jerk big-is-bad approach, nor a small-is-good approach. Just that we need to have a sense of the impact of a company's ecosystem.

    It is interesting that this all is happening at a time when Amazon is facing challenges from both sides of the political spectrum. It may not matter whether Donald Trump or Elizabeth Warren are elected president - Amazon may be facing regulatory pressures, though for different reasons.

    Published on: November 27, 2019

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

    • The Associated Press has a story about how "Amazon has turned its online store into an advertising powerhouse in just a few years. It overtook Microsoft last year as the third largest ad platform in the U.S. following Google and Facebook, according to market research firm eMarketer. That’s mostly due to Amazon’s search bar: Most shoppers now go to Amazon first instead of Google to look up products, according to Jumpshot, which tracks online shopping behavior."

    But there's a problem: "Companies and brands can bid to get their products in Amazon’s search listings, sometimes pushing down what shoppers are searching for and making them harder to find. It risks betraying Amazon’s customer-friendly reputation…"

    However, it seems unlikely that Amazon will back down from the plethora of ads that show up on its site: "Advertising is one of Amazon’s fastest-growing businesses, helping to offset some of its more expensive endeavors like one-day delivery, which is hugely popular with customers but also a drain on the company. Amazon hasn’t said exactly how much it makes from ads, but its 'other' business is mostly made up of advertising, which brought in $9.3 billion in the first nine months of this year, up 38% from the same period the year before."

    I'm on Amazon multiple times a day, and to be honest, I haven't found the ads to be particularly intrusive. I also think that if the ads underwrite faster deliveries, it seems like a reasonable trade-off. But … I'm not at all sure that every Amazon shopper will feel this way, and I would agree that if it is even perceived as getting out of hand, it will subvert its shopper-centric culture and reputation.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2019

    and-mortar store today, at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey. The company describes the unit as a "highly experiential small-format retail space."

    The story notes that "the new store isn't the same Toys R Us that closed its remaining U.S. stores in June 2018. In February, former Toys R Us executives announced the start of a new company called Tru Kids Brands. In June, news spread that the company was looking to open a half dozen stores and a new e-commerce site ahead of holiday shopping."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2019

    We had a story yesterday about the continuing problems that retailers have competing with Amazon - even when they seem to have stabilized their businesses, Amazon keeps making moves with which it sometimes seems impossible to catch up.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Although it may be a Catch-22, retailers are causing at least some of their own problems by not keeping their shelves stocked. I came home yesterday from another frustrating stop at Target – having been unable to purchase a basic item because the shelf was empty. I rarely shop at Target because missing only one item on my list was a good day there. But they’re not alone. Every Saturday morning, we do our weekly shopping at the local Walmart superstore – convenient because we can get everything from light sockets to bread. But it is rare that we are able to tick everything off our list; inevitably something is out of stock. As a result, there has been more than one time that I’ve stood in a store, clicked to the Amazon app on my phone, and placed an order for next-day delivery.

    It always has been extraordinary to me how many retailers accept the notion of out-of-stocks as being a reality of business, as opposed to doing the things they need to do to address and fix the problem.

    There are few larger problems that bricks-and-mortar stores face than out-of-stocks, which means that there ought to be few bigger priorities.

    Companies have to establish internally how big the problem is and how important it is that the problem be solved … and then create both support mechanisms and rewards that reflect that mindset.

    If you can't do that, then stop whining about your inability to compete or create a compelling shopping experience, because you've created an environment in which people will be inclined to say, "I'll check Amazon."

    It is suicide, not homicide. Deal with it.

    Another email, on another subject:

    Your comments regarding Kroger getting “back to basics” and questionable comments regarding success were interesting and USUALLY very true.  Many companies try to hit “re-start” and fail.  One very recent notable exception is Wal Mart with Greg Foran and Judith McKenna.  What these two did in truly “getting back to basics” with in-store conditions in Wal Mart has been exceptional.

    In a time of many overrated, retread Retail so called “leaders”, these two really did get “back to basics”.  Greg Foran will surely be missed!

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2019

    Past Retail Tomorrow podcasts have focused on how technology can have an impact on business models and people's lives. In this edition, however, we drill down to talk about how technology affected one life … and, in fact, makes living a best life possible.

    Our guest: Heidi Dohse, senior program manager in Google's Cloud - Health and Life Sciences division. Dohse's personal and professional story makes for a compelling narrative that is at once provocative and inspiring.

    Hosted by Kevin Coupe, MorningNewsBeat’s “Content Guy."

    You can listen to the podcast here, or on iTunes and GooglePlay.

    This edition of the Retail Tomorrow podcast is brought to you by GMDC, the Global Market Development Center.

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2019

    This is Thanksgiving weekend here in the US - the best holiday, I've always thought, with food and football and family. (And almost certainly a movie or two, and maybe a couple of long runs.)

    One of the best things about Thanksgiving is that people get to create their own traditions. For example, because nobody in my house likes turkey, we’ll be doing our own thing for Thanksgiving dinner - filet mignon, macaroni and cheese with short ribs cooked in, and asparagus. Apple and blueberry pie. And, as usual, the wines will be from Oregon, from my friends at Willamette Valley Vineyards and Carlton Cellars there. Tradition is important.

    And, in keeping with tradition, MNB will be on hiatus for the four-day weekend.

    Have a great holiday ... a great weekend ... and I'll see you Monday, December 2, as we all go on the stretch run to the end of the year.

    KC's View: